The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes Venerable Ananda and the First Council contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as forty-one Arahat-Mahatheras and their Respective Etadagga titles. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Attainment of Arahatship

Since the attainment of arahatship, the Venerable Ānanda was commuted with the first Buddhist Council. We shall relate the event with reference to the Commentary on Sīlakkhandha vagga (Dīgha Nikāya) on this subject.

After carrying out His untiring mission of bringing emancipation to the deserving, beginning from the First Sermon, the Dhammacakka, to the last discourse to the ascetic Subhadda, the Buddha passed away under the twin sāla trees at the Mallas' pleasure park, near Kusinagara, in the year 148 of the Great Era. The utter cessation of the Buddha, leaving no remainder of the aggregates, took place on the full moon of May, early in the morning. The Malla princes held the funeral ceremony for seven days by placing flowers and perfumes around and about the remains of the Buddha in honour of Him. The week was called the ‘Funeral Festivities Week’.

After these festivities, the body of the Buddha was placed on the funeral pyre but it would not catch fire in spite of the utmost efforts made by the Malla princes. Only on the seventh day, after the arrival and paying homage by the Venerable Mahā Kassapa, the remains of the Buddha burnt by itself, as previously willed by the Buddha Himself. That second week was called the ‘Funeral-pyre Week’.

After that, the relics of the Buddha were honoured by the Mallas for seven days with unprecedented festivities, by placing rows and rows of mounted spear-men as guards of the huge festive grounds. That third week was called the ‘Relics-Honouring Week’.

After the three weeks had passed, on the fifth waxing day of Jeṭṭha (May-June), the distribution of the Buddha’s relics (presided over by Vassakāra, the great brahmin teacher) took place. On that memorable day, there was an assembly of seven hundred thousand bhikkhus (at Kusinagara). At the assembly, the Venerable Mahā Kassapa recalled the impertinent remarks made by Subhadda, an old bhikkhu who joined the Order after having been married, on the journey from Pāvā to Kusinagara, on the seventh day after the demise of the Buddha. The old bhikkhu said to the other bhikkhus who were bewailing the death of the Buddha: “Friends, do not lament, do not shed tears unnecessarily. For now only we are free from the tyranny of that Bhikkhu Gotama who would say to us: ‘Yes, this is proper for a bhikkhu’, or ‘No, this is not proper for a bhikkhu.’ Now we are at liberty to do what we like to do, and to ignore what we do not like to do.”

Further, the Venerable Mahā Kassapa saw that the Buddha’s Teaching, consisting of the Threefold Good Doctrine, would easily fall away after the demise of its originator, because wicked bhikkhus would not honour the Buddha’s words when the Buddha was no more, and their number could grow. “It were well if we bhikkhus congregate and recite in unison all the Doctrine and the Discipline left by the Buddha. In this way the Threefold Good Doctrine would survive for long.” thus reflected the Venerable Mahā Kassapa.

Then he also remembered the special recognition shown by the Buddha to him.

“The Bhagavā had exchanged His great robe with mine. He had declared to the bhikkhus: ‘Bhikkhus, in abiding in the first jhāna, Kassapa is my equal; etc.’ thus extolling my power of jhāna attainments with reference to the successively higher jhāna, which embraced the nine jhāna attainments that require abiding at each of the progressive levels, as well as the five supernormal powers. Again, the Bhagavā had remained in mid-air, and waving his hand, declared, that ‘in the matter of detachment to the four types of followers, Kassapa is unequalled,’ and that ‘in the attitude of equanimity, Kassapa conducts himself like the moon.’ These words of praise are truly unparalleled. I must live up to these attributes in no other way but undertake to convene a Sangha Council for reciting the Doctrine and the Discipline for their preservation.”

“Inasmuch as a king appoints his eldest son, Heir-Apparent, conferring all his own regal paraphernalia and authority on the son with a view to perpetuating his sovereignty, so also the Bhagava had indeed praised me so lavishly, in such extraordinary ways, seeing that I, Kassapa, would be able to perpetuate His Teaching.”

After pondering deeply thus, the Venerable Mahā Kassapa related to the bhikkhu congregation the sacrilegious words of Subhadda, the old bhikkhu (stated above) and made this proposal:

“Now, friends, before immorality has gained ground and becomes an obstruction to the Dhamma, before infamy has gained ground and becomes an obstruction to the Discipline, before upholders of immorality have gained strength, before upholders of the Good Doctrine have become weak, before upholders of infamy have gained strength, and before upholders of the Discipline have become weak, let us recite in unison the Doctrine and the Discipline and preserve them.”

On hearing his animated appeal, the congregation said to him: “Venerable Kassapa, may the Venerable One select the bhikkhus to carry out the reciting of the Doctrine and the

Discipline.” Venerable Mahā Kassapa then selected four hundred and ninety-nine arahats who had memorized the Dhamma-Vinaya (the three Piṭakas), and most of whom were also endowed with the fourfold Analytical Knowledge, the three Vijjās, and the Six Supernormal Powers, and were designated as the foremost bhikkhu-disciples by the Buddha.

(In this connection, the selection of 499 bhikkhus indicates that one seat was reserved by the Venerable One for Ānanda. The reason is that, at that moment, the Venerable Ānanda had not attained arahatship, and was still training himself to become an arahat. Without Ānanda, it would not be possible to hold the Council because he had heard all the discourses of the Buddha which comprise the five Nikāyas or Collections, the Nine Aṅgas or Parts, and the doctrinal terms numbering, a total of eighty-four thousand.

Why, then, should Ānanda be put on the list of the reciters by Venerable Mahā Kassapa? The reason was that Venerable Mahā Kassapa wanted to avoid criticism that he was partial to Ānanda because there were other arahats endowed with the Fourfold Analytical Knowledge like Ānanda while Ānanda was still a sekkha, one still training for arahatship.

This criticism was probable, considering the fact that the Venerables Mahā Kassapa and Ānanda were very intimate. The former would address the latter in such intimate terms as ‘This young lad’ even when the latter was about eighty years old with gray hair. (Refer to Kassapa Saṃyutta, Cīvara Sutta, Nidāna Vagga). Further, the Venerable Ānanda was a Sakyan Prince and a first cousin of the Buddha. For that reason, the Venerable Mahā Kassapa, although knowing well that Ānanda was indispensable to the project of the recitations, awaited the general consent of the congregation in selecting him.)

When Venerable Mahā Kassapa informed the congregation about his having chosen 499 arahats for the purpose, the congregation unanimously proposed the Venerable Ānanda to be selected on the Council in spite of his still being a sekkha. They said: “Venerable Mahā Kassapa, although the Venerable Ānanda is still a sekkha, he is not one who is likely to be misled into wrong judgment on any of the four unjust ways. Moreover, he is the bhikkhu with the greatest learning imparted by the Buddha both on the Doctrine and the Discipline.” Then the Venerable Mahā Kassapa put Ānanda on the list of the reciters. Thus there were five hundred reciters selected with the approval of the congregation.

Then the avenue for the holding of the recitals was considered by the congregation. They chose Rājagaha because it was a big city, big enough to provide daily alms-food to the big gathering of bhikkhus, and because it had many big monasteries where the bhikkhus could stay. They also thought about the need to disallow all other bhikkhus outside of the Council to spend the vassa in Rājagaha, where they, the Council, would reside during that period. (The reason for disallowing non-participating bhikkhus was because as the proceedings of the Council was to be conducted every day for a number of days, unless non-participating bhikkhus were officially disallowed from residence during the vassa, dissenters might interfere in the proceedings.)

Then the Venerable Mahā Kassapa, by making his formal proposal as an act-incongregation, and getting the formal approval of the congregation, passed the Sangha resolution in the following terms:

Suṇtātu me āvuso Sangho yadi Sanghassa pattakallaṃ Saṅgho imāni pañcabhikkhusatāni sammanneyya rāja- gahe vassaṃ vassantāni dhammañ ca vinayañ ca sangā yituṃ na aññehi bhikkhūhi rājagahe vassaṃ vasitabbanti, esā ñstti.

The gist of this is: (1) only five hundred bhikkhus, who were to recite the Doctrine and the Discipline, were to stay in Rājagaha during the vassa and (2) that no other bhikkhus were to stay in Rājagaha during the same period.

The above kammavācā or act of the Sangha-in-council took place twenty-one days after the passing away of the Buddha.

After the act was performed, Venerable Mahā Kassapa made a proclamation to all the members of the congregation:

“Friends, I allow you forty days to enable you to attend to any of your personal obligations. After these forty days, on no account will any excuses be accepted for failure to attend to the task of the recitations, whether for sickness, business concerning the preceptor, or parents or bhikkhu-requisites, such as alms-bowls or robes. Everyone of you is expected to be ready to begin the proceedings at the end of forty days.”

After giving these strict instructions to the Sangha, the Venerable Mahā Kassapa, accompanied by five hundred bhikkhu-pupils, went to Rājagaha. The other members of the Council also went to various places, accompanied by their bhikkhu-disciples, to assuage the sorrow of the people by means of discourses on the Good Doctrine. The Venerable Puṇṇa and his seven hundred bhikkhu-pupils remained at Kusinagara giving solace with their discourses to the devotees who mourned the demise of the Buddha.

The Venerable Ānanda carried, as usual, the alms-bowl and robe of the Buddha, and went to Savatthi accompanied by five hundred bhikkhu-disciples. His following of bhikkhus increased day by day. Wherever he went, devotees lamented and wailed.

When, going by stages, the Venerable Ānanda reached Sāvatthi, news of his arrival spread through the city and people came out with flowers and perfumes to welcome him. They wailed, saying: “O Venerable Ānanda, you used to come in the Buddha’s company, but where have you left the Buddha now and come alone?” The people’s lamentation in seeing the Venerable Ānanda alone was as pitiable as the day of the Buddha’s passing away.

The Venerable Ānanda solaced them with discourses on the impermanence, woefulness and insubstantiality of conditioned existence. Then he entered the Jetavana monastery, paid homage before the Buddha’s Perfumed Chamber, opened the door, took out the cot and the seat, cleaned them, swept the precincts of the Chamber, and removed the withered flowers. Then he replaced the cot and the seat and performed the routine acts at the Buddha’s residence, as in the days when the Buddha was living.

Whenever he carried out these routine tasks, he would say, weeping: “O Bhagavā, is this not the time for your taking a bath?” “Is this not the time for your delivering a discourse?” “Is this not the time to give admonition to bhikkhus?” “Is this not the time to lie on the right side in all the Buddha’s grace (like the lion)?” “Is this not the time to wash your face?” He could not help weeping in the hourly routine activities in the usual service of the Buddha because, knowing well the benefit of the pacifying quality of the Bhagavā, he had a deep love for the Buddha, out of devotion as well as out of affection. He had not purged all the moral intoxicants; he had a soft heart towards the Buddha owing to the mutual deeds of kindness that had taken place between him and the Buddha over millions of former existences.

Advice given by A Forest-deity

While himself was suffering intense grief and lamentation over the loss of the Buddha, the Venerable Ānanda was also giving much time to offering solace to the devotees who went to see him in sorrow on account of the Buddha’s passing away. As he was then staying at a forest in the Kingdom of Kosala, the guardian spirit of the forest felt sorry for him; and to remind him of the need to check his sorrow, the spirit sang the following verse to him:

Rukkhamūlagahanaṃ pasakkiya
Nibbānaṃ hadayasmiṃ opiya
Jhāya Gotama mā pamādo
Kiṃ te biḷibiḷikā karissati

O Venerable One of the Gotama clan, resort to seclusion at the foot of a tree, immerse your mind in Nibbāna[1] and abide in the jhāna characterized by concentration on the object (of meditation) and on its characteristics (of impermanence, woefulness, insubstantiality). What good is there in your tittle-tattling with your visitors in your effort to solace them?

That admonition caused saṃvega in the Venerable Ānanda. Since the passing away of the Buddha, he had been standing and sitting too much so that he was feeling out of sorts, and to get relief, he took a laxative prepared from milk on the next day, and did not go out of the monastery.

On that day, Subha, son of Todeyya the brahmin (then deceased) went to invite Venerable Ānanda to an offering of a meal. The Venerable said to the youth that he could not accept the invitation that day because he had taken a laxative made from milk, but that he might be able to do so the next day. On the next day, Venerable Ānanda went to Subha’s residence where he asked him a question about the Doctrine. Venerable Ānanda’s discourse, in reply to that question, can be found in Subha Sutta, the tenth discourse in the Sīlakkhandha Vagga of the Dīgha Nikāya.

Then Venerable Ānanda supervised the repairs to the Jetavana monastery. When the vassa was approaching, he left his bhikkhu-pupils at the monastery and went to Rājagaha. Other members who were selected for the Council to recite the Doctrine-Discipline (Piṭaka) also went Rājagaha, at about the same time. All these members performed the uposatha on the full moon of Āsāḷhā (June-July) and on the first waning day of the month they vowed themselves to remain in Rājagaha for the three-month vassa.

Rājagaha had eighteen monasteries around the city at that time. As they had been unoccupied for some period, the buildings and the precincts were in a state of despair and neglect. On the occasion of the Buddha’s passing away, all the bhikkhus had left Rājagaha for Kusinārā and the monasteries remained unused and untended so that the building became mouldy and dusty, while there were broken panes and gaping wallings.

The bhikkhus held a meeting and decided that as according to the Vinaya laid down by the Buddha, more particularly on living places, the monastic buildings and compound should be repaired and maintained to proper condition. So they assigned the first month of the vassa period to the repairing and maintenance of the monasteries, and the middle month to the recitals. They attended to the repair work to honour the Buddha’s instructions found in the Vinaya rules and also to avoid criticism by the religious sects outside the Buddha’s Teaching, who would say: “The disciples of Samaṇa Gotama took care of the monasteries only when their Teacher was living, but when He is dead and gone, they neglect them and let the valuable assets donated by the four categories of followers go to waste.”

After coming to the decision, the bhikkhus went to the King Ajātasattu’s palace. They were paid homage by the King who asked them the purpose of their visit. They told him that they needed men to carry out repair work to the eighteen monasteries. The King provided men to repair the monasteries, under the supervision of the bhikkhus. In the first month the job was completed. The bhikkhus then went to King Ajātasattu and said: “Great King, the repair work at the monasteries is completed. Now we shall convene the Council by reciting the Doctrine and the Discipline in unison.” The King said: “Venerable Sirs, carry out your task freely. Let there be the joint operation of our regal authority with your doctrinal authority. Mention your needs and I will see to them.” The bhikkhus said: “We need a congregation hall for the Sangha to carry out the task.” The King asked them the place of their choice, and they mentioned the mountain-side on Mount Vebhāra where the great Sattapaṇṇi (Alstonia scholaris) tree stood.

A Grand Pavilion donated by King Ajātasattu

“Very well, Venerable Sirs,” said King Ajātasattu and he built a grand pavilion for the Council, as splendid as one that might have been created by Visukamma, the deva architect.

It had compartments for the efficient working of the Council, each with stairways and approaches, all the walls, pillars (and balustrades) beautifully painted with artistic designs. The whole pavilion would seem to outshine the royal palace and its gorgeousness would seem to put a deva mansion to ridicule. It presented itself as a magnificent mansion which attracted the eyes of its beholders, devas and humans alike, as a pleasant river bank attracts all sorts of birds. In fact, it had the impression of an object of delight which was the sum total of all delightful things put up together.

The Council Hall had a canopy laid with gems. Clusters of flowers of various sizes, shapes and hues hang from it. The flooring was inlaid with jewels which looked like a huge platform of solid ruby. On it were floral festoons of variegated hues forming a wondrous carpet as would decorate a Brahmā’s mansion. The five hundred seats for the five hundred bhikkhu-reciters were made of priceless material, yet suitable for bhikkhu use. The throne, i.e. the raised dais, for the bhikkhu-elder in charge of posing questions, had its back leaning on the southern wall, facing north. In the middle, stood the throne or raised dais of the bhikkhu-elder in charge of answering the question, facing east, which was suitable for use by the Buddha. On it was placed a ceremonial circular fan, made of ivory. Having made all these detailed arrangements, the King informed the Sangha that all was ready.

It was the fourth waning day in the month of Savana (July-August). On that day, some of the bhikkhus went about saying among themselves: “In this gathering of bhikkhus, one still stand with defilements” which was plainly an allusion to the Venerable Ānanda. When these words of ridicule reached the Venerable Ānanda’s ear, he knew that no one else but himself was going about spreading the stink of defilements. He felt saṃvega from those words. There were other bhikkhus who said to him: “Friend Ānanda, the Council will begin tomorrow. You still have to gain the higher stages of the Path. It would not be proper for you to participate in the proceedings as a sekkha (an ariya who is still training himself for arahatship). We would like you to be mindful in striving for arahatship in this good time.” Arahatship Exclusive of The Four Postures

Then the Venerable Ānanda thought to himself: “Tomorrow, the Council begins. It would not be proper for me to participate in the proceedings as a sekkha (as a mere sotāpanna).” He meditated on the body the whole night. Early in the morning, he thought of getting some sleep. Going into the monastery, he mindfully reclined on the cot. As his two feet lifted off the ground and his head had not touched the pillow, he attained arahatship in a split second, outside of any of the four bodily postures.

To explain this further: The Venerable Ānanda had been meditating while walking up and down along the walk outside the monastery. Despite this, magga-phala (at the three higher levels) was still not attained. Then he remembered the Buddha’s words when the latter was about to pass away: “Ānanda, you have done much meritorious actions. Meditate diligently. You will soon attain arahatship.” He knew that the Buddha’s word never went amiss. He reviewed his meditation effort: “I have been overzealous; this makes my mind distracted. I must strike a balance between energy and concentration.” Reflecting thus, he washed his feet and entering his meditation cell, he thought of taking a short rest. With mindfulness, he reclined on the cot. As his two feet lifted off the ground and his head had not touched the pillow, during that fleeting moment he attained arahatta-phala, purified of all moral intoxicants.

Therefore, if someone were to pose a question: “Which bhikkhu in this Teaching gained arahatship while outside of the four bodily postures?” the answer definitely is “The Venerable Ānanda.”

Ānanda praised by Mahā Kassapa

It was on the fifth waning day, in the month of Savana (July-August), the day after the Venerable Ānanda had attained Arahatship, after finishing their meal, the reciters selected for the Council kept their alms-bowls and other requisites and congregated at the great pavilion to begin the recitation. (By the custom of the Indian Subcontinent, the period from the full-moon day of the month in Āsāḷhā (June-July) to the full-moon day of the month in Savana is reckoned as one month. During that period of one month, the Sangha had attended to the repairing and maintenance of the monasteries. On the first day of the waning moon in Savana, they requested King Ajātasattu to build a pavilion. The construction took three days. On the fourth day, the Venerable Ānanda attained arahatship. On the fifth day, the proceedings of the Council commenced.)

Venerable Ānanda attended The Council as An Arahat

He entered the pavilion when everybody was present. Donning his upper robe in the manner prescribed for bhikkhus when appearing before a meeting (or for going into the village), he stepped into the hall with a beaming face which looked as fresh as a toddy palm fruit just plucked, or a ruby placed on a white piece of velvet, or a full moon in a clear sky, or a paduma lotus blooming forth on being radiated with dawn’s sunshine. It seemed to radiate with the inner purity of the arahat. Its splendour proclaimed the arahatship of the possessor.

(In this connection, it might be asked: “Why did Ānanda enter the hall as if proclaiming his arahatship?” “An arahat does not declare his attainment of arahatta-phala in words but he may let the fact known to others, and this is extolled by the Buddha,” thus reflected the Venerable Ānanda. He knew that the Council was prepared to let him participate in the proceedings because of his vast knowledge, even though he was still a sekkha. And now that he had attained arahatship, those other bhikkhus would be very happy to know about it. Further, he wanted to demonstrate to everyone that the Buddha’s last words: “Work with diligence, the attainment of your set task”, had proved most beneficial.)

On seeing the Venerable Ānanda, Venerable Mahā Kassapa thought: “Ah, Ānanda as an arahat looks glorious. If the Bhagavā were living, he would surely laud Ānanda today. Now I must say words of praise on behalf of the Bhagavā.” And he said: “Friend, Ānanda, glorious it is indeed that you have attained arahatta-phala, etc.” He said these congratulatory words thrice aloud.

Proceedings of The Council

With the arrival of the Venerable Ānanda, the Council was complete with the five hundred selected reciters. The Venerable Mahā Kassapa asked the Council where to begin their recitals, whether the Doctrine including the Suttanta and the Abhidhamma should be recited first, or whether the Discipline (the Vinaya), should be recited first. The Sangha unanimously proposed: “Venerable Mahā Kassapa, the Vinaya is the lifeblood of the Buddha’s Teaching. For, if the Vinaya lasts long, the Buddha’s Teaching will lasts long.

Therefore let us begin our recitals with the reciting of the Vinaya.” Venerable Mahā

Kassapa then asked: “Whom shall we make the leading bhikkhu in reciting the Vinaya?” “We will make the Venerable Upāli the leading bhikkhu.” “Would Ānanda be incapable for it?” “Ānanda would be quite capable for it. However, when the Bhagavā was living He had declared the Venerable Upāli as the foremost among the bhikkhu-disciples who have mastered the Vinaya. Therefore, we would make the Venerable Upāli, after getting his consent, the leading bhikkhu in reciting the Vinaya.”

The Venerable Mahā Kassapa was the presiding bhikkhu at the First Council. He also took the responsibility of the questionings. The Venerable Upāli took the responsibility of answering the questions on the Vinaya. Both took the special seats made for them and conducted the proceedings. Each of the rules of the Vinaya was put as a question consisting of the subject, the background story, the person that was the cause of the Buddha’s prescribing the rule, the original rule, the amendment thereto (if any), whither a breach of that rule amounts to an offence or not; and each question was answered fully under those headings. The Council then put them on record by reciting in unison, clothing the subjectmatter with such formal expressions as: ‘At that time’,’It was then that’, ‘Then’, ‘When it was said’, etc. to give cohesion to the matter. The recitals were made in unison: “At that time the Bhagavā was staying at Verañja, etc.” (This reciting of the words of the Buddha by the Sangha in a special assembly is called the holding of a Council, Sangāyanā.)

When the reciting of the First Pārājika was completed, the great earth trembled vehemently down to the sheet of water, that supports it as if applauding the noble historic event.

The three remaining Pārājika rules were recited in the same manner, as also were the rest of the 227 rules, each framed as a question and followed by its answer. The whole of the text was entitled Pārājikakaṇḍa Pāli, and was also known as Bhikkhu Vibhaṅga, popularly referred to as “Mahā Vibhaṅga”. It was prescribed as the official text that has since been taught (at the monasteries) from generation to generation. At the conclusion of reciting the Mahā Vibhaṅga, the great earth also shook violently as before.

Then followed the 304 rules of the Bhikkhunī Vibhaṅga, recited in the form of questions and answers as before. This Bhikkhunī Vibhaṅga and the Mahā Vibhaṅga together was known as ‘the Ubhato Vibhaṅga of 64 recitals or bhāṇavāras.’ This was prescribed as the official text that has since been taught from generation to generation. At the conclusion of reciting, the Ubhato Vibhaṅga the great earth also shook violently as before.

Upāli entrusted with The Vinaya Piṭaka

The Council of five hundred reciters entrusted the approved version of the Vinaya Piṭaka to the Venerable Upāli with the mandate: “Friend, teach this Vinaya Piṭaka to the disciples who come to you for instruction.” When the reciting of the Vinaya Piṭaka was completed, the Venerable Upāli, having done his task, laid down the ceremonial circular ivory fan on the throne of the bhikkhu in-charge of answering the questions, descended from it, paid his respect to the bhikkhu-elders, and sat in the place marked for him.

After the reciting of the Vinaya, the Dhamma (i.e. the Suttanta and the Abhidhamma) was to be recited. So Venerable Mahā Kassapa asked the Council of reciters: “Which bhikkhu shall we make the leader in reciting the Dhamma?” The Council unanimously named the Venerable Ānanda for the post.

Then Venerable Mahā Kassapa named himself as the Questioner, and the Venerable Ānanda as the Answerer (Responding bhikkhu). Rising from his seat, rearranging his upper robe, and making his obeisance to the bhikkhu-elders, Venerable Ānanda held the ceremonial circular ivory fan and sat on the throne prepared for the purpose.

Then the plan of reciting the Dhamma was discussed thus by Venerable Mahā Kassapa and the participating mahā-theras (bhikkhu-elders):

Kassapa: Friends, as there are two divisions of the Dhamma, the Suttanta Piṭaka and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka, which shall we take up first?

Mahātheras: Venerable Sir, let us start with the Suttanta Piṭaka. (The Vinaya is mainly concerned with Higher Morality (adhi-sīla); the Suttanta is mainly concerned with Higher Consciousness i.e. concentration (adhi-citta); and the Abhidhamma is mainly with Higher Wisdom (adhi-paññā). Therefore, the Council recited the Threefold Training of Mortality, Concentration and Wisdom in that order, it should be noted.)

Kassapa: Friends, there are four Collections (Nikāyas) of the Suttas in the Suttanta Piṭaka; which of them shall we take up first?

Mahāthera: Venerable Sir, let us start with the Longer Discourses (Dīgha Nikāya).

Kassapa: Friends, the Dīgha Nikāya contains 34 discourses (Suttas) in three divisions (vaggas), which divisions shall we take up first?

Mahāthera: Venerable Sir, we shall start with the Sīlakkhandha Vagga.

Kassapa: Friends, the Sīlakkhandha Vagga contains 13 discourses, which discourse shall we take up first?

Mahāthera: Venerable Sir, the Brahmajāla Sutta portrays the three grades of morality. It is useful for the abandonment of deceitful talk or hypocrisy on the part of bhikkhus which are detrimental to the Teaching. It also explains the 62 kinds of wrong views. It had caused 62 times of the shaking of the great earth when it was delivered by the Bhagavā. Therefore, let us start with the Brahmajāla Sutta.

Having thus agreed upon the plan of verification, the Venerable Mahā Kassapa posed appropriate questions on the Brahmajāla Sutta to Venerable Ānanda regarding the background story, the person connected with the discourse, the subject matter, etc. Venerable Ānanda answered every question completely, at the end of which the five hundred reciters recited in unison the Brahmajāla Sutta. When the reciting of the Suttas was completed, the great earth quaked violently as before.

Then followed the questioning and answering and the recital of the twelve other Suttas of the Sīlakkhandha Vagga, which was recognized as the title of the division and prescribed as the course of Piṭaka studies in respect of the Suttanta.

Then the Mahāvagga, which consisted of ten suttas, was next and followed by the Pāthika Vagga, which consisted eleven suttas, each with the questioning an answering. Hence the thirty-four suttas in three divisions (Vaggas), whose recitals numbered twentyfour, were recorded as the Buddha’s words under the title of Dīgha Nikāya, the Collection of Longer Discourses. This approved version of the text was then entrusted to the Venerable Ānanda with the following instruction from the bhikkhu-elders: “Friend Ānanda, teach this Dīgha Nikāya to the pupils that come to you for instruction.”

After that the Council approved the Majjhima Nikāya, the Collection of Middle Length Discourses, after the usual questioning and answering, which took 80 recitals in all. Then they entrusted the approved version of the text to the pupils of the Venerable Sāriputta, saying: “Friends, preserve this Majjhima Nikāya well.”

Then the Council approved the Saṃyutta Nikāya, the Collection of Related Discourses, after the usual questioning, and answering, which took 100 recitals. Then they entrusted the approved version of the text to the Venerable Mahā Kassapa, saying: “Venerable Sir, teach this Saṃyutta Nikāya, the sayings of the Bhagavā, to the pupils who come to you for instruction.”

Then the Council approved the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the Collection of Graduated Discourses, after the usual questioning, and answering, which took 120 recitals. Then they entrusted the approved version of the text to the Venerable Anuruddha, saying: “Venerable Sir, teach this Aṅguttara Nikāya to the pupils who come to you for instruction.”

Then the Council approved the seven books of Abhidhamma, namely, the Dhammasaṅgaṇī, the Vibhaṅga, the Dhātukathā, the Puggala paññatti, the Kathāvatthu, the Yamaka and the Paṭṭhāna, after the usual questionings, answerings, and recitals. At the end of the recital of these Abhidhamma texts the great earth quaked violently as before.

Then the Council recited: the Jātaka, the Niddesa, the Paṭisambhidā Magga, the Apādāna, the Sutta Nipāta, the Khuddakapāṭha, the Dhammapada, the Udāna, the Itivuttaka, the Vimānavatthu, the Petavatthu, the Theragātha, and the Therīgāthā, after the usual questioning and answering. These thirteen Books collectively were called the Khuddaka Nikāya, the Collection of assorted compilations.

According to the bhikkhu-elders who had memorized the Dīgha Nikāya, it was said: “The Khuddaka Nikāya was recited and approved along with the Abhidhamma Piṭaka.” But according to the bhikkhu-elders who had memorized the Majjhima Nikāya, these 13 books, together with the Buddhavaṃsa and the Cariya Piṭaka, making 15 books altogether, were named as the Khuddaka Nikāya and are classified as the Suttanta Piṭaka, (These statements are based on the Commentary on the Sīlakkhandha. A Bhāṇavāra or a ‘recital’ is the length of time that took to recite a piece of the text, which by our modern clock time, would be about half an hour. The naming of the principal bhikkhu-elders, namely, the Venerable Mahā Kassapa, the Venerable Upāli and the Venerable Ānanda, in their respective offices, are on record in the Vinaya Cūlavagga Pañcasatikakkhandhaka.)

Thus the Venerable Ānanda was a principal bhikkhu in the First Council, in answering most competently all the questions concerning the Dhamma which comprised the Suttanta Piṭaka and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka.

(This is the account of important role played by the Venerable Ānanda at the First Council.)

Footnotes and references:


“immerse your mind in Nibbāna” means “direct your mind to Nibbāna”——The Commentary.

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