1. The 'Unity Edicts' 



Aśoka published edicts in three places concerning the Sangha, which have become known as the ‘Schism Edicts’. This is a misnomer, and itself was probably influenced by the expectations of modern scholars that in Aśoka’s time the Sangha was already fragmented. The edicts depict a state of unity in the Sangha, not a state of schism.

The three tantalizingly brief inscriptions are found on the ‘Minor Pillar Edicts’ of Sarnath, Sāñchī, and Kosambi in varying states of disrepair, strung along the route between Pāṭaliputta, Aśoka’s capital, to Avanti and Vedisa. These are all within the older realm of Buddhism.

The edicts instruct Aśoka’s ministers that, now that the Sangha has been made united,[1] any bhikkhu or bhikkhuni who divides the Sangha should be made to wear lay clothes and dwell apart. The Sāñchī edict adds that this united Sangha, both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, should not be divided as long as my sons and grandsons shall rule, and the sun and moon shall shine, for it is my wish that the united Sangha should remain for a long time.[2] The Sarnath edict adds that a copy of this edict is to be made available for the lay devotees, who should review this message each fortnightly uposatha.

The statement that the Sangha has been ‘made unified’ suggests an actual, not a theoretical event, to which these Edicts respond by warning of the grave consequences of schismatic conduct. The fact that the Edicts are found in several places suggests that the tendencies to schism were widespread, and, if the Edicts were implemented, there may have been several episodes. The Sarnath Edict starts with a partially defaced reading: pāṭa[liput]…, which seems to be referring to Pāṭaliputta. This suggests that, as one might expect, the schismatic forces were at work in the capital, probably centred there. If this is so, then Aśoka’s instructions to his ministers would, as usual, be for them to follow his personal example. Thus we could think of a central crisis in the capital dealt with by Aśoka personally, and possibly several lesser repercussions throughout the realm, dealt with by the ministers.

There is no precedent in Vinaya for a secular ruler to interfere in this way in the Sangha’s operations. While the Vinaya envisages a Sangha that is competent to look after its own affairs, with a tacit assumption that the governing powers will provide general support, now we have a ruler directly imposing his will on the Sangha. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the Sangha seems to have welcomed this interference. This could only be explained if the problem was a genuine one, which the Sangha was unable to deal with using its normal procedures (saṅghakamma). These procedures operate by consensus, and so assume a basic level of sincerity and co-operativeness. This is how the dispute was solved at the Second Council. But if the problematic individuals disrupt the very functioning of saṅghakamma, the Sangha is powerless.


Schism & Unity

To understand the Unity Edicts, we must first consider the nature of schism and unity. In Buddhism, the original and archetypical schismatic is the Buddha’s wicked cousin Devadatta, the Judas or the Set of Buddhism. His story is too long and too well-known to repeat here.[3] All stories of schism have Devadatta in the back of their mind, and all tellers of those stories are struggling to balance two forces: to justify and authorize their own separate school, while at the same time strenuously avoiding any shadow of suggestion that they are following in Devadatta’s footprints.

This is apparent in the Unity Edicts, for the terminology Aśoka uses echoes exactly that of the famous passage where the Buddha warns Devadatta that one who divides a unified Sangha will suffer in hell for an aeon, whereas one who ‘makes unified a divided Sangha’[4] will rejoice in heaven for an aeon. This phrasing occurs repeatedly in the passages that follow.[5] When the Sangha, having been divided on one of these issues, holds separate uposatha, pavāraṇā or saṅghakamma, a schism results.[6]

This parallels the meaning of schism given in my Oxford Reference Dictionary: ‘The separation of a Church into two Churches or the secession of a group owing to doctrinal, disciplinary, etc., differences.’ It will be one of our tasks to determine whether all of the historical divisions of Buddhism into different schools, or indeed any of them, were schisms in this sense.

Contemporary discussion of this question has emphasized two rather different forms of schism. Bechert uses the terminology of saṅghabheda to refer to a split of an individual community, and nikāyabheda to refer to the process of school formation. Sasaki uses kammabheda and cakkabheda to make a similar distinction: kammabheda occurs when two groups hold uposatha separately within the same boundary, while cakkabheda refers to the splitting of the religious community on doctrinal grounds.[7] The key point in these distinction is that the formation of schools does not necessarily imply a saṅghabheda. To clarify this point let us look more closely at the Vinaya passages, starting with the Pali.

Devadatta’s conduct occasioned the laying down of a saṅghādisesa rule prohibiting the deliberate agitation for schism. The rule itself says: ‘A unified Sangha, mutually rejoicing, without dispute, with one recital, dwells in comfort.’[8] Here the notion of unity is closely connected with the holding of a unified recital of the pāṭimokkha on the fortnightly uposatha, as signified by the key term ‘one recital’. The sentiment is repeated in the concluding lines to the pāṭimokkha recital: ‘Therein each and every one should train, with unity, with mutual rejoicing, without disputing.’[9]

But we are a little unclear what exactly is meant here: does unity require all monastics to participate, at least potentially, in the same saṅghakamma, or only those in one particular monastery?  The definition of ‘unified’ a little below says: ‘“Unified” means a Sangha that is of the same communion, staying within the same monastic boundary’.[10] This refers to the Sangha within a particular boundary, rather than the universal Sangha ‘of the four directions’.

This is clarified further in the passage where the fortnightly recital is laid down:


Now on that occasion the group of six bhikkhus, according to their assembly, recited the pāṭimokkha, each in their own assembly. The Blessed One declared regarding that matter: ‘Bhikkhus, you should not, according to your assembly, recite the pāṭimokkha, each in your own assembly. Whoever should thus recite, this is an offence of wrong-doing. I allow, bhikkhus, an act of uposatha for those who are unified.

And then the bhikkhus thought: ‘The Blessed One has laid down “an act of uposatha for those who are unified”. To what extent is there unification, as far as one monastery, or for the whole earth?’ The Blessed One declared regarding that matter: ‘I allow, bhikkhus, unification to extend as far as one monastery.’[11]


Thus the notion of unity of the Sangha is closely tied to the fortnightly uposatha recitation as a ritual affirmation of the Sangha’s communal identity. For normal purposes, the Sangha should gather all who live within the same monastic boundary (sīmā) to recite the pāṭimokkha each fortnight.

Defining schism in this way would seem to narrowly legalistic. But the story of Devadatta (and those of the bhikkhus of Kosambi and Campā) depicts a gradual deterioration of the harmony of the community, a disintegrative process that persists despite repeated efforts to contain it. The actual performance of the separate uposathas is merely the legal act that sets the seal on schism. While this formal act is technically limited to one local Sangha, there is no doubt the repercussions were felt to be relevant for Buddhism generally.

And so despite this localization of saṅghakamma it seems that on major occasions the Sangha would gather in larger groups to perform acts that were valid throughout the monastic community. Such were the First and Second Councils. These Councils combined aspects of Dhamma and Vinaya, which is hardly surprising since for the Sangha, Vinaya is merely the day-to-day application of Dhamma. The form of the dialogue in the Councils echoes that of the saṅghakammas, even though the procedure for a Council is not laid down in the Vinaya as a saṅghakamma. The narratives are included within the Vinaya Skandhakas, and both Councils discuss Vinaya issues: for the First Council, the disputed ‘lesser and minor rules’ and other issues; for the Second Council the ‘Ten Points’ which prompted the event. In each case, the decisions of the Council is clearly held to be valid throughout the whole of the Buddhist Sangha.

Startlingly, this has no precedent or justification in the Vinaya itself. As we have seen, the Vinaya treats acts of saṅghakamma as pertaining only to an individual monastery. Only the Buddha laid down rules for the Sangha as a whole. But with the Buddha gone, there is no procedure for universal Sangha decision-making. The Elders no doubt did the best they could, and their procedure has met with general agreement in the Sangha since then. But it must be remembered that they acted without explicit justification from the Vinaya.

This is not so much of a problem as might appear. Actually, for those of us who live the Vinaya every day, it is obvious that much of it operates as guidelines. There are countless situations that crop up constantly which are not explicitly dealt with in the Vinaya. The Vinaya itself includes principles for how to apply precedents in new situations. Very often, the rules of Vinaya are phrased in a legalistic manner which makes them quite easy to get around in practice, if one is so inclined. And so in Myanmar they say: ‘If you know the Vinaya you can kill a chicken’. It is, perhaps, only in the minds of academics that the Vinaya minutely governs every facet of a monk’s life. In real life this is simply impossible. This has nothing to do with the question of whether one takes a rigorist or laxist approach to the rules, emphasizing the letter or the spirit. It is simply to acknowledge the plain fact that the rules only cover a limited amount of contexts, and beyond that we must use our best judgement.

As its very name suggests, the Third Council, which we shall see has close connections with the Unity Edicts, stands firmly in the tradition of the Councils. It is presented as an act that is valid throughout the Sangha in exactly the same way as the First and Second Councils. And like them, if one tried to examine the Vinaya itself for justification for the Council, you’d have a hard time. Nevertheless it is accepted within the Vinaya traditions as a valid act.


Aśoka and Unity

We should carefully consider exactly what Aśoka had in mind in saying that the ‘Sangha has been made unified’. It seems to me quite incredible that Aśoka would take the trouble to create three Edicts across a large area of the Buddhist heartland if he was referring to a mere local dispute. Aśoka had a big mind: he was used to thinking in the broadest pan-Indian terms. Surely when he said the ‘Sangha has been made unified’ he must have meant the Sangha in a universal sense.

Since his language here is derived closely from the well-known story of Devadatta, he was implicitly placing this event in that context, seeing the conflict as a serious one threatening the Sangha as a whole, and the corresponding resolution being a similarly magnificent act (with, need one add, altogether pleasant kammic results for the unifier!). While the problematic events at Pāṭaliputta itself may well have involved only one central monastery,[12] the presence of the Unity Edicts in several places makes it certain that Aśoka meant the solution to apply generally, not just in one monastery.

The language Aśoka uses, such as the ‘unified Sangha’, when used in its technical Vinaya sense, as we have seen, refers to a local Sangha. But this is the only language he has, and he must use this to link the story with the recognized vocabulary. Buddhists at that time, as today, would have understood and used the words in a more informal sense than required by the limited technical definition in the Vinaya.

It would, therefore, be going seriously beyond the evidence to assert that the statement that the Sangha has been made unified proves that there had previously been a state of schism.[13] Again, the Vinaya texts usually depict the situations as black & white: either there is a schism or unity. But they are legal texts whose character is to seek clear-cut black & white definitions. Reality, unfortunately, always comes in shades of grey. We shall see that the accounts of the Third Council depict a state of unrest, an ‘issue’ arisen and unresolved that seriously interupts the functioning of the Sangha for many years. This can hardly be depicted as ‘unity’, yet the state of a formal schism is not reached. It is neither schism nor unity. In such a context the Unity Edicts are in fact exquisitely accurate. They depict the arrival at a state of unity, without asserting that there has been a schism.

We should then ask, did Aśoka mean that he had unified the Sangha of one particular school, or the Sangha of all Buddhism? The evidence of the edicts shows unambiguously that Aśoka was entirely non-sectarian and tolerant in his outlook. No sects are mentioned, either by name or by implication. There is a famous list of texts that Aśoka recommends for the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis to study. While there is some doubt about the exact texts that are referred to, they all belong to the early shared strata of non-sectarian Suttas and are not sectarian texts, such as the Abhidhamma. As Bechert says: ‘It can clearly be shown by a careful analysis of historical records and inscriptions that the king was not partial towards any section of the Sangha.’[14] Without any serious evidence pointing in another direction, then, we can only conclude that Aśoka meant the entire Sangha was unified.

Aśoka’s act signalled a sea change in Sangha-state relations. The Sangha was set up as an international self-governing body, and the role of the rulers was to support, not to control. The Vinaya accounts of the First and Second Council mention no royal involvement. Surely it must have taken a major institutional crisis for Aśoka to interfere so dramatically.

Could this have arisen due to the sectarian disputes? Could, say, an argument over the exact nature of the arahant’s enlightenment lead to such a pass? This hardly seems reasonable. We can only imagine that there was a serious crisis which personally involved Aśoka. When we look at the texts we see that there is in fact one such record: the account of the Pali tradition, especially the Vinaya commentary Samantapāsādikā, and its Chinese version Sudassanavinayavibhāsā.[15] In addition, a short passage from the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya may give us a clue what actually happened.


The Third Council

The main story tells of the ‘Third Council’ in Pāṭaliputta, held on account of many corrupt, non-Buddhist heretics[16] seeking gains and honour, many of whom entered the Sangha fraudulently by ordaining themselves, thus making the normal functioning of the Sangha impossible:


The heretics, whose gain and honour had dwindled to the extent that they failed even to get food and clothing,[17] went forth in the sāsana seeking gains and honour, each declaring their own twisted views: ‘This is Dhamma, this is Vinaya’. Those who did not gain the going forth, having shaved themselves and putting on the yellow robe, wandered into the monasteries, intruding on the uposatha, pavāraṇā, and saṅghakamma. The bhikkhus did not perform uposatha together with them.[18]


The details that these monks were misrepresenting Dhamma and Vinaya, and that they intruded on ‘uposatha, pavāraṇā, and saṅghakamma’ leave no doubt that the authors of this passage had the Vinaya precedent of the Saṅghabhedakkhandhaka in mind, just as Aśoka did in his Edicts.[19] The texts are quite consistent in this point: the good monks did not perform uposatha with the heretics; in fact, the uposatha at the central monastery was interrupted for seven years.[20] This clearly means that there was no schism in the legal sense (kammabheda), for this requires that separate uposathas be carried out within the same sīmā.

Accordingly, in the Dīpavaṁsa the first account of the troubles[21] does not mention schism (bheda). But, in a seeming contradiction, the second version of the same events[22] mentions bheda,[23] saying that 236 years after the Buddha: ‘another bheda arose for the supreme Theravāda.’ This still does not suggest that there were separate uposathas or anything else that might characterize a formal schism. The Dīpavaṁsa is, of course, mythic verse rather than a legal text, and we need not read the use of bheda here  as confirming that a schism had in fact occurred. Actually, schism is too strong a word for bheda, as bheda is used very commonly to mean ‘separation, division, analysis’, etc., in all sorts of contexts, while schism in English only really corresponds to the more formal idea of saṅghabheda as the deliberate division of a monastic community.

It is in the Samantapāsādikā that we might expect to find more formal mention of schism. But this does not speak of bheda at all. After the problems arose in Pāṭaliputra, Moggaliputtatissa reflects that an ‘issue’ (adhikaraṇa) had arisen in the Sangha.[24] In like manner, the dispute is referred to as an adhikaraṇa throughout the following paragraphs. This means that there was a problem demanding resolution by performance of a saṅghakamma. If an ‘issue’ was still pending, there cannot have been a schism at this point, because one does not perform saṅghakamma with schismatics. From the Vinaya point of view, there was no schism.


What were the heretics teaching?

The heretical imposters are depicted as propounding many teachings, such as eternalism, partial eternalism, eel-wriggling, and so on, a list familiar to any learned Buddhist as the 62 views refuted in the Brahmajāla Sutta.[25] The mention of the 62 views is conventional, and does not represent the actual views of the heretics.

We might wonder why the heretics were described in this way: what are the implications or connotations of these views, as the Buddhists of the time would have seen it? In the Pali canon, the 62 views are all seen as springing from the root heresy of belief in a ‘self’. This interpretation is explicitly stated in the Pali Saṁyutta Nikāya:


‘These 62 twisted views taught in the Brahmajāla; these views, householder, exist when identity view exists, when identity view does not exist they do not exist.’[26]


But the Sarvāstivādin version of this same Sutta, while similar in other respects, does not mention the 62 views of the Brahmajāla. Instead, the text simply mentions ‘views of self, views of a being, views of a soul (jīva), views of the auspicious and inauspicious’.[27]

This makes us consider whether the emphasis on the 62 views of the Brahmajāla might be a sectarian bias of the Mahāvihāra. Of course the Sutta itself is found in Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivādin, and other versions and must be regarded as part of the shared heritage. But there is reason for thinking that the Mahāvihāravāsins treated this particular discourse with special reverence.

In their account of the First Council, the Mahāvihāravāsins made the Brahmajāla the first of all Suttas, unlike all other schools we know of except the Dharmaguptaka. Bhikkhu Bodhi suggests that this placement ‘… is not a matter of chance or of haphazard arrangement, but of deliberate design on the part of the Elders who compiled the canon and set it in its current form.’[28] He goes on to reflect on the Dhammic relevance of this position: ‘... just as our sutta, in terms of its position, stands at the entrance to the total collection of discourses spoken by the Buddha, so does its principle message provide a prolegomenon to the entire Dispensation itself.’ Indeed, one might suggest that this Sutta represents the first factor of the eightfold path, right view, while the subsequent Suttas of the Dīgha concentrate on the ethical and meditative components of the path.

But while the position of this Sutta fulfils an important Dhammic role, we should not neglect the political dimension of this choice. In asserting that the first priority of the Elders who organized the Dhamma at the First Council was to condemn the 62 kinds of wrong view, the Mahāvihāravāsins established a mythic precedent for the acts of Aśoka and Moggaliputtatissa in cleansing the Sangha from the 62 kinds of wrong view at the Third Council.

We begin to suspect that the canonical Mahāvihāravāsin (and Dharmaguptaka?) account of the First Council has been adjusted to provide a precedent for the Third Council.[29] This suspicion is confirmed when we look at the only other Sutta mentioned in the Mahāvihāravāsin First Council, the Sāmaññaphala Sutta. This concerns the story of Ajātasattu, a powerful king of Magadha, who at the start of his reign had committed a terrible act of violence, but, experiencing dreadful remorse, made a dramatic public confession of his sins, took refuge in the Buddha’s Dhamma, and, according to the Mahāvihāravāsin sources, later sponsored the First Council. Aśoka was also a powerful king of Magadha, who at the start of his reign had committed a terrible act of violence, but, experiencing dreadful remorse, made a dramatic public confession of his sins, took refuge in the Buddha’s Dhamma, and, according to the Mahāvihāravāsin sources, later sponsored the Third Council. May we be forgiven for seeing another possible connection there?

The motivation for emphasizing the Sāmaññaphala would seem transparent enough. After Aśoka’s coronation, his bloody campaigns, especially at Kalinga, must have aroused widespread antipathy, especially from the peace-loving Buddhists. Politics in those days being exactly as cynical as they are today, it would have taken a great deal to convince people that his conversion and remorse were genuine. The story of Ajātasattu could be invoked as a mythic paradigm for Aśoka’s sincerity and credibility as a Buddhist sympathizer. This would have been especially crucial in order to justify Aśoka’s unprecedented step of actually intervening in the Sangha’s internal affairs and deciding who was heretical and who was not.

After examining the bad monks and hearing of all their wrong views, Aśoka asks the good monks what the Buddha taught (kiṁvādī bhante sammāsambuddhoti?) and they say the Buddha was a vibhajjavādin (vibhajjavādī mahārājāti).[30] This was confirmed by the hero of the story, Moggaliputtatissa, who in the Mahāvihāravāsin accounts is the king’s close mentor and adviser, and is regarded by the school as a root teacher. Later we will look more closely at what vibhajjavāda means in this context, but for now we will concentrate on those details that can be confirmed in the Edicts.

According to the Samantapāsādikā, Aśoka had studied Buddhism under Moggaliputtatissa before the Council and so was able to recognize the false claims of the heretics. He reflected that:


‘These are not bhikkhus, they are recluses from other religions.’ Knowing this, he gave them white clothes and expelled them.[31]


In this case, the exact words used in the Samantapāsādikā and the Edicts differ, but the meaning is identical.[32] After the bad bhikkhus were expelled, Aśoka declared to Moggaliputtatissa:


‘Now, bhante, the sāsana is pure, may the Sangha perform the uposatha.’ Having given his protection, he entered the city. The Sangha in unity gathered and performed the uposatha.[33]


It seems to me that, as far as the main details go, the Samantapāsādikā and the Edicts are in perfect accord:[34] the Sangha has been made unified; the dividers of the Sangha should be made to wear lay clothes and expelled; this expulsion is associated with the temporal rule of Aśoka rather than being an act of the Sangha; and the event is associated with the uposatha.[35]

This version of events also allows us to understand why Aśoka should interfere. It was he who had so lavishly supported the Sangha, inadvertently creating the crisis. While he may or may not have felt any responsibility for the problems, he would have certainly been unhappy about continuing to furnish imposters with their material needs.

The whole story is eminently plausible, and is familiar in many countries where Buddhism flourishes today. As soon as the Sangha attracts lavish support from wealthy and generous patrons, there is an influx of bogus monks who are solely interested in ripping off as much money as they can. These are a persistent nuisance and it is difficult or impossible for the Sangha alone to deal with them. They flourish unchecked unless the Government has the will power to forcibly remove their robes and prevent them from harassing and deceiving Buddhist donors.

The fact that Aśoka expelled the fake monks and made them revert to lay clothes is a crucial detail. The opponents at this Council were not Buddhist monks who differed in interpretation of certain doctrinal points, they were non-Buddhists, not deserving of being monks at all. Though the Mahāvihāravāsins claimed to be the only non-schismatic sect, even they did not go so far as to assert that members of other schools must be disrobed. Even if we were to accept the Mahāvihāravāsin position that all other schools were schismatic in the literal sense defined in Vinaya, this would simply mean the communities could not share the same communal uposatha recitation. It does not mean the opponents are not monks: in fact, only bhikkhus can cause a schism, so if the opponents at the Third Council were really laypeople, there is no way they could cause a schism. The only recourse would be to recognize their fraudulent status and expel them. So the story of the Third Council is not, from the Aśokan or the Mahāvihāravāsin point of view, the story of a schism. In fact, the mainstream Mahāvihāravāsin Vinaya commentary, in both the Pali and Chinese versions, does not mention schism at all.

It seems to me that the implications of these ‘schism’ edicts have been brushed aside by scholars due to their predisposition, based primarily on the textual accounts of the Dīpavaṁsa and Vasumitra, to see the schisms as pre-Aśoka. Thus Cousins says: ‘If there were different Buddhist fraternities at this time, and at least the difference between the Vinaya traditions of Mahāsaṅghika and Theravāda/Theriya is likely to be earlier than this date, then the king would have taken no account of that.’[36] Lamotte, with equally little attempt at justification, says: ‘The king’s intentions were to force dissidents to return to lay status… However, his orders were not followed’.[37] Warder says: ‘It is not known what Aśoka proposed to do about the fact that the Buddhists were already split into at least five schools.’[38] None of these interpretations attempt to grapple seriously with the undeniable fact that none of Aśoka’s words give any hint that different Buddhist sects existed in his time.


Aśoka in the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya?

Sasaki points out that a unique passage in the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya may be referring to Aśoka’s involvement in the returning of schismatic monks to lay status. The relevant passage appears in the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya Skandhaka, according to Sasaki, at just the point where it breaks away from the pattern of the other Sthavira Skandhakas. He therefore suggests that this episode, based on real events in Aśoka’s time, was crucial influence in stimulating the reshaping of the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya. Here is his translation of the relevant passage:


If the monks have noticed that a particular monk is going to do saṅghabheda they must say to him: ‘Venerable, do not do saṅghabheda. Saṅghabheda is a serious sin. You will fall into an evil state of being or go to hell. I will give you clothes and an alms-bowl. I will instruct you in the Sūtras and read Sūtras for you. If you have some question, I will teach you.’

If he still does not stop it, they must say to a powerful upāsaka: ‘Mr. So-and so is going to do saṅghabheda. Go and dissuade him from doing it.’ The upāsaka must say to [the monk]: ‘Venerable, do not do saṅghabheda. Saṅghabheda is a serious sin. You will fall into an evil state of being or go to hell. I will give you clothes, an alms-bowl, and medicine for curing illness. If you feel dullness in the life of a monk return to secular life. I will find a wife for you and give you the necessities of life.’

If he still does not stop it, the monks must dismiss him by removing the śalāka (voting stick) that indicates his membership [in the Sangha]. After dismissing him, the Sangha must proclaim as follows: ‘Everybody! There is a man who is plotting saṅghabheda. If he approaches you, watch out!’

If, despite these precautions, he has done saṅghabheda it is called ‘saṅghabheda’…[39]

Sasaki believes that the unique phrase ‘powerful upāsaka’ refers to none other than Aśoka himself. His acts in persuading the bad monks to return to lay life here come across more like a social security safety net than a shameful expulsion. This would make sense if we see the bad monks as freeloaders and opportunists, rather than heretics trying to destroy Buddhism, or genuine Buddhists trying to establish a new doctrine or practice. If they had simply joined the Sangha to scrounge a living, it may well have been an effective method of non-confrontational problem-solving to offer to support their needs after disrobal, thus averting the possibility of the problem re-arising.

Like our other sources, this text falls well short of establishing that a schism occurred during Aśoka’s reign. First we must remember that the connection with Aśoka is, of course, speculative, and the passage might as well refer to something quite different. It only discusses theoretical events, and does not assert that a schism occurred. And the stage of calling upon a ‘powerful upāsaka’ is only the second of three preliminary stages before a schism can occur. Even if, as I think quite possible, the passage does in fact refer to the same actual events as the Unity Edicts and the Third Council, there is no need to suppose that all three stages were completed. In fact, our only source on the event as a whole, the Third Council narratives, asserts that the intervention of the ‘powerful upāsaka’ was effective and schism was averted.

It is also crucial to notice that if this did refer to an actual schism, it must have been the root schism between the Mahāsaṅghikas and the Sthaviras. But this is highly problematic. Our source is the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya, but the Mahāsaṅghika Śāriputraparipṛcchā puts the root schism much later, which would entail a gross inconsistency on this issue within the Mahāsaṅghikas. Even worse, our three sources – from the Sthavira, Mahāsaṅghika, and Aśokan points of view – all take the same side, against the schismatic monks who are returned to lay life. It is impossible that these could represent opposing sides in the debate. The simplest interpretation of our sources is to agree that there was no schism at this time.





[1] Sāñchī: [saṁ](ghe)e*[sa]*mag(e) kate; Kosambi: (sa)ma(ge)* kate* saṁghas[i].

[2] Ichā hi me kiṁ-ti saṁghe samage cilathitīke siyā.

[3] A typical popular account of Devadatta’s story at http://www.tipitaka.net/pali/ebooks/pageload.php?book=0003&page=17. An alternative view in Ray.

[4] Pali Vinaya 2.198: saṅghaṁ samaggaṁ karoti.

[5] Incidentally, these passages also clarify that, contrary to popular opinion, it is not the case that all schisms entail that the schismatic will be doomed to hell for an aeon. This only applies if one deliberately and maliciously divides the Sangha, declaring Dhamma to be not-Dhamma, Vinaya to be not-Vinaya, etc., in the manner of Devadatta.

[6] Pali Vinaya 2.204. Uposatha is the fortnightly recitation of the monastic code; pavāraṇā is the mutual invitation for admonition at the end of the yearly rains retreat; saṅghakamma is a general term for such formal ‘acts of the Sangha’, including ordination (upasampadā).

[7] My response to Sasaki is at http://sectsandsectarianism.googlepages.com/sasakiandschism. In brief, I argue that the historical shift from cakrabheda to karmabheda is not sufficiently established by Sasaki’s evidence, and would rather see these two as representing the informal and formal aspects of the same process: karmabheda is the legal juncture at which cakrabheda is complete.

[8] Pali Vinaya 3.172: samaggo hi saṅgho sammodamāno avivadamāno ekuddeso phāsu viharatī'ti.

[9] Pali Vinaya 4.207: ‘tattha sabbeheva samaggehi sammodamānehi avivadamānehi sikkhitabban’ti.

[10] Pali Vinaya 3.172: samaggo nāma saṅgho samānasaṁvāsako samānasīmāyaṁ ṭhito.

[11] Pali Vinaya 1.105

[12] The Aśokārāma or Kukkutārāma.

[13] Contra Sasaki 1989, 186

[14] Bechert, Notes on the Formation of Buddhist Sects and the Origins of Mahayana, 26

[15] The Sudassanavinayavibhāsā is a Sinhalese Vinaya Commentary taken to China and translated by Saṅghabhadra about 489 ce. The title is a reconstruction from the Chinese 善見律毘婆沙 (at CBETA, T49, no. 2034, p. 95, c3 it is referred to as 善見毘婆沙 ’Sudassanavibhāsā’). This text is little known, despite the fact that there is a good English translation by Bapat and Hirakawa. Bapat and Hirakawa follow the Taisho in treating this as a translation of the Samantapāsādikā, although they note the presence of many differences from the existing Pali text. In fact Guruge is surely correct in arguing that the Sudassanavinayavibhāsā is not a translation of the Samantapāsādikā; while the two have much in common, the differences are too far-reaching. The passages I have compared would support the thesis that it was an earlier version of the Sinhala commentary that was used by Buddhaghosa, adapted by him in minor ways to conform to the Mahāvihāravāsin viewpoint. This makes it a uniquely important historical document.

[16] Dīpavaṁsa 6.47: Tithiyā lābhaṁ disvāna sakkārañca mahārahaṁ,

Saṭṭhimattasahassāni theyyasaṁvāsakā ahū. Described in more detail at Dīpavaṁsa 6.35 as: paṇḍaraṅgā jaṭilā ca nigaṇṭhā'celakādikā, and at Dīpavaṁsa 6.37 as: ājīvakā aññaladdhikā nānā.

[17] Cf. Dīpavaṁsa 6.34: Mahālābho ca sakkāro uppajji buddhasāsane,

Pahīṇalābhasakkārā tithiyā puthuladdhikā.

[18] Samantapāsādikā 1.53. Also below the bhikkhus say to Aśoka’s minister: ‘We do not perform uposatha with heretics’. (‘na mayaṁ titthiyehi saddhiṁ uposathaṁ karomā’ti.)

[19] Similar concerns are reflected elsewhere, for example in the Sthavirian San Lun Xuan,  composed by Jia-xiang between 397-419: ‘At that time in Magadha there was an upāsaka who greatly supported Buddhism. Various heretics for the sake of gains shaved their hair and went forth. Thus there came to be the so-called ‘thief-dwelling’ bhikkhus, of whom Mahādeva was the chief.’ (CBETA, T45, no. 1852, p. 9, a22-24)

[20] E.g. Dīpavaṁsa 6.36: Ariyā pesalā lajji na pavisanti uposathaṁ,

Sampatte ca vassasate vassaṁ chattiṁsa satāni ca. Or else Samantapāsādikā 1.53: asokārāme sattavassāni uposatho upacchijji.

[21] Dīpavaṁsa 6.34-42

[22] Dīpavaṁsa 6.43-58. Due to its haphazard complilation, the Dīpavaṁsa frequently includes more than one version of the same events.

[23] Dīpavaṁsa 6.43. Nikkhante dutiye vassasate vassāni chattiṁsati, Puna bhedo ajāyitha theravādāna'muttamo. Other verses use terms related to bheda, but there they mean the ‘destruction’ of the teachings: 6.53-4: Buddhavacanaṁ bhidiṁsu visuddhakañcanaṁ iva. Sabbe'pi te bhinnavādā vilomā theravādato…

[24] Samantapāsādika 1.53:‘Uppannaṁ dāni idaṁ adhikaraṇaṁ, taṁ nacirasseva kakkhaḷaṁ bhavissati. na kho panetaṁ sakkā imesaṁ majjhe vasantena vūpasametun’ti

[25] DN 1/DA 21/T 21, also in Tibetan and Sanskrit. Cf. Dīpavaṁsa 6.26-33. The Sudassanavinyavibhāsā agrees: CBETA, T24, no. 1462, p. 684, a29-b1.

[26] SN 41.3: ‘yāni cimāni dvāsaṭṭhi diṭṭhigatāni brahmajāle bhaṇitāni; imā kho, gahapati, diṭṭhiyo sakkāyadiṭṭhiyā sati honti, sakkāyadiṭṭhiyā asati na hontī’ti.

[27] 或說有我。或說眾生。或說壽命。或說世間吉凶 (SA 570 at CBETA, T02, no. 99, p. 151, a12-13)

[28] Bodhi, The Discourse on the All-embracing Net of Views, 1

[29] On other grounds, I believe the Mahāvihāravāsin account of the recitation of the Vinaya at the First Council was adapted to form a precedent for the Second Council. The symmetry is neat: the Second Council was over a Vinaya dispute, and so corresponds with the Vinaya side of the First Council; the Third Council was over a Dhamma dispute, and so corresponds with the Dhamma side of the First Council.

[30] The Dīpavaṁsa does not use the term vibhajjavādin here, referring instead to the Theravāda and Sakavāda. Vibhajjavādin is found in the commentaries, including the Samantapāsādikā and the Sudassanavinayavibhāsā: 王復更問。大德。佛法云何。答言。佛分別說也 (CBETA, T24, no. 1462, p. 684, b4-5.)

[31] Samantapāsādikā  1.61. Cp. Dīpavaṁsa 4.52: Therassa santike rājā uggahevāna sāsanaṁ,Theyyasaṁvāsabhikkhuno nāseti liṅganāsanaṁ.

[32] The Samantapāsādikā refers to the giving of white lay clothes as: setakāni vatthāni datvā; the Edicts have: odātāni dusāni saṁnaṁdhāpayitu. Being physically expelled from the monastery is expressed in the Samantapāsādikā as: uppabbājesi; in the Edicts as: anāvāsasi āvāsayiye. Sudassanavinayavibhāsā has: 王即以白衣服與諸外道驅令罷道(CBETA, T24, no. 1462, p. 684, b3)

[33] Samantapāsādikā 1.61

[34] Much academic ink has been spilt on this matter. For alternative points of view see Sasaki, 1989.

[35] The only substantial difference is that, for Aśoka, the trouble-makers are bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, whereas for the Sri Lankan accounts some are ordained, while others are theyyasaṁvāsika, fraudulent pretenders who just put the robes on themselves and are not really ordained. But this is a minor point, since these may also be referred to as theyyasaṁvāsika bhikkhus, and the edicts are doubtless not concerned with such legal niceties.

[36] Cousins, On the Vibhajjavādins, 138

[37] Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism, 238

[38] Warder, 262

[39] Sasaki, 1989, 193-194. I have modified the translation slightly. Original text at CBETA, T22, no. 1425, p. 441, a11-23.