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 University, Middlebury College in Vermont, and the Harvard Divinity School, where he served as acting director of the Center for the Study of World Religions. At Boston University, Professor Eckel teaches courses on Buddhism, comparative religion, and the religions of Asia. In 1998, Professor Eckel received the Metcalf Award for Teaching Excellence, the university's highest award for teaching. In addition to writing many articles, Professor Eckel has published two books on Buddhist philosophy: To See the Buddha: A Philosopher's Quest for the Meaning of Emptiness and Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places.
01: What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is best understood as the unfolding of the story of the Buddha himself, and of the many generations of followers who have contributed to Buddhism's influence and diversity in India, the rest of Asia, and the world.
02: India at the Time of the Buddha
Buddhism began when Siddhartha Gautama, the man who would come to be known as the Buddha, "awoke" to the truth. This awakening was rooted in the tradition of the Vedas, Hindu scriptures that describe the lives of Indian sages and the Indian quest for wisdom about the nature of the world and the self....
03: The Doctrine of Reincarnation
Along with the quest for wisdom, Buddhism inherited the Indian notion of reincarnation. Humans and all other living beings live not one but many lives in a continuous process of death and rebirth. This process is known as samsara or wandering from one life to the next. While we might view reincarnation as an opportunity to enjoy life repeatedly, those in ancient India considered it to be a burden....
04: The Story of the Buddha
The Buddha was a real person who was born into a royal family, had a spiritual awakening and lived to be about 80. But the actual facts of Siddhartha Gautama's life cannot explain his impact on his followers. We must examine the stories that Buddhists tell about the Buddha, including those of his previous lives.
05: All Is Suffering
After the Buddha's death, attention turned to his Dharma, or teaching. A fundamental claim was that "All is suffering." This may seem pessimistic, but Buddhists find it a realistic, and even liberating, view of life. This perspective derives from the concept of "no self."...
06: The Path to Nirvana
After describing the truth of suffering, the Buddha went on to describe the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. The cessation of suffering is also called nirvana, the "blowing out" of desire....
07: The Buddhist Monastic Community
The Buddha's first converts formed the early Buddhist Samgha, or "community." After his death, attention shifted to his teachings, or Dharma. Disputes over doctrine and discipline eventually led to many different traditions of Buddhist practice....
08: Buddhist Art and Architecture
Buddhists developed distinctive artistic and architectural styles to express their understanding of the Buddha's teaching and to serve as the focus of worship and veneration. A blend of Indian and Hellenistic influences created the classic Gupta style that inspired Buddhist art throughout the rest of Asia.
09: Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia
The arrival of the first Buddhist missionaries in Sri Lanka led to the Theravada Buddhism that now predominates in Southeast Asia. Part of this tradition is the concept of the "righteous King," which continues to link Buddhist practice with political involvement.
10: Mahayana Buddhism and the Bodhisattva Ideal
The Mahayana tradition, or "Great Vehicle," emerged in India near the beginning of the Common Era. It introduced the ideal of the bodhisattva, or "future Buddha," who, rather than seeking nirvana, returns again and again in the cycle of samsara to seek the welfare of others....
11: Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Another aspect of the Mahayana tradition is "celestial" Buddhas and bodhisattvas, heavenly beings who can save earthly beings who ask for their help. Among the most important are Avalokiteshvara, "The Lord Who Looks Down," and Amitabha, "the Buddha of Infinite Light," who is worshipped widely in Japan.
At the heart of Mahayana practice lies the paradoxical and elusive concept of Emptiness. This concept challenged and undermined many of the rigid categories of traditional Buddhism, but it also introduced a new spirit of affirmation and possibility.
13: Buddhist Philosophy
The Mahayana tradition developed a sophisticated philosophy to deal with Emptiness. Two major schools of thinking appeared-the Madhyamaka and the Yogachara-that took very different approaches toward understanding the "reality" of Emptiness.
14: Buddhist Tantra
The Buddhist movement known as Tantra emerged in the 6th century. This tradition took a radical stance toward the concept of Emptiness that produced strikingly new forms of ritual and meditation.
15: The Theory and Practice of the Mandala
Practitioners of Buddhist Tantra use a mandala, or ritual circle, to explore connections between the self, Buddhist deities and the universe. A mandala can be a two dimensional representation or a three-dimensional object, ranging from a small implement to an enormous temple or even an entire city or nation....
16: The "First Diffusion of the Dharma" in Tibet
The "First Diffusion" or arrival, of Buddhism in Tibet occurred in the 7th century under the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. Over time, Tibetan Buddhism took on the complex institutional characteristics of Indian Buddhism, and also had strong influence on a native Tibetan tradition known as Bon.
17: The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism
Buddhism had to be reintroduced from India to Tibet in the 10th century. This "Later Diffusion of the Dharma" led to four schools of Tibetan Buddhism...
18: The Dalai Lama
Tibetan Buddhism is personified for many people by the figure of the Dalai Lama. The present Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, is the fourteenth in a line of incarnations that began in the 15th century.
19: The Origins of Chinese Buddhism
Buddhism entered China at a time when the Chinese were disillusioned with traditional Chinese values. Through a long process of interaction with Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese popular religion, Buddhism took on a distinctively Chinese character.
20: The Classical Period of Chinese Buddhism
During the Tang Dynasty, a series of indigenous Chinese schools gave brilliant expression to the values of the Mahayana tradition. In return, Buddhist values had important influence on Chinese literature and the arts.
21: The Origins of Japanese Buddhism
Buddhism entered Japan as early as the year 535 from Korea. The indigenous Japanese tradition of Shinto, or "the way of the Gods," came to be seen as harmonious with "the way of the Buddha."
22: Honen, Shinran and Nichiren
During the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) political unrest in Japan led some to doubt whether Buddhism could be practiced in such a "degenerate age." Three Buddhist thinkers-Honen, Shinran and Nichiren-set new traditions in motion that have had enormous influence wherever Japanese Buddhism has traveled in the world.
The Kamakura period also saw the appearance of Zen, now one of the most popular Buddhist Movements in the West. The goal of this process is to achieve awakening in the Mahayana sense-that is, to achieve an awareness of Emptiness.
24: Buddhism in America
The American Theosophist, Colonel Olcott, traveled to Ceylon in the 1880s, converted to Buddhism, and helped formulate a modern view of the Buddhist tradition. Today, Buddhism is represented in Asian immigrant communities, and has influenced American visual arts, literature, film, and music.