Recently I read/heard someone saying that the agamas are/were dismissed and downplayed in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism throughout history.

I understand that Mahayana texts received much attention in these regions, but I wonder if the (presumably) lack of importance given to the agamas are simply due to them being neglected among the vast literature, or if they were explicitly disliked (for a specific reason?) or considered inferior, or obsolete.

EDIT: Trying to be clearer: I'm looking for historical evidence for either chinese/japanese appreciation of the agamas, or evidence of reasons for chinese/japanese to neglect these books across the centuries.

1 Answer 1


They are the practice of the sravakas (voice hearers, desciple), hinayana (though not Theravada) and not the practice of the Bodhisattva, so it is ignored, as not worthy of practice.

Mahayana views in Sravaka link

In the 4th century abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asaṅga describes those who follow the Śrāvaka Vehicle (Skt. śrāvakayanika). These people are described as having weak faculties, following the Śrāvaka Dharma, utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, being set on their own liberation, and cultivating detachment in order to attain liberation.[29] While those in the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle (Skt. pratyekabuddhayānika) are portrayed as also utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, they are said to have medium faculties, to follow the Pratyekabuddha Dharma, and to be set on their own personal enlightenment.[30] Finally, those in the Mahāyāna (Skt. mahāyānika) are portrayed as utilizing the Bodhisattva Piṭaka, as having sharp faculties, following the Bodhisattva Dharma, and set on the perfection and liberation of all beings, and the attainment of complete enlightenment.[31]

According to Vasubandhu's Vijnanavada teachings, there are four types of Shravakas:[32]

  • The fixed
  • The arrogant
  • The transformed
  • The converted (to "Bodhi" or Buddhism)

The transformed and the converted (Buddhist) are assured in the Lotus Sutra of eventual Nirvana.


  • The author of your quote is Asaṅga who was the founder of Yogācāra school in India. In the Hinayana article I read about Hinayana and Mahayana both being practiced at the same monastery (as reported by Chinese pilgrims to India).
    – ChrisW
    Jun 10, 2015 at 13:38
  • @ChrisW Yes, that is true. That was sometime ago and now dhamma has evolved..
    – Samadhi
    Jun 10, 2015 at 13:40
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    Yes. But what I wonder is (a) whether such books containing critical remarks were part of the chinese canon; (b) if the target of criticism (e.g Śrāvaka Piṭaka) was identified as the agamas; and (c) the chinese took those criticisms to heart. The fact that texts existed, including that of Asaṅga, making general remarks (e.g. about some Srãvaka Pitaka "what books might those be?" a chinese ask) still doesn't quite explain to me if and why the agamas were neglected.
    – user382
    Jun 10, 2015 at 13:46
  • The path that is shown by the agamas (roughly the pali canon) lead one ONLY to arahatship and in Mahayana's reckoning, not fully enlightened, Whereas the path of the Bodhisattva leads to full enlightenment. That's why the council of arahants meant not so much to the Mahayanist. It is about how enlightened one wants to be, arahant, bodhisattva, buddha?
    – Samadhi
    Jun 10, 2015 at 13:56
  • @Samadhi These remarks do not explain chinese attitude towards the agamas, nor my points above. From the standpoint of someone not familiar with this period (post-nikaya, 7th century on) and place of the buddhism history, it's possible that the agamas were in fact studied by the chinese at certain times. It's also possible that the agamas were neglected, but only because specific suttas became more popular, among the vast number of books. Thus, the criticism delineated in texts (like Asaṅga's) could have played no role in the trends that developed in china even if available in chinese earlier.
    – user382
    Jun 10, 2015 at 23:06

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