The Buddha's Life

Who was the Buddha really?

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Are you interested in knowing who the Buddha really was? Do you want to get underneath the myths and legends to understand his personality and life story? It can be hard to find truly historical treatments of the Buddha, but that's what you'll find in this course. It will contain:

Twenty-nine video lectures.

• Among these will be four sutta-study videos, that will reveal to you what the Buddha might really have been like at different times in his life, through a deep dive into the suttas themselves.

Downloadable notes to each lecture which you can print out, keep, and refer to.

• Sections for comments, questions, and discussion with each video lecture.

• A certificate of completion that you can download and keep on completion of the course.

This course will help you to understand:

• What the Buddha might really have been like.

• What got the Buddha started on the path.

• How the Buddha's teachings developed over time.

• How the saṅgha of monastics began, and how it matured.

• What controversies dogged the Buddha's later life, and why.

• How and why the dharma was preserved.

• What happened to Buddhism in the aftermath of the Buddha's death.

I found the course 'The Buddha’s Life' interesting and enlightening and the references useful. Using your saying, I wish you well Doug and look forward to further courses.

- John Shaw

That was an absolutely fantastic course! It did exactly what it said on the box. It gave me an understanding of the Buddha as a person that was quite different from the Buddha of stories and legends that I have been reading and hearing all my life. The person presented in this course is considerably more interesting and more compelling than the sanctified, hagiographic Buddha.

On top of that, the course was interesting as a piece of history. I felt I had a bit of a sense of the context of these events. You also repeatedly addressed questions that you raised with an engaging delay. I'd find myself with questions like, "But how did they go about memorizing these texts?" or "Doesn't denying soldiers entry raise a moral question?" only to have the issue addressed later. I'm sure that was no accident. That sort of skillful narrative technique drew my through the course so that I never lost interest.

And I'm a hard sell. Many people are strongly interested in questions of authenticity and literalism but I am not. To my mind, Buddhist theories and practices have utility, first and foremost, in their predictive power and practical results, regardless of who laid them out, and how and when that happened. I see them as know-how or, if you like, technology. Who said exactly what when has, to me, no more bearing on liberation than Lord Kelvin's lab notes have on the value of absolute zero. My interest in this course was really about curiosity. So it is all the more impressive that the course actually deepened or even changed my view of the teachings. There were things that came clear and things that I had never considered.

I really would not change this course in any way but if you were doing another one that was also historically focused, a graphical timeline and some maps might be nice at the beginning, Separately, you might have mentioned in the first lecture that there was this discussion section at the bottom but I didn't notice it until this last lecture where you mentioned it at the end. It might be worth reminding people that this is here a few times at different places in the course.

Thanks again. I know more today than I did a few weeks ago, and that's a nice feeling!

- Martin Cross

Your Instructor

Doug Smith
Doug Smith

You may have seen Doug's popular YouTube videos at Doug's Secular Dharma. He is a contributor to the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and the Oxford Handbook of Buddhist Ethics. He holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has many years of practice in the Zen and Insight traditions. As well as being the Founder and Director of the Online Dharma Institute, he is also Study Director at the Secular Buddhist Association.

Course Curriculum

Watch this video first!

What is this course all about?

Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.
Are these videos different from material on YouTube?
Yes! All the material in courses here at the Online Dharma Institute is completely new and none of it is available on YouTube.
Who should take this course?
If you want to get underneath the myths and legends about the Buddha's life and discover what he might actually have been like, then you should take this course. If you want to find wisdom in your life, then you should definitely take this course!
Does this course follow any particular Buddhist tradition?
The courses on the Online Dharma Institute are aimed at presenting the teachings of early Buddhism in contemporary language and in a contemporary format. The Online Dharma Institute takes a generally secular approach to the dharma, striving to present the teachings that are most down-to-earth and directly beneficial to our present lives. We also aim to be ecumenical in the presentation of historical material, and will discuss more speculative elements of the early teachings as well.

Come and get to know who the Buddha really was!

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