Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Critical Observation about Schism, with Special Attention to Disagreements in the Sangha Order as a Weakness which Split Community into Sects

In present days various Buddhist traditions have come up with different principles and perspectives. These traditions such as; Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayāna etc… have presented different concepts about the teaching of the Buddha. These schools try to form their own idea and express the superiority of their teaching and it is clear about that when we compare the names of their traditions.

The main question arises here is; what is the Buddha’s tradition? Is the Theravada or Mahayana or Vajrayāna? The answer is; the Buddha is neither Theravada nor Mahayana nor Vajrayāna nor any other tradition since he did not expect different traditions for his dispensation. For better or worst this mistake has been committed not by outside people but by disciples in the Sangha community.

“Yo kho ānanda mayā dhammo ca vinayo ca desito paññatto, so mamaccayena satthā”

Dhamma and Vinaya will be the teacher after the demise of the Buddha.
This statement clearly says who would be the teacher after the demise of the Buddha. That is Dhamma and the Vinaya taught by the Buddha. When we carefully refer the teaching of the Buddha it is clear that elder monks did not have taken what the Buddha prescribed to solve issues in the order. Lack of friendliness and brotherhood of the community made the same thing what Nighantanataputta’s disciples did after the demise of their master.
This observation is to point out these mistakes committed by the community and other reasons to appear different types of schools in Buddhist Sangha order.

Background for arising conflicts and disagreements in the order during the Buddha’s living time

Even in the Buddha’s living time, there were conflicts and disputes among monks and even the Buddha couldn’t solve some disputes. Therefore the Buddha has given the advice to follow when a problem arises in the order.
During the first two decades after the lord, Buddha’s enlightenment did not consist with much problems and disagreements since their objective was searching for the truth and getting rid of suffering. According to the complexity of the order later there appeared conflicts, offences and disagreements in the order. Most of the issues arose for discipline since some of members and groups in the order didn’t care about discipline because their intention was something else, not the thirst of liberation but requisites. Chabbaggiya monks, sattarasavaggiya, sāthi, aritta, devadatta, subadda, udāi, sunakkaththa are few examples of them.

Thus, according to the variety of the objective many conflicts and disagreements arose. On the other hand, some came to the order to spend pleasurable lives while some violated precepts by making groups.

Requests of venerable Devadatta also made a conflict and it shows a sign of splitting the Buddhist order while another huge conflict and disagreement is arising at Goshitārāmaya in Kosambi. These two incidents are considered as highlights which show the signs on splitting the Sangha order at the time of the Buddha.

Apart from above reasons some followers were envious of disciples who hold positions and some of them like Assaji - Punabbasuka blamed even to the Buddha for giving positions to Bhikkhus. Cullavaggapāli provides evidence about this matter.

On the other hand, there were a lot of followers who followed great disciples and they had a specific term for identification such as Dhutangadhāri, Iddhimanta, Vinayadhara, Abhidhammika etc… Cātuma sutta evidence that venerable Sāriputta and Moggallāna came to see the Buddha with their followers and the Buddha has banished all of them for making noise in the monastery.

According to Sanghādisesa chapter of Pārājika pāli venerable Dabbamallaputta has placed seats by categorizing as separated groups as Suttantika, Dhammakathika, Vinayadhara, and those who attended levels of Jhānas.
By considering above facts we can suppose that there were conflicts and disagreement among the Sangha order even in the Buddha’s living time and these were signs of schism and making groups in the order. Even at that time, big issues arose for disciplinary disagreements.

Disciplinary codes came into being for unethical behaviours, for disciplinary codes disagreements came into being, and for disagreements groups and sects came into being.

Once venerable Bhaddāli questioned the Buddha
“Sir, earlier there were few precepts and most of the disciples attained to the Arahathood, and for the present, there are a lot of precepts and a few followers attain to Arahat-hood. What are reasons for this?”

Sattesu hāyamānesu saddhamme antaradhāyamāne bahutarāniceva sikkhā padāni honti. Appatarāca bhikkhu aññāya sanţhahanti

When the people decline with observances and when the teaching is out of usage, many precepts appear and a few come to the Arahathood.
Above statement shows the reasons to decline the Buddhist order from qualities. And the Buddha points to Baddali sutta some other reasons which cause to arise cankers and decline of the order as follows;
Ø  Saŋgho mahattaŋ patto hoti – order becomes larger
Ø  Saŋgho lābaggaŋ patto hoti – bhikkhus get many requisites
Ø  Saŋgho yasaggaŋ patto hoti – increasing the goodwill of the order
Ø  Saŋgho bāhusaccaŋ patto hoti – bhikkhus become educated
Ø  Saŋgho rattaññutaŋ patto hoti – bhikkhus have spent a long time in the order

“Baddāli, as long as roots for arising cankers are appearing in the order, the Buddha does not promulgate rules. Once roots for arising cankers are appearing in the order the Buddha enacts rules in order to eliminate those cankers”

According to the passing of the time and the complexity of the order, many problems and disagreements and conflicts appear in the order and that is a common nature of any society. Even the Buddha has accepted that according to the above points. Since changes in the human society, their attitudes, worldly gains and achievements it is difficult to establish permanently pure Buddhist thoughts in every mind of followers in the order. Therefore, it is common that arising conflicts and disagreements in the order. But the Buddha has introduced a method which helps to keep the teaching of the Buddha for a long time for goodness and wellbeing of all.

Confusion about Minor offences as a cause for splitting the order

Ākaŋkamāno ānanda saŋgho mamaccayena khuddhākghuddhakāni sikkhāpadāni samūhantu

There is no matter if the Sangha wishes to neglect minor offences after my demise.
At the first Sangha council, there was a question and a confusion about minor offences (khuddhānukhuddaka sikkhā) but there was not a proper solution gave by responsible monks for this question.

In some occasions, great disciples such as Sariyuth, Mugalan, Ananda, Mahakachchayana interpreted what the Buddha explained in brief. They were able to analyze summary given by the Buddha.

It is difficult to believe that venerable Mahakassapa, venerable Upali, venerable Ananda and other great disciples were not able to give an interpretation to the problem of minor offences and it was the most appropriate time to solve the problem.
On the other hand, what the Buddha taught is clear and pure at the beginning, middle, and at the end. Therefore, leaving such confusions is not appropriate since there could be a problem in the order. At the same time, there could be some reasonable situations that monks have to violate some minor rules according to the situation they have to face. Even in the lord Buddhas living period, the Buddha changed some rules by considering the situation the monks faced.
It is natural that some precepts and conditions cannot be applied for following reasons

Geographical issues, traditional, cultural, social issues, communicational issues, changes in the way of living by the passing of time
In these contexts, some monks might have faced some problems and difficulties when they were living in some regions. Consequently, they might have made slight changes to some Vinaya rules according to the context and the situation.

Eg1:- since Buddhism has developed in some areas there could be communication problems among the people. Perhaps some people might not be able to understand Pali language. Therefore, it is reasonable and fruitful giving the knowledge of doctrine by changing the language.

Eg 2:- observing Vassana retreat should be changed according to the climate of the country. If not the objective of observing vas becomes meaningless. There were reasons to enact a rule to observe vas. Therefore, Bhikkhus have to observe Vassana retreat when the season starts otherwise the observance becomes meaningless.

Raise of  the schism  

As earlier mentioned the ten points of Vajjiputtaka monks were rejected and by having it as the basis the second Sangha council was held by monks who neglected ten points. At the same time, Vajjiputtaka monks who wish to follow ten points have held a separated sangha council with 10,000 monks at another place. After these steps, the greatest schism arose by splitting the order into two sects called Sthaviravada and Mahasanghika.
According to the statement of Nikayasangaha Vajji bhikkhus went away with 10000 monks and hold a separated council called Mahasanghika by changing vinaya rules as they wish and they started a new tradition called Mahasanghika.

But according to the Mahasanghika Vinayasangaha which has been written in Chinese language, mahasanghikas also have rejected ten points of Vajjiputtaka monks. If so, it is clear that Mahasanghika tradition has raised as a separated tradition which did not accept ten points. However, it is clear that they have changed some original and traditional Vinaya rules and Buddhist principles by adding and cutting.

There is another point that emphasizes the origin of Mahasanghika tradition with five points that venerable Mahadeva (Bhadra) presented. Some scholars consider this as the very close of the schism. They have degraded the Arahants by presenting these five points.
1.      There could be desire in arahanths mind
2.      There could be ignorance in arahanths mind
3.      There could be doubt in arahanth mind
4.      Arahanths has to follow a way which has been introduced by another one
5.      One can be an arahanth by pronouncing  a certain word

It is clear that Mahasanghikas have tried to degrade the position of Arahanths by presenting above five points. As a matter of fact, these points have been presented by the monk by having his own hypothesis as the base, therefore, his opinion is doubtful since his opinion is a hypothesis. On the other hand, this can be the point that they introduced Bodhisatva concept instead of Arahanthhood.

The way the Buddha prescribed to solve disputes and conflict among Bhikkhus

According to Pāsādika sutta of Digha nikāya the Buddha has introduced a way to solve conflicts, problems and disputes among the Bhikkhus thus,

“Tesaŋ ca vo cunda samaggānaŋ sammodamānānaŋ avivadamānānaŋ sikkhitabbaŋ: aññataro brahmacāri saŋghe dhammaŋ bhāseyya, tatra ce tumhākaŋ evamassa; “ ayaŋ kho āyasmā atthañceva micchā ganhāti, byañjanānica micchā ropeti’ti” tassa neva abhinanditabbaŋ nappatikkositabbaŋ. Anabhinanditvā appatikkositvā so evamassa vacanīyo “imassa nu kho āuso atthassa imāni vā byañjanāni etāni vā byañjanāni katamāni opāikatarāni imesaŋ vā byañjanānaŋ ayaŋ vā attho esova attho, katamo opaikataro?ti”

Cunda, you will solve problems thus harmoniously without arguing:
When a certain monk mistakes the teaching, if you suppose thus, “this monk has taken the teaching in the wrong manner”. You will neither accept nor reject it. Without accepting or rejecting it you will question him thus, “friend, is this consonant or that consonant most suitable for this meaning? Is this meaning or that meaning most suitable for this consonant? You will follow this way to solve questions for you.

“Tasmāhita cunda ye vo mayā dhammā abhiññā desitā tattha pubbeheva saŋgamma samāgamma atthena atthaŋ byañjanena byañjanaŋ saŋgāitabbaŋ na vivaditabbaŋ. Yathaidaŋ brahmacariyaŋ addhaniyaŋ assa ciratthitikaŋ”

Therefore Cunda, you have to rehearse what I taught word by word, meaning by meaning harmoniously without arguing. That will affect to remain what I taught for a long time.
These teachings are applicable as long as the order is in existence. Anyway, everyone has to work and try their optimum for solving the conflict harmoniously.
After the demise of the Buddha great monks took steps to rehearse all the existed Buddhist teachings in order to remain Buddhist teaching for the goodness of future human beings and gods. Although the first Sangha council made a good basis for remaining of Buddhist teachings, after nearly 100 years again big disagreements appeared among the order and this affected to first splitting in the order whichever happened before.
This is a point which has to be examined carefully since the background and the way of living of the people have been changed for a long period. This was a time when the Buddhist teaching spread alone many areas in India. Perhaps, the way of living, traditions, norms, geography, weather, culture, language, political issues etc… could be different to each. Consequently, some monks living in these areas might some changes of vinaya codes and vajjiputtakas ten points could be a development of that thought. Perhaps some of their points could be reasonable and acceptable if they could be justified as minor offences which allowed by the Buddha to change according to the context. But unfortunately, there was no any interpretation from great disciples regarding minor offences at the first sangha council. Sometimes, later on, some monks could have a tendency to change some rules by taking them as minor offences. However, Sangha order split for an issue regarding disciplinary codes and this is also a point that to be studied carefully. 
One can say that the main reason for splitting the Buddhist order was ineffective problem solving by referring following factors.
According to scriptures, venerable Yasa had been to Visala city and directly rejected ten points as opposites of Vinaya. As a matter of fact, this reaction has violated what the teaching in the Pāsādika sutta. On the other hand, holding a separated Sangha council by neglecting Vajjiputtaka Bhikkhus caused to split the order because when a group is neglected then there is a tendency to the neglected group to organize as a separated group. Therefore the same thing could happen as a result of this neglecting and consequently, neglected group hold a separated Sangha council with changes they expected.


As all are the Buddha’s disciples they must be able to solve any issue in the community by discussing in a friendly manner rather than split the order. According to the Buddha’s own word, unlike other religions, Buddhist teaching is pure in the beginning, middle, and the end, therefore, arguing and splitting the order is irrational and it affected to disappoint people.
It is true that even the Buddha has concerned about some rules considering geographical, social, and cultural variations. So, no doubt even after passing away of the Buddha the cultural and social variations affected to the sangha community. In such occasions, elder monks have a responsibility to respond towards such varieties in a humanistic manner since the teaching becomes popular and spreading in many countries that have a different way of living. Unfortunately, they could not come to a conclusion caring brotherhood as sons of the Buddha even if the Buddha has taught the way to solve such conflicts In the order. That was the bad luck which brought schism.
However, the order split and some of the schools developed their concepts by adding and removing some teachings of the tradition while some of them were putting effort to care the original teaching as it is. Ten points of Vajjiputtaka monks could be affected to splitting the order to some extent while another group of monks were trying to establish a new concept called Bodhisattva. Thus, expecting changes in discipline, adding and neglecting of the teaching according to one’s wish, and hanging on the tradition were caused by schism. In a way appearing of different traditions according to the passing of the time is natural since everything is impermanent.


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Ven. Sumiththa T.
Sri Lankan Buddhist Cultural Centre - Hong Kong 
3F, 27 Sheung Heung Road, To Kwa Wan, 
Kowloon, Hong Kong

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