In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Monasticism in East Asia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • China
  • Korea
  • Japan
  • Monastic Institutions and the State
  • Female Monasticism
  • Monastic Rules
  • Celibacy and Marriage
  • Monastic Education

Buddhism Monasticism in East Asia
Lori Meeks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0016


Early Buddhologists, who tended to focus on the texts and doctrines of particular schools of Buddhism, showed little interest in the study of monasticism as a set of social and religious practices. Historians and scholars of art undertook most of the foundational work in the study of Buddhist monasticism. Social and institutional historians studied monasteries as political and economic entities, while art historians examined monasteries as sites that cultivated great art and architecture. Over the past twenty-five years or so, this division of labor has slowly dissolved. As the field of religious studies has come to emphasize the importance of both social history and interdisciplinarity, scholars of Buddhism have begun to take a closer look at the social and religious lives of monastic institutions. Their studies have considered monasteries not only as political, economic, and religious bodies, but also as sacred sites and as social sites. Recent research in the field has shown that Buddhist monasteries in East Asia, as places that attracted pilgrims, tourists, scholars, and devotees, allowed diverse social groups to interact in multiple and complex ways. Despite recent growth in this subfield, however, the field still lacks single-authored studies that address Buddhist monasticism in a holistic fashion.

General Overviews

As mentioned above, there are no comprehensive, single-authored monographs on Buddhist monasticism. The general treatments listed here include conference volumes and other anthologies, entries related to Buddhist monasticism found in encyclopedias and other reference works, and a textbook that compares Buddhist and Christian monasticism. For general introductions to the place of monastic institutions in the history of East Asian Buddhism, start with Brook 2005, Jones 2005, Johnston 2000, and Buswell 2003. Benn, et al. 2009 contains a variety of in-depth articles representing recent research in the field and is not focused on a single tradition or site. Those interested in comparisons between Buddhist and Christian monasticism should begin with Henry and Swearer 1989. For issues specific to monastic architecture, see Pichard and Lagirarde 2003.

  • Benn, James, Lori Meeks, and James Robson, eds. Buddhist Monasticism in East Asia: Places of Practice. Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism 53. London: Routledge, 2009.

    This anthology, which was born of a conference on Buddhist monasticism, includes a useful introduction by James Robson that addresses larger issues in the study of Buddhist monasticism. The introduction is followed by seven chapters based on historical studies of monks, monasteries, and clerical–lay relations in premodern China and Japan.

  • Brook, Timothy. “Institution.” In Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism. Edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., 143–160. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

    Insightful methodological considerations regarding the treatment of monasteries and institutions within Buddhist studies.

  • Buswell, Robert. Encyclopedia of Buddhism. 2 vols. Indianapolis, IN: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003.

    See especially “Monasticism” (pp. 556–560), “China” (pp. 139–145), “Japan” (pp. 384–391), “Korea” (pp. 430–435), “Vinaya” (pp. 885–889), “Monastic Architecture” (pp. 549–556), “Education” (pp. 247–248), “Ordination” (pp. 614–618), and “Chanting and Liturgy” (pp. 137–139).

  • Henry, Patrick G., and Donald K. Swearer. For the Sake of the World: The Spirit of Buddhist and Christian Monasticism. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.

    This book offers a thoughtful, general introduction to the comparative study of monasticism and may have useful applications in the classroom.

  • Johnston, William M., ed. Encyclopedia of Monasticism. 2 vols. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.

    Useful entries include “Buddhism” (pp. 194–198), “Critiques of Monasticism” (pp. 333–37), “China” (pp. 280–284), “Japan: History” (pp. 684–689), “Japan: Sites” (pp. 689–694), “Korea: History” (pp. 717–719), “Korea: Recent Changes” (pp. 719–720), “Korea: Sites” (pp. 720–725), “Manuscript Production: Buddhist” (pp. 817–821), “Liturgy: Buddhist” (pp. 776–780), “Cave Temples and Monasteries in India and China” (pp. 255–263), and “Celibacy: Buddhist” (pp. 263–264).

  • Jones, Lindsay, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. 2d ed. 15 vols. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

    See “Temple: Buddhist Temple Compounds in East Asia” (pp. 9045–9049), “Priesthood: Buddhist Priesthood” (pp. 7407–7410), “Monasticism: Buddhist Monasticism” (pp. 6126–6131), “Nuns: Buddhist Nuns” (pp. 6759–6763), and “Sacred Space” (pp. 7978–7986).

  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr., ed. Buddhism in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., 455–472. Princeton Readings in Religions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

    This anthology contains forty-eight translations of brief passages from primary sources, each prefaced by short introductions by the translators. Particularly relevant for the study of monasticism in East Asia are “Daily Life in the Assembly” (pp. 455–472), “Deaths, Funerals and the Division of Property in a Monastic Code” (pp. 473–502), “Buddhist Chaplains in the Field of Battle” (pp. 586–591), “Awakening Stories of Zen Buddhist Women” (pp. 513–524), and “Hagiographies of the Korean Monk Wzzznhyo” (pp. 553–562).

  • Pichard, Pierre, and François Lagirarde, eds. The Buddhist Monastery: A Cross-Cultural Survey. Études Thématiques 12. Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient, 2003.

    Contains useful photographs and diagrams of monastic architecture. See “The Physical Buddhist Monastery in China” (pp. 305–350), “Buddhist Monasteries in Southern Mongolia” (pp. 351–390), “Buddhist Monasteries in Korea” (pp. 391–410), and “The Formulation and Evolution of Buddhist Monasteries in Japan” (pp. 411–433). Based on presentations at a workshop at the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, Bangkok, 8–10 November 1999.

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