A Buddhist Council Guide for EBT enthusiasts

Does anyone know of a handy guide to the historicity and historical happenings of the various postulated Buddhist Councils that comes from an EBT-informed viewpoint? Is there any consensus as to which councils, if historical, resulted in X or Y layer of postulated Buddhavacana being put-into-writing/agreed-upon/adopted?

I ask based on this exchange on this thread:[quote=sujato][quote=sandundhanushka]In my view, this, and the whole narrative of the ordination of Mahapajapati as we have it today, were added around 100 years after the Buddha’s death, some time around the Second Council.

Bhante , can we consider this( 32 marks ) to be a later addition as well ?[/quote]
Yes, I would agree that both the account of Mahapajapati’s going forth and the 32 marks are very likely to be later additions.[/quote]Do you also agree that they may have been added at the Second Council?

This is an area of Buddhist history that I would like to learn more about. I know that the historicity of certain councils is questioned by modern scholars, and I assume also those Buddhists and non-Buddhists involved in EBT work, and that the histories we have received about the councils have what is believed to be a lot of sectarian influence on them.

So the question above stands, does anyone know of a handy guide to the historicity and historical happenings of the various postulated Buddhist Councils that comes from an EBT-informed viewpoint?


I wrote fairly extensively on this in my Sects & Sectarianism.

Not really. One of the problems, in my view, is that much of the scholarship around the Councils and the schisms is flawed. For example, many scholars say the Third Council was a “party meeting” of the Theravadins, but this is based on false premises: there was no Theravadin school at the time. The schisms were later.

There are some things that are fairly well known. For example, the commentary says that the “chorus” interludes in the Bakkula Sutta were added at the Second Council. taking this, and some similar comments, we can begin to get an idea.

One problem is that most accounts of the Second Council don’t even mention textual redaction at all, but focus solely on the Vinaya issues.

May have been, yes. With a few exceptions such as noted above, we don’t have direct evidence for what may have been added then. However, it is a convenient date for things that are somewhat later than the Buddha, but still predating the schisms and Ashoka.

The general idea is that the Second Council focuses on a strict enforcement of the Vinaya, and hence was managed by a wing of the Sangha who might be called “rigorists” as opposed to the more liberal “laxists”. This division mirrors the canonical conflict between Mahākassapa and Ānanda; although it is possible that the earlier conflict was invented or modified as archetype for the later.

The laxist wing was centered around Vesali, but seems to have associated with the traditional homelands of the Buddha. This would mirror the situation that can be seen today, where new converts and missionaries are often more strict than those in the homeland.

This then explains the expansion, or perhaps invention, of the Bakkula Sutta, a rigorist text. It also suggests that the role of Mahākassapa in the first Council may have been expanded to suit this narrative, especially his condemnation of Ānanda for supporting women and bhikkhuni ordination.

One of the details that I note in Sects & Sectarianism is that the account of the Second Council, which is the very last chapter in the Vinaya Khandhaka, is vivid and lifelike as compared to the First Council. It is rather less like mythology and rather more like journalism.

I propose that the system of 20 Khandhakas + 2 final chapters for the Councils was added at the Second Council, or at least formalized then. This brings the entire life story of the Buddha and the establishment of the Sangha under the wing of the Second Council, so to speak. The language and idioms used in the Second Council echo throughout this extended narrative, making it appear as if the whole story of the Buddha serves as an origin story, a mythic authorization, for the decisions made at the Second Council.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that all this material was invented at that time, merely that it was organized and edited in the form we have it today.


Not a handy guide by any means, but I’m slowly working my way through Warder’s dense Indian Buddhism and it’s chock-full of historical information that you’ll probably find helpful.


Which can be downloaded here:

Sects__Sectarianism_Bhikkhu_Sujato.pdf (1.5 MB)



I found an old journal from sacred-texts.com about the account of First Council from various sources: http://www.sacred-texts.com/journals/mon/1stbudcn.htm. Maybe this can be a reference too :slight_smile:

How about Suttavibhanga (Bhikkhu & Bhikkhuni Vibhanga) section, Bhante? Was this section of Vinaya Pitaka also added in a later date? Because the narrative context of this section is a commentary served as the Vinaya rules origin story.

The Vibhanga material was gradually added to the patimokkha rules over the same general period, although I am not sure there is a direct connection with the Second Council. No doubt there are earlier and later portions.

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