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Unit information: Buddhist Psychology and Mental Health in 2020/21

Unit name Buddhist Psychology and Mental Health
Unit code THRS30067
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Gethin
Open unit status Not open




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


In recent decades Buddhist 'mindfulness’ techniques have been adapted as interventions in the treatment of mental illness and as coping mechanisms. The unit focuses on the Buddhist background, examining the Buddhist map of the mind and body as articulated in ancient Indian Buddhist systematic thought (Abhidharma), one of the most sustained attempts to map the workings of the mind in pre-modern thought. The unit considers the distinctive Buddhist analysis of the body, mental states, the processes of perception, dream, sleep, death and rebirth, and how these relate to the workings of karma, theories of the unconscious, and the ethics of violence and sex. The unit concludes by considering Buddhist views in relation to modern understandings of ‘mental health’, materialism (the equivalence of mind and brain), and the secularizing of Buddhist ideas and practices by appeal to the authority of medicine and neuroscience.Students will submit two 500-word blogs, one related to something they have presented, the other related to others’ presentations.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of Buddhist theories of mind and body;
  2. Apply this understanding to the development of modern mindfulness-based interventions and contemporary notions of the mind and mental health;
  3. Discriminate and evaluate competing perceptions of Buddhist psychology and notions of the mind and mental health;
  4. Identify and evaluate pertinent evidence in order to develop a cogent argument;
  5. Demonstrate skills in textual analysis, argumentation, and critical interpretation, using evidence from primary texts and secondary sources;
  6. Communicate understanding of a topic in an informal or conversational style.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

1 x 2000 words portfolio (formative) [ILOs 1-6] 1 x 3000-word summative essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

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).