|Glossary of Buddhism|
Śrāvaka (Sanskrit) or Sāvaka (Pali) means "hearer" or, more generally, "disciple". This term is used in Buddhism and Jainism. In Jainism, a śrāvaka is any lay Jain so the term śrāvaka has been used for the Jain community itself (for example see Sarak and Sarawagi).
In Buddhism, the term is sometimes reserved for distinguished disciples of the Buddha.
In early Buddhism, a śrāvaka or śrāvikā is a disciple who accepts:
- the Buddha as their teacher
- the Buddha's teaching (the Dhamma), including understanding the Four Noble Truths, ridding oneself of the unreality of the phenomenal, and pursuing nibbana. See, for instance, the Anguttara Nikaya's second Metta Sutta (AN 4.126) when, taken in consideration of the first "Metta Sutta" (AN 4.125), a disciple is described as one who "regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self."
- the community rules of conduct: the Five Precepts for laypersons, the prātimokṣa for monastics.
|People of the Pāli Canon|
- "Chief Disciple" (Pāli: aggasāvaka; Sanskrit: agraśrāvaka): in the Pali canon, these are Sāriputta and (Mahā)moggallāna
- "Great Disciple" (Pāli: mahāsāvaka; Sanskrit: mahāśrāvaka): examples are Mahākassapa, Ānanda, Anuruddha and Mahākaccāna.
- "Ordinary Disciple" (Pāli: pakatisāvaka; Sanskrit: prakṛtiśrāvaka): constituting the majority of disciples, while devoted to the Buddha and his teaching and while having planted seeds for future liberation, they have not yet irreversibly entered the path to emancipation and are still subject to infinite rebirths.
In the Pali commentaries, the term ariyasāvaka is explained as "the disciple of the Noble One (i.e. Buddha)". Accordingly, Soma Thera and Thanissaro Bhikkhu translate this term as "The disciple of the Noble Ones"
However Bhikkhu Bodhi interprets this term as "noble disciple", and according to him, in the Pali suttas, this term is used in two ways:
- broadly: any lay disciple of the Buddha;
- narrowly: one who is at least on the path to enlightenment (Pāli: sotāpatti maggattha). In this sense, "ordinary people" (puthujjana) can be contrasted with this narrow definition of "noble disciple" (ariyasāvaka). Nyanatiloka writes, "sāvaka [...] refers, in a restricted sense (then mostly ariya-sāvaka, 'noble disciple'), only to the eight kinds of noble disciples (ariya-puggala, q.v.)."
In regards to disciples achieving arahantship, Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:
In principle the entire practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is open to people from any mode of life, monastic or lay, and the Buddha confirms that many among his lay followers were accomplished in the Dhamma and had attained the first three of the four stages of awakening, up to nonreturning (anāgāmi; Theravāda commentators say that lay followers can also attain the fourth stage, arahantship, but they do so either on the verge of death or after attainment immediately seek the going forth [that is, homelessness, associated with becoming a monastic]).
For each of these stages, there is a "pair" of possible disciples: one who is on the stage's path (Pāli: magga); the other who has achieved its fruit (Pāli: phala). Thus, each stage represents a "pair" of individuals: the path traveler (Pāli: maggattha) and the fruit achiever (Pāli: phalattha). Hence, the community of disciples is said to be composed of four pairs or eight types of individuals (Pāli: cattāri purisayugāni attha purisapuggalā).(Sivaraksa 1993)
In the "Etadaggavagga" ("These are the Foremost Chapter," AN 1.14), the Buddha identifies 80 different categories for his "foremost" (Pāli: agga) disciples: 47 categories for monks, 13 for nuns, ten for laymen and ten for laywomen.
While the disciples identified with these categories are declared to be the Buddha's "foremost" or "chief" (Pāli: agga), this is different from his "Foremost" or "Chief Disciples" (Pāli: aggasavaka) who are consistently identified solely as Sariputta and Mahamoggallana. In this article, in order to avoid confusion regarding this use of the Pāli word agga, the aggasavakas will be referred to as "Chief Disciples" while those disciples simply referred to as being agga will be called "foremost" disciples. Some of these categories and the associated disciples are identified in the table below.
|The Buddha's Foremost Disciples
(Based on AN 1.14)
|Great / High Wisdom||Sāriputta||Khemā, Yasodharā||—||—|
|Teaching / Knowledge||Mahākaccāna, Puṇṇa, Vangisa||Dhammadinnā||Citta||Kujjuttarā|
|First Taking Refuge||—||—||Tapusa and Bahalika||Sujāta|
In addition, in SN 17.23, SN 17.24 and AN 4.18.6, the Buddha identifies four pairs of disciples "who have no compare" and who should thus be emulated. These four pairs are a subset of the 80 foremost disciples identified in the aforementioned sutta AN 1.14. These four pairs of disciples to be most emulated are:
- monks: Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna
- nuns: Khemā and Uppalavaṇṇā
- laymen: Citta and Hatthaka of Alavi
- laywomen: Kujjuttara and Velukandakiya
The community of disciples
In Buddhism, there are two main communities (Pāli: sangha):
- The "community of monks and nuns" (Pāli: bhikkhu-sangha; bhikkhuni-sangha) refers to a community of four or more monks or nuns who are living in a permanent or semi-permanent single-sex community (in the contemporary West monks and nuns may live within the same monastery but in separate living quarters). Within this community of monks and nuns there is a further sub-division containing practitioners (who are nonetheless still living among their fellow renunciates) possessed of some substantive level of realization (namely, those who have at least gained stream-entry). This core group is called the "noble sangha" (ariya-sangha).
- The "community of disciples" (Pāli: sāvaka-sangha) refers to the broad community of monks, nuns, and male and female layfollowers.
For an example of a traditional stock reference to the sāvaka-sangha in the Pali canon, in "The Crest of the Standard" discourse (SN 11.3), the Buddha advises his monks that, if they experience fear, they can recollect the Buddha or the Dhamma or the Sangha; and, in recollecting the Sangha they should recall:
- "The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples [sāvaka-sangha] is practising the good way, practising the straight way, practising the true way, practising the proper way; that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight types of individuals...."
In the 4th century abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asaṅga describes those who follow the Śrāvakayāna. 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. Those in the Pratyekabuddhayāna are portrayed as also utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, are said to have medium faculties, to follow the Pratyekabuddha Dharma, and to be set on their own personal enlightenment. Finally, those in the Mahāyāna "Great Vehicle" 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.
- The fixed
- The arrogant
- The transformed
- The converted (to "Bodhi" or Buddhism)
The Sutra on the Ten Levels (Daśabhūmika Sūtra) says that those who have cultivated these ten [virtuous practices, i.e. not killing, not stealing, not lying etc.] through fear of cyclic existence and without [great] compassion, but following the words of others, will achieve the fruit of a Śrāvaka.— Lamrim Chenmo
A śrāvaka in Jainism is a lay Jain. He is the hearer of discourses of monastics and scholars, Jain literature. In Jainism, the Jain community is made up of four sections: monks, nuns, śrāvakas (laymen) and śrāvikās (laywomen).
The term śrāvaka has also been used as a shorthand for the community itself. For example, the Sarawagi are a Jain community originating in Rajasthan, and sometimes śrāvaka is the origin of surnames for Jain families. The long-isolated Jain community in East India is known as the Sarak.
A śrāvaka rises spiritually through the eleven pratimas. After the eleventh step, he becomes a monk.
- Hecker 2003.
- Thanissaro 2006b.
- Hecker 2003, p. xvi.
- Hecker 2012, p. xvii.
- Hecker 2012, p. xvi-xvii.
- Acharya (2002), pp. 100-101. (On-line, see the "Glossary" entry for āriya..)
- Webu & Bischoff (1995)
- Hecker 2012, pp. xxi-xxiii.
- Hecker 2012, p. passim.
- Hecker 2012, p. xviii-xix.
- See the entry for "ariya" in Pali Text Society Pali-English dictionary, and Pali commentaries: Itivuttaka-Atthakatha 2.73, Ekanipata-Atthakatha 1.63, Patisambhidamagga-Atthakatha 1.167, Sammohavinodani-Atthakatha 119, Nettippakarana-Atthakatha Mya:112.
- See the translation of Kalama sutta by Soma Thera  and Thanissaro Bhikkhu . In the Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Kalama sutta the term "noble disciple" is used instead.
- Hecker 2012, p. 379.
- Hecker 2003, pp. xviii-xix.
- Nyanatiloka 2004, p. 187.
- See, for instance, "The Crest of the Standard" discourse (SN 11.3) (Bodhi, 2000, p. 320) as well as Nyanatiloka (1952), entries for "ariya-puggala" ("noble ones")  and "sāvaka" .
- Bodhi Bhikkhu 2005, p. 226.
- Hecker 2012, pp. xix-xxi.
- The number of foremost disciple categories is evident from scanning Uppalavanna (n.d.-b)
- Hecker 2003, p. xxiii.
- Based on Uppalavanna (n.d.-b).
- Bodhi (2000), p. 688.
- Bodhi (2000), p. 689.
- Uppalavanna (n.d.-a).
- According to AN 1.14, Hatthaka of Alavaka is foremost "to establish liberality, kind speech, leading an useful life and a state of equality among the others" (Uppalavanna, n.d.-b).
- According to AN 1.14, Velukandakiya is foremost in jhanic meditation (Bodhi, 2000, p. 812, n. 329; and, Uppalavanna, n.d.-b).
- Bodhi (2000), p. 320.
- Indaratana (2002), pp. 7-8.
- Hecker 2003, p. xvii.
- Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 199
- Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. pp. 199-200
- Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 200
- P. 396 Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm Over Critical Buddhism edited by Jamie Hubbard, Paul Loren Swanson
- From The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-Rim Chenmo), Pg.239, Volume One. Snow Lion Publications. Ithaca, NY.
- Shravakachar Sangrah, Five Volumes, Hiralal Jain Shastri, Jain Sanskruti Samrakshak Sangh Solapur, 1988
- Jaina yoga: a survey of the mediaeval śrāvakācāras By R. Williams
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- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans., 2006b). Metta Sutta: Good Will (2) (AN 4.126). Available on-line at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.126.than.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans., 1997). Sabbasava Sutta: All the Fermentations (MN 2). Available on-line at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.002.than.html.
- Uppalavanna, Sister (trans.) (n.d.-a). Aayācanāsuttam: Wishing (AN 4.18.6). Retrieved from "MettaNet" at http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/4Anguttara-Nikaya/Anguttara2/4-catukkanipata/018-sacetaniyavaggo-e.html.
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- Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (log in with userID "guest")