The Buddhist Doctrine of Cause: The Ocean of Relationships

Course details

From £205.00
10 CATS points

23 Jan 2019 - 27 Mar 2019
Day of week

The Buddhist Doctrine of Cause: The Ocean of Relationships


The Buddhist doctrine of causal relations is considered the highest and most beneficial teaching of the Abhidhamma, the philosophical and psychological system of early Southern Buddhism. Beloved to this day, its twenty-four 'causes', or ways the mind and body work together, are often found depicted in Southeast Asia on flower with twenty-four petals, as a talismanic sign of good luck - study of them is supposed to bring wisdom, understanding and good fortune!

This Budddhist psychology is based on the idea of momentariness - that our minds are changing in every moment, according to habits and new inputs. As it does so, the way we react and respond to events are said to change our experience of ourselves too. So one kind action or a moment of mindfulness may 'clear' the mind of habitual problems, and the mental state we woke up with may change in the day. Our 'self' may be renewed. These causes describe the way that our own volition is said to create our worlds, and how events cause too certain mental states. So mind and matter are described as working together to produce each event, in every moment. Threading through this is our own continuity, and what we bring to every moment too.

We will look at this popular psychological system, and discuss whether it can indeed be applied to the events in our mind. The emphasis will be on taking examples that are said to show each cause, and perhaps thinking of our own examples too. The course hopes, in a friendly and accessible way, to deepen understanding of Buddhist psychology, and the way our minds are said to work in our daily life and in meditation.  

Programme details

Term Starts: 23rd January 

Week 1:          The Buddha and the Abhidhamma

Week 2:          Momentariness and our minds. What is mind and what is matter?

Week 3:          What causes what? A look at some causes we do see every day. Is there an ocean of relationships?

Week 4:          The first causes: roots and objects and how we react to them

Week 5:          How things arise together and support one another

Week 6:          Practice and habits - are some things caused by the fact we do them often, and what can be done about this?

Week 7:          The nature of volition. How much can we really change in our world? We look at mindfulness and meditation as ways of changing things - if they need changing.

Week 8:          Visit by a Buddhist monk to the class, or a visit to the local Buddhist temple.

Week 9:          We look at what happens when things begin and end, and how we are said to enter into new mental states and 'rebirths'

Week 10:        How we live in the world - some Buddhist settings


Background Reading

Shaw, Sarah., Spirit of Buddhist Meditation

Gethin, Rupert., Foundations of Buddhism

van Gorkem, Nina., Abhidhamma in Daily Life

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Recommended reading

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Recommended Reading List


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To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from between January 1st and July 31st after the current academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Course Fee: £205.00
Take this course for CATs points: £10.00


Dr Sarah Shaw

Sarah, a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, lectures and writes on Buddhism. Emily has wide experience in adult education, and has just completed an Oxford DPhil in Religious Studies. Both have travelled widely in South and Southeast Asia.

Course aims

The aim of this course is to examine the doctrine of conditional relations in Buddhism.

Course Objectives

1. To introduce the notion of cause with relation to mind and matter

2. To explain some of the key principles involved in this practical psychological system.

3. To encourage interest and discussion in the way that one thing might cause another, or be related to it.

Teaching methods

Much of the material will be on translations I have made myself from primary sources. I am writing a book on this subject, as there is so little that is of high standard for a popular readership. So, we will have a mixture of teaching methods, including film, photographs and audio. There will also be a reading each week, new to everyone, so that each person has a chance to participate in the discussion.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. Be able to recognise the basic 'flower' of relationships, and be able to identify some of them.

2. Have familiarity with the key six 'causes'.

3. Feel they can explore the subject more if they would like to.

Assessment methods

There are two assessment methods. The first is Option A, which is a maximum of 5 contributions, leading to a total of 1500 words. Notes and diary discussions of the class are welcome for this option. The second option, B, is an essay, also coming to 1500 words. We can discuss this option in class.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

It would be helpful if participants in this class had some basic knowledge of the eightfold path.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)