Today we have an text on sects and secterianism.
The historical question of how sects and sectarianism arose in Buddhism is fascinating.
One of the best authors on the subject that I have read so far is Sukumar Dutt- "Buddhist monks and monasteries: their history and contribution to indian culture".
Of course in the beginning there was no sectarianism.
There was just the "sangha of the four quarters" that included all those who took refuge.
Buddha left home and became a member of the wandering home-leavers, the mendicants or spiritual almsmen (bhikku), whose social position was itself an institution without walls in the Indian culture.
By polite reference the wanderers and mendicants (bhikkus) were called samanas (or sramanas). The samanas would congregate around well known teachers (sattha). Siddhartha Gotama studied under two such satthas of reknown. Dutt explains,
When two wanderers meet casually on the wayside, the customary questions asked of one another for mutual recognition are : 'Who , sir, is your Master (Sattha)? Whose Dhamma (system of spiritual culture) do you find most agreeable to you (rocesi)? What is the Dhamma you have adopted? (From Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India, p. 46)
Thus there were no sects per se, but there were networks of followers of one Master (Sattha) or Dhamma or another. The wandering almsmen (bhikkus) and women (bhikkunis) would follow a teacher as long as their dhamma was agreeable and if they found it lacking they could find another teacher whose Dhamma was more agreeable.
This was the same pattern that Siddhatha followed.
When Gotama Buddha became a teacher himself, he became known as a Great Master (Mahasattha) and more and more wanderers found his Dharma to be agreeable to them forming a network of samanas around him.
To outsiders this group was known as he 'Ordained Followers of the Sakyaputta' (Sakyaputtiya Samanas), but the group called itself by the simple name, the 'Union of Bhikkus' (Bhikkhu-sangha).(Id at p. 36)
During the lifetime of Gotama Buddha, the Bikkhu sangha was not sectarian by design. Buddha was not in the business of collecting followers and there are famous instances where he told someone not to leave his own teacher even if the person found Buddha's dharma agreeable.
To Buddha, true to his samana roots, it was the Dharma that was important, not belonging to one group of wanderers or another, even those who were the followers of his dharma.
In the tradition of wandering samanas, they would take off from their homeless wandering lifestyle during the monsoon rainy season. At this time Buddha and his followers, ie. the Union of Bhikkus, also would find shelter for the three months of the rainy season.
During the rain retreat period (vassa) the Bhikku sangha would shelter together and share discussions about the Buddha's Dharma. After Buddha's decease, of course the tradition continued. Bhikkus from all over would congregate annually each at a different retreat location (either the monk-built avasa dwellings or the donated arama dwellings) and share stories and report the sayings of the Buddha that were known to them.
But at the end of the rain retreat they would again scatter and regroup the next year but there would be no continuity between the members of the collective during the rain retreat.
Gradually over time, two traditions developed that led to sectarianism in the general sence among the Union of Bhikkus. First, Bhikkus began returning to the same rain retreat location year after year, and second the rain retreats became extended to year0round locations.
In other words, the temporary abode (vihara) as any rain retreat location (avasa or arama) of the wandering Bhikku became the continuous abode of the settled Bhikku. The wandering Union of Bhikkus became a settled Order of Bhikkus.
During this multi-century process of change the familiarity of continuous congregation led to the shared collective of stories and interpretation of the Dharma and the familiarity of associations that became Buddhist sects. After a time, only the familiar Bhikkus of one rain retreat location became the recognized members of that location and would be welcomed unconditionally at the next rain retreat by those who stayed at the location throughout the year.
The group of Bhikkus sharing the same retreat location came to be known as "co-dwellers" and the Bhikkus who were strangers to that location were called "separate-dwellers" and were allowed to stay conditionally during the rain retreat but they were given the lesser allotments and accommodations and only allowed to stay during the rain retreat. If they came to a location outside of the rain retreat they could often stay for only three or so days.
This is the source of the early Buddhist division of the "18 Schools" of which the Theravada school is the only remaining and continuing heir. As the Bhikkus ceased their wandering lifestyle and divorced themselves from the wider community and institution of the wandering samamns they also became more insulated from each other and the influence of other views generated by the influx of new faces each rainy season retreat.
The new faces of unknown Bhikkus became seen as "separate-dwellers" and their specific code of conduct became something unknown and a little suspect as well. Thus the primary allegiance to the Dharma as the central cement of the wandering Bhikkus became the allegiance to the rules of the Dharma-vinaya of the settled Bhikkus.
According to Dutt, the original declaration of faith of the Pattimokkha was a declaration of faith in the Dharma as stated in the Dhammapada verses 183 and 184 in reverse order.
This original Patimokkha of the Bhikkus is described in the Mahapadna Suttanta (Digha Nikaya 13). It is not the recital of a code of offences against the rule and regimen of monastic life, but a congregational chanting by assembled Bhikkus of a confession of faith; it is not a regularized fortnightly function, but a rite held only in six years. The confession of faith itself is a summing-up of the fundamental Sasana (Injunctions) of the religion. In this formulated form it must have been current among the Bhikkus since the early days of the Sangha, for it occurs among the verses of the Dhammapada:
Khanti paramam tapo titikahha
Nibbanam paramam vadanti Buddha;
Na hi pabbajitoparupaghati,
No samano hoti param vihethyanto (v. 184).
Sabba-papassa akaranam, kusalassa upasampada,
Sacitta-pariyodapanam, etam Buddhana sasanam (v. 183).
(Tr.-- Forbearance of Patience is the highest kind of penance--and Nibbana is declared to be he highest (object) by the Buddhas--for he is never a mendicant who hurts others and he is not a Samana who molests others.
Abstinence from all evils, accumulation of all that is good, and purification of one's own mind--this is the injunction of the Buddhas.) (p. 66-67)
Thus the original and archaic Patimokkha established the cohesion of the Bhikku sangha in the "Dhamma of the Sakyaputtiyas" (as the Bhikkus came to be called) not in the elaborate enunciation of rules. Each of the "18 Schools" (there were in fact more schools than 18, but for some reason this was an historical label for the various Buddhist schools of the pre-Mahayana period) not only developed its similar but distinct formulation of the rules, they also adopted their similar but distinct cannon collections of texts, first orally and then in writing (none of which was originally written in Pali or Sanskrit).
It was over the hundreds of years in the process of the Bhikku sangha becoming a settled order that the cohesion of the Dhamma became supplanted by the cohesion of rules, that the wandering life was given up for the life of settled monasteries, and that the sharing of stories of the Buddha's teaching became an adopted canon.
Once this process was more or less complete, the sectarianism of the 18 schools was clear.
Each school found the members of another school to be "separate-dwellers" and not part of their own familiar group of Bhikkus and the canon that it adopted and revered. As a shool's particular canon and its particular set of disciplinary rules (vinaya) became the standards of measuring one's orthodoxy, the sectarian rivalry became more and more pronounced.
It was in this context of sectarianism that the Mahayana movement developed in large part as a non-sectarian reaction to what was perceived as a narrow doctrinairian orthodoxy.
Today, we can observe how our all too human propensity toward sectarian views has entered the Mahayana and attempted to establish sects within the Mahayana movement.
There is a thread of continuity within the Mahayana that holds firmly to the non-sectarian context and that is One Vehicle (Ekayana) movement which was developed in India in the Ekayana sutras of the Lankavatara, the Avatamsaka, The Saddharma Pundarika, and the Mahayana Parinirvana and was outlined and systemitaized in the treatise Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana.
- "Gregory wonderwheel"- moderator "zen forum international"
But to quote the Lankavatara Sutra:
“The recognition of the one vehicle is obtained when there is no rising of discrimination by doing away with the notion of grasped and grasping and by abiding in the reality of suchness.”
And Yoda (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back):
"No! No different! Only different in your mind. "
Although it may seem like the different sects teach different things, the goal is the same, and the way is the same, because the goal is the way. So there really is no difference, there is only one dharma...
May the force be with you