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Difference between revisions of "Buddhist councils"

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The traditional Thai listing includes a council in Ceylon about 27 BC at which the commentaries were edited by Buddhaghosa. Earlier sources date him to the 4th century and most scholars to the 5th, so the date is wrong if such a council took place.
 
The traditional Thai listing includes a council in Ceylon about 27 BC at which the commentaries were edited by Buddhaghosa. Earlier sources date him to the 4th century and most scholars to the 5th, so the date is wrong if such a council took place.
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==Council of Lhasa==
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Tibetan tradition tells of a council held late in the 8th century at Lhasa or Samye. It took the form of a debate between the Indian teacher Kamalaśīla and a Chinese monk named Mahayana, representing Chan (Zen). The Indian side "won" and was adopted as the official basis for Tibetan Buddhism. However, in modern times archaeologists discovered a Chinese source saying their side "won". Some scholars consider this council a conflation of differrent events; some entirely fictitious.
  
 
==Notes==
 
==Notes==
  
 
<references/>
 
<references/>

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A number of Buddhist councils have been held, or alleged to have been held, over the course of the history of Buddhism. Some are recognized by particular Buddhist traditions as equivalent to ecumenical councils in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity (that term is not generally used in a Buddhist context); others are acknowledged as local.

At the present day, Mahayana Buddhism gives little prominence to councils, but they are an important part of the self-concept of Theravada Buddhism. Formerly, different Theravada countries had different lists of councils, but recently the Burmese numbering has generally prevailed.[1]

First Council

This council is described in the scriptures. They tell how Kassapa/Kāśyapa (Pali/Sanskrit), apparently the senior surviving disciple of the Buddha, convened it shortly after the Buddha's death (currently dated by most scholars around 400 BC), in order to preserve the teachings. It comprised 500 senior monks (a conventional large number) meeting at Rājagaha/-gṛha (modern name Rajgir). Kassapa questioned Upāli on the monastic discipline and Ānanda on the rest of the teachings (in most versions, but some have him expounding the Abhidharma himself). The council compiled and recited the teachings and ensured their passing on. (It was not customary in ancient India to write down religious teachings; if writing had been introduced in the Buddha's day at all it was used only for mundane matters such as bookkeeping.)

Historians reject this account as implausible, though they are not agreed on whether some small gathering of leading disciples took place with such a purpose, or whether the whole story is just a projection of later practice back in time.

First Mahayana Council

Mahayana sources mention a council held shortly after under Ānanda, reciting their scriptures. Historians regard this as entirely fictitious.

Second Council

This also is reported in the scriptures, which place it "a hundred years" later (in most versions; one says 110), in Vesālī/Vaiśālī (Besarh). It dealt with a dispute over monastic discipline. Some of the details are obscure, but the most important issue was whether monks should be allowed to accept money. On the advice of an aged monk named Sabbakāmin/Sarvagāmin, who had been a pupil of Ānanda, it was agreed they should not. (In theory this remains the rule today, though actual observance varies.)

Historians generally regard this as essentially accurate, though arguments have been made for a shorter timescale, about 70-80 years.

Mahāsāṅghika Council

A variety of sources refer to this council, signalling the first schism in Buddhism. According to Theravada sources it was held by the losing side in the Second Council shortly after it. However, the Mahāsāṅghikas' own account of that council tells its story from the same point of view as the Theravada (and all other surviving ones), so specialist scholars reject this account. Other sources variously date it 16, 37 or 60 years later, or even at a date after the Third Council (below), and give a variety of quite different accounts of what it was all about. One version, argued for by Nattier and Prebish and accepted by a number of other scholars, holds that it was a protest against supposed attempts to add new rules to the monastic discipline.

Third Council

According to Theravada sources this was held in the reign of Emperor Asoka (about 250 BC) under the presidency of Tissa Moggalliputta, in Pāṭaliputta (Patna). It dealt with three matters:

  1. expelling "false" monks
  2. refuting the views of other schools of Buddhism in Tissa's work the Kathāvatthu, which the Council added to the Pali Canon
  3. sending out missionaries

It has often been supposed that this council was purely Theravada, being known only from their sources, but a recent paper by Sujato draws attention to a Chinese source partially agreeing with Theravada ones and suggests it was a pan-Buddhist one.

First Sinhalese Council

The Thai tradition lists a council in Ceylon not long after. This was not included in the lists of councils traditional in Ceylon or Burma.

Fourth Council

(Fifth in traditional Thai numbering) This was held in Ceylon to write down the Pali Canon from oral tradition to ensure its survival. It took place in the reign of King Vaṭṭagāmaṇi. Historians have still not agreed on an exact chronology for early Sinhalese monarchs, but they agree he reigned in the last century BC. The earliest surviving source for this (as for the Third) is the Dīpavaṃsa in the 4th century. However, this does not call it the Fourth Council. The subcommentaries on the (5th century) Samantapāsādikā say it was "like a fourth council", and the 14th-century Saddhammasaṅgaha actually calls it the Fourth Council. 13th- and 14th-century sources specify its location as Ālokavihāra (Aluvihara).

Council of Kaniṣka

He was a ruler whose date continues to be debated among historians: last century BC to 2nd AD. The council is said to have been held in Kashmir. The earliest surviving sources ascribe it to a school called Sarvāstivāda, and this is followed by a number of scholars. Later, Mahayana sources appropriated it for themselves, but this is rejected by historians. The late Monseigneur Professor Lamotte regarded this council as entirely fictitious.[2]

Western scholars often call this the Fourth Council, though it not clear whether any Buddhists ever regarded it as such.

Commentary Council

The traditional Thai listing includes a council in Ceylon about 27 BC at which the commentaries were edited by Buddhaghosa. Earlier sources date him to the 4th century and most scholars to the 5th, so the date is wrong if such a council took place.

Council of Lhasa

Tibetan tradition tells of a council held late in the 8th century at Lhasa or Samye. It took the form of a debate between the Indian teacher Kamalaśīla and a Chinese monk named Mahayana, representing Chan (Zen). The Indian side "won" and was adopted as the official basis for Tibetan Buddhism. However, in modern times archaeologists discovered a Chinese source saying their side "won". Some scholars consider this council a conflation of differrent events; some entirely fictitious.

Notes

  1. "Die birmanische Zählung hat sich jedoch neuerdings allgemein durchgesetzt." Heinz Bechert, Buddhismus, Staat und Gesellschaft in den Ländern des Theravāda-Buddhismus, Alfred Metzner, Frankfurt/Berlin, volume 1, 1966, page 105, note 362
  2. Teaching of Vimalakirti, Pali Text Society, 1976, page XCIII