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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 explores Mahāyāna Buddhist understandings of the human condition and its visions of human flourishing. We cover the origins, history, doctrinal developments and major practices of Mahāyāna Buddhism, including its relationship to Theravāda, from the first centuries of the common era to the present.

    By engaging sacred texts from the Buddhist canon as well as poetry, literature, autobiography and film, we consider how Mahāyāna Buddhism has changed and evolved as it spread from India to Central and East Asia and, more recently, throughout the world.

    Key themes include the question of suffering, the nature of compassion, training the emotions, and the place of imperfection within Mahāyāna Buddhist visions of enlightenment. Throughout, we consider the relevance of class material to our own views and experiences of the world.

    About this paper

    Paper title Mahayana Buddhism
    Subject Religious Studies
    EFTS 0.15
    Points 18 points
    Teaching period Not offered in 2024 (Distance learning)
    Domestic Tuition Fees ( NZD ) $981.75
    International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.
    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 RELS230 or RELS330 or RELX230 or 330 passed in 2009.

    Dr Lina Verchery

    Teaching staff

    Dr Lina Verchery

    Paper Structure

    This course is divided into five modules:

    • The Foundations of Early Indian Buddhism
    • Early Mahāyāna Buddhism in India
    • Mahāyāna Sūtras
    • Ritual, Practice, and Devotion
    • Transmissions and Transformations

    The assessment at the 300 level comprises:

    • Weekly Reflections 20%
    • Essay 1 (2,000 words) 20%
    • Essay 2  (2,500 words) 25%
    • Exam (three hours) 35%
    Teaching Arrangements

    The Distance Learning offering of this paper is taught remotely.

    For on-campus students there are two 1-hour lectures per week.
    Distance students participate in fortnightly discussions online.


    Robert A. Thurman, transl. The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976)

    Heruka, Tsangnyön. The Life of Milarepa (East Rutherford: Penguin Publishing Group, 2010)

    Recommended: 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 transmission of Mahāyāna to other parts of Asia


    • The ability to analyse critically the teachings of Mahāyāna Buddhism
    • 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


    Not offered in 2024

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