CPRD 304 – Syllabus Spring 2018

CPRD 304 Contemplative Practice II
Syllabus – Spring 2018

Class: MWF 11:00, Trinkle B39


Course Description

Contemplative Practice II is a continuation of its prerequisite, CPRD 104 Contemplative Practice. In this class students will further develop and refine their experience with meditation practice by exploring additional techniques and specific topics beyond those covered in the introductory class. The class also covers an overview of trends in contemporary psychological and neuroscientific research on meditation, and engages in an in-depth investigation of related philosophical concepts and debates.

Learning Objectives

Broaden and deepen experience and skill in meditation practices

Become acquainted with trends and findings in contemporary psychological and neuroscientific research into meditation

Develop a critical understanding of the variety of practices and meanings, across traditions and history, associated with such concepts as “meditation,” “contemplation,” “mindfulness,” “wisdom,” “awareness,” and “concentration.”

Develop a critical understanding of and ability to discuss the arguments pertaining to a variety of philosophical positions on the nature of the self, self-knowledge and -awareness, consciousness, and human happiness.

Required Texts

(Additional readings, articles, and chapters may be found here.)

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English: An Introductory guide to Deeper States of Meditation. Wisdom Publications, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0861715299

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English. Wisdom Publications, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-1614290384

Thompson, Evan. Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy. Columbia University Press, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0231137096

Ricard, Matthieu and Singer, Wolf, Beyond the Self: Conversations between Buddhism and Neuroscience. MIT Press, 2017 ISBN-13: 978-0262036948

West, Michael, ed., The Psychology of Meditation. Oxford, 2016, ISBN 13: 9780199688906

Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, trans., Visuddhimagga: The Path of Purification.

Marcus Aurelius. Meditations.

Course Requirements


  1. Come to class regularly and participate regularly. Presence is required for meaningful participation.  More than 2 unexcused absences will result in a significant reduction in your grade, and each additional absence will result in half a grade loss on your final grade. An absence can be excused only for a justifiable and good reason (not: I have a test in another class), and no absence will be excused after the fact, except in an instance of genuine and unforeseeable emergency.
  2. Complete all readings and assignments and participate in class discussions. There is quite a bit of reading for this class, which is intended to be read at different times. Rather than try to skim through all of it at the last minute, establish a routine where you find a quiet moment to pick up the reading at different times between class meetings. Be mindful of your interest and intention. Put the book down when it gets too heavy; pick it up when mind is motivated again.
  3. During class periods, we will learn a variety of meditation techniques, including postures and practices for sitting meditation, walking meditation and  standing meditation, with a variety of internal and external focal points (breathing, sound, physical sensation, metta meditation, etc.) to develop focus, mindful experiential awareness and concentration.  It is essential to your success to devote yourself seriously to each practice.
  4. Meditate daily on your own outside of class. The minimum practice requirement is 40 minutes per day outside of class, which may be split into two sessions. You are also required to keep a log of your experiences, using the insight timer, which is freely available for both Android and Ios platforms. (See http://insighttimer.org) We recommend meditating AT THE SAME TIME each day whenever possible. (But see also  9, below.)
  5. Keep a practice journal, including a meditation log and reflections on your developing practice. I will periodically review your journal and provide feedback and suggestions for working through common and idiosyncratic challenges. While the Insight Timer app automatically times and records your sessions, and includes an option to journal within the app, you may NOT use the app for journaling. As an analog backup for your Insight Timer statistics, you must use a paper journal noting the date, start and end times of your meditation session, and write a brief reflection at its conclusion. This journal will be periodically submitted on designated dates.
  6. Complete two assignments, together with a 3 – 5 page reflection paper on each. For assignment details, visit the assignments page!
  7. Attend at some time during the semester a meditation retreat. This may be the weekend meditation retreat that we organize each semester at the Bhavana Society, and for which there is no cost. This will take place Friday, March 16 – Sunday, March 18.  If that is not possible, you may make your own arrangements to go on a retreat of equivalent duration and intensity.
  8. Complete a substantial final research project on one type of meditation, including a initial proposal, research paper, and development of a guided meditation.
  9. Schedule and meet with the instructor for two individual meetings during the semester (at least one of which must take place before spring break) to discuss your practice and your progress.

Final Grade Breakdown

  1. Preparation and Class Attendance and Participation: 20%
  2. Journal: 20%
  3. Analysis and Reflection Assignments: 10% each, 20% total
  4. Final Project (including proposal, bibliography, and completed project): 25%
  5. Guided Meditation and Presentation of Final Project: 5%
  6. Participation in extracurricular activities (retreat): 10%

Course Schedule

nothing happens next

Throughout the semester, we will be devoting one class session per week to a longer meditation period. The remaining two days we will begin with a very brief meditation, then discuss assigned readings. For the purpose of fruitful discussions, it is essential to come to class prepared. Thompson’s Waking, Dreaming, Being and Ricard and Singer, Beyond the Self, will be two central texts that we will be reading throughout the semester: both discuss much of the contemporary research into meditation, and also raise a range of related philosophical questions that will spark our discussions. Concurrently, our continued experience with and discussion of meditation practice will divide into four parts:
1) Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The four foundations (or frameworks, or frames of reference…) are: a) bodily form, b) feelings, c) mental states, and d) phenomena. In CPRD 104, we worked primarily with breath meditation and with mindfulness of the body, which fall under a). While we shall see that the four are all intertwined, we will extend our practice from the first semester and more explicitly consider all four and their relation to self-awareness.
2) Metta. We also did some metta (“loving-friendliness”) meditations in CPRD 104. Here we will add to these and look more closely at all four related elements of: loving-friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
3) Jhana. The jhanas are heightened and more intense states of concentration. We will read about and discuss the theory of jhana meditation, though we will not actually be practicing jhana meditation in class, for two reasons. First, there is no specific set of techniques that you can simply practice to arrive at jhana: you cannot really go to it, it must come to you, and you cannot lay out and plan a timetable for that to happen. Secondly, in order to begin to practice jhana, you need, not just a daily meditation practice, but, after gaining sufficient experience, to go off for some intense and lengthier retreats.
4) Meditation on Death. This is another important practice in many spiritual traditions, and its purpose is not at all a morbid one. Rather, death is not only inevitable, but also a great source of fear on different levels. Contemplation of death is a significant practice in many traditions, and can have an important impact on our relation to time and how we spend it. There is also research to suggest that contemplation of death, like metta meditation, enhances our compassion and ability to relate to others.

Week 1 – Jan 17 – 19

Practice: Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Body, Form, and Feelings


The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English

“Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation.” (see link to readings)

Week 2 Jan 22 – 26

Practice: Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Mental States


The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English

Beyond the Self, Ch 1, “Meditation and the Brain” 1 – 25

Week 3 – Jan 29 – Feb 2

Tuesday, January 30, guest lecture: “My Journey to Mindfulness” by La Sarmiento. 4:00 pm in the Colonnade Room, UC
La Sarmiento is one of the teachers of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, and a guiding teacher/leader of the IMCW Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) Sangha and the IMCW People of Color Sangha

Practice: Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Phenomena


The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English

BTS, 25 – 67

Waking, Dreaming, Being, Ch. 1: “Seeing: What Is Consciousness?”

Week 4 – Feb 5 – 9

Final Project Proposal Due Monday, Feb 5

Practice: Metta: Good Will and Loving-Friendliness


The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English

“Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness.”

Psychology of Meditation, Ch. 6: “Traditional and secular views of psychotherapeutic applications of mindfulness and meditation”

Visuddhimagga,  “The Divine Abidings”

WDB, Ch. 2: “Waking: How Do We Perceive?”

Week 5: Feb. 12 – 16

Practice: Metta: Compassion and Sympathetic Joy


The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English

WDB, Ch. 3: “Being: What is Pure Awareness?”

BTS, Ch. 2: “Dealing with Subconscious Processes and Emotions”

Week 6: Feb. 19 – 23

Practice: Metta: Equanimity


WDB, Ch. 4: “Dreaming: Who Am I ?”

BTS, Ch. 3: “How Do We Know What We Know?”

PM, Ch. 7: “Meditation and the management of pain”

First assignment due: Friday, Feb 23

Week 7: Feb 26 – March 2

Practice: Jhana and Concentration


Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English: An Introductory guide to Deeper States of Meditation

WDB, Ch. 5: “Witnessing: Is This a Dream?”

PM, Ch. 8: “Addictive disorders”

BTS, Ch 4: “Investigating the Self”

SPRING BREAK – Sat March 3 – Sun March 11

Week 8: Mar. 12 – 16

Practice: Jhana and Concentration

Readings: Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English: An Introductory guide to Deeper States of Meditation

WDB, Ch. 6: “Imagining: Are We Real?”

PM, Ch 9: “Meditation and Physical Health”

Week 9: Mar. 19 – 23

Practice: Jhana and Concentration


Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English: An Introductory guide to Deeper States of Meditation

WDB, Ch. 8: “Floating: Where Am I?”

BTS, Ch. 5: “Free Will, Responsibility, and Justice”

Second assignment due: Friday, March 23

Week 10: Mar. 26 – 30


Practice: Meditation on Death


WDB, Ch. 8: “Sleeping: Are We Conscious in Deep Sleep?”

Visuddhimagga, “Mindfulness of Death”

PM, Ch. 10: “The Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience of Meditation”

Week 11: Apr. 2 – 6

Practice: Meditation on Death


WDB, Ch. 9: “Dying: What Happens When We Die?”

BTW, Ch. 6: “The Nature of Consciousness”

Week 12: Apr. 9 – 13

Practice: Meditation on Death


WDB, Ch. 10: “Knowing: Is the Self an Illusion?”

PM, Ch. 11: “MIndfulness and Meditaiton in the Workplace”

Week 13. Apr. 16 – 20

Practice: Mindfulness in Daily Life


Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

PM, Ch, 12: “Mindfulness in Education”

Week 14: Apr. 23 – 27

Practice: Mindfulness in Daily Life


Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Final Exam Period – project presentations

Monday, April 30, 12:00 – 14:30