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Introduction to Buddhism


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.

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.



Mode of instruction

  • Lecture, with required discussion section.

Course Load

  • 3 Contact hours/week (2hs class & 1h tutorial): 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

  • Written examination with essay questions (we) for both midterm (1Q) and final exam (2Qs): 80%

  • Participation in tutorials is mandatory; hand in at least 8/10 summaries: 20%



Reading list

  • Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide, edited by Kevin Trainor (ISBN 0195173988, paper, Oxford University Press).

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


Students are requested to register through uSis, the registration system of Leiden University for this course. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Contractonderwijs



Prof. Dr. Silk
Dhr. Dr. H.W.A. Blezer



  1. General Introduction: Issues and Problems
    2-3. The Buddha’s life
    4-5. The Shape of the Universe and Our Place in It
    1. Basic doctrine: Non-self; dependent origination; emptiness
    2. The Nature of Death and What to Do About It
    3. Buddhist monasticism
    4. Other Ways of Being Buddhist
    5. Chan/Zen
    6. The Spread of Buddhism
    7. Buddhism in Society (aka the “real” world)
    8. Summing Up and Coming to Terms with Buddhism