“Buddhist Studies” at Chula In-depth studies, activities, and research

Chulalongkorn University isn’t a Buddhist university but it does serve as a resource center for Buddhist Studies research and education.  There are now various programs that offer courses in Buddhist Studies, as well as the Center for Buddhist Studies of the Institute of Thai Studies and its worldwide network of academics who are active in the exchange and collaboration in research, along with the International Tipitaka Hall and the CU Dhamma Center which serves as a venue for study and research along with organizing activities related to Buddhism.   

What is your understanding of “Buddhism”?  Tilakkhana (The Three Characteristics), the path to the cessation of suffering, nirvana, the Life of the Buddha, Buddha’s teaching, merit-making, meditation, prayer, customs, or rituals?  “

Whatever the experience or understanding of “Buddhism” may be for each individual, it is an undeniable fact that Buddhism is a part of life.  It has existed in Thai culture and society, beliefs as well as the arts from the past and might become more prevalent in the modern world of today that is filled with so much turmoil and uncertainty.  

Associate Professor Dr. Arthid Sheravanichkul of the Department of Thai, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University explained that the study of Buddhism could be said to fall into two types.  The first centers around the endeavor to comprehend and adhere to Buddhist teachings whereas the second is more of an academic exercise and is known as Buddhist Studies which emphasizes research through various approaches and perspectives.

Associate Professor Dr. Arthid Sheravanichkul
Associate Professor Dr. Arthid Sheravanichkul

Dr. Arthid shares his view that applying the studies to one’s practices is crucial for the 21st century “Buddhism emerged in response to a very important question – how to end our suffering and attain true happiness as well as how to help end the suffering of others whether that suffering is physical or emotional.”   

“The problems we find today are increasingly numerous and complicated.  More and more people find themselves in pain from their suffering.  One integral practice that is often overlooked is that of cultivating mindfulness, training the mind to be with the present, being observant of the mind to always be conscious, and not allowing oneself to think or say anything that might lead to persecution of oneself or others which is what the Lord Buddha taught was the direct method to ending suffering.   There are several ways of cultivating mindfulness but it is most important to first have the correct understanding to lead us directly toward the right practice.”     

“What makes it interesting for us here in Thailand is that there are several forms of Buddhism, each with its form of practice.  Whether it is Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, or Zen all of them lead to a common goal which is the cessation of suffering for oneself and others.  Being openminded to understand these different types of teaching can be beneficial to the individual as well as to help bring about improvement to society.”   

“For the more academic approach to Buddhist Studies, the objectives and methods of learning would differ from the first type of learning.  This approach emphasizes research to derive academic answers through various forms of methodology such as the examination of texts in comparison with other scriptures, the study of Buddhist philosophy in comparison with principles of universal philosophy, the study of beliefs from the perspectives of the humanities or social sciences as well as the application of Buddhist teachings in medical practices and care for patients.  The academic approach to Buddhism began in the West a few hundred years ago and has been gradually developed up until today.”   

Here in Thailand, apart from Buddhist educational institutions, Chulalongkorn University is one of the most outstanding institutions when it comes to Buddhist Studies.  Its curriculum, one a Thai language program and the other an international program, is one of the most rigorous and covers various aspects of Buddhism whether in terms of philosophy, literature, history, economics, or socio-cultural issues.  There is a Buddhist Studies Center attached to the Thai Studies Institute which is key in promoting collaboration in terms of research on Buddhism by creating networks with academics from various countries across Asia, Europe, and the United States.   The Center also features a source for Buddhist documentational research at the International Tipitaka Hall which houses the King Chulalongkorn Edition of the Pali Tipataka as well as a collection of Theravada Tipitaka Scriptures in various alphabets of different countries.  There is also a central library and Humanities Information Center both of which have a vast collection of valuable texts and rare books while the university’s Dhamma Center provides a space for those wishing to learn and practice the Buddhist dhamma.  Moreover, in proximity, there are areas surrounding the university with important religious structures like Pathum Wanaram temple which houses valuable Buddhist artifacts and stands amidst lush grounds that make it perfect for meditation practice.  

The Faculty of Arts offers several programs about Buddhism directly and indirectly through courses that the Buddhist Studies program is part of.  Interested persons can take those courses as long as they have a good knowledge of the Thai language since they are required to read texts, jataka stories, and scriptures in Thai to be able to offer an in-depth analysis of these texts in their social contexts.   The Thai programs include: 

  1. The Pali-Sanskrit and Buddhist Studies Program, South Asian Languages Section which is part of the Department of Eastern Languages offers such courses as the History and Civilization of Buddhism, Sanskrit Buddhist Literature, Buddhist Doctrine in the Tipitaka, Indian Mythology in Brahma-Hindu Religions, Buddhist and Jainism, Indian Art, Buddhist Literature in Sanskrit and Buddhist Literature in Pali.    
  2. The Philosophy Program offers courses related to Buddhist Philosophy such as important concepts in Buddhist Philosophy concerning the World, Human Beings, Karma, Samsara, and Nirvana.  There are also studies specifically related to Buddhist philosophy like Japanese Philosophy, Shintoism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Confucianism in Japanese Culture. 
  3. The Thai Language Program offers courses that study the influence of Buddhism through Thai Literature for example Didactic Literature, Seminar in Buddhist Literature, and Seminar in Jataka Literature which provide a way to analyze and comprehend the Thai social context in various periods through translations of these literary texts.   

There is also an international program in Thai Studies designed for those who wish to understand contemporary Thai society and culture from a historical, political, and economic perspective as well as Thai Buddhism.  There is an M.A., Ph.D. as well as a non-Degree program for both Thai and foreign students.  

คณะอักษรศาสตร์ จุฬา

 Established about 30 years ago by professors of the Faculty of Arts who pioneered the academic pursuit of Buddhist Studies in Thailand, the Chulalongkorn University Centre for Buddhist Studies (CUBS) has played a crucial role in promoting the study, research, and dissemination of knowledge related to Buddhist Studies.  It has also been instrumental in finding ways to apply Buddhism to provide solutions to the problems in Thai society and has also served as a source of references on the subject of Buddhism at both the national and international levels.  

Presently, the Buddhist Studies Center has been transferred and now belongs to the Institute of Thai Studies.  Aside from continuing to pursue the mission it has constantly upheld, the Center has also taken on the responsibility of bringing together various networks of academics specializing in Buddhist Studies from all over the world.  In 2023, it has been instrumental in establishing the Asian Association of Buddhist Studies forming alliances with academics from leading universities.”    

The Faculty of Arts and the Centre for Buddhist Studies have both worked together throughout the years to develop academic research and disseminate knowledge in the area of Buddhist Studies.  These efforts have resulted in the cultivation of networks both nationally and internationally.  Some of their well-respected academics include:  

The Venerable Nun Vimuttiya (Associate Professor Dr. Supaphan Na Bangchang) whose research works include The King Chulalongkorn Edition of the Pali Tipitaka: its History and Prominent Features and The Meditation Practice during the Dvaravati Period (6th – 9th Century A.D.)

Assistant Professor Dr. Prapod Assavavirulhakarn, a recipient of the Ananda Mahidol Foundation scholarship to pursue Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley who has written The Ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia and Past Lives of the Buddha: Wat Si Chum – Art, Architecture, and Inscriptions.

Professor Dr. Peter Skilling (Professor Dr. Bhadra Rujirathat), a Buddhist scholar extraordinaire who is well versed in Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan Tibitakas.  He has been a special lecturer at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University for the past several years.    

Professor Dr. Justin McDaniel of the University of Pennsylvania.  His research has focused on Thai forms of Buddhism where he has written on scripture, education of the Sangha, and socio-cultural phenomena related to Buddhism such as rituals, veneration or amulets, etc.  

Professor Dr. Soonil Hwang of Dongguk University, South Korea has a deep interest in Thai Buddhism and has worked actively in partnership with academics in Asia and Europe.  

Professor Dr. Martin Seeger pioneered the area of Thai Studies at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.  His research interests include Thai women in Buddhism.    

Dr.Tomas Larsson of the University of Cambridge has conducted research on topics related to the roles and responsibilities of monks in Thai society.  

The Center has also received excellent cooperation and assistance from various international organizations such as the Khyentse Foundation which provides grants annually for students whose research relates to Buddhist Studies, the Henry Ginsburg Fund which offers support for research and academic activities, Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient – EFEO which was established in 1900 and now has an office in Chiang Mai while in Bangkok there is the Princess Maha Chakri SIrindhorn Anthropology Center.   

The International Tipitaka Hall which is now in the Maha Vajiravudh building of the Faculty of Arts, serves as a center for study and research especially on Theravada Buddhism. 

   One can find here an international collection of the Tipitaka scriptures written in different languages as well as a complete set of supplementary doctrines; at least two thousand volumes in total.  These consist of the first edition of the Tipitaka printed in Thai script during the reign of King Chulalongkorn along with a vast collection of the Tipitaka Scriptures written and translated into different languages as well as rare and old collections inscribed on palm leaves.  

Another important source of academic research is the Prince of Chanthaburi Room at the Office of Academic Resources of Chulalongkorn University dedicated to the Prince of Chanthaburi to house his collection of over five thousand books donated to the University in 1947. 

Some of the books include A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese (1871) Literary History of Sanskrit Buddhism (1923), Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World (1906) and have now been made available in E-book form as well. 

Other than academic learning, understanding Buddhism also involves practice.  Chula’s Dhamma Center has carried out activities related to Buddhist practices ever since it was established in 1979 to serve as the university’s center for all religious faiths serving its students, the CU community, and the general public.  Activities are held regularly on a weekly or monthly basis such as those related to religious holidays and festivals, Dhamma lectures every Sunday and Friday, etc. (Check out http://www.dharma-centre.chula.ac.th/ for news and announcements.) 

Students, especially international students, do not need to venture too far to learn more about the path of Thai Buddhism.  Dr. Arthid recommends two temples situated not too far away from the Chula campus.  “On Rama IV Road there is Wat Hua Lamphong, a royal temple of the third class is where various aspects of Thai and Chinese cultures, traditions, and beliefs are observed regularly through practices such as merit-making with coffin donations, offering prayers to ask for longevity, prosperity, safety and good fortune.”   

 “Another temple is Wat Pathum Wanaram a third-class royal temple founded in 1857 during the reign of King Rama IV.  Among the buildings at the temple is a Sala or an open pavilion for prayer and meditation.  Daily evening chants take place at 5 P.M. and people are also invited to attend sermons and other Buddhist rituals.  The temple also features beautiful, ancient craftsmanship with exquisite mural paintings and houses two revered Buddha images –Phra Serm and Phra Saen.  Check out https://www.cuartculture.chula.ac.th/news/17255/).

Those wishing to delve more deeply into Thai culture, religion, and society may contact The South Asian Languages Section, Department of Eastern Languages, , Department of Thai, Philosophy Department, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University.

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University.
Website https://www.arts.chula.ac.th/th/
Email arts@chula.ac.th

The Thai Studies Center
Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University
Telephone 0-2218-4530, 0-2218-4531
Website https://www.arts.chula.ac.th/international/thai/
Email thaistudiescenter@chula.ac.th

Those wishing to engage in academic exchange on matters related to Buddhist Studies are also welcome to contact the South Asian Languages Section, the Thai Studies Center, and the Center for Buddhist Studies.

The Center for Buddhist Studies
13th flood, Boromrajakumari Building
Websity http://www.cubs.chula.ac.th/
Email cubs@chula.ac.th

The Institute of Thai Studies
9th flood, Prachadhipok-Rambai Barni Building,
Telephone 0-2218-7495
Website http://www.thaistudies.chula.ac.th/
Email thstudies@chula.ac.th

The sense of kinship and warmth found in the Chula community is priceless and a treasure worth keeping.

Prof. Dr. Pornanong Aramwit Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University

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