Buddhist Studies as a Discipline and its Role in the Education 

By Ven. Prof. Kotapitiye Rahula
B.A. Hons. (Peredeniya), M.A. (Peradeniya), PhD (Peradeniya)
Director, Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Anunāyaka, Supreme Sangha Council of the Kotte Chapter of Siyam Mahā Nikaya, Sri Lanka

KeyNote Address Presented at 10th International Conference on Buddhist Studies 2015


Is Buddhist Studies a discipline, or is it still in a proto-disciplinary phase in its evolution? Or is it rather a super-disciplinary entity that serves as a home for disciplines? What is the relationship of Buddhist Studies to the (sub) disciplines from which it draws? Does Buddhist Studies require homogeneity for its coherence and perpetuation as a field of academic inquiry? Does it in fact have such homogeneity? The last decade has been witness to the rise of a body of theoretical literature whose purpose it is to explore the notion of disciplinarily. How do disciplines arise? What social, institutional and rhetorical practices are employed in the construction of their sense of coherence and unity? What are their natural subdivisions? How do disciplines change, and how do they respond to changes in the intellectual climate? How do they interact with one another? These are just some of the questions raised in the field that has come to be known as “disciplinary studies,” and this should be the first goal of present Buddhist scholars to reflect on Buddhist Studies in light of this recent body of literature.

The second goal derives from the first and is in a sense more urgent. If, as I think is clear, divergent methodological approaches to the study of Buddhism are emerging, then the time has come for us to seriously consider these alternative methodologies and to ask what role methodological reflection should play in the field today. For the past several years different approaches to the study of Buddhism have emerged that challenge what they take to be the classical paradigm.


Buddhist education aims at a personality transformation into a highest form of humanity through ethical, intellectual and spiritual perfection. These three faculties of perfection of human life undoubtedly lead a man through mundane happiness to supra mundane happiness, which is the highest achievement we all are equally looking for. Therefore, the Buddhist education is grounded on the primary psychological need of all living beings.


The goal of Buddhist education is to attain wisdom. In Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, the Buddhist wisdom was called Anuttara-Samyak-Sambhodi meaning the perfect ultimate wisdom. The Buddha taught us that the main objective of our practice was to achieve this ultimate wisdom. The chief aim of Buddhist education is all round development of child’s personality. This includes his physical, mental, moral and intellectual development. The other aims of Buddhist Education are to make a free man, a wise, intelligent, moral, non-violent & secular man.

Buddhist Education was wide open and available to the people of all walks of life. The system of Buddhist education aimed at regaining our intrinsic nature. It also teaches absolute equality which stemmed from Buddha‘s recognition that all sentient beings possess this innate wisdom and nature. Buddha‘s teaching helps us to realize that innate, perfect, ultimate wisdom .With wisdom, we can then solve all our problems and turn suffering into happiness.

In the Buddhist era, religion was given top priority and education was imparted through it. The chief aim of education was propagation of religion and inculcation of religious feelings and education served as a mean to achieve liberation or nirvana. Preparation for life, there was a provision for imparting wordily and practical knowledge along with religious education so that when the students entered normal life they may be able to earn their livelihood.

In the early period Buddhist Education was limited within the monasteries and only for the members of the monastery. But later on it was open to all; even lay people got scope to have education in those institutions. In modern days Buddhist Education became wide open and embraced people of all walks of life. Buddhist Education made revolutionary change in the society. The Buddhists in the world first made Education open to all.

The Core of Buddha’s teaching contains three major points, discipline, meditation and wisdom. Wisdom is the goal and deep meditation or concentration in the crucial process toward achieving wisdom. Discipline through observing the precepts, is the method that helps one to achieve deep meditation; wisdom will then be realized naturally. Buddha‘s entire teaching as conveyed in the sutras never really depart from these three points.

Buddhist Education system developed on the basis of some basic principles. This education gave emphasis on the moral, mental and physical development and also to divert the students towards the Sangha rules and guide them to follow it. The main stress was given to have a clear idea of Tripitaka which consists of Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. The entire Tripitaka consists of Buddhas teachings, message, philosophy and rules for the Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunies. The curriculum was chiefly spiritual in nature. It was because the chief aim of education was to attain liberation. So the study of the religious books was most important. This type of curriculum was meant only for the monks.

Besides these spinning, weaving, printing of the clothes, tailoring, sketching, accountancy, medicines, surgery and coinage were the other subjects of Buddhist education. At the initial stage medium of education was mother tongue, later it included Pali and Prakrit and in the following days Sanskrit also included as a medium of instruction. Especially the Mahayana Teachers achieved distinction in practicing Buddhism in Sanskrit. A special Sanskrit Buddhist literature developed. Mention may be made here that at the hands of Nāgārjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Shāntideva, Aryādeva and Candrakīrti Buddhist philosophy and literature made tremendous progress through Sanskrit. In later period according to the demand of the society and professional education, art, sculpture, architecture, medicine also included in the syllabus. Buddhist Education came out from the religious arena and went out for the benefit of the mankind.


In the ancient period Buddhist Monasteries and in the later period Buddhist Universities played major role in developing Buddhist Education. The main aim of Buddhist Education is to make a free man, an intelligent man, a wise, moral, talented, non-violent and secular man. Buddhist Education makes man judicious, humanist, logical and free from superstitions.

It is a matter of great pride that Buddhist Education crossed Indian Sub-continent and expanded up to Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodian, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, with the rise and development of Buddhism in those countries. In those countries Buddhist Education has made tremendous progress with the inclusion of modern subjects in the syllabus.

Selected Bibliography

  1. Altekar A. S.,(1965), Education in Ancient India., Varanasi, Nandkishore & Brothers
  2. Ananda, W P Gurge, (1971), The Contribution of Buddhism to Education. (A paper presented in International Seminar on Buddhism, Delhi
  3. Bapat, P.V. (1971), 2500 Years of Buddhism, Delhi
  4. Goyal S. R. (1987), A History of Indian Buddhism, , Meerut, Kusumanjali Prakasan
  5. Hazra, K.L. (2009), Buddhism in India: A historical survey, Delhi, Buddhist World Press
  6. Keay, F.E, (1992) Ancient Indian Education: An Inquiry into Its Origin, Development, and Ideals, New Delhi, Cosmo Publications
  7. Mookerji, Radha Kumud, (1947), Ancient Indian Education: Brahamanic and Buddhist, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass
  8. Singh, Bhanu Pratap, (1990), Aims of Education in India: Vedic, Buddhist, Medieval,
    Bristish and Post‐Independence, Delhi, Ajanta Publications

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