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2013 Buddhism in China-- Connecting with the Source:

Vinaya Workshop in Sichuan (Winter)


Program Information


A Seven Day Vinaya Workshop led by Professor Ann Heirman
at Sichuan Bhikkhuni Buddhist College 四川尼眾佛學院


The Woodenfish “Buddhism in China—Connecting with the Source Program” is a semi-annual program, sponsored by Woodenfish Foundation, that offers faculty, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates opportunities for direct and intensive engagement with important historical centers of Chinese Buddhism and culture. Previous programs have included a Platform Sutra Workshop in Nanhua Temple led by Peter Gregory and a Guanyin Workshop on Mt. Putuo led by Chün-fang Yü.


Program Duration

Dates: December 28, 2013 to January 4, 2014



Sichuan Bhikkhuni Buddhist College (Sichuan Nizhong Foxueyuan 四川尼眾佛學院). 



Faculty, graduate level and advanced undergraduate students as well as ordained nuns and female priests of any Buddhist tradition


Course Introduction

The Vinaya Workshop will begin with a five day intensive study of Vinaya at “Sichuan Bhikkhuni Buddhist College” in Chengdu, Sichuan. This will be followed by a two day tour of historical Buddhist sights in Sichuan. The Sichuan Bhikkhuni Buddhist College was the first state-accredited Bhikkhuni Buddhist College in modern China, founded by the Ven. Longlian 隆蓮, with a special focus on vinaya, and was built on the site of a historic Ming Temple. We are very excited about this special opportunity to study vinaya together with practicing Bhikkhuni. The seven day intensive program will include a monastic life practicum including daily meditation and chanting.


Each day during the five day course covers a different topic. The course begins with a general introduction to vinaya (disciplinary rules) and an overview of Chinese developments. In every session texts will be read and discussed. After these introductions, our focus will be the development and spread of female monasticism as well as the importance of food and bodily care. More details on the course curriculum can be found below.



December 28 Arrival Chengdu, Sichuan

December 29-January 2 Classes and discussions on vinaya and Monastic Life Practicum

January 3-4 Culture Tour

January 5 Depart from Chengdu, Sichuan



Accepted applicants must provide their own transportation to and from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China as well as $100 (USD) to be used for the purchase of uniforms and a set of monastic bowls. There are no additional costs for the workshop. Room and board, tuition, and local transportation costs will be covered by a scholarship for all selected participants.


About the Application

The vinaya workshop accepts applications from faculty, graduate level, advanced undergraduate students, monastics, as well as those who have already completed their degrees from any country. Buddhist nuns and female priests from any Buddhist tradition are especially encouraged to apply. Applicants from diverse academic disciplines are encouraged to apply with preference given to those in the fields of East Asian and Buddhist Studies. Applications will be reviewed by a committee including Buddhist clergy, scholars, and ordained monastics. Approximately 30 applicants will be offered admission to this program.

Applications will be reviewed on a ROLLING BASIS, and decisions will be made within two weeks after submission. Selection is quite competitive; applicants are encouraged to apply early to ensure a better chance of admission into the workshop.


About Prof. Ann Heirman

Ann Heirman, Ph.D. (1998) in Oriental Languages and Cultures, is Professor at Ghent University (Belgium), where she is teaching Classical and Buddhist Chinese. She has published extensively on Chinese Buddhist monasticism and the development of disciplinary rules, including Rules for Nuns according to the Dharmaguptakavinaya (Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2002), The Spread of Buddhism (edited volume with Stephan Peter Bumbacher, Brill, Leiden, 2007) and A Pure Mind in a Clean Body, Bodily Care in the Buddhist Monasteries of Ancient India and China (Academia Press, Ghent, 2012, with Mathieu Torck). At Ghent University, she is president of the Ghent Centre for Buddhist Studies, an international research centre that focuses on India and China.


Detailed Course Syllabus: “Vinaya – Monastic Discipline”

The course takes five days, each day covers a different topic. The course begins with a general introduction to vinaya (disciplinary rules) and an overview of Chinese developments. In each session, texts will be read and discussed. After these introductions, our focus will be the development and spread of female monasticism as well as the importance of food and bodily care.


General introduction to vinaya

+ reading of textual fragments

For a study of the monastic context, we have a wealth of monastic guidelines at our disposal. A common term for all disciplinary guidelines is vinaya, translated in Chinese as lü律 – rule or law. All vinaya texts primarily contain practical rules, rather than theoretical observations. Some compilations can be considered as key texts for monastic discipline in India, in China, or in both. They comprise our main sources. On the first day, we will focus on the Indian vinaya texts. As we will see, most of these survive only in their Chinese translations – translations that underpinned the formation of Chinese monastic life.


Introduction to Chinese developments

+ reading of textual fragments; discussion on vinaya development in China


On the basis of the Indian monastic background, Chinese masters wrote their own compilations, still deeply influenced by the vinayas, but also strongly attracted to a new movement, commonly called Mahāyāna, which reached China in the very early stages of Chinese Buddhism. A central concept in Mahāyāna Buddhism is the bodhisattva figure, ‘a being oriented towards enlightenment’. While the bodhisattva ideal already appears in so-called birth stories (jātaka) of the Buddha, who in his many earlier lives – as a bodhisattva – cultivated perfections such as generosity and morality, in Mahāyāna Buddhism it is believed that there are many such bodhisattvas, living in a system of countless worlds. These bodhisattvas can offer help to all living beings. Rules of moral conduct for bodhisattvas were stipulated and grouped in several Mahāyāna texts. While Buddhism started to develop in China, the homeland of the Buddha continued to raise the interest and curiosity of Chinese Buddhist monks. Several of them even travelled to India to find texts and experience the Indian Buddhist environment; and some of these wrote lengthy travel accounts, offering the reader a glimpse into the Indian monastic world. As we will see, these Chinese authors regularly compare their Indian experiences with their Chinese background. Finally, based on many centuries of vinaya texts and compilations, a new genre started to develop in China from the eighth century onwards – the so-called ‘rules of purity’, qing gui清規. While the qing gui clearly rely on earlier compilations of disciplinary rules, they also constitute an entirely new phenomenon, with their principal aim being the practical organization of large public monasteries.


Interlude: speech is silver; silence is golden?


In a Buddhist context, three kinds of acts are to be considered: the acts of body, mind and speech. In this topic, we focus on acts related to speech, and more particularly ‘speech’ in the monastic guidelines as they spread from India to China. First, we examine how on the one hand speech is explicitly allowed by the Indian vinayas, while on the other hand the same texts also meticulously constrain them. When analyzing the underlying reasons why vinaya compilers decided to include rules on speech in the most basic monastic guidelines, two motives come to the fore. First, an act should not be wrongful. Secondly, it should not transgress proper etiquette. Secondly, we will focus on early Chinese monastic compendia that supplement the Indian rules. Again we see that speech is explicitly allowed, though also carefully restricted. The two motives to do so remain the same: acts should not be wrongful, nor should they go against exemplary behavior. Still, as we will see, the way of implementing these motives has considerably changed.


Female monasticism: development and globalisation

+ reading of textual fragments


One of the most debated issues in present-day Buddhism is the question of access of women to a full ordination as a nun (bhikṣuṇī). Of the three extant ordination traditions – Dharmaguptaka, Theravāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda, it is only in the first one that both men and women are accepted without any dispute as fully ordained members of the monastic community. This situation has given rise to many discussions pleading for a revival of a full ordination ceremony in all Buddhist traditions. In these revival movements, special attention goes to several technical questions of monastic discipline (vinaya). We will focus on these questions, while also paying attention to the role played by concepts involving gender.


As we will see, the technical questions, and the debates surrounding them, are not at all new. Right from the start of the first Buddhist communities, they gradually gained importance. This process thoroughly influenced the spread and the survival of the ordination ceremony for women throughout the history of Buddhism. When returning to the present day, we can demonstrate how the technical questions of the past still play a major role in discussions on status of female monastic members of the Buddhist community.


Development of monastic daily life: a few topical matters based on vinaya


a. Food


One of the most distinguishing features of a Chinese monk and nun is the refusal to eat or drink certain types of food: it is forbidden to drink alcohol, to eat meat or fish, or to consume five products that have a strong flavor. This was not merely a matter of monastic code. Under the influence of Mahāyāna, with its strong emphasis on compassion, the monastic discipline was subjected to an increased moralization. At the same time, we see how the secular authorities interfered with the monastic discipline on an increasing scale, until they finally even took it upon themselves to enforce these monastic rules by including them into the secular law codex. The Daoseng ge, Regulations for the Daoist and Buddhist Clergy, included in the civil Tang code issued in 637 by Emperor Taizong, is a prime example.


Based on disciplinary (vinaya) texts, Chinese commentaries written by vinaya masters, and historical accounts, we will discuss the development of disciplinary rules on forbidden food in the Buddhist monastic community. At the beginning, a wrong-doer was a mere offender of the monastic code. He gradually became a sinner, and finally also a state criminal (at least in theory).


b. Bodily care


In this final topic, we study some of the most essential, but often overlooked, objects and practices of daily life: namely, those relating to bodily care. As with all topics, these need to be seen in a well-defined context, taking historical and geographical data into account. The context chosen for this study is the relatively well-documented environment of the early Buddhist monasteries. Over time, Buddhist monks and nuns have put painstaking effort into regulating all aspects of their daily life, thereby defining the identity of the Buddhist saṃgha.

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