Buddhist schools at the time of the First ‘Maha-Kasyapa’ Council at Rajagaha.
In Part 2 of this series, we looked at the First (and Second) Council of Buddhism, and gave a general overview of: who participated, what was discussed, where it was held, and why it was necessary to convene it in the first place. As was mentioned in Part 2, the growth of Buddha’s entourage also resulted in a larger risk of dissension and disagreement among his followers. The Buddha was well aware of this momentum during his life time, and even more so, the probability of it resulting in a schism after his final Nirvana.
The original name of the Sangha — Sakyaputtiya
Before the general term Sthaviravada (school of the elders) came to be commonly used as to refer to the Buddhist followers, the term Sakyaputtiya was used in the texts. This was the name given to the followers of Buddha, as followers of Sakyamuni:
“You, Vasettha, who, differing all in the family you were born in, in your given name, in your clan (gotra) and family, have gone forth from home into the wandering life, may be asked: Who are you? Then do you reply: We are wanderers who follow him of the sons of the Sakyans (sakyaputtiya). He, Vasettha, whose confidence in the Buddha is settled, rooted, established and firm, a confidence not to be dragged down by a recluse or brahmin, by a deva or Mara the Evil One or Brahma or anyone in the world, well may he say: I am a veritable son of the Exalted One, born from his mouth (by having heard his teachings), born of the teachings (that are the truth) (Dhamma), defined by the teachings, and receiver of the transmitted teachings. And why? Because, Vasettha, these are names tantamount to Buddha: Being the embodiment of the teachings, and again, embodying the highest attainable, and again, one having become the teachings, and again, one having become the highest attainable.” — Digha Nikaya I.84
The Sakyans are identified as a tribe in North India, to which the Buddha belonged. The capital city of their region was Kapilavatthu. The Sakyans consisted of various different clans, of which the Buddha belonged to the Gotama clan (gotama-gotta). The Sakyans had no king, instead, a republican form of government ruled, with an elected leader chosen by the various clans.
The first Buddhist Council was held at Rajagaha, right after the Buddha’s final Nirvana. Although technically there was no schism during the first Buddhist Council, and only one ‘school’ existed, as far as we can consider it a school, there were growing concerns among Buddha’s followers about the consistency of how rules were followed and how the teachings were to be remembered and recited.
Some examples of disagreement and possible dissension when the Buddha was alive up until the First Council after his death.
Devadata was the son of the maternal uncle of the Buddha, and was among the first group of followers of the Buddha. He started out enjoying great honor among his followers, but later suspicion was raised of his evil wishes and intentions. He had the idea of taking Buddha’s place as the leader of the Buddhist order, so he went to the Buddha and suggested that the leadership of the Order should be handed over to him, because of the Buddha’s old age. After this request was vehemently denied, Devadatta had the plan to kill the Buddha, using royal archers from king Ajatasattu. This attempt failed, as all archers were converted to Buddhism by the Buddha’s powers. Devadatta second attempt to kill the Buddha, was by using a large boulder rock, and this attempt too failed, although he was able to cause some injury through a splinter that came off the rock. Devadatta's third attempt on the life of the Buddha was by letting loose a fierce elephant on the road where the Buddha would pass, but this failed as well as the Buddha subdued the elephant through his powers (iddhi).
It is not often mentioned, that even during Buddha’s lifetime, five hundred followers from the Vajji region (vajjiputtaka), seceded from the order, brought about by the bad intentions and plans of Devadatta to cause a schism in the Buddhist order. Devadatta sent five followers to the Buddha, and they asked for the implementation of five rules on all members of the Buddhist order:
The Buddha replied, that for those who wanted, could follow these rules—except for rule no. 4 during the rainy season—although he refused to make them mandatory. This refusal delighted Devadatta, spreading the deliberately misinformed conclusion, that this proved the Buddha was influenced by luxury and abundance.
Devadatta did not stop there. He was going to be holding a recitation meeting without the Buddha, and had persuaded five hundred of Buddha’s followers from the Vajji region to join him. The Buddha sent the elders Sariputta and Moggallana to bring them back.
The Vinaya texts give several reasons why the First Council was held, one of them being the account of Subhadda, who had the idea that now that the Buddha had passed away, the monks could relax their rules and not have to live such a strict life with so many rules.
Subhadda was a barber from Atuma, who joined the Buddhist order and disliked all the various Buddhist rules he had to follower. When the Buddha died and the monks were lamenting his death, Subhadda told them to be glad about it: “We are well rid of the great wanderer, we can now do whatever we like.’' The elder Maha Kassapa heard about this, while he was on his way to pay tribute to the Buddha after his final Nirvana, and considered this remark to be of grave concern, which made him decide to hold the First Council after the Buddha's death.
All council members approved both Vinaya and Dhamma recitations, except for two senior followers: Gavampati and Purana. Maha-kassapa had successfully gotten the approval of all the senior followers of the Buddha, but Gavampati remained neutral, as he did not fully accept the proceedings of the Council. Purana did not accept the recitation as the words of the Buddha, and was insisting on including eight additional rules about food into the Vinaya basket. The Vinaya of the Mahisasaka school included these eight rules as valid.
At Kosambi, there were two teachers, the first an expert of the teachings (dhammadhara) and the second an expert in the rules of conduct (vinayadhara), both giving instructions in their own expertise to their own group of students. At some point, the first teacher committed a light offense unintentionally, and when pointed out, he showed regret, but this was talked about by the second teacher among his students and lay-followers. The students and lay-followers of the first teacher became offended by this, and it created a divide between the two groups of students, as well as between the two groups of associated lay-followers. The Buddha, who heard about this, became involved, and at first did not succeed in resolving the issue. Interestingly, it was out of sheer disgust that he preferred to retire to the forest, than having to listen to the fruitless arguing by people in this world. Having heard the response from the Buddha about this, the two arguing teachers, their students, and their lay followers came to their senses and settled the dispute themselves.
The Vajjiputtaka Sutta — reciting 250 rules or train yourself in the three higher aims
This sutta is an excellent example of how the Buddha is a master of skillful means, when dealing with complaints from his followers:
A Buddhist follower from Vajji visits the Buddha in Vaisali, and complains that he has to recite over two-hundred and fifty rules twice a month. “I cannot stand such training,” he says. The Buddha then asks him if he can train himself in three higher aims. The monk agrees to do this and is told to develop higher virtue (adhisila), higher mind (adhicitta) and higher wisdom (adhipanna) [of the Arahant]. The Buddhist follower develops these, and gets rid of craving, hatred, and ignorance.
The Kesaputtiya Sutta — A word for the wise
And lastly, a word from the Buddha about reliance on tradition alone, or authority alone, or on logical reasoning alone, on blind reliance on a guru:
“Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence [of a speaker], or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our guru.’
But when you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unwholesome; these things are blameworthy; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them [those things leading to suffering].” — AN I.188
In the next article, the Buddhist schools at the time of the Second Council at Vaisali (and the subsequent Mahasamghika Council) will be discussed.
- Introduction to the history of Buddhist Councils and Schools-Part 1
- The Buddhist Councils — Who, when, where, and why?Part 2
- The Buddhist Councils — Who, when, where, and why?Part 3
- The History Of ‘Northern Buddhists’ of Sarvastivada - Part 4
- The History Of ‘Northern Buddhists’ of Sarvastivada - Part 5
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 1
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 2
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 3
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 4
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 5
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 6
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 7
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 8
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 9
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 10
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 11
- The Deathless In Buddhism
- The "Timeless" Teaching-Being Beyond Temporality
- The Nine Successive Cessations In buddhist Meditations - Part 1
- The Nine Successive Cessations In buddhist Meditations - Part 2
- The Nine Successive Cessations In buddhist Meditations - Part 3
- The Twelve Links Of Dependent Origination
- THINGS to DEVELOP and THINGS to AVOID
- The First Noble Truth
- The Second Noble Truth
- The Third Noble Truth
- The Fourth Noble Truth
- 10 Fold Path Series
- EATING MEAT — WHY THE BUDDHA WAS NOT A VEGETARIAN
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