Suttas on Sangha conflict, schisms & division

The Buddha warned against creating schisms and divisions within the Sangha.

But according to the suttas, are there times where it is appropriate for someone to say to a teacher or community: “No, that is not Dhamma!” I.e., to call out misconduct or corruption. And what guidelines do the suttas offer for this? (And are there EBT/non-EBT differences?)

(I’ve looked through a bit of @sujato 's Sects & Sectarianism, which looks fantastic, but seems to focus on the historical development of sects.)


It’s not free on line, but you should check out Bhikkhu Bodhi’s The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony.

In the mean time, check out MN 103


The basic guideline is that you should stick to Dhamma. When the Buddha spoke of schism, it only applied to those who were misrepresenting what the Buddha taught; it’s impossible to create a schism if Dhamma is on your side.

Obviously one should still avoid creating unnecessary disharmony, but if it is a choice between doing what is right, and doing what people will agree with, always choose what is right.


It would seem that the Bhikkhus would attempt to change the monk’s mind, and if it fails, send him to see the Buddha. I suppose he was the final authority! I think it’s helpful to know that Right view doesn’t come all at once, in the Path, and is developed progressively.

I suppose the problem grows deeper if a divergence of views persist and monks form factions. I would have thought this would be adequate for the karmic effect of ‘sangha bhedha’. But I take it that sangha acts must be performed separately, for it to be finalised.

Hm, I don’t know where to find this in SC… In the german version on there is under the header “vinaya” a collection called “culla vagga”. There is something reported about 5 sorts of teachers, good and spoiled ones (CV VII:1) ; then on Devadatta(CV VII:2-4) and in this how the sangha should handle the misdevelopment of his spiritual path (for me interesting the little twist between Sariputta and the Buddha about the openly announcement of the misrepresentation of the dhamma by Devadatta - it shows that in such questions it is not automatically guaranteed that an arahant meets the handling of the problem in the way how the Buddha would demand it). But I am not sure whether this is in the scope of what you are actually looking for.
(The german version is explicitely copyrighted and given for free solely to - don’t know about english versions. For Pali-speakers there is also the Pali-version available at the given link)

Hi Nessie,

This passage is the section of the Vinaya on schisms.

To convert Cullavagga (CV) numbers to our system, just add ten. Thus CV IIV = Kd 17, which is here:

To explain why the navigation is different: this portion of the Vinaya is known as the Khandhakas. It is found across all the extant Vinayas, and as you can see from the parallels, each of the eight or so extant Vinayas has comparable chapters. In all of these, the text comprises about 22 chapters: that is, twenty main chapters, and 2 appendices on the First and Second councils. These chapters are variously called khandhaka (Sanskrit skandhaka), vastu, or saṁyukta, all of which just mean “chapter, section”.

In the Pali tradition, these 22 chapters were further divided into two large sections, the Mahavgga (the first ten chapters) and Cullavagga (remaining twelve). The texts are commonly referenced this way in the Theravada tradition. However, since this organization is not found in any other school, and since it does not correspond to any meaningful division of the text, we count the chapters in a simple sequence from the beginning.

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Ah, thanks, Venerable, for the pointing to the english version! May these links help answer the OP’s question!


Thank you for all the replies - these point me in a good direction!

Bhante @sujato your advice is very practical, and helps in the here and now :grinning:

I look forward to reading sutta @nessie suggests. And intend to order Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book suggested by @Snowbird - that looks like a great resource

One thing I am learning is that “schism” has a very specific Canonical definition: “A schism (saṅgha-bheda, literally a split in the Saṅgha) is a division in the Community in which two groups of bhikkhus of common affiliation, with at least five in one group and four in the other, conduct Community business separately in the same territory.” I had taken it to be something much more general.


Exactly! Which is why historically there has never been a schism in the Vinaya sense.


Please also note that Ajahn Brahmali’s new English translation of the Vinaya is not yet published on SuttaCentral, but will be available hopefully very soon under this link. :smile:


I just read Kd 17, Schism in an Order, suggested by @Nessie. I’ve heard stories of Devadatta, and his attacks on the Buddha, but never read the passages. It’s action packed!

I read a bit more about this passage in an essay of Bhante @sujato, that addresses how Devadatta’s story has figured into the dividing schools of Buddhism. It’s less clear to me whether Kd 17 is considered an EBT, or if parallel versions compete with one another?

I am also intrigued by the Buddha requesting that the Order give a “(formal) act of Information” about Devadatta, announcing to those in Rājagaha that Devadatta is no longer held in high regard by the Sangha.

Are we to understand that such an act of Information was a procedure at the time of the Buddha? Are there other EBTs that deal with this?


I haven’t studied the different parts of the Vinaya in detail, but as I understand, the story of Devadatta is foundational in all the Vinayas (and less prominently in the Suttas), so it should be considered part of the EBTs. The story as we have it has clearly had elaboration, and I suspect the outlines of it were developed over time into its current more legendary form.

Again, so far as I know, the basic Vinaya procedures probably stem from the time of the Buddha, but I haven’t studied this particular case.