Buddhist Councils: Means and Ends for Clarity and Revitalization

Tanka Prasad Pokharel


Buddhism is continuously refined and evolved through practices, conventions and councils. Buddhist councils are very less often talked topic about Buddhism. What Buddhist councils are, when they were held and what their significance were, are some of the areas this article tries to impart some light on.This article examines the history of Buddhist councils and synods from the early gatherings after the demise of the Buddha to the 4th Buddhist Council in the 1st century (though there have been six such councils held). These events followed a role-model, defined by the first three councils, of creating and handing down an authoritative version of the Buddha's teachings (dhamma) while they could also lead to a ‘purification’ of the monks' order (sangha) if monks sticking to divergent textual traditions were expelled from the sangha. Despite their importance, however, councils have received rather little attention in scholarly literature. This article takes a fresh look at Buddhist synods with a focus on those convened since the Mahaparinirvana of Buddha. It explores how the latter sought to comply with inherited forms and functions, while at the same time becoming innovative in order to adapt Buddhism to its modern environment.

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