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fjosif - Meetup
Brief History of
Early Buddhism
From The Buddha’s enlightenment
to the great schism.
This is an attempt to get everyone on the
‘same page’. I would like to provide an outline
of what happened to the Buddhist religion
from the time of Buddha’s enlightenment to
the great schism.
I will also introduce several terms and
concepts that will be important for our
broader discussion.
From Siddhartha to Buddha
Scholars and believers disagree about the actual
dates that Siddhartha Gautama lived. Some say he
was born in 563 BCE (Before Common Era), while
others say 624 BCE. Recent scholarship places his
birth in 490 BCE
What is known is that he was born a prince and lived
in his father’s palace during his younger years. On a
trip outside the palace he saw what are known as
the four sights of an old man, an ill man, a dead
man, and a monk. After, he leaves his wife and son
and the palace to seek spiritual enlightenment.
Siddhartha attains enlightenment…
After years of asceticism, Siddartha achieves
enlightenment after meditating under a Ficus
tree. From this point forward he is known as
Buddha, or “awakened one”.
After his enlightenment, Gautama Buddha
wandered for a short while before he
encountered five of his former spiritual friends
he had during his ascetic days at Deer Park
in Sarnath, near Varnasi. He decides to teach
them the path to enlightenment.
The Buddha teaches…
During this first discourse, the Buddha
teaches the Middle Way, the Four Noble
Truths, and the Eightfold Path.
The Buddha continued to teach until his
death at the age of eighty years old.
Upon his death he said to have entered
What Now?
Three months after the Buddha died the First
Buddhist Council was convened.
The meeting was called by Elder
Mahakassapa in response to his fear that
Dhamma and the Vinaya would be corrupted
and not survive in tact if monks were free to
interpret them in any way they choose.
Ananda, close disciple to the Buddha, was
not allowed to participate if he did not reach
Arahanthood before the council convened;
luckily for us all he did…the night before.
First Buddhist Council
During the First Buddhist Council, the group of 500
Arahants formalized the Vinaya. This is the
regulatory framework for the Buddhist Monastic
After, Mahakassipa turned his attention to Ven.
Ananda and the Dhamma, or teachings of the
Ven. Ananada had memorized all of the discourses,
or teachings, of the Buddha.
Thus, the Dhamma was codified and approved.
*It should be noted that some scholars deny that the 1st council actually took
Ven. Ananda
reciting the Sutta
Pitaka at the
First Buddhist
Second Buddhist Council
This council was convened about 100 years
after Buddha’s death. It was called in
response to schisms that arose within the
monastic community.
The dispute arose over the violation of Ten
Points, or rules within the Vinaya.
The main issue was the use of ‘gold and
silver’. Some monks began wandering for
alms with the main intention of collecting
Second Buddhist Council
Before the Buddha's Parinirvana he told
Ven. Ananda that the community may (unanimously)
relinquish the minor rules of the Vinaya but at
the First Buddhist Council there was uncertainty
about which rules he was referring to and it was
unanimously decided to keep the Vinaya as it was
during the Buddha's lifetime. However, 100 years
later some monks felt that certain rules could be
The Second Buddhist Council made the unanimous
decision not to relax any of the rules, and censured
the behavior of the monks who were accused of
violating the ten points.
First Great Schism
Many scholars assert that
the schism, or split,
occurred between the 2nd
and 3rd Buddhist Councils.
Most likely the split was
over monastic discipline.
It is believed that the split
was between the
Sthaviravada and the
First Sangha
Third Buddhist Council
The Third Buddhist Council was convened in
about 250 BCE under the patronage of
Emperor Asoka.
It was presided over by Elder Moggaliputta
Tisa, and was convened to put an end to
corruption in the Sangha and to rid it of
heretical views.
Third Buddhist Council
Large numbers of faithless, greedy men
espousing wrong views tried to join the order
but were deemed unfit for ordination.
Despite this they seized the chance to exploit
the Emperor's generosity for their own ends
and donned robes and joined the order
without having been ordained properly.
Consequently, respect for the Sangha
Third Buddhist Council
According to the Pali and Chinese accounts, the
Elder Moggaliputta Tissa, in order to refute a
number of heresies and ensure the Dhamma was
kept pure, compiled a book during the council called
the Kathavatthu.
This book consists of twenty-three chapters, and is a
collection of discussions on the points of
controversy. It gives refutations of the 'heretical'
views held by various Buddhist sects on matters
The Kathavatthu is the fifth of the seven books of
the Abhidhamma Pitaka.
Buddhist Missionaries
One of the most significant
achievements ascribed by
Theravada tradition to this
Dhamma assembly and one
which was to bear fruit for
centuries to come, was the
Emperor's sending forth of
monks, well versed in the
Buddha's Dhamma and Vinaya
who could recite all of it by
heart, to teach it in nine
different countries.
Another Consequence of the 3rd CouncilTheravada Buddhism
The Theravāda school is
ultimately derived from
the Vibhajjavāda (or
"doctrine of analysis")
grouping which was a
continuation of the
older Sthavira (or
"teaching of the Elders")
group at the time of
the Third Buddhist
Council around 250 BC,
during the reign of
Emperor Asoka in India.
Origin of Theravada Buddhism
Vibhajjavadins saw themselves as the
continuation of orthodox Sthaviras and after the
Third Council continued to refer to their school
as the Sthaviras/Theras ('The Elders'), their
doctrines were probably similar to the older
Sthaviras but were not completely identical.
All of these early schools are known as the
Eighteen Schools of Nikayan Buddhism.
Unfortunately, only the Theravada tradition
survives today.
Theravada Region
Between the 3rd and 4th Buddhist Councils
The Pudgalavāda or "Personalist" school
of Buddhism broke off from the orthodox
Sthaviravāda (elders) school around 280
The Sthaviravādins interpreted the doctrine of
anatta to mean that, since there is no true
"self", all that we think of as a self (i.e., the
subject of sentences, the being that
transmigrates) is merely the
aggregated skandhas.
Sammitiya School
This group later became known as
the Sammitīya school, after one of its
subdivisions, though it died out around the
9th or 10th century CE. Nevertheless, during
most of the early medieval period, the
Sammitīya school was numerically the largest
Buddhist group in India, with more followers
than all the other schools combined.
Some of this schools doctrines will later be
adopted by the Mahayana tradition.
Sautrantika School
50 BCE to 100 CE
Another group linked to Sarvāstivāda was
the Sautrāntika school, which only
recognized the authority of the sutras and
rejected the Abhidharma transmitted and
taught by the Vaibhāsika wing of
Heading into the Common Era
Between the 1st century BCE and the 1st
Century CE, the terms Mahayana and
Hinayana were first used in writing, in, for
example, the Lotus Sutra.
By this time Buddhism has reached all of
India, Sri Lanka, China, and is encroaching
upon S.E. Asia.
To be continued…in the meeting
We will take off from this point, and start from
the most significant schism in Buddhism that
resulted in the Theravada, or Nikaya,
Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism.
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