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Introduction to Buddhism



Students à la carte can only attend the lectures and are not allowed to attend the seminars.

Admission reguirements



This course provides a general introduction to Buddhism as a religious system, set of philosophies and doctrines, and cultural force. The study of Buddhism also provides an excellent oppor¬tunity to approach basic human questions of an entirely general type. The course surveys the historical background of Buddhism from its Indian origins through its development and spread through Asia, through lectures, reading in primary sources in translation and secondary studies, and guided discussions. Attendance at the weekly one hour discussion is required.

Topics which may be included:

  • General Introduction: Issues and Problems

  • The Buddha’s life

  • The Shape of the Universe and Our Place in It

  • Basic doctrine: Non-self; dependent origination; emptiness

  • The Nature of Death and What to Do About It

  • Buddhist monasticism

  • Other Ways of Being Buddhist

  • Chan/Zen

  • The Spread of Buddhism

  • Buddhism in Society (aka the “real” world)

  • Summing Up and Coming to Terms with Buddhism

Course objectives

Through this course you will gain a familiarity with basic chronological / historical information about Buddhism, Buddhist cosmology, the major movements of ideas and practices in Buddhism over time, the major forces acting on Buddhism over time, the major sources for the study of Buddhism, and think about questions such as the nature of authority, and its sources, regionalism, and its effects, and the place of religion in life, and the tensions brought out by religious thinking. The approach of the course is entirely non-confessional, meaning that we aim to look as objectively as possible at Buddhism as an object of study.


Timetable BA South and Southeast Asian Studies
Timetable Minor Religion in a changing world Timetable Religiewetenschappen

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture/seminar

Attendance and participation in the seminars are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the conveners and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

  • 3 Contact hours/week (2hs class & 1h seminar): 12×3hs: 36 hours

  • Readings (540pp., of which 70pp. cursory): 72 hours

  • Preparing 8 weekly summaries of readings (1A4): 12 hours

  • Preparing for midterm & final exam: 1×8 & 1×12hs: 20 hours
    Total: 140 hours

Assessment method

  • Participation (mandatory) and summaries (at least 8/10): 10%.

  • Written examination with essay questions (we) for both midterm (1Q; 40%) and final exam (3Qs; 50%): 90%

  • Re-sit: 3Q on entire course: 50%

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. Students will be able to do the re-sit as described above.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.



Reading list

  • TBA

  • The Heart of Understanding by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 0938077112, paper, Parallax Press, 1988).


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Studeren à la carte. See remark.


Prof. Dr. J.A. Silk

All Buddhism related courses

At BA-level
Fall Semester
Buddhist Art
Introduction to Buddhism
Japanse religies en boeddhisme
Iconography of South and Southeast Asia

Spring Semester
Architecture: The Temple and the Stupa
Chinese Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibet: State and Society
Indian Philosophy
Buddhism and Modern Chinese Literature
Elective: Buddhism and Violence

At MA-level
Reading Buddhist Scriptures


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).