Dear Ryan,

I agree that things on the ground were probably never as clear-cut as our modern doxographies typically presume. Just a few days ago I was reminded of the following passage from Yijing’s Buddhist Monastic Traditions of Southern Asia (sometimes known in secondary lit. romanization as I-Tsing, because of how Takakusu’s 1896 translation of rendered Yijing’s name). What he describes, which would reflect the situation in the second half of the 7th century, probably remained the case for awhile, especially the “mixing” of the two yānas. Here is Li Rongxi’s tr. of the passage.

Among the four schools there is no definite classification as to which ones should be put under Mahayana and which ones under Hinayana. In the regions of North India and the South Seas, what is prevalent is purely Hinayana, while in the Divine Land of China, the monks keep the great teaching in their minds. At other places both the Mahayana and the Hinayana are practiced in a mixed way. Through an examination of their practices, we see no differences in their disciplinary rules and restrictions. Both of them classify the Vinaya rules into five sections and practice the four noble truths. Those who worship bodhisattvas and read Mahayana scriptures are named Mahayanists, and those who do not do so are called Hinayanists. What is known as Mahayana consists of only two sub-schools, first, the Madhyamika and second, the Yogacara. (p. 14)

《南海寄歸內法傳》卷1:「其四部之中。大乘小乘區分不定。北天南海之郡。純是小乘。神州赤縣之鄉。意[18]存大教。自餘諸處大小雜行。考其致也。則律撿不殊。齊制五篇通修四諦。若禮菩薩讀大乘經。名之為大。不行斯事號之為小。所云大乘無過二種。一則中觀。二乃瑜伽。」(CBETA, T54, no. 2125, p. 205, c8-14)


On Mar 4, 2021, at 12:37 PM, Ryan Damron <> wrote:

Dear Dan,

I didn’t come across any references to the Sāṃmitīyas in Vanaratna’s rnam thars or related materials. In a conversation reported in Śākya mchog ldan’s rnam thar, Vanaratna tells the adolescent Śākya mchog ldan that he was ordained as a Sarvāstivādin, and gZhon nu dpal identifies this as the vinaya lineage he received at the Mahācaitya Vihāra in Sadnagara. Given the time period I think we can safely assume this means the Mūlasarvāstivādin. That said, there are traces of Pāli and Theravaṃsa influences in Vanaratna’s early narrative (heavily obscured by the Tibetan biographers, if not Vanaratna himself), so I suspect the situation was much more complex than the rnam thars let on. 

Vanaratna is reported to have received a broad Mahāyāna-Vajrayāna education in Sadnagara before leaving home for his life of epic travel, but whether the extent of his education described in the rnam thars marks a deliberate attempt to bolster his credentials for his Tibetan audience (or by his Tibetan audience) is a question I address but don’t fully resolve. It does seem that a Mahayāna-Vajrayāna education was still available in the region at the turn of the fifteenth century, but the quality and extent of it is uncertain.

Best wishes,


Ryan Damron
Doctoral Candidate
Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies
University of California, Berkeley
7233 Dwinelle Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-2520

On Mar 4, 2021, at 9:09 AM, Dan Lusthaus <> wrote:

Thank you, Matthew, Peter and Ryan, for your suggestions. The geographic web site is quite addictive and a useful resource! Thanks for that.

Ryan, your pointers are also helpful. Do you have any indications that others in that region also identified as Sāṃmitīyas? In addition to saying his parents were brahmins (suggesting a brahmanic upbringing which might be why his Sanskrit was so impressive), he also says of himself:

[As for my] knowledge (yon tan), [I] am practiced in Madhyamaka and Pramāṇa. I know by heart the commentaries [made] by Devendrabuddhi and Śākyabuddhi on Dharmakīırti's Pramāṇavārttika. In addition, I am well versed in the commentaries on Prajñākaragupta, Dharmottara, and Yamāri…
[My translation from Caumanns’s German translation]

[Was meine] Kenntnisse (yon tan) [angeht, so] bin [ich] im Madhyamaka und im Pramāṇa geübt. Die Kommentare, [die] Devendrabuddhi und Śākyabuddhi zu Dharmakīırtis Pramāṇavārttika [verfassten], kenne ich auswendig. Darüber hinaus bin ich auch bewandert in den Kommentaren des Prajñākaragupta, des Dharmottara und des Yamāri.

It’s as if, while being a Sāṃmitīya, he is offering a cv touting his expertise in the doctrinal qualities (yon tan = guṇas) desired and in demand at that time from possible Tibetan patrons.


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