Monday, August 29, 2011

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BUDDHISM

'Everything arises from the mind.'
- Buddha Shakyamuni.

The great esotericist Manly Palmer Hall (pictured left) once wrote, ‘In Buddhism we have what is probably the oldest and most perfectly integrated system of what we now call psychology.’ I think Hall is right. Certainly, there were others before Buddha Shakyamuni whose teachings were psychological in nature, but I don’t know of any other person before the Buddha who had expounded such a clear, coherent, logical and empirically-based set of psychological principles and techniques.

Yes, first and foremost, Buddhism is applied psychology, the aim of which, in the words of the Venerable Ajahn Chah, is to ‘cure disease of the mind.’ The Venerable Narada Maha Thera said something similar when he described Buddhism as ‘a system of deliverance from the ills of life.’  Alan Watts saw Buddhism as 'something more nearly resembling psychotherapy,' as opposed to its being a religion or philosophy 'as these [terms] are understood in the West.'

Specifically, the 'system' treats what Buddhism often calls an 'illusory [or a 'false'] mind' (that is, a mind characterized and dominated by wandering, oppositional and discriminatory thoughts) with a view to bringing into manifestation a 'true [or 'pure'] mind' (being a mind which is not in opposition to itself).

Buddhism has something distinctively unique and, I think, very meaningful to say about ‘disease of the mind’, and it is this –– the root cause of our disorder, distress, sorrow, anxiety, stress, tension, insecurity, discontent, frustration, and general ‘unsatisfactoriness’ (dukkha) is ... attachment, craving, grasping and clinging of various kinds (collectively, upādāna) ... especially, clinging ... to ‘mind stuff’ in the form of, among other things, ideas, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions and prejudices. All of this ‘mind stuff’ we then turn back on itself ... and on ourselves. That is tantamount to insanity but we are all very good at doing it ... most of our waking hours (if not whilst asleep as well). Instead of living by reason and direct experience (sanity), we are driven by emotional compulsion. Worse, we cling to the ‘self’ as self, and we even manage to convince ourselves that we ‘belong’ to that self, and that we are those myriads of I’s and me’s that make up our waxing and waning consciousness.

Now, some dispute that Buddhism is a religion. I think it is a religion ... at least in some of its manifestations, but not others. Be that as it may, Buddhism, as Watts stated, is certainly not a religion as Westerners generally understand the term.

Nor is Buddhism a philosophy as we generally understand the term, although it does contain much which is philosophical, as well as ethical and moral, in nature. However, that which is philosophical in Buddhism is very much 'practical philosophy' ... with the emphasis on 'practical' or, rather, practice.

One thing Buddhism is not, is a ‘belief-system.’ I hope I have made that perfectly clear in my previous blogs. (The Buddha said, 'Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.')

Yes, first and foremost, Buddhism is a form of ‘therapy’ ... self illusion therapy or ego delusion therapy, you could call it. The basic premise of Buddhism is this –– all of our problems and difficulties in this life arise out of our mentality. More specifically, the root of all our problems and difficulties – all our  upādāna – lies in our illusory sense of a separate selfhood, in our misplaced concept of I-ness, that is, in a false view of who we really are. To borrow a couple of phrases from the ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous, the result of our misbelief in a separate ‘self’ is ‘self-will run riot’, and the regular practice – note that word practice – of Buddhism is able to relieve us of the ‘bondage of self.’

The essence of Buddhism, in two words, is ... ‘Wake up!’ Yes, Buddhism is ... an ‘awakening.’ Buddhism is a set of humanistic principles and teachings which, when put into regular practice, enable us to overcome (‘cure’) our false view of ourselves – which is due to ignorance (avijjā) – and thereby experience a psychological transformation or mutation. We then overcome what Manly Palmer Hall referred to as our ‘psychological astigmatism.’ That is a condition in which we fail to see things as they really are because we are locked into certain habits of mind and modes of perception which are based on the supposed existence of a separate self. That is why Buddhism has been described as a teaching of ‘practising within.’

Buddhism is a whole mind-body experience. Buddha Shakyamuni was a radical empiricist. He taught people how to realize for themselves enlightenment ... by direct experience. It is through the regular practice of mindfulness, from one moment to the next, that we experience – note that word experience – life directly ... without those mental filters and psychological barriers which we tend to erect between ourselves and the objects of experience.

Buddha Shakyamuni was very smart. He knew that it was impossible to directly cultivate 'happiness.' That is why he spoke in terms of the causes of 'unhappiness'. Do you want to be happy? Of course. We all do. Then correct the causes of your unhappiness. That is how Buddhist psychology works.

Although the Buddha was not a psychologist per se, he nevertheless 'discovered' and understood the unconscious mind (bhavanga-citta), the ego (atta), and ego fixation (atta-vādupādāna... some 2,500 years before Sigmund Freud            

              Mushin - Empty Mind



That is amazing! Yes, if nothing else, Buddhism is an education. In that regard, the English word education’ is derived from the Latin roots educo and educare.  Educare means ‘to rear or to bring up,’ and can be traced to the Latin root words e and ducere.  Together, e-ducere means to ‘pull out,’ to ‘draw out,’ and to 'lead forth’ ... all aptly applicable to Buddhism, for the teachings of Buddhism, if diligently practised, will indeed 'draw out' one's innate potential to become a buddha.

Buddhism is also a praxis ... and a practice. It consists of various practices and activities by means of which we can better come to understand ourselves, others and the world. However, those practices and activities have to be enacted, practiced and realized in our minds and bodies. We learn in Buddhism that our mind is part of the ‘problem,’ but it can still be used to faithfully report on the flow of life from one moment to the next. That is why mindfulness is so important. We are not separate from life. We can never be less than life. We are persons among persons, each part of the endless procession of life. We are not those waxing and waning I’s and me’s, those various ‘selves’ which we mistakenly take for the person each of us really is.

It has been said that, for the first time, Buddha Shakyamuni taught that not only was self-deliverance possible, it could be attained independently of an external agency. He said, ‘I have delivered you towards deliverance. The Dhamma, the Truth is to be self realized.’ Further, he encouraged his followers to ‘come and see,’ that is, to investigate for themselves whether or not his teachings worked.

No wonder Krishnamurti - who was not a Buddhist - could nevertheless say, 'The Buddha comes closer to the basic truths and facts of life than any other.'

Now, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you're a Buddhist. The only thing that really matters is that you attain freedom from the bondage of self. That is where mindfulness is very useful, for it involves observing and releasing all those habits of mind that would otherwise preserve and maintain the illusion of a separate self.



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