śāsana (P. sāsana; T. bstan pa བསྟན་པ་; C. shengjiao 聖教), literally "message," is the traditional term used by Buddhists to refer to the teachings of the Buddha, in the sense of an institutional or historical set of teachings. "Generally, the term designates everything that is related to Buddhas teaching, its propagation, its study and its putting into practice." Śāsana is commonly translated as "dispensation," "teachings," "doctrine," "religion," etc.
Śāsana also designates the period during which Buddhas teaching is made known to beings and practiced. In the Buddhist view, the teachings (śāsana) of a particular buddha will remain in the world for a certain amount of time (approximately 5000 years); after gradually becoming less known due to the diminishing capacity of beings, the teachings will disappear from the world. Eventually a new buddha will appear in the world, rediscover the true dharma, and establish a new dispensation.
The Pali tradition identifies several ways to classify the teachings of the Buddha:
- the twofold dispensation, comprised of the “teaching for monks” (P. bhikkhusāsana) and “teaching for nuns” (P. bhikkhunīsāsana).
- the threefold dispensation, comprised of the “teaching on scriptural study” (P. pariyattisāsana), “teaching on practice” (P. paṭipattisāsana), and the “teaching on realization” (P. paṭivedhasāsana).
- the ninefold dispensation, known as "the ninefold Dispensation of the Buddha" (navaṅga-buddha-sāsana), or "the ninefold Dispensation of the Master" (navaṅga-satthu-sāsana).