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.)
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:
- The original monks who introduced Buddhism from Sudhammanagara. (purima, ariyārahantapakkha, later the kambojasanghapakkha)
- Sivali’s disciples
- Tamalinda’s disciples
- 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:
- Buddhavamsa, the preceptor of the queen.
- 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.