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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 THRSM0105
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
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

Since the 1970s mindfulness based interventions (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) have become an accepted way of treating certain types of mental illness. Such therapeutic interventions derive from Buddhist meditative techniques. The unit initially focuses on systematic Buddhist psychology as articulated in the Abhidharma traditions (fourth century CE), perhaps the most sustained attempt 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. We then move 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 (specific to level M), students will be expected to

(5) display high level skills in evaluating, analysing, synthesising and critiquing images and ideas.

(6) apply existing analytical strategies to new evidence with flexibility and creativity

(7) demonstrate the capacity for independent research

Teaching Information

20 hour seminars

Assessment Information

One summative essay of 4000 words Measures ILOs 1-7

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).