Council of Rājagṛha

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The Council of Rājagṛha.often called the ‘First Council’, is reported to have been held at Rājagṛha in the year of the Buddha's death with the objective of establishing the canon or at least two of its three divisions or ‘baskets’ (piṭaka). These include the collection of the Buddha's discourses or sermons (sūtra/sutta) and the material relating to the organization and history of the order (Vinaya). A senior monk.Kaśyapa, was charged with supervising the convocation made up of 500 Arhats. He called upon Ānanda (who reportedly gained enlightenment during the proceedings of the council) to recite the Buddha' discourses, and Upāli to recite the rules of the Vinaya. Their utterances were accepted as accurate and decreed as constituting the content of the orthodox canon from that time on. It may be noted that the word translated as ‘council’ in this context is the Pāli word saṇgīti, which in fact means a ‘communal recitation’ of the kind that took place here. The early Buddhist ‘councils’, accordingly, should not be thought of as similar to their early Christian counterparts, which were usually convened to settle dogma. Modern research has cast serious doubts on the historicity of the traditional account of the First Council. In particular it is clear from internal evidence that the canon did not receive its final form until many years later, so it could not have been fixed at the early date the report claims. Most probably this claim was a device to retrospectively legitimize certain later literature as canonical.

Subjects: Buddhism.

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