Buddhism challenges some of the most important Western ideas about God, human life, and the self. In Buddhism there is no single almighty God who created the world. Instead, Buddhism teaches that all of life is suffering, and there is no permanent self. And it teaches that in accepting that all life is bliss can be achieved in this life.
Professor Malcolm David Eckel is winner of Boston University's highest honor, the Metcalf Award for Teaching Excellence. He has spent most of his adult life studying Buddhism in Asia and North America, and shares his insights about this endlessly fascinating faith in this vital series.
"An Excellent Study in the Basics of Buddhism"
Buddhism's core philosophy that nothing is permanent—all is change—has made it an astonishingly lively and adaptable religion. Buddhism has transformed the civilizations of India and much of Asia, and has now become a vital part of Western culture.
According to Professor Eckel, nothing conveys the spirit of Buddhism better than the image of the seated Buddha—stable, focused, and serene in the face of tumultuous change.
In this course you study:
- The Buddhist idea that there is no single almighty God who created the world, that all of life is "suffering" (while not necessarily being pessimistic), and that there is no permanent self
- The life story of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama
- The Buddha's teaching, or Dharma
- The development of his Samgha, or community of disciples
- Key Buddhist terms such as nirvana, tantra, mandala, bodhisattva, and Zen
- The lives of contemporary, well-known Buddhists such as the Dalai Lama
- Buddhist responses to some of the fundamental problems of life.
According to Readers Preference Reviews, "Great World Religions: Buddhism is an excellent study in the basics of Buddhism. While it can easily take a lifetime to gain a complete understanding of the nuances of Buddhism, Professor Eckel provides a solid foundation."
Buddhism: A Community that Spans the Globe
These lectures survey Buddhism from its origin in India in the 6th or 5th centuries B.C.E. to the present day. During its 2,500-year history, Buddhism has grown from a tiny religious community in northern India into a movement that now spans the globe.
Buddhism has shaped the development of civilization in India and Southeast Asia; significantly influenced the civilizations of China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan; and has become a major part of the multireligious world in Europe and North America.
"Although Buddhism plays the role of a 'religion' in many cultures, it challenges some of our most basic assumptions about religion," says Dr. Eckel. "Buddhists do not worship a god who created and sustains the world. They revere the memory of a human being, Siddhartha Gautama, who found a way to be free from suffering and bring the cycle of rebirth to an end. For Buddhists, this release from suffering constitutes the ultimate goal of human life."
"The Awakened One"
Born as Siddhartha Gautama in a princely family in northern India about 566 B.C.E., the man who is known as the Buddha, or the Awakened One, left his family's palace and took up the life of an Indian ascetic. After years of difficult struggle, he sat down under a tree and "woke up" to the cause of suffering and to its final cessation.
He then wandered the roads of India, preaching his Dharma, or teaching, gathering a group of disciples and establishing a pattern of discipline that became the foundation of the Buddhist community, or Samgha.
The Buddha helped his disciples analyze the causes of suffering and chart their own path to nirvana. Finally, after a long teaching career, he died and passed gently from the cycle of death and rebirth, or reincarnation, in which Buddhists believe.
The community's attention then shifted from the Buddha himself to the teachings and moral principles embodied in his Dharma. Monks gathered to recite his teaching and produced a canon of Buddhist scripture, while disputes in the early community paved the way for the diversity and complexity of later Buddhist schools.
Theravada, Mahayana, Tantra, and Philosopher Kings
The Buddhist king Asoka, who reigned from about 268 to 239 B.C.E., sent the first Buddhist missionaries to Sri Lanka. From this missionary effort grew the Theravada Buddhism ("tradition of the elders") that now dominates all the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia with the exception of Vietnam.
Asoka also left behind the Buddhist concept of a righteous king who gives political expression to Buddhist values. This ideal has been embodied in recent times by King Mongkut in Thailand and Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent resistance to military repression in Myanmar.
Two major new movements radically transformed the Indian tradition.
- The first was known as the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. The Mahayana preached the ideal of the bodhisattva who postpones nirvana to help others escape the cycle of rebirth.
- The second was Tantra or Vajrayana, the Diamond Vehicle. Tantra developed a vivid and emotionally powerful method to achieve liberation in this life.
Buddhism entered Tibet in the 7th century and established itself as a powerful combination of Indian monasticism and Tantric practice. Tibetan Buddhism eventually developed four major schools, including the Geluk School of the Dalai Lama. Today, the 14th Dalai Lama carries Buddhist teaching around the world.
Buddhism in China, Japan, and throughout the World Today
You learn how Buddhism entered China in the 2nd century when many Chinese were disillusioned with traditional Confucian values. To bridge the gap between the cultures of India and China, Buddhist translators borrowed Taoist vocabulary to express Buddhist ideas.
Professor Eckel shows how Buddhism became distinctively Chinese in character: more respectful of duties to the family and the ancestors, more pragmatic and mundane, and more consistent with traditional Chinese respect for harmony with nature. During the T'ang Dynasty (618–907), Buddhism was expressed in a series of brilliant Chinese schools, including the Ch'an School of meditation that came to be known in Japan as Zen. From China, Buddhism spread to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
Buddhism entered Japan in the 6th century and was quickly allied with the power of the Japanese state. Buddhist Tantra was given distinctive Japanese expression in the Shingon School, and the Tendai School brought the sophisticated study of Chinese Buddhism to the imperial court.
During the Kamakura period, 1192–1333, Japan suffered wide social and political unrest. Convinced that they were living in a "degenerate age," the brilliant reformers Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren brought a powerful new vision of Buddhism to the masses. In the Kamakura period a series of charismatic Zen masters gave new life to the ancient tradition of Buddhist meditation.
Today, Buddhism reaches most of the world, including Europe, Australia, and the Americas. And, with this course, its history, insights, and perhaps its profound peaceful influence may reach you.