Six Buddhist Councils marked important turning points in the story of early Buddhism. This story spans the time from immediately after the death and Parinirvana of the historical Buddha in the 5th century BCE to sometime early in the first millennium CE. This is also the story of sectarian clashes and the eventual Great Schism that resulted in the two major schools, Theravada and Mahayana.
In total, 6 Buddhist councils were convened. The description of the six Buddhist councils has been given below:
First Buddhist Council
It was held soon after the Mahaparinirvan of the Buddha, around 483 BC under the patronage of King Ajatshatru. It was presided by Mahakasyapa, a monk. The council was held in the Sattapani cave at Rajgriha. The council was held with the purpose of preserving Buddha’s teachings (Sutta) and rules for disciples. During this council, the teachings of Buddha were divided into three Pitakas.
The significance of the First Council is that 500 senior monks adopted the Vinaya-pitaka and Sutta-pitaka as the accurate teaching of the Buddha, to be remembered and kept by generations of nuns and monks to come.
Second Buddhist Council
The Second Buddhist Council was held at Vaisali (or Vaishali), an ancient city in what is now the state of Bihar in northern India, bordering Nepal under the patronage of King Kalasoka while it was presided by Sabakami. This Council probably was held about a century after the first one, or about 383 BCE. It was called to discuss monastic practices, in particular whether monks could be allowed to handle money.
Third Buddhist Council
It was held in 250 BC at Pataliputra under the patronage of King Asoka. It was presided by Moggliputta Tissa. The third part of the Tripitaka was coded in the Pali language.
This Council appears to have met to compose commentaries on the Tipitika.
Fourth Buddhist Council
The fourth Buddhist council was held in 72 AD at Kundalvana, Kashmir. It was presided by Vasumitra, while Asvaghosa was his deputy. The council was held under the patronage of Kushan King Kanishka of Kushan Empire. Buddhism was divided into two sects namely Mahayan and Hinayan.
Fifth Buddhist Council
Fifth Buddhist council was held in Mandalay, Burma in the year 1871 under the patronage of King Mindon. It was presided by Jagarabhivamsa, Narindhabhidhaja and Sumangalasami. During this council, 729 stone slabs were engraved with Buddhist teachings.
Sixth Buddhist Council
The Sixth Buddhist Council was held in 1954 in Burma at Kaba Aye, Yangoon. It was held under the patronage of Burmese government and it was presided by Prime Minister U Nu. The council commemorated 2500 years of Buddhism.