The Four Buddhist Councils

Posted: April 1, 2010 in My Writting

The Four Buddhist Councils

Venerable Eindobhasa


In 589 B.C, the Lord Buddha, at the age of 35, attained Enlightenment in this world for the welfare of all living beings, after which He, throughout 45th Vasas, taught many sermons to all classes of all living beings. Just before being death, the Buddha as the last word, said:

“Ananda, when the Tathagata passes away, you may consider that you have no teacher. Don’t consider this way. The Doctrines and the Disciplines I have taught and
Lay down to all of you will be your teacher when I pass away.”[1]


By studying above said by the Buddha, it is quite clear that as long as the Teachings of the Buddha are in existence, the Buddha will be like alive. So the bhikkhus have been striving for protecting the discourses and the disciplines handing down generation to generation. Through the ages, both the Buddha’s disciples and His teachings had faced many obstacles, yet the bhikkhus neglected however they faced what kinds of obstacles had arisen. And they ever tried to overcome those obstacles. To protect the real Teachings of the Buddha, the bhikkhus held the Great Buddhist Councils, during which they at first recited only orally, but later on they recited and record on palm leaves without any change, addition or modification.

The First Buddhist Council

In 544 B.C., the First Buddhist Council, three months after the Buddha’s Parinibbana, was held in the Sattipanni Cave which was at Mouth Vebhara that was near the City of Rajagaha. We can find a detail account of this historic meeting in the Culavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka. Due to this record, Venerable Mahakassapa called the meeting, for he heard an insulting remark about the strict rule of the life for monks.

What it happened was that when the five hundred bhikkhus led by Venerable Mahakassapa came to Kusinara from Pava, they heard the news of the demise of the Buddha from Ajivaka Ditthi. As soon as hearing that the Buddha had passed away for 7th days, many monks lamented the passing away of the Buddha, and they were also deeply grieved, But for the monk of the name of Subhadda, a former barber, who became a bhikkhu in his old age, on seeing the events, he (Subhadda) said,

“Enough your reverences, do not grieve, do not lament. Now we are well rid of this great Recluse Gotama (the Buddha). We were tormented when he said,’ this is allowable to you, and this is not allowable to you’. Yet now we are able to do as we like, and we will not have to do what we do not like.”[2]


When Mahakassapa heard what Subhadda’s insulting words mentioned above, Mahakassapa was alarmed, and felt feared of the Dhamma, and the Vinaya that might be corrupted and not survive intact if other monks were to behave like Subhadda, and if they interpreted the Dhamma and the Vinaya rules as they pleased. To avoid this, he decided to protect and preserve the Dhamma, after which Venerable Mahakassapa called meeting for holding the First Buddhist Council. After gaining the Sangha’s approval, he called the Four Hundred and Ninety-nine Arahats and Ananda for the First Buddhist Council.

The night before the First Buddhist Council, Venerable Ananda became Arahat. Venerable Mahakassapa was the presiding of the council, and he, first of all, questioned Venerable Upali who, being expert on the Vinaya of the day, was well qualified for the task as the Buddha had taught him the whole Vinaya, specifically about the offence(parajika) with regard to the subject, place, occasion, the repetition of the proclamation and the like.

Then Venerable Mahakassapa turned his attention to Venerable Ananda, and asked questions to him who had complete confidence about Dhamma with specific reference to the Buddha’s Sermons. He answered what Venerable Mahakassapa gave question to him, such as the discourses which were first expounded because of the persons to whom the Buddha had addressed, etc. And the First Buddhist Council also gave its official seal of approval for the closure of the chapter on the minor and lesser rules and approval for their observance.

To finish the First Buddhist Council took the monks for 7th months to recite the whole Dhamma and Vinaya orally. For that council, King Ajatasatthu supported what the monks needed, and it was known as the Pancasatika, for the Five Hundred Bhikkhus who selected took part in the council were the Fully Enlightened Arahats. And it was also known as “Dhamma and Vinaya Sangayana (Council).

The Second Buddhist Council

The Second Council was held at Valukarama monastery, which was near the city of Vesali, the date of which was one hundred years after the demise of the Buddha. The main reason why the Council was held was that the monks, who were the Vijian clan from Vesali, preached and practiced the “Ten Unlawful Modification” in the Rules of the Order. They were given to the followings:-

1.Singilona kappa- storing salt in a horn,
2.Dvangula kappa- eating after mid-day,
3.Gamantara kappa- eating once, after that going again to a village for alms-food,
4. Avasa kappa- holding the Oposatha Ceremony with monks dwelling in the same locality,
5. Anumati kappa- Carrying out official acts when the assembly was incomplete,
6. Acinana kappa- Following a certain practice because it was done by one’s tutor teacher,
7. Amathita kappa- Eating sour milk after one had taken his mid-day meal,
8. Jalogimpatum kappa- Drinking strong drink before it had been fermented,
9. Adasakam nisidanam kappa- Using a rug which was not the proper size, and
10. Jataruparajata kappa- Using gold and money.[3]

[3] , and 2500 Years of Buddhism in Burmese Version Published by Myanmar Religious Affair in 1995, Rangoon

The ten unlawful rules expounded and practiced by the Vijjian monks made the original Teachings of the Buddha polluted.

One day, while the Venerable Yassa paid a visit to Mahavana Grove at Vesali,
Venerable Yassa saw that a large Sangha Members of Vijjians were breaking the Rules—–monks can not accept gold and sliver by openly asking for it from the lay people. At once, he criticized their behaviors, and they became to know that Venerable Yassa did not like their behaviors, so they tried to win him over by offering their illegal gains. Yet, Not only Venearable Yassa did not do as they thought, but he also said to the devotees not to give the monks gold and silver that were not allowed to the ascetics, sons of Buddha.

Because of Venerable Yassa’s explaining what was allowed by the Lord Buddha for lay people to donate the Snagha Members, the devotees decided to break with the Bhikkhus Vajjiputtaka: “There is none in the Vijji, but Yasa who is a real ascetic and a real son of Buddha; all the others are ascetics and Sons of Buddha, too.” The monks of Vijji clan felt angry with Venerable Yassa, and they decide to impose Ukkepaniya Kamma, the meaning of which is “Act of Suspension” on Venerable Yassa. But before it was imposed, Venerable Yassa because of being aware that the Vijjian monks were upset with him left the Vijji City.

Venerable Yassa tried to gather a sufficient Sangha Members protecting the Disciplines for resolving the problems. Therefore, Venerabel Yassa visited Sambhuta Sanavasin who agreed with him that the ten unlawful deeds were wrong. Sixty monks from Pava and eighty monks from the southern regions of Avanti also agreed, and urged to make the corruption of Vinaya Rules. After that they together went to Soreyya to ask for information to Venerable Revata being a highly revered monk was expert in the Dhamma and the Viniya in that day.

As soon as knowing of the events, the Vijjian monks persuaded Venerable Revata by supporting him what they got in illegal ways the Buddha did not allow to do so. But he at all refused to accept what the Vijjian monks offered him, after which they sought to use another way to win over the Venerable Uttara, Venerable Revata’s attendats. Firstly, he also refused to accept what they gave to him.But later he accepted their supports, and he also agreed with them to persuade the Venerable Revata to declare that the Vijjian monks were in reality the upholders of the True Dhamma.

The very monks came to gather to resolve the unlawful deeds to Mahavam Monastery in Vesali, and when the all Sangha Menbers gathered together, the Venerable Revata said, “In this Sangha assembly, it can not go on the end by talking one by one. Therefore, both sides select the bhikkhu who are expert in the Dhamma and the Vinaya, and then the selected Sanghas will decide whether it is the Vinaya or Avinaya by analyzing the True Dhamma and the Vinaya.”

Then, according to the Thera Sabbakami’ advice who was the most senior of the Elders of the day, the eighty monks were called to judge the matters. The four monks from the East of Vesali were the Venerable Sabbakami, the Venerable Salha, the Venerable Khujjasobhita and the Venerable Vasabhagamika; and the four monks from the West of Vesali the Venerable Revata, the Venerable Sambhuta-Sanavasi, the Venerable Yasa and the Venerable Sumana, after which thoroughly they debated the matter of the ten Unlawful Modification the Vijjian monks practiced in that day. In that debate, the Venerable Revata serviced as the questioner, and the Venerable Sabbakami was the answerer what the Venerable Ravata put the question on him.

After knowing that, according to the Viniya Rules, what the Vijjian monks were preaching and practicing was wrong, they announced to hold the Second Council, after which the seven hundred arahats who were led by Venerable Yasa. Venerable Sabbakami and Venerable Revata took part in that council, and they recited all orally. Kalasoka, King of Vesali, was the supporter of that council. It took the monks for 8th months to be the end. The Second council was also known as “Dhamma and Vinaya” because of the Dhamma and Viniya were included and recited. On the one hand it was also known as the “Sattasati” because of the seven hundred monks taking part in it, on the other hand it was know as the “Yasatthera Sangiti”, for the Venerable Yassa played in the major role in that council. The Vijjian monks who denied accepting the decision of that council called for other council known as Mahasangiti.

The Third Buddhist Council

In 308 B.C., the Third Buddhist Council was held at Asokarama Monastery in the city of Pataliputta. To celebrate the Third Buddhist Council, King Asoka supported what the bhikkhus needed for the council. The main reason why the Third Council was held was that sixty thousand of ascetics infiltrated into the Sangha Order by using many ways, such as practicing, expounding, and making the Teachings of the Buddha polluted mixed with their heretical views, planting, dwelling together with the Sanghas and much more.

Because of the So-called monks, it had been for seven years to the real bhikkhus not being able to take performance of common uposatha kamma, and other Sangha kammas. When hearing that news, King Asoka dispatched one of his ministers to the monks with the command for performing the uposatha and other sangha kamma ceremonies. But the monks refused to obey and take the ceremony in the retinue of macchidithi monks. Without knowing what means were to be used to carry out his command given by the King, the Minister beheaded the monks one by one till coming to King’s brother named Tissa, who had ordained.

Despite of that he dared to behead other monks, he did not dare to do so to Venerable Tissa. And then, he reported back to the King Asoka about that. As soon as hearing that news, King Asoka was deeply grieved and upset by what had happened and blamed himself for the killings. To know clearly about the problems whether the Minister’s beheading the monks was as if his doing or not, the King obeyed the Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa’s counsel.

The King Asoka of Pataliputta, in order to resolve that situation, had learnt what the Buddha taught under the guidance of the Venerable Mahamoggaliputta Tissa for seven days, after which King Asoka invited all monks to Asokarama monastery. And he made all monks to gather together with the same view groups, after which he asked one by one. The King Asoka expelled those monks who in correct way were not able to reply the Original Teachings of the Buddha from the Sangha Order.

Then, the Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa selected one thousand monks from the sixty thousand participants to hold the Third Buddhist Council for the traditional recitation of Dhamma and Vinaya by oral. The Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa was the Present of that council, and in that council, the Venerable Mogga;iputta Tissa complied a book by the name of Kathavatthu to refute a number of heresies and to keep the Dhamma purely and correctly. In that book we can find analyzing different sorts of Vada, views. That council lasted for nine months to the end of recitation of the Buddha’s Teachings orally. The bogus monks, such as Sabbatthivadins, who were expelled from that council, also called and held the contemporary council in Nalanda near Rajaghaha. Since then, there were many developing different kinds of schools like Mahasamghika, Sabbatthivada and so forth in Rajagaha, Kosambi, Nalanda, Savatthi, etc.

After the Third Council, the King Asoka under the guidance of Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa sent forth of monks who were very versed in the Teachings of the Buddha— the Venerable Majjhantika Thera going to Kashmir and Gandhara, the Venerable Mahadeva going to Mahinsakamandala, the Venerable Yonaka Dhammarakkhita Thera going to Upper Aparantaka, the Venerable Maharakkhita Thera went to Yonaka-loka, the Venerable Majjhima Thera went to Himavant, the Venerable Sona and the Venerable Uttara were sent to Suvannabhumi, the Venerable Mahinda Thera, the Venerable Ittiya Thera, the Venerable Uttiya Thera, the Venerable Sambala Thera and the Venerable Bhaddasala Thera going to Lankadipa.
The Fourth Buddhist Council
In 29 B.C, the Fourth Council was held at Cave Aloka in Malaya district, Sri Lanka when the King Vattagamani was ruling it. The main reason of holding the Fourth Buddhist Council was because, during the time of the people of Ceylon being hard hit by rebels, hunger and starvation for 12 years, the monks even though not having anything to eat, had to make strong efforts to maintain the Teachings of the Buddha by reciting them, and the elder monks foresaw that the monks would not be able to memorize the Buddha’s Teachings by heart if there would happen such danger in future.
Then, the five hundred monks who were led by Venerable Madhammarakkhitta recited the Buddha’s Words, and then wrote down on the palm leaves. Both the King of Ceylon and the people of Ceylon supported the necessities by the monks. It took the monks for one year to go the end.
According to the last Word of Buddha that “the Doctrines and the Disciplines I have taught and lay down to all of you will be your teacher when I pass away,” the Disciples of the Buddha have been trying to protect the Buddha’s Words without any change, addition or modification. As soon as doing so, the Buddha is also in existence as if alive in this world.





4. Ant Maung, “2500 Years of Buddhism” in Burmese Version, Rangoon: Myanmar Religious Affair, 1995

5. Bapt, P.V. “2500 Years of Buddhism” New Delhi: Asian Education Service, 1987


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