Kanishka’s Buddhist Council in Kashmir

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Ancient Buddist Site at Harwan. Source-panoramia.comBy Prof. Dr. Tokan D. Sumai

Part 2

“And a Bodhisattva lived in this country as the sole lord of the land, namely the glorious Nagarjuna, who resided at Sadarhadvana.”

It was he, who denominated the sakaera, now in vogue in India.

Soon after the passing away of the Sakyamuni Buddha, his followers convened a council at Rajagriha in a cave, with the purpose of codifying the cannon. This council drew up the Tripitaka. A century or so later, differences acrose between two factions of the Buddists. One section wanted to relax the rules of discipline, while the other faction was totally against modernizing the cannon. Accordingly, to settle these differences another council was convened at Vaishali.

It was attended to by nearly 700 monks. Majority of the delegates refused to bring about any change, with the result that the rebels formed themselves to a new sect. They came to be known as the Mahasanghikas. The Buddhist Sangha got split into 18 sects and the conservatives came to be known as Sthaviras or Therav-adins. The Sangha, which had played an important role in the spread of buddhism through united efforts, fell into pieces, and became weak. I seek your indulgence to say more about these councils, because Kanishka,s council was patterned after the traditions of the previous conference.

Ashoka, the famous sone of Bindusara reigned over the Maurya Empire during the 3rd century BC. During his reign Buddism issued the position of an official religion. His missionary zeal, his deputations to foreign lands and his rock unity in the Buddhist sangha is well known. In order to bring unity in the Buddist sangha, he convened a council of Buddhist luminaries. As the council had been summoned under royal auspices, nearly 50 thousand arhats, bikhshus and other Buddist reached the venue of the Council.

This huge gathering included Kashmiris also as is shown by the later events. The Conservatives were led by Moggaliputta Tissa and the freethinkers were led by Mahadeva. We learn from the Chinese sources that Ashoka took the side of the orthodox Tissa and the freethinkers were led by Mahadeva. Being led to believe that Ashoka would drown them into the river Ganges, the free-thinkers, Sarvastivadins fled to Kashmir to take refuge in the valley and hills. The statement of Hiuen Tsiang that Ashoka built 500 Monasteries  and bestowed the entire valley to them and similar statements made by Tarantha can be interpreted to mean that Ashoka tried his best to appease the rebels and bring them to the fold of the Sangha but having failed, he gave up Kashmir for good. Kashmir delegation having fled from the council, the Thera-vadins felt free to compile Kathavatthu. The Sarvastivadins of Kashmir accelerated their activities and gave a definite shape to their reformist ideas paying way for Mahayana. I have stated all this to show the the Kashmiri Buddhists of that period were pioneers of progressive ideas even in those days and they had become leaders of a definite school of though in Buddhist philosophy, naturally, Kanishka thought it fit to summon his council in Kashmir.