SOAS University of London

Department of Religions and Philosophies

Conflict in Compliance: About the Lives of Buddhist Monks in Ancient India

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2016/17
Unit value:
Year of study:

This course is a language use course that presupposes a good reading knowledge of either Sanskrit or Tibetan. If the course covers sections of the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya extant in both languages, the students will have a choice of either reading the Sanskrit or Tibetan version or both. The students are expected to prepare the assigned reading portions at home. In class, the material will then be read together, accompanied by in-depth commentary on language and content. 

The first two sessions are devoted to an introduction to the formation of the monastic code of the Mūlasarvāstivāda School, covering in particular the sections to be read in class. The remainder of the course focuses on the weekly reading of selected passages (selected in consultation with the students) in the original language(s). Since the episodes of this monastic code tend to contain a good number of references to the surrounding brahmanical traditions and institutions of ancient India and feature many colloquialisms, this course is primarily (but not exclusively) aimed at third-year students who possess already a sound training in Indology with a good knowledge of either Tibetan and/or Sanskrit.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The objectives of the course run as follows:

  1. To promote the acquisition of the language and literary conventions that mark the content of the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya.
  2. To impart knowledge of the formation of Buddhist monastic literature and its adaptation to the surrounding brahmanical values and traditions.
  3. To issue the student with a thorough understanding of the principles at the heart of Buddhist monasticism.
  4. If applicable, to promote insight into the methods used by Tibetan scholars to translate the monastic code of the Mūlasarvāstivāda School and to establish a basic knowledge of the vocabulary created in that process.

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate that s/he has acquired a good grasp of the linguistic and literary features of the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya. Depending on the language of the source text (Tibetan/Sanskrit), the student will have consolidated his/her knowledge of Tibetan/Sanskrit. S/he will have made major headway in improving her/his reading skills and become increasingly able to tackle new genres of material without significant external help. The student will also have become familiar with the divisions, content and functions of the monastic code in Indian Buddhist communities and be in the position to evaluate its role in Buddhist religious history. Since the monastic code played a pivotal role in the conversion process, the student will be able to evaluate its adaptation and contribution to the spread of Buddhism in India and beyond. Finally, the student will appreciate the close links between the Buddhist monastic Saṅgha and the brahmanical environment within which it had to negotiate its existence.


This course will be taught over a period of 10 weeks. All students will have to spend two hours in language classes.

Method of assessment

1 essay (3500 words) (40%), 2-hour exam (60%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules