Great World Religions: Buddhism

Course No. 6105
Professor Malcolm David Eckel, Ph.D.
Boston University
Share This Course
4 out of 5
44 Reviews
75% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 6105
Streaming Included Free

Course Overview

Buddhism challenges some of the most important Western ideas about God, human life, and the self. In Buddhism there is no single almighty God who created the world. Instead, Buddhism teaches that all of life is suffering, and there is no permanent self. And it teaches that in accepting that all life is bliss can be achieved in this life.

Professor Malcolm David Eckel is winner of Boston University's highest honor, the Metcalf Award for Teaching Excellence. He has spent most of his adult life studying Buddhism in Asia and North America, and shares his insights about this endlessly fascinating faith in this vital series.

"An Excellent Study in the Basics of Buddhism"

Buddhism's core philosophy that nothing is permanent—all is change—has made it an astonishingly lively and adaptable religion. Buddhism has transformed the civilizations of India and much of Asia, and has now become a vital part of Western culture.

According to Professor Eckel, nothing conveys the spirit of Buddhism better than the image of the seated Buddha—stable, focused, and serene in the face of tumultuous change.

In this course you study:

  • The Buddhist idea that there is no single almighty God who created the world, that all of life is "suffering" (while not necessarily being pessimistic), and that there is no permanent self
  • The life story of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama
  • The Buddha's teaching, or Dharma
  • The development of his Samgha, or community of disciples
  • Key Buddhist terms such as nirvana, tantra, mandala, bodhisattva, and Zen
  • The lives of contemporary, well-known Buddhists such as the Dalai Lama
  • Buddhist responses to some of the fundamental problems of life.

According to Readers Preference Reviews, "Great World Religions: Buddhism is an excellent study in the basics of Buddhism. While it can easily take a lifetime to gain a complete understanding of the nuances of Buddhism, Professor Eckel provides a solid foundation."

Buddhism: A Community that Spans the Globe

These lectures survey Buddhism from its origin in India in the 6th or 5th centuries B.C.E. to the present day. During its 2,500-year history, Buddhism has grown from a tiny religious community in northern India into a movement that now spans the globe.

Buddhism has shaped the development of civilization in India and Southeast Asia; significantly influenced the civilizations of China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan; and has become a major part of the multireligious world in Europe and North America.

"Although Buddhism plays the role of a 'religion' in many cultures, it challenges some of our most basic assumptions about religion," says Dr. Eckel. "Buddhists do not worship a god who created and sustains the world. They revere the memory of a human being, Siddhartha Gautama, who found a way to be free from suffering and bring the cycle of rebirth to an end. For Buddhists, this release from suffering constitutes the ultimate goal of human life."

"The Awakened One"

Born as Siddhartha Gautama in a princely family in northern India about 566 B.C.E., the man who is known as the Buddha, or the Awakened One, left his family's palace and took up the life of an Indian ascetic. After years of difficult struggle, he sat down under a tree and "woke up" to the cause of suffering and to its final cessation.

He then wandered the roads of India, preaching his Dharma, or teaching, gathering a group of disciples and establishing a pattern of discipline that became the foundation of the Buddhist community, or Samgha.

The Buddha helped his disciples analyze the causes of suffering and chart their own path to nirvana. Finally, after a long teaching career, he died and passed gently from the cycle of death and rebirth, or reincarnation, in which Buddhists believe.

The community's attention then shifted from the Buddha himself to the teachings and moral principles embodied in his Dharma. Monks gathered to recite his teaching and produced a canon of Buddhist scripture, while disputes in the early community paved the way for the diversity and complexity of later Buddhist schools.

Theravada, Mahayana, Tantra, and Philosopher Kings

The Buddhist king Asoka, who reigned from about 268 to 239 B.C.E., sent the first Buddhist missionaries to Sri Lanka. From this missionary effort grew the Theravada Buddhism ("tradition of the elders") that now dominates all the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia with the exception of Vietnam.

Asoka also left behind the Buddhist concept of a righteous king who gives political expression to Buddhist values. This ideal has been embodied in recent times by King Mongkut in Thailand and Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent resistance to military repression in Myanmar.

Two major new movements radically transformed the Indian tradition.

  • The first was known as the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. The Mahayana preached the ideal of the bodhisattva who postpones nirvana to help others escape the cycle of rebirth.
  • The second was Tantra or Vajrayana, the Diamond Vehicle. Tantra developed a vivid and emotionally powerful method to achieve liberation in this life.

Buddhism entered Tibet in the 7th century and established itself as a powerful combination of Indian monasticism and Tantric practice. Tibetan Buddhism eventually developed four major schools, including the Geluk School of the Dalai Lama. Today, the 14th Dalai Lama carries Buddhist teaching around the world.

Buddhism in China, Japan, and throughout the World Today

You learn how Buddhism entered China in the 2nd century when many Chinese were disillusioned with traditional Confucian values. To bridge the gap between the cultures of India and China, Buddhist translators borrowed Taoist vocabulary to express Buddhist ideas.

Professor Eckel shows how Buddhism became distinctively Chinese in character: more respectful of duties to the family and the ancestors, more pragmatic and mundane, and more consistent with traditional Chinese respect for harmony with nature. During the T'ang Dynasty (618–907), Buddhism was expressed in a series of brilliant Chinese schools, including the Ch'an School of meditation that came to be known in Japan as Zen. From China, Buddhism spread to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

Buddhism entered Japan in the 6th century and was quickly allied with the power of the Japanese state. Buddhist Tantra was given distinctive Japanese expression in the Shingon School, and the Tendai School brought the sophisticated study of Chinese Buddhism to the imperial court.

During the Kamakura period, 1192–1333, Japan suffered wide social and political unrest. Convinced that they were living in a "degenerate age," the brilliant reformers Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren brought a powerful new vision of Buddhism to the masses. In the Kamakura period a series of charismatic Zen masters gave new life to the ancient tradition of Buddhist meditation.

Today, Buddhism reaches most of the world, including Europe, Australia, and the Americas. And, with this course, its history, insights, and perhaps its profound peaceful influence may reach you.

Hide Full Description
12 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Buddhism as a World Religion
    During its 2,500-year history, Buddhism has grown from a tiny religious community in northern India into a movement that now spans the globe. This lecture describes its lasting and present influence, the ways it is not a religion, and its practitioners' ultimate goal. x
  • 2
    The Life of the Buddha
    This lecture tells the story of the beginnings of Buddhism in India in the 6th century B.C.E., with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. His life has given rise to a rich tradition of stories that tell us not only about Buddhist origins but also about Buddhist aspirations for a life of wisdom, freedom, and peace. x
  • 3
    “All is Suffering”
    After the Buddha had experienced his awakening, he taught a group of ascetics about it. This event is known as the first "turning of the wheel of Dharma," or teaching. The lecture goes on to show how Buddhism presents a realistic assessment of life's difficulties and how that can lead to a sense of liberation and peace. x
  • 4
    The Path to Nirvana
    This lecture describes the Buddha's teachings about suffering and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering: nirvana, which means literally the "extinguishing" of desire. Nirvana marks the definitive end of the cycle of rebirth. x
  • 5
    The Buddhist Community
    Due to a long and productive teaching career, the Buddha attracted many disciples and laid the foundation for Buddhist monasticism, including orders of monks and nuns, as well as a sophisticated tradition of lay devotion and support. Buddhist art and architecture shows us not only how Buddhists came to view the Buddha himself but how they gave ritual and artistic expression to his teachings. x
  • 6
    Mahayana Buddhism—the Bodhisattva Ideal
    This lecture describes the movement called the Mahayana, which promotes the ideal of the bodhisattva who does not attempt to achieve nirvana but vows to return again and again to seek the welfare of other living beings. Practitioners of the Mahayana develop the contemplative virtue of wisdom, together with the active virtue of compassion. x
  • 7
    Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
    Along with the human beings who aspired to be the bodhisattva ideal came an array of heavenly beings called the "celestial" Buddhas and bodhisattvas. x
  • 8
    This lecture looks at the paradoxical concept of Emptiness in Mahayana texts and doctrines that gave rise to a radically new way of viewing the Buddha. In Tantric Buddhism, the Buddha can be visualized not just as the peaceful figure we know from earlier Buddhist art, but also as a wrathful deity and as the intimate union of male and female. x
  • 9
    Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia
    During the reign of the Buddhist king Asoka (c. 268–239 B.C.E.), missionaries left India for Sri Lanka. From this effort grew the Theravada Buddhism that now dominates all the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia except Vietnam. Throughout the history of Theravada Buddhism, there has been a close relationship between the Buddhist Samgha and Buddhist political leaders. This relationship is evident in Thailand and plays a role in the work of Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent resistance to military authority in Burma. x
  • 10
    Buddhism in Tibet
    The early history of Tibetan Buddhism was shaped by models borrowed from India. Eventually, Tibetan Buddhists developed a tradition of four schools, the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Geluk, each with is own distinctive characteristics. Today, the Tibetan tradition is best known in the figure of Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his peaceful campaign of resistance to Chinese domination in Tibet. x
  • 11
    Buddhism in China
    This lecture discusses the spread of Buddhism in China, which began in the 2nd century C.E., when China was suffering from political turmoil and cultural decline. The earliest Buddhist translators used Taoist vocabulary to express Buddhist ideas. Through a long process of interaction with Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese popular religion, Buddhism took on a distinctively Chinese character. x
  • 12
    Buddhism in Japan
    Buddhism entered Japan in the 6th century C.E. This lecture describes the founding of the three great Buddhist schools that have dominated Buddhist life in Japan up to the present day. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 12 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 12 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 96-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 96-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

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...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


Great World Religions: Buddhism is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 44.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile This is one of the series of five comparative world religion courses called Great World Religions. This series is worthwhile for anyone seeking to understand how religions, in general, influence world history and current events and how these religions compare and contrast with each other. This series succeeds in its objective. Note that this course is only 12 lectures long. The course starts with the historical development of Buddhism starting with the Buddha himself, proceeding through his disciples, and ultimately to various branches of Buddhism. The course explains how Buddhism varies somewhat among China, Southeast Asia, Tibet, and Japan. The course explains the basic tenets of Buddhism. It always projects a healthy but detached respect. I respect Dr. Eckel’s understanding of the subject and how he explains it without selling it. I used the audio version. I believe that the video would not have added much.
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not what I thought I was getting Did not explain anything about what Buddhism believed, only about some praqctices
Date published: 2019-10-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good historical / philosophical overview Before taking this course I thought I had a pretty good grasp on all I need to know about Buddhism, but suspected there was more to learn. I hoped this course would piece together my fragmentary knowledge, provide context and history, clear up confusion I had between Indian/Japanese/Chinese names and interpretations, and fill in some gaps. Professor Eckel’s “Great World Religions: Buddhism” course did some of that. I was familiar with the basics, but this course made me aware there’s so much more to know about Buddhism’s history, expanding geographical range, development, meaning and purpose, and nuanced distinctions between Buddhist sects. And this was only a 12 lecture course! Although Professor Eckel’s delivery was generally low key, sometimes bordering on droning as he slouched with his hands in his pockets as his attention seemed to wander, and there were times his sense of humor seemed a bit smug or inappropriate, I look forward to seeing what further insights are revealed by his 24 lecture course on Buddhism. This course was made in 2003, so Eckel’s admiration and praise for the politics of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi in Lecture 9, although popularly shared at the time, seem slightly outdated or misplaced now: Eckel credits her for uniting Buddhism and democracy through tolerance and non-violence, but she’s recently received much criticism worldwide for failing to condemn or stop violence against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya population and refugees and persecution of journalists. I suppose that’s politics,…and Eckel did conclude the lecture with a discussion of the Sri Lankan government where he said Buddhist countries are not necessarily free from political violence (although the Tamil Tigers he mentions were defeated about ten years ago). In any event, like all valuable belief systems, Buddhism certainly has much to teach people about how to be happy and get along.
Date published: 2019-10-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Did Not Capture My Attention I had originally purchased and listened to the professor's other course ("Buddhism") but I just could not get into it. I felt like there was too much "talking" (and a little bit of fluff) and not alot of teaching or explanation of the differences of the various types of Buddhism. So I purchased this course thinking with half the time allotted the professor would likely cut out alot of the stories and focus only on the key discussion points of Buddhism. Unfortunately, alot of what was said in the other course was repeated here (including his personal anecdotes) and it had a similar effect on me: I found myself drifting away unable to stay focused on the lectures. If I wasn't driving I could easily fall asleep because my attention was never grabbed and held hostage. Alot of times it felt like a grandfather telling random stories with some history sprinkled in but not alot of explanation. Don't get me wrong: his presentation style isn't all bad and his style may very well work for you and you may learn alot. He comes across as a very affable person who is knowledgeable and dedicated to this field of study. I just wish there were deeper discussions of how the various types of Buddhism differed from one another. I don't feel like that was conveyed very well. Lectures 3 and 4 took me the closest to an understanding of the core of this great tradition and placed me in deep reflective thought. But it didn't last from there. If you're interested in the basics of Buddhism, for my money I would suggest courses like "Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know" and "Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition".
Date published: 2018-10-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Similar to his other course but worth buying As other reviewers have noted, this is in some ways a shorter version of his other course, Buddhism. But sometimes it is helpful to hear the same material in a different way. In both courses, he spends very little time on Theravada Buddhism. He covers that topic by discussing the current (when the course was recorded) political situation in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar. We have been to Thailand and Cambodia and would have liked to learn how Theravada differs from Mahayana, and were disappointed. Maybe he doesn't know much about Theravada. I found it odd how the he treats the Dalai Lama with such reverence and awe, quoting him often, as if his opinions were the the height of wisdom. Unless you buy into the reincarnation story, that man, the Dalai Lama, is just someone who was randomly selected as a child to take that role. There is no reason to think he is particularly intelligent or has great wisdom.
Date published: 2018-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great breadth of subject and excellent professor. Having studied many writings on Buddhism I find that this is a good review of some of what I know and has many new points for learn. I am very pleased.
Date published: 2017-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, and a good introduction I found this to be a very good introduction to the traditions and thought of Buddhism. The speaker is very knowledgable and presents material very clearly. As an introduction it would probably not be appropriate for someone who already knows a lot about Buddhism, but for someone who doesn't, it was great.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Buddhism Sometimes I missed the key message of a chapter. The script that comes along with the lecture was incomplete. It would be better if the lecturer gave the lecture without reading it from a manuscript. His voice and speech was very good. if there is a video, some more photos, animations would be good. What was good was the content. I feel very well-informed about Buddhism now.
Date published: 2016-06-20
  • y_2020, m_7, d_8, h_15
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.10
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_3, tr_41
  • loc_en_US, sid_6105, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 64.32ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought