Introduction to the Course

with Gil Fronsdal, PhD and Diana Clark, PhD

About the Course

A one of a kind course that offers a deeper appreciation and understanding of this fundamental text of the Pāli Canon as well as an opportunity to deepen practice through studying the words and life of the Buddha.

The Middle Length Discourses course with Gil Fronsdal and Diana Clark was originally held over Zoom beginning in the summer of 2021 and ran through May 2023. It consisted of 49 classes and covered approximately 50 suttas, or about a third, of the 152 suttas in the Majjhima Nikāya. 

Each class of this self-paced, asynchronous course consists of video introductions to the sutta that will be discussed, a study guide to help you approach the sutta, various audio lectures by Gil Fronsdal and Diana Clark addressing topics in the sutta, a Q&A period with questions from students like yourself, and a reflection question to offer an opportunity to engage with the sutta in your own way.

Rather than going the suttas sequentially, the course is designed thematically to take you on a journey through the Middle Length Discourses in order to help you better understand and appreciate this essential work in Theravada Buddhism.

The themes include:
  • Relating to the Teachings
  • Faith
  • The Path
  • The Buddha
  • Karma
  • Rebirth
  • Training & Effort
  • Community
  • Happiness & Pleasure
  • Mindfulness
  • Concentration
  • Wisdom 
  • Attainments
  • Nibbāna

Part A of the course covers the first three themes (Relating to the Teachings, Faith, and The Path). The remainder of the themes will be covered in subsequent courses. We envision that the overall course will consist of 4 parts.

Why Study the Middle Length Discourses?

The Middle Length Discourses is one of the most important collections of the Buddha's teachings. No other source has a comparable range and profundity of early Buddhist teachings couched in rich, human encounters and events. These suttas provide context for when and why particular teachings were given. The narrative stories introduce us to the Buddha, many of his disciples, and a host of other people. As such, it purports to be a record of the birth of the living tradition of Buddhism that has continued to this day.

The Middle Length Discourses contain many of early Buddhism's most powerful teachings. In it are the most comprehensive instructions for meditation practice found within the early Buddhist scriptures. The text also has important passages on topics like faith, karma, emptiness, dependent arising, and the nature of the Buddhist path and awakening. For Buddhist practitioners, it provides a wealth of instruction, support, and challenges to develop one's practice. For scholars, it provides a window into the full range of spiritual/religious concerns of ancient Buddhists.

Course curriculum

    1. Class 1: Introduction

    1. Introduction to "Relating to the Teachings"

    2. Class 2: MN 95 Cankī Sutta

    3. Class 3: MN 100 Saṅgārava Sutta

    4. Class 4: MN 63 The Shorter Discourse to Mālunkyāputta

    5. "Relating to the Teachings" Bonus Study Guides

    1. Introduction to "Faith"

    2. Class 5: MN 27 The Shorter Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint

    3. Class 6: MN 85 With Prince Bodhi

    4. Class 7: MN 7 The Simile of the Cloth

    5. Class 8: MN 47 The Inquirer

    1. Introduction to "The Path"

    2. Class 9: MN 107 Discourse to Gaṇaka Moggallāna

    3. Class 10: MN 29 The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood

    4. Class 11: MN 141 The Sutta on the Exposition of the Truths

    5. Class 12: MN 24 The Relay Chariots

    6. "The Path" Bonus Study Guides

    1. Q&A with Gil & Diana - 1 (March 21, 2024)

About this course

  • 18 lessons
  • 5+ Hours of Audio Lectures
    3+ Hours Q&A Audio
  • 16 Video Lectures
    12 Practice Questions Videos
  • 23 Sutta Study Guides

What Are Students Saying:

“I've avoided reading the Majjhima Nikya for years, believing it would be obscure and incomprehensible. However Gil and Diana have made these essential teachings accessible, easy to understand, and have done so with humor and insight. I've unexpectedly become quite enthusiastic about reading and learning more about the suttas, and applying their principles in practice. An excellent course that i would highly recommend to anyone wanting to better understand the teachings of the Buddha.”

Michele T

“This opportunity to study suttas with Gil and Diana has been a wonderful way to expand my practice and demystify the Majjhima Nikaya. Whether you are a beginner or experienced practitioner, and even if you've studied suttas before, I think you'll get a lot out of this course. Gil and Diana are both scholars of Pali and Buddhism. Each brings their own expertise and the results are a fulsome, contextualized, thoughtful exploration that manages to be intelligent and accessible. I'm doing the course with a small group of friends, and the reflection questions that are offered with each sutta are great starting points for discussion. It's been so enjoyable that sometimes I don't realize how much I'm learning! This course is a unique offering at an incredible value (elsewhere, something like this would cost 2-3x as much). Highly recommended, absolutely worth it. ”

Deanna B

“Ha! I just wrote “looking forward” when I also realize I just learned that staying in the present creates an auspicious day. In this sense i’m saying that I’m consciously making room in my days to come to allow these teachings to (hopefully) become a part of me - a birthing of sorts. Thank you Gil and Diana for being teachers, for being my teachers!”

Cate C

Course Price Options

The course is offered on a sliding scale:

The Base level tuition is intended to support the course instructors and pay expenses that make courses such as this at the Sati Center possible.

As a Benefactor, you can offer support for your fellow practitioners.

The Reduced level is a subsidized rate to help make this course more accessible.

Please consider offering generously within your means.

Meet the Instructors

Gil Fronsdal, PhD

Gil Fronsdal is the senior guiding co-teacher at the Insight Meditation Center (IMC) in Redwood City, California, the Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz, California, as well as the AudioDharma website and podcast. He started Buddhist practice in 1975, and has been teaching for IMC since 1990. Gil is an authorized teacher in two traditions: the Insight Meditation lineage of Theravada Buddhism of Southeast Asia, and Japanese Soto Zen. He holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Stanford. He is the translator and author of multiple books, including the Dhammapada and The Buddha Before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings.

Diana Clark, PhD

Diana Clark, PhD is a dedicated dharma teacher based in the San Francisco Bay Area, teaching primarily at the Insight Meditation Center, Insight Retreat Center and the Sati Center. Her extensive meditation experience includes years of silent retreats at Spirit Rock and the Insight Meditation Society. Formerly she was an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, teaching courses on Theravada Buddhism, including a number of courses on the suttas in the Pali Canon and Pali. She has a PhD in Biochemistry and a MA in Buddhist Studies. Much like her scientific training facilitated her comprehension of the human body, her Buddhist studies and practice deepen her insights into the workings of our minds and hearts.