Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 25, No 2 (2008)

The Date & Cause of the First Schism

Bhikkhu Sujato
Issued Date: 29 Dec 2008

Abstract


1. The texts and inscriptions dating from the early period – roughly the first 500 years after the Buddha’s passing away – do not support the conclusion that fully-fledged sects existed at that time. Rather, we should think in terms of ‘sectarian tendencies’ that emerged as actual sects towards the end of the early period. The available sources that speak of the First Schism are best read as sectarian accounts depicting the situation in the Buddhism of their own time – roughly 100-500 CE – rather than as historical records of the pre-Aśokan era.
2. All of the Sthavira sources mention the so-called ‘five theses’ of the Mahāsaṅghika (later ascribed to a certain ‘Mahādeva’) as either the cause of the First Schism or as important doctrinal issues. And a review of relevant Vinaya sources demonstrates that the ‘five theses’ were probably accepted within the Mahāsaṅghika, which confirms that this was likely the principal cause of the First Schism.

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DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.v25i2.210

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