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Unit information: Buddhist Psychology and Mental Health in 2015/16

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Unit name Buddhist Psychology and Mental Health
Unit code THRS30067
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Gethin
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

In recent decades Buddhist meditative techniques of 'mindfulness' have been adapted and used as interventions in the treatment of certain types of mental illness giving rise to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. The unit begins by examining the Buddhist background to these therapies, examining the Buddhist model of the mind and body as formulated and articulated in Indian Buddhist systematic (Abhidharma) treatises and manuals of the fourth to tenth centuries CE. Such works constitute one of the most sustained attempts to map the workings of the mind in pre-modern thought. We examine the distinctive Buddhist understanding of the emotions, the processes of perception, dream, sleep, death, rebirth, and how these relate to the workings of karma and the ethics of violence, theft, sex, and lying. The unit then moves on to consider Buddhist views in relation to modern western views, focusing on the notion of ‘mental health’, materialism (the equivalence of mind and brain), and the secularization of Buddhist ideas and practice by the appeal to the authority of medicine and neuroscience.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have (1) developed a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of traditional Buddhist psychology; (2) an in-depth understanding of how it has informed modern mindfulness-based interventions and relates to contemporary notions of the mind and mental health; (3) demonstrated the ability to analyse and evaluate competing perceptions of Buddhist psychology and notions of the mind and mental health; (4) demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument. Additionally, as part of a level H/6 unit, students will be expected to (5) display high level skills in evaluating, analysing, synthesising and critiquing images and ideas.

Teaching Information

20 hours (seminar)

Assessment Information

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 6 (50%).

Reading and References

  • Bentall, Richard P., Doctoring the mind: why psychiatric treatments fail (London: Allen Lane, 2009)
  • Dhammajoti, Kuala Lumpur, Sarvāstivāda abhidharma, 3rd rev. ed. (Hong Kong: Centre of Buddhist Studies, University of Hong Kong, 2007)
  • Flanagan, Owen J., The Bodhisattva's brain: Buddhism naturalized (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011)
  • Karunadasa, Y., The Theravāda abhidhamma: its inquiry into the nature of conditioned reality (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong, 2010)
  • Pio, Edwina, Buddhist psychology: a modern perspective (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1988)
  • Segal, Zindel V., J. Mark G. Williams, John D. Teasdale, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression, 2nd ed. (New York: Guilford Press, 2013).