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Buddha's parinibbana was a critical moment for the Dhamma and its
followers. How the Buddha's teaching could be preserved for the future,
was a problem for his prominent disciples. Some disciples, like
Subhadda1, felt that, with the death of the Buddha, they could interpret
the Dhamma according to their own wishes. This attitude was viewed with
alarm by the more loyal and erudite disciples who immediately thought of
summoning a council where the word of the buddha could be established
and where steps could be taken for its preservation and propagation. The
task assigned to this Council was to decide the Dhamma and Vinaya of the
were made for this to be held at Rajagaha, near the Saptaparni cave
under the presidency of Mahakassapa commencing from the second month of
the Vassava season, i. e. in the fourth month after the Buddha's death3.
Five hundred Arhat bhikkhus participated in it. Ananda4, who was yet a
saiksa, attained arhathood (asaiksa)
just on the eve of the Council, and he palyed a prominent part in the
establishment of the texts of the Sutta Pitaka.
decisions at the Council were not altogether unanimous. For instance,
Gavampati, a senior arhat of the time, abstained from approving or
disapproving the decisions of the Council, while Purana denounced the
Council's decisions and urged the incorporation of the seven Vinaya
rules5. Whatever that may be, the accounts of Gavampati and Purana
indicate the germs of schism in the order even at that early date-R. C.
Majumdar says "This was a danger signal for the Church."6
sources of the First Council are (i) The
Cullavagga, XI, of the Pali
Vinaya, (ii) The Dipavamsa,
(iii) The Mahavamsa, (iv)
Buddhaghosa's introduction to the Sumanga-lavilasini,
(v) Mahabodhivamsa, (vi) Mahavastu,
(v) Manjusrimulakalpa, (vi) The Tibetan sources :--Bu-ston's Chos.
Bbyung (History of Buddhism), translated into English by Obermiller, and
Taranatha's History of Buddhism, (vii) Chinese sources but derived from
the Sanskrit sources : The Vinaya of Mahisasakas, Dharmaguptas,
Mahasanghikas, Sarvastivadins, Kasyapa samgitisutra (Kai-ye-kie-king),
Asokavadana (A-yu-wang-king), Mahaprajnaparamitasastra, Parinirvana-sutra,
and Hiuen Tsang's Record of western countries.
regards the authenticity of the First Council, the Russian savant I. P.
Minayeff7 appears to be the first to investigate and establish the
historicity of the event in 1887. Oldenberg refuted his opinion in 1898
and said that the First Council was nothing but pure fiction. His
argument is that Subhadda's account is referred to in the Cullavagga
and Mahaparinibbanasutta, (Digha.
2. 3) but the latter is silent about the Council. This silence,
according to him, "is as valuable as the most direct testimony : it
shows that the author of the Mahaparinibbanasutta did not know anything of the First Council.
"He then concludes that it is not a fact, "but pure invention,
and moreover an invention of no very ancient date."8
reviewed Oldenberge's view in 1884 on the basis of Tibetan sources and
remarked that "the authenticity of the council of Rajagaha has been
doubted on insufficient grounds9. But T. W. Rhys Davids seems to have
uphelp Oldenberg's view. He says "The conclusion drawn by oldenberg
is atleast the easiest and readiest way of explaining the very real
discrepancy that he has pointed out10. R. O. Franke declares
emphatically against the First Council that "the two accounts in
the Cullavagga xi, xii, are
but air-bubbles."11 Among later scholars, Sukumar Dutta expresses
his view thus--"The account of the First Council is only a legend
of this invented character, seizing, as a peg to hang on, the Subhadda
story in the Mahaparinibbana
all these views are one-sided and baed on merely the absence of any
reference to it in the Mahaparinibbanasutta.
As a matter of fact, the Mahaparinibbanasutta
is concerned with the account of the Buddha's parinibbana and not the
history of the Order. The Vinaya,
of course, is related to the history of the Buddhistic order and
therefore an account of the First Council has a legitimate place in it.
Likwise the Dipavamsa mentions
the First Council, but not Subhadda's account. Tibetan Dulva also does
pointed out that chapters XI and XII of the Cullavagga,
which contain an account of the two councils, have such an abrupt
beginning unlike the other chapters of the Cullavagga
that they could not have been originally a part of this work. He further
points out that the Mahaparinibbanasutta
also differs from the other Suttas of the Dighanikaya
in the nature of its contents, being more historical in character,and
that the Mahaparinibbanasutta
and the two chapters (XI, XII) of Cullavagga
are so similar in nature that they must have been originally parts of
one and the same work. In support of this contention of his, he refers
to a work entitled Samyuktavastu
(Nanjio 1121), the Vinaya of the Mula-Sarvastivadins,
which contains the account of both parinibbana
and the Councils, and
concludes therefrom that the There-vadins too had a work corresponding
to the Samyukta-vastu, and
that it was disembered at a later date by the ancient editors of Nikayas
Poussin16, Prazyluski17 also support the authenticity of the First
Council Jacobi urged that it was not essential for the Mahaparinibbanasutta to go out of its way to describe the Council.
He then remarked that mere argu-mentum
es silentio cannot be accepted against the historicity of the First
the different viows of scholars regarding the authenticity of the First
Buddhist Council of Rajagaha, we find that no reliable evidence is
available to reject its validity. The Gavampati and Purana accounts
contain the parts of the Buddha's teaching which they accepted. We
cannot therefore think of it as a pure invention. Thus all accounts
favour the acceptance of the First Council as a historical event.
regards its cotribution to the evolution of the Pali Canon, it is,
however, difficult to accept the traditional conception, which asserts
that the whole Dhamma and Vinaya were recited in the First Council. The Sumaganlavilasini19 further adds that not only Dhamma and Vinaya, but
also the Abhidhamma was
finalised in this very Council. How was it possible to compile the whole
of the Sutta and Vinaya along with the Abhidhamma
within about two months ?
is inclined to think that the Council could not but be regarded as an
enlarged Patimokkha assembly.20
asserts that the accounts of the Council contain two clearly
distinguishable parts, of which the one that speaks of the compilation
of the Canon must belong to a period posterior to the rise of the
sects.21 Nalinaksa Dutt is of opinion that the Council was summoned to
decide the less important rules of discipline (khuddakanukhuddakani
sikkhapadani) which were sanctioned by the Buddha himself.22
Dipavamsa presents a more
probable account : "The Bhikkhus composed the collection of Dhamma
and Vinaya, by asking the Thera called Ananda regarding the Dhamma.
There Mahakassapa and the great teacher Anurudha, Thera Upali of
powerful memory, and learned Anauda, as well as many other distinguished
disciples who had been praised by the Buddha....made this council."
Here the Dhamma and Vinaya mean selected groups of the original Suttas
and doctrines, not the whole present Pali
The Second Council
years after the death of the Buddha (vassasata-parinibbute Bhagavati),
the Second Council was held in Vesali to recite again the Dhama and the
Vinaya. Seven hundred monks participated in this council. It is also
therefore called Saptasatika.
accounts of the Second Council
accounts of this council state that Yasa Thera was shocked when he came
to know about the relaxing of monastic rules and the acceptance by some
monks of the ten heretical practices (dasa
vatthuni)23. But as Yasa Therea opposed them, he was excommunicated
(patisaraniyakamma). Yasa then went in search of monks who would
agree with his views. He further tried to bring the dispute to a
peaceful end. For this purpose a Council was summoned at Vesali in Valikarama under the presidency of Thera Revata. All these ten
points were considered unlawful according to tradition. This council
lasted eight months during which the Dhamma and Vinaya were discussed.
The heretical monks then arranged a separate council called Mahasamgiti
making a different redaction of the Canonical literature.24
main sources of the seconf council are : (1) the cullavagga of the
Vinayapitaka, (ii) Dipavamsa,
(iii) Mahavamsa, (iv) Samantapasadika,
(v) Hiuen Tsang's Record of Western countries (vi) Tibetan Dulva,
Taranatha's Geschichted's Buddhismus in Indien, ubersetz von Schifener,
and other Chinese sources differ in some respects, but the Cullavagga's
record is the oldest one and the others appear to be based on it.
of the Council.
historicity of this council is now accepted unanimously by the scholars.
Kern raised an objection saying "We could not discover in these
accounts anything but dogmatic fictions for which didactic mythical
stories of older times have furnisbed the materials25. But in another
work he altered his conception stating "The council on Vinaya in
Vaisali has historical base."26 Oldenberg, who denied the First
Council, accepted the Second Council. He says : "It is an account,
which with all its pedantic snatching after trifles, bears the stamp of
being in the highest degree trustworthy.27
should be noted here that the debatable points were settled after
discussions, most probably on the basis of some authoritative works. But
Majumdar is of the view that the present Vinaya could not have been
compiled before the Second Council was held, or otherwise the dispute
over the monastic rules could not have arisen among the monks at that
are inclined to accept the traditional view that both the Dhamma and the
Vinaya were recited at the Vesali Council. The Dhamma comprises the
Nikayas which are the earliest and most reliable sources of the Buddhist
doctrines. Whether any finality was reached regarding the structure and
contents of the Pitakas ar not, we may not be able to decide due to the
lack of necessary evidence available to us. But it is most unlikely that
a Council summoned to settle a dispute in monastic Order, which was
threatening the unity of the Buddhist Order, was concluded without a
review of the body of doctrines preserved by the monks.
to the time of Asoka Buddhism became very popular and easier to follow
than the original teachings of Buddha. It is said that the heretics in
monk's robes used to live in Buddhist monasteries and preach their own
dhamma in the name of Buddhism. Under such circumstances the monastic
rules were slackened and the Uposatha and the Pavarana could not be held
for about seven years. The Great king Asoka somehow came to know of this
corruption among the Buddhist monks and then sent a religious officer to
conduct Uposatha and Pavarana
ceremony. He then out throats of several monks. Asoka was much disturbed
by this Moggali-putta, Tissa, however, came into contact with Asoka and
a solution was found.
was the background for the third council held in Pataliputra under the
presidency of Moggaliputta Tissa. It is referred to in the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa and Samantapasadika. It is recorded in the
Tibetan Dulva and some Chinese sources too. But the Cullavagga does not give an account of the third Council. Asoka's
inscriptions also make no reference to it.
of the Council
scholars like Minayeff, Keith, Franke, etc. deny it historicity. Their
main argument is that it is not mentioned in the Cullavagga,
one of the earliest scriputures and in the Asoka's inscriptions. Keith,
for example, says : "It is incredible that it ever took place
without receiving some mention in the numerous records of Asoka."28
In the buddhist Philosophy he says : "the only verdict of
scientific history must be that the council was a figment of the pious
or fraudulent imaginings of a sect, which desired to secure for its
texts, and espcially for the new Abhidhamma,
a connection with the greatest Buddhist sovereigns, and that the
northern tradition does well to ignore the Council entirely."29 He
even thinks of Tissa in a "Suspicious aspect."30
regards the absence of any record in Asoka's inscriptions, it can be
said that Asoka would have preferred to attach the name of Moggaliputta
Tissa to this council since it was the result of his invaluable efforts.
Asoka was only the supporter and provider of the purpose.
some of his edicts indicate that this Council did take place. In one of
his edicts, for example, King Asoka decrees that heretical monks and
nuns shall be excommunicated.31 G. C. Pande rightly suggests that Asoka
might not have been "as intimately connected with the Council as
the Pali tradition would have us believe."32
was only the Vibhajjavadins or
the Theravadins who attended
this Council. A rift in the Buddhist order took place after the Second
Council and by the time of Asoka it was divided into eighteen sects33,
which were refuted by Vibhajjavadins in this great Council.
on the basis of above literary as well as inscriptional evidences, we
cannot deny the historicity of the Third Council held in Pataliputra
under the presidency of Moggaliputta Tiss.
Other Councils also were summoned for various purposes at different times. The Fourth Council was held under the auspices of Kaniska in about 100 A. D. According to the Mahavamsa and Other Ceylones traditions, three Councils were held in Ceylon. The First was held during the reign of kind Devanampiya Tissa (247 - 207 B. C.) under the presidency of the Venerable Arittha Thera. The Second Council was held during the time of King Vattagamini Abhaya (about 101-77 B. C.) under the presidency of Mahathera Rakkhita and the Canon was reduced to writing. It was held at the Alu-Vihara in the village of Matale in Ceylon. The Third Council was conducted in 1865 at Ratnapura in Ceylon under the presidency of the Venerable Hikkaduve siri Sumangala. Two Councils have been held in Thailand (Siam). Some Councils were summoned in Burma too. The so-called Fifth Council held in Mandelay is very important, as the text of the Canon fixed at this Council was engraved on marble slabs which for the last so many years had proved to be the most reliable record of the buddhist Canon. The Sixth Buddhist Council was inaugurated in May 1954 in Rangoon with the collaboration of the various countries of the Buddhist world.
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