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Life Lessons From Hungry Ghosts: An Ethical Reading of Buddhist Narratives
Dates: Nov 06, 2020 - Nov 08, 2020
Online Course

Instructor(s): Andy Rotman

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Many of the most famous Buddhist narratives are much more than mere “stories.” One can read them to better understand Buddhist philosophy and ethics, but one can also read them as an ethical practice in their own right. This kind of ethical reading allows one to be transformed by reflecting on the characters, their struggles, triumphs, and realizations. Reading them in this way can facilitate one’s own ethical and spiritual transformation.

This course will focus specifically on the Buddhist narratives of hungry ghosts (preta) who are like modern felons who participate in “scared straight” programs. In the past, they broke the law (dharma), and now they suffer the terrible consequences because of justice (karma). And since they don’t want others to make the same mistakes, they speak passionately and honestly, hoping to scare humanity straight. By reading these stories together, we can avoid the cause of all this misery: the cultivation of meanness (mātsarya), which makes people miserly, spiteful, and cruel, immoral and oblivious to their own self-righteousness.

Through close textual reading, discussion, and meditation this course will offer participants a better sense of Buddhist ethics—in particular, why early Buddhists thought “meanness” was so dangerous, how it leads people astray, and how it might be overcome.


Online Course: Our intention is to build sangha and provide meaningful virtual interactions with each other and teachers in our online courses. As a registered participant please note that you should plan to commit to attending all scheduled sessions. The schedule of Zoom meetings for this course (shown in US Eastern Time) is as follows:

Friday, November 6

7:00 – 9:00 pm: Opening Session

Saturday, November 7

8:30 – 9:00 am: Optional Meditation

11:00 am – 1:00 pm: Morning/Afternoon Session

7:00 – 9:00 pm: Evening Session

Sunday, November 8

8:30 – 9:00 am: Optional Meditation

11:00 am – 1:00 pm: Morning/Afternoon Session

Registration fees for online courses are nonrefundable after the course start date. Cancellations prior to the start date of the course will incur a $50 admin fee. Thank you for your understanding.

  • Andy Rotman is a professor of Religion, Buddhism, and South Asian Studies at Smith College. His publications include Divine Stories: Translations from the Divyāvadāna, part 1 and part 2 (Wisdom Publications, 2008, 2017) and Thus Have I Seen: Visualizing Faith in Early Indian Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2009). He has been engaged in textual and ethnographic work on life in South Asia for more than 25 years.


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