Buddhism and Psychology

Compiled by Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma 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. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism. " – Albert Einstein
Historian H.G Wells writes Buddhism has done more for the advancement of world civilization and true culture than other influences in the chronicles of the man kind. Buddhism is a philosophy about a way of life intended to decrease discomfort and suffering and increase clarity of thought (wisdom), calmness of being and ethical behavior (compassion) which leads to a more joyful and resilient life.

In Buddhism the basis is mind. Mind precedes things, mind dominates them, and mind creates them. Buddhist psychology defines mental life in dynamic terms. Today many psychologists accept the dynamic nature of the human mind. In the Western psychology mind is generally defined as the organized totality of physical structures and process, conscious, unconscious and endo-psychic philosophically , rather than psychologically the entity or substratum underling these strategies and processes.

Contemporary psychology is defined as the science of study of individual mental activity behavior. This definition reflects the two parent disciplines from which psychology emerged philosophy and biology. American Psychologist Professor William James echoes the words of the Buddha when he writs referring to consciousness. It is nothing joined. It flows. A river of stream is the metaphors by which it is naturally described.

Human Mind

The mind is thought to be the seat of perception, self consciousness, thinking, believing, remembering, hoping, desiring, willing, judging, analyzing evaluating reasoning etc. Dualists consider the mind is to be an immaterial substance, capable of existence as a conscious perceiving entity independent of any physical body. Metaphysical materialists consider the mind to be either the brain itself or an emergent reality i.e. an entity separate from but brought in to being by the working of the brain. For materialists mind is a catchall term from a number of processes or activities which can be reduced to cerebral, neurological, and physiological process. The approach of Buddhism is one seeing and understanding. It is a scientific attitude of mind. Fundamental philosophical doctrines taught in Buddhism are being more and more corroborated by new scientific discoveries.

Human Psyche

In the human psyche, according to Buddhism, nine levels of consciousness exist. The first five correspond to the five senses and are called: eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, and body consciousness. The remaining four are levels of mind consciousness. The sixth level of consciousness controls the perception of the outer and material world. The seventh level concerns our inner and spiritual world and guides our capacity for thought and judgment. The eighth level is the "store" of karma (alaya). The ninth level of consciousness is the basis of all spirituality and is called Amala, which means pure and uncontaminated.

Human Brain

The human brain is a complex organ. The brain produces electrical signals, which together with chemical reactions; let the part of the body communicate. Nerves send these signals throughout the body. The many nuclei, circuits, systems and networks which make up the brain provide brain functions involve in perception, behavioral sequences, reflexes, instincts, emotions and other integrative activities.

The Concept of Religion

The term “religion” can be considered in its different aspects: as an inner experience, as theology, or intellectual formulation of doctrine, as a basic or source of ethics as an element in culture. Different scholars have given different views and opinions of its nature and meaning. According to Aldous Huxley religion is, among other things, a system of education, by means of which human being may train themselves, first to make desirable changes in their own personalities and in society, and second, to heighten conscientiousness and so establish more adequate relations between themselves and the universe of which they were parts. The German philosopher, Kant stated that ‘religion is the recognition of our moral principles as laws that must not be transgressed’. The Buddha’s message as a religious way of life:” Keeping away from all evil deeds, cultivation of life by doing good deeds and purification of mine from mental impurities “.

Buddhism and Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is defined as an interaction between a psychotherapist and a client that leads to changes from a less adaptive state to more adaptive state- in the client’s thought feelings and behaviors. Psychotherapy can control or eliminate troubling and painful symptoms so that the client can return to normal functioning. The Lord Buddha was a unique psychotherapist. The Buddha is also known as the peerless physician. Buddhist psychology could be used in the modern world and could be constructively used by modern psychotherapists. The Buddha’s method of exposition of the Four noble Truths is comparable to that of a physician. The Buddha first diagnosed the illness. Suffering is the root course of the illness. The Buddha was sometimes more concerned with therapeutic ends then the objective analysis.

The Buddhist Concept of Suffering

The Buddhist Concept of Suffering has a deep philosophical meaning. It is not the just ordinary human suffering. Translating Buddhism into the Western context will impose the English language and its vocabulary on the Dharma. The French Philosopher Anatole France translated the Pali term Duhkha which is a universal malady in to narrow word suffering. Therefore many western scholars misinterpret the original term of Buddhist concept of suffering. Fundamental suffering manifests itself as psychiatric and psychological symptoms so well described in the DSM system of psychopathology. Depression, suicide, panic attacks, anxiety, perversions, addictions, violence, psychosis, etc.

Buddhism and Freudian Theory

Buddha had recognized the importance of the subconscious activities of the mind, both individual and collective, 2400 years before the founders of Western psychology. The teaching of the Buddha could easily be understood in terms of the structural hypothesis of Freud. The pursuit of sensual pleasure is nothing but the activity of the Id. The special emphasis of Buddhism is on the fact that gratification of the Id, through seeking sensual pleasures does not lead either to mental health or happiness. According to Buddhism, perfect mental health is not achieved until this thirst has been completely rooted out. Buddhism aims at removing even normal mental discomfort and unhappiness by bringing about perfection of health.

Eric Fromm points out that Freud's ultimate aim was to remove the Id entirely and he quotes Freud as saying, "in place of the Id there shall be the Ego." This seems to support the Buddhist position. Dukkha or anxiety is what is experienced due to the experiencing of what has been personalized. This anxiety is the result of a clash between the wish for permanence and the reality of instability. Buddhism recognizes that affective mental processes or emotional excitements are rooted in cognitive mental processes, such

as the formation of concepts or interpretation of experiences.

According to Freud Three distinct levels of consciousness exist.

1) The conscious
2) The preconscious
3) The unconscious

Freud mentioned unconscious is the major motivating force behind human behavior. The systematic structure of psychoanalytic theory is based on the relation of conscious and unconscious psychological processes.

Freud viewed id demands especially sexual and aggressive strivings as inheretently in conflict with the rules and prohibitions imposed by society. According to Buddhism id impulses can be interpreted as Tanha or craving.

Jungian Therapy and Buddhism

Carl Jung viewed humans in a positive sense and believe they are inherently predisposed to make their individual mark in the world. There are similarities between the Buddhist law of cause and effect and Jung's concept of synchronicity; the Buddhist law of karma and the Jungian archetype; the Buddhist ninth level of consciousness and the Jungian collective unconscious and, finally, between the Buddhist and Jungian concepts of spirit, matter and time.

Jung believed that the psyche is composed of interdependent systems comprised of the conscious which provides consistency and direction and handles perceptions, memories, thoughts, and feelings. The personal unconscious which contains forgotten or repressed material that has been lost to conscious thought but is still retrievable. The collective unconscious which is the transpersonal or non-personal conscious that is not concerned with any personal experience.

The Concept of Karma

"Karma" is a Sanskrit word meaning "action". It indicates that as a consequence of the law of cause and effect, each action creates a future action, and this produces an uninterrupted eternal chain. On the one hand we put our karma into existence through thoughts, words, and deeds. (According to Newton’s 3ed law every action has an equal and opposite reaction) On the other hand, each thought, each word, and each deed expresses our karma. Some effects of these causes are latent; they still have to come to the surface, whereas those, which have already appeared, represent our present situation. Karma, therefore, is not a force, which lies outside us, because it is in fact the totality of causes and effects which we have established in the past and which have a deep influence on our present actions.

The wheel of life, or "sansara", is an ancient symbol that has the same meaning in Buddhism and Hinduism. It is symbolises the cycle of birth, life, and death. When one revolution of the wheel is completed, life begins again with rebirth. The word Karma is used to refer to volitional acts as well as the forces that arise from these acts. The idea of karma had existed in ancient Indian philosophy before the time of Siddhartha Gautama, and it became an important element of Buddhist philosophy.

The law of karma states that there is a connection between the moral quality, the level of skill in volitional actions, and the resulting states. Buddhists understand karma as a natural law. There is no higher instance, no judgement, no divine intervention, and no gods that steer man's destiny, but only the law of karma itself, which works on a global time frame.

Buddhists hold that the retributive process of karma can span more than one lifetime. Rebirth, or reincarnation, has always been an important tenet in Buddhism; and it is often referred to as walking the wheel of life (samsara). It is the process of being born over and over again in different times and different situations, possibly for many thousand times.

The Physical and Psychological Aspects of Life

According to Buddhism, there is no division between physical and psychological aspects of life. The experience of the one influences the other. The life of each human being is eternal, because it is part of the Universe, which exists eternally. Life is a multi forced concept that may refer to the ongoing process of which living things are a part or the period between fertilization or mitosis and death No human being can therefore be created or destroyed. The Buddhist concept of eternity of life is equivalent to the physical law of the conservation of energy and matter, according to which they are never dispersed, but are transformed into different forms. Buddhism furthermore affirms that the universe has neither been created by an original cause nor moves towards a goal. Due to the capacity of regeneration, immanent in life itself, the universe has always existed.

Buddhism and Theory of Deconstruction

Buddhism preceded some ideas typically associated with deconstruction and postmodernism for over 2,600 years. The lack (emptiness) of the subject and form, decentralization / multiplicity (Absolute / Relative) of signification and truth, quantum physics and interdependent origination – all point to inescapable parallels between Buddhism and the postmodern. Buddhism liberates, offers a glimpse into the absolute, a sense of transcendence in the realization of fundamental emptiness, realization of the emptiness of the present moment, the emptiness of existence and mind both Buddhism and psychology endeavor to alleviate suffering and to grasp the nature of Mind.

Derrida's deconstruction was a complex response to a variety of twentieth century theoretical and philosophical movements including the phenomenology of Husserl the structuralism of Saussure and the psychoanalysis of Freud.

Our ability to describe consciousness and mind is contingent on our ability to construct a language and a vocabulary for its description. Language is observation. Consciousness is more like space and time present here and now within each of us, but also extending indefinitely into the Universe. Not only it is best comprehended and described as analogous to space and time, using the current model of space but also, quite literally, it "is" space and time. As JacqueDerrida says "the original absence of the subject of writing is also the absence of the thing or referent”. Deconstructionism, a body of ideas closely associated with post-structuralism and post-modernism, is a strategy of analysis that has been applied primarily to linguistics, literature, and philosophy.

Jacques Derrida's main concern was to critique metaphysics and its impact on the theory and practice of philosophy and writing. He rejected two main characteristics of Western philosophy: meaning is grounded in metaphysical presence,3 and time is oriented to its end.4 Derrida posed two main alternative ideas: meaning is an affair of language's systems of difference5 without positive terms,6 and writing is prior to speech.

The Concept of Nirvana

Nirvana ( in Sanskrit Nibbana) is the culmination of the persuit of liberation . It denotes a condition of being devoid of passion such as lust anger or craving and is thus a state of great inner peace and containment. Nibbana is said of the mind which no longer is conmming and going but which has attained a status in perpetuity , whereby liberation can be said . It carries further conottations of stilling, cooling and peace: the realizing of Nirvana is compaired to the ending of ignarance which perpetuates the will from passing through life after life , which causes ( and is caused by) among other things craving, consciousness , birth, death, greed, hate, delusion, ignorance. Nirvana then is not aplace nor a state it is an absolute thruth to be realized.

"Buddhism is not always a question of knowing and seeing and not that of believing. The teaching of the Buddha is qualified as Ehi-Passiko, inviting you to come and see, but not to come and believe." – Ven. Dr. W. Rahula,What the Buddha Taught