Buddhist Monasticism

Ann Heirman

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online January 2014 | | DOI:
Buddhist Monasticism

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  • East Asian Studies
  • Asian History
  • East Asian Philosophy
  • East Asian Religions


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In symbiosis with the laity, Buddhist monasticism has played a major role in the development of Buddhism in China. Starting shortly after the beginning of the Common Era, in the Later Han Dynasty, monasteries developed to become an essential part of Chinese society. Even today, although monastics are less numerous than they used to be throughout most of Chinese history, Buddhist monasteries still have an influential voice. The first monastic activities that scholars focused on were the translation efforts conducted by prominent masters and the pilgrimages undertaken by famous Chinese Buddhist monks. In their travel accounts, monks described the roads both to India and to Southeast Asia and the way they saw the land of the Buddha. The institutionalization of Buddhist monasteries also became an important topic. In historical research, the political and social role of monasteries attracted growing attention. These first studies were very text-oriented. Gradually, other materials were also analyzed, such as archaeological findings, architectural layout, inscriptions, murals, musical instruments, and other artifacts. Over recent years, interdisciplinary research combining data and studies of different fields has been published, and the study of Buddhist monasticism has expanded. It now analyzes the role of Buddhist monastics over a wide area of fields, discussing the impact of monasteries in many, often interacting, contexts: religious, historical, social, political, economic, ethical, and so on. A very new approach, still to be expanded, is based on anthropological fieldwork. The study of monasticism is relatively complex and broad, and source materials are scattered but often pertinent to the particular monastic feature one wishes to study. As far as possible, they have been included in the relevant sections of this article.

Article.  9114 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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