There are four Buddhist councils, the first one being held around 483 BC under the patronage of King Ajatashatru of the Haryanka Dynasty under Magadha Empire. The other three Buddhist councils were held around 383 BCE, 250 BCE, and 72 AD respectively. Read in this article about Buddhist councils and Pitakas that are Buddhist Texts, for the IAS Exam.
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List of Buddhist Councils
Four Buddhist Councils were held under different kings.
First Buddhist Council
- Conducted under the patronage of King Ajatasatru of Haryanka dynasty.
- The council was established in order to arrive at a consensus on how the teachings of the Buddha could be spread further.
- It was held in 483 BC just after Buddha’s demise.
- It was held at Sattapani caves (Sattaparnaguha) in Rajagriha.
- The monk who presided over the first council was Mahakassapa.
- Main objective was to preserve the Buddha’s teachings.
- At this council, Ananda composed the Suttapitaka (Buddha’s Teachings) and Mahakassapa composed the Vinaypitaka (monastic code).
Second Buddhist Council
- Conducted under the patronage of King Kalasoka of Sisunaga dynasty.
- It was held in 383 BC, i.e., a hundred years after the Buddha’s death.
- It was held at Vaishali.
- Sabakami presided over the council.
- The main objective was to discuss ten disputed points under the Vinaypitaka.
- The first major split happened here – two groups that would later evolve into Theravada and Mahayana. The first group was called Thera (meaning Elder in Pali). They wanted to preserve the teachings of Buddha in the original spirit. The other group called Mahasanghika (Great Community) interpreted the Buddha’s teachings more liberally.
Third Buddhist Council
- Conducted under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka of Maurya dynasty.
- It was held in 250 BC at Pataliputra.
- The council was presided over by Mogaliputta Tissa.
- Main objective was to purify Buddhism from opportunistic factions and corruption in the Sangha.
- The Abhidhamma Pitaka was composed here making the almost completion of the modern Pali Tipitaka.
- Buddhist missionaries were sent to other countries.
- Buddhism preached by Emperor Ashoka was Hinayana.
Fourth Buddhist Council
- Conducted under the patronage of King Kanishka of Kushan dynasty.
- It was held in the 1st century AD (72 AD) at Kundalvana in Kashmir.
- Vasumitra and Ashvaghosha presided over this council
- All deliberations were conducted in Sanskrit.
- Here, Abhidhamma texts were translated from Prakrit to Sanskrit.
- This council resulted in the division of Buddhism into two sects namely, Mahayana (the Greater Vehicle) and Hinayana (the Lesser Vehicle).
- Mahayana sect believed in idol worship, rituals, and Bodhisattvas. They regarded the Buddha as God. Hinayana continued the original teachings and practices of the Buddha. They adhere to the scriptures written in Pali while the Mahayana includes Sanskrit scriptures as well.
There was a fifth and sixth Buddhist council but they are not recognised outside of the location it took place in – Burma
Fifth Buddhist Council
- It was presided by Theravada monks in Mandalay, Burma in 1871 during the rule of King Mindon
- It is known as the ‘Fifth Council’ in Burmese tradition
- Its objective was to recite all the teachings of the Buddha and examine whether any of them had been altered, distorted or neglected
- It was attended by 2400 monks, presided by three Elders – the Venerable Mahathera Jagarabhivamsa, the Venerable Narindabhidhaja, and the Venerable Mahathera Sumangalasami.
- The council lasted for five months.
- The entire recitation was captured in marble slabs, abut 729 of them. All the slabs were housed in beautiful miniature pitaka pagodas.
- It is loctaed at the grounds of King Mindon’s Kuthodaw Pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill
Sixth Buddhist Council
- The Sixth Council was called at Kaba Aye in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in 1954, 83 years after the fifth one was held in Mandalay.
- It was sponsored by the Burmese Government led by the then Prime Minister, the Honourable U Nu.
- He authorized the construction of the Maha Passana Guha, the “great cave”, an artificial cave very much like India’s Sattapanni Cave where the first Buddhist Council had been held. Upon its completion The Council met on 17 May 1954.
- As in the case of the preceding councils, its first objective was to affirm and preserve the genuine Dhamma and Vinaya.
- However it was unique insofar as the monks who took part in it came from eight countries.
- The traditional recitation of the Buddhist Scriptures took two years and the Tripiṭaka and its allied literature in all the scripts were painstakingly examined and their differences noted down and the necessary corrections made and all the versions were then collated.
- The most important sources of Buddhism are the Tripitakas / Tipitaka written in the Pali language. They are:
- Sutta Pitaka
- Vinaya Pitaka
- Abhidhamma Pitaka
- Dhammapada: a part of the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka. It contains a collection of the sayings of the Buddha in verse form.
- Milinda Panha: Literal meaning in Pali – Questions of Milinda. It was written around 100 BC. It contains a dialogue between the Indo-Greek King Menander I or Milinda of Bactria and sage Nagasena where Milinda asks questions on Buddhism to the sage.
- Buddhacharita: it is an epic poem composed in Sanskrit by Ashvaghosha in the early 2nd century AD. It is about the life of the Buddha.
Causes of the Spread of Buddhism
- Buddha’s magnetic personality.
- He taught in Pali which the masses understood as opposed to Sanskrit.
- He admitted people into the Sangha irrespective of caste distinctions.
- Initial Sanghas were democratic and disciplined organisations.
- The monks travelled to different places preaching the teachings of Buddha.
- It received royal patronage including from Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, Ashoka, Kanishka and Harshavardhana.
Causes of the Decline of Buddhism in India
- Split into Mahayana and Hinayana weakened the religion.
- There was corruption among the latter monks. They gave up austerity and indulged in luxuries. Moral standards deteriorated.
- Royal patronage for Buddhism declined after the end of the Gupta dynasty around 650 AD.
- Orthodox Hinduism became more popular especially due to the works of Kumarila Bhatt and Adi Shankara.
- The invasions by the Huns and later by the Islamic armies further declined the influence of Buddhism in the subcontinent.
NCERT notes on important topics for IAS aspirants. These notes will also be useful for other competitive exams like banking PO, SSC, state civil services exams, and so on. This article talks about the spread of Buddhism in ancient India, Buddhist Councils, and texts.
Buddhist Councils & Important texts Notes:- Download PDF Here
Aspirants can also refer to NCERT Ancient History Notes for UPSC page for other related topics’ notes.
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