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Vasumitra (or Sumitra,Vasumitra 世友 (n.d.) (Skt; Jpn Seu or Seyū): The monk who led the Fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir around the second century and helped compile The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma. A monk named Vasumitra is also known as the author of The Doctrines of the Different Schools, but it is unclear whether this is the same person according to the manuscript of the Matsya Purana) (born ???, reigned 131–124 BCE, died 124 BCE), was the fourth King of the Sunga Dynasty of Northern India. He was the son of Agnimitra by his queen Dharini, and a brother or half-brother of Vasujyeshtha.

In the Malavikagnimitram (Act V, Verse 14), Kalidasa tells us that Vasumitra guarded the sacrificial horse let loose by his grandfather Pushyamitra, and he defeated the armies of the "Yavana" (or Indo-Greeks) on the banks of the Sindhu River.

Bana's Harshacharita mentioned him as Sumitra and informed us that he was killed by Mitradeva (or Muladeva, according to some manuscripts) while enjoying a drama. He was succeeded by Andhraka, Antaka, Bhadraka or Bhadra according to different Puranas.



Section from A Study On The I-Pu-Tsung-Lun-Lun by Tao-Wei Liang

2. On the author

The authorship of our text is unanimously, both in the Chinese and Tibetan sources, ascribed to Vasumitra. On this point it is positively impossible for us to raise any doubt, but the point which is to be investigated is the date of the author. According to Fa-jen[1] there are, so far as the Chinese Buddhist literature is concerned, five Vasumitras:

1) The Vasumitra who appeared at the beginning of the third century after the nirvāna of the Buddha and who is the author of the Parakarana pāda and Dhātu kāya pāda sāstra.[2]
2) The Vasumitra in the fourth century after the Buddha. He was one of the four great Sthaviras at the time of the compilation of the Mahāvibhāsā in the reign of King Kaniska.[3]
3) The Vasumitra of the Sautrāntika school who taught a theory that even in the abstract meditation which is called extinetion (nirodhasamāpatti) there is a subtle mind.[4] 
4) The Vasumitra who appeared a thousand years after the Buddha and whose name was given in the Abhidharmakosa sāstra.[5]
5) The Vasumitra from whom Hsuan-chuang learned the doctrine of the Sarvāstivāda school in Kashmir.[6]

Minayeff based on Tāranātha’s History of Indian Buddhism also enumerated five Vasumitras:[7]

1) The Vasumitra who lived at the time of Kaniska.  
2) The Vasumitra who emigrated to a country neighbouring to Tokhara accompanied by Gosaka.  
3) The famous scholar of the Vaibhāsika school.  
4) The author of the Abhidharma sāstra prakarana.  
5) The author of the commentary on the Abhidharmakosa and also of the work called Wheel showing the differences of the Eighteen Schools.

Most Chinese scholars are convinced that the author of our text is the Vasumitra whose comments frequently appear in the Abhidharma mahāvibhāsa sāstra. But Tāranātha deemed that the author of the Abhidharma prakarana sāstra should not be confused with the author of the Wheel Showing the Differences of the Eighteen Schools.[8] And he said that the author of our text is the Vasumitra who wrote the commentary on Vasubandhu’s Abhidharma kosa sāstra[9] We know that the first translation of our text by Kumarajiva, appeared in the fourth century A. D., and yet Kumarajiva was the contemporary of Vasubandhu, how could the author of our text become the commentator of Vasubandhu’s work? According to Rev. Yin-shun’s comment that the doctrine of Sarvāstivāda dealt with in our text is in conformity with that of Abhidharma jnāna prasthāna sāstra and Abhidharma prakaranapāda sāstra, and the doctrine of Sautrāntika is still the doctrine of the early Samkrāntivāda, which is different from the later Sautrān-tika. All these internal evidences betray that the doctrinal features of our text can not be later than the Abhidharma ma-hāvibhāsā sāstra.[10]

Concerning the life of Vasumitra there are only fragments which are found in several books: In the Buddhist Records of the Western World Hsuan-chuang has twice related Vasumitra:    1) In book Two,[11] “To the east of the city Puskarāvati there is a stupa built by Aska-rāja, this is the place where the four former Buddhas delivered the law (preached). Among former saints and sages many have come (descended spiritually) from Mid-India to this place to instruct all sentient beings. For example, Vasumitra, doctor of sāstras, who composed the Chung Sze fen opitamo (Abhidharma prakarana pada sastra) was in this place”.

2) In Book Three:[12] “At this time the venerable Vasumitra was putting on[13] his robes outside the door when the Arhats addressed him and said, If the bonds of sin (the klesas) are not loosed, then all discussion is contradictory and useless.[14] You had better go, and not dwell here.”

On this Vasumitra answered, “The wise without doubt regard the law in the place of Buddha, appointed for the conversion of the world, and therefore you reasonably desire to compile true (orthodox) sāstras. As for myself, though not quick, yet in my poor way I have investigated the meaning of words. I have also studied with earnestness the obscure literature of the three pitakas and the recondite meaning of the five vidyas; and I have succeeded in penetrating, their teaching dull as I am.”[15]

The Arhats answered, “It is impossible, but if it is as you say, you can stand by a little and presently get the condition of ‘past learning’. Then you can enter the assembly; at present your presence is not possible.”[16]

Vasumitra, “I care for the condition of ‘past learning’ as little as for a drop of spittle; my mind seeks only the fruit of Buddha; I do not run after little quests. I will throw this ball[17] up into the air, and before it comes to earth I shall have got the holy condition (fruit) of ‘past-leatning’. Then all the Arhats roundly scolded him, saying, “intolerably arrogant is your right title. The fruit of ‘past learning’ is the condition praised by all the Buddhas. You are bound to acquire this condition and scatter the doubts of the assembly.”

Then Vasumitra cast the ball into the air; it was arrested by the Devas, who, before it fell, asked him this question: ‘In consequence of obtaining the fruit of Buddha, you shall succeed Maitreya in his place (in the Tusita heaven); the three worlds shall honour you, and the four kinds of creatures (all flesh) shall look up to you with awe.[18] Why then do you seek for this little fruit?”

Then the Arhats, having witnessed all this, confessed their fault, and with reverence asked him to become their president. All difficulties that occurred in their discussion were referred to him for settlement.

In this story the description of Vasumitra’s in participation in the assembly of compiling the Mahāvibhasa sāstra is quite unbelievable, as in the Mahāvibhasa there is strong evidence, which can prove the fallacy of this story. In the 45th fascicle it says: “As the Abhidharma jnānaprasthāna sāstra has already spoken of the nature of Prthagjana, therefore the Prakarana sāstra need not repeat it again.” It is thus proven that the Prakarana was composed later than the former. Some other people have a reverse view as they say that because the Prakarana has spoken of the dharma of Prthagjana, therefore the Jnāna prasthāna will not repeat it again. Thus it proves that the Prakarana sāstra was written earlier than the Jnāna prasthāna.[19] Those compilers of the Mahāvibhāsā couldn’t even distinguish whether Katyayaniputra or Vasumitra was earlier. Because those compilers of the Vibhāsā were much later than both katyayaniputra and Vasumitra, therefore they could make such a confused supposition.

The preface of the Ārya Vasumitra Bodhisattva Sangiti sāstra has another story about Vasumitra:[20]Vasumitra bodhisattva, the great master shall become the successive Buddha after Maitreya, and his appellation shall be called the Simhatathāgata, who had followed Sākyamuni and were born together in the same country called ‘Pi-ti’. During that time he was the son of a brahman, and his name was Uttara. Once his father sent him to see the Buddha, and also told him to stay and serve the Buddha for four months, after thoroughly see the marks, minor characteristics, and postures of the Buddha at various occasions, then come back and tell what he has seen. But he never returned to his father, because he had became a monk and changed his name to Vasumitra. After the Buddha entered into nirvāna he wandered in ‘Chou-tu’ and ‘P’ an-nai’ to teach people. He was a person of supreme talent with a free and undefiled mind. He compiled this sūtra.[21] The former seven sections (of this sūtra) are divided into thirteen chapters,[22] which were compiled by himself; while the latter four sections are collected into one chapter, which explain the Buddha’s gāthas. Thus there are altogather eleven sections in fourteen chapters. It broadly embraces all profound doctrines, and is popular even in foreign countries as parallel in importance with the Abhidharma sātras. It is related to the Mahāyāna though its peculiarity is in the revealing of the Āsravasaya (the exhaustion of transmigration). It deals vastly with the ten dharmas,[23] and exharstively describes miscellaneous practices.

“To seek it, it is vast and boundless as the ocean; how can one say it is not spacious? To climb it, it is as hign and unreachable as the peak of Mount M’un-lun;[24] How can one say it is not lofty? To look far away at the treasure isle, it is just like the light emitting pearl which shines in the night.[25] To raise eyes at the cave on the cliff, it is just like the jade of heavenly wisdom.[26] It is exceedingly rich, what can surpass this ṣūtra (sāstra)? Having climbed on a high seat, he has never fallen to the ground. After having compiled this sūtra (sāstra) he entered into samādhi, and in a ksana his spirit ascended the Tusita Heaven, where he met Maitreya, Mitrasri and Sangharaksa in the heavenly palace. Those three superior men are all bodhisattvas of the last stage. Mitrasri shall be the ‘Flame-light-tathāgatā, and Sangharaksa shall be the ‘Buddha of Gentle-kindness’. Now, the four great bodhisattvas are gathering together in one hall and discussing the upāyajnāna,[27] and the other holy sages are listening to their eloquent talks with silence. How happy they are!”

This story was written by Tao-an (道安312-385 A.D.), who, of course, learned the whole story from the translator Sanghabhūti. Though the story is a legend, yet it still reveals a part of the truth about the founder of Sautrāntika (also called Samkrāntivāda). As it is said in the Shi pa pu lun (or Treatise on the Eighteen Schools): “In the fourth century A. B. from the Sarvāstivāda again seceded another school; for the great master Uttara’s sake, this school was named Samkrāntivāda and also called Sautrāntika.”[28] And in the Kathāvathu this school was directly called Uttarāpathakas. This evidence is strong enough to support our decision that this story is not in conformity with the author of our text.

Another story about Vasumitra appears in the Sutra on Several Difficult Questions of Wei-zih:[29]Bodhisattva Vasumitra served his master for a short time, then he left and studied the four agamas for three times. (Afterwards he came back) to scatter flowers on his master and said: ‘I have studied the four Agamas’. But the master had already forgotten him and could not even recognize who he was. Thus Vasumitra thought to himself: “I want to collect those important words from the four Agamas and to make a Sūtra, then I will preach it among the four varga.”[30] All those practisers who came to listen to the sūtra, were very much pleased. Soon the audience increased, and they engaged themselves in studying and discussing the sūtra, but they could not concentrate their minds in the practise of meditation.

Then they said to each other: “We came to listen the sūtra only for the purpose of using it to help with our meditation, now we should not study it any more, let us abandon it and resume our practice.” In the men-time Vasumitra knew their thoughts, then he put his hand in the fire, but was not burnt. Then he asked his audience saying: “Is this not fortitude?” Then he sat on a big stone as if on a soft seat, to show that he was also good at practicing meditation. Meanwhile he said to those people: “I will throw this stone in the air, before it falls on the ground I can attain arhatship.” Then he threw the stone in the air, but it did not fall, because a deva caught it in the air and said: “You are seeking for the way of a bodhisattva, and after twenty kalpas you shall attain Buddhahood; Then all devas shall get emancipation through your help, please do not give up your good desire!” There are some vulgar monks who said: “This evil person, we should not allow him stay in our country.” Then they wrote some scandalous words and went to make it known to others. Vasumitra also sent some people to seek for that letter and added some opposite words to it: “This good person, who has taught and enlightened people’s minds, yet he will not be proud, only lest those evil people shall fall into wickedness.”[31]

The legend about Vasumitra is quite old. And the Sūtra on speaking of the Various Difficulties of a Bodhisattva (惟曰雜難經) is said to have been translated by Chi-ch’ien (支謙A. D. 240). The legend in this Sutra is quite suitable to the situation of the Dārstāntika master Vasumitra. The story says: “Then Vasumitra thought: I want to collect those important words from the four Agamas and make a Sūtra is actually a sāstra, which is supposed to be the Ārya Vasumitra bodhisattva sangiti sāstra. Most of the topics in this sāstra are really based on the teachings of sūtras, and discuss and broably explain those gāthas which were taught by the Buddha.[32]

In the Buddhabhāshite simhacandra Buddha jataka sūtra it says: “There is a bodhisattva-bhiksu called Vasumitra, who wanders in the bamboo grove, and climbs up and down trees, and his voice is just like that of a monkey. Sometimes playing with three bells, he dances and sings. When elders and passersby gather to watch him, then he climbs up to the tree-top and jumps from one tree to another and makes sounds imitating monkeys……. In his last birth after Maitreya Buddha he shall accomplish the supreme way of a Buddha, and his appellation shall be the Simhacandra-tathāgata.”[33]    The preface of the Ārya Vasumitra bodhisattva sangiti sāstra said that Vasumitra was the son of a Erahman, and he was born in the same age and in the same country as the Buddha. Formerly his name was called Uttara, but after he became a mnk he changed his name as Vasumitra.

The above two stories both describe that in the future after the Maitreya Buddha he shall attain Buddhahood, and his appellation shall be the Simhacandra-tathāgata. This is the same person as described in the Sūtra Speaking of the Various Difficulties of a Bodhisattva, and it has already been identified with the Dārstāntika master Vasumitra.

Again we find that in the Dharmatrāta dhyāna sūtra[34] Vasumitra’s name was placed between Upagupta and Samgharaksa. While in the Record of Sarvāstivāda[35] Vasumitra was placed between Kātyāyaniputra and Krsna. According to both Taoan[36] and Sen-jui[37] this Vasumitra is the author of the Ārya Vasumitra bodhisattva Sangiti sāstra. To sum up, in old legends all descriptions about Vasumitra bodhisattva are suitable to the Dārstāntika master Vasumitra, but later on people get it confused with the great Abhidharma master Vasumitra.


  1. Fa-jen I. P. 1b.
  2. T. E. T. 41, P.817b.
  3. T. E.T. 51, P.886c. 大唐西域記Cf. the Shuchi I; Fa-jen I, P.2b.
  4. T. E. T. 41, P.100b.
  5. T. E. T. 41, P.37b. This Vasumitra is uncertain, because the note says that in another commentary mentioning that it is Srirāta, the famous Sautrāntikāh master who was a contemporary of Vasubandhu.
  6. T. E. T. 50, P.231b. The Fa-jen has made a mistake, as the text mentioned that at that congregation in Kashmir there were many learned monks, and among them there was a Sarvāstivāda student called Vasumitra. But the venerable master, from whom Hsuan-chuang has learned the doctrine of the Sarvāstivāda School, was called Sanghayaso.
  7. Minayeff, Recherches Sur le Bouddhisme, (Annales du Musee Guimet, Tome IV). Paris 1894, P.196f.
  8. The Japanese Translation of Tāranātha’s ‘Indian Buddhist History’ P.114.
  9. The Japanese translation of Tāranātha’s ‘Indian Buddhist History’ P.246.
  10. Rev. Yin-shun’s ‘Abhidharma treatises and Abhidharma Masters’ P.275.
  11. 大唐西域記T. E. T. 51, P.881a. Cf. Samuel Beal’s translation of ‘Travels of Hiouen-thsang’ Vol. Two, P.159.
  12. 大唐西域記T. E. T. 51, PP.886c-887a. Cf. Samuel Bcal Vol. III, PP.192-193.
  13. Samuel Beal has made a misinterpretation here, the original meaning should be “Vasumitra was patching his robes.”
  14. This translation is rather inadequate, the correct meaning is “The knot of your passions is not yet eradicated, so in whatever discussion you can only produce quarrelsome follies.”
  15. This rendering is also inaccurate, the meaning of the text is “For the Buddha’s sake you sages bestow teachings to others, you are, of course doubtless in the dharma. Now, as you are going to collect principal doctrines and want to make a correct treatise, I am, though not wise, yet I have roughly penetrated into the subtleness of the words, and I have also deeply studied the profound literature of the tripitakas and the ultimate truth of the five vidyas; and I have succeeded in attaining this goal.
  16. As the translation is not quite faithful to the original text, so I must give the Chinese meāning here: “The Arhats said, “You can’t speak like that, you had better to dwell in some secluded place and quickly attain Arhatship. Then you may come to this assembly, it will not be too late.”
  17. In the Chinese text it is not only a ball, but it is a ball of thread.
  18. The Chinese meaning is “You shall become the object, on which the four kinds of living beings will depend.”
  19. T. E. T. 27, 231c.
  20. T. E. T. 28., P.721a.
  21. This Sutra is ‘Arya-Vasumitra-bodhisattva-Sangiti-sāstra’.
  22. Chapter=khanda
  23. The ten dharmas are: (1) Skandhas; (2) the mind; (3) samādhi; (4) four elements; (5) bondages and klesas; (6) actions (or volitions); (7) wisdom; (8) views; (9) indriyas; (10) bhāvas. Cf the 14 khandas of the ‘Ārya-Vasumitra-bodhisattva-sangiti-sāstra’, T. E. T. 28, PP. 721-808., except the fourth khanda ‘devas’; the sixth khanda ‘sūtra’; the seven khanda ‘more happy’; and the fourteenth kahnda ‘gāthas’.
  24. The Mt. K’un-lun, a high mountain in Tibet.
  25. “夜光之珠潛輝鬱浦” This saying appears in a book called Hsing-lun (新論) which was written by Huan-t’an (桓譚) of the Eastern Han dynasty (A. D. 25-220). “鬱浦” is tha bank of the river Yu (鬱江), which is in the Province of Kuan-si, and its source is from Vitnam.
  26. This sentence is referring to the sastra as a piece of precious jade, and is a similar expression to “玉山崑岡” which was based on Ts’ai’s commentary on the ‘Book of History’, in the ‘Yin-chen’ (胤征), as it says that on the Mt. K’un-lun there produces precious jade.
  27. The wisdom or knowledge of using skilful means for saving others, Cf. the ‘Vimalakirtti-nirdes’a-sūtra’ in the chapter called ‘Manjusri inquires about Vimalakirtti’s sickness’, there are four sentences about the ‘Upāyajnāna’: “Without upāya jnāna is bondage, with upāya wisdom leads to emancipation; without jnāna upāya is bondage, with jnāna upāya becomes a way of emancipation.” (T. E. T. 49, P.18b.)
  28. ‘Shi-pa-pu-lun’ (T. E. T. 14, P.545b.)
  29. ‘Sutra on Several Difficult Questions of Wei-zih’ (惟日雜難經), this title is evidently a mistranslation in Nanjio’s catalogue, he might suppose that the first two characters (惟日) were then name of a person; he simply mistakes ‘日’ for ‘曰’. The meaning of ‘惟曰’ is unambiguously ‘speaking of’, then the whole title should be ‘Sūtra Speaking of the Varjous Difficulties of a Bodhisattva’. Furthermore, if we investigate into the text itself, we can find that there is not a person named ‘Wei-zih’ is mentioned; and yet instead of find difficult questions there are only descriptions of various practices and deeds of bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas and srāvakas. Cf. Nanjio’s Catalogue No. 1328.
  30. The four groups of the order of Sangha, i. e. monks, nuns, male and femal devotees.
  31. T. E. T. 17, P.609a.
  32. Cf. Rev. Yin-shun’s ‘Abhidharma treatises and Abhidharma masters’, P.391.
  33. T. E. T. 3, PP. 443c-446a. Cf. ‘Fa-yuan-chu-lin 26. (T.E.T. 53, PP. 477b-478b).
  34. ’T. E. T. 15, P. 301c.
  35. T. E. T. 55, P. 89a-c.
  36. T. E. T. 28, P. 721a Tao-an’s preface on the ‘Ārya-Vasumitra-bodhi-sattva-sangiti-sāstra’. (尊婆須蜜菩薩所集論序).
  37. T. E. T. 55, P. 65a. Sen-jui’s preface on ‘Dyana-sūtra’ (關中出禪經序).