During the first Buddhist council, both the dhamma and vinaya were recited so that the teachings can be compiled, consolidated and transmitted 3 months after Buddha's Mahaparinibbana. It lasted for 7 months. Rajagaha was selected for the meeting of the council. It was held near the Saptapanni Cave. All other Bhikkhus not involved in the council were asked not to come to Rajagaha for the rainy retreat. It was sponsored by King Ajatasattu who was a firm believer in the Buddhist faith, and he would provide the necessary accommodation, food, and security for the gathering. It was chaired by Mahakassapa together with 499 arahants.
Why conduct the First Buddhist Council?
1.Delight and rejoice in the passing away of the Buddha
The old monk, Subhadda was happy that Buddha had passed away and they would no longer need to follow what to do and what not to do and that he could start doing whatever he felt like. He said “We have got rid of the Master.”
Mahakassapa found this news alarming as: i. This unwholesome comment was made within the monk community. ii. The body of the Buddha was still lying there and such a disrespectful comment could be passed. iii. Mahakassapa had also witnessed the dispute and discord amongst the disciples of Mahaveero, the leader of Jains after he passed away before the Mahaparinibbana of the Buddha. He was afraid that if there is no rules, the monks will misbehave like them.
Mahakassapa was concerned that false doctrine, ie, Adhamma and Avinaya (no vinaya and no dhamma) would be established soon after the mahaparinibbana of the Buddha should there be confusion as to what Buddha had permitted and what was not. As Buddha mentioned that only vinaya and dhamma will be the guide for future sangha generation.
2.Presence of rebellious monks during the lifetime of Buddha
Recorded both in the Sutta and Vinaya Pitaka, shows that there were rebellious monks in the order during the lifetime of Buddha: i. The evil attempts of Devadatta to kill the Buddha and cause a schism in the Sangha. ii. The quarrel between the dhammadhara and vinayadhara monks in Ghositarama at Kosambhi in the 10th year of the Buddha’s ministry could not be settled by Buddha’s advice. iii. Channa was arrogant and refused teachings, instructions and admonitions from other monks as he prided himself as the charioteer of the Master on the day of Great Renunciation. iv. The 6 Chabbaggiya monks who behaved like gangsters when they wanted to take over a building at Jetavana. They were physically violent initially and later threw threatening gestures at the monks. They also carried out (formal) acts, which are not by rule; in an incomplete assembly; acts that have been protested against and were not legitimate. v. In the Latukikopama Sutta, Sutta 66 of Majjhima Nikaya, Buddha was aware of rebellious monks who would not heed advice and rules to give up certain ways of life. They considered Him trifling and exacting and were discourteous towards Buddha and other monks who were desirous of training.
If there is no vinaya rules, these rebellious monks will not behave as expected of a reputable monk. They might then teach their disciples the wrong behaviors and wrong teachings.
3.No chosen successor
Buddha did not choose a successor to be the leader of the Sangha. He had advised the following: If you want to see the path, let Dhamma and Vinaya be your guides and teachers as mentioned in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. Hence, the council has to be convened so that Dhamma and Vinaya could be recited and remembered.
4.Fear of Loss of Teachings of Buddha
The Tibetan Dulva (Vinaya of Sarvastivadin) and the accounts of Yuan Chwan mentioned the general feeling of doubt and dismay that prevailed among the people that the Dhamma preached by the Buddha would disappear along with his departure. Due to this fear of loss of the real teachings of the Buddha , it is necessary to hold the first council to affirm the teachings.
5.No single source of teachings - Buddha was a wayfarer
There was no single person who knows all the teachings of the Buddha. Venerables Sariputta and Moggallana, the 2 chief disciples of Buddha had passed away before the Buddha. Buddha was a wayfarer and he gave discourses to different kinds of people, like kings, robbers, monks, nuns, courtesans, and etc. The Dhamma-Vinaya existed then only in the collective memory of monks and lay folks.
6.Memory of the Dhamma and Vinaya still fresh.
The First council had to be convened soon so that the true dhamma and vinaya could be chanted and remembered while the memory is still fresh in the minds.
Number of monks
500 monks assembled for the first buddhist council. Mahakassapa chose 499 Arahants from the assembly. A place was reserved for Venerable Ananda who was a Sotapanna (stream-enterer). The First Buddhist Council hence is also known as ‘the Chanting of the Five Hundred’.
In the Cullavagga, it is stated that the bhikkhus strongly interceded for Ananda, though he had not attained Arhanthood as he had reached very high moral standard and he had learnt the Dhamma and Vinaya from Buddha himself. Mahakassapa eventually accepted venerable Ananda as a result of the motion on the part of the monks. Venerable Ananda attained arahanthood on the eve of the Council.
The procedure was a simple one. With the permission of the assembled Sangha, Venerable Mahakassapa asked questions of the Vinaya of Venerable Upali. Questions were with regards to where, to whom and the subject of the reason for the Vinaya rule. In this way, the Parajikas and Vinaya rules of both Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni orders were agreed upon at the Council with permission of the assembled Sangha.
Mahakassapa in turn questioned Venerable Ananda. He was chosen as he had very good memory and he had heard very much from the mouth of the Buddha (bahussuta). Being Buddha’s personal assistant for 25 years and Buddha had agreed on the 8th condition of Ananda that Buddha would repeat discourses given in his absence which means only Venerable Ananda heard all the suttas that Buddha had taught.
The subject matter of Sutta pitaka in all of the 5 Nikayas, was formulated as questions for Ananda who gave the appropriate answers. They were formulated in the same lines as those adopted for the Vinaya- to whom and where was the sermon given.
Charges made against Venerable Ananda during the first council
Venerable Ananda was put on trial as there were several charges made by the monks: 1. He could not formulate the lesser and minor precepts. (as he was overwhelmed with grief of the imminent death of the Buddha.) 2. He had to tread on the garment of the Buddha. (while sewing it as there was no one to help him.) 3. He permitted women to salute first the body of the Buddha. (as he did not wish to detain them.) 4. He forget to request the Buddha to continue to live longer 5. He had pleaded for the admission of women into the order. 6. He failed to supply drinking water to the Buddha though He asked for it thrice.
This was probably later inserts by the people and probably untrue as Buddha was known to be magnanimous and exhibits equality to all. He wouldn’t have minded those petty accusations.
The lesser and minor rules
The Buddha was said to have told Ananda that the Sangha if it so desires, may on his death do away with the ‘lesser and minor rules’. Ananda did not ask for the specific lesser and minor rules as he was mentally overwhelmed by the physical deterioration of Buddha in his dying days.
According to Cullavagga, diverse opinions were expressed by members of the assembly as to what constitute the ‘lesser and minor rules’. Mahakassapa at the council decided to keep all the rules so that the vinaya rules will be complete from time of Buddha and nothing would be lost. The Sangha could be criticized by the laity for doing away rules laid down by the Buddha just after he passed away.
It is also strange and questionable that a man of Buddha’s caliber would do away the lesser and minor rules which he personally had laid down just before he passed away. He had previously advised Venerable Sariputta that for the Sasana to survive long, there should be many rules. Moreover, he had advised the monks in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta not to abolish rules, which had been laid down as one of the seven conditions for the welfare and harmony of the Order. So once again these lesser and minor rules to be omitted could be a later addition by the people to accommodate for local customary and traditions.
Highest penalty of Brahma Danda to Channa during first council
Channa (Buddha's charioteer) had insulted every monk and was arrogant to the extreme. The penalty imposed on him was complete social boycott. When the punishment was announced to Channa, he was seized with profound repentance, shame and grief. Dwelling alone, zealous, ardent, self-resolute, he attained the highest goal, Arahantship. Henceforth, the punishment ceased to be effective.
Results of the First Buddhist Council
1. The settlement of the Vinaya under the leadership of Upali. 2. The settlement of the texts of the Dhamma under the leadership of Ananda. 3. The trial of Ananda where all minor and lesser rules were retained. 4. The punishment of Channa, which spurred him on to Arahantship.
The Sangha ‘chant’ begun with the 4 parajikas, the double Vinaya of the monks and nuns, the 5 Nikayas beginning with Brahmajala Sutta.
The Texts consolidated during the First Buddhist Council
Vinaya Pitaka comprises the following: 1. Parajika Pali Major Offences 2. Pacittiya Pali Minor Offences 3. Mahavagga Pali Greater Section 4. Cullavagga Pali Lesser Section 5. Parivara Pali Summary and Classification of Vinaya
Sutta Pitaka comprises of the following 5 Nikayas (collections) Digha Nikaya Collection of Long discourses 34 discourses Majjhima Nikaya Collection of Middle length discourses 152 discourses Samyutta Nikaya Collection of Related discourses 7,762 discourses Anguttara Nikaya Collection of Numerical discourses 9,557 discourses Khuddaka Nikaya Minor Collection
The 5th Nikaya, Khuddaka-nikaya, could not possibly have been made up then, as some of the texts (like Jataka, Vimana Vatthu, Peta Vatthu, Buddhavamsa) were later additions.There was no mention of Abhidhamma pitaka here.
The chanting of Dhamma and Vinaya by the Five Hundred was not completely accepted by all monks. Venerable Purana and his 500 disciples arrived at Rajagaha and were met by elderly monks who asked him to submit and learn the texts. However, Venerable Purana would only bear in mind what he had heard in the Lord’s presence, directly from Him.
Bhanakas are speakers who recite the teachings and are responsible for the spread of the teachings. It was said that the Bhanakas for Digha Nikaya - Ananda & disciples Majjhima Nikaya - Sariputta’s disciples Samyutta Nikaya - Mahakassapa & disciples Anguttara Nikaya - Anuruddha & disciples So the dhamma and vinaya were recited orally and transmitted by word of mouth by monks during uposatha days.