Third Buddhist council (c 250 BCE)
The Third Buddhist council was convened in about 250 BCE at Asokarama in
Pataliputra. It was presided over by the Elder Moggaliputta Tissa and one
thousand monks under the patronage of the Emperor Asoka.
The traditional reason for convening the Third Buddhist Council is reported to
have been to rid the Sangha of corruption in the form of enemies who in the
guise of supporters had infiltrated the Sangha, as well as monks who held
heretical views. The council recommended the ruler Ashoka to expel sixty
thousand Brahminic spies as well as re-evaluate the Pāli Canon.
It was presided over by the elder monk Moggaliputta-Tissa and one thousand monks
participated in the Council. The council is recognized and known to both the
Theravada and Mahayana schools, though its importance is central only to the
Asoka was crowned in the two hundred and eighteenth year after the Buddha's
Parinibbana. At first, he paid only token homage to the Dhamma and the Sangha
and supported members of other religious sects as well as his father had done
before him. However, all this changed when he met the pious novice-monk
Nigrodha who preached to him the, Appamada-vagga. Thereafter, he ceased
supporting other religious groups and his interest in and devotion to the
He used his enormous wealth to build, it is said, eighty-four thousand pagodas,
temples and viharas and to support the Bhikkhus with the four requisites daily
His son Mahinda and his daughter Sanghamitta were ordained and admitted to the
Eventually, his generosity was to cause serious problems within the Sangha. In
time the order was infiltrated by many unworthy men, holding heretical views
and who were attracted to the order because of the Emperor's generous support
and costly offerings of food, clothing, shelter and medicine. Large numbers of
faithless, greedy men espousing wrong views tried to join the order but were
deemed unfit for ordination. Despite this they seized the chance to exploit the
Emperor's generosity for their own ends and donned robes and joined the order
without having been ordained properly. Consequently, respect for the Sangha
diminished. When this came to light some of the genuine monks refused to hold
the prescribed purification or Uposatha ceremony in the company of the corrupt,
When the Emperor heard about this, he sought to rectify the situation and
dispatched one of his ministers to the monks with the command that they perform
the ceremony. However, the Emperor had given the minister no specific orders as
to what means were to be used to carry out his command. The monks refused to
obey and hold the ceremony in the company of their false and 'thieving',
companions (theyyasinivasaka). In desperation the angry minister advanced down
the line of seated monks and drawing his sword, beheaded all of them one after
the other until he came to the King's brother, Tissa who had ordained. The
horrified minister stopped the slaughter and fled the hall and reported back to
the Emperor Asoka who was deeply grieved and upset by what had happened and
blamed himself for the killings. He sought Thera Moggaliputta Tissa's counsel.
He proposed that the heretical monks be expelled from the order and a third
Council be convened immediately. So it was that in the seventeenth year of the
Emperor's reign the Third Council was called.
Thera Moggaliputta Tissa headed the proceedings and chose one thousand monks
from the sixty thousand participants for the traditional recitation of the
Dhamma and the Vinaya, which went on for nine months. The Emperor, himself
questioned monks from a number of monasteries about the teachings of the
Buddha. Those who held wrong views were exposed and expelled from the Sangha,
immediately. In this way the Bhikkhu Sangha was purged of heretics and bogus
This council achieved a number of other important things as well. The Elder
Moggaliputta Tissa in order to refute a number of heresies and ensure the
Dhamma was kept pure, complied a book during the council called, the
Kathavatthu. This book consists of twenty-three chapters, and is a collection
of discussions (katha) and refutations of the heretical views held by various
sects on matters philosophical. It is the fifth of the seven books of the
Abhidhamma Pitaka. The members of this Council also gave a royal seal of
approval to the doctrine of the Buddha, naming it the Vibhajjavada, the
Doctrine of Analysis. It is identical with the approved Theravada doctrine.
One of the most significant achievements of this Buddhist assembly and one which
was to bear fruit for centuries to come, was the Emperor's sending forth of
monks, well versed in the Buddha's Dhamma and Vinaya who could recite all of it
by heart, to teach it in nine different countries.
These Dhammaduta monks included the Venerable Majjhantika Thera who
went to Kashmir and Gandhara. He was asked to preach the Dhamma and establish
an order of monks there.
The Venerable Mahadeva was sent to Mahinsakamandala (modern Mysore)
and the Venerable Rakkhita Thera was dispatched to Vanavasi (northern Kanara in
the south of India.)
The Venerable Yonaka Dhammarakkhita Thera was sent to Upper
Aparantaka (northern Gujarat, Kathiwara, Kutch and Sindh).
The Venerable Maharakkhita Thera went to Yonaka-loka (the land of the
lonians, Bactrians and the Greeks.)
The Venerable Majjhima Thera went to Himavant (the place adjoining
The Venerable Sona and the Venerable Uttara were sent to Suvannabhumi
The Venerable Mahinda Thera, The Venerable Ittiya Thera, the
Venerable Uttiya Thera, the Venerable Sambala Thera and the Venerable
Bhaddasala Thera were sent to Tambapanni (now Sri Lanka).
The Dhamma missions of these monks succeeded and bore great fruits in the course
of time and went a long way in ennobling the peoples of these lands with the
gift of the Dhamma and influencing their civilizations and cultures.