Mahāsāṃghika and Mahāyāna: An Analysis of Faxian and the Translation of the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya

I read this paper 1-2 years ago and thought about it again recently, since there was some discussion about possible connections between Mahasamghika and Mahayana in the Ekottarika Agama. This paper reexamines the Mahasamghika Vinaya and the circumstances surrounding its translation into Chinese, after a copy of the text was acquired in Pataliputra by Faxian in the early 5th century CE.

Zhan, Ru. “Mahāsāṃghika and Mahāyāna: An Analysis of Faxian and the Translation of the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya (Chin. Mohe Sengqi Lü).” Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 2.1 (2019): 302-324.

Faxian’s purpose in going to India in search of the Dharma was to bring back the material missing from the Vinaya canon. He brought back three Vinaya texts to China in total, namely, the Mohe sengqi lü 摩訶僧祇律 [Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya] (hereafter abbreviated to Sengqi lü), the Sapoduozhong lü chao 薩婆多眾律抄 [Annotation to the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya] and the Mishasai wufen lü 彌沙塞五分律 [Five-Part Vinaya of the Mahīśāsaka School] (hereafter abbreviated as Wufen lü), respectively. Why did he choose to translate the Sengqi lü? Did it have something to do with the features of Sectarian Buddhist thought? Was it related to Buddhist thought of the time? This article raises and attempts tentative answers to these questions.

The PDF is freely available. The paper meanders a bit, but the exploration of the topic itself makes for an interesting read.


Thanks for sharing- I had read elsewhere some time ago that the decision to adopt Dharmaguptaka ad the “orthodox” vinaya school of China had meant “orthdox” in terms of Mahayana credibility.

Might it have been that the exegetes of the Mahasanghika school were considered prestigious because of their adoption of bodhisattvayana? There is little in the rules of the Mahasanghika vinaya itself which suggests the text of this school is laxer than others, as suggested in the article on p.12. (More detail needed.) This idea would be more convincing if concrete examples were given. Also, more lenient than what?

But the Mahasanghikas did have a lower status for arahants and a higher view of the Buddha, which seems Mahayana-compatible.

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I have read in that according to Mahasanghika themselves, their Vinaya is the original one, while Sthaviravada split from them because they modified their Vinaya so that they are stricter and have more rules than Mahasanghika Vinaya…

This is often claimed, but all the claims I have examined have been based on thin if not altogether absent basis.

This is I think the account in the Saripurtapariprccha, a Mahasanghika text.


That’s true, I have read it from your Sects and Sectarianism book, Bhante :pray::grin:

I agree with you. According to this Pratimoksha rules comparison taken from “Mahasanghika Origins: The Begginings of Buddhist Sectarianism” by Janice J. Nattier and Charles S. Prebish, there is no significant difference on Pratimoksha rules of Mahasanghika and other sects, except on Saiksa/Sekhiya rules :

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A post was merged into an existing topic: Leigh Brasington and “Jhana-Lite” (Why there is no such thing as “jhāna-lite”)