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Buddhist Education b.ed notes | Buddhist Education System in Ancient India

Buddhist Education b.ed notes | Buddhist Education System in Ancient India

Meaning of Buddhist Education

In the Buddhist system of education, education meant the education pursued in Buddhist maths and viharas.

It seems that during this period education was considered to be a process or means to achieve knowledge and not synonym to knowledge.


The aims and ideals of education which developed during Buddhist period were very broad.

In general, they were the same as of vedic education but their nature was somewhat different

1. Physical Development : Buddha himself advocated the need of good health.

According to him good health helps a man to escape from bodily suffering. Moreover. he can go welli with performing his duties (karma)


2. Development of Knowledge :

  • According to Lord Buddha, the main cause of all sufferings in this world is ignorance.
  • Therefore, to achieve Nirvana, he emphasized on the develpment of true knowledge.
  • This was the most important aim and ideal of Buddhist education.
  • However, his views about knowledge were somewhat different.
  • In Vedic period the knowledge of Vedas was considered as true knowledge.
  • But in Buddhist period the practical knowledge of the material world and of the four noble truths (there is suffering; there is cause of suffering; there is cessation of suffering and there is a way to the cessation of suffering; nirvan could be achieved by compassion to humankind and not by meditation or worship) was regarded as the true knowledge.

3. Education of Social Behaviour :

  • Buddhist religion is a promotor of human welfare.
  • This is the reason that too much attention was placed on sympathy and kindness.
  • Without compassion one cannot understand the sufferings of others and without showing kindness one cannot meet the sufferings of others.
  • If one thinks honestly, one finds that we, the human beings, are ourselves responsible for each other's suffering.
  • Even today, social behaviour refers to one's duty to others.
  • Thus, one can emphatically say that social behaviour too, was one of the aims of buddhist education.

4. Preservation and Development of Human Culture :

  • Buddhist religion emphasizes the preservation of human culture as a whole.
  • It is one of the reason that the provision for the study of other religions, cultures and philosophies was also made in the maths and viharas besides the Buddhist religion and philosophy.
  • Hundreds of scholars were employed for the preservation of ancient literature and in the creation of new ones in that period.
  • They prepared the manuscripts of ancient scriptures and also translated them in different languages.
  • Some scholars simultaneously created new literature too.
  • To preserve this literature the libraries were built in that period.


5. Character Formation :

  • Buddhist religion places too much importance on self control, compassion and kindness.
  • Whosoever practises these ideals possesses good character.
  • Students in maths and viharas were made to adhere to 10 rules, called das sikha padani for character formation.
  • They were trained to live an austere life and keep away from undesirable activities.

6. Vocational Development :

  • Buddhist religion preaches not to retract from the world but retrenchment of worldly sufferings.
  • So, to overcome the sufferings of hunger, education of arts. skills and vocation is necessary.
  • Therefore, appropriate arrangement of their education was made in maths and viharas.
  • In later Vedic period vocational education was imparted on the basis of caste (varna) but during Buddhist period it was imparted on the basis of ability and competency of students.
  • As a result, further progress took place in the field of agriculture, cattle rearing, arts, skills and commence in that period.

7. Education of Buddhist Religion :

Although arrangements for the education of all the contemporary religions and philosophies were made in the Buddhist education but special emphasis was laid on the study of Buddhist religion and it was a compulsory pan of the curriculum.

First of all, the four noble truths (char arya satya) discovered by Lord Buddha were taught to students and then they were trained in the eight fold path (ashtangik marg), namely-Right view, Right resolve, Right occupation, Right spech, Right behaviour, Right effort, Right contemplation and Right meditation, to achieve salvation (nirvana).



In Buddhist education primary, higher and bhikshu education were organised in maths and vihars and as they were under the control of Buddhist sanghas therefore same curriculum was followed in all the maths and vihars.

The curriculum of Buddhist education may be categorized on two bases, first, on the basis of level i.e. primary, higher and bhikshu education and second, on the basis of its nature i.e. worldly and religious

1. Curriculum of Primary Education :

  • The duration of primary education was 6 years.
  • First of all, students at this level were taught the 49 alphabets of Pali language with the help of a text named "Suidhrust'.
  • Thereafter, they were taught to read and write the language.
  • Five different sciences, namely--morphology, masonry, medicine, logic and spirituality were taught.
  • General principles of Buddhist religion were also taught to the students.
  • Besides this, some knowledge of arts and skills was also imparted at this stage.

2. Curriculum of Higher Education :

  • The duration of higher education was generally of 12 years.
  • During this period a general knowledge of grammar, religion astrology, ayurved and philosophy was imparted to students.
  • Thereafter, the specialization in specific field started.
  • The curriculum of special education included Pali, Prakrit and Sanskrit languages along with their grammar and literature and such subjects a astrophysics, cosmology, jurisprudence, political science, economics, arts (fine arts sculptor and music), skills (spinning, weaving and dyeing, etc.), vocations (agriculture cattle rearing and commerce), architecture, ayurved, Buddhist, Jain and Vedic religions theology, logic, philosophy and astrology, etc.


3. Curriculum of Bhikshu Eduction :

  • The duration of bhikshu education was 8 years but those bhikshus who intended to acquire higher knowledge in Buddhist religion and philosophy could continue their education further.
  • Though they were taught only Buddhist religion an' philosophy and its curriculum included Tripitaks (three baskets), namely Sutta Pitak, Vinay Pitak and Avidhamma Pitak, but for the comparative stud of different religions.
  • Vedic religion was also taught to them.
  • They were also taught architecture to construct maths and vihars and accountancy to keep ledger of the riches of maths and vihars.

As far as worldly and religious education are concerned initially, both were imparted but at the higher level there was provision for specialization in any of the field.

1. Worldly Curriculum : It included education of reading, writing, mathematics, arts and skills and vocational education like agriculture, cattle rearing, medication and commerce,

2. Religious Curriculum :

  • Religious curriculum was divided into two categories.
  • First for general students and second for bhikshus.
  • The curriculum for general students included the study of Buddhist, Jaina and Vedic religions, whereas for bhikshu education the curriculum was a bit more elaborate.
  • They had to study Buddhist literature, namely - Tripitak-Sutta, Vinay and Avidhamma Pitak.
  • For comparative study they had to study Vedic religion besides architecture for the construction of maths and vihars and also had to study accountancy to maintain account of the riches of maths and vihars.



  • According to Buddhists there are three means of learning - body, mind and consciousness, and because children of different age group are not equal in body, mind and consciousness so they should be taught with different methods.

  • Pali was the language of common mass during Buddhist period, therefore it was made the medium of education.

  • Printing was not invented till then but the Buddhists had prepared hand written manuscripts of important texts and scriptures.

  • They had also preserved them safely in libraries.

  • In such a condition teaching activities were carried out orally by lecture method question answer method, logic, shastrarth and sammelan or conference method.

  • Activity aimed or designed subjects were taught by demonstration, imitation and practice method.

  • Students of higher standards were also given the opportunities of self-study.

A brief description of the teaching methods followed during Buddhist period is as follows:


1. Imitation Method :

  • It is a natural method of teaching and learning.
  • During Buddhist period, this method was used specially at the primary level.
  • Language teaching moreover begins by this method only.
  • Teachers pronounced the word and students imitated them.
  • Likewise, teachers wrote the letters and students copied them.
  • This method was also used in activity aimed or designed subjects.

2. Question-Answer Method :

  • It is also a natural method of teaching and learning.
  • Children by nature are inquisitive.
  • They keep asking questions when, why and how and grown ups satisfy them with suitable answers.
  • This method was used during Buddhist period in the same form, students did ask questions and monks (Bhikshus) did answer them.

3. Explanation Method :

Chinese traveller Hieun-Tsang mentioned this method in his travelogue.

He wrote that teachers used to explain the meaning of the lessons in detail.

This method was used specifically at the higher level of education

4. Debate and Logic Method :

Controversial topics were taught through debate and logic.

In support of their arguments on any such topic eight types of evidence were presented, namely—theory, cause or reason, example, parallelism, contradiction, evidence, hypothesis and induction.

5. Lecture Method : In higher education institutions, great scholars of different subjects were invited to deliver lectures and to clarify the complex concepts in their respective subjects thereby enriching the knowledge of students

6. Shastrarth and Conference Method :

  • In Buddhist period conferences used to be held in higher institutions of learning.
  • Scholars of different subjects were invited in these conferences.
  • They delivered their lectures and shastrarth was held.
  • Students of higher education did attend these conferences, listened to the scholars and did get their doubts clarified.


7. Demonstration and Practice Method :

It is the higher form of imitation method.

During Buddhist period of education system this method was used in teaching subjects like fine arts, masonry, vocational subjects and medical science.

Teachers first demonstrated the act and students imitated it, practised it and acquired proficiency in it.

8. Self Study Method :

  • During Buddhist period the art of writing was developed and hand written manuscripts of important texts were prepared.
  • All the higher education institutions of that time had huge libraries containing these hand written manuscripts.
  • As a result self-study method of learning was developed.
  • But this method of learning was practised only by the students of higher education.


During Buddhist period a new system of education was developed by Buddhist monks (Bhikshus) which is known as Buddhist System of Education. The main features of the Buddhist System of Education may be summarised in the following sequence:

 Administration and Finance

Three facts need to be mentioned in this context:


1. Control of Buddhist Sanghas over Education : The first feature of Buddhist system of education is that, it was controlled by Buddhist sanghas and not by individuals.

2. Patronized by Kings (States): Compared to Vedic period Buddhist education was patronized by the States, Kings and Monarchs.

Huge donations in the form of money and land were made for the construction and maintenance of maths and vihars.

3. Free Primary Education: In Buddhist system of education the primary education was free, whereas fees were charged for higher education.

Structure and Organisation of Buddhist Education

In Buddhist system of education, the education was divided into three levels:

1. Primary Education : Primary education in Buddhist system of education was organised in maths and vihars. It commenced at the age of 6 years and ended at the age of 12 years.

2. Higher Education:

On the completion of primary education an entrance examination was held for higher education.

Only the competent and successful candidates were admitted in higher education.

This education commenced generally at the age of 12 years and ended at the age of 20 or 25 years.

3. Bhikshu Education :

  • After the completion of higher education, students who intended to preach and propagate Buddhist religion could join Bhikshu education.
  • To join Bhikshu education one had to undergo "Upsampada Sanskara'.
  • The duration of this education was approximately 8 years.
  • A student became monk on the completion of Bhikshu education.
  • He could then propagate Buddhist religion and carry out teaching activities.
  • Bhikshu who wanted to specialize in Buddhist philosophy and religion could pursue Bhikshu education for many more years.



If we evaluate the Buddhist system of education in the context of the present Indian condition and its future prospects and aspirations, we can delineate the following merits in it which should be adopted in the present system of education also

1. Central Administration : In Vedic period the education was under the individual control to teachers (gurus) whereas in Buddhist period it came under the central control of Sanghas. This helped to bring uniformity in the nature of education and its administration.

At present, in democratic India the slogan of decentralisation is popular in every field but a central control is necessary to provide a definite shape and pace to education.

2. Free Primary Education :

  • In Buddhist system of education primary education was free whereas fees were charged for higher education.
  • General education is a birth right of people and therefore general education should be free and compulsory upto certain level in a democratic country.
  • In Buddhist period admission in higher education was given on the basis of merit and fees were charged for it.
  • It is also true that higher education is meant only for the capable students and it is also true that it cannot be arranged free at least in our country.
  • The scholarship which are being given at present of the bases of caste and religion should be given on the bases of ability and economic condition.

3. Organisation of Different Types of Education at All Levels : In Buddhis system of education primary and higher education were of high standard and were organized in maths and vihars.

This was the third great merit of this system of education.

Democratic countries are the biggest supporters of this system.


4. Equal Opportunity of Education to All:

Buddhist system of education provided the right of education to all and according to their ability.

No differentiation was made or the basis of caste or sex.

Today we do feel its need and strive to provide equal opportunity to all.

But besides right, the opportunity to avail the right should also be provided,

5. Broad Aims and Ideals of Education :

Though the education of Buddhist religion was compulsory in the Buddhist system of education but its aims and ideals were very broad i.e. physical development, increase in knowledge, education of social service, raining for the preservation of culture, character formation and education of arts, skills and 'vocations.

In present context education should have all these aims.

The only precaution to be taken is that a balance between material and spiritual prosperity should be made and looking at the exigencies of time, national integration and international understanding should also be added to it.

Meaning of Vedic Education Period