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Buddhism through Stories


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Introduction to Buddhism (preferably) or Filosofie en Religie van China or Tekst en Cultuur (Korea Studies) or Tibetan Buddhism or Chinese Buddhism.. Please, contact the student advisor or Prof.dr. J.A. Silk, if you are interested in taking this course, but do NOT fulfill the abovementioned requirement.


Buddhism is a 2500 year old complex of traditions, and Buddhists across the centuries have expressed their insights and understandings in a vast variety of forms. Scholars and students sometimes have a tendency to distinguish ‘elite’ from ‘popular’ understandings, and to relegate to the realm of ‘folk belief’ ideas and practices not found in scholastic texts. This course takes another approach, turning its attention to narrative literature—stories—out of which we will build our picture of Buddhism. As we will see, these stories illuminate just as much about monastic (‘elite’) Buddhism as they do about lay (‘popular’) forms, or better yet, they dissolve the false dichotomy between them. The stories to be read—in translation— will range from ancient Indian sources to more recent East Asian creations, drawing on variety of genres and touching on a range of themes.

Course objectives

Students will gain an appreciation of the range of Buddhist literary forms of expression, familiarity with major themes of interest to authors, and explore the ways that literature—“fiction”— can be used to explore truths as well.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and informed participation are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the instructor and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end paper and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Class meetings 2 hr x 13 weeks = 26 hrs
Individual presentation: 10 hrs
Readings: 70hrs
Paper: 34hrs
TOTAL 140 hrs

Assessment method

Assessment shall be through:
1) In class participation: 20%
2) Presentation: 30%
3) Paper: 50%. The instructor will read and comment on 1 draft of the paper if and only if it is turned in by the deadline.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of “5.50” (=6) or higher. There is no ‘resit’ possible for class participation or presentation. A new version of the final paper (50%) may be written if the overall mark for the course is “5.49” (=5) or lower. If a resit is necessary for the paper, an entirely new topic must be approved, and there is no opportunity for feedback.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.



Reading list



Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Prof.dr. J.A. Silk


Other Buddhism related courses

At BA-level
Fall Semester
Anthropology and Buddhism in Asia
Buddhist Art
Culture of Tibet
Introduction to Buddhism
Japanse religies en boeddhisme
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts
Iconography of South and Southeast Asia
Elementary Pali
Tibetan 1

Spring Semester
Architecture: The Temple and the Stupa
Chinese Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibet: State and Society
Sacred Biography in Buddhism and Jainism
Indian Philosophy
Tibetan 2

At MA-level
Buddhism and Social Justice
Reading Buddhist Scriptures
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts

Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).