Coming up: Having Sects in Buddhism

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Blog


Imagine a religion with a strict power hierarchy where orthodoxy is tightly regulated from the top.  Now let’s do a thought experiment, and imagine a religion that takes an almost exact opposite approach towards orthodoxy.  What would it look like after many years?  In a sense, early Buddhism was that religion.

The Buddha avoided choosing a successor, instead telling the monks that, “After my passing, the Dharma and the discipline (Dhamma-vinaya) shall be your teacher.”  Not only did he not appoint a successor, he didn’t even institute a formal power hierarchy within the Sangha, so after the Buddha passed, the Sangha functioned almost like a democracy.  In addition, the Buddha taught the monks to never be attached to views.  So, in a sense, there was no religious power hierarchy to enforce orthodoxy at all.  What would happen to such a religion?  What happened was a huge blossoming of creativity and diversity within Buddhism that continues to this day, leading to a large proliferation of sects and sub-sects that rise and fall over time.

This is the story of how Buddhism quickly became sectarian, and how, against all odds, all the sects retained a common core that continues to keep all of Buddhism as one big family.  

How did Buddhism end up with sects, and what is a good Buddhist to do about sects?  That’s coming up, starting today, in Topic#16.

Meng, for the team

Chade-Meng Tan

Meng is an award-winning engineer, international bestselling author, movie producer and philanthropist. His work has been nominated eight times for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Read Meng's story)

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