First Buddhist Council: Reasons, Significance, Outcome & More

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first buddhist council

The First Buddhist Council was held shortly after the death of Gautam Buddha, around 483 BCE, at Rajagriha the capital of the Magadha kingdom in ancient India. The main purpose of the council was to preserve and transmit the teachings of the Buddha also known as the Dhamma and the rules of monastic discipline, known as the Vinaya, in order to preserve them for future generations.. In the blog, we will get to know more about the First Buddhist Council, its agenda and its outcome.

People Involved in the First Buddhist Council

The council was convened by the Elder Mahakassapa, a senior disciple of the Buddha who was known for his strict adherence to the Vinaya rules.

  • The patron of the First Buddhist Council was King Ajatshatru.
  • Five hundred arahants, or enlightened monks attended the council to recite and verify the teachings of the Buddha. Thus, the council was also called “ the Chanting of the Five Hundred”. 
  • According to Cullavagga, Ananda, who was the Buddha’s cousin and personal attendant for 25 years, also attained arihanthood in this council and tried to ensure the accuracy of the teachings.

Reasons to Conduct First Buddhist Council

Are you wondering what are the reasons for which the First Buddhist Council was conducted? Here are the following reasons – 

  1. Death of Buddha, yet preservation of his teachings.
  2. Prevailing Schism in the Sangha
  3. No successor of Buddha, but only dhamma and vinayas to guide.
  4. Recitation of Dhamma and Vinaya to be fresh in everyone’s mind.
  5. No Single Source of teachings.

Also Read – Buddhist Education System: Features, Role & Merits

Agendas Discussed in the Council

  1. Recitation of the Teachings: The council began with elder monk Mahakassapa presiding over the recitation of the teachings of the Buddha. This recitation was made to the accurate transmission of the Dhamma and Vinaya.
  2. Compilation of the Suttas: The monks present at the council compiled the Buddhist scriptures, known as the Suttas, which contained the discourses delivered by the Buddha during his lifetime.
  3. Establishment of the Vinaya: The Vinaya Pitaka, the code of conduct for Buddhist monks and nuns, was also formalized during the council to maintain discipline and order within the Sangha.
  4. Dispute Resolution: Any disputes or disagreements regarding the teachings were discussed and resolved by the council through consensus and agreement among the members.
Credit: Glimpses of History

Outcome of the First Buddhist Council

The outcomes of the First Buddhist Council included the establishment of the Vinaya rules under the guidance of Upali.

  • The compilation of the Dhamma texts under the leadership of Ananda. 
  • The council also resolved any disputes or disagreements regarding the teachings through consensus and agreement among the members. 
  • Additionally, Channa was punished which motivated him to achieve enlightenment or Arahantship.
  • The First Buddhist Council established a precedent for future Buddhist Councils to be held for the preservation and dissemination of the Buddha’s teachings.

Also Read – Sects of Buddhism: History, Origin, Branches

Texts Compiled in the First Buddhist Council

There were compilations of Vinay Pitaka and Sutta Pitaka. These comprised of other classifications and offences.

  • The Vinay Pitaka included the following – 
Parajika Pali   Major Offences
Pacittiya Pali Minor Offences
Mahavagga PaliGreater Section
Cullavagga PaliLesser Section
Parivara PaliSummary and Classification of Vinaya
  • The Sutta Pitaka included 5 Nikayas (collections) – 
Digha NikayaCollection of Long discourse34 discourse
Majjhima NikayaCollection of discourses of Middle Length 152 discourse
Anguttara NikayaCollection of discourses on Numericals9,557 discourse
Samyutta NikayaCollection of Related Discourse7,762 discourse
Khuddaka NikayaOther Minor Collection

Also Read – Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism: Differences and Similarities

Significance of the First Buddhist Council

  • Preservation of the Teachings: The First Buddhist Council laid the foundation for preserving the teachings of the Buddha in their original form for their authenticity and purity.
  • Unity among the Sangha: The council established unity and harmony among the early Buddhist monastic community, setting a precedent for future councils and gatherings.
  • Revival of the Dhamma and Vinaya: The First Council helped people to consolidate the Dhamma and Vinaya for further perusal since the death of Buddha left the Sangha directionless. 
  • Historical Impact: The decisions made during the First Buddhist Council had a lasting impact on the development and spread of Buddhism across different regions of Asia.
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That’s all about the first Buddhist Council. If you want to read more articles like this, you can get Study notes on the Modern History of India here. Also, you can visit our general knowledge page on Indian History!

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