This course explores how Buddhist texts reject the notion that compassion is sacrificing one’s own well-being for the sake of others, and instead embrace a vision of compassion as benefiting the practitioner emotionally, mentally, and physically. Rather than being based on sacrificing one's own well-being for the sake of others, Buddhist sources present compassion as a key to happiness, spiritual progress, and human flourishing. Compassion is understood to bless the practitioner—whether others benefit or not—and to protect the practitioner from emotional and physical harm.
As we will see, Buddhists have a variety of nuanced responses to this question that extend beyond simple pacifism. We will consider some of these responses, and try to think about how a compassionate person might live in our imperfect world. We will also examine the movement known as “Engaged Buddhism” and ask whether this type of socially engaged Buddhism is a modern development or a continuation of past Buddhist practice.
Join professor of Religious Studies, Dr. Stephen Jenkins, and a global cohort of students, for this unique opportunity to explore Buddhism and compassion. Compassion is one of the most precious, but also misunderstood, ideals in Buddhist thought. Together, we will examine how early Buddhist texts present compassion and ask what this means for our understanding of compassion today.
Module 1 — The Conception, Psychology, and Meditative Cultivation of Compassion
Module 2 — Compassion and Wisdom
Module 3 — Social Perspectives and Compassionate Activism
Module 4 — Compassion and Violence
Students Will Receive:
- 4 Video + Audio lectures (90 min)
- 4 Prerecorded Q&A sessions (90 min)
- 4 BS Credits
- 12 Hours of CE credit with YA
- Course Syllabus (PDF)
- Weekly Readings (PDF)
- 4 Multiple Choice Quizzes
- Yogic Studies Certificate (PDF)
- Access to Yogic Studies Community
Dr. Stephen Jenkins
Professor of Religious Studies at Humboldt State University
Dr. Stephen Jenkins received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1999. Much of his career has been spent in Asia serving study abroad programs in India, Tibet, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Japan. His research has been primarily focused on Indian Buddhist concepts of compassion, their philosophical grounding, and their ethical implications. Some recent publications include:
The Circle of Compassion: An Interpretive Study of Karuṇā in Indian Buddhist Literature, Cambridge Buddhist Institute Series, Series Editor R.C. Jamieson, Aryshire, Scotland: Hardinge Simpole, 2003.
“Waking into Compassion: the Three Ālambana of Karuṇā,” in Moonpaths, Cowherds, Jenkins etc., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
"Confronting the Harmful with Compassion," in Nonviolence in World Religions, Edited by Mike Long and Jeff Long (New York: Routledge, 2021).
"Compassion Blesses the Compassionate: The Basis of Social and Individual Wealth, Health, Happiness, Power and Security in Indian Buddhist Thought," in Buddhist Visions of the Good Life for All, Edited by Sallie B. King (New York: Routledge, 2021) 36-53.
“On the Auspiciousness of Compassionate Violence,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Volume 33, Number 1-2, 2010 (2011), 299-331.
"Do Bodhisattvas Relieve Poverty? The Distinction Between Economic and Spiritual Development and Their Interrelation in Indian Buddhist Texts,” in Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism, Edited by Damien Keown, Charles Prebish, Chris Queen. London: RoutledgeCurzon, Critical Studies in Buddhism, 2003, 38-49.
This course is eligible for 12 hours of Continued Education (CE) credits with Yoga Alliance
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