Is the Sangha currently divided?

In AN 5.78: Future Perils, it says:

‘Currently, the Saṅgha lives comfortably, in harmony, appreciating each other, without quarreling, with one recitation.
But there will come a time of schism in the Saṅgha.
When there is schism in the Saṅgha, it’s not easy to focus on the instructions of the Buddhas, and it’s not easy to frequent remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest.

It seems that not all members or groups of the Sangha undertake the same recitation.

  1. Does that imply that there is a schism in the Sangha now? If yes, how many schisms?
  2. Why is the presence of schisms considered a reason for why “it’s not easy to focus on the instructions of the Buddhas, and it’s not easy to frequent remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest”? Why can’t one focus on the instructions of the Buddhas and live in solitude regardless of whether there is a schism or not?
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I think the book of Sects Sujato Ven talks about it. What is considered a schism? Things like that in the book. And also something to consider that there might have never been a schism it’s just different Sangha living in different regions. And although they didn’t agree they will still will still recite together with the majority if they stay at the monastery. I think in the beginning is was not important where you stayed to spend the day or night because is said to go among other groups and stay some other places. Like a real wanderer. In Sri Lanka the new famous forest monastery school practice to stay a minimum of 3 months at one of their monasteries. It’s the idea not to get attached to one place.

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This is a complex and interesting question, about which there is much misunderstanding even among scholars and Sangha.

I researched this at length while writing Sects & Sectarianism. Among my conclusions:

  • There is a formal definition of “schism” in the Vinaya. To fulfill this legal definition, one must hold a separate recitation of Patimokkha with the intention of creating a schism and harming Buddhism.
  • To my knowledge, this has never happened. I believe the reason is that when Devadatta did it, the Buddha said he’ll go to hell. I don’t think anyone wants to test out whether the Buddha was being literal or not!
  • The evidence attests that existing schools of Buddhism arose primarily due to geographical separation, secondly due to doctrinal differences, and thirdly due to Vinaya interpretations. These schools were separated to a degree, but not schismatic in the technical sense.
  • In reality, personal differences or competition for resources likely played a part.
  • Modern-day Sangha are descended from three of the early scools: Theravada, Dharmaguptaka (east Asia), and Mulasarvastivada (central Asia). There is no evidence that these three schools were ever schismatic.
  • Within each of these major schools there are several smaller groups. Typically one finds a few different “nikayas” within a country. For example, Thailand has the Maha Nikaya and the Dhammayuttika Nikaya. Sri Lanka has the Siam Nikaya (technically the same as the Maha Nikaya), Ramañña, and Amarapura. These for the most part perform Sanghakamma separately, but there is no real evidence that they are technically schismatic.
  • The variety of modern schools seem to have arisen in the 19th century as a means to purify the Sangha against perceived or real corruption. They did so by invoking the semi-mythical purity of the “Kalyani Sima” in Myanmar, through which it was supposedly possible to connect to an unbroken lineage from the old Mahavihara in Sri Lanka. The modern Dhammayuttika, Amarapura, and Ramañña nikayas were formed in this way.
  • The Siam/Maha Nikaya seems to not have been a school in the same sense, but merely whatever the tradition of the unreformed monks in Thailand happened to have been. Given the complxity of movement of Buddhism throughout history, it seems almost certain that this is a mix of different schools not representing a single lineage. However, it likely includes the Mulasarvastivada as well as the Sri Lanka Theravada.
  • Again, within the recognized nikayas there are smaller groups who will not perform sanghakamma with each other. The monks of the Ajahn Chah tradition, for example, famously expelled the monks who performed bhikkhuni ordination and will no longer perform Sanghakamma with us.
  • Finally, there are many monastics, including myself, who believe that all this is rather a waste of time. We are all sons and daughters of the Buddha and should love and accept each other.

It is hard to let go when your brothers and sisters are locked in conflict. We care about the Sangha, and it’s upsetting to see it treated this way. But yes, ultimately if the crisis cannot be resolved, then like the Buddha at Kosambi, one has to simply leave it behind and walk away.


Is this even true at all? Of course monks came from Thailand to found the Siam Nikaya, but as far as I know that was the end of any meaningful connection or similarity. I’d love to know more information about this because people often make this claim, but I’ve never heard anything to back it up. Of course there are similarities in a way, but that seems more circumstantial. Like they both preceded other later nikayas who were/are more focused on the Vinaya.
But as I understand the situation to say that they are the same, technically or not seems misleading. Perhaps you mean in a lineage way since one founded the other. But practically, that is meaningless.

True enough. As I intimated, I believe that the “Mahanikaya” is not actually a single lineage at all. In fact, so far as my very limited knowledge affords, it seems the term was first used by the Dhammayuttika, basically in the sense of the “majority of the Sangha who are not us”. Given that for much of its history Thailand was not a unified nation, it’s likely that they received the ordination lineage multiple times from multiple sources. The Siam Nikaya simply draws on one of those unknown traditions. For all practical purposes, of course it is a separate nikaya.

Perhaps we should consider nikaya families, with Dhammayuittka, Amarapura, and Ramanna in one, and Siam and Maha in another. I believe that similar distinctions would apply in Cambodia and possibly Laos and Vietnam. As for Myanmar, perhaps all the nikayas, since they are supposed to stem from the Kalyani Sima, would belong in the former camp. Then of course there are native Theravadin traditions in Bangladesh and southern China as well, who knows where those lineages come from! It would be interesting to have a lineage map.

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I’m new to all of this, but isn’t the recital of patimokkha a sanghakamma?

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It is indeed, in fact it is the core sanghakamma in the consideration of a schism.

It is common for different Sangha groups to avoid performing patimokkha with each other. For example, the Dhammayuttika typically refuse to do sanghakamma with Mahanikaya monks (like me!).

I don’t agree with this policy, and I don’t think it has a basis in Vinaya, but when living in Thailand I did learn to at least appreciate why it is held so strongly. There are a lot of monks around, and many, perhaps most, have little or no practice of Vinaya. I’ve seen “monks” steal or carry liquor in their bowls. the concern is to keep the Sangha pure, and to prevent the infiltration by monks of bad faith.

However, notice that I said “avoid”? In order to create a formal schism, you must have:

  • two groups of monks performing sanghakamma separately
  • within the same sima
  • one of those groups must be aiming at creating a schism for the purpose of harming Buddhism.

By excluding outside monks from the patimokkha recitation, and ensuring that they are outside the sima, modern monks guarantee that a formal schism cannot occur.


Isn’t Siam Nikaya ordaining only high caste of sri lanka? I think they are an example of what might have happened when the Brahmins took over of Buddhism. I didn’t like that caste system is in a Nikaya. I found it weird. Disrespectful to the whole Buddha teaching

I think if we see what year they was invented first time we will understand also when it might have been in india that they did the same. I think Brahmins was the ones that started the divisions

It was forced change to Brahamanic priesthood.

I found in Mahavastu the story like a Jataka but not named so. That Buddha in his former life under a Buddha meaning is the sasana and he asking for gold ( money) from a householder to buy some flowers for the Buddha . And he offered he found his prediction.

And another verse where it’s actually saying what they want from wealthy householders.

For me Mahavastu which they say brought the start for the Brahmanic take over and made the divisions. I quote.

Part of my notes it’s also from what other scholars say for it to make sense

Blockquote * Mahavastu.

  • The story of Abhiya

  • For a hundred thousand kalpas a monk called Abhiya lived in passion, malice and folly.

  • Next, he went to the merchant Uttiya and said to him,

  • “I should like, householder, to make an offering to the exalted Sarvābhibhū and his company of disciples. Pray, give me the means of doing so.”

  • And Uttiya the merchant gave the monk Abhiya much gold, and other rich householders did the same.

  • (38) Now, Mahā-Maudgalyāyana, in the great city of Vasumata, there were two dealers in perfume who were devoted to the monk Abhiya.

  • So, the monk Abhiya, with a hundred thousand pieces[15] in his hand, went to the two perfume dealers and said to them,

  • “My good friends,[16] I want these one hundred thousand pieces’ worth of keśara[17] essence. I shall take care[18] of it and offer it to the exalted Sarvābhibhū and his company of disciples.”

  • The two perfume-dealers gave[19] him a hundred thousand pieces’ worth of keśara essence. Then the monk Abhiya feasted and regaled the exalted Sarvābhibhū and his company of disciples with plentiful and palatable food, both hard and soft. When he saw that the exalted Sarvābhibhū had eaten, washed his hands, and put away his bowl, he scattered the hundred thousand pieces’ worth of keśara essence on, over and about him and his company of disciples.

  • He is dear to me and beloved, and is the son of a brāhman of good birth. Ordain him, Lord, and admit him to the community.”

  • When this had been said, Ānanda, the monk Jyotipāla replied to the exalted Kāśyapa, “It was so, Lord.” Then the exalted Kāśyapa said to the monk Jyotipāla, “Therefore, Jyotipāla, give to the community of monks, with the Buddha at their head, this seat of gold and a suit of garments. For when you have performed this meritorious deed,[35] devas and men will deem you worthy to hearken to and believe in.”

  • Having gained experience of this world and the world beyond, of the worlds of devas, Māra and Brahmā, of the race of brāhmans, recluses, devas and men, here in the Deer Park at Ṛṣivadana, near Benares

  • The hosts of the asuras will dwindle

  • a Śākyan of the city named Kapila.

  • Lokottaravādins seem to approximate closest to the original sect. These latter believed in the supramundane nature of the Buddha; his human traits while on earth were only apparently so.

  • Brahmins began to infiltrate the Buddhist Sangha, to Brahminise or dilute the Buddha’s original teachings and to destroy the Sangha from within.

  • The Jains and Buddhists who remained in India were absorbed into the larger Hindu fold and deprived of their separate identity. The Jains probably deliberately adopted many Hindu practices in order to be considered more acceptable, or less offensive to, the Brahmins.

  • In India Brahmins infiltrated in every sect to take over

  • Buddhism eventually entirely disappeared from India. From the many donations it received, the Sangha became rich, and monks began to ignore the tenth rule of the Vinaya and accepted silver and gold.> Blockquote

If I understand correctly, we have:

  • Theravada
  • Dharmaguptaka = Mahayana
  • Mulasarvastivada = Vajrayana

But are these only vinaya lineages, or do the doctrines of vajrayana, for example, also go back to this school of early Buddhism?

History is a long time. I assume this must have happened at some point, no?

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As a rule, yes. Some monks ignore caste rules when ordaining, but it is still the norm, unfortunately. Obviously this is 100% against what the Buddha taught.

(To make your posts more legible, you might want to check out the formatting rules for Markdown)

Only Vinaya lineages. In practice all schools mix things from various teachings and developments, but Central Asian Buddhism is primarily Varjrayana or Tantrayana in practice, with the orthodox doctrine from the Madhyamaka school based by Nagarjuna. East Asian Buddhism has been very diverse, but draws on both the Yogacara and Madhyamaka schools of Mahayana philosophy, while also creating new schools such as Pure Land or Chan/Zen.

The schools of practice or doctrine, oddly enough, have nothing really to do with the Vinaya lineage. One of the reasons for this is that the Vinaya traditions are almost identical, regardless of the school. Differences in Vinaya practice that we can see today stem not from the Vinaya texts, but from the evolution of Sangha practice in different countries.

As to whether Mahayana or Vajryana doctrines go back to early Buddhism, well, it depends how you see it. All schools inherit a central mass of teachings in common that stem back to the Suttas. Equally, all of them added things to them. The traditions would say that the things added were in line with what was there before, while critics would disagree. I suspect there’s probably some truth to both perspectives.

I doubt it very much. Again, see Sects & Sectarianism for the details, but what we see is that even in the cases where the opponent bhikkhu is vilified and reviled to the greatest possible extent (the story of Mahadeva, the supposed founder of the Mahasanghika), the texts carefully avoid saying that actually created a formal sanghakamma. I think this is basically because the whole Sangha knows about Devadatta and deliberately avoided letting that situation happen again.


I’m sorry but my point was not talk off topic. It’s saying maybe the cause of schism. If you understand good. Meaning around the time when that nikaya was build maybe together in India or that nikaya is the trace that the Brahmins that brought about the schism. It’s clarify why maybe came so many school but it’s all after the Brahmins took over. And that why we see as if we are divided.

The first question seemed off topic but it’s related to what I say next that if understood good may be the cause of these schools

Thanks for the explanation.

To concur, the Lokuttarava Vinaya, which is a branch of the Mahasanghikas, is descended from the “other” side of the first split. All the Vinayas in use today are from “our” side i.e. the ancestral Sthaviras.

While the Lokuttarava Vinaya, as also the Mahasanghika Vinaya in Chinese, descend from an early school, of course this does not mean that the Vinayas themselves are early. In fact they seem to have been subject to a large scale reorganization. Part of that reorganization involved extracting many/most of the stories and narratives, and putting them, together with many more stories, in a huge life of the Buddha called the Mahavastu. While this is technically a Vinaya text, in practice the content has little to do with Vinaya. And it tells us little about the state of text and practice of Vinaya among the Lokuttaravadins, for which we luckily have the actual Vinaya texts. Nevertheless, as you suggest, it may be possible to infer some details from the Mahavastu about the state of Indian society and context in which the Lokuttaravadins flourished.