formation of the name mahaasaamghika

L.S. Cousins selwyn at NTLWORLD.COM
Wed Nov 26 11:49:31 UTC 2003


You are, I think, right that Mahaasa'nghika does not occur in any 
extant Pali source before the Vinaya and Abhidhamma commentaries and 
so is presumably not older as regards extant texts than forms found 
in Sanskrit. But this is largely a consequent of the paucity of 
surviving non-canonical before Buddhaghosa. The oldest Pali source 
i.e. Diipava.msa refers to Mahaasa'ngiitika, etc. I am not sure if 
there an older extant Sanskrit source than that.

In fact, given the rather preliminary editing of most Pali 
commentarial literature we cannot be quite sure that the above is the 
exact form. Both y/k and .m/'n vary in the later literature; so I 
incline to think that the underlying form is Middle Indic 
Mahåsa.mghiya which seems overall to be supported by the inscriptions.

I think Stephen is right to assume that the original name is 
vernacular and any Sanskrit form later. If so, the form is surely 
technically ambiguous:

1. If the later component is equivalent to Sanskrit saa'nghika, this 
appears in Pali as sa'nghika or sa.mghika (see the many occurrences 
in the Vinayapi.taka). As you suggest, this is a perfectly normal 
Middle Indic formation.

2. If it is equivalent to mahaasa.mgha with the addition of an ika 
suffix, then I am not sure that we should expect v.rddhi of the first 
syllable. I incline to suppose that this would be essentially 
optional in Middle Indian, especially in spoken forms. (In fact, I am 
not sure that an initial maahaa- ever occurs in Pali.

So we must choose between 1 and  2 on other grounds. I incline to the 
second because it seems to be the sort of name that a nikaaya might 
adopt faced with an active group of reformers. Also, the Diip form 
seems to use sa'ngiiti as a calque for sa.mgha in a way which 
supports this.

>I confess I am not quite sure why S Hodge wrote:
>>Assuming, of course, that the term is Skt in origin but surely it was used
>>in Pali etc long before it was seemingly sanskritized.
>Unless this is a code for "Middle Indic," this appears to be wrong;
>Mahaasaanghika in whatever shape it takes is not, as far as I know,
>known in old Paali (that is to say, in any stratum which could be
>considered older than known Skt sources, although the dating of much
>of this is a nightmare, as usual.).
>On the other hand, perhaps I should have elucidated that the term is
>known from a number of inscriptions, among which (leaving aside those
>in Kharosthi in which vowel length is not marked), the form maah-
>does not appear. (A possible exception in Lüder's list 1106, from
>Kaarli, which is printed as maahaasaghiyaanam--but I have not checked
>the plates yet. Common in such inscriptional instances is the
>non-occurence of nasal before -gh-. Although not a perfect
>explanation, I wonder whether the usual short -a- in this position
>might not be due to an assumption of nasal + aspirated velar, which
>the Law of Morae would then cause to shorten the vowel. In Mathuraa
>inscriptions and others from Kaarli, this -a- is always short, but
>there is only the one (apparent) case of maahaa-
>I'm still puzzled.

Best Wishes,


L.S. Cousins, Esq.,
12 Dynham Place,

selwyn at

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