SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Mahāyāna and Tantra Adepts in Theravāda Buddhism

Dr Sven Bretfeld (Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim)

Date: 13 October 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 13 October 2015Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B 102

Type of Event: Seminar


Theravāda and Mahāyāna sound like mutually exclusive categories to the modern ear. This paper argues that this was not always the case. Growing evidence points to the fact that the Buddhist communities of Sri Lanka were promoting Mahāyāna teachings and practices at least from the 4th century C. E. Somewhat later the island also gained fame within the Buddhist world as an easy access-point to Tantric transmissions. Scholars have tried to “solve” this apparent contradiction by assuming that the Buddhist monastic scenery of Sri Lanka had been divided into institutional lineages, separated into a more conservative majority on the one hand and a more open-minded minority on the other. This paper will scrutinize this theory and presents a more colorful history of the tradition we know as Theravāda today.

Sven Bretfeld is Associate Professor for the History of South Asian Religions at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. He is specialized in the history of Buddhism in India, Sri Lanka and Tibet. Currently he is preparing a study of the relationship between the different Nikāyas in premodern Sri Lanka.

Organiser: Peter Flügel

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