Paths of Monastic Practice from India to Sri Lanka

Responses to L.S. Cousins’ Work on Scholars and Meditators


  • Bradley S. Clough The University of Montana



dhammayoga, dhammakathika, jhāyin, Mahācunda, Nibbāna, Arahat, arahatta, bhāṇaka, atthapada, dhammānusārin, diṭṭhippatta, paññāvimutta, kāyasakkin, ubhātobhāgavimutta, learning, meditation, path, practice, tranquillity, wisdom, insight


In 1996, L. S Cousins published a groundbreaking piece on paths of monastic practice titled ‘Scholar Monks and Meditator Monks Revisited’ (Powers and Prebish 2009, 31–46). As the title suggests, this work reconsiders the role of two types of monks, doing so by closely analyzing a famous sutta (Mahacunda Sutta, A III 355–356) that depicts a strong dispute between jhayins or ‘meditators’ and dhammayogas, whom scholarship has almost universally defined as ‘scholars’. Because of this, almost all have interpreted this debate as the first sign in early Indian Buddhism of a great bifurcation in the sangha between those concentrating on book learning (pariyatti) and those concentrating on practice (patipatti) — a split that became more and more marked over the centuries until the division became more or less official in medieval Sri Lanka. Cousins convincingly contests this history, with one of his main points being that the dhammayogas were not at all just scholars. Like the meditators, theirs was a practical path that resulted in profound realization of the Dhamma, albeit a different path from that of the meditators. Cousins then goes even further, arguing that the split between scholars and meditators is not very evident in South Asian Buddhist history until the time of Buddhaghosa and thereafter. My intention here is to respond as fully as possible to Cousins’ methods and conclusions, by offering evidence and arguments that sometimes support his work further and sometimes critique his work. This is done in the spirit of spurring on more discussions on this important, complex, and contested issue.


Author Biography

Bradley S. Clough, The University of Montana

Bradley Clough is Associate Professor in the Global Humanities and Religions program at the University of Montana. His primary research interest is the history of doctrines and practices of Buddhism in South Asia. Among the themes he has addressed in his publications are pilgrimage and sacred space, nonviolence and altruism, textual authority, family life, spiritual biography, just-war theory, and meditative accomplishment. He is the author of Early Indian and Theravada Buddhism: Soteriological Controversy and Diversity (Cambria Press 2012).


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———. 2007. The Origin of Buddhist Meditation. New York: Routledge.




How to Cite

Clough, B. S. (2018). Paths of Monastic Practice from India to Sri Lanka: Responses to L.S. Cousins’ Work on Scholars and Meditators. Buddhist Studies Review, 35(1-2), 29–45.