Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad

Course No. 6380
Professor Mark W. Muesse, Ph.D.
Rhodes College
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Course No. 6380
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Course Overview

Confucius. Buddha. Jesus. Muhammad. Four extraordinary sages who influenced world civilization more deeply than any other human beings in history. As just one measure of their importance, current rankings of the most influential people in history consistently put them at or near the top of the list. Four centuries after the rise of the scientific worldview, their influence in human affairs continues to be fundamental, underscoring issues ranging from questions of ethics and justice to religious and political conflicts to other issues that dominate today's headlines.

In the 21st century, much of humanity still looks to the lives, teachings, and actions of these four sages for guidance on how to live, for their conceptions of morality, and for understanding the most crucial human values.

Never merely historical figures, as models of human living they remain dynamically alive for countless millions of people around the world, exemplifying the moral and spiritual precepts our civilizations are built on. Taken together, their influence extends over most of the human population, from Asia to the Middle East and from Europe to the New World.

No understanding of human life, individual or collective, could be complete without factoring in the role and contribution of these history-shaping teachers.

Now, in Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, award-winning Professor Mark W. Muesse of Rhodes College takes you deep into the life stories and legacies of these four iconic figures, revealing the core, original teachings, and thoughts of each, and shedding light on the historical processes that underlie their phenomenal, enduring impact.

Two Compelling Streams of Knowledge

Speaking from multilevel personal experience with these teachings, Professor Muesse leads you in an inquiry with a dynamic double thrust.

First, in his presentation of the vital wisdom of each sage, he offers you the chance to reflect in depth on the most essential values of spirituality and the art of living, seen from four archetypal perspectives. Regardless of your own religious or philosophical orientation, you draw crucial distinctions from the teaching of the four sages that bear directly on the fundamental perception of selfhood and on what it is to live a meaningful life, both in thought and action.

Second, you complete the course with far-reaching insight into the historical contexts and individual lives of the four sages, and how the religious and philosophical traditions we associate them with came into being. The lectures serve as a unique window on the origins of these traditions, through their focus on the teachings, actions, and historical roles of the sages who inspired them.

Four Exemplars of Noble Living

Confucius, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad were all born into ancient cultures in the midst of tumultuous changes. Each addressed fundamental existential problems within their societies, developing codes of ethics and behavior that broke with the past, and offering bold new visions of human life.

Grounding your inquiry in the dramatic historical settings of their teachings, you explore and define the unique contributions of each man:

  • Confucius: China's primordial philosopher/sage, whose teaching integrally shaped the Chinese constructs of government, human relations, culture, and history. You study the system of Confucian thought that formed the basis of Chinese education for 2,000 years, founded on the sage's core precepts of "uncommon" humaneness, reciprocity, and the creative power of virtue.
  • The Buddha: The high-born prince who turned his back on a life of privilege to follow an unrelenting quest for the "supreme state of sublime peace." You dig deeply into the Buddha's teachings on the nature of reality, the delusions of human perception, and the practical means for ending suffering.
  • Jesus of Nazareth: Beloved icon of Christianity, a revered prophet in Islam, and the dominant figure in Western culture for nearly two millennia. You explore his archetypal dual role as both harbinger of God's kingdom and spiritual teacher, and you see how his teachings revealed a liberating alternative to humanity's oppressive inequities.
  • Muhammad: Al-Lah's "last" prophet and the central example of the faithful Muslim. His teachings brought Islam into being even as he struggled with the roles of both political and military leader of his community. You study Muhammad's teachings on the oneness and inscrutability of the absolute, his dynamic vision of ethical action, and Islam's complex spiritual disciplines.

Teachings that Shaped Human Civilization

In uncovering the original wisdom and practices of each sage, you grapple with these key questions:

  • How did each man understand the nature of the universe and ultimate reality?
  • How did each envision the human self and the matter of human fulfillment?
  • What moral and ethical principles did each advocate, and why?
  • What spiritual disciplines did each practice and teach as a means of self-realization?

Drawing from texts including the Confucian Analects, the Buddhist Pali Canon, the Gospels, and the Hadith of Islam, Professor Muesse immerses you in the teachings, which include the following:

  • You see how Confucius's precepts, including ren (humaneness), humility, and filial piety, were inextricably tied to specific behavior—to disciplined actions, etiquette, and ritual. You probe the dialectical connection between external acts and internal states; the experiential shaping and transforming of character through conscious action.
  • You see how the Buddha located the source of suffering in a deceptive conception of reality—the human mind's reduction of the universe and its organic processes to an illusory world of "things" and a "self" that is perceived as separate and alone. You learn how his path of contemplation and compassion worked to transcend this perception.
  • You witness how Jesus's teaching challenged and disrupted his listeners' beliefs, especially in his use of parables that reversed the apparent order of the world—making clear that in God's kingdom, "what the world calls power will be revealed as weakness; the losers will be declared winners; the first shall be last."
  • You probe Muhammad's essential doctrine of human fulfillment through willing, devoted submission to al-Lah—the absolute, eternal ground of being prior to all existence. You observe how he submitted to the absolute through deliberate acts of witnessing to God's unity and revelation, generosity, ritual prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage.

Lives of Struggle and Revelation

A thrilling storyteller, Professor Muesse enriches the teachings with the historical background and the pivotal moments of insight that fired their development.

You learn about early Arabian religious and tribal culture, and how Muhammad's emergence threatened a centuries-old way of life. You track the evolution of Indian spirituality preceding the Buddha, including the cultural origins of belief in rebirth and karma. You study the culture and political struggles of the ancient Jews in Palestine, and the divine cosmology of the Zhou dynasty that informed Confucius's thinking.

You hear the words of Muhammad's revelations on the Mountain of Light, and the stories of his military leadership and his actions promoting the legal and marital rights of women. You follow Confucius through the trials of his years in exile, which refined his character and his insight into humanity.

In Jesus's conception of God's kingdom as present reality, you find evidence of deep spiritual experience. And you follow the Buddha's path of unyielding spiritual practice, leading to his final awakening and liberation from the conditioned mind.

Finally, you compare the sages' lives and teachings, finding the defining differences but also their common ground on the practice of contemplation and on the "self" as a prime factor in unhappiness.

This uniquely designed course takes you to the core of four majestic wisdom traditions within a single, penetrating inquiry. In words reflecting profound and compassionate insight, Professor Muesse brings the teachings vividly alive as they speak to their essential purpose—as a guide to the realities, challenges, and possibilities of life—and as they shed light on the critical and creative choices we all face, moment by moment, in living deliberately and savoring life to the fullest.

Take this rare chance, in Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, to taste the authentic, living wisdom of these visionary sages and to understand the sources of their monumental role in our world.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    A Quartet of Sages
    Begin by establishing guidelines for your journey into the lives and legacies of Confucius, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Consider the lenses of metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, ethics, and spiritual practice for assessing their teaching and contribution, and in establishing a basis for comparing the vision and wisdom of these extraordinary sages. x
  • 2
    Confucius's China
    Explore the nature of Chinese identity in Confucius's time as cultural rather than political, and the Chinese orientation to the past, based in the conception of an earlier era of moral kingship. Trace social and political upheavals in the Zhou dynasty that sparked intense intellectual debate, setting the stage for Confucius's teaching. x
  • 3
    Becoming a Sage
    This lecture reviews key sources for reconstructing the life of Confucius, centering on the famous Analects, a compendium of conversations and sayings. Investigate the known facts of his lineage, the unusual circumstances of his birth, his poverty-stricken childhood, and the great love of learning that defined his character. x
  • 4
    A Gentleman and a Scholar
    Confucius's personal journey reveals the traits and actions that underlay his teaching. Learn about the qualities of humility, empathy, and love of virtue that informed his life as a state official, the hardships of his period of self-imposed exile, and his final years of teaching and introspection. x
  • 5
    Heaven and Earth
    Confucian metaphysics stood on the foundation of the ancient Chinese view of ultimate reality. Examine Zhou dynasty cosmology, its conception of Tian (Heaven) and Di (Earth), and the hierarchy of divine beings. Contrast this with Confucius's nontheocentric view of Heaven as a dynamic, moral force in creative collaboration with human beings. x
  • 6
    Doing unto Others
    Confucius envisioned human fulfillment as rooted in the attainment of moral excellence. Investigate the core precepts of his teaching, including ren, or uncommon humaneness, reciprocity, and filial piety as the root of human love. Consider also his conception of the junzi or "superior man"—a person of compassion, wisdom, and equanimity. x
  • 7
    How to Rule a Kingdom
    This lecture explores legalism and Daoism in Chinese political thought, to introduce core Confucian principles of humane, ethical leadership. Delve into Confucius's conception of virtue as a force with the power to transform others, and the value of ceremony and ritual in refining humaneness and creating social harmony. x
  • 8
    What a Sage Does
    Confucian spiritual practice was grounded in his view of all life as a grand or sacred ritual. Learn the details of his discipline of self-awareness and introspection, and his teachings on the shaping of character through appropriate behavior, the spiritual significance of life's daily routines, and the moral value of art. x
  • 9
    Confucius and Confucianism
    The legacy of Confucian teaching is seen in its enduring influence in China over 2,000 years. Contrast the divergent perspectives of Confucian philosophers Mencius and Xunzi on the moral nature of humanity, examine their views on Confucian practice, and trace the spread and history of Confucianism in Chinese and Asian society. x
  • 10
    India at the Time of the Buddha
    This lecture probes profound shifts in Indian religious thought in the era preceding the Buddha's birth. Examine the developing conceptions of rebirth, karma, and the religious movements aimed at freedom from the cycle of rebirth. Also investigate the notions of atman (soul) and Brahman (ultimate reality), and the critical relationship between them. x
  • 11
    Siddhattha Gotama
    Texts preserving the early oral tradition of Buddhist teaching allow us to reconstruct the life of the Buddha. Here, compare the mythic versions of the Buddha's birth and youth with the available historical information, and consider how the legends surrounding his early life serve as literary expressions of his teachings. x
  • 12
    The First and Second Great Awakenings
    In this lecture, explore the circumstances under which the Buddha renounced his life of privilege in order to seek the "supreme state of sublime peace." Then follow his itinerant life of spiritual practice, including his period of extreme asceticism, leading to the transformative realization that formed the wellspring of his teaching. x
  • 13
    Knowing the World
    The Buddha insisted that all knowledge claims be based in direct, empirical experience. Study his views on the nature of reality, including his distinction between nibbana (the unconditioned absolute) and samsara (conditioned, worldly experience). Conclude with an in-depth look at his notion of impermanence as one of three fundamental features of existence. x
  • 14
    Can't Get No Satisfaction
    Completing the Buddha's "three marks of existence," grasp the notion of insubstantiality or "no-self," challenging the illusory perception of the self as a separate entity standing apart from the environment that gives it existence. Grapple also with insatiability, the resulting impulse to satisfy the self through endless possessions and experiences. x
  • 15
    Getting to the Farther Shore
    The Buddha's teaching comprised numerous practices designed to free the practitioner from attachments and to dispel the illusion of the "individual" self. Study his approach to perfecting wisdom and compassion through his Five Precepts of wholesome action and core practices of dana, or generosity, and meditation. x
  • 16
    How the Buddha Taught
    The Buddha's life as a teacher reveals his insight in action. First, learn about the foundation of his teaching, the Four Noble Truths, and his open embrace of people of all backgrounds as students. Then, see vivid examples of how he shaped his communication of the dhamma to the needs of different listeners. x
  • 17
    The Buddha and Buddhism
    The Buddha's preparations for his own death served as another expression of his principles. Study the final events of his life, the aftermath of his death, and the eventual spread of his teaching. Mark the distinct traditions of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism; their geographic reach; and Buddhism's appearance in the West. x
  • 18
    The Jewish and Roman Worlds of Jesus
    Setting the stage for the appearance of Jesus, this lecture discusses the turbulent times into which he was born. Learn about the complex history of ancient Judaism, the multiple political displacements and divisions within the faith, and the trials of Jewish life in Palestine under Roman rule. x
  • 19
    The Son of Mary
    The available sources on the life of Jesus present markedly differing interpretations. Compare the accounts of his lineage and birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, noting the contrasting emphasis and portrayal of events, and consider what these differences may reveal about Jesus and about the intended audience of the Gospels. x
  • 20
    The First 30 Years
    In assessing the scant information about Jesus's early life, trace theological and popular conjecture about his childhood, the origins of his teaching, and the possibility of his marriage. Finally, contemplate the enigmatic connection between Jesus and John the Baptist, and their parallel declarations of the coming of God's kingdom. x
  • 21
    The Kingdom of God
    Jesus proclaimed the nature of God's kingdom through his teaching and deeds. First, investigate the indications that Jesus viewed God's kingdom as an earthly reality. Then, witness his teaching through his parables and healings, as they disrupt the apparent order of the world, dissolving oppressive divisions of rich/poor, powerful/weak, and pure/impure. x
  • 22
    Back to the Future
    Digging deeper into Jesus's practices and teachings, see the ways in which his conception of God's kingdom as present reality indicates deep, direct spiritual experience. Learn about his practice of contemplative prayer, the spiritual meaning he attached to communal meals, and his ethical principles of nonretaliation, generosity, and the discipline of forgiveness. x
  • 23
    Jesus's Christology
    This lecture further illuminates Jesus's life by exploring his conception of his own role in God's kingdom. Examine two parallel biblical identities of Jesus—as a prophet foretelling a divine age and as a spiritual teacher. Also investigate his historical characterizations as Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man. x
  • 24
    The Last Days in Jerusalem
    The final events of Jesus's life enact the central thrust of his teaching. Follow the dramatic unfolding of Jesus's public actions leading to his arrest, and the details of his crucifixion and resurrection as they embody his message of God's kingdom and his vision of a new world order. x
  • 25
    How Jesus Became Christ
    Examine the diverse accounts of the resurrection, their meaning to Jesus's contemporaries, and the critical contrast between Paul's view of Jesus and Jesus's self-conception. Then consider a "theory" of Jesus, exploring the role or "task" of his death, the question of his divinity, and his followers' ultimate proclamation of him as Messiah. x
  • 26
    Arabia in the Days of Ignorance
    Introducing the life of Muhammad, Professor Muesse outlines pre-Islamic Arabian culture and religion. Learn about the society of warring Arab tribes, their customs, and the social ills Islam later sought to correct. Then chart the tribal pantheon of divine beings, tribal religious practices, and the culture's assimilation of Jews and Christians. x
  • 27
    The Trustworthy One
    Muhammad's early life reveals patterns that later defined his prophetic calling. Probe the circumstances of his birth and difficult childhood, including experiences that sensitized him to the downtrodden. Follow his developing character and reputation for integrity, his long marriage and family life, and the contemplative practice that led to his dramatic revelation. x
  • 28
    "I Am Only a Messenger"
    Witness the compelling events of Muhammad's revelation on the Mountain of Light, his struggle to accept his calling as prophet, and the embodying of his message as the Qur'an. Then follow his emergence as a teacher and the birth of Islam, as Muhammad faces severe opposition and pressure to remain silent. x
  • 29
    The city of Madinah played a vital symbolic role in the prophet's journey. Investigate the ways in which Muhammad's teaching threatened traditional Arabian life, and his efforts to secure his community in Makkah. Then follow the difficult challenges of its migration to Madinah and Muhammad's eventual embrace of military leadership and "just" war. x
  • 30
    "There Is No God but al-Lah"
    Study the doctrine of tawhid, the oneness and inscrutability of al-Lah, and the distinction between divine essence and the divine attributes through which humans can approach the absolute. Also grasp the Islamic conceptions of the sin of shirk (idolatry), of Jesus as prophet, and the end-time Day of Requital. x
  • 31
    The Ethics of Islam
    Trace the Islamic view of the human being to the Qur'anic story of Adam and Eve and the core conceptions of human fallibility and equality. Then study the Islamic precepts of submission to God and ethical action, and the ways Muhammad's principles improved the marital and legal status of women. x
  • 32
    The Greater Jihad
    The internal or "greater" jihad comprises the spiritual disciplines of Islam. Grasp the essential practices, beginning with ritual prayer, embodying choreographed physical gesture and movement, and fasting as it awakens self-awareness and compassion. Conclude with the deep spiritual significance and complex rituals of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah. x
  • 33
    The Conquest of Makkah
    The last years of Muhammad's life saw the rise of Islam as a dominant force in Arabia. Follow the prophet's tumultuous military campaigns leading to his conquest of Makkah and political unifying of Arabia. Also study the critical events of Muhammad's death, its aftermath, and the subsequent Shi'a/Sunni split within Islam. x
  • 34
    Their Lives Compared
    Professor Muesse compares the life stories of the four sages, beginning an assessment of their significance for our contemporary lives. See how each sage redefined nobility as a matter of character and demonstrated a fearless commitment to truth, living simply, and the practice of quieting the mind. x
  • 35
    Their Teachings Compared
    In their conceptions of heaven, nibbana , and God, were the four sages talking about the same thing? Compare their teachings on the structure of reality, the fundamental human predicament, and the ethical dimension of life, noting their common view of self-centeredness as the source of misery and their contrasting methodologies for liberation. x
  • 36
    Their Enduring Significance
    In this final lecture, reflect on the qualities of noble living that the sages exemplified, seen in their commitment to truthful understanding, humility, contemplation, sensitivity to the suffering of others, and the transcendence of self-involvement. Conclude with Professor Muesse's personal view of the essential teaching of each sage. x

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Your professor

Mark W. Muesse

About Your Professor

Mark W. Muesse, Ph.D.
Rhodes College
Dr. Mark W. Muesse is W. J. Millard Professor of Religious Studies, Director of the Asian Studies Program, and Director of the Life: Then and Now Program at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He earned a B.A., summa cum laude, in English Literature from Baylor University and a Master of Theological Studies, a Master of Arts, and a Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard University. Before taking his position at Rhodes,...
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Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 58.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid coverage of the 4 sages I have listened to the course and, even though having read quite a bit about 3 of them, learned a lot anoit all 4. Lectures were well thought out, planned and presented for students to gain the most information in a concuse and logical way.
Date published: 2018-12-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not a pleasant experience ~ very tough going ! Dr. Mark Muesse's presentation style is somewhat stiff & formal, no annoying tics, but he has the unfortunate and irritating habit of making nouns by adding -ness to adjectives, when valid nouns exist, thus I heard: sinfulness, humbleness, mysteriousness, destructiveness, distinctiveness, attentiveness, humaneness, genuineness, and interconnectedness... instead of sin, humility, mystery, interconnectivity, etc. The lectures on Confucius I found terribly dry and boring. I derived very little from them. Confucius was a very frugal type, made the usual statements we expect from a philosopher expounding valuable human traits. The moral/social order of his society was in decay; Confucius sought to restore the cultural-political order, with his belief that man is basically good. Confucius faced reality honestly. He questioned if it was possible to attain the level of the true gentleman (I like the Spanish word "hidalgo" for this). "The way of moral self-cultivation" is a philosophy. I note that the Confucian system does not answer the key question "Why does the universe exist?" or "What explains its origin?". "Only the Bhuhd-ah" (as Professor Muesse pronounces the title) "started with everything and chose to give it up" says Dr. Muesse. What? In stating this, he must be referring only to worldly position, power and wealth, otherwise it would be extraordinarily insulting and grossly unfair to Jesus Christ who suffered excruciating crucifixion, having lived humbly and basically! I find "Transcendent Reality" fascinating ~~ a spiritual state which is experienced by the inner-self. It is said to represent the real awareness of the “Nafs-soul” during a higher level of consciousness. Rare moments of self-possession. Nafs (نَفْس) is an Arabic word occurring in the Qur'an and means self, psyche ego or soul. Worth several lectures! Just a little aside. Dr. Muesse uses the pronunciations "Muss-lim" and "Iss-lam", which I happen to find annoying, but we move on. As with the Confucius lectures, I found the talks on Muhammad dull. The reasons given for Muhammad's taking so many wives were not convincing to me, and Dr. Muesse did not spend time on the many highly violent sections of the Qur'an, which really was called for, in fairness. As a non-Christian, Dr. Muesse did a good job in objectivity with Jesus Christ, proferring several ideas and theories to try to explain some of the miraculous events in the New Testament and questions surrounding the religion. The lectures on Jesus are those I found most compelling and appealing, though I do have a fair degree of familiarity with the other leaders. The summations comparing the four leaders are very valuable, quite engrossing. Throughout the lectures, text is used well and appropriately; I would have liked to have seen more graphics (of course I appreciate showing any depiction of Muhammad can be potentially life-threatening). Incidentally, while I consider Jesus Christ and Muhammad to be founders of religions, I consider the Buddha ('don't get attached to ANYTHING at all!') and Confucius to be purely philosophers. #
Date published: 2018-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not about the 'isms. Professor Muesse provides as much detail about the lives and pholiphosies of these four sages as known. Each has profound sympathy for the poor, the underclass, the abused, and the unfortunate. There are many similarities about the lives of these four. They came from a distinguished lineage; they gave-up wealth and distinction to serve the underserved. From their philosophies, they became founders of the major religions of today. The 'isms (and Christianity) came later--not from the sages--but from their followers and those who interpreted their messages. This course gives insights into the founding of the four major religions, but this is not the purpose of the course. On completion of the course, I concluded, again, there is little difference in the major tenents of these four religions. This course provides understanding of the similarities and shows how little they differ. This is my third course presented by Professor Muesee. He is well-versed in his discipline, and has practical experience of understanding. He is articulate and seems approachable for discussion of his teaching.
Date published: 2018-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good! Since I enjoyed and still enjoy Dr. Muesse's Meditation lectures this seemed like a good idea. So far it appeals to me very much and look forward to finishing the lectures that I alternate with the other course.
Date published: 2018-07-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but too long. Provides a lot of information regarding each of these men. Some of it is a new slant on their lives and their teachings, at least, to me. His own opinions are obvious and he states them as such. But there's much food for thought. Although I'm sure he's reading it he's very good at the verbal presentation speaking plainly and with very few 'hiccups'. The content is reasonably organized and easy to follow. My greatest negative for this series is that there's a lot of repetition that gets wearisome at times. The content could easily have been covered well in less episodes.
Date published: 2018-07-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Question of Balance Incorporating overall objectivity and balance into this class, with such potential to be controversial, could have been achieved, but was not. Great teaching is not one-sided. Dr. Muesse consistently attempts to discredit Jesus. However, the portrayal of Muhammad is exclusively positive. The other two subjects are treated respectfully, and in an uncritical manner. The organization of the class is good and there is a lot of information provided. A CD would be as useful as a DVD.
Date published: 2018-04-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Presentation Style Presenter is a bit didactic in presentation style; however, in Session 1, he clearly outlines his methodology of how material will be organized.
Date published: 2018-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course! This was a really well done course and very informative.
Date published: 2017-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Content! Dr. Muesse is an excellent lecturer. He presents the material in an interesting, objective and respectful manner while personalizing it as well. It is fascinating to learn the historical information about the lives of these great leaders.
Date published: 2017-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presentations The presentations, gathering of information, and research were excellent.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Throughout all 4 sages, the professor states which 'facts' can be authenticated using accepted historical applications and which 'facts' are subject to interpretation, etc...without being dismissive of personal experience playing a large part. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these teaching tapes (and continue to!)
Date published: 2016-02-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Distractions over content Please see other reviews as to course content. I have purchased a few of 'The Great Courses' in DVD format and always enjoyed each lesson, both in content and presentation. This course of "Confucius..." was another eagerly awaited lesson, however, I have not had the ability to finish the entire course due to its presentation by Prof. Muesse. I find it difficult to watch due to Muesse's constant facial expressions and contractions, giving his interpretation of each philosopher's life and contribution to religious thought. The subject matter itself lends itself to historical interpretation, but again, it is difficult to get pass Prof. Muesse's constant emphasis of points via his facial contractions. The background is also distracting, having a picture of the particular philosopher added as perhaps an emphasis or a reminder of who 'he' is talking about. It is interesting to see the video sample of this is not presented by Prof. Muesse... perhaps there is a marketing reason why?! Just my take on it as hindsight. There are a couple of reviews that give a thumbs down on this course with the overwhelming majority as 5 stars... which is why I had disregarded the bad reviews If one is interested in this course, do NOT purchase the DVD, but op for the CD or Audio instead.
Date published: 2016-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compariso of religious leaders Very useful course for providing an understanding of differences and similarities of great religious teachers. Although I choose to follow Jesus I do appreciate that there were truths taught by others whom we would be wise to listen to.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great review of four sages by professor Muesse This is one of my many "great great courses" and is the best. This an unbiased analysis but not very comprehensive because the subject is very vast. Buddha's preaching of non attachment is absolutely amazing and may help us to solve many of our present day ills. Buddha's metaphysical wisdom of thinking and ideas about ultimate reality are very unique. Thank you for an excellent presentation of of all four sages. I hope professor Muesse will soon present similar analysis of important Jewish and Hindu sages.
Date published: 2015-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than just a "Top 4 Biggest Hits" survey A professor of mine once commented (pointedly), that: "Those who can analyze, do; those who cannot, number." I have found that to be quite true, and thus hesitated over the description of a course that sounded very much like an entry from a commercial outline on a survey of major religions and philosophies course: "The Top Four Major Religions/Philosophies and What You Absolutely Need to Know for the Test." For some of the discussion, the professor candidly did little more to justify his selection than the undisputed fact that these were the "biggies" in history, and did not try to concoct bogus historical or cultural connections among them. For some of it, he did compare and contrast their features, albeit with extreme care in avoiding any endorsements or judgments. And by the end, I was presented with four pictures of undeniably important systems of thought or belief from our human world, and also found that almost without awareness as it happened, the four had been subtly overlaid, leaving some of the most import common elements shining through. I expected the course to be worthwhile, if only by virtue of its chosen topics. I did not expect it to be such a winner, however, in terms of causing me to pause or even turn off the lectures, in order to have time to think about the permutations of something I just heard. This is one of a very small handful of these courses that, even in the midst of a very busy life as a professional, I know that I will revisit at some point in the future. Perhaps by then I will not be listening in my car, but instead while comfortably seated in a quiet room with a glass of good Scotch. One can dream.
Date published: 2015-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rather curious idea As the title indicates, this course rather curiously profiles the lives and teachings of four quite different teachers. They are described in chronological order, from Confucius to Muhammad. Moses is not included, but the picture of Jesus is, as some people say, is that of a good Jewish boy, so Judaism is profiled as well as the other philosophies. An interesting note relates to the grain of mustard seed mentioned by Jesus. Mustard was an invasive and highly destructive plant, and it was illegal to plant it. So why was it chosen as a symbol of faith? I also was interested that the instructor mentions the movie Babette's Feast, which was mentioned in the course on the Biblical wisdom literature. I guess I had better go to Netflix! The professor goes to some length to knock down the myth that is so popular among people who are not religious, namely that all religions are alike. Even these four are considerably different, although they do bring up some of the same points, namely that most people have become too self-centered. This is stressed especially in the final lecture, which is an excellent wrap-up of the philosophies of all of these sages. I do see one problem. He talks about jihad and its role in Islam and never mentions the enormous number of murders that have been and are still being committed in the name of jihad; this is not a trivial point that can be blown off. He also largely ignores the general second-rate status of women in Islam, which makes one wonder why so many American women are talking about how wonderful Islam is. All in all, this is an excellent review of the beliefs of four very important men. Recommended for those with an interest in philosophy.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Intro to the People and their Religions This was my second Great Course and another great choice. As I am Jewish I was concerned that the professor's Christian background might bias his presentation but this did not occur. I felt that he provided an excellent analysis of each of the people and their associated religions. I particularly liked the way he covered each with a review of the historical context, the person and the basic concepts understanding the religion that resulted.
Date published: 2015-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was far and away the best course I have listened to. The professor was terrific; his knowledge and research of the four subjects was outstanding. Bravo.
Date published: 2014-11-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from skip this one and go to the library instead Prof Muesse is a boring speaker. I expected some dynamism in an expert of Religious Studies. His was not an unbiased view. Clearly, he short-changed Christianity by denigrating Jesus, but more markedly, his absence of Judaism as a great religion is inexcusable. Doesn't he know there are many great thinkers in Judaism? Or perhaps, he did learn that in school... Skip this course and get a book on comparative religions from the library. You'll certainly learn much more and have a more satisfying experience.
Date published: 2014-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is one of the finest courses I have taken - fascinating history and philosophy, of profound meaning, beautifully taught. And you do *not* need to be religious to appreciate the course. It is presented as the story of four remarkable individuals who offered their wisdom and their lives in the hopes of benefiting humanity. The teachings of Confucius, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad overlap to a remarkable degree, but are far from mutually compatible. We do not need to pick a favorite. Rather, by appreciating and pondering this overview, which does a fine job of presenting the individual teachings as well as of comparing and contrasting them, we are hopefully placed in a better position to clarify our own needs and goals in life, and to consider the best means to fulfill them. Yes, I know that sounds really presumptuous and arrogant. But these sages aimed at nothing less than helping humanity live good lives, and it is for this reason - in addition to the inherently fascinating nature of the material - that it is worth learning from them, and that billions have done so and continue to do so. Two other points need to be clear: First, the four are presented as humans and not as gods. Areas in which they fall short, or with which we may deeply disagree, are apparent as well. And second, the course deals primarily with their own lives and teachings, with much less emphasis on the changes wrought - for better or for worse - by their followers over the ensuing centuries and millenia. Professor Muesse is an outstanding teacher. He is clear and eloquent, as well as deeply knowledgeable and very well organized. He is a pleasure to listen to, with only one caveat - he speaks very slowly. I often found it helpful to listen at 1.4x speed. The only other negative which I can come up with is that, because of his deep concern for his material, Professor Muesse's presentation of the views of the sages occasionally shades over into what comes across as exhortations more appropriate for a sermon. This is a minor issue, however, and many may actually appreciate these interludes. So - a wonderful course, which has my highest recommendation for everyone. May I respectfully suggest: approach it with an open mind, rather than with a view to seeing how the course measures up to your prior religious beliefs. You may decide that a great deal, or very little, or absolutely none of the teachings of these extraordinary men is worth following. But the very process of giving them deep and serious consideration will surely be valuable and very worth your time.
Date published: 2013-12-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Some Confusion I have always been a Christian but I have also always been very interested in the other religions of the world - how they compare and differ from my own. So it was with great interest that I started these lessons especially with the first two great sages Confucius and Buddha and I thought I had learned a great deal about them. But as the subject matter began to focus on the area I was more familiar with I stared to become concerned. It appeared that the instructor was very confused about some very basic elements about the life of Christ and Christian beliefs. My concern stared with the mention of John the Baptist as the “Mentor” of Jesus. In all of my readings and study of the Bible I have never heard this theory before and was very surprised. Jesus and John are hardly mentioned together anywhere in the new Testimony. But in one of their meetings John proclaims “Behold the lamb of God” pointing to Jesus (John 1:29). He also states elsewhere that he (John) is not worthy to “carry His sandals” (Matthew 3:11). What teacher would say that about his student? The instructor also seems confused about the baptism itself – why the baptism, when it is one of the major tenants of Christianity that Jesus came into the world to identify himself with sinful mankind. This culminated in His taking on the sins of the world on the cross, again, a basic tenant of Christianity. I would have though this idea would be easily passed on in the lecture but it never seemed to come up. The instructor also admitted he was very confused about the titles “Son of God”, and “Son of Man”. These titles go to the very core of Christianity, that Jesus was born of Mary – thus “Son of man” and of the Holy Spirit, thus “Son of God”. This lack of basic understanding was very puzzling to me. He never had to mention he believed in them or supported them but I thought the idea of the lectures was to give the basic ideas of the Christian faith. There are other areas that also showed errors in thinking about Christ’s life including his place of birth (even though Bethlehem is the only place mentioned in the New Testament) and the idea that Jesus does not mention anything about an afterlife (which He certainly does in the parable about the wife and the 7 brothers; Matthew 22:23). Anyway, if I was not Christian I would certainly not come away with a good understanding of the Christian faith after listening to these lectures and I felt that if he was this confused or incorrect about such basic tenants of the Christian faith that he was probably also confused or incorrect about the others. So I lost interest in the tapes. My opinion.
Date published: 2013-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent audio version Prof. Muesse does a nice job describing the four figures in the title of this course. I appreciate the fact that two of these segments (Confucius and Muhammad) fill a void that it not currently covered by other TTC offerings. Prof. Muesse's presentation could be considered somewhat dry but it shields a sense of humor that brings forth incredible zingers now and then. He is certainly organized and quite knowledgeable. I enjoyed his course guide which is also well organized. I particularly enjoyed his course organization. The bulk of the course covered each sage (in chronological order) and placed that sage in his appropriate historical context. The next few lectures put all four of them together and compared their attributes. The final lecture was a discussion of Prof. Muesse's personal experience with each of the sages. Excellent course. Highly recommended for anyone with any interest in this topic.
Date published: 2013-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A true gentleman, junzi Dr. Muesse is a true junzi, gentleman. His teaching style is wonderful and to the point. It may be that some do not like his matter-of-a-fact style, but I surely do. He is thoroughly learned in Confucianism, which I believe can help anyone in our degenerate western society that we live in; selfish, self-centered, me me me, wanting news, new is better, old is bad. Get rid of these ideas. Become more Confucian and our world will be a better place. Apply it to your life even if you may believe in a different faith or ideal.
Date published: 2013-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow. Definitely worth a second or third listen. At fist I found Professor Muesse's delivery a bit slow and unexciting, but the content he delivers is phenomenally exciting, interesting and captivating, and eventually you realize his delivery is the direct result of his deliberate personal incorporation of the knowledge of the lives and teachings of these four great men into his own considerate life and teaching. This was a bit of a lark from the purchase standpoint for myself, as I tend to stick to the science and history areas personally, but considering the daily impact of the ideas of these four great men on the lives of mankind across the world I guess I considered it a worthy venture into a different kind of history. Worthy indeed. Through discovering the life histories of these great men, and through their actions and teachings we gain a greater understanding of the foundations of the major religions of mankind, without delving too far into the religion itself. Learn the lessons without all the rhetoric that so frequently accompanies much of religion these days. Get to the roots. Enough said. A truly Great Course, and one that will be pulled off my shelf, dusted off and listened to again and again I expect for many years to come.
Date published: 2013-02-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good information Professor presented the course with a clear presentation of the basic facts about major religious figures in history. His love for Buddhism is evident in every lecture he taught about Buddha. He presented claims of Confucius, Muhammad, and Buddha as they are without any reductionism. But when he comes to talk about Jesus, he took the position of a liberal critic like Bill Maher. I am very saddened by his approach to dismiss the claims of Christianity because, rather than presenting the course as a disinterested scholar, he voices his skepticism as he talks about Jesus.
Date published: 2013-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What to learn about/from four religious men. i purposely said "about/from" in my Review Title. First, Professor Muesse presents the historical background of each 'prophet,' then about the man and his life, and then the religious teachings. And at the end of the series, he tells us what he has personally learned, on his own spiritual journey, from each of these men. Each of these attributes of the course are fleshed out in detail but not in a pedantic manner. i was thoroughy engrossed all through the course even though I have read many books on the subjects and listened to many TTC courses. I was particularly impressed with Professor Muesse's setting of each of these men into their respective historic context. And so impressed with his last lecture that i had to listen to it again as I wrote this review and know I will pull this disk out many times more. What he has learned from each of these men, about how to live our lives, is a model we should all follow.
Date published: 2013-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful, enriching, and thoughtful Video download review. ©2010. Guidebook 163 pages. There’s a lot to like about his course. I found it enjoyable and worth my time. Learned a lot. Interestingly, this course can be approached from a couple different angles. You can listen or watch this one simply through a historical lens, as it’s predominately a historical and philosophical overview of the lives, times, and teachings of the four sages; thus it’s a good supplement to the history of culture and civilization. Surely you don’t have to be religious or even spiritual to enjoy the content. On the other hand, there’s more than enough focus on spiritual wisdom to satisfy viewers who approach this with more religious leanings. This course should also appeal to those aspiring to a more meaningful way forward. At the end of the course, you’re left to quiet self-reflection: how should I conduct my own life? I enjoyed the video, as Dr Muesse is one of my favorite TGC professors; however, audio listeners will be able to easily follow and digest the content, as the images aren’t significant. What you can expect: * Biographical sketches * Historical / cultural background of their age * Factors supporting their “greatness” * Personal message/wisdom/worldview * Teachings/practices: ethics, morals, existence, nature of self, ultimate reality, etc. * Impact on humanity
Date published: 2012-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Joyous and Enlightening Journey With so many truly brilliant Professors at the TTC it is an accolade to call someone outstanding. Professor Meusse is indeed outstanding in this wonderful course. His message is so timely in the modern world which is drenched in activity and immediate gratification and also in conflict and competing claims to Truth from different Faiths. For those feeling a little overwhelmed by the current tempest you are stronglt advised to undertake this course. There are two aspects of the material which have left a deep impression on me. 1. The knowledge and insights shared within the course about the 4 sages is illuminating. - Professor Meusse very helpfully organises a frame to understand and compare each Sage - this is to use the categories of metaphysics, anthropology, ethics and lastly practical discipline to understand the lives and teachings of each - this is then applied to each sage and as someone who knew a reasonable amount about each there was so much more to learn and helpfully it was placed in a historical context 2. Practical lessons: - the Professor highlights repeatedly that what makes these 4 sages enduring teachers for all humanity is not just their profound teachings etc but the practical example they set about how to live - seeking truth, learning, having humility, being attentive to the suffering of all sentient beings are common traits to all four - spending time to reflect and being quiet are enjoined on all listeners I am on a spiritual journey to more deeply imbue my life with greater inner peace and understanding and this course has proved a joyous contribution to my journey. I shall definately be purchasing the othert two courses by this wonderful professor.
Date published: 2012-06-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Expected and Dissapointing When I bought this course I had a preconceived idea of how it would be presented. The professor did nothing to disabuse me of my preconceptions but I was surprised by the level of misinformation. I'm a Christian and proud to be one. From my experience with other Teaching Company tapes I expected a critical presentation of Christ and was not surprised. However, I was impressed with Prof. Muesse take on the parables of Jesus and his vision of the interpretation of what he thinks that Jesus meant by the "Kingdom of God." Interestingly Prof. Muesse is the first non-believer to point out that there has to be some explanation for the remarkable rise in Christianity, I just found his explanation laughable. More disappointing was his presentation of Mohammad. He points out that there are two main sources for information about Mohammad's life the Q'uran and the Hadith. He also points out that there are various levels of acceptance of the Hadith's. He then goes on to totally ignore how the Hadith's are viewed by Muslim's and tries to portray Mohammad as saying that Muslim's should follow the "Greater Jihad", in fact he spends an entire lecture on it. It took me 5 minutes to discover that most Muslim's would not accept that statement as legitimate in the Hadith's. It took about another 20 minutes to find that it is accepted by the Shia. Prof Muesse doesn't explain any of this he just implies that Mohammad thought something that the majority of the Muslim's in the world find laughable. In the professor's defense he often repeated that he was talking about the Sage and not the religio's that follow the Sage. So this critical scholar discounts what is said about Sage Jesus in the Gospel of John, and accepts something about Sage Mohammad that is not accepted by the majority of Muslim's. I would like to know a little bit more about his critical methodology. Prof. Muesse did point out that a great description of the Haj is found in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X". I concur it was a wonderful description and causes me to be favorable disposed to Islam in some respects, but lets tell the truth. Malcom X's autobiography also shows what happens to Muslim's who other Muslim's consider "Kafir" (apostate or unbeliever). So in respect to two of the Sage's portrayed by Prof. Muesse the portrayal is totally opposite to what the majority of the followers of that Sage believe of him. If you're trying to find out something about these two religions this is not the lecture series for that. I'm not as conversant with Confucious or the Budda to tell if what he says about them is as far off as the two I do know about. I did find the portrayal of Buddah to be fascinating, and compelling. If I would have to guess I would say that Prof. Muesse is a follower of the Budda. I will probably listen to these lectures again, at least the presentation of Confucious and Budda the parts about Christ and Mohammad are laughable.
Date published: 2012-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wooden Presentation, Intriguing Concept I've written before about this professor's presentation and my disappointment with it. In sharp contrast to the lively presentations by most of the other lecturers used by the Teaching Company, Prof. Muesse seems to be reading from a script . . . and not doing a very good job of it. By the end of the lecture, I yearned for some hint of spontaneity, but it never came. It's doubly unfortunate because he's insightful and his opinions seem heartfelt. The concept of comparing these sages is a good one, and his analysis is valuable. I just wish that he'd put aside his script and wing it for a while.
Date published: 2012-03-29
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