The Open Buddhist University

Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts

A rigerous tour of key words and images used in the Early Buddhist Texts, this course unpacks early Buddhist philosophy from the unique perspective of the rhethoric it deployed. This course also serves as an introduction to Pāli for nonspecialists.

What is Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts?

The Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts is the way that the Buddha used suggestive language to convey his teachings.

All language is (of course) in some way referential: words are merely pointers. But more so than many works of literature, the Early Buddhist Texts are so tightly interwoven that it’s almost cliche to call the dhamma “a net.” As we pick up any of the words, images, or strands of the teachings, its associations, connections and references seem inevitably to take the whole of the Canon with it!

Because of this, coming to understand the words and images of the Canon can be both incredibly challenging and rewarding: a powerful “Dharma Gate” that has inspired (and awakened!) a hundred generations of Buddhists — from the first “turning of the wheel” up to the present day.


This course assumes some prior familiarity with the Early Buddhist Texts.

In this course you will...


  • The many ways that the Buddha used material examples in the world around him
  • How to interpret similes in ways that are authentic and meaningful
  • How to use the suttas to deepen your understanding of the spiritual path


  • An anthology of suttas you find personally meaningful
  • A broad knowledge of the teachings in the Pali Canon
  • Your own connection with the Buddha’s words


  • One of the Buddha’s main rhethorical tools
  • A broad range of dhamma topics
  • An authentic, close reading of the Pali Canon
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