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Buddishm and Psychology (Sacred Texts)


= This is the description of 2013-2014. An updated version will follow soon. =

Admission requirements



In modern contexts, Buddhist theory and doctrine preferably are interpreted and explained in psychological terms, both in and outside Asia. When and how did this hermeneutical practice arise? Yet, this is not a seminar on psychology, what we are rather interested to explore is the framing of Buddhism as a form of psychology, be it a non-modern one (a contradiction in terms, if there ever was one…), i.e., Buddhism as some kind of ‘science of the mind’. Students of psychology and the social sciences who are interested in this hermeneutical interface are more than welcome to attend.

The practice of translating, interpreting and framing Buddhism in psychological terms and concepts has a long and demonstrable history that—perhaps not surprisingly—is approximately as old as is the discipline of psychology itself. These hermeneutical proclivities may in fact reveal more about our own intellectual history than about Buddhism in non-modern Asian contexts: viz. our specific history with religion, as exemplified in the transition through the age of enlightenment and the rise of modern disciplines of science, secularisation, processes of individuation, interiorisation of the ‘self’ and the increasing, at times sheer dazzling self-reflexivity of modernity, and, of course, the concomitant history of reception of Buddhism in the ‘West’.

In the course of this seminar we will have opportunity to reflect on the reception history and psychological interpretation of Buddhism, as outlined above. Bravely conquering our neophyte trepidations, we will leap into the deepest waters from the very outset. Our main sources of information on Buddhism will be original texts in translation, rather than second- or third-hand information and digests. We will first study several typical examples of Buddhist texts and genres; ‘typical’ in the sense that they have contributed to the widely entertained assumption that Buddhism, au fond, is some non-modern form of psychology. Don’t let the technical nature and at times hermetical appearance of the Buddhist reading materials discourage you; many of these texts indeed appear a far cry from the Buddhist literature that is specifically produced for ‘Western’ audiences and which many of those interested in Buddhism in this ‘New Age’ may be familiar with. This is a different cup of tea altogether, not rarely steeped by the sharpest minds, greatest philosophers and most erudite scholars of pre-modern Asia. Some of these were also reputed to be accomplished yogins; but that is not as self-evident as it may seem. In fact, the very problems we experience whenreading, understanding and contextualising the materials are what fuel the subsequent discourse and our discussions in this seminar.

We will thus be reading, in transla¬tion, complicated and knowledge-intensive materials that often are difficult to penetrate without extensive commentary. We shall see late-tantric schematic representations of the mental domain, referring to visualizations and other imaginings & conceptualizations of so-called disturbing emotions, transcendent wisdoms, and various other mental categories, pertaining to both saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, cyclic existence and its extinction: i.e., final release of the same. We will familiarize ourselves with Buddhist theories of perception and, more in general, with an abundance of Buddhist scholastic classifications pertaining to the mental domain. Struggling with these, at times, gnomic texts, we will also learn a thing or two about Buddhist views and theories of mind and on Buddhist perspectives on our ordinary and extraordinary human potential, thoughts and feelings.

Participants will be encouraged to critically examine everything—including the framing of this seminar itself (and if needs be to blast their way out of this provisional framing)—and to question or underpin the received wisdom of current modernist assumptions regarding the relationship between Buddhism and psychology highlighted in the course, or fundamentally to revise them or establish anew their framings, in brilliant academic discourse. The ample attention, during this seminar, for critical reflection and discussion, its informal format, with the opportunity for tailor-made individual contributions, and the main mode of course assessment, through individual essays that are research-oriented, all contribute to an exciting and probably also somewhat demanding and challenging (if not occasionally frustrating) journey of discovery.

Course objectives

  • Being able to demonstrate, in oral presentation and written form, detailed knowledge of the main Buddhist theories and doctrines that have invited the hermeneutical rapprochement between Buddhism and psychology.

  • To demonstrate analytical insight into the history of the framing Buddhism in psychological terms and ideas.

  • To demonstrate familiarity with the complex relationships of psychological readings of Buddhism against the backdrop of Buddhist modernisation movements in Asia and the reception of Buddhism outside Asia.

  • To demonstrate analytical insight into “how things appear in the eye of the beholder”: i.e., appreciation of the reflection of our own history of religious ideas in the rapprochement between Buddhism and psychology, and recognition of our tendencies to ‘psychologise’ the sacred and to ‘sacralise’ psychology.

  • To demonstrate understanding of the problematic nature of categories such as ‘immediate experience’ in Buddhism and the implied epistemic paradoxes.

  • To demonstrate the ability to engage the problematic of first and third person approaches in academia.

  • To develop and demonstrate the required skill of selective reading in voluminous and varied primary and secondary sources; for instance, the ability to extract relevant data from chapters and articles that are written from a variety of perspectives and theoretical framings.

  • To acquire and demonstrate, in essay and presentation, basic academic skills, such as asking properly academic questions, critically appraising information, and effectively presenting data and academic arguments, both in writing and verbally, and demonstrating awareness of the target audience while doing so.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

5 EC (140 hours/SBU), level 500:

  • Attendance at seminar: 26h

  • Oral presentation: 10h (is also preparation for essay)

  • Readings and weekly summaries: 70 h (readings partly used for presentation and essay)

  • Essay 1.500 – 2.500 words: 34h

10 EC (280 h/SBU), level 500:

  • Attendance at seminar: 26h

  • Presentation: 10h (is also preparation for essay)

  • Readings and weekly summaries: 70 h (readings partly used for presentation and essay)

  • Additional readings at higher level: 76h

  • Essay: 4.000 – 6.000 words: 98h

Assessment method

5.0 ECTS, level 500

  • Weekly summaries of the reading materials and participation in discussion: 20% of grade

  • Oral presentation: 20% of grade

  • Essay: 60% of grade

10.0 ECTS, level 500

  • Weekly summaries of the reading materials and participation in discussion: 10% of grade

  • Oral presentation: 10% of grade

  • Essay: 80% of grade

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an an overall mark of “6” (=5.45) or higher. No re-sits are possible.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.



Reading list


  • Benavides G. (1998), “Modernity”, in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by Charles Taylor, pp.186–204, Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

  • Blezer, H.W.A. (2003), Tibet Hoofdstuk, in Vijfentwintig Eeuwen Oosterse Filosofie, geredigeerd door Jan Bor en Karel van der Leeuw, pp.191–271, Amsterdam 2003. [Or English-language equivalent, t.b.a.]

  • Collins, S. (1982), Selfless Persons, Imagery and Thought in Theravāda Buddhism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1992 (reprint 1982).

  • Dorje, Gyurme (2006), trsl., The Tibetan Book of the Dead: First Complete Translation, New York and London: Viking 2006.

  • Gómez, Luis (2004), “Psychology”, in Encyclopedia of Buddhism, edited by Robert Buswell, Jr., 2 Vols., New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

  • Gyaltsen, Shardza Tashi (1993), Heart Drops of Dharmakaya, Dzogchen Practice of the Bön Tradition, ‘translation’ and commentary by Lopon Tenzin Namdak, edited by R. Dixey, Ithaca 1993.

  • Harvey, P. (1995), The Selfless Mind, Personality Consciousness and NirvÌía in Early Buddhism, Richmond: Curzon Press 1995.

  • Havens, T.R. (1964), “Mrs. Rhys Davids’ Dialogue with Psychology (1893-1924), in Philosophy East and West, Vol.14, No.1 (April 1964), pp.51–58, Hawai’i: University of Hawai’i Press.

  • Pruden, L.M. (1988–1990) transl., Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam, translated by Louis de la Vallée Poussin, four volumes, Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press 1988–1990.

  • Rhys Davids, C.A.F. (1914), Buddhist Psychology, An Inquiry into the Analysis and Theory of Mind in Pali Literature, in The Quest Series, edited by G.R.S. Mead, London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1914.

  • Sharf, R.H. (1995), “Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience”, in Numen, Vol.42 (1995), pp.228–83, Leiden 1995.

  • Taves, A. (2009), Religious Experience Reconsidered, A Building-Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things, Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009.

  • Taylor, Ch. (1989), Chapter 10, Inner Nature, in Sources of Self, The Making of the Modern Identity, pp.185–198, Harvard University Press, 1989.

  • Wit, H. (1987), Hoofdstuk 1, Naar een Contemplatieve Psychologie, in Contemplatieve Psychologie, Kampen: Kok Agora 1987. [Or English-language equivalent, t.b.a.]


  • Abhidharmakośa & Bhāṣya (AbhKBh) of Ācārya Vasubandhu with Spūṭārthā Commentary of Ācārya Yaśomitra, two volumes, critically edited by Swāmī D. Śāstri, in Bauddha Bharati Series-5,6, Varanasi 1981.

  • Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam of Vasubandhu, edited by P. Pradhan, in Tibetan Sanskrit Works Series, Vol.VIII, Patna 1975.

  • Almond, Ph.C. (1988), The British Discovery of Buddhism, Cambridge 1988.

  • Aranow, P.Th. (1988), Psychoanalytic Theories of the Self from a Buddhist Perspective, two volumes, UMI Ph.D.-Thesis, Harvard University, 1988.

  • Austin, J. (1998), Zen and the Brain, Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998.

  • Batchelor, S. (1997), Buddhism Without Beliefs, A Contemporary Guide to Awakening, New York 1997.

  • Baumann, M. (2001), “Global Buddhism: Developmental Periods, Regional Histories and a New Analytical Perspective”, in Journal of Global Buddhism, 2, 2001, pp.1–43.

  • Bechert, (1994), “Buddhistic Modernism: Present Situation and Current Trends”, in Buddhism into the Year 2000, pp.251–60, Bangkok 1994.

  • Boisvert, M. (1995), The Five Aggregates Understanding Theravada Psychology and Soteriology, Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1995.

  • Borchert D.M. (2006), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 6 volumes, in Macmillan Reference, Detroit etc. 2006.

  • Buswell, R.E Jr., (2004) ed., Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2 Vols. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

  • Crane, R. (2009), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, in the CBT Distinctive Features Series, edited by Windy Dryden, London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

  • Coward, H. (2004), Yoga and Psychology, Language, Memory and Mysticism, SUNY Series in Religious Studies, edited by Harold Coward, New York: SUNY 2004.

  • Didonna, F. (2009), Clinical Handbook for Mindfulness, New York: Springer, 2009.

  • Dobson, (2010) ed., Handbook of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, New York: Guilford Press, third edition 2010.

  • Faure, B. (2009), Unmasking Buddhism, West Sussex 2009.

  • Frauwallner, E. (1995), Studies in Abhidharma literature and the origins of Buddhist philosophical systems, in SUNY Series in Indian Thought, Texts and Studies, edited by Wilhelm Halbfass, translated from the German by Sophy Francis Kidd, New York: SUNY, 1995.

  • Hanegraaff, W. J. (1996), New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers 1996.

  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990), Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, reprint New York: Delta Trade 2005 (New York: Delacorte Press 1990).

  • Kloppenborg, R. (2005), “Boeddhistische Psychologie en westerse psychotherapie: niet-zelf en zelf”, in Boeddhisme en Psychotherapie, edited by Ria Kloppenborg, pp.48–73, Rotterdam 2007 (2005) [Or English-language equivalent, t.b.a.]

  • Kornfield, J.M. (1977), Psychology of Mindfulness Meditation, UMI Ph.D.-Thesis, Humanistic Psychology Institute, 1977.

  • Lopez, D.S. Jr. (1995), “Foreigner at the Lama’s Feet”, in Curators of the Buddha, The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism, edited by D.S. Lopez, Jr., pp.251–95, Chicago 1995;

  • Lopez, D.S. Jr. (1998), Prisoners of Shangri-La, Tibetan Buddhism and the West, Chicago 1998.

  • Mace, Ch. (2008), Mindfulness and Mental Health, Therapy, Theory and Science, London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

  • McMahan, D.L. (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford & New York 2008.

  • Moacanin, Radmila (1986), Jung’s Psychology and Tibetan Buddhism: Western and Eastern Paths to the Heart, Sommerville: Wisdom Publications, 1986.

  • Nauriyal, D. K., Drummond, M.S., and Lal, Y.B. (2006), Buddhist Thought and Applied Psychological Research, Transcending the Boundaries, in Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism, edited by Charles S. Prebish and Damien Keown, London: Routledge 2006.

  • Neale, M.I. (2006), Mindfulness meditation, An Integration of Perspectives from Buddhism, Science and Clinical Psychology, UMI Ph.D.-Thesis, California Institute of Integral Studies, 2006.

  • Quli, N.E. (2009), “Western Self, Asian Other: Modernity, Authenticity, and Nostalgia for ‘Tradition’ in Buddhist Studies”, in Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Vol.16, pp.1–38, 2009.

  • Reat, N.R. (1990), The Origins of Indian Psychology, Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press 1990.
    REP, Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy on-line, 1998.

  • Rhys Davids, C.A.F. (1900), A Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics of the Fourth Century BC, ., being a translation, now made for the first time from the original Pali, of the first book in the Abhidhamma piṭaka, entitled, Dhamma-sangaṇi (Compendium of states or phenomena), London: Royal Asiatic Society 1900.

  • Segall, S.R. (2003) ed., Encountering Buddhism, Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings, New York: SUNY 2003.

  • Segal, Z.V., Williams, J. M. G. & Teasdale, J. D. (2002), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach for Preventing Relapse, New York: Guilford Press, 2002.

  • Simeon, D. MD and Abugel, J. (2006), Feeling Unreal Depersonalization Disorder and the Loss of the Self, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006.

  • Spiegelman, J.M. and Mokusen Miyuki (1987), Buddhism and Jungian Psychology, Phoenix: Falcon Press, 1987.

  • Taylor, Ch. (1989), Sources of Self, The Making of the Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, 1989;

  • Taylor, Ch. (1998), Critical Terms for Religious Studies, Chicago &c. 1998;

  • Taylor, Ch. (2007), A Secular Age, Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.

  • Teich, A.C. (1990), States of Consciousness and Psychology of Nibbāna, UMI Ph.D.-Thesis, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1990.

  • Webb, J. (1971), Flight from Reason, London 1971; cf. (1974), The Occult Underground, Chicago 1974.

  • Wit, H. (2000), “Boeddhisme als een Spiritueel Humanisme”, in Humanisme en Boeddhisme, edited by Fons Elders, pp.13–31, Rotterdam: Asoka/VUB Press 2000. [Or English-language equivalent, t.b.a.]


Registration via uSis

Registration Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


Dhr. Dr. H.W.A. Blezer


MA seminar, offered in the first semester;
5.0 (or 10.0) ECTS, level 500, language English, Dutch is an option;
Weekly summaries, active participation, and concluding essay (5.0/10.0 EC).
Recommended: Introduction to Buddhism (Silk, 5.0 ECTS, 100).
Deficiencies can be resolved by a pensum.