As I keep saying, the Sangha was not split after the Second Council.
The question of whether an arahant emits semen has been actively discussed in modern Thai Buddhism. It is even today a controversial issue.
Why? Because it cuts to the heart of the question of what it means for an arahant to be beyond worldly desires. And precisely this question that was one of the key issues in driving early sectarian Buddhism: how pure is the arahant?
I give more comprehensive references in Sects and Sectarianism, but for the Theravada take on this, see Kv 2.1.
For those who are mystified as to how such matters become public knowledge, it is common for the robes of senior monks to be washed by novices or junior monks. They would obviously notice if there had been an emission. And if they weren’t careful, everyone else would, too, because the method of washing robes in boiling water has the rather awkward side effect of fixing protein stains as a permanent mark. And since robes were not easy to get, once it is stained it would be worn for quite some time.
Thanks! William’s discussion gets it partly right, but he confuses the issue by referring to “Theravada accounts” of the Second Council. In fact the primary sources for the Second Council are the Vinayas of all schools, including Theravada, which on relevant issues tell a similar story.
The “Theravada accounts” he refers to means primarily the Dipavamsa, followed by the Mahavamsa. It’s misleading to simply mention “Theravada accounts” in this way, because the other primary source of Theravada history for this period is the Samantapasadika, which unlike the Dipavamsa enjoys corroboration with archeological findings. It says nothing of these events, depicting the Sangha as unified until after Asoka.
Moreover, the Dipavamsa does not, as he suggests, attribute the split to a relaxation of Vinaya rules, but to lax, expanded, and inaccurate texts.
Let’s take a minute to look at what the Dipavamsa actually says (with thanks to Anandajoti for his excellent edition!). This is a rather poorly-edited and not very coherent book, which was later tidied up for the Mahavamsa. According to Oldenberg, it could not have been written before 302 CE, which is the last date it records, and it is probably some time after that. That is to say, on the Second Council it was written around 600 to 800 years after the events. (The primary northern sources are all older than this.)
The fourth chapter tells the story of the First and Second Councils, and finishes with the unifying of the Sangha.
The next chapter then jumps back in time to the Parinibbana. It then tells the story of the First Council again, and then the Second Council again. Whereas the first version of this story stuck to a summary of the canonical record, now we are told that there were 12,000 heretical Vajjians and no fewer than 1,200,000 genuine monks (jinaputta). (Note that in this account, “Asoka” was king at Pataliputta; this is not the famous Asoka, but the son of Shishunaga sometimes called Kālasoka.)
It adds the detail that it after completing the Vinaya discussions, they then undertook a recital of the canon, which took “eight months” to complete. It further says that the Vajjian monks were expelled, which is not the case in the Vinaya; rather, there the procedure was agreed on by all parties and carried out in harmony.
Next it says that the Vajjians formed another party with many folk who spoke against the Dhamma. The whole tone is extreme and polemical, calling them “evil”.
Now so far the text-historical situation could hardly be clearer. The Dipavamsa preserves an old poetic retelling of the Second Council, which serves as a handy summary of the Vinaya. At some later date, a new chapter was composed, which retold all those events in a far more elaborate and polemical style. There was no attempt to reconcile the two versions: they just sit there side by side.
Obviously the second telling should be regarded as an unreliable sectarian account. As is normal in such matters, it is not really about what it pretends to be about. Legendary “histories” are written for a reason, and that reason is invariably some issue that the contemporary community is facing. In this case, we know that the Sri Lanka Mahavihara had a strong and somewhat bitter competition with the contemporary Mahasanghika school; both schools had major establishments in Andhra Pradesh (and probably Bodhgaya). And we know that the Mahasanghika is characterized by rejecting a number of the new texts and doctrines of the Theravada, composing their own, and putting their texts in Hybrid Sanskrit, a language that appears weird and confusing from a Pali perspective.
All of which puts the next passage in a historical light. The “evil” party held a new recital they called the “Great Council” (Mahāsaṅgīti) (which funnily enough is the name of the edition used by SuttaCentral!). The group is here called the Mahāsaṅgītika, which we assume is the same as the Mahasanghika. Here is what the Dipavamsa says about them.
The Bhikkhus of the Great Council settled a doctrine contrary (to the true Faith). Altering the original redaction they made another redaction.
They transposed Suttas which belonged to one place (of the collection), to another place; they destroyed the (true) meaning and the Faith, in the Vinaya and in the five Collections (of Suttas).
Those Bhikkhus, who understood neither what had been taught in long expositions nor without exposition, neither the natural meaning nor the recondite meaning, settled a false meaning in connection with spurious speeches of Buddha; these Bhikkhus destroyed a great deal of (true) meaning under the colour of the letter.
Rejecting single passages of the Suttas and of the profound Vinaya, they composed other Suttas and another Vinaya which had (only) the appearance (of the genuine ones).
Rejecting the following texts, viz.: the Parivāra which is an abstract of the contents (of the Vinaya), the six sections of the Abhidhamma, the Paṭisambhidā, the Niddesa, and some portions of the Jātaka, they composed new ones.
Forsaking the original rules regarding nouns, genders, composition, and the embellishments of style, they changed all that.
Despite the polemics of the Mahavihara, the Dipavamsa depicts the Mahasanghikas as being accurate textual critics. The texts they reject as late are in fact late products of the Theravada school. As for the recomposition of the Vinaya, again this seems accurate, as the Mahasanghika Vinaya has in fact undergone a significant reorganization, which occurred significantly later than the Second Council (it seems to refer to Ashoka, for example). They also, like every school, composed new texts, which were sometimes taken to be buddhavacana.
And finally the description of forsaking of grammar rules is exactly what you’d expect from a Pali speaker reading Hybrid Sanskrit. Hybrid Sanskrit, of course, is a later language and it took time for texts to be adapted into it. It would be cruel to dwell on the irony of the fact that this critique comes from the pages of perhaps the most poorly edited and composed book in Pali, one whose compositional incoherence is comparable to the Mahasanghika’s own Mahavastu.
So this is an accurate description of the Mahasanghika, but one that can only apply to a much later period, not immediately after the Second Council. It must stem from the experiences of the Mahavihara monks in the early centuries CE.
Hence the second of the two accounts of the Second Council in the Dipavamsa should be rejected as a historical record. It includes no new relevant information that is historically plausible, and much that is implausible. There is no evidence to support the contention that it preserves any genuine independent historical information. Rather, it echoes a much later dispute between the Mahavihara and the Mahasanghikas of Andhra.