A monastery (àràma, àvàsa or vihàra) is a place where monks or nuns reside. A place where nuns live is correctly called a nunnery in English although this distinction is not made in Pàëi. The first Buddhist monasteries/nunneries were little more than grass huts or shelters erected in forests and gardens which had been donated to the Buddha. They could be of five types Ý a house, a hut, a rounded hut, an elongated hut, a cottage or a cave (Vin.V,146). The first Buddhist monastery, the Bamboo Grove in Ràjagaha, was a gift from King Bimbisàra. In time, the simple buildings developed into permanent structures and finally into sometimes very large complexes. One of the largest monasteries in ancient India was Nàëandà, which in the 7th century accommodated 10,000 monks. One of the largest monasteries in the world today is Mahagandoyan near Mandalay in Burma, which has a permanent population of about 3,000 monks. Most monasteries, however, are and always have been, fairly small. For centuries monasteries/nunneries have acted as the religious, cultural, educational and economic centres of the community around them.

In Sri Lanka a monastery is called  a pansala from the Pāëi  meaning `leaf hut',  the Thai and Cambodian word wat comes from the Pāëi vàña meaning an enclosed place, while the common Burmese name for a monastery is kyaung.  The Tibetan word for a monastery is gompa.