time to time throughout Buddhist history councils have
been convened, usually by the Sangha
itself or sometimes by the ruling monarch, to either discuss
points of doctrine or restore monastic discipline. The
first such council was held in Rajagaha in India in the
year of the Buddha's death. It is said that 500 arahats
assembled and together recited the Buddha's discourses
and committed them to memory so that they could be preserved
and passed on to succeeding generations.
a hundred years later a second council was held at Vesali.
A community of monks in that city had begun soliciting
monetary donations from lay supporters, a definite breach
of Vinaya. They had given a 'cut'
of the total to a visiting monk, Yasa, who had refused
it and gone to the lay people and informed them that what
the other monks were doing was wrong. As discussing monastic
business with those outside the community is also an offence,
the indignant monks censored and punished Yasa who submitted
in silence. Determined to stop the abuses at Vesali, Yasa
left, recruited monks from other monasteries and returned
with a quorum of supporters. After much heated debate,
the matter was finally settled and the whole community,
united and reconciled, recited all the Buddha's discourses
third council was held at Pataliputra, King Asoka's
capital, in about 236 BC. The purpose of this council
was to try to unite an increasingly fractious Sangha,
settle doctrinal disputes and organise the sending of
missionaries throughout India and beyond. In the centuries
following this, Buddhism no longer being united, different
religions and schools held their own councils. The last
great council was held in Rangoon in Burma
in 1956-7. Although this was mainly a Theravada
gathering, representatives from every Buddhist country
were invited and attended.
Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism. Louvain,
A.K. Warden, Indian Buddhism.