BSO 202 | Visuddhimagga:
The Path of Purification

18-hour online course
with Dr. Maria Heim


What is the path of purification? What are the steps on this path, and how does one move along it?

Join Dr. Maria Heim and a global cohort of students for this unique opportunity to dive deep into a key text in the Theravada tradition to explore the beauty and wisdom of Buddhaghosa's account of the Buddhist path.


A Classic of Buddhist Literature

The Path of Purification (Pali: Visuddhimagga) was composed as a compendium of the Buddha's teachings in the 5th century C.E. by Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa, the foremost commentator in the Theravada tradition, who is also credited with editing and translating most of the commentaries on the Pali canon. The Path of Purification is second only to the Buddha's own words as a source of doctrine and practice for the Theravada tradition.

The text is a manual of practice for monks and nuns, and is structured into three main parts. First is morality (sīla), the foundation of the path; second is the detailed practices of meditation and contemplation (samādhi) aimed at radically reconfiguring experience; and third is the practices of wisdom, insight, and understanding (paññā).

Synthesizing the Buddha's Teachings

In this course, we will explore this key text closely over the course of six weeks. As we read, we will learn to think with Buddhaghosa as he tries to make sense of the Buddha’s teachings. How did he read Buddhist scriptures, and how did he think about what the Buddha taught? We will also try to develop a method for approaching Buddhist texts so that students leaving the course will feel confident that they can approach scriptures and commentaries on their own as they continue their educational journey.

"An accessible, Harvard-quality course in Buddhist Studies"

Course Modules


Module 1 — Who was Buddhaghosa and What is the Visuddhimagga?

Module 2 — Buddhist Texts as Methods and Modes of Pedagogy

Module 3 — Morality (sīla)

Module 4 — Concentration (samādhi), Part 1

Module 5 — Concentration 
(samādhi), Part 2

Module 6 — Understanding (paññā)


Students enrolled in this course will receive:

  • 6 pre-recorded video lectures + audio recordings (90 min per Module)

  • 6 recordings of Zoom Q&A sessions (90 min each)

  • 5 BSO Credits

  • Course Syllabus (PDF)

  • Course Readings (PDF)

  • 6 Weekly Handouts (PDF)

  • 6 Weekly Quizzes

  • Access to private Community forum

  • Certificate of Completion (PDF)

Your Instructor


Dr. Maria Heim

George Lyman Crosby 1896 & Stanley Warfield Crosby Professor in Religion at Amherst College

Maria Heim received her PhD from Harvard University in 1999, and was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005. She currently chairs the Department of Religion at Amherst.

Heim works on Sanskrit and Pali textual traditions. She has written three books on Buddhaghosa (The Forerunner of All Things: Buddhaghosa on Mind, Intention, and Agency, Oxford, 2014; Voice of the Buddha: Buddhaghosa on the Immeasurable Words, Oxford 2018; and Buddhist Ethics, Cambridge, 2020). She is currently working on emotions in ancient and classical India, and her most recent book, A Treasury of Emotions from Classical India, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. She is also translating the Milindapañha for the Murty Classical Library of India.


Student Testimonials

"Dr. Maria Heim is a scholarly powerhouse in her approach to understanding Buddhaghosa and his work, the Visuddhimagga. She is well versed in the Pali language, approach to etymology, and exegesis that is digestible and comprehensive even for the beginner’s mind. She has a way of contextualizing her thinking that not only understands the meaning behind the text but also the context in which the author of the Visuddhimagga lived, which is just as important as the text itself. Now I want to learn Pali!"

— Stephen C. Clark (Grand Junction, Colorado USA)

"Dr. Maria Heim provides an accessible and engaging overview of this voluminous and sometimes challenging text. She also provides practical tools for navigating and interpreting Buddhaghosa's elaborate but systematic teachings. I found the journey informative and enlightening."

— David Rintoul

"I want to say what an excellent class this was! Dr. Maria Heim is brilliant and gracious; a wonderful teacher. She did such a great job showing us how to approach this material, which will serve us well going forward in a much better fashion than just giving us lectures on the content. I also really appreciated the groups of students who participated in the Q&A! Great questions and discussion. Thank you all to all of them and especially to Dr. Heim. I feel some sadness that it is over."

— Julian Byrd

"Anyone interested in a clear, accessible, and practical understanding of Theravada Buddhist philosophy should take this course."

— BSO 202 Student