Parallel stories in the Avasyakacurni and the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya: A preliminary investigation.

Author:Wu, Juan
Position:Critical essay

While it has been known for several decades that the Avasyakacurni of the Svetambara Jaina tradition and the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya of the Buddhist tradition share some common narrative plots or motifs, so far no detailed study has been made to understand the different ways in which parallel narrative material is utilized in the two texts. Through a comparative study of stories of three characters (Prince Abhaya, the physician Jivaka, and King Udrayana) in the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya and their counterparts in the Avasyakacurni, this paper demonstrates that the Buddhists and the Jainas who composed or redacted the two texts exploited parallel narrative plots or motifs along different lines and for different purposes. In particular, with regard to Jivaka, who is widely known among Buddhists as a model of medical skill and religious faith, this paper argues that the fact that Jivaka is prominently featured in Buddhist literature but finds no parallel in Jaina literature may be explained by the different attitudes of the two religions to medical healing and to the role of secular physicians in general.

As is well known, the exegetical literature that developed around the Avasyakasutra, one of the four basic scriptures (mulasutras) of the Svetambara canon, forms a very important part of the textual heritage of ancient Jainas. (1) The oldest commentary on the Avasyakasutra is the versified Avasyakaniryukti (AvN). (2) A number of works expound the AvN, among which three prose commentaries--the curni attributed to Jinadasa (seventh century) and two tikas (or vrttis) separately by Haribhadra (eighth century) and by Malayagiri (twelfth century)--as a whole constitute a vast and coherent corpus of ancient Jaina narrative lore. (3) The fact that these Avasyaka prose commentaries and the Buddhist Mulasarvastivada Vinaya share some common narrative material was pointed out decades ago by Adelheid Mette (1983: 137-38) and Nalini Balbir (1993: 124-25, 184, 349), both of whom identified a number of parallels between the two corpora. Written in Jaina Maharastri, the Avasyakacurni has its provenance in western India, and despite its relatively late date there can be little doubt that it preserves at least partially story traditions traceable to the first centuries C.E. or even earlier. (4) The Mulasarvastivada Vinaya is widely considered to have been compiled in northwestern India, and although its date is uncertain, it most likely belongs to the first centuries C.E. (5) The existence of the parallels between the Avasyakacurni and the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya suggests that the compilers or redactors of these two texts probably shared, either directly or indirectly, some common oral or written narrative sources circulating around the beginning of the Common Era.

This article seeks to further our understanding of the parallels between the Avasyaka commentaries and the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya through considering how differently the Avasyaka commentators and the Mulasarvastivada compilers/redactors utilized, developed, and interpreted parallel narrative material within their own literary frameworks and for their own didactic ends. Since stories in the Avasyakacurni are usually "considered to be older" and appear to have been "less affected by the process of Sanskritisation" (Balbir 1990: 72) than their counterparts in the two tikas, my discussion below will mainly deal with the curni version of stories. It is impossible to examine exhaustively all parallels between the Avasyakacurni and the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya here. In what follows I will first focus on two groups of stories in the curni, which serve respectively as illustrations of the notions of buddhisiddha ('perfect in intelligence') and siksa (Pkt. sikkha, 'learning'). I will offer an overview of these two groups of stories along with their parallels in the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya and will then look in more detail at two examples separately concerning Prince Abhaya of Magadha and his physician half-brother Jivaka. After this, I will introduce yet another story in the Avasyakacurni, which concerns King Uddayana (alias Udayana) of Vitabhaya, and its counterpart in the Mulasarvastivada Vinayavibhanga. Although the Uddayana story does not belong to the aforementioned two groups, it deserves attention particularly from a comparative point of view. As I hope to demonstrate, these three examples offer us windows for observing not only parallel plots or motifs shared between the Buddhist and Jaina traditions, but also some didactic or ideological features that are more salient in one tradition than in the other.


Mette (1983: 136-38) notes that the section of the Avasyakacurni (I 543.13-568.2) that illustrate the fourfold buddhi--autpattiki (Pkt. uppattiya) buddhi 'spontaneous intelligence', vainayikl (venaiya) buddhi 'intelligence based on discipline', karmaja (kammaya) buddhi 'intelligence resulting from practice', and parinamiki (parinamiya) buddhi 'deductive intelligence'--has a close relationship with the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. (6) As indicated in the chart series below, five stories belonging to this section have parallels or partial parallels in the Bhaisajyavastu ('Section on Medicines'), the Civaravastu ('Section on Robes'), and the Ksudrakavastu ('Section on Miscellany'), with A 1-5 corresponding to B8, B4, B5, B1, and B7 respectively. In three cases (A1, A3, and A4) Buddhist and Jaina versions concern different characters; in two other cases (A2 and A5) the characters are the same in both traditions. In commenting on these parallels, Mette (1983: 138) suggests that the motifs or themes found in the Avasyakacurni "are probably borrowed from Buddhist sources in later times." It seems, however, more likely that the motifs belong to the common narrative lore shared between Buddhists and Jainas, without borrowing from one side to another. In particular, in the cases of A1, A3, and A4 separately corresponding to B8, B5, and B1, the parallel motifs might have belonged to pan-Indian folklore, since they contain nothing intrinsically religious and are associated with different narrative characters in Buddhist and Jaina versions.


Correspondences: A1[left right arrow]B8; (7) A2[left right arrow]B4; (8) A3[left right arrow]B5; (9) A4[left right arrow]B1; (10) A5[left right arrow]B7; (11) B2[left right arrow]C13; (12) B3[left right arrow]C14; (13) B6[left right arrow]C18; (14) B9[left right arrow]C7 (15)

Another section of the Avasyakacurni (II 158.2-188.10), which serves to explain the term sikkha in stanza 1274 of the AvN (cited in AvH 663b12), is also closely linked with the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. (16) This section presents a Jaina account of the early political history of northern India. Four stories belonging to this section find parallels or partial parallels in the Civaravastu, the Samghabhedavastu ('Section on Schism'), and the Ksudrakavastu, with C7, C13, C14, and C18 corresponding to B9, B2, B3, and B6 respectively. In all cases the characters are the same in Buddhist and Jaina versions, including King Srenika Bimbisara, his son Kunika Ajatasatru, King Udayana, (17) and his wife Vasavadatta (daughter of King Pradyota). The parallel stories of these royals in the Avasyakacurni and the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya represent part of the shared memory (or rather, the shared imaginaire) of Buddhists and Jainas about the ancient Indian political world in which the Buddha and Mahavira lived. (18)

Notwithstanding all the parallels mentioned above, it should be noted that in no case do the Avasyakacurni and the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya tell a story in the same way. Even when the two texts present similar plots or motifs, there are still differences in terms of narrative contexts, structures, functions, and/or purposes. A close look at such differences may help to distinguish the ideological preoccupations of Buddhist and Jaina compilers/redactors of these two texts. In an effort to better understand the different ways in which Buddhists and Jainas exploited and developed parallel narrative material, I will compare the stories of Abhaya and Jivaka in the Civaravastu (indicated separately as B4 and B5 in the chart series above) with their counterparts in the Avasyakacurni (A2 and A3).


The Mulasarvastivada Vinaya gives only one detailed account of Abhaya, which is found in the Civaravastu and concerns his birth. While its title claims it to be a text dealing with monastic robes, the Civaravastu is in fact not just about robes. Its former part narrates the deeds of Bimbisara and his three sons--Ajatasatru, Abhaya, and Jivaka--with Jivaka, a great physician and pious disciple of the Buddha, described most extensively. The birth of Abhaya is told immediately before the birth of Jivaka, and, according to the text, it is Abhaya who brings Jivaka to adulthood. In this context the story of Abhaya may be seen as a prelude to the subsequent featuring of Jivaka and his medical career. (19) The Civaravastu has come down to us mainly in two versions: a nearly complete Sanskrit version that forms part of the Mulasarvastivada Vinayavastu manuscript found near Gilgit, dating perhaps from the sixth or seventh century, and a full Tibetan translation made in the ninth century. (20) The Gilgit Sanskrit text of the Civaravastu was edited and published by Nalinaksha Dutt in 1942. As previous scholars have noted, Dutt's editions of the Gilgit manuscripts have various problems and frequently do not convey the actual readings of the manuscripts. (21) In order to establish a solid textual basis for the following discussion, I have transliterated the story of Abhaya from the Gilgit manuscript of the Vinayavastu (fols. 243v7-244v5)...

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