The Buddha's parinibbana was a critical moment for the Dhamma and its followers. How the Buddha's teaching could be preserved for the future, was a problem for his prominent disciples. Some disciples, like Subhadda, 1 felt that, with the death of the Buddha, they could interpret the Dhamma according to their own wishes. This attitude was viewed with alarm by the more loyal and erudite disciples who immediately thought of summoning a council where the word of the buddha could be established and where steps could be taken for its preservation and propagation. The task assigned to this Council was to decide the Dhamma and Vinaya of the Buddha. 2
Arrangements were made for this to be held at Rajagaha, near the Saptaparni cave under the presidency of Mahakassapa commencing from the second month of the Vassava season, i.e. in the fourth month after the Buddha's death. 3 Five hundred Arhat bhikkhus participated in it. Ananda, 4 who was yet a saiksa, attained arhathood (asaiksa) just on the eve of the Council, and he palyed a prominent part in the establishment of the texts of the Sutta Pitaka.
The decisions at the Council were not altogether unanimous. For instance, Gavampati, a senior arhat of the time, abstained from approving or disapproving the decisions of the Council, while Purana denounced the Council's decisions and urged the incorporation of the seven Vinaya rules. 5 Whatever that may be, the accounts of Gavampati and Purana indicate the germs of schism in the order even at that early date-R. C. Majumdar says "This was a danger signal for the Church." 6
The sources of the First Council are (1) The Cullavagga, XI, of the Pali Vinaya, (2) The Dipavamsa, (3) The Mahavamsa, (4) Buddhaghosa's introduction to the Sumanga-lavilasini, (5) Mahabodhivamsa, (6) Mahavastu, (5) Manjusrimulakalpa, (6) The Tibetan sources:--Bu-ston's Chos. Bbyung (History of Buddhism), translated into English by Obermiller, and Taranatha's History of Buddhism, (7) Chinese sources but derived from the Sanskrit sources: The Vinaya of Mahisasakas, Dharmaguptas, Mahasanghikas, Sarvastivadins, Kasyapa samgitisutra (Kai-ye-kie-king), Asokavadana (A-yu-wang-king), Mahaprajnaparamitasastra, Parinirvana-sutra, and Hiuen Tsang's Record of western countries.
As regards the authenticity of the First Council, the
Rockhill reviewed Oldenberge's view in 1884 on the basis of Tibetan sources and remarked that "the authenticity of the council of Rajagaha has been doubted on insufficient grounds. 9 But T. W. Rhys Davids seems to have uphelp Oldenberg's view. He says "The conclusion drawn by oldenberg is atleast the easiest and readiest way of explaining the very real discrepancy that he has pointed out. 10 R. O. Franke declares emphatically against the First Council that "the two accounts in the Cullavagga xi, xii, are but air-bubbles." 11 Among later scholars, Sukumar Dutta expresses his view thus--"The account of the First Council is only a legend of this invented character, seizing, as a peg to hang on, the Subhadda story in the Mahaparinibbana narrative. 12
But all these views are one-sided and baed on merely the absence of any reference to it in the Mahaparinibbanasutta. As a matter of fact, the Mahaparinibbanasutta is concerned with the account of the Buddha's parinibbana and not the history of the Order. The Vinaya, of course, is related to the history of the Buddhistic order and therefore an account of the First Council has a legitimate place in it. Likwise the Dipavamsa mentions the First Council, but not Subhadda's account. Tibetan Dulva also does the same.
Finot 13 pointed out that chapters XI and XII of the Cullavagga, which contain an account of the two councils, have such an abrupt beginning unlike the other chapters of the Cullavagga that they could not have been originally a part of this work. He further points out that the Mahaparinibbanasutta also differs from the other Suttas of the Dighanikaya in the nature of its contents, being more historical in character,and that the Mahaparinibbanasutta and the two chapters (XI, XII) of Cullavagga are so similar in nature that they must have been originally parts of one and the same work. In support of this contention of his, he refers to a work entitled Samyuktavastu (Nanjio 1121), the Vinaya of the Mula-Sarvastivadins, which contains the account of both parinibbana and the Councils, and concludes therefrom that the There-vadins too had a work corresponding to the Samyukta-vastu, and that it was disembered at a later date by the ancient editors of Nikayas and Vinaya. 14
Obermiller, 15 Poussin, 16 Prazyluski 17 also support the authenticity of the First Council Jacobi urged that it was not essential for the Mahaparinibbanasutta to go out of its way to describe the Council. He then remarked that mere argu-mentum es silentio cannot be accepted against the historicity of the First council. 18
Assessing the different viows of scholars regarding the authenticity of the First Buddhist Council of Rajagaha, we find that no reliable evidence is available to reject its validity. The Gavampati and Purana accounts contain the parts of the Buddha's teaching which they accepted. We cannot therefore think of it as a pure invention. Thus all accounts favour the acceptance of the First Council as a historical event.
As regards its cotribution to the evolution of the Pali Canon, it is, however, difficult to accept the traditional conception, which asserts that the whole Dhamma and Vinaya were recited in the First Council. The Sumaganlavilasini 19 further adds that not only Dhamma and Vinaya, but also the Abhidhamma was finalised in this very Council. How was it possible to compile the whole of the Sutta and Vinaya along with the Abhidhamma within about two months?
Poussin is inclined to think that the Council could not but be regarded as an enlarged Patimokkha assembly. 20
Minayeff asserts that the accounts of the Council contain two clearly distinguishable parts, of which the one that speaks of the compilation of the Canon must belong to a period posterior to the rise of the sects. 21 Nalinaksa Dutt is of opinion that the Council was summoned to decide the less important rules of discipline (khuddakanukhuddakani sikkhapadani) which were sanctioned by the Buddha himself. 22
The Dipavamsa presents a more probable account: "The Bhikkhus composed the collection of Dhamma and Vinaya, by asking the Thera called Ananda regarding the Dhamma. There Mahakassapa and the great teacher Anurudha, Thera Upali of powerful memory, and learned Anauda, as well as many other distinguished disciples who had been praised by the Buddha....made this council." Here the Dhamma and Vinaya mean selected groups of the original Suttas and doctrines, not the whole present Pali Tipitaka.
(b) The Second Council
Hundred years after the death of the Buddha (vassasata-parinibbute Bhagavati), the Second Council was held in Vesali to recite again the Dhama and the Vinaya. Seven hundred monks participated in this council. It is also therefore called Saptasatika.
The accounts of the Second Council
The accounts of this council state that Yasa Thera was shocked when he came to know about the relaxing of monastic rules and the acceptance by some monks of the ten heretical practices (dasa vatthuni). 23 But as Yasa Therea opposed them, he was excommunicated (patisaraniyakamma). Yasa then went in search of monks who would agree with his views. He further tried to bring the dispute to a peaceful end. For this purpose a Council was summoned at Vesali in Valikarama under the presidency of Thera Revata. All these ten points were considered unlawful according to tradition. This council lasted eight months during which the Dhamma and Vinaya were discussed. The heretical monks then arranged a separate council called Mahasamgiti making a different redaction of the Canonical literature. 24
The main sources of the seconf council are: (1) the cullavagga of the Vinayapitaka, (2) Dipavamsa, (3) Mahavamsa, (4) Samantapasadika, (5) Hiuen Tsang's Record of Western countries (6) Tibetan Dulva, Taranatha's Geschichted's Buddhismus in Indien, ubersetz von Schifener, and other Chinese sources differ in some respects, but the Cullavagga's record is the oldest one and the others appear to be based on it.
Historicity of the Council.
The historicity of this council is now accepted unanimously by the scholars. Kern raised an objection saying "We could not discover in these accounts anything but dogmatic fictions for which didactic mythical stories of older times have furnisbed the materials. 25 But in another work he altered his conception stating "The council on Vinaya in Vaisali has historical base." 26 Oldenberg, who denied the First Council, accepted the Second Council. He says: "It is an account, which with all its pedantic snatching after trifles, bears the stamp of being in the highest degree trustworthy. 27
It should be noted here that the debatable points were settled after discussions, most probably on the basis of some authoritative works. But Majumdar is of the view that the present Vinaya could not have been compiled before the Second Council was held, or otherwise the dispute over the monastic rules could not have arisen among the monks at that stage.
We are inclined to accept the traditional view that both the Dhamma and the Vinaya were recited at the Vesali Council. The Dhamma comprises the Nikayas which are the earliest and most reliable sources of the Buddhist doctrines. Whether any finality was reached regarding the structure and contents of the Pitakas ar not, we may not be able to decide due to the lack of necessary evidence available to us. But it is most unlikely that a Council summoned to settle a dispute in monastic Order, which was threatening the unity of the Buddhist Order, was concluded without a review of the body of doctrines preserved by the monks.
The Third Council
Up to the time of Asoka Buddhism became very popular and easier to follow than the original teachings of Buddha. It is said that the heretics in monk's robes used to live in Buddhist monasteries and preach their own dhamma in the name of Buddhism. Under such circumstances the monastic rules were slackened and the Uposatha and the Pavarana could not be held for about seven years. The Great king Asoka somehow came to know of this corruption among the Buddhist monks and then sent a religious officer to conduct Uposatha and Pavarana ceremony. He then out throats of several monks. Asoka was much disturbed by this Moggali-putta, Tissa, however, came into contact with Asoka and a solution was found.
This was the background for the third council held in Pataliputra under the presidency of Moggaliputta Tissa. It is referred to in the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa and Samantapasadika. It is recorded in the Tibetan Dulva and some Chinese sources too. But the Cullavagga does not give an account of the third Council. Asoka's inscriptions also make no reference to it.
Historicity of the Council
Some scholars like Minayeff, Keith, Franke, etc. deny it historicity. Their main argument is that it is not mentioned in the Cullavagga, one of the earliest scriputures and in the Asoka's inscriptions. Keith, for example, says: "It is incredible that it ever took place without receiving some mention in the numerous records of Asoka." 28 In the buddhist Philosophy he says: "the only verdict of scientific history must be that the council was a figment of the pious or fraudulent imaginings of a sect, which desired to secure for its texts, and espcially for the new Abhidhamma, a connection with the greatest Buddhist sovereigns, and that the northern tradition does well to ignore the Council entirely." 29 He even thinks of Tissa in a "Suspicious aspect." 30
As regards the absence of any record in Asoka's inscriptions, it can be said that Asoka would have preferred to attach the name of Moggaliputta Tissa to this council since it was the result of his invaluable efforts. Asoka was only the supporter and provider of the purpose.
Actually some of his edicts indicate that this Council did take place. In one of his edicts, for example, King Asoka decrees that heretical monks and nuns shall be excommunicated. 31 G. C. Pande rightly suggests that Asoka might not have been "as intimately connected with the Council as the Pali tradition would have us believe." 32
It was only the Vibhajjavadins or the Theravadins who attended this Council. A rift in the Buddhist order took place after the Second Council and by the time of Asoka it was divided into eighteen sects, 33 which were refuted by Vibhajjavadins in this great Council.
Thus on the basis of above literary as well as inscriptional evidences, we cannot deny the historicity of the Third Council held in Pataliputra under the presidency of Moggaliputta Tiss.
Other Councils also were summoned for various purposes at different times. The Fourth Council was held under the auspices of Kaniska in about 100 A. D. According to the Mahavamsa and Other Ceylones traditions, three Councils were held in