The Open Buddhist University organizes content from across the Web into free, self-directed syllabi on a variety of topics in Buddhist Studies.
About Our Courses
We currently offer 16 courses on the fundamentals of Buddhism.
Note: None of our courses offer degrees or certificates and therefore they don’t require any enrollment. Just click a card below to begin!
- Click the card to begin the course
- Each course has a unique icon (e.g. ) to identify it.
- = Lectures by:
- = Books by:
- = Approximate time to complete the course
A general introduction to Buddhism for absolute beginners.
The Practice of Buddhism
An overview of Buddhist practice focusing on how ethics and meditation work together to improve our lives.
Buddhism as a Religion
An introduction to the history and religious forms of Buddhism, including an analysis of the Sangha and what it takes to call yourself a Buddhist.
The Buddha's Words
An introduction to the Buddha’s teachings suitable for everyone based on Bhikkhu Bodhi’s popular anthology, In The Buddha’s Words.
An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy
An introduction to Buddhist Philosophy for students starting to feel comfortable reading the suttas. Primarily based on the Theravada school, the class will include some additional material to round out its presentation.
In this course we cover ethics from three angles—theory, practice and mythology—believing that none is intelligible without the rest. A course that, hopefully, will engage your heart as well as your head.
A thorough tour of the Pāli texts which report the Buddha’s character, accomplishments, life, and history.
Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts
A rigorous tour of key words and images used in the Early Buddhist Texts, this course unpacks early Buddhist philosophy from the unique perspective of the rhetoric it deployed. This course also serves as an introduction to Pāli technical terms for nonspecialists.
The Majjhima Nikāya
A rigorous tour of the Majjhima Nikāya led by Bhikkhu Bodhi and supplemented by the excellent comparative scholarship of Bhikkhu Anālayo, this course will give you an excellent grounding in the most readable and important of the Early Buddhist Texts.
The Aṅguttara Nikāya
An ongoing series of talks by Bhikkhu Bodhi going sequentially through the Numerical Discourses, explaining how the collection was compiled and how we might apply its wisdom to our everyday lives.
Tranquility and Insight
A short course on part of the Madhyama Āgama held in 2013, the sutras covered (MA 72-86) revolve around the interdependence of samatha and vipassana meditation and their co-creation of wisdom. Bhikkhu Anālayo makes the difficult subject accessible in his inimitably methodical style.
Nibbāna: The Goal of Buddhist Practice
This course weaves together two free monographs and a number of booklets to explore Nirvana from a critical perspective, giving a thorough introduction to the meaning, logic and history behind the Buddhists’ ultimate goal.
Nibbāna: The Mind Stilled
An advanced course on the subtle components of the mind and how to understand their inner workings in order to put an end to our raging whirlpool of selfish thinking.
The Pāli Language: Level 1
A gentle introduction to the Pāli Language suitable for everyone, based on Lily DeSilva’s excellent Primer and taught by the Most Venerable scholar, Bhikkhu Bodhi.
The Pāli Language: Level 2
Begin to read the Pāli Canon in its original language, in this intermediate Pāli course taught from Gair and Karunatillake’s excellent progressive reader and guided step-by-step, as always, by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
Chinese Buddhist Writing
A line-by-line, character-by-character introduction to the art of reading ancient, Buddhist Chinese, this expansive course covers everything from the fundamentals to epigraphy and the esoteric texts.
Courses hosted on other websites.
The Arahant and the Four Noble Truths
The prequel course to Ven. Analayo’s Tranquility and Insight course above, this 11 lecture series covers Madhyama-āgama Chapters 3 and 4, centering on the Venerable Arahants at the time of the Buddha.
An Introduction to Classical Tibetan
Two courses introducing the Tibetan Language courtesy of the University of Toronto, taking you from identifying words all the way up to translating your first Buddhist text. Note: This class assumes prior comfort with the Tibetan script. If that’s not you, see e.g. Translating Buddhism from Tibetan Ch.1–8 before taking this course.
Shin Buddhism in Modern Culture
A short, interactive overview of Jodo Shinshu, from Shinran’s life to Japanese Buddhism in the modern United States.
Human Behavioral Biology
Robert Sapolsky’s classic Stanford course explains what makes people tick and should be considered required watching for anyone who interacts with humans. This lecture series would go on to become the 2017 NYT best-seller, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worse.
Modern and Contemporary American Poetry
An excellent introduction to 20th Century, American poetry from the University of Pennsylvania graduate school, “ModPo” teaches you not just the history of the poems, but how to read them. This course is highly recommended for anyone who likes poetry, but who never “got” that modern stuff.
The Making of Modern Ukraine
Professor Timothy Snyder gives the deep history of Eastern Europe and the formation of the Ukrainian nation, discussing along the way the big question of why we should study history at all. Be sure to check out the course syllabus in addition to the lectures as the readings are an important part of the course.
Open Courseware @MIT
OBU Courses are loosely modeled on MIT’s Open Courseware, which have provided free syllabi and other course materials for a large number of their Undergraduate and Graduate-level courses since 2001. For OBU Students, I especially recommend checking out:
- The Challenge of World Poverty
- To understand the drivers, traps, and opportunities for global poverty with Nobel Laureates Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.
- An Introduction to Biology
- To learn about the principles and methods of the modern life sciences.
- Sexual and Gender Identities
- To learn the surprising history of gender in America.
- The Rise of Modern Science
- To break down the ahistorical mythology of modern science by taking a closer look at its primary sources.
- Gender and Representation of Asian Women
- To recognize how politics shape our perceptions.
- Communicating Across Cultures
- To probe the challenges of intercultural dialogue with theoretical frameworks and practical exercises.