Course No. 687
Professor Malcolm David Eckel, Ph.D.
Boston University
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Course No. 687
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Course Overview

A religion without God? How could that be? And how could it have captured and captivated so many millions of people in so many countries for so many centuries? No doubt you can picture the Buddha—seated serenely, feet crossed in front of him, hands folded in his lap. But who was the real person behind this image? What did he say about the nature and purpose of life? What were the origins of the concepts of reincarnation, nirvana, karma, and Zen, and what is the Buddhist understanding of them? Buddhism is your opportunity to trace the history, principles, and evolution of a theology that is both familiar and foreign.

In its 2,500-year history, Buddhism has expanded from a tiny religious community in northern India into a movement that now spans the globe. This course is a historical survey of Buddhism from its origin in India in the 6th century B.C.E. to its present status as a major world religion. It is meant to introduce students to the astonishing vitality and adaptability of a tradition that has transformed the civilizations of India, Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan and has now become a lively component in the cultures of Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

The study of Buddhism offers great challenges to people who have grown up in the Western world. It does not share many of the central beliefs of Western religions, such as the concept of a single, omnipotent God, or that each human being has a permanent self that began at conception and will continue in an afterlife.

Buddhism also has been transformed in many ways as it has swept across the cultures of Asia; it often is difficult to decide what Buddhism actually is and how it should be studied.

Buddhism as an Unfolding Story

Professor Malcolm David Eckel begins the course by saying, "Buddhists love to tell stories,"and he approaches Buddhism as a series of stories. Throughout his lectures he acts as a storyteller as well as a teacher, recounting tales that have been told throughout centuries to elaborate on and explain the Buddhist view of life.

The stories begin with the rich religious culture of India, the culture into which the Buddha was born, the culture that made it possible for him to craft his own distinct solutions to the problems of life and death.

The stories then proceed to the life of the Buddha himself, Siddhartha Gautama. Born into a royal family in 566 B.C.E., he eventually renounced his life of privilege and became an Indian ascetic. After years of struggle, the pivotal moment in his life came when he sat under a tree and "woke up"to the meaning of life ("Buddha"means "Awakened One"). This awakening was the realization that "all of life is suffering,"combined with an understanding of the path that led to the cessation of suffering, and to nirvana.

The stories then examine the practice of Buddhism after the Buddha's death. You'll trace the interpretation of his teaching, or Dharma; the development of the early Buddhist community, and the remarkable evolution of Buddhist philosophy as it emigrated from India to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), China, Japan, Tibet, Southeast Asia and, ultimately, the Western world.

A Remarkable Capacity for Change

One of the most fascinating aspects of Buddhism is its extraordinary flexibility. As it adapted to new challenges in India and the rest of Asia, Buddhist beliefs went through significant, even radical, changes.

Early Buddhism was a tradition of self-reliance: Awakening came—if it came at all—solely on the basis of one's own efforts. You'll learn that in the Mahayana movement, or "Great Vehicle,"Buddhists emphasized the importance of compassion and concern for others. The Mahayana ideal of the bodhisattva ("Buddha-to-be"or "future Buddha") was not to attempt to achieve nirvana but to return to this world to help others along the path.

As Mahayana Buddhism spread across India and Central Asia, it added the concept of "celestial bodhisattvas,"advanced practitioners of the bodhisattva path who reside in the heavens and are able to serve earthly beings who call on them for help. With these new ideas, the Mahayana movement transformed the traditional emphasis on self-reliance into an ideal of salvation by faith and reliance on an otherworldly savior. This tradition of Buddhist devotion has become extremely popular in Japan today, and is also widely represented in North America, where it bears surprising similarities to Christianity.

As you study its past, you'll discover that Buddhism also changed as it encountered other cultures in Asia. In China, Buddhism became more respectful of duties to the family and ancestors, more pragmatic and this-worldly, and more consistent with Chinese respect for harmony with nature. In Japan, Buddhas were reconciled with the local deities, known as Kami, so that both could be worshipped together.

The Buddhist ability to embrace change may seem puzzling to Western minds. But change lies at the very core of Buddhism. You'll examine how the Buddha himself espoused the doctrine of "no-self,"a belief that there is no such thing as a permanent identity. Instead, the human personality and all of reality are constantly changing. Mahayana Buddhism elaborated this idea when it developed the concept of "Emptiness,"the view that nothing exists in its own right, and that everything is "empty"of identity.

Buddhists believe the concepts of no-self and Emptiness are far from negative: They invest their religion, and life itself, with limitless possibilities. If everything is constantly changing, then it is possible for everything to become new. If everything is an illusion, then there is no barrier to accomplishing anything.

A Tradition of Political Activism

Professor Eckel will introduce you to Buddhist values that are not always limited to aspects of life that we would call religious. For example, Buddhism also has a lively tradition of political action. This tradition began with King Asoka, emperor of the Maurya Dynasty in India from 269–238 B.C.E. Asoka waged a campaign to conquer the Kingdom of Kalinga that was so brutal that it prompted him to convert to Buddhism. He then proclaimed himself a "righteous King"who would protect and promulgate Buddhist teachings.

Asoka's ideal has been imitated in traditional Buddhist cultures throughout Southeast Asia, as well as in Tibet, China, and Japan. A striking contemporary example of the intersection between religious and political values in Southeast Asia is Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, the daughter of General Aung San, the country's national hero. Aung San Suu Kyi became the leader of the movement against repressive military rule and was eventually placed under house arrest, where she continued to speak out in favor of the democratic opposition. She received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991 for her efforts on behalf of democracy, human rights, and ethnic reconciliation.

Even more familiar to us today is the work of the Dalai Lama, who has helped lead Tibetan Buddhists through a period of deep political and cultural difficulty, winning the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989 for his nonviolent campaign of resistance to Chinese domination in Tibet. His public involvement in many significant issues—including human rights, the exploitation of the environment, and the oppression of minority peoples—has made him one of the foremost spokesmen and most visible symbols of Buddhism in the contemporary world.

The Buddhist Story Becomes Our Story

Buddhism's capacity to transform itself and influence new cultures continued as it came in contact with Western nations. Since the end of the 19th century, Buddhism has become a respected part of life in countries far beyond its traditional home in Asia.

Early Western converts to Buddhism interpreted the religion for their countrymen. In the 1880s, Henry Steele Olcott traveled to Ceylon, converted to Buddhism, and created the Theosophical Society and a Buddhist Catechism that embodied what has been called a Protestant form of Buddhism, designed to make it more acceptable to Western sensibilities.

Today, almost every variety of Buddhism has been adapted for an American audience. Fascinating new Buddhist communities, such as the Buddhist Churches of America, have taken hold on the West Coast and in Hawaii. Centers for Zen practice and for Tibetan Buddhism have been established in North America, often making it possible for American converts to receive training and assume positions of leadership.

Buddhist influence has also permeated many aspects of Western culture. Often a person's first contact with Buddhism has come through reading Siddhartha by German author Herman Hesse, the novels of Jack Kerouac, or works of Beat Poets such as Gary Snyder. African American author Charles Johnson uses Buddhism to explore the change of consciousness that takes place when ex-slaves experienced freedom.

Professor Eckel will show you how the widespread and continuing appeal of Buddhism always comes back to its stories—of the Buddha himself, and of the ways others have lived their lives in the attempt to follow his example.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 12
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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 x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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." x
  • 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. x
  • 23
    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. x
  • 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. x

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Your professor

Malcolm David Eckel

About Your Professor

Malcolm David Eckel, Ph.D.
Boston University
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...
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Buddhism is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 106.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great subject! wonderful in depth study of one of the worlds great religions and philosophies.
Date published: 2019-06-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very intellectual History of Buddhism "It wouldn't be appropriate to practice meditation in the classes I teach at the university," the professor said in a midway lesson, and I wasn't surprised. This is an intellectual course taught by a conventional scholar. It is not an experiential course on Buddhist practice. The focus is on the history of Buddhist schools and leaders, and its diffusion throughout Asia. Metaphysical or psychological elements are secondarily even if superficially discussed. The delivery is pretty bland, with dry lectures (I'm a PhD and had to struggle a bit at times to keep my attention). In sum, this is a conventional scholarly course on the history of Buddhist diffusion. You should not expect anything "deeply spiritual" in case you are interested in in individual practice.
Date published: 2019-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mesmerizing, multifaceted and quite difficult This is one of the most difficult Great Courses I have taken—and I have taken many. So I had to play the DVDs again and again. Part of the reason for the difficulty is that Professor Eckel (who radiates eminence) seems to be reading-out from (or anyway to be consulting very closely) some prepared text. This could be the book he has authored, I don’t know but one day I’ll find the time to read it. Said text is not structured powerpoint-like. Perhaps it would have been kitch to have structured the Great Course on Buddhism as a powerpoint presentation of a boy-scout code of some sort, the thrill would have gone. On the contrary, Eckel’s underlying text is in the nature of a travel guide of sorts, like a tapestry. By the way, many of the ideas one encounters when reading Plato or Heraclitus seem to be Buddhist (or anyway oriental) in flavour. This though is my own observation, clearly Eckel does not deal with this matter, it is beyond his scope. Let me attempt a crude analogy. (Jacqueline, the top reviewer of the Great Courses, made a similar remark when reviewing this course ten years ago.) It is as if one is trying to familiarize us with Christianity not simply by citing the Bible but by talking about the symbolisms in church architecture, the function of liturgical implements, about the procedures followed in various rituals, about the various places of pilgrimage and about the thousands of apocryphal stories (i.e., not contained in the Canon) which have been developed over the centuries e.g. about the Dormition, about Mary Magdalene, many of the Saints and so on. And then the course turns to Church history, to talk about heresies, the iconoclasts, the schisms, Reformation, the monastic orders and so on and so forth. I don’t want to imply that Eckel’s course is really heavy on history or geography—it does, however, makes several references thereto. When watching Eckel’s course, you will not feel that you have been through complete catechesis in the Buddhist religion. You will find only so much catechesis, not very much for sure. I have sought extra catechesis in the Great Course about the Religions of the Axial Age, but didn’t really encounter much additional material. Rather Eckel’s course will take you on a journey into a misty, demonic and quite idolatrous world. The course will take you on a search, well basically for serenity, for lightness and buoyancy. It is a search for overcoming your weaknesses (thereby becoming superhuman perhaps?), a search how to become impervious to suffering, maybe to shrink to nothingness (is that not the technique of the hedge-hog which curls to become invincible!). Even, one would think, a search for overcoming reality as we in the 21st century understand it. I get the same feeling I got from watching Eckel’s course when visiting the, mostly dimly-lit and very quiet, galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to Buddhist Art. And I can tell you it is quite an awesome feeling!
Date published: 2019-04-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not a great course but worth the time. I'd recommend it to other novices.
Date published: 2019-02-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Unenthusiastic The lectures were nonplus. The Prof giving the lectures had no spark nothing to excite a real interest in what had to say. I think I know why it was on sale. He seemed to loose interest in subject matter.
Date published: 2018-12-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great subject, a bit dry I bought the course on a $19 download sale a month ago, will be going to Nepal next year hiking and was interested in the culture. Professor is extremely knowledgeable and a good speaker, but a bit dry. I wish GC showed more interaction with the fake audience, even having them ask questions or laughing.
Date published: 2018-12-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not alot of teaching or insight I was introduced to Buddhism via other Great Courses like "Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know" and "Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition" and thought they did a good job of explaining the basics. But my ever-evolving interest as a lifelong learner took me to a place in which I wanted more insight than just the basics. So I took this course hoping 24 lectures would satisfy that need and immerse me in the world of Buddhism in a way that would increase my understanding. I regret to say this course did not meet that objective. The professor seems like a good guy and obviously knows his stuff but I felt like "teaching" seemed to be lacking. Too many of the lecture discussions seemed to have a feeling of someone telling one story after another to a friend vs. actual teaching of the foundations of Buddhism and its history in a classroom format. And even when he did touch on the foundations of the topics I felt like a lot was said but very little true insight and very few things stayed with me. It's hard to say I left lectures with a better understanding of the various schools of Buddhism. While inherently a lot of it is abstract I can’t say the professor did a good job of explaining it in a way to make it accessible to us students. The professor had this habit of laughing in the middle of delivering a sentence when most of the time there wasn’t anything funny about it. I'm sure it was his way of remembering something. In a way it was endearing and it showed his humanity and that he is probably a fun guy to spend some time with and chat with but when it came to impressing the "core" of what was being taught I just didn't feel it. I am going to take his shorter 12 lecture course in hopes that maybe with less time he will get to the main points sooner vs. adding alot of filler talk. I certainly hope so since I do want to learn more about Buddhism.
Date published: 2018-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is a great introduction and overview of Buddhism. As a person new to Buddhism this course has been integral to my growth as a Buddhist. I have learned a great deal from this lovely teacher.
Date published: 2018-08-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dry and focuses too much on Tibetan Buddhism Easily one of the most dry and boring lecturers I have seen in all The Great Courses DVDs I have watched. He spends one lecture on the Theravada tradition (roughly 125 million of the 500 million Buddhists worldwide belong to this tradition). Yet he spends multiple lectures on the Tibetan Buddhism tradition (which is only about 20 million people). Very disappointed in this Buddhism series.
Date published: 2018-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction to Buddhism This is a good introductory lecture series on Buddhism. The subject is huge so it just touches on a lot of topics. It gives you a "lay of the land" to guide you for further study.
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good and Bad I liked the information in this course. I had a problem with the instructor. My opinion is that he likes to tell stories and tends to ramble on and drone on and on. This made it difficult to keep my attention on the lectures. I had to force myself to pay attention. Since the material in the course is good, I will order the guidebook/transcript. I could not listen to the lectures again, so I have requested a refund on the audio download. The Great Courses is very good about refunds. Thank you.
Date published: 2018-04-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Professor Eckel is very knowledgeable and passionate about the subject. I certainly learned a lot of new things and am interested in delving further into the subject. Sometimes there were a lot of different sects, figures, and philosophies to keep track of in 24 lectures. I would have liked for it to be divided into separate courses, perhaps one on core Buddhist teachings and texts and another about the different philosophies and traditions around the world.
Date published: 2018-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must See To Understand Asian Neighbors I took course "on-line" through GREAT COURSES PLUS. I was interested in ZEN Buddhism, but was amazed at the cultural diversity of this faith group. Must see course to understand Asian peoples.
Date published: 2018-02-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Hard Subject-and I often found the lectures dry I may have received this in a bundle with two other courses rather than specifically wanting it. Nevertheless I do have an interest in understanding the great religions of the world (and yes, I'm including Buddhism in them although some would argue against even calling it a religion) so I went through the course. I think many of the concepts are quite hard for a Westerner to grasp, not just because it all has to be translated from another language, but because the whole world view for most of Buddhist history is simply not a Western world view. So, right off the bat, let's admit it's a hard subject to cover in any comprehensive way in only 24 lectures. Professor Eckel, I have the impression, probably thinks of himself as a Buddhist. If not, he certainly is strongly attracted to it, which is a plus I think if you're trying to explain it to a newcomer. He seems to be perhaps most strongly attracted to the form of Tibetan Buddhism embodied by the Dalai Lama, but has visited many other Buddhist sites and monks. I think he did a good job (perhaps a bit too long, considering his time limitations) explaining the background in which the Buddha appeared. Lecture three, on the belief in reincarnation, immediately precedes his lecture on "The Story of the Buddha". I would have been more pleased had he spent at least two of the 24 lectures just discussing the life of the Buddha and his earliest disciples. Frankly I think it's a distraction and a waste of time for an audience who would be listening to this, to explain how something is pronounced in Sanskrit as opposed to Pali and other languages. Just telling the story in English and using names when necessary would have been more to the point. He has a rather dry style of lecturing (always with both hands in his pockets) and a peculiar kind of laugh, at some things that perhaps only he finds funny, that detracted a bit from my appreciation. Every lecturer is different, and I know individual reactions to any particular lecturer are also not always the same. Regardless, personally I found "Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition", which covered a much larger scope of material with only 2 additional DVDs, seemed to give me a more vivid feeling for Buddhist thought, and stuck with me better than this one. And a third "Great Course", with an even larger scope, "The Meaning of Life", spends 4 lectures on Buddhist thought (as opposed to 24 here) and does a fair job with only 2 hours available for it. If you ONLY want to hear lectures about Buddhism I have nothing else to compare this to, but personally I'd opt to listen to "Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition" over this course for its overall level of interest.
Date published: 2018-01-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed I was disappointed in this course. I'm an experienced vipassana meditator, in the Theravada tradition, so I know a thing or two about that. I was hoping to learn about other flavours of Buddhism, and the course did deliver on that. But I was also hoping for more - to learn how and why these other flavours, so far removed from what the Buddha taught, developed. There was very little on that. There were also some basic errors: the Buddha did not teach that "all is suffering". He taught that there is inevitable pain in life, but we can learn how not to suffer from it. The Buddha was not a prince in a palace - that's later Buddhist mythology. He was more like the son of a tribal chief. The sections on Buddhism in the west didn't even mention the western vipassana tradition, derived from the teachings of Mahasi Sayaday (Burma) and Ajaahn Chah (Thailand) in the 1970's by Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg. Overall Prof. Eckel seemed, despite his knowledge, to treat Buddhism with a sort of academic disinterest, as if it were some quaint custom of primitive people somewhere else. He didn't come across as someone who really understood. One point arising from the passage of time. Prof. Eckel held up Aung San Suu Kyi as an exemplar of Buddhist action. At the time this course was recorded, perhaps. Now, in light of her complicity in the Myanmar Buddhist genocide of the Rohingya, and the calls for her Nobel Peace Price to be revoked, not so much. This course now needs a caveat on that point.
Date published: 2017-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A simple way to get a great overview of how Buddhism came about, its main features that make it so relevant today.
Date published: 2017-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Enjoyable and Thought-provoking. I am on my second go-around on listening to these lectures. Dr. Eckel is both passionate and extremely knowledgeable on the many many different aspects and schools of Buddhism. I found his delivery of this complex and somewhat esoteric material easy to follow and enjoyable. This is a survey of the history of Buddhism and the development of its philosophical ideas through time. It is NOT a comparative religion course nor is it instruction on the practice of Buddhism and meditation. Look elsewhere is this is what you seek. It is a rigorous study of Buddhist philosophy, cosmology, and ideas in which each lecture builds upon the previous. While it's possible to listen to a lesson out of order and still get the gist on the main ideas, Professor Eckel will refer to ideas he had developed in the previous lecture. I found myself just sticking to the correct order and curbing my enthusiasm for a topic until we got to it. This advise served me well. I would highly recommend this course to people who have an interest in the full history of Buddhism and not just one tradition.
Date published: 2017-08-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I did not like it! I enjoy reading something that is written with a uplifting attitude. The author I felt looked down on Buddhism as just another lower religion. I have read a lot about the subject and enjoyed it as a study, it has so much to give. In my opinion he looked down on the subject and it left a bad taste in my mouth. After four lectures, I threw the whole thing away.
Date published: 2017-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great survey of the history of Buddhism. I have just recently purchased this course, and have only watched 6 lectures, but I am extremely pleased with the high quality. Professor Malcolm David Eckel is a great scholar. His explanations of Buddhism are concise and amazingly insightful. I love this course!
Date published: 2017-04-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Buddhism I bought this course about a month ago and am very happy that I did. I love to learn new and different things, it's what keeps me going. I live in a rural Kansas and there is nothing available in this area to learn about Buddhism or any other religion other than Christianity. I have read many books on the subject but this is much better. There are many new words that you don't have any idea how to say when you are reading, so it's very nice to hear them pronounced along with an explanation/definition. That really helps to be able to put it in context and help you understand. I would highly recommend the course to anyone interested in learning about Buddhism. You are able to relax and gain knowledge at your convenience without paying outrageous fees to do so!
Date published: 2017-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The information provided in this course complements a lot of what I have already studied and am studying. It helps me to understand a little better the information that I have been receiving in my other studies. I have studied the Diamond Sutra, the Platform Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra and now I'm working on the Lotus Sutra and this course has given me a better perspective on all of that.
Date published: 2017-01-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Little on today's beliefs and practices We have been to Japan, China, and Singapore, seen people worshiping various gods and buying talismans in Buddhist temples and at other Buddhist holy sites, and have wondered who the gods were and what the common people actually believed. Do the gods intervene in their lives? Do they offer some kind of afterlife in addition to classic Buddhist teachings? What are the attributes of these gods? When and how did belief in these gods arise? What religious practices are followed and why? How are Buddhism and ancestor worship related? This course does not answer these questions. The course discusses highly theoretical theology as developed by monks and other religious leaders from long ago. I doubt if the farmer, laborer, and elderly housewife going to the temple has any real knowledge of the theology taught in this course. The professor could have compared and contrasted the current beliefs and practices of different Buddhist sects in Japan, China, and elsewhere, but he did not do that. A great deal of time is spent on Buddhism in Tibet, and on the Dali Lama. This seems to be the professor's main area of interest. The professor's presentation is engaging and otherwise good.
Date published: 2016-12-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Nothing of nothingness BUDDHISM contains much interesting information; however the course content seems to begin toward advanced graduate students rather than the typical reader. The professor sounds very educated but his lecture delivery leaves much to be desired. I understand why the struggle keeping students awake in his class. I was expecting that the course content would focus more on the general beliefs and practices of Buddhism. Comparisons and analogies to other religions and practices would have been much appreciated. The content would be much more effective if offered in smaller units of three or four CDs presented by type of Buddhism or area of the world.
Date published: 2016-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive History Of Buddhism This course is perfect for anyone wanting to understand the historical development of Buddhism and the important teachers that spread the teaching throughout the world. This is not a course on practicing Buddhism and only incidentally touches on the precepts and teachings of Buddhism. For anyone interested in the development of religion and particularly Eastern religion, this course is perfect.
Date published: 2016-02-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Viparinama-dukkha...suffering due to change Audio download. OK, so I wanted to learn a little about Buddhism, since heretofore I had a hard time even spelling it. In the end, I did...this is a very good introduction to a religion that is largely overlooked here in the west. Most folks think of that Shaolin monk, Caine from the 'Kung Fu' TV series, or the Beatles 'Across the Universe' during their short-lived eastern religious period, but it really doesn't resonate to many in our environment of nearly constant (Christian) religious proselytizing. Dr Eckels does a yeoman's job of describing the origins, concepts and evolution Buddhism...and these are not easy to grasp, at least for me. He has some quirks in his presentation that were mildly distracting, but overall it did not affect the message. Ah, the message, now there's the rub. These lectures were not easy for me to keep a high level of interest maintained...I truly suffered through many, often repeating parts, if not all, of particular lectures. Then it occurred to me that this is what Buddhism is all about...suffering (dukkha). Dukkha is the dharma (lesson) of the Buddha, the understanding of which is both the means and the goal of the religion itself. This is an ultimate self-help religion that will ultimately lead to an end of suffering (nirvana), no afterlife, or that pesky reincarnation, just nothing. So why a 3 star? I disliked the suffering through the lectures, and thereby wanted to join those handing out 1 star...but, since I suffered, I wanted to give Dr Eckels 5 stars since that was his main theme...suggesting that maybe I learned something that might improve my karma (whew!). In the end, what's in a rating anyway, especially from someone who realizes that everything is suffering, everything is impermanent, and all is no self. Let's go grab a beer, and talk about it. Conditional recommendation. Suffer a bit less by buying this one on sale when a coupon is active.
Date published: 2015-11-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Material needs to brought to life If you are a seeking a historical -philosophical survey of Buddhism, this may be for you. I realize that Buddhism is an incredibly difficult thing to conceptually explain --because eit is so different from Western thinking. But I found much of it is dry and tedious to get through. Surely he could have added more multimedia (images, video, audio) to make this fascinating subject come alive . It really did not give me a flavor for the vibrant culture which is still a major force in the world. It really didn't try explain or demonstrate how the practice of mediation works. I also agree with a another review that he could have spent more time explaining the 4 Noble Truths, the foundation of Buddhist thinking. His last lecture on Buddhism in America leaves out some important things--the poetry of Allen Ginsburg , for one. Another omission is the recent phenomenon of "Mindfulness" (Jon Kabat-Zinn) , which incorporates Buddhist philosophy and meditation, and is making a huge impact in the medical field and in daily life. I believe this course needs to be updated and infused with more multimedia.
Date published: 2015-08-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Decent Survey Prof. Eckel clearly knows his material, and this course is a fairly solid survey of a very broad field. In other words, he moves through the topics in a steady, stately progression. But that is about it. He is a personable presenter with a few good stories, and few meandering ones. Overall, I did not find, (with some exceptions here and there) his lectures to be especially insightful. Indeed, his lectures on the Four Noble Truths were somewhat muddled, (when these are so fundamental to a solid understanding of Buddhism.) I would recommend this course if you did not have a better alternative introduction.
Date published: 2015-08-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Like reading the phone book I wish I had never taken this course -- it will take some time to recover my interest in Buddhism. The presentation is stunningly bloodless, dry and boring. He just drags you through 2 1/2 millennia of dates, names and forgettable terms. From the vast store of Buddhist thinking, not a single idea comes to life in his arrogant, leaden lectures. And no, I didn't spend $60 for a bunch of travel recommendations and no, I'm not impressed at all the people you have met or places you have gone. I paid to learn about Buddhism. If he personally finds any deep or meaningful message in Buddhism, it doesn't show. He is notably inept at explaining basic concepts like "Emptiness". He just arrogantly tells you it's "his" subject and warns you that you are too stupid to understand it. Actually, i don't think *he* understands it well enough to explain it to an intelligent and motivated layman. He tells you at the beginning that reincarnation is the bedrock assumption of Buddhism but never revisits the subject. The impression is that If you can't swallow reincarnation, the entire corpus of Buddhist practice and philosophy is irrelevant. This is just one example of his ham-handed treatment of a philosophy I don't think he accepts at a personal level. For someone curious about what Buddhism *is*, this is an expensive waste of time. I recommend "The Science of Mindfulness" course by Ronald Siegel (for example, a clear and practical introduction to "Emptiness"). If that piques your interest, you will want to dig back into Buddhism and Taoism, but Eckel may well kill your interest forever.
Date published: 2015-05-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not Very Substantial! In this series of lectures, Professor Malcolm David Eckel speaks of Buddhism. Though clearly fascinated by his topic, he does not succeed (or perhaps even attempt) to present substantial material in an organized fashion. Though themes are announced for each lecture, each is not treated methodically but rather haphazardly with historical tidbits, quotations and anecdotes. It is not made clear how the themes connect with each other and basic information is not provided: the number of Buddhists in the world, where they are located, Buddhist rituals, the organization of monasteries, their growth or demise, how Buddhism is supported or attacked by various national governments, etc. Indeed, at times, the listener may even wonder if Professor Eckel is attempting with his lectures to illustrate nothingness, which he does describe as a key concept in Buddhism! The overall level of interest generated by this course is not raised by Professor Eckel’s very slow, rambling tone of voice, his frequent verbal pauses, his self-satisfied general attitude and his often less than pertinent recourse to personal experiences, either teaching in Boston, traveling in Asia or encountering the current Dalai Lama. Sadly, the overall product is plain boring _ a first for me from the Teaching Company. Clearly, it cannot be recommended to anyone.
Date published: 2015-03-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Buddhism Good historical overview but week on basic Buddhist teachings. Professor did not discuss in enough detail the second and fourth noble truths. Specifically I would have appreciated more in depth coverage of the 8 fold path and the twelve fold chain of dependent origination. Both of these are very central to understanding fundamental Buddhist beliefs.
Date published: 2015-01-12
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