All Buddhist Council: 6 Councils Of Buddhism Explained!

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This article provides insights into the significance of the All Buddhist Council and its relevant texts for various exams, including UPSC. The Buddhist Councils were crucial events conducted in ancient India by Buddhist followers. Their primary purpose was to address and resolve matters concerning the interpretation and safeguarding of Buddhist teachings, as well as to foster unity among the Buddhist community.

All Buddhist Council

Throughout history, four Buddhist councils were held. The initial one occurred in 483 BC, presided over by King Ajatashatru of the Haryanka Dynasty during the Magadha Empire. Subsequently, three more councils were conducted around 383 BCE, 250 BCE, and 72 AD.

These councils hold great importance in the Ancient History segment of General Studies, particularly for the WBCS, and UPSC IAS exam.

What is Buddhist Council?

The Buddhist Council denotes a sequence of significant gatherings of Buddhist monks and scholars in ancient India. These councils were convened to address and resolve disputes concerning the interpretation and application of Buddhist doctrines, as well as the preservation and dissemination of Buddhist scriptures.

Notably, the first Buddhist council marked a pivotal moment with the emergence of two of the oldest Buddhist traditions: the Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist schools. Throughout history, the early Buddha schools have experienced several transformations, including the translation of numerous ancient Buddha sutras and teachings.

The Six Buddhist Councils: Quick Overview

The following Table represents a quick overview of the 6 Buddhist Councils.

CouncilPlaceYear
1st Buddhist CouncilRajagriha in Magadha (modern Rajgir, Bihar state, India)543 BCE
2nd Buddhist CouncilVaishali, India383 BCE
3rd Buddhist CouncilPataliputra, India250 BCE
4th Buddhist CouncilKashmir (India)78 AD
5th Buddhist CouncilMandalay, Burma (Myanmar)1871
6th Buddhist CouncilRangoon, Burma (Myanmar)1954
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First Buddhist Council

Venue: The First Buddhist Council took place in the Sattaparnaguha Cave, situated outside Rajgriha (the modern city of Rajgir), in the year 486 BC.

Participants: King Ajatasatru, the son of King Bimbisara from the Haryanka Dynasty, presided over the council, which was led by Venerable Maha Kasyapa and attended by 500 monks.

Timing: This significant event occurred three months after the passing of the Buddha.

Purpose: The primary objective of the First Buddhist Council was to collect and arrange the Buddhist Scriptures, now known as the Pali Tipitaka.

Outcomes:

  1. Vinaya Pitaka: This collection mainly contains the rules and guidelines for the Buddhist monastic order. Upali did the recitation of the Vinaya Pitaka.
  2. Suttapitaka: Ananda recited this collection, which consists of a vast array of Buddha’s sermons, covering matters of doctrine and ethical beliefs.

Second Buddhist Council

Venue: The Second Buddhist Council was convened in Vaishali in 386 BC.

Participants: The council was presided over by Sabakami and held during the reign of King Kalasoka from the Shisunaga Dynasty.

Timing: This significant event took place 100 years after the passing of the Buddha.

Purpose: The main purpose of the Second Buddhist Council was to address a serious dispute that had arisen over the Vinaya, specifically centered around the ‘Ten Points.’

The ‘Ten Points’: The dispute revolved around claims of certain monks breaking ten rules, some of which were considered major offenses. These ten points were as follows:

  1. Storing salt in a horn.
  2. Eating after midday.
  3. Eating once and then going again to a village for alms.
  4. Holding the Uposatha Ceremony with monks dwelling in the same locality.
  5. Carrying out official acts when the assembly was incomplete.
  6. Following a certain practice because it was done by one’s tutor or teacher.
  7. Eating sour milk after having the midday meal.
  8. Consuming a strong drink before it had been fermented.
  9. Using a rug that was not the proper size.
  10. Using gold and silver, an Indic idiom that includes any kind of money.

Outcome:

  1. Division of the Buddhist Order: The Second Buddhist Council resulted in a split within the Buddhist monastic community into two groups: the Sthaviravadinis (Theravada) and the Mahasanghikas. The disagreement primarily stemmed from differences in small points of monastic discipline.
  2. Council’s Decision: The council unanimously decided not to relax any of the rules and also censured the behavior of the monks who were accused of violating the ten points.

Third Buddhist Council

Venue: The Third Buddhist Council was convened in Pataliputra (today’s Patna) in the year 250 BC.

Participants: King Ashoka from the Maurya Dynasty played a significant role in the council, which was presided over by Mogaliputta Tissa (Upagupta).

Objective: The main objectives of the Third Council were to reconcile the different schools of Buddhism and to purify the Buddhist movement, particularly by addressing opportunistic factions that had been drawn in by royal patronage.

Doctrinal Formulation: One of the notable outcomes of the Third Council was the recording of responses to doctrinal questions and disputes. Moggaliputta Tissa documented these in the Kathavatthu, one of the books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka.

Result:

  1. Sthaviravada School as an Orthodox School: The Third Buddhist Council established the Sthaviravada School as an orthodox school of thought. This school believed in the concept that the past, present, and future are all simultaneous. Additionally, they may have contributed some formative influence to the development of Mahayana Buddhism.
  2. Codification of Abhidhamma Pitaka: The council led to the codification of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, which deals with Buddhist philosophy written in Pali. This codification helped in preserving and disseminating Buddhist teachings and principles.

Fourth Buddhist Council

Venue: The Fourth Buddhist Council took place in Kundalavana, Kashmir.

Year: This significant event occurred in the year 72 AD.

King: The council was held during the reign of King Kanishka from the Kushan Dynasty. King Kanishka was known as a patron of Buddhism and played a crucial role in spreading the religion in the north-western borders of India.

Presiding Priest: Vasumitra, deputed by Asvaghosha, presided over the Fourth Buddhist Council.

Objective: The primary purpose of the Fourth Council was to address a serious conflict that had arisen between the Sarvasthivada teachers of Kashmir and Gandhara, two regions with significant Buddhist communities.

Result:

  1. Organization of Sarvasthivada Doctrines: The Fourth Buddhist Council organized Sarvasthivada doctrines into three large commentaries on the Pitakas. This organizational effort aimed to systematize and preserve the teachings of the Sarvasthivada tradition.
  2. Division of Buddhism into Mahayana & Hinayana Sects: Another significant outcome of the Fourth Council was the final division of Buddhism into two major sects: Mahayana and Hinayana. This division represented the different paths and philosophical interpretations that emerged within Buddhism after the council.

Fifth Buddhist Council

Fifth Buddhist Council: Preserving and Analyzing Buddhist Teachings

Venue: The Fifth Buddhist Council was convened in Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar), under the patronage of King Mindon in 1871 CE (Myanmar).

Objective: The primary goal of this gathering was to meticulously recite all of Gautama Buddha’s teachings from the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. The purpose was to analyze them in great detail to determine if any of the teachings had been altered, misunderstood, or omitted over time.

Participants: The council was attended by an assembly of two thousand four hundred (2400) monks. It was presided over by three esteemed bhikkhus: Mahathera Jagarabhivamsa, Narindabhidhaja, and Mahathera Sumangalasami.

Duration: The recitation and analysis of the Dhamma, with the presence of the monks, took five months to complete.

Preservation Efforts: As part of the council’s efforts to preserve the teachings for posterity, the Tripitaka was approved and recorded in Burmese script on 719 marble slabs.

Limited Representation: It is worth noting that the Fifth Buddhist Council was primarily focused on Burma and did not have widespread representation from most Buddhist nations outside the region. As a result, its significance and influence are relatively less known beyond the borders of Burma.

Sixth Buddhist Council

The Purpose of the Sixth Historical Council: The primary objective of the Sixth Historical Councils was to gather and preserve the Buddha’s utterances.

Compilation of the Tripitaka: The collected words were compiled into what is known as the Tripitaka, a comprehensive compilation of the Buddha’s teachings.

Importance of the Dhamma’s Theoretical and Practical Aspects: The Tripitaka contains both the theoretical, literary component (pariyatti) and the practical, applied side of the Dhamma, both of which are essential.

Convening the Sixth Council: In May 1954, Prime Minister U Nu of Burma convened the Sixth Council in Rangoon, with the active involvement and participation of erudite monks from various regions worldwide.

Council’s Proceedings and Participants: Venerable Abhidhaja Mahraha Guru Bhadanta Revata presided over the council, which included 2,500 erudite monks from Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and other nations. Together, they meticulously re-examined the Tripitaka text.

Successful Completion on a Momentous Occasion: The council successfully accomplished its task on the full moon day of Vesak in 1956, which coincided with the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana. This achievement was a significant milestone in preserving the Buddha’s teachings for future generations.

Detailed Table on all Buddhist Councils

Here is a more detailed table of all Buddhist Councils

Buddhist CouncilTimePlaceRulerPresidentPurpose
First Council543 BCERajagahaAjatashatruMahakassappa• To preserve the Buddha’s teachings

• Buddha’s teachings were divided into 3 categories or ‘baskets’ (pitaka):
1. Discourses
2. Discipline
3. Higher knowledge

• Vinay Pitaka rules of the order, recited by Upali.

• Sutta Pitaka great collection of Buddha’s sermons, by Ananda
Second Council383 BCEVaishaliKalasokaSabbakami• To resolve a doctrinal dispute.

• The Sthaviravadins and Mahasanghikas were two major Buddhist sects that arose in the early centuries of Buddhism.

• The Sthaviravadins, or “Elders,” believed that they were in keeping with the original spirit of the Buddha’s teachings.

• They emphasized the importance of monastic discipline and the goal of individual liberation.

• The Mahasanghikas, or “Great Community,” interpreted the Buddha’s teachings more liberally.

• They believed that the Buddha had taught that there were many paths to enlightenment, and they were more open to the participation of women and laypeople in the Buddhist community.

• The Sthaviravadins and Mahasanghikas eventually evolved into the Theravada and Mahayana traditions of Buddhism.
Third Council250 BCEPatliputraAshokaMogaliputta
Tissa
• To standardize the Buddhist canon

• Sent Buddhist missionaries to other countries. Origin of Theravada school. Tripatika coded in Pali language.
Fourth Council78 ADKashmirKanishkaVasumitra• To reconcile the differences between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions.

• Buddhism divided into the Mahayana sect and the Hinayana sect.
Fifth Council1871Mandalay, Burma(Myanmar) King MindonTheravada monks • The main goal of this meeting was to carefully recite all of the Buddha’s teachings and thoroughly examine them to check if any of them had been changed, distorted, or left out.
Sixth Council1954Burma, Rangoon(Myanmar)Prime Minister U Nu
Venerable Abhidhaja Mahraha Guru Bhadanta Revata
• Preserving the Buddha’s teachings for future generations and commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment

Important One-liners Question & Answers

Q1. Where was the first Buddhist council held?
Answer: Rajagaha (present-day Rajgir)

Q2. Who was the president of the first Buddhist council?
Answer: Mahakassapa

Q3. First Buddhist council held in which year?
Answer: 483 BCE

Q4. During the period of which ruler was the first Buddhist council held?
Answer: King Ajatasattu

Q5. Who among the following presided over the first Buddhist council?
Answer: Mahakassapa

Q6. Who compiled sutta pitaka in the first Buddhist council?
Answer: The Sutta Pitaka was compiled in the first Buddhist council under the guidance and leadership of Ananda.

Q7. Where was the second Buddhist council held?
Answer: Vaisali

Q8. Who convened the second Buddhist council?
Answer: King Kalasoka

Q9. When was the second Buddhist council held?
Answer: 383 BCE

Q10. What was the main aim of the second Buddhist council?
Answer: To discuss and settle certain disputed monastic rules and practices within the Sangha (Buddhist monastic community).

Q11. Who was the president of the second Buddhist council?
Answer: Sabakami

Q12. Where was the third Buddhist council held?
Answer: Pataliputra, which is present-day Patna

Q13. When was the third Buddhist council held?
Answer: 250 BCE

Q14. Where was the fourth Buddhist council held?
Answer: Kundalavana, Kashmir

Q15. The proceeding of the fourth Buddhist council led to the issue of which edict
Answer: Sarnath Edict

Q16. Who presided over the fourth Buddhist council?
Answer: Venerable Abhidhaja Mahraha Guru Bhadanta Revata.

Q17. Who was the president of the fourth Buddhist council?
Answer: Venerable Abhidhaja Mahraha Guru Bhadanta Revata.

Q18. During the period of which king was the fourth Buddhist council held?
Answer: During the period of King Kanishka from the Kushan Dynasty.

Q19. When did the fourth Buddhist council take place?
Answer: Took place in the year 72 AD.

Q20. Under whose kingship was the fourth Buddhist council held?
Answer: Kanishka from the Kushan Dynasty.

Q21. During whose reign was the fourth Buddhist council held?
Answer: Reign of King Kanishka from the Kushan Dynasty.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. The first Buddhist council was held at which place?

The first Buddhist council was held at Rajagaha.

Q2. Who was the president of the first Buddhist council?

The president of the first Buddhist council was Mahakashyapa.

Q3. During the period of which ruler was the first Buddhist council held?

The first Buddhist council was held during the period of King Ajatashatru.

Q4. Where was the second Buddhist council held?

The second Buddhist council was held at Vaishali.

Q5. Where was the third Buddhist council held?

The third Buddhist council was held at Pataliputta.

Q6. Fourth Buddhist council held in which year?

The fourth Buddhist council was held in 78 AD.

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