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Mahāsaṅghikā, Mahāsaṅgītikā

One of the Buddhist schools that separated from the Theravādins at the Second Council. The members rejected the Parivāra, the six sections of the Abhidhamma, the Paṭisambhidāmagga, the Niddesa and some portions of the Jātaka (KvuA. p.4; Dpv.v.32 ff).

The school was so called owing to the great number of its followers, which made a great assembly or “Mahāsaṅgitī.” They were counted among the Anātmavādins, and later gave rise to the following schools: Mahāsaṅghika, Pubbasela, Aparasela, Rājagiriyā, Hemavata, Cetiyavādin, Saṅkantivādin, and Gokulika. Originally they had only two divisions — the Ekabbohārikas and Gokulikas (Rockhill, op.cit., 182 ff).

Their separation from the orthodox school was brought about by the Vajjiputtakā monks, and was probably due to difference of opinion on the ten points (for these see Vin.ii.294 f) held by the Vajjiputtakā monks. According to Northern sources, however, the split occurred on the five points raised by Mahādeva:

  1. An Arahant may commit a sin under unconscious temptation;
  2. one may be an Arahant and unconscious of the fact;
  3. an Arahant may have doubts on matters of doctrine;
  4. one cannot attain Arahantship without the help of a teacher;
  5. the “Noble Way” may begin with some such exclamation as “How sad!” uttered during meditation (J.R.A.S. 1910, p.416; cf. MT 173).

These articles of faith are found in the Kathāvatthu (173 ff., 187 ff., 194, 197), attributed to the Pubbaseliyā and the Aparaseliyā, opponents of the Mahāsaṅghikā school.

According to Hiouen Thsang (Beal.ii.164), the Mahāsaṅghikas divided their Canon into five parts: Sūtra, Vinaya, Abhidhamma, Miscellaneous and Dhāraṇī. Fa Hsien took from Pāṭaliputta to China a complete transcript of the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya.¹ The best known work of the Mahāsaṅghikas is the Mahāvastu. Their headquarters in Sri Lanka were in Abhayagiri-vihāra, and Sena I is said to have built the Vīraṅkurārāma for their use. Cv.1.68.

¹ Giles, p.64, Nañjio’s Catalogue mentions a Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya and a Mahāsaṅghabhiksuṇī Vinaya in Chinese translations, Cola. 247, 253. Ms. No.543.

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