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Maha Kassapa

Posted by myanmarpedia on September 27, 2007

I. Immediate family of the Buddha
1.King Suddhodana(father)

2.Queen Maha Maya(mother)
3.Maha Pajapati Gotami(aunt and foster mother)
4.Yasodhara(cousin and wife)
5.Rahula(son)

II. Male Disciples
6.Sariputta (first chief male disciple)
7.Moggallana (second chief male disciple)
8.Ananda(cousin and personal attendant)
9.Maha Kassapa(preserver of the Dhamma)
10.Anuruddha (cousin and foremost in divine eye)
11.Maha kaccana (foremost in explaining deep and complex sayings )
12.Bakkula (foremost in good health and longevity)
13.Sivali (foremost in obtaining monastic requisites)
14.Angulimala(murderer turned saint)
15.Nanda(stepbrother)
16.Devadatta(cousin and brother-in-law)

III. Female Disciples
17.khema (first chief female disciple)
18.Uppalavanna (second chief female disciple)
19.Bhadda Kundalakesa(debating nun, foremost in quick understanding)
20.Patacara(foremost in discipline)
21.Sundari Nand (stepsister)
22.Bhadda Kapilani (foremost in recollecting past births)
23.Kisa Gotami (foremost in wearing coarse rag-robes)
24.Isidasi
25.Sona(foremost in effort)

IV. Royal Patrons
26.king Bimbisara
27.Queen mallika
28.King Pasenadi
29.Queen Samavati

V. Lay Disciples
30.Anathapindika(chief male lay disciple)
31.Visakha (chief female lay disciple)
32.Citta (foremost lay disciple in teaching the Dhamma)
33.Rohini(cousin of the Buddha)
34.Jivaka(physician)
35.Ashin-upagotes

Maha Kassapa

In the district of Magadha, in a village known as Mahatittha, there lived a wealthy Brahmin couple named Kapila and Sumanadevi. They had a son whom they named Pipphali Kassapa.

As was the custom at that time, when he came of age his parents looked for a suitable girl for him to marry. Pipphali, however, was not interested in marriage and informed his parents that he would look after them until they passed away and then take to the life of an ascetic. His parents were not happy with this decision and insisted that he should select a suitable girl. To appease his parents, Kassapa had his goldsmith make a beautiful statue of a girl out of solid gold and said that he would marry if they could find a girl who resembled the statue.

Kapila then summoned eight Brahmins, and after giving them a large sum of money and the statue, asked them to roam the country in search of a bride who resembled the golden statue, for his son.

The Brahmins were in a village named Sagala when they saw an exquisitely beautiful girl named Bhadda Kapilani who resembled the statue. They spoke to her parents and found that they were agreeable to the marriage. They then went back and reported to Kapila and Sumanadevi that a suitable bride had been found.

When Kassapa heard about his oncoming marriage to Bhadda, he decided to write to her. Explaining that he was interested in becoming an ascetic he asked her to refuse this proposal and look for a suitable match elsewhere. Unknown to him, Bhadda too had no desire to marry and had chosen instead the life of an ascetic. She too had sent a similar letter to Kassapa requesting that he look elsewhere for a bride. The letters, however, were intercepted by both sets of parents who were aware of their children’s feelings, and loving letters agreeing to the marriage were substituted.

A large wedding was arranged, and with great ceremony Bhadda was given in marriage to Kassapa. Neither one of them, however, was interested in married life. The influence of their past meritorious actions and lives as ascetics was so strong that they both decided to live a celibate life. They lived in harmony as good friends, looking after Kassapa’s old parents until they passed away as was the custom, and inherited the family wealth and estates.

Maha Kassapa’s Renunciation

One day when Kassapa was supervising the ploughing of the field in preparation for the growing season, he was shaken by a common sight that had gone unnoticed by him in the past. The ploughing had resulted in many worms and little creatures being unearthed and a host of birds, attracted by the worms, were circling his field and feasting.

Observing the destruction of many innocent creatures, Kassapa questioned his workers as to who was responsible for their suffering and death. His workers then informed him that he was responsible, as they were ploughing the field on his account. This statement had a profound effect on Kassapa. He decided that he would hand over the family wealth to Bhadda and take the life of an ascetic in search of deliverance.

Unknown to him, at about the same time Bhadda had made a similar decision. Her servants had put out some sesame seeds to dry in the sun. Little creatures had flocked around the sesame seeds and raucous birds had gathered to feast on the tiny creatures. Bhadda had seen the suffering of the little creatures and asked her servants who was responsible for their suffering and death. She too had been told that she was responsible, as it was on her instruction and for her consumption that the sesame seeds had been spread out in the sun.

Reflecting on the suffering, Bhadda decided to hand over all the family wealth to Kassapa and take to the life of an ascetic. So it was that in the evening both Kassapa and Bhadda discussed their decision to find that they were both of one mind. Talking it over they both decided to take to the holy life and seek deliverance from suffering. Shaving each others’ heads they donned the simple robes of ascetics and left their home.

When their servants and the villagers heard about their renunciation they cried and lamented and tried to dissuade the couple. Kassapa and Bhadda, however, had made up their minds. Distributing their wealth among the servants, they continued on their way. And thus they wandered, Kassapa in front with Bhadda following a few yards behind, in search of a teacher.

After some time, Kassapa reflected that it was not appropriate that his very beautiful former wife should follow him. People, he reflected, would assume that he was associated with Bhadda and would start rumours and make accusations. As they were both pure and innocent of any wrongdoing, the wrongful thoughts of the people would then cause them much suffering. Discussing his thoughts with Bhadda, he requested that she not follow him any longer. Bhadda, who agreed with his decision, separated from him at the next junction. Whilst Kassapa took the road to his right, she took the road to her left.

The text indicates that the earth trembled at this renunciation due to the purity and merit of the ascetics. The Buddha, observing the trembling of the earth, saw with his super-normal vision that one of his future great disciples was on his way to meet Him. He decided to meet Kassapa and walked down the road towards Mahatittha.

On the road between Nalanda and Rajagaha the Buddha sat down under a fig tree to await His future disciple. The moment Kassapa laid eyes on the Buddha he knew that he had found his Master. The Buddha stood in all His radiance, surrounded by an aura. Falling at the Buddha’s feet and saluting Him respectfully, Kassapa asked permission to enter the Noble Order.

The Buddha then dispensed a discourse in which He instructed Kassapa on three accounts. He instructed Kassapa in order that he may:

Train himself so as to have a keen sense of shame for doing unwholesome deeds towards seniors, novices and those of middle status in the Noble Order.

Listen, examine, reflect and absorb the teachings that are conducive to wholesome deeds.

Be mindful of the body and its thoughts and actions.

After this discourse the Master and His new disciple walked back to Rajagaha.

On the way the Buddha wanted to rest under the root of a tree. Kassapa then took his outer robe, folded it four-fold and asked the Buddha to sit on it, as His doing so would bring great benefit to him for a long time. The Buddha accepted Kassapa’s robe and commented on its softness. Hearing this, Kassapa immediately offered his robe to the Buddha by saying, “May the Blessed One, out of compassion for me, accept this robe.” The Buddha then asked Kassapa if he would wear the worn-out, coarse rag-robe that He was wearing. Full of joy, Kassapa accepted the Buddha’s rag-robe and agreed to wear it. Kassapa was the only monk with whom the Buddha had exchanged robes. Though the significance of this exchange was not described in the text, it may have reminded Kassapa of an ancient aspiration to be foremost among the monks in austere practices, because he took upon himself the thirteen austere practices.

Maha Kassapa’s Aspiration

One hundred thousand world cycles ago, at the time of the Padumuttara Buddha, Kassapa was born as a wealthy landowner named Vedeha, and at that time too, Bhadda had been his wife. The Padumuttara Buddha was residing at the Khema Deer Park near the city of Hamsavati. Vedeha observed the Padumuttara Buddha appointing a monk by the name of Mahanisabha as the disciple foremost in austere ascetic practices and His third most pre-eminent disciple. Inspired by the Padumuttara Buddha, Vedeha invited the Buddha and His retinue to his home for their meals on the following day.

When the Buddha and His monks were eating Vedeha noticed that the monk Mahanisabha was walking the streets on the alms round. Vedeha invited the elder to partake of his alms at his home. When Mahanisabha refused, he took the elder’s bowl and filled it with fragrant food and handed it back to him. He then questioned the Buddha as to why Mahanisabha had not accepted his invitation to come to his home for meals. The Padumuttara Buddha then explained that many world cycles ago Mahanisabha had aspired to be foremost in austere practices, and that in keeping with his aspiration he only accepted food obtained by going on the alms round.

Vedeha was suffused with happiness and inspired by Mahanisabha. He decided that he too would like to be declared as a monk foremost in austere practices and the disciple of a future Buddha. Offering the Buddha Padumuttara and His retinue of monks meals and the requirements for seven days, he prostrated himself in front of the Padumuttara Buddha and aspired to be the monk foremost in austere practices as the disciple of a future Buddha. Seeing that Vedeha would fulfil this aspiration, the Buddha Padumuttara declared that at the time of the Gotama Buddha, Vedeha would be known as Maha Kassapa, and would be declared the third most pre-eminent monk and foremost is austere practices.

The relationship between the Gotama Buddha and Kassapa started many lifetimes ago. The Jataka stories document nineteen births in which Kassapa was related to the Bodhisatta, sometimes as his father, sometimes as his brother, and often as his teacher or friend. As such the immediate bond that formed when Kassapa saw the Buddha had deep roots. Kassapa also renewed his aspiration in the presence of succeeding Buddhas and performed many meritorious deeds over countless years. As foretold, Kassapa fulfilled his aspiration at the time of the Gotama Buddha. The Buddha appointed Kassapa foremost among the monks who persevered in austere practices.

The Buddha repeatedly praised Kassapa’s commitment to austere practices and his detached behaviour. He said:

“When Kassapa goes among families his mind is not attached, not caught up, not fettered. He thinks,”Let those who want gain acquire gain! Let those who want merit do merit!” He is pleased and glad at the gains of others, just as he is pleased and glad at his own gains. Such a monk is fit to go among families.”

“When he preaches the Doctrine, he will not do so for the sake of personal recognition and praise but for letting them know the teaching of the exalted one so that those who hear it may accept it and practise accordingly. He will preach it because of the excellence of the Teaching and out of compassion and sympathy.” — (Samyutta Nikaya )

Maha Kassapa’s Practice of Austerities

Two interesting encounters with the Devas further illustrate Kassapa’s commitment to austere practices. The first is his reaction to the female Deva Laja’s ministering. Laja could remember that she owed her present splendour to an offering she had made to the great elder. Laja, who had been a poor woman, had offered parched rice to the elder with great devotion. On her way back home she had been bitten by a poisonous snake and had died. As a result of her offering she had been reborn in the Tavatimsa Heaven in great splendour.

The grateful Laja decided to sweep the elder’s cell and fill his vessels with water. On the third day he saw the Deva in all her radiance cleaning his cell. Kassapa questioned her as to what she was doing and on being told, asked her not to minister to his needs in the future as he was bent on austere practices. The dejected Laja left in great sadness. The Buddha, seeing the dejected Laja, came before her in compassion and explained to her the meritorious effects of her ministering. He then consoled her by informing her of the aspiration the elder had made.

The second instance was when Kassapa was residing in the Pipphali Cave. He had attained a meditative stage and remained thus for seven days. The elder had then set out to obtain alms for Rajagaha. Inspired by the great elder, the Devas had descended to Earth with heavenly food. Kassapa, however, had refused the nectar of the Devas saying that he preferred to give this opportunity to the poor so that they could acquire merit. The disappointed Devas returned to the heavens and told Sakka, the King of the Heavens, about Kassapa’s refusal.

When Sakka heard about Kassapa’s refusal there arose in him a great desire to wait upon the great elder. Disguising himself as a poor weaver he offered Kassapa rice. When the elder accepted the food there arose a heavenly fragrance and Kassapa was instantly aware that he had been tricked by the Deva. He then admonished Sakka for taking the opportunity to acquire merit away from the poor. Sakka then asked Kassapa if he had failed to acquire merit from this deed due to his trickery. After informing Sakka that he had acquired merit despite his trick, Kassapa continued on his alms round.

The Buddha also informed Kassapa of the virtues of ascetic life and of the benefit of practising austerities in gaining emancipation. This not only encouraged Kassapa to continue in his austere practices but also encouraged him to pass them on to others by being a role model. The Buddha said:

” Formerly, Kassapa, there were elders of the Order who were forest dwellers, living on alms food, wearing rag-robes, using only the threefold set of robes, having few wants and being contented living secluded and aloof from society, energetic, and they praised and encouraged such a way of life. When such elders or younger Bhikkhus visited the monastery, they were gladly welcomed and honoured as being dedicated to the practice of the Dhamma. Then those who welcomed and honoured those noble monks would also strive to emulate them in their way of life and this would be of great benefit to them for a long time.”

“But nowadays, Kassapa, those who are honoured when visiting a monastery are not monks of austere and earnest life, but those who are well-known and popular and are amply provided with the requisites of a monk. These are made welcome and honoured, and their hosts try to emulate them, which will bring them harm for a long time. Hence one will be right in saying that such monks are harmed and overpowered by what does harm to a monk’s life.” –(Samyutta Nikaya)

Kassapa, who had made the aspiration to be the monk foremost in austerities at the time of the Padumuttara Buddha, took these words to heart. In fact, on one occasion he admonished Ananda who had taken 200 novice monks to the homes of disciples before they were advanced in the Dhamma. Attracted to worldly pleasures, the novices had given up the order and gone back to the family life. Kassapa admonished Ananda for not taking care of his pupils. The wealthy often invited the Buddha and His retinue for meals. Kassapa, by going on the alms round and refusing such invitations, ensured that the opportunity of this meritorious act of giving alms was available to the poor. He stopped at every house on the path and accepted every gift with equal grace.

Kassapa’s austere life and detachment are explained by him in his verses:

“Down from my mountain lodge I came one day
And made my round for alms about the street
A leper there I saw eating his meal
And courteously I halted at his side.
He with his hand all leprous and diseased
Put in my bowl a morsel. As he threw,
A finger broke off and fell into my food.
At a wall nearby I ate my share
Not at that time or after felt disgust.
For only he who takes as they come
The scraps of food, cow’s urine for medicine,
Lodging beneath a tree, the patchwork robe,
Truly is a man contented everywhere.”
— (Theragatha 1054-1057)

On another occasion the Buddha requested Kassapa to teach errant monks. The Buddha said, “Exhort the monks, Kassapa. Either I, Kassapa, should exhort the monks, or you. Either I or you should give them a discourse on the Dhamma”. These words imply the confidence the Buddha had in Kassapa, as not every Arahanth had the ability to teach in a manner that would be understood.

The text did not specify why the Buddha chose Kassapa over his chief disciples Sariputta and Moggallana for this instruction. They too were excellent teachers. It could be that this instruction was given after their passing away or just before, as the Buddha was aware that Kassapa would outlive Him, unlike his chief disciples who would pass away before He did. It could also have been because the Buddha saw in His monks a movement away from austere practices to a life of comfort and materialism. Kassapa, who led an austere life, would have been the perfect role model for the errant monks.

Kassapa often questioned the Buddha, as did the other monks. On one occasion, Kassapa asked the Buddha why, early in His dispensation, there were fewer rules for the monks and more Arahanths, while later there were more rules for the monks and fewer Arahanths. The Buddha replied as follows:

“So it happens, Kassapa, when beings deteriorate and the true Dhamma vanishes: then there are more rules and fewer Arahanths. There will be, however, no vanishing of the Dhamma until a sham Dhamma arises in the world. But when a sham Dhamma arises in the world, there will be more rules and fewer Arahanths.”

“But, Kassapa, it is not a cataclysm of the four elements – earth, water, fire and air that make the Dhamma disappear. Nor is the reason for its disappearance similar to the overloading of a ship that causes it to sink. It is rather the presence of five detrimental attitudes that causes the obscuration and disappearance of the Dhamma.

“These are the five: It is the lack of respect and regard for the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, the training, and for meditative concentration on the part of monks, nuns, and male and female devotees. But so long as there is respect and regard for these five things the Dhamma will remain free of obscuration and will not disappear.”

It is important to note that it is not only the Sangha that have been entrusted with the preservation of the Dhamma. Even the lay devotees can and should contribute to its preservation. In fact, each and every one of us should do our part to ensure the preservation of the Dhamma in whatever way we can to ensure the availability of the Dhamma for future generations.

Kassapa did not question the Buddha as to when a sham Dhamma would appear in the world or as to what exactly He meant by a sham Dhamma. Even though there are many traditions of Buddhism in the world they all contain the Four Noble Truths and the Doctrine of Dependent Origination which is the core of the Buddha’s teaching.

Even though the Buddha often commended Kassapa for his austere practices and detached manner, He felt deep compassion for the ageing elder. On two occasions the Buddha reminded Kassapa that now that he was old, his coarse, worn-out rag-robe may be uncomfortable against his skin and that he should now wear soft robes. He also requested him to accept invitations from householders for alms, and to live in monasteries without resorting to the alms round and dwelling in the forest. Kassapa, however, refused, saying that he had been a forest dweller and had worn rag-robes for a long time, and recommended this behaviour to others. He also said that he had few wants and that he was contented and happy with what he had, and that he had also recommended this behaviour to others. As such, he preferred to remain in the austere practices which he had on many occasions recommended to others.

The Buddha then questioned him as to why he led such an austere life and he replied that it was for his own well-being and with compassion for later generations. He said that they could then emulate his exemplary behaviour and be inspired by him. For not only did he preach austerity to others but he also exemplified it in his behaviour. The Buddha then praised him for his words and gave permission for him to remain as a forest dweller, wearing rag-robes and going the alms round, as doing so would be of benefit to men and gods.

It almost seems as if the Buddha, realizing that there would be a decline in monastic values after His Parinibbana, was grooming Kassapa for the important role he would play in the preservation of the Dhamma. The Buddha had specifically declared that there would be no successor after His passing, but that the Dhamma would be their Teacher. Even so the Buddha would have foreseen that Kassapa’s austere practices would make him a reputable, outstanding leader who would be respected and honoured by the monks. On many occasions the Buddha praised and encouraged Kassapa’s austere practices. Kassapa in turn used every opportunity to encourage his pupils away from materialism and towards the beauty of an austere life.

Kassapa describes the beauties of forest dwelling and the insight and peace it brings which lead to the penetration of the Dhamma as follows:

“These regions are delightful to my heart
When the kareri creeper spreads its flower wreaths,
When sound the trumpet call of elephants
These rocky heights delight my heart.
These rocks with hue of dark-blue clouds
Where streams are flowing, cool and crystal-clear,
With glow-worms covered shining bright
These rocky heights delight my heart.
Like towering peaks of dark-blue clouds
Like splendid edifices are these rocks,
Where the birds’ sweet voices fill the air
These rocky heights delight my heart.
With glades refreshed by (cooling) rain
Resounding with the calls of crested birds,
The cliffs resorted by the seers
These rocky heights delight my heart.
Like dark blue blooms of flax they are
Like autumn sky with dark blue clouds,
With flocks of many kinds of birds
These rocky heights delight my heart.
No crowds of lay folks have these rocks
But visited by herds of deer,
With flocks of many kinds of birds
These rocky heights delight my heart.
Wide gorges where clear water flows,
Haunted by monkeys and by deer,
With mossy carpets covered, moist
These rocky heights delight my heart.
No music with five instruments can
Gladden me so much as when,
With mind collected well
Right insight into Dhamma dawns.”
Theragatha 1062-1065, 1068-1071

Maha Kassapa’s Great Contribution

Kassapa’s greatest contribution to the preservation of the Dhamma occurred after the Parinibbana of the Lord Buddha. Of the Buddha’s great disciples, only Ananda and Anuruddha were present in Kusinara when the Buddha passed away, as Sariputta and Moggalana had both passed away prior to the Buddha. Kassapa, with his retinue of monks, was travelling towards Kusinara from Pava when they met an ascetic who had with him a Mandarava (coral tree) flower. As this plant grows in the heavens Kassapa knew that something unusual had occurred. He asked the ascetic if he knew anything about the Buddha and the ascetic confirmed that the Buddha had passed away a week prior. He said that the gods and the Malla kings were paying their respects to the Buddha with incense and flowers. This Mandarava plant he said he had taken from the cremation site.

When the monks heard of the Buddha’s passing away all who had not attained Arahanthsip started to lament and cry. But there was one monk named Subhadda who addressed the other monks and said, “Enough, friends. Do not grieve, do not lament. We are well rid of the Great Ascetic. We have been in trouble by His telling us this is good, this is not good. Now we can do what we like and we do not have to do what we do not like.”

The text does not indicate Kassapa’s response to these cruel words. Kassapa may have remained silent so as not to cause discord among the monks. Instead, he consoled the grieving by reminding them of the truth of impermanence that the Buddha had taught. Kassapa, however, noted this incident for he cited it when he gathered the Arahanths for the First Sangha Council.

Kassapa then made a mental aspiration that the funeral pyre would not light until he and his retinue of monks reached Kusinara. In keeping with his aspiration, the sandalwood pyre would not light. When Kassapa and his monks arrived the wood shifted to expose the sacred foot of the Buddha. With bowed head Kassapa and his retinue paid homage to the Buddha, after which the sandalwood pyre caught fire.

After the cremation and distribution of the Buddha’s relics Kassapa concentrated his efforts on the preservation of the Dhamma. Remembering Subbadda’s challenge and the possibility of moral laxity and the decline of the Dhamma, he proposed holding a Sangha Council where the Dhamma and the rules for the Sangha, the Vinaya, would be reviewed. When he shared his views with the other members of the Noble Order, they agreed.

For the First Sangha Council, Kassapa selected 500 members from the Sangha, all Arahanths except for Ananda. Ananda, who was known as the guardian of the Dhamma, was selected because of his retentive memory and detailed knowledge of the 84,000 suttas dispensed by the Buddha and His great disciples. Upali, the former barber of the Sakyan Prince, who was an Arahanth, led the Vinaya as he had been declared by the Buddha as the monk foremost in the knowledge of the monastic rules (Vinaya). All other monks were required to leave Rajagaha for the seven-month duration of the recitation. All the teachings of the Buddha and the monastic discipline were recited. The Dhamma was codified and organized into the five collections (Nikayas) and the three Pitakas: Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. The first Sangha Council was held in the capital of Rajagaha, in the country of Magadha, under the patronage of King Ajatasattu, three months after the passing away of the Buddha.

Ananda, with the encouragement of Anuruddha, meditated and reached Arahanthship at dawn on the day of the First Sangha Council. He then travelled through the air using astral travel to indicate his deliverance and took his place among the other members of the Council.

After the First Council the high regard that the monks had for Kassapa grew further. He was seen as the head of the order even though the Buddha had specifically declared that there would be no successor and that when He was gone, the Dhamma would be the teacher. Before his death, Kassapa handed the Buddha’s bowl to Ananda as a symbol of the continuation of the faithful preservation of the Dhamma. Kassapa, who had generally been recognized as being the most worthy in succession, chose Ananda as being the most worthy after him.

Kassapa records his deliverance, gratitude and praise of the Master as follows:

“In the whole field of the Buddha’s following,
Except for the Mighty Master himself,
I stand the foremost in ascetic ways;
No one practises them as far as I.
The Master has been served by me,
And all the Buddha’s teaching has been done;
Low have I laid the heavy load I bore,
Cause for rebirth is found in me no more.
Gotama the Immeasurable does not cling
To robe, to food or place of lodging,
Like spotless lotus blossoms He is free from taints
Bent on renunciation He transcends the three worlds.
The four foundations of mindfulness are His neck
The great Seer has faith and confidence for hands;
Above His brow is perfect wisdom; nobly wise,
He ever wanders with all desire quenched.”
— (Theragatha 1087-1090)

Kassapa was known as Maha Kassapa (great) to distinguish him from others who had the same Brahmin name. It is said that Maha Kassapa was the only monk to share seven of the thirty two marks of noble birth that the Buddha had. In keeping with his aspiration the Buddha declared that Maha Kassapa was foremost among the monks in austere practices. He was also the third most pre-eminent monk among the Buddha’s retinue.

The First Sangha Council was extremely successful in the preservation of “The Word of the Buddha”. This method, the introduction of which resulted in Maha Kassapa being called “the Father of the Dhamma” was used in subsequent years as and when required. It also led to the use of the term “Theravada” or recitation of the elders (Arahanths) being used for the Word of the Buddha. Since then there have been six more Sangha Councils under the Theravada Tradition and one Sangha Council under the Mahayana Tradition. The Second Sangha Council was held 100 years after the Parinibbana of the Buddha, in the Valukarama at Vesali, under the patronage of King K�lasoka. One of Ananda’s pupils, the Arahanth Sabbak�mi, who was 120 years old, presided over the Second Sangha Council, and 700 members of the Sangha, all of whom were Arahanths, took part. The Second Sangha Council took eight months to complete.

The Third Sangha Council was held 235 years after the Parinibbana of the Buddha in the 17th year of King Asoka’s reign, under his patronage in the Asokarama in Pataliputta. The Arahanth Moggaliputta Tissa presided over the Third Sangha Council and 1,000 members of the Sangha, all of whom were Arahanths, took part. The Third Sangha Council took nine months to complete.

About four hundred and fifty years after the Buddha’s Parinibbana, around 90 BC, the Fourth Sangha Council which was in the Theravada Tradition was held, and the Word of the Buddha was documented for the first time in Matale at the Aluvihara in Sri Lanka, under the patronage of King Vatta Gamini Abhaya (Walagambahu). Five hundred members of the Sangha, all of whom were Arahanths, took part in the Fourth Sangha Council. The Great Commentator, Buddhaghosa, who wrote the Path of Purification (Visuddhi Magga), states that the number of books written on Ola (palm) leaves was so great that when piled one on top of another they reached the height of six elephants.

The next Sangha Council, the First Sangha Council in the Mahayana Tradition was held in Kashmir about five hundred years after the Parinibbana of the Lord Buddha, under the patronage of King Kanishka (78 BC – 101 AC). The Ven. Vasumitta presided.

The Fifth Sangha Council in the Theravada Tradition was held in Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma), two thousand four hundred and fifteen years after the passing away of the Lord Buddha, in November 1871 under the patronage of King Mindon. The scriptures written on palm leaves would eventually deteriorate. To ensure the preservation of the scriptures the Buddha Dhamma was inscribed on marble slabs.

Two thousand four hundred Bhikkus led by Venerable Jagarabhivamsa of the Dakkhinarama Monastery assisted by the Venerable Narindabhidhaja and the Venerable Sumangalasami began by reciting the scriptures in the traditional manner. The joint Dhamma recitation lasted five months. Then with the help of skilled crafts men it was inscribed in seven hundred and twenty-nine marble slabs. It took seven years six months and fourteen days to complete the work. The marble slabs were placed in Pitaka Pagodas in the grounds of King Mindon’s Kuthodaw Pagoda at the foot of the Mandalay Hill. It is now known as the world’s largest book.

The Sixth Sangha Council, known as the Kaba Aye, which was of the Theravada Tradition, was held in Yangon (Rangoon) in 1954. It was sponsored by the Burmese Government led by the Honorable Prime Minister U Nu. He authorised the construction of the Maha Passana Gaha, ‘the great cave’, an artificial cave similar to the cave in which the First Sangha Council was recited. The Sixth Sangha Council was unique in that the Bhikkus taking part in it came from eight different countries. Two thousand five hundred learned Theravada monks from Mynmar, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam graced the momentous occasion. The late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw was appointed to question the Dhamma as required and the Venerable Bhadanta Vivittasarabhivamsa answered the questions eloquently. By this time the scriptures had been translated to the native language of all the participating countries except for India. The traditional recitation took two years. The commentaries and different scripts were also examined and reconciled where necessary. This version of the Tripitaka which was sanctioned by the entire Theravada Buddhist World is now accepted as the pristine teachings of the Buddha Gotama

The retentive powers of the minds of Arahanths developed through years and years of meditation, the Buddha’s style of teaching which was repetitive, and His instruction to memorize the Teaching so as to hand it down to others, resulted in a comprehensive text for future generations. The fact that only Arahanths were admitted to the early Sangayanas ensured that it was only those who had experienced the Truth, those who have seen the supreme bliss of Nibbana, who participated in this very important preservation. The freedom the Buddha gave to investigate, question and debate also helped, as the teachings were analysed whenever there was a conflict of opinion and corrected to ensure that it was the word of the Buddha which was preserved. Thus the Arahanth Maha Kassapa, the third most pre-eminent monk of the Buddha, often referred to as the “Father of the Dhamma”, ensured the preservation of the Dhamma for future generations.

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