Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vivid presentation, vast knowledge Professor Eckel is truly passionate about his subject, so I loved his clear and vivid presentation. I got a chance to appreciate the incredible diversity of Buddhist schools, to ponder over some complex philosophic notions, as well as to learn about famous Buddhists like Aung San Suu Kuy, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who used the Buddhist teachings in her political activism. I learned a wide range of fascinating things about Buddhism and its history with this course! I will definitely have much to tell to my friends, so they need to get their ears ready :)
Date published: 2020-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great place to start your journey into Buddhism I have three MAs in Italian, Literary Theory, Comparative Literature, and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. I list my credentials to simply stress that I am no newbie to academia and academic lectures. If you truly are a beginner in the studying of Buddhism, this is a perfect place to start. It follows a historical trajectory that, if supplemented with the readings of Robinson and Johnson, it actually covers most of the major aspects a general audience should know. As a versed scholar in Western Comparative Studies, I may recognize that this course does not delve necessarily too in-depth on many subjects, but this is after all in the premise itself of the course. If a novice begins to look beyond the lectures, it will be clear soon enough that looking more in-depth into Buddhism requires extensive knowledge od the different areas of the world where Buddhism spread, a basic understanding of the diversity of the literary canons, and so on. Buddhism, like all religious traditions, is no joke to grasp. This course is meant to introduce you to all the most popular and "visible" aspect of Buddhism to get you started in your own path. Like an old sage said, every initiation is always a self-initiation.
Date published: 2020-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential Clear, concise, and easily conveys all the essential information for such a complex subject.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable Buddhism presentation. Even though he presents from a lecturn, the professor has a presentation style that is calm, easy to understand, and engaging. His examples and stories are invaluable to the students understanding, and as a bonus, the student’s vocabulary will improve. Also, his lecture flow and historical foundation presented are excellent complements to learning.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mediocre course This course is an overview of Buddhism. Professor Eckel does a fairly good job of describing Buddhism, but the course nevertheless remains a superficial overview. He has a good command of Buddhist vocabulary. In other words, he knows a lot of jargon (dharma, samadhi, karma, bodhisattva, nirvana, mandala, etc.). Although his presentations were reasonably clear, I never succeeded in connecting with him. He failed to convince me that he genuinely understands Buddhism. He reminded me of a county agricultural agent who happened to stop by the studio to deliver some lectures on Buddhism after spending a day harvesting wheat with a combine in Kansas. I might have gotten more out of the course if an actual Buddhist from Tibet had delivered the lectures instead of a professor from an American college.
Date published: 2020-08-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Learned a lot; great presenter. If you want to learn about this mysterious religion, this is a great place to start.
Date published: 2020-06-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Instructor is BORING! The content is great --- the instructor has put me to sleep 2x and I am only on lesson 4. Wish he would get out from behind the podium - he knows the subject - TALK!
Date published: 2020-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Provides basic history and philosophy Overall good on the history, myths, legends and history of Buddhism. He does point out the similarities with Jesus and the expansion of Buddhist missionaries into Egypt. Would have preferred a greater elaboration on the philosophy rather than the individuals who promoted Buddhism in more recent times, including the USA. Could be updated as there has been an expansion since the recording.
Date published: 2020-05-13
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Course Trailer
What is Buddhism?
1: What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is best understood as the unfolding of the story of the Buddha himself, and of the many generations of followers who have contributed to Buddhism's influence and diversity in India, the rest of Asia, and the world.

32 min
India at the Time of the Buddha
2: India at the Time of the Buddha

Buddhism began when Siddhartha Gautama, the man who would come to be known as the Buddha, "awoke" to the truth. This awakening was rooted in the tradition of the Vedas, Hindu scriptures that describe the lives of Indian sages and the Indian quest for wisdom about the nature of the world and the self....

31 min
The Doctrine of Reincarnation
3: The Doctrine of Reincarnation

Along with the quest for wisdom, Buddhism inherited the Indian notion of reincarnation. Humans and all other living beings live not one but many lives in a continuous process of death and rebirth. This process is known as samsara or wandering from one life to the next. While we might view reincarnation as an opportunity to enjoy life repeatedly, those in ancient India considered it to be a burden....

31 min
The Story of the Buddha
4: The Story of the Buddha

The Buddha was a real person who was born into a royal family, had a spiritual awakening and lived to be about 80. But the actual facts of Siddhartha Gautama's life cannot explain his impact on his followers. We must examine the stories that Buddhists tell about the Buddha, including those of his previous lives.

31 min
All Is Suffering
5: All Is Suffering

After the Buddha's death, attention turned to his Dharma, or teaching. A fundamental claim was that "All is suffering." This may seem pessimistic, but Buddhists find it a realistic, and even liberating, view of life. This perspective derives from the concept of "no self."...

31 min
The Path to Nirvana
6: The Path to Nirvana

After describing the truth of suffering, the Buddha went on to describe the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. The cessation of suffering is also called nirvana, the "blowing out" of desire....

31 min
The Buddhist Monastic Community
7: The Buddhist Monastic Community

The Buddha's first converts formed the early Buddhist Samgha, or "community." After his death, attention shifted to his teachings, or Dharma. Disputes over doctrine and discipline eventually led to many different traditions of Buddhist practice....

31 min
Buddhist Art and Architecture
8: Buddhist Art and Architecture

Buddhists developed distinctive artistic and architectural styles to express their understanding of the Buddha's teaching and to serve as the focus of worship and veneration. A blend of Indian and Hellenistic influences created the classic Gupta style that inspired Buddhist art throughout the rest of Asia.

31 min
Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia
9: Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia

The arrival of the first Buddhist missionaries in Sri Lanka led to the Theravada Buddhism that now predominates in Southeast Asia. Part of this tradition is the concept of the "righteous King," which continues to link Buddhist practice with political involvement.

31 min
Mahayana Buddhism and the Bodhisattva Ideal
10: Mahayana Buddhism and the Bodhisattva Ideal

The Mahayana tradition, or "Great Vehicle," emerged in India near the beginning of the Common Era. It introduced the ideal of the bodhisattva, or "future Buddha," who, rather than seeking nirvana, returns again and again in the cycle of samsara to seek the welfare of others....

31 min
Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
11: Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Another aspect of the Mahayana tradition is "celestial" Buddhas and bodhisattvas, heavenly beings who can save earthly beings who ask for their help. Among the most important are Avalokiteshvara, "The Lord Who Looks Down," and Amitabha, "the Buddha of Infinite Light," who is worshipped widely in Japan.

31 min
12: Emptiness

At the heart of Mahayana practice lies the paradoxical and elusive concept of Emptiness. This concept challenged and undermined many of the rigid categories of traditional Buddhism, but it also introduced a new spirit of affirmation and possibility.

31 min
Buddhist Philosophy
13: Buddhist Philosophy

The Mahayana tradition developed a sophisticated philosophy to deal with Emptiness. Two major schools of thinking appeared-the Madhyamaka and the Yogachara-that took very different approaches toward understanding the "reality" of Emptiness.

31 min
Buddhist Tantra
14: Buddhist Tantra

The Buddhist movement known as Tantra emerged in the 6th century. This tradition took a radical stance toward the concept of Emptiness that produced strikingly new forms of ritual and meditation.

31 min
The Theory and Practice of the Mandala
15: The Theory and Practice of the Mandala

Practitioners of Buddhist Tantra use a mandala, or ritual circle, to explore connections between the self, Buddhist deities and the universe. A mandala can be a two dimensional representation or a three-dimensional object, ranging from a small implement to an enormous temple or even an entire city or nation....

31 min
The "First Diffusion of the Dharma" in Tibet
16: The "First Diffusion of the Dharma" in Tibet

The "First Diffusion" or arrival, of Buddhism in Tibet occurred in the 7th century under the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. Over time, Tibetan Buddhism took on the complex institutional characteristics of Indian Buddhism, and also had strong influence on a native Tibetan tradition known as Bon.

32 min
The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism
17: The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

Buddhism had to be reintroduced from India to Tibet in the 10th century. This "Later Diffusion of the Dharma" led to four schools of Tibetan Buddhism...

31 min
The Dalai Lama
18: The Dalai Lama

Tibetan Buddhism is personified for many people by the figure of the Dalai Lama. The present Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, is the fourteenth in a line of incarnations that began in the 15th century.

31 min
The Origins of Chinese Buddhism
19: The Origins of Chinese Buddhism

Buddhism entered China at a time when the Chinese were disillusioned with traditional Chinese values. Through a long process of interaction with Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese popular religion, Buddhism took on a distinctively Chinese character.

31 min
The Classical Period of Chinese Buddhism
20: The Classical Period of Chinese Buddhism

During the Tang Dynasty, a series of indigenous Chinese schools gave brilliant expression to the values of the Mahayana tradition. In return, Buddhist values had important influence on Chinese literature and the arts.

32 min
The Origins of Japanese Buddhism
21: The Origins of Japanese Buddhism

Buddhism entered Japan as early as the year 535 from Korea. The indigenous Japanese tradition of Shinto, or "the way of the Gods," came to be seen as harmonious with "the way of the Buddha."

31 min
Honen, Shinran and Nichiren
22: Honen, Shinran and Nichiren

During the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) political unrest in Japan led some to doubt whether Buddhism could be practiced in such a "degenerate age." Three Buddhist thinkers-Honen, Shinran and Nichiren-set new traditions in motion that have had enormous influence wherever Japanese Buddhism has traveled in the world.

31 min
23: Zen

The Kamakura period also saw the appearance of Zen, now one of the most popular Buddhist Movements in the West. The goal of this process is to achieve awakening in the Mahayana sense-that is, to achieve an awareness of Emptiness.

31 min
Buddhism in America
24: Buddhism in America

The American Theosophist, Colonel Olcott, traveled to Ceylon in the 1880s, converted to Buddhism, and helped formulate a modern view of the Buddhist tradition. Today, Buddhism is represented in Asian immigrant communities, and has influenced American visual arts, literature, film, and music.

32 min
Malcolm David Eckel

When I made my course on Buddhism, I had no idea who would be listening my lectures. It has been immensely satisfying to see the course help so many people enjoy the variety, complexity, and depth of this beautiful tradition.


Harvard University


Boston University

About Malcolm David Eckel

Dr. Malcolm David Eckel is Professor of Religion and Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston University. He holds two bachelor's degrees, one in English from Harvard University and a second in Theology from Oxford University. Professor Eckel earned his master's degree in theology at Oxford University and his Ph.D. in the Study of Comparative Religion at Harvard University. He held teaching positions at Ohio Wesleyan University, Middlebury College in Vermont, and the Harvard Divinity School, where he served as acting director of the Center for the Study of World Religions. At Boston University, Professor Eckel teaches courses on Buddhism, comparative religion, and the religions of Asia. In 1998, Professor Eckel received the Metcalf Award for Teaching Excellence, the university's highest award for teaching. In addition to writing many articles, Professor Eckel has published two books on Buddhist philosophy: To See the Buddha: A Philosopher's Quest for the Meaning of Emptiness and Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places.

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