The Artistic Aspects of Buddhist Education–The Earliest System of Continuing Education

Buddha Shakyamuni gave lectures in many different places, as did Confucius. In India, the Buddha and his students were invited by different groups to give talks. They would lecture in those areas for a while but did not remain permanently. As most of the Buddha’s 12,050 students would follow him, it would have been very difficult for one place to support all of them. Only after Buddhism was introduced into China did Buddhist monks and nuns take up permanent residence in what was similar to a Buddhist educational institution. This came about because the introduction of Buddhism into China was supported and financed by the emperor. in India, people respected ascetics who traveled holding an alms bowel and therefore supplied them with offerings.

In China, however, people would have regarded this tradition as begging. since the emperor who respected them as teachers had invited the monks to China, it would have been unacceptable to have them roaming the streets begging for food. Therefore, houses were built for them to live in and people were sent to the imperial court to assist the monks so they would not have to worry about their livelihood. By the Tang Dynasty, the system of Buddhist universities had developed. Masters Baizhang and Mazu were the initiators of these institutions. Master Mazu was the Eight Patriarch of the Zen School and the third generation student of Master Hui-Neng, the sixth Patriarch of the Zen School. There is a Chinese saying that “Master Mazu built the university and Master Baizhang setup the rules.”

What is this Buddhist university? It was the systemization of Buddhist teaching; the next step after what had been the verbal passing of teachings from a teacher to private students. After Master Mazu, the idea of the university continued to grow. This educational system was the special feature of Chinese Buddhism. The textbooks, lectures and teaching methods all attained the highest level of artistry as can be seen in the writing, music, images, architecture, offering implements, etc. Today, however, many of these perfect teachings are lost to use.

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