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Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad

An award-winning professor takes you deep into the life stories and legacies of four iconic figures in world religion.
Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 64.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enlightening Provides an excellent overview of four major religions. The academic and historical perspective maybe difficult for the devout of each faith group. It was never the speakers intention to undermine or challenge the faith and commitment of believers.
Date published: 2021-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from By training, I am an engineer and attorney, having spent my professional life as a real estate developer. So contemplation of the matters covered in this course are/were not a part of my life heretofore. Without a doubt Prof. Muesse is one of the most articulate, educated, inspirational, informative people from whom I have had the pleasure of learning. I am grateful for this blessing.
Date published: 2021-05-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meh. Lots of good info buried in monotony. This is my least favorite Great Course so far. Dr. Muesse is no doubt very knowledgeable but lacks passion or enthusiasm which makes for a pretty boring delivery. I am VERY interested in this topic but am unimpressed by this series. I don't think anyone should find his treatment of these four visionaries offensive but he does seem to take great pains to pronounce "the buddha" strangely almost every time. No big deal but after several dozen times it seemed a bit grating to my ears. Imagine if he had similarly stuck with an arabic pronunciation for Mohammed or an aramaic pronunciation of Jesus' aramaic name. Ridiculous. I think this course would be better if Dr. Muesse just stuck to the points he is excited about. This would likely be a much shorter series and much more interesting. If you pick this course I recommend audio. The video wasn't helpful to me.
Date published: 2021-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Special Course The lecturer is a specialist in walking on eggshells. He is dealing with a very sensitive subject and there will be some who will be uncomfortable with the subject. But the course is a personal experience as well as a learning experience. It will open your eyes to what religion should be; not what, in many cases, it has become. Best to take in single lecture doses so you have time to think and absorb the instruction.
Date published: 2021-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Course I've taking quite a few Great Courses and this is one of the better ones. It provides a unbiased overview of the religions and is exceptionally enlightening!
Date published: 2021-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking and engaging Professor Muesse's arrangement and teaching of this huge amount of material was concise, well organized, thoughtful and beautifully presented without coddling the student. He is extremely knowledgable and engaging as a teacher. If you are curious about these great Masters, you will get a very clear insight into their lives and teachings through this excellent course and will then have a roadmap to continue your own study if you so choose. I learned so much, I was challenged by some of the precepts, and had to go back and listen again to understand. I enjoyed every minute of this course. It was excellent. If you know nothing of these Masters, if you have a smattering of knowledge or if you are a lifelong student you will gain insight and be reminded of the magnificence of these four people who have shaped our world for centuries. I recommend it highly.
Date published: 2021-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A course that gets you thinking -- and wanting mor An excellent course that, by necessity, does not go into depth on each of its subjects, but still presents an excellent outline of each of the men's philosophies. I had varying degrees of knowledge about each of the four sages, and this filled in a number of blanks. But it also left me looking to expand my knowledge even further, which I consider an excellent result of a course such as this one is. It certainly made me consider my own views of spirituality. (Maybe the time was just ripe for that, but nonetheless, a useful outcome.) The course first focuses on each of the four men and then does a fairly cursory comparison of their philosophies. There is some straining in finding similarities, but not overly so. And, perhaps it is my optimism, but looking for the similarities rather than the differences, strikes me as helpful. This is not a course for the devout of any of the four religions represented -- the focus on the original teachings (as they can be found) results in a different approach than taking on the religions as they developed. And I am sure that some will no doubt be offended by the less orthodox ways of describing the individuals and their teachings. Moreover, the professor does put his own "spin" on some of the core views, which would also, no doubt offend the true devotees. The delivery is very deliberate and evenly paced. (Think Al Gore and you'll get a sense of what his lecturing approach is.) Some might find it somewhat boring, but I found it allowed me to absorb what he was saying without constantly trying to jump to the next idea. All in all, a highly worthwhile course.
Date published: 2020-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from concise for representing comparisons important for comparing different understandings of historical context. religion is an evolutionary work-in-progress and should be free of ideological straight-jackets.
Date published: 2020-07-24
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Discover new perspectives on the moral and spiritual precepts on which much of human civilization is built with Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Award-winning Professor Mark W. Muesse takes you deep inside the life stories and legacies of these four iconic figures. He reveals their core teachings and sheds new light on the history that underlies their phenomenal, enduring impact on how we see and think about the world. These 36 lectures are a rare chance to examine the still-living wisdom of four great, visionary sages.


Mark W. Muesse
Mark W. Muesse

Mindfulness allows us to become keen observers of ourselves and gradually transform the way our minds operate.


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, Professor Muesse held positions at Harvard College, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Southern Maine, where he served as Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He is a recipient of the 2008 Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching, Rhodes College's highest faculty honor. Known for his experiential teaching style, Professor Muesse was honored for his effective use of imaginative and creative pedagogy as well as his ability to motivate his students toward lifelong study. Professor Muesse has written many articles, papers, and reviews in world religions, spirituality, theology, and gender studies and has coedited a collection of essays titled Redeeming Men: Religion and Masculinities. He is currently compiling an anthology of prayers from around the world. Professor Muesse is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Indian Philosophy and Religion and has been Visiting Professor at the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary in Madurai, India. He has traveled extensively throughout Asia and has studied at Wat Mahadhatu, Bangkok, Thailand; the Himalayan Yogic Institute, Kathmandu, Nepal; the Subodhi Institute of Integral Education, Sri Lanka; and Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.

By This Professor

Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation
Great World Religions: Hinduism
Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad
Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad


A Quartet of Sages

01: 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....

33 min
Confucius's China

02: 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....

30 min
Becoming a Sage

03: 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....

32 min
A Gentleman and a Scholar

04: 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....

32 min
Heaven and Earth

05: 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....

31 min
Doing unto Others

06: 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....

30 min
How to Rule a Kingdom

07: 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....

32 min
What a Sage Does

08: 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....

31 min
Confucius and Confucianism

09: 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....

30 min
India at the Time of the Buddha

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....

33 min
Siddhattha Gotama

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....

31 min
The First and Second Great Awakenings

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....

32 min
Knowing the World

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....

33 min
Can't Get No Satisfaction

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....

31 min
Getting to the Farther Shore

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....

33 min
How the Buddha Taught

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....

33 min
The Buddha and Buddhism

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....

33 min
The Jewish and Roman Worlds of Jesus

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....

32 min
The Son of Mary

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....

33 min
The First 30 Years

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....

28 min
The Kingdom of God

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....

32 min
Back to the Future

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....

33 min
Jesus's Christology

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....

31 min
The Last Days in Jerusalem

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....

31 min
How Jesus Became Christ

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....

33 min
Arabia in the Days of Ignorance

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....

32 min
The Trustworthy One

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....

32 min
I Am Only a Messenger

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....

32 min

29: Madinah

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....

34 min
There Is No God but al-Lah

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....

31 min
The Ethics of Islam

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....

31 min
The Greater Jihad

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....

33 min
The Conquest of Makkah

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....

30 min
Their Lives Compared

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....

31 min
Their Teachings Compared

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....

33 min
Their Enduring Significance

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....

29 min