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Module PMP-4008:
Buddhist Background

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

30 Credits or 15 ECTS Credits

Semester 1 & 2

Organiser: Dr Gemma Griffith

Overall aims and purpose

  1. To develop an understanding of the Buddhist psychological background to mindfulness-based courses in order to appreciate critically the origins of mindfulness practice within its historical context.

  2. To investigate the relationship between mindfulness as a spiritual tradition and as a therapeutic approach, in order to be able to set appropriate boundaries between the two.

  3. To investigate how an understanding of the broader Buddhist tradition of mindfulness might enhance and enrich its contemporary clinical and personal applications.

  4. To understand the meaning of key elements of the Buddhist technical vocabulary around mindfulness and to gain personal experience of the concepts that are used.

  5. To understand how insights from traditional Buddhist sources can inform and enrich both the teaching and the application of mindfulness-based courses.

Course content

The module will explore key elements within the Buddhist psychological background to those mindfulness-based approaches which are used as clinical interventions: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It will investigate the historical origins of mindfulness approaches and the part played by Buddhist thought and practice in their evolution. Students will be taught to investigate the boundaries between the religious / spiritual context of Buddhism and the modern clinical and scientific context of mindfulness-based approaches. They will also be encouraged to research and investigate for themselves how a deeper understanding of its Buddhist historical and spiritual background might enrich their understanding of the clinical and personal applications of mindfulness. The assessment for this module will be by an individual presentation made by each student, and a substantial piece of textual and practical research given as a single written assignment, to demonstrate the student’s in-depth understanding of the area of study.

Assessment Criteria



Reasonably comprehensive information is given, indicating generally accurate understanding of the Buddhist psychological background to mindfulness-based approaches, based on lecture material and some core readings. Student shows some understanding of the ways early Buddhist material is related to mindfulness as a therapeutic approach. Somewhat limited critical appraisal, but an attempt at scholarly objectivity is made. Student conveys interest in and investigative exploration of the subject matter through the way the material is presented.



Comprehensive and accurate information is given, showing good use of teaching material and core readings, and further exploratory work. Student is able to articulate the relationship between Buddhist psychology and mindfulness-based approaches, and understands the boundaries between them. Student demonstrates a knowledge of Buddhist psychology and mindfulness-based approaches from both an experiential and a conceptual/ theoretical angle. A clear ability to appraise the evidence critically is demonstrated, and to take an objective and scholarly approach. The subject matter is well presented with interest and genuine investigative exploration, which opens up issues, and creates interesting discussion topics.



Presentation shows a comprehensive and relevant knowledge and understanding of Buddhist psychology in relation to mindfulness-based approaches, from both experiential and conceptual/theoretical angles. Coverage of the subject matter indicates that that the student has gone beyond the core readings and explored the topic in depth. Student shows excellent understanding of the way early Buddhist material relates to mindfulness as a therapeutic approach, and is able to outline and critically appraise key elements within that relationship, with reference to the literature and to personal experience. The subject matter is excellently presented with in-depth investigative research shown in the issues, creating new and useful discussion topics.

Learning outcomes

    1. Explore, evaluate and analyse aspects of the early Buddhist psychological background to mindfulness-based courses, both experientially and theoretically.
    1. Investigate the relationship between mindfulness as a spiritual tradition and as a therapeutic approach, and understand the boundaries between the two.
    1. Conduct investigative research into how an understanding of the early Buddhist tradition of mindfulness may enhance and enrich the clinical and personal applications of mindfulness.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight

: Presentation on a chosen aspect of the Buddhist background to mindfulness-based approaches On the final teaching day on May 20, each student will be given a time of up to 15 minutes to make a presentation on a subject of their own choice, followed by a brief session for questions and discussion (up to 5 minutes). The presentation can take any form (PowerPoint, poster, presentation with exercise, and so on – or any combination of these).

The topic to be presented will be decided in the context of a telephone tutorial discussion with Ciaran. More information about the presentations will be given during the module teaching days in January. These presentations will be recorded for External Examination purposes. If the student has to miss the last teaching day through illness or completely unavoidable absence, they should submit a video-recording of their presentation as soon as possible afterwards, by a date agreed with Ciaran. Each presentation should include: • A concise and clear description of the subject chosen and the issues addressed. • An overview of why the topic has been chosen, how it has been approached, and any conclusions that have been reached. • A critical appraisal of the subject area, showing in-depth reading and understanding, and an objective and scholarly approach. • A brief indication of areas that would have been relevant which have not been covered. • Issues for discussion and further exploration.

ESSAY Assignment 2

Write one 3000 word essay on the following subject: Critically investigate and describe how an understanding of certain elements of traditional Buddhist theory and practice might enrich the theory and practice of mindfulness as a clinical approach.


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Practical classes and workshops

Small group and lectures for 5 days (9-5)

5 x 8 hours = 40 hours


2 x 30 minute one to one tutorials

Private study

Reading. individual study, and preparing for essay and presentation


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Understand the scientific underpinnings of psychology as a discipline.
  • Apply multiple perspectives to psychological issues and integrate ideas and findings across the multiple perspectives in psychology.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in written form.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in oral form.
  • Use effectively personal planning and project management skills.
  • Work effectively under pressure (time pressure, limited resources, etc) as independent and pragmatic learners.
  • Problem-solve by clarifying questions, considering alternative solutions, making critical judgements, and evaluating outcomes.


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Reading list

talis list incuded

Courses including this module