Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Buddhist general convocation [saŋgīti]

The history of Buddhist doctrine general convocation [saŋgīti]

The ‘saŋgīti p. – saŋgāyanā s.’ literally means ‘a rehearsal; a Council; general convocation of the Sangha [community of disciples] in order to settle questions of doctrine and to fix the text of the scriptures’. It has been conducted more than ten occasions in various countries in Buddhist history. The significant is that to assemble and collect the scattered teachings of the Buddha systematically and consequently it became a practical collection known as ‘tipit᷂aka’.  However, through a long history of Buddhism merely several occasions of ‘saŋgīti’ have been accepted by Buddhists. The conditions of acceptance are varied – geography, location, legitimacy, personalities and intention. 

     Additionally the ‘saŋgīti’ is an endless process. Many traditions claimed legitimacy and authority to conduct this considerably benevolent act. Buddhism eventually divided into two main doctrines or schools [Theravada and Mahayana] shortly after the death of the Buddha. These two prominent schools always have a disagreement toward the idea of ‘saŋgīti’ together – both never accepted the legitimacy of one another. However, herein, we should observe the ‘general convocation’ of Theravada school, for it is the school acknowledged as an orthodox doctrine which derived directly from the origin of Buddha. 
  1. The first ‘saŋgīti
The operation is believed to be conducted three month after the death of the Buddha. The main reason of the first ‘saŋgīti’ is from an account of Subhadda bhikku – an old disloyal disciple [claimed the Theravadins].  According to the claim appears in the Pali canon, shortly after the death of the master, Subhadda bhikku expressed his pleasant response upon the Buddha’s death by disparaging and disagreeing with some of the miscellaneous monastic rules [the vināya]. Mahākassapa bhikkhu, one of the senior monks, strongly concerned about the deterioration of the original monastic rules legislated by the Buddha. He then called for an assembly of 500 Buddha’s disciples who claimed to be enlightened [ārahat – literally, the worthy one] to set on the ‘saŋgīti’. The operation then was conducted at sat᷂tavan᷂nagūhā [cave of seven colors] at vebhārapabbata mountain foothill near the city of Rājacriha in the Kingdom of Magada [north eastern part of ancient India].

In the assembly, Mahākassapa was the president of the operational authority carrying the role of settling the vinaya [monastic rules] queries – Ananda acted as the dhammakathika [rehearsal of the discourses] and Upalī bhikkhu acted as the vinaya reciter.  Possibly, the only imagination we can assume of how it was conducted in terms of methodology is that 500 enlightened bhikkhus were questioned regarding what sort of teachings they had heard from the Buddha. They then recited what they had learnt altogether. The doctrines and principles were collated and fixed if teachings could not meet a rational agreement. It is believed that the first ‘saŋgīti’ was sponsored by King Ajātṥatrū. The operation took 7 months to complete.

I will talk about the second ‘saŋgīti’ tomorrow.

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