The Open Buddhist University

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.

What is Buddhist Philosophy?

Buddhist Philosophy (right view, thought, understanding, and wisdom) is both the beginning and the end of the Buddhist Path. Without confidence in the power of action and the dangers of greed, hatred and delusion, one can only practice the path half-heartedly at best. And yet the overcoming of ignorance is itself the goal of the path. Buddhist Philosophy thus has a bootstrapping problem: how can deluded beings ever climb out of darkness?

The Buddha starts with what we can know directly: suffering. People can mislead you about many things, but when you’re suffering nobody can tell you that you’re not. You can directly know this first truth yourself. This gives us the self-confidence that there are truths we can directly know and it builds our confidence in the Buddha who pointed this out. Faith leads to effort, effort leads to results, and so the whole path unfolds from the basic observation of pain.

From this process, we can make out a few points regarding Buddhist Philosophy. Most distinct is that it is phenomenological. Buddhist Philosophy is primarily concerned with our subjective experiences. Second, within this “event-driven” rather than “object-oriented” framework, we notice a distinct emphasis on cause and effect. The Buddhist universe is neither chaotic nor predetermined but is rather conditioned by our choices. Lastly, Buddhist Philosophy is teleological. It has a goal, a purpose beyond merely describing reality. It points the way out of views, attachments, and prejudices and towards the direct understanding of reality itself.

Buddhist Philosophy is thus the way of thinking which leads beyond thought.


This course assumes some familiarity with the purpose of Buddhism. Prior comfort with the Early Buddhist Textsis not required, though may be helpful.

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