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Buddhism and the Brain

Foundation gives $1.8 million to innovative New College program

A unique U of T program that examines how the traditional teachings of Buddha influence psychology will undergo a major expansion, thanks to a gift from the Buddhist Education Foundation for Canada.

The foundation’s recent $1.8-million pledge will provide financial stability to New College’s Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health program and will assist with the development of new courses, conferences, faculty exchanges and an annual speaker series.

While the majority of funds will be endowed, an annual commitment from the foundation will help kick-start many of these proposed initiatives in early 2010.

New College launched its first course in Buddhist Studies in 2003. Since then, enrolment has grown significantly and the program now offers seven courses that explore Buddhist concepts about the self, and how Buddhism and fields such as psychotherapy and cognitive science intersect. “Buddhism is seen as a religion, but it is essentially a psychology,” says Professor Tony Toneatto, the program’s director. “There have been more than 100 studies in the past decade testing the effectiveness of the Buddhist concept of mindfulness meditation on a variety of mental disorders. The results are very promising.”

Students can now take a minor in the program, and Toneatto hopes to soon offer a major by developing new courses in neuroscience and meditation, clinical applications of Buddhist psychology and other subjects.

Established in 2001, the Buddhist Education Foundation for Canada encourages and supports a variety of Buddhist-oriented academic initiatives throughout Canada. The foundation is run by a volunteer board consisting of leaders from local Buddhist temples, as well as academics and business professionals from the Greater Toronto Area and Hong Kong.

Read more about the Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health program.

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