Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How Teachings of the Buddha are preserved over 2500 years (Part 2)

Ashoka (Asoka) Pillar

Before we continue to Buddha’s teachings been documented in the Fourth Buddhist Council, let us go a little more to what had actually happened in the Third Buddhist Council. During the ruling of King Asoka (Ashoka) in India, there was a serious issue within the Sangha as a number of unworthy men who were greedy, faithless and held wrong views, infiltrated the order and caused the respect for the Sangha diminished. King Asoka put a solution to the matter by appointing the Elder, Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa to examine monks from different monasteries about the teachings of Buddha and those who held heretical views were expelled from the Sangha. After the reshuffle of the Sangha order, the Third Buddhist Council was called by Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa in order to ensure that the Dhamma was kept to the purest. At that time all the Three Baskets of the Vinaya, Sutta and Abhidhamma were recited and reconfirmed. King Asoka also ordered several missions of the Dhamma to be sent to the outlying areas of the Asoka Empire for disseminating the Buddha’s teachings to the respective local people in places, such as Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Gandhara (currently Pakistan and Afganistan), Greece, Himalayas and Suvannabhumi (currently Burma and Thailand).

Gandhāra (Sanskrit: गन्धार, Pashto:ګندهارا, Urdu: گندھارا Gandḥārā; also known as Waihind in Persian) is the name of
an ancient kingdom (Mahajanapada
located in
northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.

According to Buddhism history, there were two recorded Fourth Buddhist Councils. The first one was held in Sri Lanka in the 1st Century BCE. In this Fourth Buddhist council the Tipitaka was for the first time committed to writing on palm leaves after centuries been memorized and recited. The second one was held in Kashmir by the Sarvastivada school around the First Century AD.

The first Fourth Buddhist Council was held in Tambapanni (Sri Lanka) under the ruling of King Vattagamani. The main reason for holding this council was that the challenge for most of the monks to memorize and retain the entire Tipitaka, as a result passing down the complete could be a problem in the long run. Since the technique of documentation was available at that time, the best possible way to preserve the entire body of the Buddha’s teachings was to have them written down. In the council, Venerable Maharakkhita and five hundred monks recited the words of the Buddha and wrote them down on palm leaves. Later on, these palm leaves scriptures were taken to countries like Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

"Wars, famines and also the introduction of wrong beliefs
and wrong practice made it difficult to preserve the teachings.
Finally, in 89 B.C., the teachings were committed to writing.
Five hundred monks undertook this great enterprise
in the cave of Aluvihara (Alulena Vihara)...."

~ Nina van Gorkom (Pilgrimage in Sri Lanka) ~

The second Fourth Buddhist Council was believed held by the Kushan emperor Kanishka in Kashmir, about a century AD, however the adaptation of this council was not regarded as convincing in Theravada and all the scriptures compiled here can only be found in the Mahayana traditions. Emperor Kanishka gathered 500 monks to compile the commentaries on Sarvastivadin Abhidharma and produced an extensive compendium, known as the Maha-Vibhasha.

The Kushan Empire (c. 1st–3rd centuries CE)
was originally formed in the territories of ancient Bactria
either side of the middle course of the Oxus River or
Amu Darya
in what is now northern Afghanistan,
and southern Tajikistan and Uzbekistan

For more than 2500 years, the Buddha’s teachings were still well kept and utilised till today although it might not be a full record of all His words. What we could get today is the essence that was commonly agreeable by all the members from the First Buddhist Council which was held 3 months after Buddha left. So His 45 years of teachings could be more complex and more absolute back in those days compared to what we have today are just the extracts from the previous council members’ memory, upon agreeable.

Tradition holds that the First Council was held in a hall erected
by Ajatasattu
outside the
Sattapanniguha Cave
Sanskrit: Sattaparnaguha) in Rajgir,
three months after the Buddha
had died.
Detailed accounts of the council can be found in

the Khandhaka sections of the canonical Vinayas.

is a city and a notified area in
Nalanda district
in the Indian state of Bihar.The city of Rajgir (ancient Rajagriha or
Rājagṛha; Pali
: Rājagaha)
was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha
a state that
would eventually evolve
into the Mauryan

Less we forget, the Buddha’s teachings are all about challenging one to put everything one experiencing into question and test before accepting them as a direction of practice. People are encouraged by the Buddha not to simply believe everything he said to be true. As much as we know the Tipitaka or the Pali canon only offers as a valuable guidance towards ultimate truth, it is important to exercise our analytical wisdom for reasoning the truth rather than merely trusting in what the suttas and the scriptures documented.

In Kalama Sutta, Buddha cited:
Do not go upon
what has been acquired by repeated hearing;

nor upon faith or tradition;
nor upon rumour;
nor upon what is in a scripture;
nor upon mere logical reasoning;
nor upon mere philosophical reasoning;
nor upon mere outward appearance;
nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over;
nor upon another’s seeming ability;
nor upon the consideration, “The monk is our teacher”.

But whatever, after due examination and analysis, you yourselves directly know, “These things are wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise; when adopted and carried out, they are benefit and lead to well-being, prosperity and happiness,” then you should accept and practise them.

In this sutta, Gautama Buddha passes through
the village of Kesaputta (in ancient Kurukshetra state and
presently known as Haryana state in India) and is greeted
by the people who live there: the Kalamas.
The Kalamas greet the Buddha and ask for advice.
According to the Kalamas, many wandering holy men
and ascetics pass through the village,
expounding their teachings and criticizing others'.
The Kalamas ask the Buddha whose teachings they should follow.
In response, he delivered a sutta that serves as
an entry-point to Buddhist beliefs to
those unconvinced by revelatory experiences.
~ Raj Kumar Oshora
(Lord Buddha: The Greatest Son of India
and World Peace Emblem) ~

Samurai Beng, the Dhamma warrior

In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha)   The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching   Buddha's Teachings [With Headphones] (Playaway Adult Nonfiction)