Buddhist Councils: History, List and Teachings

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Buddhist Councils

Gautam Buddha was the founder of Buddhism which is a millennia-old religion and spiritual practice that offers a path to enlightenment and inner peace. With its roots in ancient India, Buddhism has spread throughout Asia and continues to attract followers around the world. To preserve the teachings of Gautam Buddha, after his death, some councils were held leading to outcomes that included the rise of different sects of Buddhism. In this article, we will explore the list of Buddhist councils that were held over the years.

List of the Buddhist Councils

Here is a list of the Buddhist Councils held along with the year and place.

List of Buddhist Councils
Year Council Place
400 BC 1st Buddhist Council Rajagriha in Magadha (modern Rajgir, Bihar state, India)
383 BC 2nd Buddhist Council Vaishali, India
250 BC 3rd Buddhist Council Pataliputra, India
72 AD 4th Buddhist Council Tambapanni, in Sri Lanka
1871 5th Buddhist Council Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar)
1954 6th Buddhist Council Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar)

What were the Six Buddhist Councils? Explained in Details

In total 6 Buddhist Councils were held spanning over decades. Out of these six councils, four councils were organized in India and the last two were held in foreign lands. 

First Buddhist Council

  1. The First Buddhist Council was held shortly after the death of the Buddha in 483 BCE.
  2. King Ajatasatru of the Haryanka Dynasty was the patron under whom the council was conducted.
  3. It took place in Sattapani caves in Rajgir, India.
  4. It was led by Mahakassapa, one of the Buddha’s senior monks and included 500 arhats(enlightened monks).
  5. The purpose of the council was to recite and preserve the Buddha’s teachings, known as the Tripitaka, or the “Three Baskets.”
  6. The Tipitaka includes the Vinaya Pitaka (monastic codes), the Sutta Pitaka (Buddha’s Teachings), and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical analysis).
  7. Ananda composed Suttapitaka and Mahakassapa composed Vinay Pitaka.
  8. The first council’s outcome was the official establishment of the Buddhist scriptures and the recognition of the Theravada school of Buddhism.

Second Buddhist Council

  1. The Second Buddhist Council was held approximately a century after the first council in 383 BCE. 
  2. King Kalasoka of the Shisunga Dynasty was the patron of the second council.
  3. It took place in Vaishali, India, and was convened due to disagreements within the monastic community.
  4. The council was attended by a total of 700 senior monks.
  5. It addressed the ten disputed points under the Vinaypitaka.
  6. The council’s primary focus was on clarifying disciplinary rules.
  7. The council resulted in the division of the Sangha into two sects: the Sthavira (Elders) and the Mahasanghika (Great Assembly).
  8. The Theravada school of Buddhism traces its origins back to the Sthavira sect.

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Third Buddhist Council

  1. The Third Buddhist Council took place in Pataliputra, India, around 250 BCE.
  2. It was convened during the reign of Emperor Ashoka who was a prominent supporter of Buddhism.
  3. The council’s objective was to uphold the purity of the Dharma against emerging deviations.
  4. The council was presided over by 1,000 arhats and was led by the venerable Moggaliputta-Tissa.
  5. The compilation and editing of the Tripitaka were completed during this council.
  6. The council’s major accomplishment was the standardization and purification of the Buddhist scriptures.
  7. It also led to the spread of Buddhism beyond India, into countries such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Cambodia.

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Fourth Buddhist Council

  1. The fourth Buddhist council was convened during the reign of Emperor Kanishka in the 1st century CE in Jalandhar, present-day Punjab, India.
  2. This council aimed to consolidate the teachings and clarify any discrepancies in the Buddhist scriptures.
  3. The council, attended by hundreds of scholars and monks, discussed and compiled commentaries on the Tripitaka.
  4. It laid the foundation for the Mahayana branch of Buddhism and led to the development of new philosophical schools.
  5. The council also resulted in the translation of Buddhist texts into several languages, including Sanskrit and Tibetan.
Image Source – IndiaNetzone.com

The Fifth Buddhist Council

  1. The fifth Buddhist council was held in 1871 in Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar).
  2. King Mindon Min sponsored this council with the intention of preserving and reviving Buddhism in Burma.
  3. The council focused on reciting and examining the entire Tripitaka, which was then inscribed on 729 marble slabs.
  4. This monumental task took several years to complete and involved the participation of over 2,400 monks.
  5. The fifth council reaffirmed the traditional Theravada teachings and helped in bringing unity among Burmese Buddhists.

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The Sixth Buddhist Council

  1. The sixth Buddhist council was organized by the Burmese government and held in Rangoon (now Yangon), Burma, between 1954 and 1956.
  2. The main objective of this council was to revise and reprint the entire Tipitaka in Burmese script and distribute it to Buddhists worldwide.
  3. The council brought together a large number of scholars and monks from different countries and Buddhist traditions.
  4. The revised version of the Tipitaka was published with commentary, making it more accessible to the general public.
  5. The sixth council helped to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of Buddhism among practitioners worldwide.

These councils brought together great minds and spiritual leaders to ensure the authenticity and accuracy of Buddhist scriptures. Each council addressed specific challenges and contributed to the development and growth of Buddhism in different regions of the world.

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