Sthavira Nik%C4%81ya
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Sthavira Nik%C4%81ya

The Sthavira nik?ya (Sanskrit "Sect of the Elders"; traditional Chinese: ; ; pinyin: Shàngzuò Bù) was one of the early Buddhist schools. They split from the majority Mah?sghikas at the time of the Second Buddhist council.[1]

Scholarly views


The Sthavira nik?ya (Sanskrit: "Sect of the Elders"; traditional Chinese: ; ; pinyin: Shàngzuò Bù) was one of the early Buddhist schools. The Sthavira nik?ya split away from the majority Mah?sghikas during the Second Buddhist council resulting in the first schism in the Sangha.[2]

The Mah?sghika riputraparip?cch?, a text written to justify this school's departure from the disciplinary code of the elder monks, asserts that the council was convened at Paliputra over matters of vinaya, and it is explained that the schism resulted from the majority (Mah?sa?gha) refusing to accept the addition of rules to the Vinaya by the minority (Sthaviras).[3] The Mah?sghikas therefore saw the Sthaviras as being a breakaway group which was attempting to modify the original Vinaya.[4]

Scholars have generally agreed that the matter of dispute was indeed a matter of vinaya, and have noted that the account of the Mah?sghikas is bolstered by the vinaya texts themselves, as vinayas associated with the Sthaviras do contain more rules than those of the Mah?sghika Vinaya.[3] Modern scholarship therefore generally agrees that the Mah?sghika Vinaya is the oldest.[3] According to Skilton, future scholars may determine that a study of the Mah?sghika school will contribute to a better understanding of the early Dhamma-Vinaya than the Theravada school.[4]


The Tibetan historian Buton Rinchen Drub (1290-1364) wrote that the Mah?sghikas used Prakrit, the Sarv?stiv?dins used Sanskrit, the Sthaviras used Paic?, and the Sa?mit?ya used Apabhraa.[5]


The Sthaviras later divided into other schools such as:

The Vibhajyav?da branch gave rise to a number of schools such as:[6]

Relationship to Therav?da

Scholarly accounts

The Therav?da school of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia has identified itself exclusively with the Sthaviras, as the Pali word thera is equivalent to the Sanskrit sthavira.[7] This has led early Western historians to assume that the two parties are identical.[7] However, this is not the case, and by the time of Ashoka, the Sthavira sect had split into the Sammit?ya Pudgalavada, Sarv?stiv?da, and the Vibhajyav?da schools.[7]

The Vibhajyav?da school is believed to have split into other schools as well, such as the Mahsaka school and the ancestor of the Theravada school.[7] According to Damien Keown, there is no historical evidence that the Theravada school arose until around two centuries after the Great Schism which occurred at the Third Council.[8]

Therav?din accounts

Starting with the D?pava?sa chronicle in the 4th century, the Therav?dins of the Mah?vih?ra in Sri Lanka attempted to identify themselves with the original Sthavira sect.[9] The Therav?din D?pava?sa clarifies that the name Therav?da refers to the "old" teachings, making no indication that it refers to the Second Council.[10] Similarly, the name Mah?sghika is in reference to those who follow the original Vinaya of the undivided Sa?gha.[10] The D?pava?sa chronicle lauds the Therav?da as a "great banyan" and dismissively portrays the other early Buddhist schools as thorns (kaaka).[9]D?pava?sa, 4.90-91 says:

These 17 sects are schismatic,
only one is non-schismatic.
With the non-schismatic sect,
there are eighteen in all.
Like a great banyan tree,
the Therav?da is supreme,
The Dispensation of the Conqueror,
complete, without lack or excess.
The other sects arose
like thorns on the tree.
-- D?pava?sa, 4.90-91[11]

According to the Mah?va?sa, a Therav?din source, after the Second Council was closed those taking the side of junior monks did not accept the verdict but held an assembly of their own attended by ten thousand calling it a Mahasangiti (Great Convocation) from which the school derived its name Mah?sghika. However, such popular explanations of Sthavira and Mah?sghika are generally considered folk etymologies.[10]

Bhante Sujato explains the relationship between the Sthavira sect and the Therav?da:

The term sthavira (meaning "elder") is the Sanskrit version of the term better known today in its Pali version thera, as in Therav?da, the "Teaching of the Elders." The original Sthaviras, however, are by no means identical with the modern school called Therav?da. Rather, the Sthaviras are the ancestor of a group of related schools, one of which is the Therav?da.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Harvey, Peter (2013). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pg. 89-90.
  2. ^ Harvey, Peter (2013). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pg. 89-90.
  3. ^ a b c Skilton 2004, p. 48.
  4. ^ a b Skilton 2004, p. 64.
  5. ^ Yao 2012, p. 9.
  6. ^ Sujato 2006, p. 61.
  7. ^ a b c d Skilton 2004, p. 66-67.
  8. ^ Keown 2003, p. 279-280.
  9. ^ a b Morgan 2010, p. 113.
  10. ^ a b c Williams 2004, p. 56-57.
  11. ^ Sujato 2006, p. i.
  12. ^ Sujato, Bhante. "Why Devadatta Was No Saint".

External links

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