The Buddhist Councils marked important turning points in the history of Buddhism. These councils were aimed at conserving the sanctity and spread of Buddhism in the world. Six Buddhist Councils were held in total and each of the Council has some specificity with regards to the religion.
The six Buddhist Councils are described as follows:
- First Council: It was held in 483 BC in Sattapani cave at Rajgriha under the patronage of Ajatashatru. The president of the council was Mahakassappa. The council was held soon after the death of the Buddha and it was at this council that the teachings of Buddha were divided into three categories or baskets (Pitaka) which are discourses, discipline, and higher knowledge. Sutta Pitaka is a collection of Buddha’s sermons written by Ananda. Vinaya Pitaka is a collection of rules of the order recited by Upali.
- Second Council: This council was held under Kalasoka at Vaishali in 383 BC under the presidentship of Sabbakami. The objective of the council was to settle the debate on certain practices of the Buddhist monks ,especially in Western India. The divisions that emerged were Sthaviravadins and Mahasanghikas. The group who stayed called themselves the Elders (Thera in Pali) and they felt that they were keeping in with the original spirit of the Buddha’s teachings. The other group were the Great Community (Mahasanghikas in Sanskrit). They felt that the Buddha’s teachings should be interpreted more liberally. Thus, these groups developed into Theravada and Mahayana.
- Third Council: The third council was held under the patronage of King Ashoka at Patliputra. Mogaliputta-Tissa was the president of the council and the objective was to purify the Buddhist movement from opportunistic factions. Theravada school originated in this council and Tripitaka was coded in Pali language. Buddhist missionaries were sent to other countries for the spread of the religion.
- Fourth Council: Held in 1st century CE at Kashmir under the patronage of King Kanishka. The president of the council was Vasumitra. Buddhism got divided into the Hinayana and the Mahayana sect.
- Fifth Council: The council was held in 1871 in Mandalay, Burma under King Mindon. It was presided over by Jagarabhivamsa, Narindhabhidhaja and Sumangalasami. 729 stone slabs were engraved with the Buddhist teachings during the council.
- Sixth Council: At Kaba Aye, Burma in 1954, the fourth Buddhist Council was held under the patronage of the Burma government and presided over by Prime Minister U Nu. Commemoration of 2500 years of Buddhism was done at this council.
The Councils served as the pillars for protecting, purifying, and spreading the teachings of Buddhism in the world.