Institutional Repository

Tracing the teachings of compassion (karuṇā) in early Buddhism : mapping the suttas and the recipients of the teachings

Item and associated files





Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Shakya, Miroj
Iwamura, Jane
Lancaster, Lewis


As Buddhism spread and different schools emerged, karuṇā (compassion) became of critical importance to what would become known as the Mahāyāna school of Buddhism. What is not known definitively is how the early teachings led to this emphasis. By examining the Pāli Canon (the Sutta Piṭaka, and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka) for references to karuṇā, this dissertation examines the theme of compassion in early Buddhism, and, its forms of expression, as well as, key recipients and locations of the teachings through a novel use of data collection and analysis. As such, the project advances our understanding of the spread of early Buddhism and more specifically our understanding of the teachings on karuṇā.

Many studies of early Buddhism are based on the life story and travels of the Gautama Buddha. This is a study of early Buddhism that is based on the travel of those who may be considered incidental figures: the recipients of his teachings. This focus on the recipients of the Buddha’s teachings will contribute to a better understanding of the type of networks that were in place during the time and how information and ideas travelled along these networks. Analysis of the key people who heard these teachings, the relationships between them, and their other travels will tell a story of distribution of the Buddha’s crucial teaching on karuṇā.

This dissertation takes a systematic approach by documenting which suttas reference karuṇā, with special attention to the names of those who heard the suttas. Demographic and genealogical data are recorded for these recipients, and maps are constructed that details their place of origin and subsequent travels. Analysis and discussion of theses, maps, will provide a more robust understanding of the spread of early Buddhism and specifically point to key figures and locations previously deemphasized in traditional accounts. The study also provides a baseline against which similar data in relation to later teachings on karuṇā can be compared.


Philosophy of religion
Buddhism and social networks
Compassion in Theravada Buddhism
Maps of early Buddhism
Spread of early Buddhism
Theravada Buddhism

Degree Granter

University of the West



Library Holding

Full view: