Translations of
Pali sāvaka
Sanskrit श्रावक
Burmese သာဝက
(IPA: [θàwəka̰])
Chinese 聲聞
(Pinyin: shēngwén)
Japanese 声聞
(rōmaji: shōmon)
Sinhala ශ්රාවක
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.


Early Buddhism

In early Buddhism, a śrāvaka or śrāvikā is a disciple who accepts:

In the Nikāya, depending on the context, a sāvaka can also refer to a disciple of a teacher other than the Buddha.[4]

Theravada Buddhism

In the Pāli Canon, the term "disciple" transcends monastic-lay divisions and can refer to anyone from the following "four assemblies":[5]

Buddhist texts further mention three types of disciples based on spiritual accomplishment:[6][7][8]


In the Pali commentaries, the term ariyasāvaka is explained as "the disciple of the Noble One (i.e. Buddha)".[11] Accordingly, Soma Thera and Thanissaro Bhikkhu translate this term as "The disciple of the Noble Ones"[12]

However Bhikkhu Bodhi interprets this term as "noble disciple", and according to him, in the Pali suttas, this term is used in two ways:[13]

  1. broadly: any lay disciple of the Buddha;
  2. 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).[14] 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.)."[15]

The canon occasionally references the "four pairs" and "eight types" of disciples.[16] This refers to disciples who have achieved one of the four stages of enlightenment:

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]).[17]

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).[18](Sivaraksa 1993)

Foremost disciples

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.[19][20]

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.[21]

  The Buddha's Foremost Disciples
(Based on AN 1.14)
CATEGORY Bhikkhu Bhikkhuni Upāsaka Upāsikā
First Kondañña Mahapajapati Gotami
Great / High Wisdom Sāriputta Khemā, Yasodharā
Psychic Powers Mahāmoggallāna Uppalavaṇṇā
Discipline Mahākassapa Paṭācārā
Heavenly Eye Anuruddha Bakulā
Teaching / Knowledge Mahākaccāna, Puṇṇa, Vangisa Dhammadinnā Citta Kujjuttarā
Foremost Layperson Sudatta Visakhā
First Taking Refuge Tapusa and Bahalika Sujāta

In addition, in SN 17.23,[22] SN 17.24[23] and AN 4.18.6,[24] 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:

The community of disciples

In Buddhism, there are two main communities (Pāli: sangha):

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...."[27]

A similar phrase can also be found in the lay disciple's daily chant, "Sangha Vandanā" ("Salutation to the Sangha").[28]

Mahāyāna view

In Mahayana Buddhism, śrāvakas or arhats are sometimes contrasted negatively with bodhisattvas.[29]

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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

According to Vasubandhu's Yogacara teachings, there are four types of śrāvakas:[33]

  1. The fixed
  2. The arrogant
  3. The transformed
  4. The converted (to "Bodhi" or Buddhism)

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

According to Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan 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[34]


Main article: Śrāvaka (Jainism)

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.

The conduct of a śrāvaka is governed by texts called śrāvakācāras,[35][36] the best known of which is the Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra of Samantabhadra.

A śrāvaka rises spiritually through the eleven pratimas. After the eleventh step, he becomes a monk.

Jains follow six obligatory duties known as avashyakas: samayika (practising serenity), chaturvimshati (praising the tirthankara), vandan (respecting teachers and monks), pratikramana (introspection), kayotsarga (stillness), and pratyakhyana (renunciation).[37]

See also


  1. Hecker 2003.
  2. Thanissaro 2006b.
  3. Hecker 2003, p. xvi.
  4. Hecker 2012, p. xvii.
  5. Hecker 2012, p. xvi-xvii.
  6. Acharya (2002), pp. 100-101. (On-line, see the "Glossary" entry for āriya..)
  7. Webu & Bischoff (1995)
  8. Hecker 2012, pp. xxi-xxiii.
  9. Hecker 2012, p. passim.
  10. Hecker 2012, p. xviii-xix.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Hecker 2012, p. 379.
  14. Hecker 2003, pp. xviii-xix.
  15. Nyanatiloka 2004, p. 187.
  16. 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" .
  17. Bodhi Bhikkhu 2005, p. 226.
  18. Hecker 2012, pp. xix-xxi.
  19. The number of foremost disciple categories is evident from scanning Uppalavanna (n.d.-b)
  20. Hecker 2003, p. xxiii.
  21. Based on Uppalavanna (n.d.-b).
  22. Bodhi (2000), p. 688.
  23. Bodhi (2000), p. 689.
  24. Uppalavanna (n.d.-a).
  25. 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).
  26. According to AN 1.14, Velukandakiya is foremost in jhanic meditation (Bodhi, 2000, p. 812, n. 329; and, Uppalavanna, n.d.-b).
  27. Bodhi (2000), p. 320.
  28. Indaratana (2002), pp. 7-8.
  29. Hecker 2003, p. xvii.
  30. Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 199
  31. Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. pp. 199-200
  32. Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 200
  33. P. 396 Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm Over Critical Buddhism edited by Jamie Hubbard, Paul Loren Swanson
  34. From The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-Rim Chenmo), Pg.239, Volume One. Snow Lion Publications. Ithaca, NY.
  35. Shravakachar Sangrah, Five Volumes, Hiralal Jain Shastri, Jain Sanskruti Samrakshak Sangh Solapur, 1988
  36. Jaina yoga: a survey of the mediaeval śrāvakācāras By R. Williams
  37. Jaini 1998, pp. 190.


This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/13/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.