Buddhist monasteries are the most common and the oldest monasteries. Buddhist monasteries can be found all around the world. Countries like India, Japan, Sri Lanka, China, Malaysia, Laos etc have monasteries which are hundreds and even thousands of years old. In other countries like Australia, Canada, USA etc, monasteries are a much recent phenomenon.
Buddhist monasteries are known as vihara in India, gompa in Tibet, wat in Thailand, Laos & Cambodia. The concept of a Buddhist monastery emerged in the 4th century B.C.
Buddhist monks used to wander all over South Asia. But in the rainy season, they needed to stay in a shelter for protection. The usual practice was to clear forest land to prepare a temporary shelter. Sometimes monks used to get trapped in rough weather. In order to avoid this, monks were ordered to stay in a fixed location for the period of the rainy season. The places these monks used to stay during the rainy season were the first monasteries.
The groups of monks, known as sanghas, started staying in buildings donated to them by wealthy followers. Over a period of time, they left their wandering life and started living in the monasteries. They debated and developed philosophical ideas in these monasteries. Gradually, these monasteries turned into centers of learning, many of them famous, like the University of Nalanda.
Through the years, monasteries became an indispensable part of Buddhism. Living and learning in monasteries is now the preferred lifestyle for Buddhist monks.
Architecture of Buddhist monasteries
The architecture of ancient Buddhist monasteries is different in different countries. The first monasteries, which were in India, were very simple. As time passed, they became more beautiful and more lavish.
Some famous Buddhist monasteries include Nalanda in India, Shaolin in China, etc.