Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

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ŚĀNTIDEVA ( eighth century AD) concludes the Bodhicaryāvatāra with a canticle, sublime and soulful, in which he prays that ideal conditions may supervene in all spheres of human life. For the monasteries, the conditions he desires as these:

'Let the Vihāras remain well established, humming with teaching and recitation (of lessons); let the unity of the Saṅgha be perennial and the work of the Saṅgha successfully carried out; let the Bhikṣus find solitude and also be desirous of learning, and meditate with minds, pliable and energetic, casting off all distractions.'1

In associating earnest study and learning with monastic life, Śāntideva was adverting to a traditional aspect of it--one that had become most pronounced in the monasteries of his own time.

The tradition had started far back in the early days of the Saṅgha. The Vinaya prescribed for a monk newly ordained a period of several years during which he had to be in statu pupilari under an Upajjhāya and an Ācariya. This period was called Nissaya (Dependence on a teacher).2 The learning was at first conceived as a grounding in canonical lore, but at a certain stage this cloistral learning was liberalized and its scope extended.3 The object in view evidently was that the Saṅgha should consist of men who were learned, who could effectively explain the doctrines of the religion to lay men and defend and uphold them in disputation.4

This tradition of learning and scholarship was continuous in the monasteries: it was incorporated with saṅgha life. Hence from century to century monastic learning produced a long line of monk- scholars, in the BC as well as in the AD centuries, but only a comparatively few outstanding names are known. Of its products in

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Pāṭhasvādhyāya-kalilā vihārāḥ santu susthitāḥ Nityaḿ syāt saṅgha-sāmagrī saṅghakāryañca siddhyatu; Vivekalābhinaḥ santu śikṣākāmāśca bhikṣavaḥ Karmaṇyacittā dhyāyantu sarvavikṣepavarjitāḥ.--Bodhicaryāvatāra, Pariccheda 10, vv. 42-43. Re Śāntideva and Bodhicaryāvatāra, see Part IV, sec. 5 (b). The translation is mine.
2
See Part I, Sec. 6, p. 92.
3
See Part V, Sec. 1 (b).
4
Compare the Buddha's declaration to Māra (in Mahāparinibbāna Suttanta, III, 7) that he would not pass away until his followers, 'having themselves learnt the doctrine, shall be able to tell others of it, preach it, make it known, establish it, open it, minutely explain it and make it clear--until they, when others start vain doctrine, shall be able by their truth to vanquish and refute it, and so to spread the wonder-working truth abroad'. (See SBE, Vol. X, p. 43.)

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