Coursera Course: Buddhism and Modern Psychology

In preparation for my trip to India, I have 4 books to read.  Additionally, I found a free online course about Buddhism and Modern Psychology, exploring what science is finding regarding life and meditation – does Buddhism offer up some answers from ancient days?  I thought I’d at least give the class a trial run, and see what thoughts it sparks for me in the first few weeks.

Buddhism and Modern Psych Week 1: The First Two Nobel Truths

1. The Truth of Dukkha (life is dissatisfaction)

2. The Truth of the Origin of Dukkha (our attachments or cravings cause this suffering or dissatisfaction)

Depiction of the beloved characters of The Princess Bride. Amazing artwork by Sarah from

Perhaps the Man In Black summed up the Buddhist belief quite nicely, when he declared:

“Life is pain.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

A Buddhist belief is that life is filled with suffering, and that we should spend our energies in freeing ourselves from this.  But it’s not suffering in the way most of us think – not just being in physical or emotional pain, or being depressed.  No, it’s much more general than that.  It is simply having some attachment or craving, some desire.  To play off the example the teacher gave: notice this in eating – when I have a large piece of cake in front of you (or whatever food that looks tasty) can I just eat one piece, focus 100% on the taste, the texture, the scent of it and be done?  Not usually – halfway through chewing, when flavor has become diluted, I already start to think about and yearn for the next bite, and eat too quickly.

If I was fully satisfied with the first bite, I would not have wanted nor needed the second.  So in some sense, there’s a dissatisfaction with the first bite that makes you crave or think about the next.  Or maybe I can be mindful and enjoy that first bite fully — but I definitely sense a loss immediately after and crave a second bite!

Or how often do I find myself doing one task and counting down the seconds till it is done, or getting irritated that I have to finish the task – not Doing my Chores of Love practice.  In yoga, a goal is to focus on being in the moment — but how often do I start thinking of other things?  My “laundry list” of chores, what I’ll get at the store, who you need to call… and it’s not just limited to yoga, but even playing with my family — I may be enjoying that time, but if I am not 100% focused on it, my mind may be wandering to topics of stress, dissatisfaction, or thinking of doing something else – which means I may not be 100% satisfied by that moment, with 100% of my mind and body.

Is it bad now that I just pointed that out?  That I am now more aware of my lack of enjoyment or the minute desires in daily life?   Is this some pessimistic view? At first, I thought “yes!  I was ignorant of my cravings, now they are painfully obvious!  Geez, way to make me feel all depressed that everything is suffering and I’m never happy!” but I think it is a necessary step for me to learn to break from these desires, and live more fully in the moment of peace.

The first step of the scientific method is to identify the problem.  If you are unaware of the issue or problem, how can you begin to fix it?

Is the desire to break from desire a paradox?  I do not know.  Maybe that topics will come up later.

But for now, my baby step is that “life is dukkha” and I don’t want to be buried and burdened with dukkha!  So I will be aware of it, and see what else unfolds.



An interesting article, Life Is Suffering? What Does That Mean? Dukkha: A Little Word With a Lot of Meaning, from another point of view, where the author does not like the English translations of dukkha as suffering, dissatisfaction, or stress.  Rather, there are three types of dukkha, of which suffering/stress is only one:

  1. Suffering or pain (dukkha-dukkha)
  2. Impermanence or change (viparinama-dukkha)
  3. Conditioned states (samkhara-dukkha)

Perhaps something for me to explore more later, but as one who often overwhelms myself by a squirrel-like gathering of information before making any progress, I want to try to just focus on notes from the Coursera course, and the 4 books for yoga school before I start to bring in too many other sources and just get frustrated!


So... whaddaya think?

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