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Saṁghabheda and nikāyabheda : a critical study of the schism, origin and formation of sects and sectarianism in early Buddhism

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Bhikkhu, Lokananda C.




Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Capitanio, Joshua
Iwamura, Jane N.
Shakya, Miroj


About one hundred years after the great decease of the Buddha (Mahāparinibbāna), his democratically well-established Saṁgha community split, first into two major groups as the Sthaviravāda and Mahāsāṁghika sects. Later, each group split repeatedly, creating eighteen or more sub-sects. Nevertheless, a general curiosity prevails as to why the Saṁgha split. Hence, a number of treatises both in Pali and in Sanskrit were written by experts, and following these treatises, a number of modern scholars formed into two groups, each concluding that the splits were due to one of two reasons: (a) a monastic disciplinary reason centering on the dasavatthu (Ten Points), which were introduced by a group of bhikkhus from Vaiśālī, and on the other hand, (b) a doctrinal debate due to the dispute on pañcavatthu (Five Points), which was propounded by a monk named Mahādeva of Kukkuṭārāma.

However, after thorough examination of the existing treatises, scholastic monographs, and academic writings, a few modern scholars, viz., Charles Prebish and André Bareau, came to conclude that the split was not due to either of these two reasons, and further suggested that scholars must find other reasons.

This dissertation is an attempt to address this suggestion and addresses schism and its applicability in the Buddhist Studies arena; it analyses the meaning of sect and schism from a comparative perspective. It further examines the social, political, and geographical circumstances of ancient India, which actually influenced and contributed to the first and later splits in the Saṁgha community. The present work also observes that there were personal conflicts among the disciples of the Buddha, which later emerged as confrontations and caused splitting. Additionally, it also examines and finds that there were different groups of bhikkhus within the Buddhist Saṁgha who were under the tutelage and leadership of a certain prominent disciple of the Buddha. These were proto-sectarian elements and separate fraternities (nikāya); the royal patronage of these proto-sectarian fraternities caused the formation of various sects. Royal patronage helped these small groups spread to various geographic localities at home and abroad. Ultimately, after comparing and examining the issues, this dissertation concludes that the root of split was embedded in early Buddhism.

Degree Granter

University of the West



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