What World Religions Teach

By E. G. Parrinder | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
SOUTHERN BUDDHISM: DELIVERANCE BY ABNEGATION

THE SPREAD OF BUDDHISM

Very little is known of the early centuries of Buddhism or of any early writings. It is generally agreed that immediately after the Buddha's death a Council of monks, said to have numbered five hundred, met at Rajagriha for reciting and checking the rules of monkish discipline (as later formulated in the scripture Vinaya Pitaka). This would be in 483 B.C., or 544 in the Southern tradition.

A hundred years later it is said that a second Council was held, to discuss relaxations of monkish rules; whether they should have more than one meal a day, drink liquor, and accept gold or silver in alms. Of the twelve thousand monks present ten thousand are said to have seceded, but there were probably different reasons for their break-away. A third Council is attributed to King Ashoka about 250 B.C. where only orthodox monks were admitted. A fourth Council is dated about the first century B.C. in Ceylon, a fifth in Burma in 1871 at Mandalay, where the sacred texts were inscribed on seven hundred marble slabs. And a great Sixth Council was held in Rangoon from 1954 to 1956, to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Pari-nirvana of the Buddha, to collate the scriptures and arrange for their translation into many languages, especially English.

It is clear that there were divisions in early Buddhism, and at least eighteen schools are known to have taught variant interpretations. But there was a major division between those who taught the Maha-yana (great vehicle) of salvation by faith for all men,

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