Second Buddhist council

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The Second Buddhist council took place in Vesali, about one hundred years after the Buddha's Parinibbāna (383 BCE), in order to settle a serious dispute on Vinaya. The orthodox monks were able to convince the monks whose behaviour was under question. Accounts of the dispute are preserved in the Vinaya texts of several of the early Buddhist schools. Virtually all scholars agree that this second council was a historical event.

Some time after the Second Council, schisms occurred within the monastic Sangha, which resulted in the formation of several subgroups such as Sthaviravada, Mahasanghika and Sarvastivada. The occurrence of these schools is sometimes related to the Second Council, but there is no proof for this suggestion: all the early canonical accounts state that the conflict was resolved.

The dispute arose over the 'Ten Points.' This is a reference to claims of some monks breaking ten rules, some of which were considered major. The specific ten points were:

  1. Storing salt in a horn.
  2. Eating after midday.
  3. Eating once and then going again to a village for alms.
  4. Holding the Uposatha Ceremony with monks dwelling in the same locality.
  5. Carrying out official acts when the assembly was incomplete.
  6. Following a certain practice because it was done by one's tutor or teacher.
  7. Eating sour milk after one had his midday meal.
  8. Consuming strong drink before it had been fermented.
  9. Using a rug which was not the proper size.
  10. Using gold and silver.

The key issue was the use of 'gold and silver', which is an Indic idiom that includes any kind of money. The monks of Vesali had taken to wandering for alms with the specific goal of collecting money, to which the visiting monk Yasa objected. Some of the other points are also important, for example point 6, which would allow monks to not follow the Vinaya on any point which their teacher did not follow or practice.

This behaviour was noted, became an issue and caused a major controversy. The monastic Sangha is structured so that all actions and decisions must be unanimously agreed upon through consensus. Since the monks accused of breaking these ten rules refused to be reprimanded or acknowledge fault, the Sangha was unable to resolve this dispute in any other way than by convening the Second Buddhist Council.

Some of the Ten Points were against minor (dukkata or sekhiya) rules. Before the Buddha's Parinibbāna he told Ven. Ananda that the community may (unanimously) relinquish the minor rules of the Vinaya but at the First Buddhist Council there was uncertainty about which rules he was referring to and it was unanimously decided to keep the Vinaya as it was during the Buddha's lifetime. However, 100 years later some monks felt that certain rules could be relaxed.

The Second Buddhist Council made the unanimous decision not to relax any of the rules, and censured the behaviour of the monks who were accused of violating the ten points.