I am an ordinary western man willing to start learning Buddhism, for now - just for curiousity. I have a B.Sc as for education (if the field DOES matter, that is either economics or computer science, because there are actually two of us, and we both are willing to learn). I do not have any previous knowledge of Buddhism besides pop culture references which are what Buddhism looks like to absolute most of people living.

I also do not want to learn about Buddhism based on online videos and random texts. I think there is some academic treatise on the topic. And there should be - science of religion should be interested in it. It is religion, learning about religion from random sources is potentially devastating. Any misconception that was just sounding appealing to a not so educated mind could ruin his worldview. I know these misconceptions could also arise from reading academic texts. But to a much lesser extent and only if you have exceptionally rich imagination - academic texts do not look to convert or convince you, just to educate you.

I would be so glad if someone, and preferably one who holds a university degree from a science of religion course could share some of titles on topic and explain why they are so good.

I am also aware about this question: Introductory books to Buddhism but the author seems to seek for books on Buddhism for a different purpose and never insists on "academicity" of text. I do. It would better be not so insightful about the meaning of life but rather about what Buddhism is taught like to students.

Thank you!

  • I'm a graduate in Indian studies but since I speak German and a lot of research on Buddhism is done in German speaking countries, a lot, even most of the publications I read are in German. Just wanted to make sure what language(s) the publications are supposed to be in?
    – zwiebel
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 18:34
  • In the answer I gave to the question you mention, I referred three academic books under the heading "Comprehensive Introductions to All Traditions". From those three, I've only read Rupert Gethin's "The Foundations of Buddhism" since it emphasizes the early teachings, but the other two, by their content page, seem more comprehensive because of the historical emphasis on all traditions. You might want to give a try to Peter Harvey's "An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices" since it's the most updated.
    – Unrul3r
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 18:35
  • Let me add that there are many more academic books that explain Buddhism in detail. Some names that you might also want to investigate are, Hirakawa Akira, Etienne Lamotte, A. K. Warder and Hajime Nakamura. All of these have books of this kind.
    – Unrul3r
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 20:46
  • I can read English and Russian Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 9:28
  • I'd add Edward Conze - Buddhist Thought in India: Three Phases of Buddhist Philosophy (1962).
    – zwiebel
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 15:38

4 Answers 4


I just read this, and it is pretty solid. It's from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, so it should meet the requirement that it be an academic text.

I recommend also reading the suttas (source texts), many of which are available here and simply reading them critically. A third option is to buy a text such as this which has suttas as well as commentary from a prominent Buddhist scholar, Bhikku Bodhi (Although he is Buddhist).

One reason why I would personally urge caution when reading anything without having the source texts is that they can be easily misrepresented. For example, one modern position that is not uncommon is that the teaching of rebirth was a metaphor or was simply a cultural belief. If one reads the source texts (the suttas) thoroughly however, it is very difficult to defend this view as the Buddha claims to have direct, personal knowledge of rebirth (e.g., in the Bhaya-bherava Sutta).

I hope this helps. Best.

  • 1
    I would recommend reading the suttas too, the only thing with the suttas is that they can be hard to read if you don't have any previous knowledge, they make reference to the 4 noble truths all the time, if you don't understand them, the suttas will become hard to understand, a pre-reading on some topics might be the answer.
    – konrad01
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 10:19

If you want academia and Buddhism, here are some great resources. They all have done numerous introductory and advanced books on Tibetan Buddhism.

Dr. Robert Thurman [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Thurman], "Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, holding the first endowed chair in this field of study in the United States. He also is the co-founder and president of the Tibet House New York".

Jeffrey Hopinks [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Hopkins], "American Tibetologist. He is Emeritus of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia, where he taught for more than three decades since 1973.[1] He has authored more than twenty-five books about Tibetan Buddhism,", or

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, my favorite teacher, on my favorite teaching "Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment" (http://lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect=article&id=398), a "stepped path" (literally) of teachings that are designed to take one to enlightenment. (Also a great site for all levels of teachings.)

Enjoy! There are so many more online now in the many Buddhist traditions. Lucky us!

  • A quick note: It would be interesting to have a basic idea of the different Buddhist traditions, so you can understand what is the core of Buddhism and what is specific to a certain tradition, as you want an academic approach it would probably be a good ideia
    – konrad01
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 22:35
  • 1
    Yes, but I find the "academic approach" problematic. I would not want an "academic buddhist" as a teacher, any more than I would want an "academic Doctor of Medicine", who had never actually treated anyone successfully, to treat me. I am "in it" for freedom from mental pain (liberation), and ultimately, enlightenment. Any thing else, I think, seems to be wasting the time we have in this short life.
    – PFS32
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 18:25

If you can come to Sri Lanka, you can follow a diploma or a post graduate diploma in Buddhism at the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka. In the mean time, you can get a good start with books like Buddhism in a Nutshell by Ven. Narada thera. Or the life of the Buddha.


For a general introduction, I heard good things about An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices by Peter Harvey of Cambridge.

Now, if you by chance would like to taste a way Buddhism is taught to students within the tradition itself then you will do good to read Treasury of Precious Qualities (in two volumes) by Kangyur Rinpoche, studied as a review text at the end of a comprehensive course of study Tibetan monks take towards their Geshe degrees.

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