[skip to content]

Department of the Study of Religions

Buddhist Meditation in India and Tibet

Course Code:
15PSRC172
Unit value:
1
Year of study:
Any
Taught in:
Full Year

Buddhist Meditation in India and Tibet sets out to provide a systematic account of the origins, features, phasing and roles of meditation techniques on the Buddhist path to liberation. Broadly speaking, it falls into four segments. (1) It identifies the doctrines and practices that connect the brahmanical and Buddhist schools of meditation of ancient India; (2) it explores the characteristics of Buddhist meditation as developed in the Pali Nikāyas and Therāvāda commentarial and practice literature with their role on the Buddhist Path. For example, it will map and challenge the interplay between concentrative calm (samatha) and analytic insight (vipassana), discuss the role of the four immeasurables (appamāṇa) and examine the role of mindfulness (smrti) in the process of mental purification; (3) it charts the changes in meditation theory and practice following the advent of the Mahāyāna at the beginning of the common era. Meditation practice in Mahāyāna Buddhism possesses a set of fundamentally different objectives and requires radical adjustments in the parameters of the spiritual training within which it is cultivated. This section connects with the yogic ideals followed by the Mahāsiddha tradition and their role among the emerging tantric practitioner of the Vajrayāna; (4) finally, the course explores the transition of Indian Buddhist meditation practices to Tibet and the ways in which they found accommodation in their new geographic and cultural setting. It will commence with a study of issues at stake in the Great Debate of Lhasa and then proceed with an analysis of the advanced systems of meditation cultivated by the rDzogs chen communities. This segment will also consider meditation practices current in the Central Asian Buddhist communities of Tang China and their impact on the Tibetan tradition. This will provide the student with a near seamless transition to ‘East Asian Traditions of Meditation’. Finally, and still within the Tibetan component, the course will examine the role of the yogic traditions in Tibetan religious culture, from inception to the 15th century, and chart the range of practices—as well as the benefits they purport to generate—most commonly observed in those traditions. It also serves as nexus, connecting the other two courses of this MA and thus helps to create a conceptually integrated, geographically interwoven and chronologically linked study of the traditions of yoga and meditation in India, Tibet and the Far East. Prior knowledge of Buddhism is not required since this course includes an introduction to the Buddhist traditions of India and Tibet.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, the student should be able to:

  • demonstrate that s/he has acquired a good understanding of the historical and doctrinal  processes  that  shaped the  emergence  of Buddhist  Meditation  as a separate tradition of contemplation in Ancient India.
  • identify the differences that mark brahmanical meditation practices from those of the Buddhist tradition.
  • relate  specific  meditation  practices  to  understandings  of the  processes  of transformation, ideals of human perfection and achievement (including supramundane qualities) and to Buddhist cosmology.
  • analyse key textual authorities and meditation traditions.
  • chart the transition of meditation in mainstream Buddhism to the broadened parameters of contemplation in Mahāyāna Buddhism and evaluated the role of the latter in the path towards liberation.
  • map  the  roles  and  characteristics  of meditation  in  the  Tibetan  Buddhist traditions, their connections to the Indian and Chinese meditation systems as well as their impact on, and realisation in, South Asian and, especially, Tibetan religious art.

Method of assessment

Coursework: one 2,000 word essay (20%); one 4,000 word essay (35 %); one 4,000 word essay (45 %).