The Buddhist Councils

The First Council, as it is known to Buddhist history, took place at Rajgir, the capital of the Magadha kingdom. The Buddha’s most important disciples were asked to recite his teachings from memory.

The first to recite was Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin, attendant and constant companion for more than 30 years. Demonstrating impressive powers of memorization, he recited not only everything he had heard, but the place in which each discourse was given. Other monks were then asked to confirm Ananda’s recollection.

It was also at this council that the Buddha’s teachings were divided into three categories or “baskets” (pitaka): discourses, discipline and higher knowledge. The Tripitaka that was formed at this meeting is the same canon used by Buddhists today.

  • Held soon after the death of the Buddha
  • around 400 BCE
  • Presided by monk Mahakasyapa
  • Held by Magadha king Ajatasatru in Rajagriha
  • Objective was to preserve the Buddha’s sayings (suttas) and monastic rules (Vinaya)
  • According to some sources, theAbhidhamma Pitaka, or its matika, was also included.
  • Also the Sangha made the unanimous decision to keep all the rules of the Vinaya, even the lesser and minor rules.
  • Tradition holds that the Council was held in a hall erected by Ajatasattuoutside the Sattaparnaguha Cave

Second   Buddhist Council

(4th century BCE)

  • Held about 100 years after the Buddha’s demise
  • Held at Vaisali under the presidentship of Sabakami, convened by King Kalasoka
  • Objective was to settle a debate on certain practices of Buddhist monks, esp. in western India
  • The group who stayed called themselves the Elders (Thera in Pali). They felt they were in keeping with the original spirit of the Buddha’s teachings. The other group, the Great Community (Mahasanghikain Sanskrit), interpreted Buddha’s teachings more liberally, but in a way that they felt was more true to his intentions. These two groups would eventually evolve into Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

Third   Buddhist Council

The reason for convening the Third Buddhist Council is reported to have been to rid the Sangha of corruption and bogus monks who held heretical views.

(250 BCE)

  • Held at Pataliputra under the patronage of Asoka
  • Chief monk was Mogaliputta Tissa
  • Sent Buddhist missionaries to other countries
  • Objective was to purify the Buddhist movement from opportunistic factions
  • Origin of Theravada school

Fourth   Buddhist Council

Fourth Buddhist Council is the name of two separateBuddhist council meetings. The first one was held in the 1st century BC, in Sri Lanka. In this fourth Buddhist council the Theravadin Pali Canon was for the first time committed to writing, on palm leaves. The second one was held by the Sarvastivada school, in Kashmir around the 1st century AD.

(1st century BCE or CE)

  • Possibly held under Theravada school in Tambapanni (Sri Lanka) in the 1stcentury BCE
  • Committed the Pali Canon to writing
  • Another possibly held under Saravastivada tradition, convened by Kanishka around 100 CE in Kashmir under the leadership of monk Vasumitra
  • Kanishka’s council translated Abhidharna texts from Prakrit to Sanskrit

Leave a Reply