03: The First Council

First Dhamma Sangayana

WHEN the Conqueror the incomparable, he who has the five eyes ((The five eyes possessed by the Buddha ara the bodily eyes (mamsacakkhu), the heavenly eye (dibba ) by which he sees everything that comes to pass in the universe, the eye of understanding (knowledge), the eye of omniscience, and finally the Buddha-eye by means of which he beholds the saving truth.)), had lived eighty-four years and had fulfilled all his duties in the world, in all ways, then at Kusinara ((Kusinara: A town of the clan of the Mallas, in the territory of the present Nepal.)) in the holy place between the two sala-trees ((sala-trees: Shorea Robusta.)), on the full-moon day of the month Vesakha, was the light of the world extinguished.

Beyond all reckoning in numbers, did bhikkhus assemble there and khattiyas and brahmans, vessas and suddas, and gods likewise. Seven hundred thousand leading bhikkhus were among them, the thera Mahakassapa was at that time the samghatthera.

When he had performed all rites due to the (dead) body of the Master and the bodily relics, the great thera, desiring that the doctrine of the Master might long endure, did, seven days after the Lord of the World, gifted with the ten powers ((On the dasa balani, ten kinds of knowledge, peculiar to a Buddha, see KERN, Manual of Indian Buddhism, p. 62 ; CHILDERS, P.D)., s.v. balam.)), had passed into nibanna, bethinking him of the evil words of the aged Subhadda ((Vuddha = vuddhapabbajita ‘who had not become a monk till he was old ‘. On the speech of Subhadda, see C.V. XL 1. 1 = Vin. PH. ii. 284. KERN, I I, pp. 101-102.)) and also bethinking him that he (the Master) had given him his garment ((The Buddha gave his garment to Kassapa. On the second saram depend civaradanam ‘the giving of the robe’, and samatte thapanam ‘putting on a footing of equality ‘, and then further anuggaham katam and anumatim satim (Acc. Si. F. of Part. Pres. of atthi). Cf. Mah. ed., pp. xxx and li.)), and had (thereby) made him equal with himself, and (bethinking him) that the Sage had commanded the establishing of the holy truth, and (lastly) that the Sambuddha’s consent existed to make a compilation of the holy dhamma ((Katum saddhammasamgitim. Cf. the note on 3. 17.))appointed to this end five hundred eminent bhikkhus, who had overcome the asavas ((Khinasava ‘one in whom the four asavas are extinct’ is the epithet of an arahant. On asava, see RHYS DAVIDS, Dialogues of the Buddha, i. 92 ; ii. 28.)), repeaters of the ninefold doctrine and versed in all its separate parts; but there was one less (than five hundred) because of the thera Ananda ((A place must be kept for Ananda.)). And the thera Ananda also, again and again entreated by the bhikkhus, resolved to (join with them in) that compilation of the dhamma, for it was not possible without him.

When these theras, pitiful toward the whole world, had passed half a month seven days in the funeral ceremonies and seven in homage of the relics and had resolved thus: ‘Spending the rainy season in Rajagaha, we will make a compilation of the dhamma, no other (monks) must be permitted to dwell there’; and when they had made their pilgrimage over Jambudipa ((The continent of India.)), consoling here and there the sorrowing people, they, moved with desire that the good might long endure ((A play upon the word sukkapakkha, used in the sense, ‘bright half of the month,’ and also ‘ pure, holy side or party ‘.)), betook them in the bright half of the month Asalha to Rajagaha, (the city) richly provided with the four things needful ((The four pace ay a of a bhikkhu are clothing, food given as alms, a dwelling-place, and medicines.)).

After the theras, with Mahakassapa at the head, unwavering in virtue, familiar with the thought of the Sambuddha, had arrived at that place to spend the rainy season there, they busied themselves during the first of the rain-months with repairing all the dwellings, when they had announced this to Ajatasattu.

When the repair of the vihara was finished they said to the king: ‘Now we will hold the council.’ ((Dhammasamgiti is the term for assembly of the church, council. The original meaning is general recitation of the canonical texts which, indeed, takes place in an assembly of the church and in the following manner : an eminent thera recites the texts sentence by sentence and the assembly repeats them after him in chorus. In this way dhammasamgiti is connected with dhammasamgaha, by which we understand a settling or redaction of the canonical texts, which also can only be carried out in the manner stated. Comp. J.P.T.S. 1909, pp. 31, 32.)) To the question, ‘What should be done?’ they answered: ‘A place (should be provided) for the meetings.’ When the king had asked: ‘Where (these were to be)?’ and the place had been pointed out by them, he with all speed had a splendid hall built by the side of the Vebhara Rock by the entrance of the Sattapanni grotto, (and it was) like to the assembly-hall of the gods. When it was adorned in every way he caused precious mats to be spread according to the number of the bhikkhus. Placed on the south side and facing the north a lofty and noble seat was prepared for the thera, and in the middle of the hail a high seat was prepared for the preacher ((Therasana is the seat for the president, who directs the assembly; dhammasana the same for the monk who recites, the word uttama is to be taken literally.)), facing the east and worthy of the blessed (Buddha) himself.

So the king bade them tell the theras: ‘My work is finished,’ and the theras addressed the thera Ananda, the joy-bringer:

‘To-morrow, Ananda, the assembly (comes together); it behoves thee not to take part in it since thou art still preparing thee (for the highest state) (( Still a sekha, i.e. not an arahant, who has reached the highest degree. This is preceded by seven grades of preparation ; he who is still at one of these is sekha ‘a learner’. See J.P.T.S. 1909, p. 217.)), therefore strive thou, unwearied in good.’ Thus spurred on, the thera put forth due effort and reached the state of an arahaut without being confined to any one of the four postures ((Lit. fiee from the iriyapatha; the four postures of an ascetic are understood here. They are described as: standing, sitting, walking, lying down. Ananda became an arahant at the moment when he was on the point of lying down.)).’

On the second day of the second month of the rainy season the bhikkhus met together in that splendid hail. Leaving a fitting place vacant for Ananda, the arahants seated themselves on chairs, according to their rank. The thera Ananda, to make known to them that he had reached the state of an arahant, went not with them thither. But when some asked: Where is the thera Ananda? he took the seat prepared for him, rising out of the ground or passing through the air ((Lit. ‘ the path of the light.’ Ananda shows that he can use the miraculous powers particular to an arahant.)).

Together the theras chose the thera Upali to speak for ((Lit. ‘as burden bearer for.’ Cf. B.R., Skt. Wib., s.v. dhuramdhara (4).)) the vinaya, for the rest of the dhamma ((The vinaya contains the rules of monastic discipline, the dhamma the dogmatic teaching. )) they chose Ananda. The great thera (Mahakassapa) laid on himself (the task) of asking questions touching the vinaya and the thera Upali (was ready) to explain it.

Sitting in the thera’s chair, the former asked the latter the questions touching the vinaya; and Upali, seated in the preacher’s chair, expounded (the matter). And as this best master of the vinaya expounded each (clause) in turn all (the bhikkhus) knowing the custom, repeated the vinaya after him.

Then the thera (Mahakassapa) taking (the task) upon himself questioned concerning the dhamma, him (( I. e. Ananda.)) the chief of those who had most often heard (the word), him the treasurekeeper ((Kosarakkha, according to the Tika = dhammabhandagarika, i.e. treasurer of the truth or the true doctrine.)) of the Great Seer (the Buddha); and the thera Ananda, taking (the task) upon himself, taking his seat in the preacher’s chair, expounded the whole dhamma. And all the (theras) knowing all that was contained in the doctrine repeated the dhamma in turn after the sage of the Videha country.

Thus in seven months was that compiling of the dhamma to save the whole world completed by those (theras) bent on the whole world’s salvation. ‘The thera Mahakassapa has made the blessed Buddha’s message to endure five hundred years,’ rejoicing in this thought, at the end of the council, the earth encircled by the ocean trembled six times and many wondrous signs were shown in the world in many ways. Now since the canon was compiled by the theras it was called the Thera tradition ((The oldest account of the First Council is contained in the C.V. XI (OLDENBERG, the Vin. Pit. ii, p. 284 foll.) ; Vinaya Texts, iii (S.B.E. xx), p. 370 foll.)). The theras who had held the First Council and had (thereby) brought great blessing to the world, having lived their allotted span of life, entered, all, into nibbana.

Also the theras who have overcome darkness with the light of insight, those great shining lights in the conquest of the world’s darkness, have been extinguished by the dread tempest of death. Therefore will the wise man renounce the joy of life.

Here ends the third chapter, called ‘The First Council’, in the Mahavamsa, compiled for the serene joy and emotion of the pious.

One Response to “03: The First Council”

  1. jyoti mishraon 25 Nov 2011 at 10:53 pm

    thanks. this website is very useful for pali students.

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