The 3rd Buddhist council took place about 236 years after the Buddha’s passing (c. 250 BCE). It was held at Asokarama in Pataliputta. Royal Patronage of 3rd council was King Asoka. The Elder Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa selected 1,000 monks to recite and reaffirm the Dhamma and Vinaya. This took 9 months to complete.
This occurred at the 17th year of rule of King Asoka when he was 72 years old. He closed the council with a great ceremony.
Why conduct 3rd Buddhist Council?
Asoka used his vast wealth to build countless stupas, temples and viharas throughout India and provided generous support to the Sangha. He ruled his country based on dhamma but this led to many unwholesome and greedy people joining the Sangha who held wrong views and preached heretical teachings.
Teachers of other faiths with not enough support and sustenance entered the order. Some did not join the order but merely shaved off their hair, donned yellow robes, entered the monasteries especially during meal times. Some practiced what they believed to be the holy fire cult and heat asceticism.
All 18 schools of Buddhism with their own Dhamma and Vinaya texts abound. They had differing ideas on the doctrine (purity of Arahants, Omniscence of Buddha from time of conception, Bodhisattva’s path, belief in pudgala, sarva, Alaya consciousness). These monks proclaimed their own doctrines as that of the Buddha and carried on their own practices. They were non-Theravadan practices. Thera Moggaliputta Tissa refused to perform Uposatha with the hereticical monks at Asokarama. He left Asokarama and moved alone up the Ganges and settled in Ahoganga Mountain where he was in solitary retreat for 7 years. During this time, there were no uposatha at all aramas (viharas).
When King Asoka became aware of this, he tried to help settle the matter by letting Asokarama be the venue for the Uposatha. But the monks refused to hold the uposatha with the heretics. The minister in his show of authority decapitated several theras. The king’s brother, Tissa quickly put a stop to this. King Asoka was greatly disturbed by this act as he was uncertain who was guilty of this grievous act.
He was told that Thera Moggaliputta Tissa might be able to settle his worries. He requested for Thera Moggali Putta Tissa who had to be invited three times by several theras. He finally agreed as he was asked to protect the Sasana (religion) and was brought by ship on the Ganges. The king received the venerable personally from the ship. The king asked whether he was responsible for beheading the monks. Thera Moggaliputta Tissa assured the king that he was not responsible as there was no intent to kill the monks. The king studied the Dhamma for seven days under Thera Moggaliputta Tissa. King Asoka then called all the monks to Asokarama, and questioned them on the teachings of the Buddha.
He asked them “ What is the teaching of the Buddha, O monks?” Some of them replied, “Sassata Vadi” – Eternalism. Others replied, “Uccheda Vadi” – Nihilism. 60,000 monks who were adherents of the false doctrines of nihilism or eternalism were expelled. They were asked to disrobe and were offered white to wear instead and were free to practise their own religions. The orthodox monks who were similarly asked, replied that the Buddha taught Vibhajja vadi, the teaching of discrimination, differentiation, analytical and critical teaching.
Thera Moggaliputta Tissa called for the third Buddhist council in order to protect the Dhamma and the Sasana. He wanted to refute point by point the views put forth by the non- Theravadan believers. This was compiled into Kathavatthu.
Read more: http://www.suttas.com/3rd-buddhist-council.html