Introduction to Buddhist Psychology


Course Description: 

This course introduces the basic history, themes, and philosophy of Buddhism, with a focus on its “psychology”, i.e., its meditation-based theory of the mind and corresponding metaphysics. Starting from the life of the Buddha and providing historical context for the emergence of Buddhism within ancient India, we will overview Buddhism in terms of some fundamental branches (Theravadin and Mahayana), schools (Yogacara, Madhyamika, Tibetan, Ch’an/Zen), figures (Nagasena, Vasubandhu, Nagarjuna, and so on), and teachings (karma, the Wheel of Life, the Four-Fold Noble Truth, the Eightfold Noble Path, etc.). From this context the Buddhist conception of self as illusory (empty; sunyata) and its metaphysical theory of interdependent causality (pratitya-samutpada) will be engaged, at the center of which is its understanding of mind.


Course Objectives: 

The student will gain an introductory acquaintance with the historical outline and philosophical sophistication of Buddhism as a major world religion. Central to this acquaintance will be a critical appreciation of the deep worldview differences between Buddhism as an “Eastern” religion and the Western worldview, in particular Christianity. A deeper engagement within this introduction will be on the Buddhist philosophy of mind as based on meditation practice, tradition, and scriptures. In particular the student will focus on the Buddhist interpretation of selfhood and how the mind’s role in constructing reality and self-identity is at the root of their illusoriness, as well as at the root of human suffering.


Texts :

Conze, Edward. (1959). Buddhism: its essence and development. New York: Harper & Row.

Govinda, Lama. (1992). The Psychological Attitude of Early Buddhist Philosophy: And Its Systematic Representation According to Abhidhamma Tradition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.


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