Welcome to

Buddhist Philosophy in Depth, Part 1

A Wisdom Academy Online Course with Jay Garfield

In this groundbreaking course, immerse yourself in the treasury of Buddhist wisdom with Professor Jay Garfield, renowned philosopher, translator, and expert on Buddhist philosophy.

What You’ll Learn

  • The fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy across traditions 
  • Familiarity with Buddhism’s greatest thinkers and writers
  • How philosophy can be used to deepen Buddhist practice
  • What constitutes Buddhist ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind
  • How understanding of the core teachings of the Buddha have evolved throughout history
  • And much more!

About this Course

The rich philosophical fabric of Buddhist thought has evolved over two and a half millennia, within a variety of cultures, epochs, and geographies. Professor Jay Garfield takes us on an exciting in-depth journey throughout these Buddhist worlds, their texts, and the essential thinkers that have shaped Buddhist philosophy from the time of the historical Buddha.

In this first part of the course trilogy Buddhist Philosophy in Depth, we explore the fundamentals of the history of Buddhist philosophy, including the Four Noble Truths, the life of the Buddha, the distinctive features of Theravada and Mahayana, as well as texts such as the Vimalakīrti Sutra, the Heart Sutra, Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, and much more.

The course progresses historically from Part 1 to Part 2 and Part 3, but all courses are open for enrollment without having to take a prior course.



Lesson 1: Introducing the History of Buddhist Philosophy

In this lesson Jay Garfield provides us with a detailed picture of the history of Buddhism, and Buddhist philosophical movements, from the time of the historical Buddha to the current day. Jay also familiarizes us with fundamental Buddhist doctrines and philosophical tenets that rest at the heart of all Buddhist philosophical schools.


Lesson 2: The Life of the Buddha and the Four Noble Truths

In this lesson Jay Garfield takes us through the life of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, and presents the Buddha’s fundamental teaching on the four noble truths; the foundation of all Buddhist thought and practice.


Lesson 3: The Heart of Buddhist Theory: Impermanence, Selflessness and Dependent Origination

In this lesson, Jay Garfield distills the essence of Buddhist theory and doctrine at the core of all Buddhist traditions, presenting the notions of impermanence, selflessness and dependent origination. Jay teaches us how these fundamental aspects of Buddhist theory speak to the heart of the noble truth of suffering. We also learn how essential metaphor and imagery, such as the wheel of life, have been used to transmit depths of insight and wisdom across Buddhist philosophical traditions.


Lesson 4: An Introduction to Abhidhamma

In this lesson, Jay Garfield illuminates the teachings of Abhidharma with particular emphasis on the Pali Abhidhamma. Jay guides us through essential ideas and texts that demonstrate the particular ways in which Buddhist philosophy and psychology were systematized after the death of the Buddha, and before the rise of the Mahayana.


Lesson 5: Ethics in the Theravada Framework

Jay Garfield explores the foundation of ethics in the Theravada tradition, looking at an understanding of śīla (Pali: sīla), or proper conduct, in the context of the Eightfold Noble Path and the four brahmavihāras. We also explore the role of taking vows in developing a moral life and look at the idea of Buddhist moral perfection in conjunction with Western notions of morality.


Lesson 6: Early Mahayana and the Doctrine of Two Truths

In this lesson, we learn about the rise of the early Mahayana school of Buddhism. Jay Garfield illuminates the distinctive qualities of the Mahayana as a development out of early Buddhism and discusses the Mahayana philosophical doctrines such as emptiness and the two truths. We also learn about the two early primary schools of the Mahayana, the Madhyamaka school and Yogacara school, and receive Jay’s commentary on the Vimala­kīrti­nirdeśa Sutra to enliven our understanding of this important and rich philosophical tradition.


Lesson 7: The Heart of Nonduality in the Vimala­kīrti­nirdeśa Sutra

In this lesson, Jay Garfield guides us into the heart of nonduality as it is illuminated in the Vimala­kīrti­nirdeśa Sutra, and in the Mahayana tradition. We encounter the profound teachings on emptiness, and through’s Jay’s inspired commentary on the Vimala­kīrti­nirdeśa Sutra, learn the key distinctions between the Sravakayana and the Mahayana traditions of Buddhist philosophy.


Lesson 8: The Perfection of Wisdom and the Bodhisattva Path

In this lesson Jay Garfield guides us through essential points from the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra, two of the most important and influential scriptures in the Mahayana Buddhist world. Jay’s inspired commentary elucidates each sutra’s profound and essential discussion of the Perfection of Wisdom, and the essential features of the Mahayana path. Jay illuminates the poetic and philosophical depth of both texts, making the teachings on emptiness clear and accessible.


Lesson 9: Mahayana Ethics and Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland of Advice

In this lesson Jay Garfield offers his expert commentary on essential passages from Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland of Advice, illuminating the ethical and philosophical implications of the Mahayana school. We learn about one of the greatest philosophers in the history of Buddhist thought, Arya Nagarjuna, and how Buddhist ethical thinking can serve both mundane life and progress on the bodhisattva path, from a nondual point of view.


Lesson 10: The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma through the Early Mahayana: Buddhist Philosophy in Depth, Part 1 Review

In this lesson, Jay Garfield illuminates the content covered throughout this first part of the Buddhist Philosophy in Depth series. Jay makes clear how distinct movements in Buddhist thought shaped the development of Buddhist philosophy, from the Buddha’s first turning the wheel of Dharma to the sutra literature of the early Mahayana. Jay’s nuanced discussion of the texts and philosophical movements covered in this course offers a unique and comprehensive view of the history of Buddhist philosophy, and prepares us for Buddhist Philosophy in Depth, Part 2.

About the Teacher

Jay Garfield is Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Logic Program and of the Five College Tibetan Studies in India Program at Smith College; Visiting Professor of Buddhist Philosophy at Harvard Divinity School; Professor in the graduate faculty of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts; Professor of Philosophy at Melbourne University; and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. He teaches and pursues research in the philosophy of mind, foundations of cognitive science, logic, philosophy of language, Buddhist philosophy, cross-cultural hermeneutics, theoretical and applied ethics, and epistemology. He is the author, editor, and translator of several books on these subjects, most recently The Essential Jewel of Holy Practice, a co-translation of verses written by Patrul Rinpoche (Wisdom 2017).