Buddhism and Modern Psychology

Robert Wright

  • Visiting Lecturer

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?

 

 

Course Status

In Session 

What Learners Say

"Fascinating course presented with wit and insight. I cannot imagine that there's a person out there interested in either meditation or psychology who will not feel wiser and stimulated after completion."

"Fascinating course. Really loved the connection between Buddhism and psychology. Robert Wright is a fantastic teacher. Thank you to Coursera, Robert Wright, and Princeton University for providing this opportunity."

"Robert Wright has done an outstanding job putting this course together. I've been practicing Buddhism for 17 years and have never found a more helpful book or course. Just his weekly resources, links, reference books, lectures alone are fantastic not to mention understanding the human brain from a evolutionary psychology point of view and understanding how Buddhist meditation can help improve our natural selection design flaws. Outstanding job Robert!"  -Andrew