Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Ārya Asaṅga was one of Indian Buddhism's leading scholars in the middle Mahāyāna period, fourth - sixth centuries C.E.. His encyclopedic Bodhisattvabhūmi is
considered to be one of Buddhism's foremost expositions of bodhisattva doctrine.
The Bodhisattvabhūmi contains a systematic description of the bodhisattva path
of practice (bodhisattva-śikṣāmārga) that emphasises broad knowledge and general
education in the pursuit of enlightenment and liberation. The subjects of that education
are the "five sciences" (pañcavidyāsthānāni) which range from Buddhist textual
scholarship to the study of non-Buddhist religious literature and secular subjects,
including works on grammar, logic, medicine and crafts.
The historical accounts of the seventh century Chinese pilgrim travellers Hsüan-
Tsang and I-Tsing confirm that these five sciences were the basis for the curriculum at
Nālandā Mahāvihãra, India's most renowned monastic university. Corroborating
information indicates that the Bodhisattvabhumi was studied at Nālandā Mahāvihãra and
that its views and values were influential in Nālandā's approach to education.
The inclusion of non-traditional subjects as valid areas of "liberating knowledge"
for Buddhists required an innovative philosophy of education. This was achieved in the
Bodhisattvabhiimi by reformulating certain key Buddhist concepts, most notably dharma
("teachings"), prajñā ("wisdom-insight") and bodhi ("enlightenment"). The result was
a comprehensive vision of religious education that encouraged a quest for general learning and broadened the range of knowledge deemed necessary for attaimnent of
complete enlightemnent (anuttarasamyaksambodhi).
To illustrate the importance of education and embody principles of its acquisition
and proper application, the Bodhisattvabhumi also developed portrayals of role types.
These include the bodhisattva depicted as a novice beginner, teacher, and mentor; and
the Tathāgata Buddha portrayed as the personification of "all-knowledge" and defender
of the faith. The Chinese travellers' accounts confirm that the students and masters of
Nālandā Mahāvihãra were involved, in their daily lives, in activities that corresponded
to these roles.
Mullens, James G., "Principles and Practices of Buddhist Education in Asaṅga's Bodhisattvabhūmi" (1994). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3954.