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Department of the Study of Religions

Buddhist Scriptures: Mahayana and Vajrayana

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2015/2016
Unit value:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

The contents of this course covers the literature of two Buddhist traditions: 

  1. First, there is the canonical and non-canonical literary corpus of the Mahayana tradition, spanning from the first century BCE to the ninth century CE, as developed in India. This part of the course constitutes the main focus and takes up approximately 60% of class time. 
  2. Second, there will be an introduction to the materials produced by the Vajrayana traditions of India and Tibet. The weighting of this and the next component is ca. 20%. 

And as a special section, this course also provides an introduction to classifications of Buddhist literature in translation, referring mainly to the Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist traditions.


In principle, all students are expected to be familiar with the general tenets of Buddhist doctrine and to possess a rudimentary grasp of the most important historical developments of Buddhism in India, China and Tibet. However, for those students wishing to brush up their knowledge in these areas, additional bibliographic materials will be distributed at the beginning of the course.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to portray, assess and evaluate of the literary traditions of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism as developed in India, Tibet and China, including their respective classifications and doctrinal content. In particular, students are expected to have acquired a sound grasp of the manifold literary genres produced by the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions (canonical and exegetical) and appreciate the ways in which their respective contributions influenced the evolution of Buddhist thought and practice.

One of the purposes of this course is to function as an orientation class for students planning, at a later stage, to engage in text-based Buddhist studies research.

Method of assessment

Coursework: one 3,000 word essay. Assessment: two hour exam paper 60%, essay 40%.