Sects & Sectarianism & the Kalyani Sima

A number of years ago I wrote up some research on the history of Buddhist sectarianism. The gist of it was that the various schools of Buddhism extant today all stem from the unified Sangha that spread out originally in the time of Ashoka. Contrary to the popular view that the schools arose from schism, the three monastic lineages of the main schools of Buddhism all stem from this missionary activity:

  • Theravada (= Mahavihara), Mahinda
  • Dharmaguptaka (= East Asian), Yonaka Dharmarakkhita.
  • Mulasarvastivada (= Central Asian), Sanakavasin of Mathura or Majjhantika of Kaśmir.

I just came across an important piece of evidence that I neglected in my earlier study: the 15th century stone inscriptions of the Kalyani Sima (KS). This is of critical importance for later Buddhism, as this place forms the basis, not only for modern Burmese ordination lineages, but for the Ramanna and Amarapura nikayas in Sri Lanka, as well as the Dhammayuttika in Thailand (and, I believe, in Cambodia as well.)

Here is the pdf of the text and translation

I am going to summarize very briefly the relevant details.

The KS recounts the standard history as told by the Mahavihara. The main thrust of the edicts is to affirm the Burmese (here = Mon) adoption of the “pure” Mahavihara orthodoxy from Sri Lanka, as opposed to the supposedly corrupt local traditions. (This is the same as the later 19th century reform of Thai Buddhism by Mongkut, based on the KS lineage.)

Some Burmese monks visited Sri Lanka, where they were told by senior monks that the Sri Lankans inherited the sasana from Mahinda, while the Burmese inherited it from Sona and Uttara (as told in the legends of the time of Ashoka). Hence they should perform upasampada together. (p. 51). This affirms very explicitly that the elders at the time acknowledged that the various branches sent out in the missions were not schismatic, on the basis of the missions account.

The monk thus ordained, Chapaṭa, remained in Lanka to study the text and commentaries. After ten years he wished to return home, but did not want to do sanghakamma with the local Burmese monks of Pugāma “through pride” (! mānavasena), so decided to take four other monks with him (the minimum to perform ordination.) Notably, only one of the monks so chosen, a cerain Rāhula, is said to be Sri Lankan. The others were Sivali of Tamalitthi, Tamalinda of Kamboja (the name seems to mean “Tamil lord”; he was a prince), and Ānanda of Kincipura. Once back in Pugāma they did their procedures separate from the local monks, ordaining many monks.

Rāhula, the lone Sri Lanka, and the most learned, fell under the influence of lust. Apparently the king organized a ceremony for the Elders, at which beautiful dancing girls performed (!). He was advised to go to Malaya and disrobe. He taught the king Vinaya (!) then accepted a alms-bowl full of gems (!) then disrobed and got married (!).

Later, Chapaṭa, the original Burmese Mon monk ordained in Sri Lanka, died.

Next, the king back in Pugāma showed his esteem for the three remaining monks by offering each of them an elephant (!) Two freed the elephants in a forest, but Ānanda sent his to his relatives in Kincipura (!) The other monks criticized him for his cruelty to animals, and henceforth they split apart.

Next, Tamalinda suggested that the lay people should offer more requisites to his students. Sivali criticized him, and the final two then split also.

There were then 4 distinct lineages in the kingdom:

  1. The original monks who introduced Buddhism from Sudhammanagara. (purima, ariyārahantapakkha, later the kambojasanghapakkha)
  2. Sivali’s disciples
  3. Tamalinda’s disciples
  4. Ānanda’s disciples

The latter three stem from the Sri Lanka lineage (pacchima, sihala, sihalapakkha).

Two other Sinhalese lineages arose from monks who went to Lanka separately:

  1. Buddhavamsa, the preceptor of the queen.
  2. Mahasami AKA Mahanaga. (Mahasami is probably a title conferred in Lanka)

All these groups performed sanghakamma separately, but few were learned, so all just did it as they thought was right. An extensive list of faulty sima procedures is given.

Later, King Ramadhipati arose, and studied the Vinaya and commentaries extensively (a full list is given). He determined the correct characteristics of a proper sima and ordination, and recognized the failures of the Sangha to achieve this. Hence all ordinations in Burma were invalid. Reflecting on the purification of the Sri Lanka Sangha under Parakkamabahu I, who unified the three Sinhalese sects under the Mahavihara, he determined to send 22 elder monks with disciples (44 in total) to Lanka to receive ordinations at the Kalyani river under the pure monks of the Mahavihara. An extensive array of treasures and fine cloths was prepared as gifts and offerings in Lanka (including many from China). The 44 monks were ordained by 24 Sinhalese elders; first they were made to disrobe, then ordained as samaneras, then as bhikkhus.

On return to Burma, the king weeded out any monks to whom censure could accrue, and ended up with sixteen, who he invited to set up a proper sima. But one fell ill and with his attendant returned to his monastery, leaving 14. Further extensive discussions of correct procedures for simas is given.

Some monks asked the king if they could redo their ordination in the new sima. The king said he would not force anyone to do it or not do it, but urged them to act according to what they thought was Dhamma and Vinaya.

But there was a problem. An upajjhaya should have at least ten vassa, and these monks were but newly ordained in Lanka. The king found out about an ascetic forest monk named Suvannasobhana, who had received ordination in Sri Lanka 26 years prior, and had an impressive lineage. The king asked him to be uppajjhaya, and he accepted.

A great ceremony was held, during which 245 monks were ordained following the Sri Lanka procedure. Then those monks and the original ones successively conferred ordination on many others.

The king then sent out an edict, with the approval of the Sangha, to this effect.

  • You should not ordain anyone who is a criminal, deformed, or otherwise deemed deficient.
  • You should not ordain locally except with the permission of the king or the KS elders, else the king will punish the relatives of the candidates (!)
  • Various kinds of wrong livelihood are condemned.
  • Good monks should be supported.
  • If laymen wish to ordain, they should be first taught to write and intone Pali properly, and taught how to recite the precepts and refuges.
  • A set of texts for novices is given
  • Monks are enjoined to follow Vinaya
  • One sect should be established based on the Mahavihara KS lineage, following the dress code and other practices of the Sri Lankans.
  • Monks who own gold and wealth are asked to give it away or disrobe, as were those who had various other faults.
  • There were 15,666 pure monks.

Bhante, your link above to the pdf does not work. For anyone interested, here is the correct link.


Thanks, I’ve fixed the original.


Bhante Sujato, thank you for illuminating sectarianism. My neighbor is a Buddhist, and the differences in our practices are bewildering. Not heeding the Vinaya, a seed creeps in, then an elephant apparently.

Fascinating. It seems like there is very little information of this kind about the history of Buddhism in SE asia so what we do have is very revealing. My understanding is many of the written (paper?) records were destroyed during a war between Burma and Siam 300 or so years ago, so now we are looking to stone inscriptions to learn! :slight_smile:

Great info, thank you very much for summarizing the interesting details, Bhante @sujato

Now one thing that would have to be kept in mind when considering the Kalyani Sima of king Dhammazedi (Ramadhipati) as an unbroken Mahāvihāra lineage from Mahinda is that in the 11th century supposedly the Sri Lankan king of that time requested monks from King Anuruddha (Anawrahta) in Rāmañña (southern Myanmar plus Bagan/Pugāma at that time). That was because after a devastating war with the Tamils there were not even enough monks to perfom formal sangha acts such as higher ordination (at least so the story goes), so he requested learned monks and tipitaka copies from Anuruddha, which he sent, and they then performed many ordainations in Sri Lanka and helped to re-establish the sangha there. These monks from Rāmañña though were from the Soṇa & Uttara lineage of Thaton/Sudhammapura/Suvaṇṇabhūmi. So would that re-established lineage in Sri Lanka still be considered Mahavihāra and “Mahinda”, if it was re-established with burmese Soṇa&Uttara monks?
Just adding this thought to the topic, since I came across this detail in some papers. The account can be found for example in the Cūḷavaṃsa, chapter IX, paragraph 4ff

Another point that I am wondering about is actually to which extent the Dhammayut claims to stem from a genuinely “Kaḷyāni sīmā”-lineage. At least as far as I heard this what they say, that their founder re-ordained in a Mon lineage called “kaḷyāni sīmā”.
Here in Mon state though, where I’m staying right now, nobody seems to know about such a lineage. Everyone knows the kalyani sima halls built by King Dhammazedi across the country (here in Thaton also there’s one that stands till today) and some also know the history related to it - but no one links this name to a specific monastic sect.
Myanmar history appears to be such that all monks under the king’s rule were eventually re-ordained in the KS lineage and then over the years there were again conflicts and schisms in the Sangha with the kings from time to time favoring this or that sect. But all of these burmese sects would still stem from the KS all the same, so I am doubtful how that Mon kaḷyāni sīmā lineage in which Mongkut (the founder of the Dhammayut) ordained, would have been genuinely KS compared to all other burmese traditions.

Anyone knows more about this?

Bhante Sujato in another thread mentioned a book:

I also couldn’t find the book online and also wasn’t able to find contact information for the Mahamakut university. If anyone could help with this, would be great :slight_smile:


General info about burmese sangha history up to the 19th century can be found in the Sāsanāvaṃsa by Ven. Paññasāmi. An english translation is available on, though I have no idea about it’s copyright.

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@dhammacorps, in this case it’s the other way round: the stone inscriptins were partially destroyed by the portuguese and king Alaungpaya, but palm leaf copies of the pali inscriptions were preserved :wink:

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Interesting, I will have to check this out, thanks for the reference.

That actually sounds very like the pattern in the KS inscriptions themselves. When talking about the local culture in Burma, they are detailed and precise, giving many specifics that can only have come from genuine local knowledge. But when speaking of Sri Lanka, they are vague and brief, and mostly talk about it like, well, tourists. There’s no sense of an interrogation of the Mahavihara’s claims.

It’s quite likely the Thais had the same attitude: go to a foreign country with a supposed “pure” lineage, without really subjecting the claims to any real scrutiny.

The main object, one suspects, is to claim authority by shifting the source of knowledge outside of that of the local people. This kind of strategy is quite common, and is used quite explicitly today by the Dhammakaya: they go overseas to learn, then go home and use the prestige of their foreign degrees to influence Thai Buddhism. The fact that all the professors in all the foreign universities think Dhammakaya is nonsense is somehow forgotten.

Right. It’s basically just hearsay all the way down.

Lest we forget, these were (probably) northern monks of the (Mula)Sarvastivāda, or the communities that came to be known as such. In which case they may be the same ordination lineage as the Tibetans, not the Sri Lankans! Given that my lineage—the Maha Nikaya, i.e. the Thai Sangha unreformed by Mongkut—is from the same roots, it may be the case that my own lineage is shared with the modern Tibetan Sangha.


I just did check this out, and you are quite right. It was in the time of Vijayabahu 1, roughly a century before Parakramabahu 1. According to Geiger’s notes, multiple sources confirm that monks were brought from Burma for ordination. The text itself is a little brief, but the clear sense is that the ordination lineage in Sri Lanka at the time was corrupt or lost entirely and was re-established from Burma. It all seems a little perfunctory, really—no consideration of the different schools, or monks away from the center? Nevertheless, leaving aside the actual historical situation, the mythic truth is that ordination in Sri Lanka was re-established in the 11th century from Burma.

Unless there are any earlier references to the ordination being taken from Sri Lanka to Burma, it seems most likely that there is, in fact, no such thing as a “Mahavihara” ordination lineage stemming from Mahinda, and all current Theravadin ordinations in fact stem from the Soṇa & Uttara line, AKA (Mūla) Sarvāstivāda.

Just to clarify so as to avoid misunderstanding: I am not claiming what the actual historical situation of lineages is—for that is unknowable—but rather what is accepted as history in the Theravada school.

The point is not that Theravadin lineages are somehow corrupt or problematic, but rather that the modern notion of Theravada is quite different from that in the past. Past Theravadins, whether kings or Sangha, accepted without question their unity with the monks of the Soṇa & Uttara line, and thus did not believe that the separation between these lineages was schismatic.

This is just one of several lines of evidence that show there is no insuperable Vinaya obstacle to Theravadin monastics performing formal acts of the Sangha together with monastics from the Tibetan or Chinese lineages.


There is no need for the above to be a controverted point, however, all the same, I feel that I lot of people would get very triggered in certain quarters at the above statement! :sweat_smile:


Thanks for your reply Bhante, very interesting perspectives!

a question here though:

I might be missing some information here, Bhante, why do you assume that it would have been Mulasarvastivadin monks?

As far as the Burmese and international accounts of history go, Bagan did have „Ari Buddhism“ (a form of Vajrayāna Buddhism) initially but then with King Anawrahta that changed since he imported Theravāda of the Soṇa&Uttara lineage from the Talaing Empire (Thaton and Bago) along with it‘s monks and pali tipitaka after taking over southern Myanmar. And the story also goes that he defrocked and persecuted the Ari monks and made Theravāda the national religion of his empire.

I‘m not saying that this reform would have eradicated mahayānin and tantric practices from the Burmese Buddhist spectrum - in fact several historical records state that Anawrahta himself kept on performing mahayāna rituals even after his conversion and we have spirit worship, wizardry, alchemy, etc. until today within Buddhist society in Myanmar - but at least the northern ordination lineage would then have been replaced by that Soṇa&Uttara lineage from Thaton. And it was these monks which Anawrahta then later sent to Sri Lanka on Vijayabāhu‘s request.

Following is some story telling, first a more traditional story by a Mon monk, then more scholarly one by Roger Bischoff.

„[…] Anawratha (Anuruddha), ascended the throne of Pagan and he was dissatisfied with the prevailing religion of his people, which was a mixture of Tantric Buddhism with native animistic beliefs. He resented the enormous authority and prestige of the Ari monks, whom he considered depraved. At this juncture a Mon monk, Shin Arahan by name, also known as Dhammadasi who came from Thaton, arrived at Pagan. His saintly personality stood in contrast to the heavy-eating and arrogant Ari monks, and within a short period of time he was able to convert Anawratha to Theravada Buddhism. Anawratha, who must have been already planning to conquer the Mons and extend his frontiers to the seacoast, was now seized with genuine religious zeal and assumed the role of a champion of his new faith [5].
In making Buddhism the official and national religion of his people, Anawratha was acting under advice of Shin Arahan, whom he appointed as the primate of his empire. A strict disciplinarian, he was intolerant of and punished ruthlessly any departure from orthodoxy. He handled the opposition from the Aris with skill, executing the leaders but conscripting the rank and filed for his armies, and, according to traditional accounts, with their well-fed and vigorous bodies the unfrocked Aris fought well in the elephantry. Nonetheless, he had to come to some compromise with spirit worshipers. In spite of his stern measures, he was successful in making Buddhism the national religion of the people only because the majority accepted. The Burmese of Pagan adopted the religion, language, literature and script of the Mons.
[…] Anawratha and his successors became the great champions of the Theravada form of Buddhism, and along with their political authority it extended over the whole of Burma. […]“
- Ven. Subhoga, (IJIRSSC, Vol: 3, Issue:1, (June Issue), 2017;

„[…] The religion prevailing among the Myanmar before and during the early reign of Anawratha was some form of Mahayana Buddhism, which had probablyfound its way into the region from the Pāla kingdom in Bengal. This is apparent from bronze statues depicting Bodhisattas and especially the “Lokanātha,” a Bodhisatta believed, in Bengal, to reign in the period between the demise of the Buddha Gotama and the advent of the Buddha Metteyya. Anawratha continued to cast terracotta votive tablets with the image of Lokanatha even after he embraced the Theravada doctrine.
[…] The Ari, the monks or priests of this Mahayana Buddhist form of worship, are described, in later chronicles of Myanmar, as the most shameless bogus ascetics imaginable. They are said to have sold absolution from sin and to have oppressed the people in various ways with their tyranny. Their tantric Buddhism included, as an important element, the worship of Nagas(dragons), which was probably an ancient indigenous tradition.
Tradition has it that he had them dressed in white and even forced them to serve as soldiers in his army. The Ari tradition continued for a long time, however, and its condemnation is a feature of much later times, and not, as far as contemporary evidence shows, of the Pagan era.“

  • Roger Bischoff, Buddhism in Myanmar – A Short History, 1995

In Chapter 3 of his book, Roger Bischoff gives more details of King Anawrahta‘s conversion and and the historical background and context at that time…


Thanks for all the history, it’s very interesting.

Well, I go into this in Sects & Sectarianism. The first record of missionary activity is recorded in the Vinaya commentary Samantapasadika, which speaks of the mission monks being sent out in the time of Ashoka. Now, at that time, there had been no schism, and these monks did not represent any school. Nevertheless, the missions that they set up evolved into various schools.

There is considerable historical doubt as to this specific mission, since there is no corroborating archeology, and the location of Suvaṇṇabhūmi is debated. But what matters for us is that the local Burmese Sangha believed that they were established by the missions of Soṇa & Uttara, and that this was essentially the same as the Mahāvihāra of Sri Lanka.

So, as to the missions, the chief authority and leader was Moggaliputtatissa. He dwelt in a forest monastery of the Mathura region called Ahogaṅgapabbata. This monastery was established, according to both southern and northern sources, by Saṇavāsin, one of the elders of the Second Council. Saṇavāsin is seen as the forerunner of Moggaliputtatissa’s lineage, and hence that of the missions. But in the northern traditions, which know (almost) nothing of the missions, he is famous as the teacher of Upagupta, the establisher of the Mathuran school that, in all probability, evolved into what we know today as Mūlasarvāstivāda. Upagupta, though he stayed at the same monastery as Moggaliputtatissa at the same time, is for some reason unknown in the Pali texts, and unheard of in Sri Lanka. (Some have even argued that the two are the same person.)

In summary: Moggaliputtatissa, the founder of the missions, came from the community that was later to evolve into Mūlasarvāstivāda.

This might have been little more than a footnote in history, were it not for the curious historical fact that throughout Burma, northern Thailand, and Laos, Upagupta is worshipped to this very day. As was shown in wonderful detail by John Strong in The Legend and Cult of Upagupta, the details of the various cults as practised throughout the region show the definite influence of the legends of Upagupta as found in the Tibetan and Chinese sources.

In fact, I just showed this to some of the monks here at Bodhinyana the other day. We have a cute little image of Upagupta on the shrine in the dana hall here, sitting quiet and unnoticed. None of the monks have any idea who he is or what he means.

The best explanation for all this is is quite simple. Upagupta was a senior patriarch in the form of Buddhism that was originally established in the Suvaṇṇabhūmi region. This mythically, and perhaps historically, originated with the mission of Soṇa and Uttara. We don’t know their origins specifically, but it can be assumed that they were close associates of Moggaliputtatissa and perhaps Upagupta.

Thus both the origin story and the later distinctive practices of the region attest to a connection between Suvaṇṇabhūmi Buddhism and Mūlasarvāstivāda.

There is more to it than this; I believe in some of the Chinese pilgrim accounts there are mentions of the schools of the region.

In any case, please don’t think I am trying to say the Buddhism of the region was literally Mūlasarvāstivāda. The school as such didn’t exist until later. Obviously many different monastics would have visited the area over time, and the influence of different schools and approaches would have been complex and changing. It is just that the mythic authority of the lineage is associated with the same origins as that of the Mūlasarvāstivāda.

Pretty much everything I have just said is debatable, including the notion that we should associate the Mūlasarvāstivāda with the community of Upagupta at Mathura. Still, I think it’s the most reasonable reading of the admittedly sparse evidence.

What the connection, if any, between this and the Ari may be, I have no idea. It is tempting, in light of the fact that Tibetan Buddhism hails from the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya lineage, yet practices tantra, to see some connection there. And it may be so: while the Mūlasarvāstivāda itself is not tantric, the key legacy of Upagupta was his focus on sometimes eccentric and wild “skilful means”, which is one of the key principles underlying tantra. Nevertheless, it would be ahistoric to see the missions as having anything to do with tantra.

My guess would be that Buddhism in the region became established through missions from India, primarily of the northern region, and primarily from the powerful and influential Mathuran lineage of Saṇavāsin/Moggaliputtatissa/Upagupta (whether at the time of Ashoka, as said in the Samantapasadika, or later, as suggested by the archeology). The early history is largely unknown. At some point, tantric practices under the name of the Ari became popular (remembering that tantra per se only arose a thousand years or more after the original missions). In reformist zeal, King Anawrahta and Shin Arahan quashed the Aris and re-established Buddhism in a more conventional form. But by this time the central Buddhism in India was weak or gone, so connections were sought with Sri Lanka. The purity of the Mahavihara lineage was emphasized, and it was generally accepted that this was the same tradition as that under which Burma was originally missionized, based on the account preserved in the Sri Lankan Vinaya commentary and Chronicles.


If Upagupta was mythical, what implications does this have?

with metta

That’s not what I am saying.


Okay, that’s a lot of new infos to think about :smiley:
I guess I’ll have to read your book before I can say much more to that…

but just, from the few bits of infos I have picked up from here and there, the way I would join the puzzle pieces would be a little different. As I say, I don’t know much, especially about the stories of the northern traditions, but let’s for example look at this of your statements, Bhante:

This idea stands in contrast on the one hand with the fact that Upagupta is unknown in early pāḷi texts (that were part of that original form of Suvaṇṇabhūmi Buddhism), and also for example with this statement in the “Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism”, which has the Upagupta cult introduced to SE Asia in the 12th century along with sanskrit texts (and obviously the northern monks who were carrying those texts):
“The cult of Upagupta became popular in Southeast Asian Buddhist
countries from the twelfth century onward, thanks to his prominent appearance in
Sanskrit materials, and he eventually comes to be featured in noncanonical Pāli
materials as well.” (see under “Upagupta” in Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr.'s “Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism”, 2014)

Of course, I can’t say anything as to the validity of this quote or on which sources it is based. But if we follow that line of thought it would seem that the Upagupta cult did not come along with the tradition established by Soṇa and Uttara (as long as we assume that this mission took place anyways, in one way or another). And the idea that Upagupta and Moggaliputta Tissa were one and the same person doesn’t seem too fancy, since they are both supposed to have been Ashoka’s teachers and the fathers of the later traditions. Also, “Upagupta” seems to be likely a title than a name, since it fits well the personality he represents in the stories ascribed to him (Upa+gutta = supreme protector?).

These are just some thoughts that I had when reading your post but besides I find the ideas you are presenting (also in the intro to your book) very interesting, so, that book is definitely among the books to read next.

Thanks for all the interesting things to learn in the course of this thread!