From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Harivarman (T. Seng ge go cha སེང་གེ་གོ་ཆ་; C. Helibamo 訶梨跋摩) (c. 250-350 CE) was an Indian Buddhist scholar known for authoring the Tattvasiddhi Śāstra, an encyclopedic treatise on the Abhidharma, written during the period of the early Buddhist schools. Harivarman's treatise was translated into Chinese with the title of Chengshin lun, and the translated text formed the basis of the Chinese "Tattvasiddhi school" (Chengshi zong).

Contemporary scholar Qian Lin states:

The *Tattvasiddhi is only extant in Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation, and no Indic manuscript of this treatise has been found, and there is no record of the author Harivarman in any extant Indic source. What little information there is about the author and the text comes from Chinese sources. Only one short biography of Harivarman survives, supplemented by a number of references to him and to the [*Tattvasiddhi] scattered in Chinese materials dated from the fifth to seventh centuries CE. Most of the Chinese accounts do not identify their Indic sources, and they sometimes contradict each other. As a result, the information given in these accounts is questionable.[1]

Based on multiple Chinese sources, "Harivarman likely lived between 250 and 350 CE."[2]

According to Xuanzang's biography, Harivarman was born a Brahmin, ordained with the Sarvāstivāda, and became a student of the Sarvāstivāda teacher *Kumāralāta (possibly the same as the original teacher of Sautrantika) who taught him the "great Abhidharma of Kātyāyana (迦旃延) with thousands of gāthās" (presumably the Jnanaprasthana).[2]

Having fully learned this work, Harivarman was unsatisfied and disillusioned with Abhidharma. He then spent several years studying the entire Tripiṭaka and traced all the different teachings of the “five sects” (五部) and “nine branches” (九流 *srotas)[3] back to their common origin. Thereafter, he engaged in debates with other Buddhist teachers and tried to persuade them to return to the original Buddhist teachings. Those teachers were reluctant to abandon their sectarian doctrines. As a result, Harivarman became unpopular among them. However, the Mahāsāṅghikas (僧祇部) in the city Pāṭaliputra (巴連弗邑), who also claimed that their doctrines were the origin of the “five sects,” heard about Harivarman and invited him to live with them. There Harivarman studied Mahāyāna (方等 vaipulya) and the teachings of all traditions. He wrote the *Tattvasiddhi, in which he investigated and criticized the different doctrines from various traditions, especially Kātyāyana’s Abhidharma system. Harivarman’s stated purpose in writing this work was to “eliminate confusion and abandon the later developments, with the hope of returning to the origin” (除繁棄末慕存歸本). The biography concludes with a record of Harivarman’s victorious debate with a Vaiśeṣika teacher, from which he earned a great reputation.[4]

The school affiliation of the author and his text has been debated for hundreds of years, with disagreement among the early Chinese sources. The Japanese scholars Katsura Shōryu and Fukuhara Ryōgon, in analyzing the doctrinal content, maintain that Harivarman is closest to the Bahuśrutīya school.[5] This position is shared by other scholars, including A.K. Warder, Buswell and Lopez, etc.[6][7]

Qian Lin notes the difficulty of using doctrinal analysis to pin down a specific school affiliation due to the fluidity of said schools and the terms used to refer to them.[8]


  1. Lin 2015, p. 14.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lin 2015, p. 15.
  3. Lin states: The “five sects” are likely the five Buddhist sects with their own vinayas and monastic orders. The “nine branches” is likely a non-specific term referring to multiple groups.
  4. Lin 2015, pp. 15-16.
  5. Lin 2015, pp. 19-20.
  6. Warder 2000, p. 398.
  7. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Harivarman.
  8. Lin 2015, pp. 23.