For years now we have witnessed a growing dialogue between scientists, academics and health practitioners on the contributions of Buddhism to our understanding of physical and mental health. A number of prominent scientists have also begun to study the biological correlates of meditation, and are discovering that regular practice of meditation can have a profound effect on our physiology.
Of course, meditation, as the core practice that was taught by the Buddha, is only the beginning of the wisdom of the Buddhadharma. Many mental health professionals have been exploring how psychotherapy, psychology and Buddhism complement each other. It is not surprising then, that this area of study is becoming increasingly popular among university students both near and far.
The Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health program at New College, University of Toronto reflects this growing convergence between Buddhist psychology and the modern health disciplines. Since 2007, the Minor program has allowed students to choose from a wide range of courses related to Buddhist psychology and consciousness, cognitive science, mindfulness, meditative practice, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, and Western psychology to acquire a firm understanding of the specific contributions of Buddhism to the modern understanding of consciousness, mental health and illness, and determinants of health.
This program holds great appeal for students interested in learning about the implications and applications of Buddhism in modern society. In particular, students embarking on a career in the health disciplines such as medicine, psychology, nursing and social work may find the programmatic study of Buddhism, psychology, and mental health to be particularly instructive, especially within the increasingly multicultural and pluralistic nature of Canadian society. By considering the implications of Buddhist spirituality for our scientific understanding of mental and physical illness, students are able to integrate both modern and ancient perspectives towards health and illness.
In response to the growing popularity of this program, there are plans to offer a Major in this area within the next few years to broaden the types of courses available to include the neuroscientific aspects of Buddhist psychology, Buddhism and psychiatric disorders, and the growing convergence between positive and Buddhist psychology.
In 2009, reflecting the growing interest at the University, students have come together to form the Buddhist Psychology Student Union, in order to organize events that will deepen the understanding of Buddhist psychology. These include offering weekly meditation workshops, hosting weekly discussion groups, publishing an undergraduate journal on Buddhist psychology, and inviting speakers with an interest in this area.