By the time the Muslim Emperors invaded India and gave a final violent blow to the last remnants of the Buddha’s teaching, first in the northern parts of India under the Huns and later in the whole of India under Muhammad Bakhtyar, they faced a situation of decay and deterioration of religious practices. The Chinese travelers Fa-Hein (between 4th century CE), Hiuen Tsang and T-tsing (7th century CE) already gave a vivid picture of the remains of the teaching. Although their report proves that the Bhikkhus had spread to nearly all parts of India and established and maintained different monasteries and residences in caves, their description of the practice of the Bhikkhus also presents a wide range of groups, sects, traditions and that different customs and rituals had developed by this time. The echo and advice of those inspiring last words of the Tathāgata to realize the impermanent nature of all matter (see lesson 5.6.1) by one’s own practice of meditation seems to have virtually evaporated:– “handa dāni, bhikkhave, āmantayāmi5 vo, vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā”ti. “Now, O’ Bhikkhus, I declare to you: it is the nature of all compounded things to pass away, apply this advice without negligence”.
After the first great schism (see lesson 2.1.8) those Bhikkhus who followed the teaching of the Buddha as understood by the Theras, as well those that pursued the doctrine of the Mahāsaṇghikas, finally dispersed to various different parts of Majjhimadesa-janapada (India). Partly due to the regional separation but mostly due to their respective interpretation of the teaching further splits and estrangement were the consequences. Importance also seems to have shifted away from practice more to ‘philosophy’, and many monks, in all traditions, seem to have also focused much more on their ‘livelihood’ and popularity and influence rather than actual spiritual attainments. Some of the names of these various groups upheld their individual teaching or philosophy in their names (Sarvāstivāda, Lokuttaravāda, Puggalavāda, Bahuśrutīya, Mahāsuññavādin); others conveyed their regional origin (Haimavata, Rajagirīya, Jetavanīya, Uttarapāthaka, Dakkhinapāthaka); some called themselves after their individual preceptors (Dharmaguptaka, Kaśyāpīya) while others maintained the importance of worship and of offering incense and adulation of cetiyas (Caitikas). In many cases the practice of debates of logical tournament, competitions of scholastic argumentation and contest of philosophies seems to have substituted the application of meditation. While the Buddha always gave so much emphasis (see lesson 3.8.7) to practice:–“Attadīpā, bhikkhave, viharatha attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā, dhammadīpā dhammasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā.” “O'Bhikkhus, be an island within yourselves, take refuge within yourselves without any other refuge. Let Dhamma be your island, make Dhamma your refuge without any other refuge!”,–the introduction of yāna as supportive ‘vehicle’ soon appears to have given vent to a vast variety of other modes for spiritual enhancement.6 While the differentiation between Hinayāna and Mahāyāna developed and tried to depreciate one of the two main existing traditions (hina: inferior, base, mahā: great, important) this opening for outer support for one’s own spiritual quest by means of yāna instead of objective observation of one’s own reality through the practice of meditation soon invited a vast field of further approaches: Vajrayāna, Sahajayāna, Mantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Kālacakrayāna, Mantrayāna, Sahajatayāna. These different approaches naturally led to different aspirations. The necessary perfection and complete eradication of all the impurities for an arahant was put into question, the means of attainment towards liberation remodelled, the substance of an all existing individuality, or soul, re-established, the continuity of everything existing endorsed. The perspective of working out one’s own salvation and liberation, the (lower- hina) perspective of becoming an arahant slowly turned in the (higher- mahā) ambition of becoming a bodhisatta and thus the whole system of endeavour to get established in the tīsu sikkhāsu: the three trainings: sīla, samādhi, paññā seems to have subsided (see lesson 2.1.14). The qualities of the Buddha and the pains and ways it had taken him to develop them were no longer depicted and described in order to rouse confidence in the Buddha and his teaching to follow his example and to strive for liberation as in the earlier literature of the Jatakas. The Bodhisattvayāna, as Mahāyāna more accurately was also called, prescribed the means to attain the superior aim of a bodhisattva by withholding own’s own liberation. The result of this in most of India was a vast array of different teachings and ideas. It appears that lesser attainments were taken as being great attainments, which caused confusion. For if someone might have had minor spiritual experiences and claimed to be an Arahant yet to others clearly made careless mistakes in his conduct, delusion and loss in interest in the Buddha’s teaching must have increased. Sincere monks and perhaps lay people as well may have started efforts to re-establish inspiration and greater dedication to the path, but the real practical aspects of the path that actually eradicate impurities were mostly gone. From here it is easy to see the proliferation of disparate practices and ideas. In the wake of these different approaches towards liberation lay followers slowly departed from applying the Eightfold Noble Path to more devotional faith and reliance.
Although these different schools mainly resided harmoniously with mutual acceptance7 with this wide field of practices, traditions and differing groups it may have been difficult for lay people to gain proper faith and devotion and their support must have faded. Brahmanic lore gained more and more attraction, especially as parts of it were included in some of the teachings and finally saddhamma, except for some secluded individuals who had retired to remote places or caves, had got lost completely in India.8
It was then the neighbouiring countries of India, where the Dhamma messengers had been sent by King Asoka, who maintained the tradition in Pāli. After the Fourth Council was completed in Laṇka especially the two countries, Laṇka and Myanmar developed close relationship in reassuring the correct interpretation and practice of saddhamma. Both maintained the tradition in its original language as taught by the Buddha and repeatetly exchanged and compared the Tipiṭaka. The next, the Fifth Council was arranged in Māndalay, Myanmar in 1871 CE. Under the reign of King Mindon the three Elders Mahāthera Jāgarābhivaṃsa, Mahāthera Narindābhidhaja and Mahāthera Sumaṅgalasāmi with two thousand four hundred monks reviewed and compared the entire Tipiṭaka for the period of five months. After this Fifth Council the enormous task was undertaken to create the ‘largest book in the world’, where even today we can read the entire Tipiṭaka slabbed in beautiful white marble miniature-‘piṭaka’-pagodas on a special site in the grounds of King Mindon's Kuthodaw Pagoda at the foot of Māndalay Hill.
Only eighty-three years later, in the year 1954 the last council to date, the Sixth Council was held at Kaba Aye in Yangon. Prime Minister U Nu authorized the construction of the Mahā Pāsāna Gūhā, the great cave, an artificial cave very like India's Sattapaññi Cave where the First Dhamma Saṅgiti had been held. Upon its completion the Council began on the 17th of May, 1954 where two thousand five hundred learned Theravāda monks from the eight countries Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam collaborated to affirm and preserve the Dhamma and Vinaya under the presidency of the Venerable Mahāsi Sayadaw. By this time all the participating countries had written down the Pāli Tipiṭaka into their native scripts and during the next two years the Tipiṭaka and its allied literature was examined and compared in all the scripts and the necessary adaptions were made.
Finally, after the Council had officially approved them, all the volumes of the Tipiṭaka and their Commentaries were printed and published in the Myanmar script with the dedicated efforts of the two thousand five hundred monks and numerous lay people. Their work came to an end in May, 1956, two and a half millennia after the Buddha’s Parinibbāna. This council's work was the unique achievement of representatives from the entire Buddhist world and has been recognized as being true to the pristine teaching of Gotama the Buddha and will stand as the most authoritative representation. The volumes printed after the Sixth Saṅgāyana were printed in Myanmar script. In order to make the volumes also available to the people of India, the Vipassana Research Institute undertook the task to print the Tipiṭaka with its Aṭṭhakathās and Ṭikas in Devanagari in the year 1990 and were later made available digital in various scripts. All the suttas presented in this collection are the result of this inspiring dedication of so many and are accessible at tipitaka.org.
May these zealous efforts of all those who realized with so much fortitude their aspiration to maintain the munificent teaching of the Buddha for the times to come be rewarded. May more and more beings be enabled to make use of this rare opportunity and realize the teaching of the Buddha by walking on the path themselves. May all beings be happy!