At the Third Council there were five hundred arhats led by the Arya Parsva and there were also four hundred venerables or scholars with the main one being Vasumitra. The meeting took place in the “land of the Moslems” and this is commonly used to refer to Kashmir.
It took place there in a new temple (the Karnikavana Temple) that had been built especially for the occasion by the king. The individuals at the meeting were from the eighteen different sects of shravakas and the council had to determine which ones were really true followers of the Buddha and which were not.
The guideline that was used to decide which were right and which were wrong was one of the sutras of the Buddha called the Garland of Gold Sutra. This sutra is a story concerning something that happened at the time of the previous Buddha, the one that came before Buddha Shakyamuni, called Buddha Kashyapa. At the time of the Buddha Kashyapa, there was a king called Krikin, who had ten very amazing dreams. His dreams were so unusual that he started to wonder what was happening to him. And he thought that maybe these dreams were a sign that there was going to be some very bad danger for his kingdom or even to his own life.
So he called in a Brahmin, who was a specialist in the interpretation of dreams, and asked him to say what he thought of the dreams. The Brahmin said that indeed, there was going to be a lot of trouble for the kingdom and a danger for his own life if he didn’t kill what was the closest thing to his heart.
The closest thing to the King's heart was his own daughter, who was called “Garland of Gold.” She was a Buddhist and didn’t like the Brahmins. So once the king had heard the interpretation of his dream, his daughter said to him, “Well, it’s very easy. What you should do is to go and see the Buddha Kashyapa, and ask him if he thinks it’s the right thing to kill me. Then, please go ahead. I don’t mind.”
So the king went to see Buddha Kashyapa and told him about his dreams, and Buddha Kashyapa replied that the dreams didn’t mean that there would be any trouble for the king himself or his kingdom. The dream was, in fact, foreseeing events that would happen much later on in a future time. He said each of the dreams depicted events that would take place at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni. So each of the dreams referred to a event in Buddhism with one being applicable to this particular situation.
In this dream the King saw a long piece of cloth and there were eighteen men who were each trying to get a piece of the cloth. In the end each one got a piece and there were eighteen pieces of cloth.
The Buddha Kashyapa interpreted this as, “This dream hasn’t anything to do with your own life as the king. But at the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, there will be eighteen different schools of shravakas. But one shouldn’t think that their views are in contradiction with the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. In fact, the whole of Buddha Shakyamuni’s teaching remains pure and intact, and each of the paths that they are following is the true path and leads to the true fruition. So one mustn’t think that some are good and some are bad. Each of the paths belongs to the true path of the Buddha.”
So this was the prophesy made by Buddha Kashyapa in the sutra. And that is why the council had to come to the conclusion that each of these eighteen sections of shravakas were all correct in their line of thought and that the teachings that they were following were all the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni.
During this Third Council, they also completed their previous work on the gathering of the Vinaya, the Sutras, and the Abhidharma. During the previous councils, they had started to write down these three sections of the Buddha’s teachings. By the third council some of these works were already written down.
So during the Third Council they corrected the proofs of what had been written down so that these teachings were now pure and could be decisively considered as being the Buddha’s teaching.
We can say that after the Third Council was over, all of the Buddha’s teachings were finally written down and corrected; so that from that point onwards there could be no distortion, no misinterpretation, or any alteration of the Buddha’s true teaching. This was the work of all these very learned arhats who had a great deal of spiritual insight and a very clear understanding. So that through their work the whole of the Buddha’s teaching was preserved without loss, without distortion, and remained completely intact.