Buddhist Council – First, Second, Third and Fourth Buddhist Councils

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The six Buddhist councils were established to spread the teachings and preachings of Buddhism. The first Council was headed with the primary objective of protecting the teachings of Buddha. It also presented a set of guidelines for the monks and the disciples. Numerous Buddhist councils were established to safeguard the principles and resolve conflicts. After the death of the famous spiritual leader Gautama Buddha, different assemblies got instituted to resolve doctrinal disputes, recite Buddhist texts and follow the ideologies of Gautama Buddha. The assemblies that got established are famously known as Buddhist Councils.

The Buddhist assemblies were maintained under the aid of diverse monarchs and chaired by various monks. The Buddhist councils were established in different eras with the aim of addressing numerous concerns. This topic forms an eminent and integral part of the UPSC syllabus. The article facilitates complete knowledge of the first, second, and subsequent Buddhist councils. The candidates can get access to the PDF for preparing comprehensively for the exam.

What are Buddhist Councils?

All the Buddhist councils were established to cater to the primary needs of conserving the learnings of Buddhism and the preachings of Gautam Buddha. These councils were held at different places and during the reign of different rulers. There were established six councils in ancient times. The list of all Buddhist councils has been provided below.

  • First Buddhist Council
  • Second Buddhist Council
  • Third Buddhist Council
  • 4th Buddhist Council
  • 5th Buddhist Council
  • Sixth Buddhist Council

Buddhist Councils Objective

In addition, the primary objective of the Buddhist councils was to preserve Buddhism’s sanctity and spread the Buddhist religion worldwide. The first council was established with the primary objective of safeguarding the preachings of Buddhism and presenting a set of instructions for the monks and disciples.

  • The second Buddhist council was held with the aim of resolving the disputes of numerous subdivisions.
  • The third council brought out the concern of revamping the major educational institutions.
  • The 4th Buddhist Council led to the splitting of the Hinayana and Mahayana.
  • The fifth council examined the preachings of Buddhism in smaller pieces.
  • The sixth Buddhist council aimed to regulate and protect the Vinayana and Dhamma of Buddhism.

A Brief about Buddhism

Founded by Gautama Buddha (Sakyamuni), Buddhism is an ancient religion in India practiced worldwide. The Buddhist councils carried the objective of conserving and safeguarding the teachings of Gautam Buddha and Buddhism. In addition, the teachings of Buddhism remain on the following principles:

  • Four Virtuous Truths (Arya Satya) – Samudaya, Dukkha, Naroda, and Magga.
  • Eight-Fold Course (Ashtangika Marga) – Right resolve, Right thought, Right discourse, Right effort, Right earning, Right endeavor, Right mindfulness, and Right concentration (samadhi).
  • Three Treasures (Triratnas) – the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma
  • Code of Conduct
  • Belief in Nirvana
  • Faith in Ahimsa

First Buddhist Council

The 1st Buddhist council was held in Rajgir at the Sattapanni caves, under the aid of King Ajatashatru. This Council was held just after the death of Gautama Buddha. The first Buddhist council was held in 400 B.C. Check the points elaborated about all Buddhist councils.

  • This council was presided over by Buddhist monks Mahakasyapa.
  • The primary agenda of this Buddhist council was to safeguard the teachings of Gautama Buddha and set some guidelines for disciples and monks.
  • The monks’ Upali and Ananda chanted Vinaya and Suttas. The monks also recited Abhidhamma Pitaka in this council.
  • Numerous monks held a debate on how the preachings of Buddha should be spread and enshrined.

Second Buddhist Council

This Patliputra Buddhist Council was renowned to be as the second Buddhist council. Monk Yasa noticed the misbehavior of some monks and summoned the 2nd Buddhist council. Here are the key highlighting points of the councils that have been elaborated here-

  • The second council was held at Vaishali (Now in Bihar) under the aid of King Kalasoka of the Shisunaga Dynasty and was headed over by Sabakami.
  • The primary agenda of this second Buddhist council was to resolve the conflicts of various subdivisions.
  • This Council repudiated the Mahasangikas as canonical Buddhist literature. It is why this council holds a special place in Indian history.
  • The 2nd Buddhist Council was held in 383 BC. This was also renowned as First Third Council.
  • It was argued in the council by several monks that the Buddhists can regulate monetary funds for the welfare of the monks, however, this was denied by Monk Yasa. This led to the first segment of the Buddhist order.

Third Buddhist Council

This council was conducted to the debate over the extension of Buddhism and its impact in South-East Asia. Moggaliputta Tissa conducted the 3rd Buddhist council. Abhidharma writings were assembled into one and unified into one of the three segments of Buddhist principles.

  • The 3rd Buddhist council took place under the Magadha Empire and was presided over by Moggaliputta Tissa.
  • The main agenda of this Buddhist council was to examine the various Buddhism educational institute and refine them.
  • Emperor Ashoka sent different groups to different nations to spread the preachings of Buddhism after this council.
  • It was established in 250 BC.
  • It was held with the aid of renowned Emperor Ashoka at Pataliputra
  • Ashoka was inspired by the teachings of Gautam Buddha.

4th Buddhist Council

It was conducted in Tambapanni, Sri Lanka, and this council acted in accordance with Theravada. It is considered and believed that in the 4th council a few Buddhist Sarasvativedas were laid here. A great Commentary on Abhidharma was conducted in this council.

  • The fourth Buddhist council took place in Kashmir in the era of Emperor Kanishka of the Kushan Dynasty and was presided by Asvaghosha and Vasumitra.
  • The primary agenda of this council was to intervene in various confrontations between different schools of introspection.
  • Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism sects split after this fourth council.
  • It was established in 72 AD.

Fifth Buddhist Council

The major focus of the fifth council was to examine the preachings of Gautam Buddha from the Pali canon and to find whether any of the teachings had been altered, excluded, or distorted. They also possessed the responsibility of approving the entire Tripitaka that had been penned in Burmese script and recited together.

  • The fifth Buddhist council took place at Mandalay in Burma, now Myanmar, under the aid of King Mindon of Burma Kingdom and was headed by the Narindabhidhaja, Jagarabhivamsa, and Sumangalasami.
  • The principal plan of this council was to chant all the Buddhism preachings by Gautama Buddha and examine them in little pieces.
  • It was established in 1871.
  • This council is not so well renowned outside Burma as it did not include the participation of the countries outside Burma.

Sixth Buddhist Council

The 6th Buddhist Council had the major objective of assembling the words of Buddha. The assembly members agreed unanimously to the assembly. The name determined the teachings was Tripitaka. It was summoned by the Prime Minister of Burma.

  • The Sixth Buddhist Council took place at Kaba Aye in Myanmar(Burma) and Yangon(Rangoon) under the aid of Prime Minister U. Nu of the Republic of Myanmar. It was headed over by Bhadanta Vicittasarabhivamsa and Mahasi Sayadaw
  • The primary agenda of the sixth council was to maintain and conserve the genuine Vinaya and Dhamma of Buddhism.
  • This council was formulated in 1954.

Buddhist Texts

The Buddhist texts are an eminent part of the enshrining information about Buddhism. The major stratification of the texts are as listed here- Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, and Abhidhamma Pitaka.

  • Dhammapada comprises an assemblage of preachings of Buddha. It is imprinted in the verse format. Dhammapada is a segment of the Sutta Pitaka.
  • Milinda Panha comprises the conversation between Milinda and Nagasena. This enshrines the questions asked by Milinda pertaining to Buddhism.
  • Buddhacharita is a poem picturizing the life of Buddha. Buddhacharita was penned by Ashvaghosha.

Buddhist Council UPSC

The aspirants preparing for the IAS exam can get the complete details of the exam to be able to gain insights into the core concepts. The Buddhist Council and Buddhism form an integral topic of the UPSC syllabus.

The aspirants can practice the previous year’s papers to get complete ideation of the types of questions asked in the exam from this topic. The difference between Hinayana and Mahayana of Buddhism also holds importance for the exam.

UPSC Mains Question: Which teachings of Buddhism are relevant in today’s world?

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