Course Descriptions

The graduate program consists of courses from four distinct strands:

Buddhist Texts (6 courses)

On the eve of his passing, the Buddha instructed his students to take as their next “teacher” not an individual, but “the teachings”—the philosophy and practices leading to self-knowledge and a clear understanding of the nature of reality. This vast body of knowledge, initially passed along in an oral tradition, gradually coalesced into a collection of works known as the tripitaka—the Buddhist classics.

In the Buddhist Texts strand, the emphasis is placed on studying Buddhism not merely as an historical event, but as a living philosophy and embodied discipline. Students learn about, from, and through the texts.

Comparative Hermeneutics (2 courses)

Comparative Hermeneutics surveys the major methodological approaches to the theory and practice of interpreting human experience derived from the academic, cultural, and intellectual thought-ways of the West. Particular attention is given to examining the implications of these structures, strategies, and frameworks for understanding and presenting Buddhist texts and practices. The seminars also explore the question of how Buddhist teachings might engage and inform new developments in science, philosophy, psychology, and religion.

Buddhist Hermeneutics (3 courses)

Buddhist Hermeneutics is concerned with defining and applying the theoretical framework, interpretive models, and experiential elements of inquiry derived directly from Buddhist sources and from within the Buddhist tradition itself. The texts come embedded with a systematic and critical discipline of inquiry—one characterized by rigorous probing, radical questioning, and careful analysis of both the object of study (the text) and the subject (the person reading the text).

The texts pose questions rather than dictate answers. What did the Buddha actually say? How do we know? Where does authority reside? What is the role of doubt? How does each individual construct a world of meaning, and how can that world be transformed and deepened into a site of liberation?

Each course emphasizes critical subjectivity—an approach that entails close reading of primary sources done in conjunction with a “laboratory” experience consisting of meditation and mindfulness exercises. This unique hermeneutical tool, where intellectual inquiry is informed and enhanced by contemplative practice, allows students to gain a fuller appreciation of the Buddhist texts as both philosophical treatises and dynamic methods of inquiry.

Language Tutorials (2-4 courses)

Courses in Sanskrit or Classical Chinese are designed to bring students into a direct encounter with primary works in and through the source languages in which they were formulated. The goal of the Language Tutorials is not to provide mastery of Chinese or Sanskrit, but to open a door to accessing Buddhist texts in their original languages, so as to experience a more nuanced and direct voicing of the ideas and fundamental questions they raise.

Master of Arts in Buddhist Classics Unit Distribution

A student who has successfully completed the two-year MA curriculum is awarded the Master of Arts in Buddhist Classics. The master’s program consists of a minimum of 39 semester units, with courses from four strands. The following table illustrates the number of semester units required from each strand over two years.

 Year 1 Year 2 Total units per strand
33  6
Total units per semester9 units12 units9–12 units9–12 units39–45 units

*Students are required to take a minimum of 6 units of Language Tutorial. Students have the option to take an additional 3 or 6 Language Tutorial units.