In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • European Accounts of Buddhist Preaching Activities
  • Dhamma as Teaching
  • Bhāṇaka Tradition for the Preservation of the Buddhavacana (Word of the Buddha)
  • Guidebooks to Learn Preaching
  • Monastic Guidebooks of Training
  • Preaching Beyond South Asia
  • Online and Electronic Resources for Preaching

Buddhism Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
Mahinda Deegalle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0239


Buddhist preaching is a popular tradition in many Asian Buddhist societies. In terms of prominence given to preaching in daily life, printed and electronic media including radio and television, the Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist context stands out. When preaching traditions developed many centuries after the passing away of the historical Buddha in different geographical settings, the Buddhist preacher assumed many roles: preacher, teacher, communicator, entertainer, and performer. In many contexts, Buddhist preaching traditions became closely linked with vernacular literary practices and religious rites as evidenced, for example, from the Sri Lankan Buddhist tradition. In historical terms, the precursor of the Buddhist preacher would have been the bhāṇaka (reciter) who memorized Buddhist texts and recited them for congregations both for posterity and monastic practices until the texts were written down (see Deegalle 2006, cited under Baṇa as Preaching, pp. 37–56). In the early stages, the role of the bhāṇaka (reciter) was rather limited to preserving texts in the oral form, a crucial vehicle of authentic transmission. In the course of development of the Buddhist tradition, many Buddhist societies innovated styles of Buddhist preaching in their adaptations of Buddhism to new cultural and religious contexts of Asian lands. Pious audiences, rituals, and devotional practices became more and more closely associated with teaching and preaching sessions. In the process of development of Buddhist traditions, the preacher gave birth to new and more popular preaching practices and performances as seen clearly in the emerging baṇa tradition in medieval Sri Lanka. In many Buddhist religious contexts, preaching and teaching may have been interchangeable devotional activities. In contemporary Sri Lanka, as a result of centuries of accumulated practices, the more frequently used reference point for preaching/teaching activities has become the Sinhala term baṇa.

General Overviews

A glance at Buddhist scholarship in English shows that Buddhologists and historians of religions seem to have completely ignored and/or underestimated the role of Buddhist preachers. Though varieties of preaching traditions and practices have been widespread in Buddhist societies, existing scholarly literature contains only scattered, inadequate, and often misleading references to Buddhist preaching, as discussed in Gombrich 1987 and Rice 1987 (both cited under Reference Works). Schalk 1983 made a pioneering introduction of Buddhist preaching in Sri Lanka. Only in the late 1990s did a new generation of scholars undertake the task of exploring this neglected subject, as seen in Blackburn 2001, Deegalle 1995, and Deegalle 2006 (cited under Baṇa as Preaching). Specific and contextualized studies are now gradually emerging, as shown in Langer 2013.

  • Blackburn, Anne. Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

    This examines textual practices of the 18th century with a focus on the establishment of the Siyam Nikāya in 1753. Chapter 6 is on “Readers, Preachers, and Listeners” (pp. 139–196) and discusses the significance of sūtra sannayas (Sinhala commentaries for Pali discourses) for preaching.

  • Deegalle, Mahinda. “Baṇa: Buddhist Preaching in Sri Lanka (Special Focus on the Two-Pulpit Tradition).” PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1995.

    First detailed study of Buddhist preaching in any Asian Buddhist society with concentration on vernacular texts. It surveys the development of the Buddhist preaching (baṇa) tradition in Sri Lanka with a focus on vernacular textual practices, communities, and artistic activities.

  • Langer, Rita. Sermon Studies and Buddhism: A Case Study of Sri Lankan Preaching. Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2013.

    Contains an overview of sermon studies with a discussion of Schalk’s contribution to it focusing on German and English publications. Last two chapters present the Sinhala text, English translation, and analysis of a funeral sermons and post-funeral rituals in contemporary Sri Lanka.

  • Schalk, Peter. “Die Botschaft der friedvollen Lehre (śānta dharmayē paṇiviḍaya): Einführung in die buddhistische Predigt in Sri Lanka.” Temenos 19 (1983): 68–111.

    Focuses on modern Sri Lankan Buddhist preaching. Concentrates on several printed preaching texts such as the Hän̆dala Dharma Dēśanā (Vattala, Sri Lanka: Hän̆dala Purāṇa Vihāraya, 1973) that included actual sermons of popular preachers who were active in the religious setting in the 1970s.

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