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First Buddhist Council, DhammaWeb NewsFirst Buddhist Council
W. L. Wijayswansa MBA, http://www.island.lk

Untitled Document

First Buddhist Council

August 23, 2010, 6:19 pm


by W. L. Wijayswansa MBA

 Nikini full moon day falls one month after the commencement of "Wassana Kala", the rainy season.. Monks who have not commenced Was’ on Esala Poya commence it on the Nikini Poya Pasu Vas). Since three months from Esala is the rainy season, Bhikkus had to stop their missions, meditation in the jungles (aranya) and to confine themselves to temples.

Nikini Poya is an important day in the history of Buddhism. It was on the Nikini Full Moon day, three months after the Buddha’s passing away - "parinibbana" - that the first Buddhist Council or convocation (Dharma Sangayana) was held. There were several reasons to hold this council, but the immediate cause for conducting the first Dhamma Sangayana was the behaviour of a monk named Subaddha who became a monk at his old age.

All the bhikkus who had not attained Arahatship except monk Subaddha lamented and mourned over the passing away of the Buddha. Buddha’s "Agra Upasthayaka", -chief attendant- and "Dharma Bhandagarika" - the repository of Dhamma, Ananda Maha Thera who was not an Arahath at that time was also among those who lamented. Monk Subaddha who was not worried about the Buddha’s passing away requested the monks not to mourn but to be happy as there was no one after the Buddha’s demise to give them orders. He told monks that the Buddha constantly worried them by admonishing them for their misconducts. Now they were free to do what they wished.

The story went to the ears of Maha Kassyapa Thero, who was, the most revered monk after Sariputta and Moggallana Theros. He came to Kusinara for the Buddha’s cremation with a large retinue from the village Pava. He was deeply concerned about Subaddha’s words. Even during Buddha’s time there were disagreements among monks on Dhamma. There was a debate between Dharmadhara (versed in Sutras) and Vinayadhara (versed in codes of conduct) bhikkus which even the Buddha could not settle. Bhikku Devadatta tried to divide the sangha community. Kassapa Thero thought there could be more disagreements after the Buddha. Monks may give various interpretations to Dhamma and there may be numerous arguments among monks. He witnessed this happening to Jainism after the death of Mahaveera, Jaina Sastru. So he wished to rescue all Buddha’s teachings from oblivion as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

In addition to this reason Maha Theros wanted to collect all the (Sutras) scattered at that time and organize it in a meaningful way. Ananda Maha Thero knew all the Sutras (Dhamma) told by the Buddha and Upali Thero was honoured by the Buddha as one who has mastered Vinaya (monastic conduct - discipline).

Although Ananda Thero was the Dharma Bhandagarika, Bhikkus had several complaints against him. Among the charges were reverend Ananda’s pleading to Buddha to allow women to enter into the order of monks, and when the Buddha passed away he allowed Buddha’s remains to be respected by nuns before the monks, They defiled it with tears. Another charge was that Ananda did not inquire about the minor precepts which Buddha wanted to relax. There were as much as 12 charges against Rev. Ananda according to some texts.

Maha Kassapa Thero decided to have a convocation to settle all these problems. King Ajasatta was informed of the intention of the order of monks. He sponsored the Council and made all necessary arrangements for the monks to gather at the entrance of the Sattapanni Cave -in Rajagaha. Kassapa Thero decided to invite 500 Arahath Bhikkus who had deep knowledge of the Dhamma, for this convocation. Five hundred seats were arranged but only 499 famous Arahaths were chosen for the meeting. One seat was reserved for Ananda Thero, who had not yet achieved Arahathood, but was only a Sotapanna. However informed by the Mahakassapa Thero about this Ananda Thero attained the Arahathood on the night before the convocation and joined others.

Since 500 Bhikkus participated in the Sangayana, it was called Panchasathika. It took three months (seven months according to some books) to finish the Sangayana. With the elder Mahakassapa, presiding, the five hundred Arahath monks met in the council during the rainy season after the Nikini Poya. The first thing Mahakassapa did was to specifically question Venerable Upali on all monastic rules of discipline- Venerable Upali gave authenticated answers and his remarks met with the approval of all the Sangha. The Vinaya pitaka (basket) not only lists rules but also explains the circumstances that caused the Buddha to make many of the rules. Thus, the Vinaya was formally approved.

Then Mahakassapa Thero turned his attention to Ananda in virtue of his reputable expertise in all matters connected with the Dhamma. Maha Kassapa Thero questioned him at length about the Dhamma with specific reference to the Buddha’s sermons. This interrogation on the Dhamma sought to verify the place where all the discourses were first preached and the person to whom they had been addressed. Ananda aided by his perfect was able to answer accurately. Dhamma was then subdivided into five volumes viz. Digha Nikaya, Majima Nikaya, Sanyutha Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya and Kuddaka Nikaya. Thus Dhamma, and Vinaya was approved by the sangha unanimously. Abhidhamma was not made a separate pitaka at this convocation.

After the council Arahat Ananda Thera and his followers were entrusted with the responsibility for Digha Nikaya. The followers of Arahat Sariputta Thera were entrusted with Majjima Nikaya. Sanyutta Nikaya, was entrusted to Arahat Maha Kassapa Thera and, Arahat Anuruddha Thera and his followers were entrusted with Anguttara Nikaya. All the Theras were made responsible for the Kuddaka Nikaya which was completed at the third council. Vinaya Pitaka was entrusted to Arahat Upali Thera and his followers.

The First Council also gave its official seal of approval for the closure of the chapter on the minor and lesser rules, and approved their observance. The charges against Ananda Thero was inquired into and he was exonerated. The Council also imposed penalty "Brahmadanda" on bhikku Channa who was very arrogant and disrespectful to elders.

Although there are various criticisms about the first council by persons like Oldernberg, if not for the first council, preachings the Buddha may not have protected for more than 2500 years.