Chronology

 

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Dating of Buddhist events is a painfully complex and doubtful matter. Modern scholars early settled on circa 486 bce as the date of the Buddha’s parinibbana. This is based on a corrected reading of the Sinhalese sources and is known as the ‘long chronology’. More recently, scholars proposed a ‘short chronology’ based on northern sources, placing the Buddha’s Nibbana around 368 bce. But the latest research is moving towards a ‘median chronology’ (the ‘Rhys Davids-Gombrich theory’[1]), placing the Nibbana around 410 bce, with a margin of error of 10-20 years either side. This is the dating I follow for this essay. To avoid the ambiguities associated with this calendar dating, however, it is often useful to compare events in terms of how long they happened ‘After Nibbana’, in which case the abbreviation an is used. The following table is an attempt to approximately correlate the major events and persons in this work with the median chronology. I have based most of these dates on Cousins.[2]

Cousins and Gombrich bring the Second Council down to 60-80 an. One reason for this is that some of the Elders at the Second Council are said to be students of Ānanda, and it is felt the gap between the Parinibbana and the Second Council is too great to be bridged by just one generation. But Ānanda was probably about 45 at the time of the Parinibbana, and may well have lived for another 40 years or so. Both the Pali and the northern traditions[3] contain statements to this effect. Given his character, it would be surprising if he were not still accepting students until his old age. A 20 year old student in 40 an would be 80 at the traditional time of the Second Council. It would be unremarkable, if not probable, that this Council consisting of Elder bhikkhus, including the ‘oldest monk on earth’, should include monks of this age who had been ordained in Ānanda’s day. Hence I see no reason to change the date of the Second Council. This means the Council could have been before or after Candragupta’s ascension.

Vasumitra’s schism date is given twice, according to whether we consider this by the calendar date in the text, or whether we correlate it with Aśoka’s reign.

 

[1] Cousins, The Dating of the Historical Buddha: A Review Article, 109

[2] Cousins, The 'Five Points' and the Origins of the Buddhist Schools, 76

[3] T45, 1852 p10a08

 

 

 

Median Chronology

Mahāvihāra Elders

San-lun-xuan-yi Elders[1]

Schism

BCE

AN

 

Original Buddhism

 

 

Integrated

Pre-sectarian

Buddhism

 

 

 

Disintegrating

Pre-sectarian

Buddhism

 

 

 

Emerging

Sectarian

Buddhism

 

 

 

Sectarian

Buddhism

 

458

Awakening

 

413

Nirvana

 

 

326

Alexander

 

313 Candragupta

 

 

 

 

277-246

Aśoka

 

 

 

 

 

185-151 Puṣyamitra

 

 

 

 

1          

1st Council (Rājagaha)

 

 

 

 

100  

2nd Council (Vesālī)

 

 

 

154     

3rd Council (Pāṭaliputta)

 

 

 

 

 

Upāli

 

 

 

Dāsaka

 

 

 

Soṇaka (=Śāṇavāsin)

 

Siggava

 

Moggaliputtatissa

 

Mahinda

(Haimavata teachers)

 

 

(Gotiputa)

 

 

Kassapa

Ānanda

 

 

 

Majjhantika

 

 

 

Śāṇavāsin

 

 

 

Upagupta

 

 

 

 

Pūrṇa

 

 

Mecaka

(200 an)

 

 

Kātyāyanī-putra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 Dīpavaṁsa

(Vasumitra)

 

137

Bhavya III

 

(Vasumitra)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Śāriputraparipṛcchā

 

 

 

Note [1]: 三論玄義 (CBETA, T45, no. 1852, p. 9, b20-21)