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Psychology and Mindfulness

4 Dec

There have been several attempts to integrate psychology theory with the Buddha’s teachings. For example, the collaboration of Erich Fromm, Zen Buddhist teacher and author D. T. Suzuki and Richard De Martino led to the publication of Zen and Psychoanalysis in 1960. This work represents one of the first serious attempts to effectively blend Buddhist teachings with Psychoanalytic thought. Alan Watts (1961) was also a key figure in some of the more popular efforts at mixing Western forms of psychology and psychotherapy with Buddhist and Daoist approaches. For some contemporary Psychoanalysts, Zen Buddhist meditation remains an acceptable way to explore the unconscious and to bring hitherto unknown or unacknowledged (repressed) desires and material into consciousness awareness (Cooper 2004). Also, clinicians and writers such as Carl Jung, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Fritz Perls and Mark Epstein have attempted to bridge and integrate psychology and Buddhism.

With the recent rise of influence of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in psychology, there has been a fruitful yet limited integration between certain aspects of ‘Buddhist psychology’ and certain parallel areas of psychology. For example, for the control of unwanted, intrusive cognitions, which particularly hinder one’s meditative efforts and can therefore be a major problem, several strategies are recommended; to reflect on an object which is associated with thoughts which are the opposite of the unwanted thought; ponder on harmful consequences or the perils and disadvantages of the thought; one strives not to ignore and distract the unwanted cognition; to reflect on the removal or stopping of the causes of the target thought. Interventions similar to these meditation strategies and techniques are also used for related problems in cognitive-behavior therapy. Thought-stopping, thought-switching, distraction and covert sensitization are all foreshadowed in the meditation techniques.

Another aspect of Buddhist psychology for modern therapeutic purposes lies in the area of prophylaxis. Several Buddhist techniques can have a role to play in the prevention of certain kinds of psychological disorders. For example, training in meditation, leading to greater ability to achieve calmness and tranquility, can help enhance one’s tolerance of the numerous inevitable stresses in modern life. With meditation one can achieve a degree of

immunity against the psychological effects of stress and frustration. The facility and skill in self-monitoring one can acquire with the aid of mindfulness meditation can provide a valuable means of self-control. The role of self-monitoring is well-documented in the self-regulation of behavior. The overall self-development that Buddhism encourages and recommends also has something to offer for prevention purposes. Some of the meditation exercises and other personal development behaviors found in

Buddhism can potentially enable a person to develop a positive outlook on life and patterns of response, which, in turn, will help cope with the problem of living; by enabling greater calmness and assurance, and with reduced vulnerability to common psychological disorders. A positive modern wellness program can easily incorporate many of the practices of the Eightfold Path.

Recently, another Buddhist meditation practice called Mindfulness has grown in usage and popularity in both the medical and psychological fields. Now there are many programs offering Mindfulness training to the general public with assertions that Mindfulness can help reduce negative thinking and habits and increase positive experiences and thinking – to name a few. Mindfulness has become a treatment for depression, anxiety and reducing stress and relapses (Williams, Teasdale, Segal, Kabat-Zinn 2007). However, these adaptations of mindfulness are being used to reduce our stress, to make us less depressed, more fulfilled and happy but are rarely requiring us to make the necessary life changes that the accompanying practices of the Eightfold Path require. Remember in Buddhism meditation is not a standalone practice but is closely intertwined with the wisdom and ethical practices. As a consequence, Buddhism has mistakenly become part of a secular quest for happiness even though the Buddha‘s understanding of happiness was radically different. The Buddha’s teachings addressed suffering and cessation of suffering. He consistently taught that the pursuit of happiness based upon our erroneous and pre-awakened understanding of the world with our craving for sensory delights and distractions was at the heart of our problems. The Buddha taught that in the eyes of the awakened the very things we consider to be the sources of our happiness are actually the very sources of our misery. Not surprisingly the aspects of Buddhism which appear to be most popular in the West have little or nothing to do with renunciation and more to do with ‘enhancing’ life and seeking personal fulfillment. As a consequence the Buddha’s teachings become ignored by our sense of entitlement to happiness often irrespective of our moral conduct.

Indeed, examples of this entitlement to happiness are easily found on Mindfulness websites by psychotherapists and psychologists on the application of mindfulness to psychotherapy: “The practice of meditation and mindfulness will clear away the dullness of being on autopilot and free you to live more fully than you ever have before.”; “LIBERATE your true Self and discover inner balance, wellbeing and happiness as well as RESPOND to life and relationships with greater intelligence, creativity, intuition and compassion.” and “The more we increase mindfulness, the more we increase happiness.” Also we are often reminded that mindfulness was originated by the Buddha, -“Mindfulness meditation, as it is called, is rooted in the teachings of a fifth-century B.C. Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha” – and all cite meditation ( ‘non-judgmental awareness of the now’) as the sole technique to be used. Quite different from the Buddha’s original teachings, these psychotherapeutic/wellness adaptations of mindfulness are usually presented independent of any ethical/moral requirements and instead emphasize an amoral immediacy of being. While, in fact, Buddhist meditation is supported by the factors of ethical training as taught in the Noble Eightfold Path. The eight factors complement each other and are an integrated practice. Therefore, if psychotherapists and researchers want to clearly apply the use of meditation as in Buddhist practice, with its accompanying positive results, they need to look at how all factors of the Eightfold Path are involved and how this complete package would have a positive effect on wider diagnostic categories of clients of psychotherapy being now treated with the intervention of mindfulness.

Mindfulness in popular western psychology has now only become yet another coping mechanism for dealing with the stresses of modern life. While the central teachings of the Buddha and the original purpose of cultivating mindfulness was to reach full and complete awakening; to completely overcome ignorance, hatred and craving and to put an end to suffering. While, as in the similarity of meditative techniques and other cognitive-behavioral techniques, there is a complementary aspect which can enhance each other, another problem with the current popular psychologizing of mindfulness is the name of the meditation that the Buddha originated is being converted and misrepresented into something very different. This is harmful as the Buddha’s message of Awakening is lost as it becomes represented as the rush for happiness and self-fulfillment.

The Buddha was not a psychologist and there is a real risk that the psychologizing of the Buddha’s teachings does a great disservice to, and distorts, the original purpose of them and, specifically, reduces the practice of mindfulness to a self-centered pursuit more concerned with allowing us to have more productive and intense experiences than the original purpose which was for us to reach awakening, to overcome ignorance, hatred and craving and to put an end to our suffering and re-birth. Psychologizing the Buddha’s teachings can twist and subvert them into a mental health gimmick, and thereby prevent them from introducing the sharply alternative vision of life they are capable of bringing us. In fact, beyond some positive interaction and influence that Buddhist psychology can have on modern psychology, as mentioned above, it is neither feasible or desirable to assume that the two systems in their entirety can ever be integrated because the highest goal of psychology/psychotherapy is limited to various forms of psychological adjustment, higher functioning or promoting self-actualization and individual fulfillment and these are simply not what the Buddha wanted us to understand. In fact, those goals are merely band aids for the deeper problem which is our suffering due to the ignorance of our pre-enlightened existence.

Enough is Enough- The cause of Suffering is not a Mystery

4 Dec

Even though recent events in the world of beheadings, mass murder, slavery, forced starvation, kidnappings, assault, domination, war and poverty are not a new phenomenon of the human race, with the newer mass communications these horrific acts created by human beings against each other are now exposed in all of its evil so vividly and graphically for all to see that this is yet another compelling reason for this suffering to end. Of course, this refrain against war and the ‘inhumanity’ of human beings to one another is an old often unheeded refrain, however, now the root causes of this abhorrent behavior is clear to be seen and, therefore, changed and, therefore, extinguished through the knowledge and application of the Buddha’s teachings. For it is now possible and, in an explanatory way, to confirm the truth of the Buddha’s teachings and this support and explanatory teachings  of the Buddha is now available through science. With the application of the Buddha’s teachings as a framework or schema for the science of psychology, personality and the consequent perspective from this, allows the possibility of the ending of man’s inhumanity to each other in a scientific and rational way. Even though the Buddha’s teachings are over 2500 years old, with the new support from the findings of science, these teachings of the Buddha will now provide the framework for the new rational consciousness that will end the suffering which human beings create and have created for each other and other living creatures since civilization began. The quote attributed to Albert Einstein is supportive of this point of view: ‘The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description.’  It is with great anticipation and excitement that we can look forward to our future as a species in which we will be able to create a civilization based on a harmonious relationship between the human race and the other creatures that share this earth with us, as well as our relationship with the earth itself. Even though this vision of harmonious relationship has been promised in the past by religions and other philosophical groups with their own particular identities, the vision created by the understanding of the Buddha’s teachings supported by modern science is radically different and avoids the great pitfalls of the static identification of one group versus another which is at heart, one of the causes of past/current conflicts. Therefore, the Buddha’s teachings are indeed a peaceful revolutionary and radical approach which can and will be successful in the final reduction and elimination of this great suffering that human beings experience primarily because of their own folly of separation from the truth of existence as we experience it and understand it here on this planet Earth. Therefore, there is no time to lose to begin the explanation and expounding of the Buddha’s teaching to the world so that we do not have to continue to create the immense suffering that is now daily experienced and broadcast around the world. This suffering is not only the direct experience of those who experience the perpetration of these horrific acts of violence- psychologically and physically and emotionally and spiritually – but also by the people who are committing these horrific acts. For let us not forget that from the Buddha’s perspective, a person who commits an act of violence and is angry and actively hostile and actively ignorant and actively greedy and actively selfish and actively feeling superior is suffering from a foolish, ignorant, unwholesome mind-set. It is this ignorance that creates the actions which are at the basis of the suffering we see in the world today and which has occurred in the history of humankind.  Let us be very clear about this – the suffering that we continually learn about,  where another human being creates violence not only against others but also against themselves is created through their mind-set which is based in ignorance and once that ignorance is dispelled, the violence, the depression, the greed, the hostility, the selfishness, the uncompassionate feelings both towards others and towards oneself is ended. When one properly understands the teachings of the Buddha and follows those teachings in one’s life, happiness, compassion and wisdom are the result. So now with the rational support and explanation of how the Buddha’s teaching can be explained so that all human beings can understand the psychological basis for their own happiness and for the world’s happiness and the ending of human caused suffering in this world is available now. There’s no reason to ignore the Buddha’s teachings because many think the teachings are some esoteric training or they are thought to be some mystical explanation of the universe and they have no relevance to the common man and the common human experience and, therefore, the Buddha’s teachings have been relegated by many only to be important to the life of obscure monks living in a forest monastery. Now we can see this is a misconception and a great misunderstanding of the significance and foundation of the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha’s teachings are for everyone and are pragmatic and are rational and are based on empiricism or facts. The Buddha did not indulge in mystical thinking nor did he encourage mysticism or religion as an explanation for human suffering. The Buddha, through years of study of psychological study, understood that the foundation of humanity’s suffering is based on an ignorance, a wrong perspective, a misunderstanding and he taught how to gain a perspective based on a correct understanding and this correct understanding relieves the suffering that is created through anger and greed and hostility and selfishness and other forms of ignorance. The result of Enlightenment is a sense of peace and calm and happiness and compassion both for oneself and for the other living creatures not only  human but all living things on this earth because we are all interconnected and to see us separate is one of the facets of ignorance. So there is an immense and great possibility available to us through the perspective of the teacher Buddha who gave his first teachings over 2500 years ago and it is now possible to show his teachings from a scientific point of view. Therefore, we can see that they are not an obscure esoteric understanding of reality instead they are a pragmatic, fact based understanding of how we as human beings create our suffering not only for ourselves but also for other people when we relate without a correct perspective. So now is a time for the new Renaissance of awareness of our functionality, of our psychology, of our ecology, of our sociology, of our neurology, of our biology, of our physics and astronomy and more supporting the principles of the Four Noble Truths in which the Buddha summarized and made into a framework the essential principles of his insights into humanity. Now is the time for us and opportunity for us to understand the profound and radical Buddha’s teachings from an empirical, pragmatic and scientific point of view which will have radical positive consequences in the future of humanity and now is the time for us to begin that Reformation towards happiness and non-suffering of all beings living on this earth.