Dipavamsa (study)

by Sibani Barman | 2017 | 55,946 words

This page relates ‘first Buddhist Council’ of the study on the Dipavamsa conducted by S. Barman in 2017. The Dipavamsa is the base material of the Vamsa literatures of Ceylon (Srilanka or Sri-Lanka) writtin the Pali language.

Chapter 2b - The first Buddhist Council

The Dīpavaṃsa gives a vivid description of the first Council. Buddhists of all schools are unanimous that the First Great Council (Paṭhama Mahāsaṃgīti) was held immediately after the Mahāparinibbāna of the Buddha.It is reasonably accepted that as soon as the cremation of the Master was over his disciples took immediate steps to collect his teachings to preserve the purity of the Dhamma. The texts dealing in the account of the First Council widely differ. The tradition preserved in the 11th Khandaka of the Cullavaggahas been accepted as authoritative. Among the extra canonical works the Dīpavaṃsa and Mahāvaṃsa written in Pāli are taken as reliable.

Causes for convening the Council:

It is asserted in the Cullavagga that one day, while Mahākasspa was on his journey from Pāvā to Kusinārā with five hundred monks, a naked ascetic of the Ājivīka sect met him on the way who gave him the news of the decease of the Master, which happened seven days ago. The news had different effects on different listners. Majority of them burst in tears as soon as they heard the news. But one thera named Subhadda, who had become a member of the Saṃgha in his old age, is overjoyed over the news. He adviced the others to refrain from expressing grief and called upon them to take the incidence as a relief. The Master always treated them as school boys, used to advice them “this beseems you, this beseems you not” and rebuked them for their improper behaviour. Now they are free to do whatever they like. This irreverent remark pained Mahākassapa deeply and made him alert of the coming danger for the purity and safety of the Saṃgha and the Dhamma preached by the Master.

According to Mahāvaṃsa, Mahākassapa received the garment of the Master after his demise and was recognisd by the Master himself as a leading person of the Saṃgha. Kassapa was determined to fulfil the Master’s command. He felt necessity for convening a council.

The words of Subhadda are taken as the immediate cause for holding the First Council. The sources of the Mahīsāsakas, Dharmaguptas, the Mahāsaṅghikas, Sudarśana Vinaya- Vibhāṣaand the Vinaya Matrika Suttra are in agreement with Cullavagga XI.

It is ‘Subhadraka Mahallaka’ in the Sudarsana Vinaya Vibhāsa and only Mahallaka in the Mahasanghika Vinaya. The Sarvastivadin Vinaya refers to an old and uncultured Bhikkhu without mentioning the name.

The sources in the Dīpavamsa and Dharmaguptika ignore the incidence of Subhadda.But it has been referred in the Mahāvaṃsa along with other causes.

The account in the Tibetan Dulva and also that of Yuan Chwang state that, not only Subhadda but there were other persons who gave expression to the same outburst. According to Mahāvastu, Mahākassapa stated that the Tirthikas (heretics), would take advantage of the Master’s passing away and find faults in the doctrine which has to be protested. So, it is the public sentiment of doubt and anxiety that necessiated Mahākassapa to bring a resolution for convening the council.


As regards the place of the First Council there is some dispute.

According to Cullavagga, the town of Rājagṭha was selected for the meeting of the council as it was richly provided with the four needfull things (catupaccyā). But it does not mention the exact spot of the assembly.

The later Pāli documents like Samantapāsādikā, Dīpavaṃsaand Mahāvaṃsa said that the council was held near the Sattapaṇṇi cave of Rājagṭha. Dīpavaṃsa clearly said that, at the entrance of the Sattapaṇṇa cave, in the Magadha town Giribbaja (Rājagaha), the first council was finished after seven months.Mahāvaṃsa also said of a splendid hall by the side of the Vebhāra rock by the entrance of the Saptapaṇṇi gūhā and that a pandal was erected at the instance of King Ajātasattu outside this cave. Mahāvastu, the Lokattarovādin Vinaya places the venue on the northern side of the Mount Vebhāra or Vaibhāra. However, the name of King Ajātasattu is not mentioned in the Cullavagga.

In the Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra of the Chinese sources, it is said that the synod was held at Kusīnagara but it is not mentioned in other traditions.

In Aswaghosha’s account, the Indrasālā cave of Mount ‘Gṭdhrakūṭa’ is mentioned as the meeting place. Dharmagupta sect considers the hermitage of the Bamboo forest (Veluvana) on the Mountain Gṭdhrakūṭa in the town of Rājagṭha.In the Tibetan Dūlvaor Vinaya Khṣudrakavastu it is supposed to have been taken place in the Nyagrodha cave. The Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya refers to the Kṣatriya mountain of Rājaṭha as the main spot of the meeting.

There is no dispute about the fact that it is at Rājagṭha the First Council met. The question arises why Rājagṭha was selected for the council.It was evidently selected because, it was the then capital of Magadha where the councilors could find sufficient shelter and refuge, the accomodation was plentiful and there was no difficulty about supplies. The Tibetan Dulva emphasizes that King Ajātasattu was a firm believer in Buddhism and that he would, therefore, make ample provision for food and lodge.The site of the cave, however, has not yet been definitely identified.

According to Dr. Sumangal Barua the mention of Veluvana and Gṭdhrakūṭa in other sources is due to the fact that Sattapaṇṇī gūhā was not enough for the accomodation of five hundred Bhikkhus to pass the three months of Vassāvāsa.It may be the fact that, the boundary (sīmā) of the venue was surrounded by the five mountains of Rājagṭha.However all the Vinayas agree that the council was convened at Rājagṭha.


The date of First Council is universally fixed in the first year of the Buddha’s Mahāparinibbāna during the first rainy season. Cullavagga states that the actual session was held during the middle month of the retreat of the monsoon.

The Dīpavaṃsa clearly states that after the lapse of three months of the Mahāparinibbāna of the Buddha, that is to say, at the fourth month and the second beginning of the rainy season Kassapa started collection of the Dhamma (Dhammasaṃgaha).

The Dharmagupta, Haimavata and Mahāsaṅghika Vinayas state that the council was held a short time after the decease of the Lord.

This is based on the tradition that the lord passed away into Nibbāna on the full moon day of the Vaishākha. Mahāvaṃsa speaks of that the theras under the leadership of Mahākassapa spent seven days in the funeral ceremonies and seven days more in the homage of the relics. After that they decided to spend the rainy season in Rājagṭha in order to make a compilation of the Dhamma. They reached Rājagṭha in the bright half of the month of Āsāḷha. After spending first month of the rainy season in repairing the dwelling place they announced to the King Ajātasattu to hold the council.

Mahīsāsaka and Sarvāstivādin texts placed the events in the rainy season following the Buddha’s death, which coincides with the Theravādins.

Major Participants:

It is generally accepted that the number of monks selected was five hundred, neither less nor more. Mahākassapa was no doubt the president of the assembly.

The Chinese pilgrim Yuan Chwang States that, the number of selected monks was one thousand and the other sources make it three thousand. The Dharmagupta Vinaya says that the monks who were assembled on the occassion and were present at the place of Mahāparinibbāna of the Buddha at Kushinagar were choosen for the purpose.

According to Dīpavaṃsa the selection was made by vote. Among seven–hundred thousand Bhikkhus, who had assembled at the invitation of Mahākassapa, the chief of the assembly and the exponent of the Dhutanga precept, only five hundred Bhikkhus were elected. The great congregation elected five hundred numbers of monks after proper investigation and consideration. Upāli and Ānanda took leading part in deciding all questions relating to the Dhamma and the Vinaya.

The Dīpavaṃsa gives a vivid description of the participants. It is asserted that, the Bhikkhus who were present at the council were the original depositaries of the Dhamma and all of them had reached perfection in the doctrine. Kassapa was the chief propounder of the Dhūtavāda precept. Ānanda was first among the learned (bahussūttānam i.e. in many sūttas). Upāli was chief in Vinaya. Anuruddha in the supernatural vision (dibbacakkhu), Vañgīsa in promptly comprehending (paṭibhānabā), Puṇṇa among the preachers of the Dhamma (Dhammakathikānaṃ), Kumāra kassapa among the student of various tales (Vicitrakathī), Kaccāna in establishing distinction (Vibhajjanaṃ), Kaṭṭhita in analytical knowledge (paṭisaṃbhidā). Besides, there were many other Bhikkhus who were original depositories of the Dhamma. Collection of the Dhamma and of the Vinaya and other duties were done by these Theras.

They composed the collection of the Dhamma by consulting learned Ānanda and the whole Vinaya by consulting Upāli.As, it was colleted by the ‘Theras’, it is called ‘Doctrine of the Theras’ or ‘Therevāda’. Both these, Thera Upāli and Ānanda had learned the Dhamma and Vinaya from the Lord himself and obtained perfection in the true doctrine. Having received the perfect word of the Buddha they were able to explain the sūttas perfectly, what had been taught in the long expositions and also without exposition, the natural meaning as well as the complex meaning. Being the first among the teachers and being the best among the doctrines and being the first collection of the original depositeries of the Faith, this doctrine of the Theras is called the first or primitive doctrine and remained pure and faultless for a long time.

It is assumed that Mahākassapa was the president of the First council. But according to the Sarvāstivādin, Mūla-Sarvāativādin and Mahīsāsaka Vinayas, Ajñāta Kauṇḍanya was the leading personage.The Mahīsāsaka, the Dharmagupta and the Mahāsaṅghika Vinayas mention the list of senior monks with their ranks who participated in the council namely, Ajñāta Kauṇḍanya, Purāṇa, Dharmika, Daśabala, Kaśyapa, Bhadrakasyapa, Mahākaśyapa, Upāli and Anuruddha.

The Cullavagga does not give any clear description of the manner of selection.It gives only the names of the three leading monks.

Most of the scholars give little historic value to the number of participants.Przlusky thinks that the qualifications of the participants were added later, changing gradually from an emphasis on senirioty to the possesion of merit e.g. arahatship etc.

Problems centering inclusion of Ānanda:

Ānanda was one of the first cousins of Lord Buddha. He was the personal attendant, the most intimate companion and followed him like a shadow till his final decease.He was the only monk who heard almost all the sermon of the Buddha. He could recite the Dhamma in its complete form. The narrative on the council of the Cullavagga, Khandaka XI, is devoted to Ānanda as the vital figure.

A great dispute arose regarding the inclusion of Ānanda in the number of councillors. It was because; he had not attained Arhathood which was a necessary qualification for the members to be included in the council. Due to his faithful service to the Lord that Ānanda was never able to practice the Buddhist teachings to perfection, when the Master was alive.

In the Cullavagga, it is stated that the assembled monks strongly pleaded for Ānanda to be included in the council, because, he was the only monk who heard practically all the sermons of the Buddha and of the high moral standard he had reached. Initially Kassapa was unwilling to admit Ānanda in the council but at last he agreed to admit him. The presence of Ānanda in the congregation was indispensable. Ānanda had been described as ‘bahuśruta’ in many texts.

After that, Ānanda whole heartedly applied all of his energy (viriya) and put complete end to his defilements (āsavas).He reached the state of purity by becoming Khināsava, i.e, Arahat. After attaining arhathood, the manner, how Ānanda entered into the synod has been described differently in different texts.Sumaṅgalavilāsinī describes that; Ānanda was shining like a fullmoon in a cloudless night, like a lotus blooming in the sunlight and his face was pure and radiant. According to Samantapāsādikā, Ānanda did not go with the monks. When they started talking about the empty seat reserved for Ānanda, considering that moment being the most suitable to enter, he appeared on his seat by air to show his psychic power.Dharmagupta Vinaya, Tibetan sources report that Ānanda sadly departed to Vrji (Vaisāli) and there he attained Arhatship after hard meditation.

Allegations against Ānanda:

According to early Pāli traditions Ānanda was call into question by the monks on several charges. In spite of his constant attendance to the Buddha and his scholarship, he was charged by Mahākassapa with a variety of offences and had to face a lot of criticism. Except Mahāvastu, this is referred in the traditional accounts of most of the sects.

Some scholars are of the opinion that it is needless to questioning Ānanda regarding his sins, especially when the main business of the council was over. Because attainment of Arahathood liberates a man from all fault he had committed.

The sins committed by Ānanda are differently portrayed in different texts.

1. The Cullavagga states that, at the time of Mahāparinibbāna, the Buddha had permitted his disciples to withdraw the lesser and minor precepts. Ānanda failed to ask the Blessed One clearly which were then the lesser and minor precepts (Khuddānukhuddaka Shikkhāpadāni). As a result the Saṅgha had to face a lot of problems in later times. The assembly was unable to identify the minor precepts which could be given up.

Ānanda explained that he was overhelmed with grief at the forthcoming death of the Master.

2. He stepped upon the garments of the Master while sewing it, as there was none to help him.

3. He allowed women first for the last vist of the body of the Master because he did not want to detain them. He also did this for their moral and intellectual upliftment. But the council thought, that the body of the Master had been defiled with their weeping tears.

4. He was charged why he did not request the Buddha to continue to live for one kalpa, when the Lord himself expressed such a wish. Ānanda told that he was under the influence of Māra, the evil one, who prevented him from requesting the Buddha to live long.

5. Ānanda was charged for advocating in favour of the admission of women into the order. The Buddha did not want to admit women into the Order with the thought that the Saṅgha may be in danger and hesitated to establish the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha. Yet, after repeated requests of Ānanda, the Lord admitted the women into the order on eight conditions or Aṭṭhagarudhammā which were laid down in the Vinaya Piṭaka [cf. Appendix 1].

Besides these five accusations mentioned in the Cullavagga, the Mahisāsakas mention one more and the Dharmaguptas, the Mahasaṅghikas and the Sarvastivādins add another two which were not found in the Pāli canon.

6. Ānanda failed to supply drinking water to the Buddha before his Parinibbāna though he had asked for it thrice. Ānanda replied that, at that moment they were five hundred waggons far from the river Kakustana and the water of the river was muddy.

7. The Mahīsāsakas and the Sarvāstivādin traditions mention that Ānanda exposed the private parts of the Buddha to men and women. His reply was that, he perforned it only to make men and women realise the unsubstantiality of the worldly objects.

According to Cullavagga the trial of Ānanda took place after the conclusion of the main purpose, whereas in the Dulvā it comes before his admission to the council.

Recitation of the Dhamma by Ānanda:

Ānanda started his lecture with the words—‘Thus have I heard (Evaṃ me sutam)’. This phrase as a whole is very significant. It is said that, ‘when Ānanda uttered “Evaṃ me sutaṃ”—the audience rose in the air and wept for they heard again the very words of their deceased Master. The phrase not only implies the hearsay report but bears the vibration of the Master himself through Ānanda’.

Like the Vinaya, Sutta was also collected with the mention of the occasion of the sermon and the person with reference to whom the preaching was given. Ānanda recited the Bramhajāla Sutta, Ambalaṭṭhikā Sutta and the Samaññaphala Sutta. In the same manner he was questioned through the five Nikāyas.

The different sources of Pāli, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese agree that Ananda recited the sutta in the First Council.

Buddhaghosa in his different commentaries explained the phrase ‘Evam me Sutam’. According to Jean Przlusky-‘the Master’s teachings had been transmitted orally and his immediate disciples recited the Buddhavacana in mnenonic form. To make the Master’s word clear, the Saṅgitikārakas added with them an oral commentery or “Artha”. ‘Thus have I heard’ emphasizes the codification of scriptures and systemizes the words of the Buddha. However the Dhamma is followed by Artha and the Suttas has been well recited by Ānanda.The Sūtras recited by Ānanda were approved by the council.

Brahmadaṇḍa applied on Channa:

Channa was the charioteer of the Buddha at the time of leaving the royal palace for ever, that is, on the day of his great renunciation (Mahābhinikkamana). The story of Channa has been described in the chapter XI of the Cullavagga. The last portion of the narration deals with Ānanda’s journey in search of Channa to apply the sentence of Bramhadaṅḍa (highest penalty) to him. Channa was very arrogant in nature. He loved the Buddha very much and was proud of the relation, which he had from the Buddha’s childhood. He wanted to get special attention from other members of the Saṅgha owing to his previous relation with the Master. This peculiar behaviour prevented him to carry out the ‘Sramaṇadharma’, and he failed to maintain a position of standard.As a result, the penalty of ‘Ukkhepaniya Kamma’-i.e. temporary suspension from the Saṅgha was decreed by the Master in his life time.Afterwards for his other offences, the Buddha told his disciples before the time of his parinibbāna to impose on him the Brahmadaṇḍa,-the highest penalty. No monk was allowed to keep any contact with him. It means a complete social boycott.

After the closure of the First Council, Ananda reminded the Saṅgha to impose Brahmadaṇḍa on Channa.

Ānanda was entrusted to carry out the operation of punishment. He went to meet the wives of the King Udena and had the conversation with this king on the way to Ghositārāma, a monastery of Kausāmbi where Channa was staying.When the sentence of Brahmadaṇḍa was announced to Channa, he was absolutely broken out of sorrow. He changed himself at once and entered into meditation and within a short time obtained the qualification of an Arhat. Once became Arahat the punishment automatically ceased to be effective.

Proceedings of the First Council:

The procedure followed at the council was very simple.

1. At first a committee consisting of five hundred monks was formed by the method of election under the leadership of Mahākassapa.

2. The place and time of holding the council were fixed.

3. The text of the Vinaya was settled under the leadership of Upāli and that of the Dhamma under the leadership of Ānanda.

4. The trial of Ānanda was done.

5. A particular sermon was confirmed with its place of promulgation.

6. Lesser and minor precepts were examined and necessary steps were taken.

7. The disciplinary action was taken against Channa.

The traditional sources of all concerned are unanimus that the initiative was taken by Mahākassapa and the entire business was conducted by him. The proceedings were adopted in a democratic way with approval of the councillors. The Theras took their seats according to their seniority.With the permission of the Saṅgha, the chairman of the council, Mahākassapa, asked questions to other two leading figures Upāli and Ānanda.

The Vinaya was recited first by Upāli as the Buddha-Sāsana stands totally on it. He was being asked by the questions related to the four Pārājikas with the introduction of the matter, the occasion, the individual concerned, the amendments and who would be the guilty as well as who would be the innocent of these Pārājikas, infliction and condemnation of punishment to the convicted person etc. In this way Saṅghādisesa, Aniyata, Pāṭidesaniyā, Nissaggiya Pācittiya, etc were recited.

The turn of Ānanda came next. The faults of Ānanda were talked about in the meeting.The Dulvā places the checking before the meeting of the council. Whereas, the Cullavagga and the Vinayas of the Mahīsāsakas and Mahāsaṅghikas state that’ Ānanda had to meet the charges after the recital of the Dhamma and the Vinaya. He was also questioned in the same manner through the five Nikāyas of the Sutta Piṭaka. The Suttas were also collected after questions with referrence to the ocassions and the the person or persons with reference to whom the preaching of the Buddha were given. The answers given by Ānanda settled the corpus of the Sutta-Piṭaka. Ānanda recited the Bramhajāla Sutta, Ambalaṭṭhikā Sutta and the Samaññaphala-Sutta.

Buddhaghosa in his introduction to Samanta-pāsādikā, the Aṭṭakathā of the Vinaya gives a detailed account of the constituent parts of the Vinaya and the Sutta-Piṭaka that were recited at the council.

The lesser and minor precepts were discussed in the meeting. Ānanda forgot to ask the Buddha which were the Khuddānukhuddaka precepts. So Mahākassapa with the permission of the Saṅgha made it a resolution that no precept would be invalidated.

The most important achievment of the First Council is the compilation of the Canon. Actually, the Master’s words were memorized orally. Different sects describe the narrative of the council in their own way keeping the basic facts unaltered. Przlusky calls the first assembly ‘Capitulor assembly’. Poussin remarks, this was a ‘Pātimokkha assembly’. Minayeff compares the reciters of the council with the members of Panchayats, as it were a tribunal to decide the charges against Ānanda and the imposition of Bramhadaṇḍa on Channa.

The sources of different traditions created problem regarding the authenticity of the council. Many texts have been written long time after the Parinibbāna of the Buddha. Theravāda Tripitaka was written for the first time, in the 1st century B.C. in Ceylon during the reign of the King Vaṭṭagāmani.

Mention of Abhidhamma Piṭaka was absent as a subject of discussion at the First Council.

Opinion against the dicisions of the Council:

The great Thera Purāṇa, one of the direct disciples of the Buddha, was absent in the First Council and was requested to agree with the results of the assembly. Purāṇa appreciated the recital well sung by the Theras, but he said that he believed only in the words of the Master which he directly heard from his mouth.. Cullavagga reports this episode very briefly and the effect of Purāṇa’s remark remains unknown to us.

According to Asokāvadana and Tibetan Dulvā, Gavampati and Purāṇa voted against the decisions of the Councils.Cullavagga and all other Theravāda sources do not mention Gavampati.

The Dulvā mentions that, Purāṇa had convoked a clergy by ringing a bell and there assembled five hundred monks just before Mahakassapa’s meeting. It was the duty of Aniruddha to servey the assembly and to see who were absent. He saw that Gavampati who was residing on a Siriīsa tree was absent. Purāṇa went there to invite him. But Gavampati refused the invitation. At the same time he felt sad thinking that there would be disputes and quarrels and the wheel of the doctrine will be turned back. Then, applying his supernatural power he consumed himself in a divine fire. Purāṇa returned to the assembly and presented them the bowl and cloak of Gavampati for funeral rites.

The Chinese versions of Dharmagupta and Mahīsāsaka Vinayas and the Vinayamātrika Sūtra have fully described this happening and Purāṇa has been mentioned as the most distinguished figure.

J. Przlusky and N.Dutt show that, Mahīsāsaka referred Purāṇa as one of the eminent teacher of that time.

Historical Authenticity of the First Council:

Prof. Oldenberg raised voice against the authenticity of the First Council. The irreverent remark of Subhadda is found in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, but there is no mention of the holding of the Council. Both Oldenberg and R.O.Frank draw the conclusion that the Vinaya description of the council was originally found in the Digha Nikaya (Mahaparinibbana Sutta), and the narrative has been borrowed from it.

In connection with Oldenberg, Rhys David observes that the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta was composd before the account of the First Council of Rājagṭha in the concluding part of Cullavagga. The author of the text was describing the death of the Master and not the history of the canon or of the Saṅgha.

Pousin does not accept the views of Oldenberg that the First Council to be unhistorical.The incident of the punishment of Bramhadaṇḍa to Channa had happened earlier to the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta. Thus according to Pousin, the Bramhadaṇḍa belongs to an earlier stage of the Buddhist Vinaya and the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta has been compiled in later time. He calls it an ‘enlarged Pātimokkha assembly’. Rockhill also rejects the view of Oldenberg.

Minayeff thinks that the episodes of Ānanda and Channa alone are historical.

J.Przyluski is of the opinion that “The council was not convened to codify the canon. It was only a capitular assembly’.

R.C. Mazumdar is of the opinion that the essentials of doctrine and discipline in nucleus form were already discussed in the First Council and as a result of which later well framed Tripitaka came into existence.

It may be concluded that the First Buddhist Council was held and Mahakassapa presided over the assembly in which Upali and Ananda took important part. Vinaya and Dhamma were recited by them. In no way, Abhidhamma-Pitaka was a subject of discussion at the First Council.

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