T E A C H I N G S   T I - P I T A K A

 R  E  S  O  U   R  C  E  S 

1st - 2nd - 3rd Councils

Buddha Mind - get one, be one.



The First Council:
The Buddha passed away in his 80th year, about 480 BC, and the earliest and most familiar threat to the purity of the Text came in the first week after this from the newly ordained Subhadda Bhikkhu:
"Grieve not brothers we are now delivered of that great ascetic. He constantly worried us saying - 'this is suitable, this is not suitable'. Now we are free to do as we like".

Much disturbed by this, Venerable Mahakassapa, the third chief disciple of the Buddha, convened a council of Elders. His concern is clearly stated:
"Come friends let us recite the Teaching and the Discipline before what is not the Teaching and Discipline shines forth and the true Teaching and Discipline is put aside."

The council was held three months after the Buddha's death and lasted seven months. The work was to faithfully establish the teachings of the Buddha and codify them for the Sangha by determining what material should be given the protection of a formal organisation and what mechanism would be best to preserve this material. A natural tendency at this time would be to freeze the text in an attempt to maintain purity. Nevertheless we see two Suttas that clearly took place - "not long after the Buddha's death," and another in which Venerable Bakkula asserts that he has been a monk for 80 years. Even if he had ordained at the establishment of the order this Sutta would still have taken place at least 35 years after the Buddha's death.

In contrast to this we see that in the first four 'earlier' nikaya, Suttas not by the Buddha all involve "first generation" monks; contemporaries of the Buddha. The senior monks named in the later commentaries receive no mention in any of these four nikaya. This indicates there was some cut-off point for insertions. That the quantity of text changed is relatively clear but substantial alteration of doctrinal content would have required the alteration of hundreds of monks' memories. At a time when Buddhism was flourishing this was unlikely.

By the end of this council there would have been a well defined body of text which, although subject to change, would have been a substantial and 'authorised' point of reference.

The Second Council:
One hundred years after the Buddha's death the cohesion of the Sangha would most certainly have deteriorated. The power of the Buddha's presence would have been much diluted and most, if not all monks, would never have actually met the Buddha.

A major division of opinion regarding some rules of discipline led to the second great council. King Kalasoka was the royal patron and Venerable Sabbakami was the presiding Thera. The second council heard the Text according to certain editorial principles. One of these involved the concern to prove the Buddha's omniscience; which in their opinion was obtained at enlightenment. There was an endeavour to remove references to any later intellectual development of the Buddha. Fortunately this wasn't totally succesful and Indologists still have many clues to the Buddha's progress in this area.

This editorial tendency may have been a result of the formation of sects within the order, which led eventually to the rise of the Mahayana schools. This council was also responsible for expanding the text. Throughout the life of the Buddha considerable reiteration of basic teachings led to the creation of many stock phrases. Some Suttas are obviously almost entirely later compilations of these stock phrases. Material that had been passed on outside of the textual mass of the first council's Canon was also added.

The Vinaya-pitaka and the first four nikaya of the Sutta-pitaka would have by this time been considered closed and in a form similar to what we have today.


The Third Council:
More than 200 years after the Buddha's death the diversity of Sangha was considerable and corruption was inevitable. The third great council took place in the 18th year of King Asoka's reign under the auspices of Venerable Moggaliputta Thera (responsible for one of the seven books of the Abhidhamma). Some changes to the Canon would inevitably have taken place but the basic body of text remained unchanged.