Sanghabheda & Heresy

What a title!

Anyways, something just occurred to me.

Sanghabheda & Heresy are very similar terms, cross-culturally. They come from different peoples in different circumstances and worldviews, but, in their way, they are very similar.

We all know what sanghabheda is. It is the splitting of the sangha. Or the causing of a schism within it.

A heretic is someone who knows the true faith, departs from it, and encourages others to join him. For instance, the Catholic Church considers Martin Luther a heretic.

Modern day Lutherans, though, are not considered heretics. Neither are Buddhists, or Muslims for instance, by the “technical” definition.

This is because they were born into that system. They never apostatized to a “deranged” doctrine and encouraged others to do so with them, because they were born to it.

By its most technical definition, heresy is a splitting of the “true religion”. I can think of no better parallel in Buddhism as sanghabheda.

Now here is where others may disagree.

I think this to the point where I believe that “heresy” is a good English translation of the term “sanghabheda”. If I was a qualified and published translator, you would be reading suttas & vinaya text that has “sanghabheda” rendered in English as “heresy” or “heretic” depending on the grammar.

What do you think of that? Does the term “heretic” seem un-Buddhist to you? I ask only because many Buddhists have told me that “heresy” is a foreign concept to Buddhism.

If you were reading a Dharma text and encountered the word “heretic” or “heresy”, would you be offput?

What do you think of “heresy” as a translation for “sanghabheda”?

I personally have no idea, or legitimate basis for comment, because I’ve been excommunicated. :slight_smile:

Sanghabheda is a technical term in the Vinaya: mere difference of opinion or interpretation—even if it is Adhamma and Avinaya, and even if one convinces others and creates a following—doesn’t lead to Sanghabheda. It might well be heresy, but not yet a schism until the heretic group does an uposathakamma separate from the Sangha within the same boundary (sīmā).

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If you will forgive me to use this quotation from you as a springboard.

The “West” is dominated by largely non-monastic religions. Christianity has a huge and extensive tradition of its own monasticism, and I mean in no way to diminish that by saying this. However, the varieties of Christianities in which anchoritic/monastic spiritualities predominate are found mostly in Eastern Europe, not Western Europe nor the Americas.

As such, “Western” society’s latent definition (I acknowledge my hubris, feel free to punish me for it) of a “true faith” of any sort, is not a group of specific people with specific credentials (i.e. a sangha, a group of specific initiated & trained bhikṣavaḥ), but rather, a “invisible unknown priesthood of true believers” amongst the “general” populace of the faith/religion.

With this in mind, knowing the “technical” definition of heresy, as someone who pulls “the faith” (i.e. the expounders & preservers of “orthodoxy”, or “the true faith”, or “authentic Buddhadhamma”, if one will) away from the truth, do you (or others) think that such cross-cultural liberties are perhaps hasty?

Why are you interested in this question? Are you hoping western Buddhists will incorporate their enlightened tradition of sectarian mayhem, war and murder into the Buddhism they import from Asia, to make up for the lack of monasticism?

I am interested because I think these two terms are the same cross-culturally, and bear the same weight according to their most precise definitions.

However, I don’t think others will necessarily agree. Sometimes when I have an idea of mine that strikes me as potentially overly sophistic or eccentric, I like to put it up for public scrutiny and anaysis, to see how others respond to it.

I also have a something of a hidden or unstated agenda against what I would call “religious Buddhism exceptionalism” in the OP, the notion that the various organized religions that comprise “Buddhism” as a notion are fundamentally different than various other forms of institutionalized and organized religion, if you were so-asking.

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Sanghabheda is more specific, and closer to the idea of “schism” rather than “heresy”.

Sanghabheda is the splitting of the monastic order into two irreconcilable groups. It is a defined legal procedure, which requires a specific set of circumstances to be fulfilled. I believe that, after Devadatta, there has never been Sanghabheda in the formal sense in Buddhism. Rather, different communities went their separate ways, but without such a formal declaration. This is in Pali technically called nikāyabheda, and is how the different schools of Buddhism emerged.

While Sanghabheda is an act, “heresy” is an opinion. It’s more akin to the various kinds of “wrong view”. In the suttas we find a few examples of monks who actively promulgate serious wrong view, and they are dealt with quite sternly. This also becomes a Vinaya issue, but only if they are trying to persuade others to their wrong view. Such a monastic may be expelled. But this is quite separate from Sanghabheda.

One of the defining features of the idea of “heresy” in the west was that heretics deserved punishment, often very severe. But there is no similar notion in Buddhism. At most, a “heretic” would get a scolding, and, if they didn’t change their ways, expulsion. Whether “heretic” is the right word to use in such a case is debatable, but I think it’s okay.


I think the Buddha called them stupid man mogha purisa?

With metta

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