Online course: Buddhism and Modern Psychology

Dates: any time

Duration: 16 hours

Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 out of 5096 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: any country

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Organizer: Princeton University at Coursera


  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

Buddhism and Modern Psychology

The Dalai Lama has said that Buddhism and science are deeply compatible and has encouraged Western scholars to critically examine both the meditative practice and Buddhist ideas about the human mind. A number of scientists and philosophers have taken up this challenge. There have been brain scans of meditators and philosophical examinations of Buddhist doctrines. There have even been discussions of Darwin and the Buddha: Do early Buddhist descriptions of the mind, and of the human condition, make particular sense in light of evolutionary psychology?

This course will examine how Buddhism is faring under this scrutiny. Are neuroscientists starting to understand how meditation “works”? Would such an understanding validate meditation—or might physical explanations of meditation undermine the spiritual significance attributed to it? And how are some of the basic Buddhist claims about the human mind holding up? We’ll pay special attention to some highly counterintuitive doctrines: that the self doesn’t exist, and that much of perceived reality is in some sense illusory. Do these claims, radical as they sound, make a certain kind of sense in light of modern psychology? And what are the implications of all this for how we should live our lives? Can meditation make us not just happier, but better people?

All the features of this course are available for free. It does not offer a certificate upon completion.



WEEK 1: 2 hours to complete

The Buddhist Diagnosis

Introduction: Religious Buddhism and ‘Secular’ Buddhism
Feelings and Illusions
The First Two Noble Truths
Evolutionary Psychology and the First Two Noble Truths

WEEK 2: 2 hours to complete

The Buddhist Prescription

The Eightfold Path
Mindfulness Meditation and the Brain
Can Our Feelings Be Trusted?

WEEK 3: 3 hours to complete

Does Your Self Exist?

The Buddha’s Discourse on the Not-Self
What Did The Buddha Mean?
Modern Psychology and the Self

WEEK 4: 2 hours to complete

A New Model of the Mind

Delusions about Ourselves
What Mental Modules Aren’t
What Mental Modules Are

WEEK 5: 2 hours to complete

Mental Modules and Meditation

Choosing ‘Selves’ Through Meditation
‘Self’ Control
The Experience of Not-self

WEEK 6: 5 hours to complete

What is Enlightenment?

Not-Self as Interconnection
Essentialism and Emptiness
Buddhist and Darwinian Enlightenment
A Naturalistic Religion?