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Councils: Formal assemblies for religious purposes.


According to tradition three important councils were held in the early centuries after the passing away of the Buddha. There is considerable uncertainty surrounding the date, location, deliberations, and conclusions of these councils, and while the traditional account may be accepted as reliable in some respects it should not be regarded as historically accurate in all.

The First Council is reported to have been held at Rājagriha in the year of the Buddha's death (486 BCE) with the objective of establishing the canon or at least two or its three divisions or ‘baskets’ (tripiṭaka).

The Second Council took place 100 or 110 years after the first and was held at Vaiśālī. It arose out of a dispute concerning monastic practices, and in particular the handling of money by monks.

The Third Council at Pāṭaliputra in 250 BCE is the most important of the three and resulted in the ‘Great Schism’ between the ‘Elders’ (Sthaviras) and the ‘Great Assembly’ (Mahāsāṃghikas), which was to have a profound effect upon the later tradition.


A council is a formal assembly of bishops and representatives of churches for determining doctrine or discipline. Local councils, as of provinces or patriarchates, are more usually called synods. The meeting described in Acts 15 is traditionally the first council. General, or ecumenical, councils are those made up of bishops and other representatives from the whole world; but the term refers specifically to those seven whose decisions have been taken to represent a true consensus and to be authoritative. These are, with dates: 1. Nicaea I (325) 2. Constantinople I (381) 3. Ephesus (431) 4. Chalcedon (451) 5. Constantinople II (553) 6. Constantinople III (680–1) 7. Nicaea II (787): see ICONOCLASM.

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