Any evidence for monastic buildings in the early Suttas?

I just randomly came back to this topic, which raises a range of interesting questions.

He most certainly is not. So far as I know, Schopen has literally never been to India or set foot on an archeological dig[*], nor has he any qualifications in the field. He’s interested in archeology to the extent that he can use it to discredit experts on early Buddhism with whom he disagrees.

Having said which, I don’t believe that the Jivakambaravana, nor at any other site, dates back to the Buddha. Maybe it’s an early pre-Ashokan complex, but even that is tenuous.

Oh well, let me oblige!

In the passage you helpfully provide, we find a typical Schopenism. He addresses the fact that one of the reasons the Jivakambavana is regarded as early is that there are no stupas, which are almost always found in later monasteries. But Schopen argues:

There are, in fact, a number of other “Elliptical Structures” similar to the Jivamabavana, and … at least two of them “are identified as stupas”!

For Schopen, it’s quite exciting that he can prove someone else wrong. The problem, though, is that a glance at the “elliptical structures” of the Jivakambavana shows that they are nothing like stupas at all. If he had seen them he would know this.

(Just to be clear, what you are seeing here is a modern reconstruction of the old remains. When excavating, archeologists will uncover the remains, then use the old stones or bricks around to cover the old work so that it doesn’t erode or get destroyed by tourists. I was recently at an ongoing archeological dig in northern Sri Lanka, where they were studying and protecting a nearly 2000 year-old monastic complex in this way.)

And I wanted to circle back to this quote from Wynne in the OP, after the (non-exhaustive) range of evidence provided by subsequent posters:

Ārāma in this kind of context describes a regular residence for monastics, supporting a large, established community with a prominent public presence, on valuable land donated by wealthy supporters, belonging to the private institution of the Sangha, upon which regular formal religious procedures were carried out, and, yes, supporting a range of buildings for residences, gatherings, and the like. In English, we don’t use the word “park” for this, we use the word “monastery”.

The idea that in the 45 years of the Buddha’s life, mendicants lived entirely or primarily in the open air is utterly unrealistic. They would have begun building huts as soon as it started raining. I’ve stayed in “parks”, and they’re great … until the rain falls. Then they’re miserable. Anyone who has lived as a monk would know this. There’s a reason why “dwelling in the open air” is a special and limited ascetic practice.

And for Wynne’s:

Buildings are hardly mentioned in the Suttas, but the Vinaya has more material on it - although this probably only indicates that the Vinaya is generally later than the Suttas.

Yes, the Vinaya is generally later than the Suttas, and represents a somewhat more settled and developed time. But it’s excessive to say this is the “only” reason for the difference.

The Vinaya explicitly deals with the material side of monastic life. In most cases in the Suttas, the kinds of building people lived in don’t really matter. When I’m teaching Dhamma, how often do I mention my dwelling place? I dunno, sometimes? But if I’m writing monastery regulations, I have to get a whole lot more detailed. That’s the point of the Vinaya.

So it’s not “only” lateness, it’s also the purpose of the text.

[*] I read an interview with him years ago where he said this. Maybe he’s been to India since, but he certainly hadn’t when he wrote his influential essays in the 80s.


This may be of interest?

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Sorry to keep on banging on this point, but I realized I had overlooked something.

True, but also, the Vinaya is highly stratified, and the early portions are easily recognizable.

The main early portion, which is probably as early as the main suttas, is the patimokkha. And there we find several quite detailed rules that regulate monastic buildings. In particular, the sizes and types of building are limited, which indicates that there had already been a tendency to build over-luxurious residences. We also find a concern for the environmental consequences of building, the means of funding them, decision making procedures, as well as safety regulations. All this indicates that by the time of the patimokkha, there was already a long history of monastic residences. This backdates it, in all probability, to the Buddha’s lifetime.

Also, it probably shouldn’t need saying, but the examples that Wynne gives of the Buddha being “homeless” are in fact episodes when he was traveling.

Actually a great book, so long as you remember that Fogelin was influenced by Schopen, so his grasp of Buddhist history is shaky. Unlike Schopen, Fogelin is actually an archeologist, so his archeology is good. But for example, he refers to references to Ashoka in the Pali canon, but of course, there is no such thing.


Cool! And, sorry that I am so behind in responding to notifications, it seems to take me hours each time I come back to this wonderful site, and I never seem to catch up sufficiently!

Ok, interesting!

I’m not sure never going to India would invalidate all of his work. But you do go on to show a very relevant downfall of this regarding the ‘elliptical structure’ - thanks! I do also think that it’s great that he tries to discredit views via archaeology. Even if it would lead to wrong conclusions, hopefully the debate improves the overall understanding. I would love to see a well reasoned response to his ‘Bones, Stone…’ book! Some of the issues he raised seemed quite interesting, including for example the monastics offering large sums of money.

So it would seem at least that his work that I brought into this topic was valid, so far as it was discounting the claim raised about that site with regard to evidence of buildings at the time of the Buddha. So that seems useful at least.

Nice! Yes it looks as if he didn’t even check any photos or diagrams for that one, if indeed there were no other elliptical structures that come close to looking like stupas! (I even thin that any ellipse might be unlikely to be a stupa - I have myself at least never heard of a blatant ellipse shaped stupa!)

Oh thanks, that’s useful info. I will bear that in mind if I go to more sites! I tend to visit people more than archaeological sites, but I have ended up at a few.

Thanks for the explanation. However I suppose that still leaves open the question as to what the nature of the buildings was. In English we might easily assume a ‘monastery’ to be a large building. Whereas what you have written there leaves room for a broad range of possibilities, including a collection of individual huts, with or without walls, possibly with rather temporary leaf roofs. Possibly more akin to some hunter gatherer encampments.

So I’m not really arguing about the word choice, but more that that leaves open the possibility of something quite different from the image of what the word ‘monastery’ may conjure in the mind of an English language reader.

That’s interesting. Especially for the context of another discussion on the recent post I made about meat eating. What is your sense for a rough dating of… let’s say the bulk of the Vinaya?

Fair enough.

Yes, indeed. Although if we go by the earliest evidence, we still must be careful of seeing what the evidence tells us in the absence of our preconceptions, so I still find this topic interesting, and still have the sense that perhaps the buildings were… more rudimentary than we might sometimes assume? And I also wonder what kind of proportion we might have found amongst the Sangha outside of monsoon time, in terms of building-living vs. more open living.

Thanks! I will try to find the time to read that!

Cool. Do we have anywhere any kind of map (visual would be great!) of the Vinayapitaka (and Suttapitaka) showing which parts are the earliest? Also is there any chance of labels on the texts on this website to indicate if they’re from the earliest layer or not (or maybe even a more extensive categorisation into historical layers?) Could be very helpful for research!

Do you mean luxurious monastic residences, or secular ones? If the former, do we have any details from that earliest layer on the details of such buildings?

That’s fascinating! I guess I am particularly interested in any details about walls, if we have any? :slight_smile:

I find his research often lacking in thoroughness, to be honest.

Oh really? I tend not to read later texts but there are many late texts in the Pāli canon, right? I found this from this source: Asoka

Asoka.-King of Magadha. He was the son of Bindusāra. Bindusāra had sixteen wives who bore him 101 sons.

The chief Pāli sources of information regarding Asoka are Dīpavamsa (chaps. i., v., vi., vii., xi., etc.), Mahāvamsa (v., xi., xx., etc.), Samantapāsādikā (pp. 35 ff. ). Other sources are the Divyāvadāna passim, and the Avadānasataka ii.200ff. For an exhaustive discussion of the sources and their contents see Prszlyski, La Legende de l’Empereur Asoka.

Are none of those sources regarded as part of ‘the Pāli’? And, if not, then is his mistake perhaps just in the accepted breadth of the term ‘Pāli Canon’?