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RELS326 Mahayana Buddhism

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The origins of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India, its spread to Tibet and East Asia and its relationship to other forms of Buddhism, including Theravada.

This paper examines the origins, the history and the main principles of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India, its spread to China, Japan and Tibet, and its relationship to other forms of Buddhism. We will then explore the origins and development of the main Mahāyāna texts and languages, such as the Perfection of Wisdom and Lotus sūtras and their influence on the Mahāyāna doctrines and the differences between Mahāyāna and Theravāda Buddhism.

There will be studies of the main concepts in these sūtras with special reference to doctrines such as Dependent Origination, the Bodhisattva ideal, Buddha nature, the Three Bodies of the Buddha, the three vehicles and Nirvana. The early history of Buddhism will be examined, such as how it separated into many sects: Chinese Buddhist Sects - Cha'an (Zen) and Pure Land - are both transmitted to Japan and Korea; the Nichiren sect has popularity in Japan and China and is based on the Lotus sūtras; Vajrayana Buddhism is spread into Tibet

Paper title Mahayana Buddhism
Paper code RELS326
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period(s) First Semester, First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $913.95
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,073.40

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One 200-level RELS or RELX paper
RELS 226, RELX 226, RELX 326
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
May not be credited together with RELS 230 or 330 or RELX 230 or 330 passed in 2009.

Dr Lina Verchery

Teaching staff

Dr Lina Verchery

Paper Structure

This paper is divided into six study units:

  • Early Indian Buddhism
  • Early Mahāyāna Buddhism in India
  • Early Mahāyāna scriptures
  • Mahāyāna schools in India
  • Transmission of Mahāyāna Buddhism to China
  • LaterMahāyāna scriptures
  • Mahāyāna devotionalism

The assessment at 300-level comprises

  • A 750-word outline of the essay 10%
  • A 3,500-word essay 40%
  • Online discussion 10%
  • A three-hour exam 40%
Teaching Arrangements
For on-campus students there are two 1-hour lectures per week.
Distance students participate in fortnightly discussions online.
Paul Williams. Mahāyāna Buddhism: the Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge, 2009)

A coursebook has also been developed for this paper.
Course outline
View sample course outline for RELS326
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Research, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
  • The origins and early development of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India
  • The distinctive ideas and practices of Mahāyāna Buddhism
  • The different phases in the development of Mahāyāna Buddhism in Asia and the contribution it has made to the culture of the lands where it has developed
  • The ability to analyse critically Mahāyāna Buddhist history and thought
  • The ability to research topics using academic texts, journals and other media
  • The ability to defend an argument using a variety of methods in writing

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First Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system

First Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 14:00-14:50 9-13, 15-22
Thursday 14:00-14:50 9-13, 15-22