Friday, August 5, 2011

First Buddhist Council

The Teachings and Philosophy delivered by Buddha in 45 years of his lifetime for the benefiting of all living beings are called the Buddhism or Gems for those who believe in it respectfully and then the person who takes refuge in the Buddha, in the Dhamma and in the Sangha is made name of Buddhist. With this tradition concept Buddhists maintained Buddha’s teachings and protected it against from generation to generation. If we look back the background of Buddhist history, we can see the events that the devotees in Buddhism had protected Buddha’s teachings against dangers, unlawful modification, the rise of different sects and wrong views, which could arise and mix in Buddha’s teachings.
In Mahaparinibbana Sutta, which is the last words of the Buddha, the Buddha told his last words to Venerable Ananda that the discourses and the disciplines he have taught and laid down to all monks and followers, will be the teacher when he was gone. It is a very clear note that the Buddha will remain alive so long as the discourses and the disciplines are in existence. Of course, the survival of the teachings of the Buddha depends on the existence of these discourses and disciplines. On the other hand, if they disappear, the Buddha and his Teachings will also disappear. So in this case the Buddhist Councils play an important role to survive the Buddhism up to now and in this report and essay, I intend to mention how, why the Buddhist Councils are significant in Buddhist History to keep Buddha’s teachings on till present day according to the content’s titles.

The First Buddhist Council
In a short time after passing away of the Buddha the first Buddhist Council was held in Sattapani Cave Pavilion at Vebhara Mountain near the city of Rajagaja according to Theravada pali canon tradition. The detailed accounts of this council can be found in the Paccasatikkhanda section of Cullavagga of canonical Vinaya Pitaka.[1] The most venerable Mahakassapa, the questioner of Dhamma and Vinaya, presided over this council with Venerable U Pali who answered about Vinaya and Venerable Ananda who answered about Dhamma, including another 497 Arahans. While this council was celebrated at Rajagha with five hundred monks who had been selected by Sangha Community, one of the elder monks named Venerable Purana had no desire to participate in this occasion and he had just told “I have a lot of knowledge about Dhamma and Vinaya which are learnt in the lifetime of Buddha and I’ll carry on by myself that as I learn and know.” It was a surprising occurrence at the time of first Buddhist Council.
The cause of the Council
According to Theravada pali text, one day while the most venerable Mahakassapa was on his journey from Pava to Kusinara with five hundred monks, a certain Aijivaka ascetic came from Kusinara by taking the bad news the Buddha passed away seven days ago and he let venerable Mahakassapa and other his followers know about that news. On hearing that bad news, there are different effects among members of order. Some of them cried out deeply in sobs and grief and some fell down in sudden with deep lamentations but surprisingly one of them named Subbadda, who had become a monk in his old age, was overjoyed hearing that news. He made the following remarks in assembly: “enough, your reverences, don’t grieve, don’t lament, we’re well rid of this great recluse. We were worried when he said; this is allowable to you, this is not allowable to you. But now we will able to do as we like and we won’t do what we don’t like.”[2] It was the cause or reason why Venerable Mahakasspa decided to hold the first Buddhist Council when he heard the insulting words and disparagement to the Buddha’s teachings on the seventh days after demise of the Buddha.
The purpose of the council
On hearing the remarks to the Buddha from Subbhadda, the Most Venerable Mahakassapa including other monks shocked a while and Venerable Mahakassapa decided that we had to hold the Sangha Council to collect to maintain the Buddha’s teachings and to protect the teachings of Buddha from obstacles endangering the Buddha’s teaching with the following remarks: “ Come, let us, your reverences, chant Dhamma and Discipline before what is not Dhamma shines out, before what is not Discipline shines out, before those who speak what is not Dhamma become strong and those who speak what is not Discipline become strong, before those who speak Dhamma become feeble and those who speak Discipline become feeble.”[3] For this purpose of maintaining Buddha’s Teachings, Venerable Mahakassapa urged strongly the Order that we would chant and recite Dhamma and Discipline by collecting the teachings with neat way.

The beginning time and the lasting time of the Council
Precisely in three months after Buddha passed away, Venerable Mahakassapa who the most eldest and most venerable in Sangha community decided to hold the council with five hundred Arahans including Venerable U Pali, the expert in Vinaya, and Venerable Ananda, the expert in Dhamma, at Sattapani Cave near Vebbara mountain of Rajagaha city. On hearing the insulting words to Buddha’s teachings from Subbadda, Venerable Mahakassapa urged to Order to chant Dhamma and Vinaya to survive Buddha’s teachings and he asked the Order to agree that the others had not stayed at Rajagaha during rains but the participationers who had selected for Council. This council lasted seventh months to complete it; in the first month that calculated from three months after the demise of the Buddha at Kusinara, the elder monks in Community made repairs to the broken and dilapidated parts of monasteries at Rajagaha and in middle month Sangha Community assembled to discuss how to chant and recite Dhamma and Vinaya. From middle month of Sangha meeting the Council lasted seventh months to finish it.

The Strategy of the Council
Regarding the strategies of the Council there are a lot of comments to Venerable Ananda from Order. In fact, Buddha talked to Venerable Ananda at last time in Mahaparinibbana Sutta before he won’t pass away; “ Ananda, you’re clear on what I taught and you have something sceptical on my teachings taught during 45 years of my lifetime, if so, ask me right now and I’ll clear and remove your sceptic”. But Venerable Ananda didn’t say to Buddha anything and then again Buddha asked Venerable Ananda “Ananda, if Sangha Order abolishes the lesser and minor rules of training when I would pass away, I would let Order abolish and repair the lesser and minor rules of training in Vinaya. But above the same time Venerable Ananda didn’t ask the Buddha which was lesser and minor rules of training in Discipline. In this case, it became argument among Order when they assembled to celebrate the Council. Of them, some said that the lesser and minor rules of training mean the rest rules except for the four offences involving defeat and some said that it means the rest rules except for the four offences involving defeat and for the thirteen offences entailing a formal meeting of Order and so on. Eventually Venerable Mahakassapa made decision to chant and recite Dhamma and Vinaya strictly in according with the original text without any changing, addition and modification. Because he said that, if we abolish the lesser and minor rules of training and chant Dhamma and Vinaya with some changing, addition and modification, the outsiders was going to jeer and censure that the disciples of Buddha followed and practiced the rules during His lifetime that had laid down by Buddha and now they don’t train themselves in rules of training at the time after His cremation.
He told that the Order was not laying down what had not been laid down, nor it would abolish what had been laid down. We should proceed in conformity with it and according to the rules of training that had been laid down. In this way the first Buddhist Council was celebrated in according with original text without any changing, addition and modification in Dhamma and Vinaya. In this council some scholars say that there are not Abhidhamma pitaka but some say that the Abhidhamma Pitaka was including Dhamma.

The Supporter of the Council
When Sangha Order, especially Venerable Mahakassapa, made determination to hold Buddhist Council to protect from obstacles endangering of the Buddha’s teachings, there arose the questions among Order that it was where to choose to celebrate the Council and then they determined to choose Rajagaha, the capital city of Magadha Empire, where was the greatest Empire in India at that time. King Ajatasattu, the Emperor of Magadha, took refuge in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and believed in them with firm confidence and it was said that King Ajatasattu was the greatest one among the persons who has believed most in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha with firm conviction and then he was the one who has achieved the firm word from Buddha that he would be a Vacceka Buddha in the future, the one who can attain the enlightenment by himself but has no idea to preach the Dhamma to others. So King Ajatasattu supported the needs for Council by making repairs the broken and dilapidated monasteries where would be stayed for participationers who had been selected to the Council. Especially King Ajatasattu built the Great Sattpani Cave at Vebbara Mountain near the city of Rajagaha that was the main building for celebration of Council and he could make the great history in Buddhist Chronicle with great supports for successful completion of first Buddhist Council.
[1] Paccasatikkhanda, Cullavagga, Vinaya Pitaka P 393
[2] Paccasatikkhanda, Cullavagga, Vinaya Pitaka P 394
[3] Paccasatikkhanda, Cullavagga, Vinaya Pitaka P 394

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