Great World Religions: Buddhism

Course No. 6105
Professor Malcolm David Eckel, Ph.D.
Boston University
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Course No. 6105
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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.

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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
    Emptiness
    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

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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 96-page printed course guidebook
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  • 12 lectures on 6 CDs
  • 96-page printed course guidebook
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  • 96-page printed course guidebook
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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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Reviews

Great World Religions: Buddhism is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 41.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lots of History, Some Belief I purchased the download audio version of this course because I knew just about nothing about Buddhism. I feel now that I know about the history of Buddhism but I'm still a bit shaky about the beliefs of Buddhism. While learning about the differences between various types of Buddhism was somewhat interesting (see the final 4 lectures), I would have preferred he spend more time on the basic beliefs and teachings. I felt this was similar to studying the differences between, for example, the Baptists and the Methodists without truly understanding Christianity. As for the presentation, I agree with other reviewers that the professor was not particularly engaging. He is also very proud of, and refers often to, the fact that he is a professor at Boston University. Frankly, I don't care where he teaches; rather, I care whether he can teach.
Date published: 2015-06-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A disappointment I have recently heard Professor Benjamin's wonderful TGC course "Foundations of Eastern Civilizations", in which he covers among other things the philosophies and religions which originated in Eastern Asia. Having enjoyed the course so much, it made me curious to go a little bit more in depth on some of the topics covered. So I stared hearing this course on Buddhism… I did not enjoy this course. The content in some of the lectures was on the face of it quite interesting, particularly in the ones about the origin of Buddhism, the life of Siddhartha and the central teachings of Buddhism. The content of the final set of lectures, concerning the central traditions in different geographies such as Tibet, China and Japan was in principle interesting for me as they were the reason I had become curious about this subject in the first place. My problem was with the professor. I found that much as I tried (and I listened to some of the lectures tree times), I could simply not keep my mind focused on him. I could concentrate for several minutes at a time but eventually my mind would wander and I found myself sometime later having disconnected totally from his thread of teaching. This is my Eightieth course in the TGC, and though there were other Professors I struggled with, this is definitely my biggest disappointment so far due to presentation. I had a hard time figuring out what it was about his teaching style that made it so hard for me to follow him, but having read some of the reviews on the TGC, I think it is now clearer to me. The course is quite slow, and does not seem to go into any great depths. Another reviewer writes, and I agree with him, that he somehow gives an impression that he does not believe (or takes seriously) some of the traditions that he is covering in the course, often chuckling as he describes particular aspects. So overall I would have to say that this course was a disappointment and it is the first TGC course I have bought so far that I intend to return.
Date published: 2015-05-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Get the *other* Buddhism course Simply put, this is the short version of a much better, much more in-depth survey of Buddhism offered by The Great Courses. If you are truly interested in Buddhism, my advice is to skip this version and instead get the twenty-four lecture course entitled simply, "Buddhism", which is also taught by Professor Eckel. This "Great World Religions" version starts off virtually the same as the longer version, but after Lecture Three begins to rapidly deviate from the longer "Buddhism" course and start to quickly skim over vital topics to understanding Buddhism. As a primer, this course is just ok. Nothing more. Get the other one instead.
Date published: 2014-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I really enjoyed this course. The professor was clear and engaging to listen to. I learned a lot about Buddhism. I felt that this course not only gave me insight to the history of this religion, but also it's practice. I could understand how they practice, what they believe and how these things have changed throughout it's history. I wish there was a bit more about Tibetan and Zen, but I really liked the professor.
Date published: 2014-08-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sadly Disappointing; Buddhism without Life I belong to a group of retired people who take great courses together. We have studied, art, history, music and now religion. This time around we decided to do ALL of the Worlds Great Religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. I am going to leave our overall rating for each course in each of the five reviews I am writing here. Our final order as it turned out is the same order in which we viewed the courses: Judaism (4 Stars), Christianity (3 Stars), Hinduism (3 Stars), Hinduism (1 Star), Buddhism (No Stars if we could make it so, but had to give it one star) Professor is sincere enough but his style is not particularly invited and he seemed to regard his own field, Buddhism, as some sort of foreign and antiquarian delight. His presentation in the first three sessions were promising as he introduced us to Buddhism, explored the Life of Siddartha, and then laid out the core of Buddhist teaching. But after that he lost his way because he lost our interest. My group includes a retired professor of comparative religions and a practitioner of Buddhism. They were among the first in our group to criticize his presentation as one which seemed to say Buddhism had no relevancy to those of us who live in the West when it very much does. It seemed clear to us that the closing sessions would be more of the same. We chose not to complete the course and instead supplemented it with other materials that addressed our desire to understand Buddhism in the contemporary world. Our zero rating (even if we had to award one star) is based on our having walked away from the course. The promising beginning was sunk by the sad middle and the abandoned end. Disappointing to say the least.
Date published: 2014-02-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from There is "no self" ?? DVD REVIEW: Highly-recommended 12-lecture course from 2003 that provides a strong basic introduction to and understanding of Buddhism. The lecturer, Dr Malcolm David Eckel, has to be congratulated for his relaxed, tic-free, well-paced style. His manner is friendly, helpful, clearly sincere, ideally suited to the subject. He even throws in a little touch of humour. I had thought that belief in God was optional for Buddhists, but the professor tells us that Buddhism specifically rejects the existence of one Creator God; most interesting. The Buddhist "Anātman" (Sanscrit) teaching that there is "no self", that "nothing endures from one moment to the next" is a concept I find incredibly difficult to appreciate or follow ~ more like an exercise in intellectual thinking. Certainly, there are many aspects of Buddhism that seem alien, impractical and illogical to this westerner. It is, however, valuable to learn about the teachings of the discipline which has so many followers, and which gives insight into some eastern thinking. From lecture 5 (sectarianism), the lectures seemed to me to become a little downbeat.Lecture 9 includes the interesting background of the Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The final lectures consider Buddhist traditions and variations in China and Japan. The talks are structured logically and smoothly, producing a course that is brilliant and dynamic, without being complex or over-bearing. Dr Eckel and Great Courses are to be congratulated on this fine course, especially with such a challenging topic.
Date published: 2013-08-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too much history reference in content I have taken ALL of the other Great World Religion courses and have thoroughly enjoyed them. But THIS one was too heavy on the history part and not enough on the modern age. I realize this is only an introductory course but it seem imbalanced in content as it focused primarily on how Buddhism originated and and said very little about current Buddhism practice in today's world.
Date published: 2012-12-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Orientation to the Faith This was the final of the series of 5 courses covering the "world religions" offered by the TTC; all of them excellent. This was no exception. My goal was to secure a high level overview of the main countours of the Buddhist landscape; a 12 lecture course is frankly designed to deliver no more than this. What the course should do is give you the key foundation stories of the Faith and then point the way toward further areas of study. This course delivers this very well and therefore I am satisfied. The Professor was deeply engaging- i listened to the CD version-and one could intuitively sense his deep commitment to and passion for the tenets of the Buddhist Faith. The lectures on "emptiness" and covering the various schools within Buddhism and its spread across Asia were really informative. I am aware that there is a 24 lecture course covering Buddhism and I am now very tempted to order that as part of my quest to immerse myself in the wisdom of Traditional Faiths across the world. Overrall i recommend this to those who seek an overview that is engaging and informative.
Date published: 2012-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Maybe I am too easy to please After reading some of the other (more negative) reviews about this course, I am beginning to think that I am too easy to please. I disagree with them because I think this is an excellent introduction to Buddhism. I suspect that there are many different ways of doing a 6-hour introduction to Buddhism -- I thought the professor did a nice job selecting topics to give the student a taste of its many aspects. He had a nice introduction, several lectures on doctrine, and several lectures on where Buddhism is today. His lectures were well organized. He spoke clearly. He provided a nice bibliography. I hope that Prof. Eckel and TTC provide additional courses on this topic. Thank you for this Great Course
Date published: 2012-04-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Listen This One Before Hinduism This is an overall really good course, but after listening to Hinduism with Mark Muesse, this one falls flat. Professor Eckel is a good speaker and passionate about his subject, but at times he fell short of capturing my attention span to it's fullest. I was constantly replaying tracks on the cd version. After repeatedly playing some tracks 3 or 4 times I eventually got out of the material what I hoped. I know I have ADD, but that being said it was more of a struggle with Professor Eckel then what is has been with other professors. Fortunately he wrote an outstanding course guide book with many of the lectures having as many as 5 or 6 pages or more which enhanced my learning. His presentation was nothing I can really fault, except that for whatever reason I just feel like my money will be better spent on other professors. I could have given him a 4 on his presentation, but there are other professors I gave a 4 to which were much better. As a professor, I felt Eckel was just there. The content is excellent. You get the story of the Buddha's life, the Buddhist organization of their religion after the Buddha's death, you find out why the doctrine of emptiness is not seen as a negative trait to the Buddhists, and the 4 noble truths are discussed in great detail. The life of the monks really fascinated me. Buddhism in the prominent countries of the religion today was a nice way to close the course. I gave the course value a 4 because I have no interest in further discovering Buddhism based on what I was given, but I was satisfied with the content and learned a lot. If the teaching company could get Mark Muesse to teach a Buddhist course, then I will get another course on Buddhism. Otherwise for further learning on Buddhist culture, I will refer to magazines or if I go to East Asia, I will use another reference.
Date published: 2012-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite Enlightening A good beginners review of the subject matter. Well presented.
Date published: 2011-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from There aren't enough stars for this course!! I took this course because I had a bare minimum of knowledge of Buddhism. My only perception of a Buddha was a candle holder on the shelf depicting a fat little man with a big grin and a huge bare belly. I took this course out of a total curiousity coupled with my total ignorance of what Buddhism was all about. Thanks to Professor Eckel's dynamic personality, animated presentation style, and an obviously solid personal background in the subject matter, I soon found mysel totally engrossed in this previously unfamiliar topic. Although I had seen the Dali Lama in a few TV appearances, I had no clue as to his background or heratige. I now admire the man more than ever and look forward to learning more about him and about Buddhism in general. This is a introductory course, and twelve lectures is just right for getting acquainted with the subject, so anyone can learn enough to know if they want to go further, without having to sign up for 36 or 48 lectures just to find out if they find the subject matter of interest to them. The Teaching Company has once again shown what the marriage of a fascinating subject with an excellent instructor can offer the student in the way of value. I have taken many of the Great Courses so far, and this one is at the top of a long list of winners!
Date published: 2011-09-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Wrong place for the course I've got this course as one in the set on Comparative Religion, but it seems to me rather dissonant to the other courses in the set. Prof. Eckel has visited a lot of places, and met a lot of prominent figures in Buddhism, so he has a number of interesting stories to tell, but his main research interest seems to be the Political History of the region. His presentation of the core of Buddhism believes seems to me rather unsystematic and fragmental. This course may be of interest as a stand alone course on the History of Far East in the light of the Buddhism, and people who have never heard about Buddhism can like it for it assumes no pre-knowledge, and have a number of recollections of the professors personal meeting with leaders of Buddhist communities. But as a part of the set on Comparative Reigion it lucks the speed and the depth.
Date published: 2011-09-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Intro to the topic This is a solid introduction to Buddhism. Because the series has only 12 lectures, only the main topics are covered (there is a longer 24 lecture series available too). The teacher is great and he does a great job at avoiding a 'faith-based' approach to his teaching. In fact the course is basically organized in a chronological order while focusing on various parts of the world separately as well. The only slightly negative comment I would have is the introduction of many words in sanskrit and how to pronounce them. Somehow I did not find that useful for this course but that would not stop me from listening to the course a third time!
Date published: 2011-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An interesting taster. Professor Eckel does a good job in covering a lot of material in a short time. He manages to present the material in a way that is both complete in itself but makes clear that there is a lot more to study, if you are interested in the subject.
Date published: 2011-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great World Religions: Buddhism I just finished watching these DVD's with my family. The professor is wonderful speaker. He certainly knows his subject very well and presents it in a way that cleared up many questions and confusions I had with this subject. I hope he does many more lectures with THE GREAT COURSES!
Date published: 2011-02-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from disappointing Unlike most Teaching Company courses, the instructor seems to not respect his subject matter. By his chuckling and poor jokes, it is abundantly clear that he does not believe some of the basic tenets of Buddhism. He "jokes" about closely questioning the Dalai Lama about the truth of his reincarnation, for example. His attitude was very distracting for me.
Date published: 2010-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Less is more Another more than satisfying exploration of an area I needed to know more about. It's certainly a fine start, but too short to feel I like I'm invested in and conversant about Buddhism. Not a problem with the course itself given the limitations of the 12-lecture length. It certainly helped to quickly bring me up to speed on the basics of Buddhism and even allows for active participation in general discussions about Buddhism. I found the course to be organized logically and easy to understand. The parables are memorable. Professor Eckel is, as expected, well-versed in Buddhist teachings. He's an active, interesting speaker who never tries to prostelyze, only explore and share information. From a Western perspective, I feel like there is a bit of a barrier to adopting Buddhism or coming to terms with some of its philosophy, perhaps because it still has an exotic feel due to the Sanscrit names and terminology introduced each lecture.
Date published: 2010-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Critical for simplifying life A friend used to say "if you win the rat race, you are still a rat." True enough. But how do you change in a culture that measures value on achievement and wealth? This well reasoned explanation of the Budda's Philosophy is one helpful path. The lecturer takes a novice through the 4 great truths including the explanation for suffering and escape from it. He then delves into "letting go" as a step toward great peace and spiritual growth.
Date published: 2010-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Outstanding (If Too Brief) Introduction Prof. Eckel has provided a clear, broad, balanced, insightful, and fascinating introduction to Buddhism. As with all of the "Great World Religions" series, the twelve lectures are almost ridiculously too brief a time for even an introductory course. But Prof. Eckel's expertise, and his friendly and enthusiastic lecture style, make the most of this opportunity. The one area which sets this coursse apart from the others in the series relates more to the subject than to the professor. Certainly all major religions have developed an often stultifying apparatus of philosophy, bureaucracy, ritual, and beliefs which would be foreign to their founders and early leaders, whether Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed. But the Buddha would be rolling in his grave, were he not in Nirvana, over what has happened to the wisdom he bequeathed his followers. Modern Buddhisms (emphasis on the plural) bear no discernable relationship to what is known of Siddhartha Gautama's teachings; it is no more than an accident of historical lineage that allows us to call them Buddhism at all. I do wish Prof. Eckel had provided more analysis and critique of these developments, instead of maintaining a consistently neutral and descriptive posture. All this, however, only adds to the interest of the course. I highly recommend it for any with an interest in religion, history, or humanity.
Date published: 2010-05-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Light and Easy: Nice Intro I find when writing reviews that I have relatively little to say about the courses I most enjoyed, and much to say about courses I disliked for some reason. This will be a short review. Professor Eckel teaches Great World Religions: Buddhism as part of a series of comparative religion courses. So it's necessarily brief. That's regrettable because I thoroughly enjoyed the course content and Prof Eckel's presentation of it. If a more expansive course on Buddhism becames available, I will be confident in getting it if offered by this professor or the likewise excellent Prof Mark Muesse (reference "Religions of the Axial Age"). Prof Eckel offers a carefully constructed introduction into the history and some practices of Buddhism with obvious enthusiasm, humor and charm. I found the earlier Indian history most interesting. Discussions of Buddhism's migration to China, Tibet and Japan were a bit less exciting but necessary to understanding Buddhism today.
Date published: 2010-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All is Suffering What a fascinating course! I noticed as the course began that Professor Eckel has a tendency to stay at the lectern and refer to his notes quite frequently -- more so than others. But his material is so well organized and interesting that this becomes a minor distraction. I also found that when he breaks away from the lectern and his notes ( usually when inserting a personal anecdote or parable, for example ), the lecture really begins to soar. Dr. Eckel can also be quite humorous, and his dry wit often adds to the students ability to absorb this sometimes difficult material. "If there is no self, then who wrote this review?"
Date published: 2010-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Another Great Religion I found these lectures for the most part to be very interesting. The professor touched on things I had previously learned from TTC's course on the history of China. The lecturer is a very good speaker ( I imagine the audio version would be just as good as the DVD version that I watched), and his material was well organized. He packed a lot of info. into just twelve lectures. One thing I would have found very interesting would be a graphic map of the spread of Buddhism over time, or something along those lines (as I saw in TTC's Great Religions course on Hinduism, as I recall), indicating how many Buddhists there are, and where around the globe up to the present day, not just in ancient times. The way to go with these Great Religion courses is to buy the whole set-- five for now, but then, nothing is permanent. All is change.
Date published: 2009-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A pleasant surprise! I knew a bit about Buddhism, and wanted learn more. This course filled the ticket beautifully. On a personal note, a relative gave me a large, Batik, Asian painting about 40 years ago, depicting an angry- looking giant of a man. Because I listened to this course, I found out that the painting is actually a picture of a 'wrathful Buddha.' I had always thought of Buddha only as a grinning, seated man with a large tummy. Because the final lecture covered Zen in Japan, I enjoyed it the most of all 12. I've always loved koans, those short sayings for sudden awakening and forgetting the self. This is an essential course, a component of Great World Religions series, and should be part of any personal library.
Date published: 2009-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Introductory Course Out of the 5 courses in this set, this one was my favorite. I especially appreciated how Professor Eckel covered various branches of Buddhism from different areas of the East. As other commentors have mentioned, it would have been nice to hear more (especially on the spirituality front), but what Professor Eckel does in just 12 lectures is fantastic.
Date published: 2009-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction to the study of Buddhism Great World Religions: Buddhism Taught by Malcolm David Eckel 12 lectures This lecture series on Buddhism is part of a five part set on the major world religions taught by different instructors. Other series in the set include lectures on Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. The introductory study of Buddhism presents unique challenges, as its concepts are particularly foreign and transcend conventional western ideas. The Buddhist concepts of self, liberation, non-duality and impermanence are well described. The course follows the history of Buddhism from its origin in India in the sixth century B.C.E., through its many evolutionary changes and manifestations up to the present. Basic doctrines of Buddhism such as the four noble truths and the eightfold path are briefly discussed. Several lectures are dedicated to the practice of modern Buddhism in Southeast Asia, Tibet, China and Japan. Dr. Eckel is a well qualified scholar in the subject of Buddhist Studies and is a particular expert on Tibetian Buddhism, the lectures on which are quite organized and well presented. His lectures are clearly and pleasently presented in the audio version (The video version was not viewed).
Date published: 2009-03-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Solid Scholarly Introduction This course provides a solid introduction to Buddhism, and Malcom David Eckel manages to cover a surprising amount of ground in just 12 lectures. The course is definitely a full introduction to the subject, rather than just a primer. In this connection, I should note that Eckel also has a 24-lecture TTC course on Buddhism, but I haven't gone through that course yet, so I can't offer a comparison. While I certainly liked this course, there were a few areas in which I thought the course could be improved, or at least different: 1. The course emphasizes religious and historical information (in considerable detail), rather than psychological, philosophical, and spiritual aspects. Like perhaps most Westerners, I would have preferred more emphasis on the latter, but I do recognize that this is a course in the "Great World Religions" series and is taught by a professor of religion, so I guess Eckel's scope meets his mandate. 2. As another reviewer noted, the video version of the course should have more visual elements. I also found that Eckel spends too much time looking at his notes, which was a bit annoying. For these reasons, the audio version might actually be preferable. 3. There was limited discussion on how Buddhism has developed in the West, and I think there should have been a full lecture devoted to that (at the end), given the presumably mostly Western audience for the course. For the reasons noted above, I've deducted one star and assigned a 4-star rating, but I can still recommend the course to anyone interested in Buddhism. I'd also like to mention that the lecture notes for this course are particularly good, and they work well even on a stand-alone basis. Also, I really enjoyed the discussion on the connections between Buddhism and Taoism, and I hope that TTC will develop a separate 24-lecture course on Taoism (with perhaps Mark Muesse as the lecturer).
Date published: 2009-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Professor Eckel gives a fair and encompassing view of Buddhism in a very succinct course. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-02-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good introduction The TTC great world religion courses are all good value but they are only what they purport to be - namely introductions. Three and a half stars. For those seeking a deeper examination of Buddhism in context go to Mark Muesse's course on Religions of the Axial Age which is not to be missed.
Date published: 2008-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good survey of Buddhism This is a condensed version of the more elaborate Teaching Company course "Buddhism" by the same professor (Malcolm David Eckel). Prof. Eckel provides a light and pleasant tour of Buddhism from its origins in India to its spread across Asia. The tour tracks the various changes and reform movements that occurred in Buddhism, often transforming it into something that had little resemblance to what Buddhism was in its early days in northern India. The course could have benefited with more pictures and videos depicting the different traditions of Buddhism in India, China, Japan, and South-east Asia. I'm not sure why these religion courses of the Teaching Company have so little visual content, given that videos depicting the tradition were a strong component of the religion courses I did at my university. The professor may be very good, but the lack of visual content is something that makes these courses less than ideal. I'm still giving a rating of 5 because I don't see a way to assign a value of 4.5.
Date published: 2008-12-06
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