Buddhist psychology has to be a science of mind, which also studies the specific Buddhist approaches to mind. Therefore it has to hold good against all the criteria of science, such as the empirical validity, methodological reliability of procedures, consistency of theoretical statements, etc. Moreover it has to be useful for practical life coping according to the Dhamma in order to be called Buddhist.
The themes deemed to belong to Buddhist psychology became very fashionable towards the end of twentieth century. In collections of popular books, we find many opinions about the Buddhist psychology and, in particular, a lot of nonsense about the supposedly Buddhist psychotherapy which we shall deal with at the conclusion. However there are available also reliable scientific treatments of Buddhist psychology, an overview of which is given by Beatrice Vogt Frýba and Mirko Frýba in a monograph Silabbata - Virtuous Performance, the Empirical Basis for the Science of Buddhist Psychology that was published also in the Sri Lanka Journal of Buddhist Studies, Vol. III, 1991, p. 71-104.
Here we shall first give an overview of what notions of psychology are held by those educated people in the West, who could eventually understand also Buddhism. Second, based on this overview, we shall point out where the Western psychology opens up for Buddhist teachings. For this purpose, we shall show some achievements of the newest psychology streams - namely those of the humanistic, the transpersonal, and the cultural psychology. Third, we shall explain why the Buddha's teaching of Dhamma cannot be reduced to some psychology, even though it deals with mind in such a way that it satisfies all the criteria of science. In the same way as the Buddha's teaching of Dhamma - though including philosophical ideas about the world, the theory of knowledge, and the ethics - cannot be reduced to a system of philosophy, in the same way it cannot be reduced to any of the other systems of knowledge categorized according to the Western notions. Fourth, comes characterizing the Buddha's teaching of Dhamma as the practical method of skilful life-coping, called ayu-kusala in the Pali Buddhist technical terminology. Thus seeing the Dhamma elements as the practical skills (kusala), which are more than just theoretical elements of knowledge (ñana), becomes a starting point for conceiving the Buddhist psychology in such an encompassing way that enables us to psychologically treat the various specifically Buddhist practices of preaching, teaching, counselling, and psychotherapy. Fifth, we formulate basics of the Buddhist psychology so as to provide a scientific basis for the various ways of working with people who come to us as our devotees, clients, patients, students, or simply as friends wanting to know more about the Buddha's Dhamma.
1. Psychology is a science of mind
Although colloquial use of the word psychology allows endowing it with many meanings, everybody agrees that psychology is a science of mind. People understand it same way as the chemistry being science of materials, physics being science of engines, and informatics being science of computers. The science should answer the questions about how something works, how its parts fit together and, especially, what leads to what.
The primitive psychology of twentieth century sought to be scientific by imitating physics and chemistry while answering the questions how the mind works. There were psychologists who eschewed looking into the mind and wanted to study only the behaviour that can be observed from outside; from this arose a school of thought called behaviorism. The behaviorists believe that certain perceptual stimulus has to lead to a certain behavioural response, which they think can be scientifically grasped by the lineal paradigm S-R. This simplistic approach is still quite powerful in various fields such as theory of learning or behavior-therapy. Because the paradigm S-R cannot grasp the reality of mind, behaviorists have to admit some intermediary link of an organism, getting thus the paradigm S-O-R. The organism became then, in a later school of cognitive behaviorism, furnished with a sort of pictures of outer objects called mental representations. The representations of the same stimuli are admitted to be different in various individuals. This cognitivist approach, which ignores experiencing and consciousness, prevailed in the mainstream psychology till the end of past century.
Throughout the twentieth century, another system of psychology was used to explain the changes of experiencing and consciousness, especially in connection with psychotherapy. We are not wrong when stating that all the Western schools of psychotherapy are in some way derived from the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis answers especially the questions why people differ in their experiencing of the world and why some of their mind's working does not become conscious. Because the psychoanalysts are preoccupied with the pathological needs and mental problems, some psychotherapists turned to the questions of healthy values and wellness; from this arose a school of thought called humanistic psychology.
The newest developments are summarized in the systems of so-called transpersonal psychology and the ethnopsychology, sometimes called cultural psychology. The transpersonal psychology studies the spiritual phenomena, which seem to transcend the personal reality. The cultural psychology admits that different ethnic groups have developed within their own cultures various systems of knowledge about the mind's working. These newest developments in Western psychology enable the gifted people to overcome their egotistic and ethnocentric limitations, which are inherent in their indigenous way of thinking. Hence we can say that the Western psychology opens up for Buddhist teachings.
2. Western psychology opens up for Buddhist teachings
The Buddhist teachings are very attractive for those Western psychologists who are trying to understand various states of consciousness occurring outside the regular everyday experience. Some even consider the phenomenology of mind contained in Buddhist Abhidhamma Canon to be a system of transpersonal psychology par excellence. Even some of those newer textbooks on psychology of personality, which have no claim to be transpersonal, contain a chapter on the Buddhist notion of a person. The Buddhist ideas of personality types and the stages of personal development are interesting for ethnopsychologists as well as for researchers in educational psychology. And no Western psychotherapist or counsellor could today honestly claim not to know that all commonly used techniques of relaxation are somehow connected with the Buddhist meditation. These are just few examples straying in the spectrum of psychology themes.
Western psychologists became first interested in that Buddhist knowledge of mind that seems to be rather unusual or exotic. Only thereafter they started to learn more about the sober distinctive features of Buddhist psychological knowledge that - although bringing us beyond the limits of contemporary Western psychology - are most scientific in the proper sense of the word. The already quoted monograph Silabbata - Virtuous Performance, the Empirical Basis for the Science of Buddhist Psychology (Frýba & Frýba 1991) sums up these distinctive features of Buddhist psychological knowledge under the following headings:
- the primacy of experiential reality provides the basis for all theory building, as well as for all practical procedures,
- the ethical orientation of all psychological knowledge prevents its abuse,
- the clear comprehension of goal is implied in all texts and procedures,
- the gradual realization of goals is always taken into account,
- the control of performance (adhi-sila-sikkha) serves as a starting point for all procedures,
- the purification of mind (adhi-citta-sikkha) by means of meditation removes the defilements greed and hate, which would distort consciousness and invalidate knowledge,
- the transcendence through wisdom (adhi-pañña-sikkha) aims at the individually experienced realization of happiness and peace.
3. Dhamma cannot be reduced to psychology
The Buddha's Dhamma is concerned with such knowing the mind that leads to the purification of mind, that in turn makes possible the happiness and peace of mind. Yet the Dhamma cannot be defined as a system of psychology. The Buddha's Dhamma includes the psychology, but it cannot be reduced to psychology. All the psychology of Buddha's Dhamma is interwoven with ethics. Yet in the same way, though the Buddha's Dhamma includes the ethics, it cannot be reduced to some philosophical system of ethics. For many Buddhists, the Buddha's Dhamma is their religion. There is no doubt about the fulfilment of the religious needs through the practice of Dhamma. Yet even the most religious Buddhist would allow that the Buddha's Dhamma is something more than just the religion only.
All what has been here so far said can be well accepted by any person well educated in Western culture. A person with basic knowledge of psychology, such as e.g. required for the university entrance, should easily understand our summary of recent developments and resultant opening for Buddhist teachings. What comes now next, should appeal to open-minded Buddhists who are well instructed in the practice of Dhamma.
4. Dhamma is the practical method of skilful life-coping
I hold the Dhamma to be skillful (kusala) living (ayu). Thus I speak right now, right for this person, for the author of this text. There is however in this way of speaking no implication of some instance of an I or self, when I speak so, I speak about my own personal experience and certitude. This is not an anonymous statement; this is my responsible personal testimony. This is the result of my studying the Dhamma, my continuous practice of the Dhamma, my personal growth in the Dhamma, and my own relishing the fruits of the Dhamma. Herewith I want to make quite clear that what counts here is the knowing person's own experience (paccatam veditabbo viññuhi), as the Buddha put it verbatim.
The practice of the Buddha's Dhamma is most comprehensively defined through the paradigm of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path provides for character cultivation and handling everyday situations (sila-sikkha), meditation training (samadhi-sikkha) and developing wisdom (pañña-sikkha) - herewith is covered the practice of life-coping in all realms of life.
The practice of skilful life-coping can be assisted by psychologically erudite persons, working in various helping professions. The psychotherapists and the counselors are the examples of such psychological professionals. The Buddhist monks and nuns can also carry out this professional help - and especially for them are meant the following explanations.
5. Buddhist psychology of preaching, teaching, counselling, and psychotherapy
During the past three decades, I have conducted Dhamma courses, meditation retreats, psychotherapy sessions, workshops in life-coping (ayu-kusala), Ayukusala teachers training and other related projects. On the top of that, I have been teaching university lectures and seminars on the Buddhist psychology used in all these projects. There is no place here to list them all. Here I want to elaborate to certain extent upon three fields of applied Buddhist psychology concerned with the mentioned projects; we shall use for it three handouts that will serve as examples of starting points in practical training. These handouts are available at the Internet pages: www.webpark.cz/dhamma/ or: www.volny.cz/dhamma/
In the three following fields of applied Buddhist psychology, there are fundamental differences in the way of communicating with the target population, as well as in the mediated form of Buddhist teaching. First, while preaching and teaching, we address all who are ready to hear or read. It is up to the listener or reader to select, accept and use whatever information is being offered. In preaching and teaching, there can be mediated only information about the elements of Dhamma and, to a certain extent, about the ways to use them. Second field is the counselling, in which we personally address the client who has posed the question and asked for our advice. While counselling, we mediate the know-how for dealing with the problems that are defined by the client. The training of skills to cope with the situations in question can support and enhance the counselling. The third field is that of healing, which may be the psychosocial healing by means of rituals, the holistic Ayurveda healing with included psychological components, or the healing in form of a full-fledged psychotherapy. While healing, we work for the patient who has explicitly sought our professional help, providing of course that we are equipped for it and able to conform to his request.
A practicing Buddhist can engage in a work of teacher, counsellor, or healer. The fact that the person is a Buddhist does not yet make out of his work some Buddhist teaching or Buddhist counselling. With the Buddhist healing is the issue even more difficult, as we shall see later. Nevertheless there are professional fields in which the Buddhist psychology can be applied with much benefit. Let us look at them one after the other.
6. Psychological aspects of preaching and teaching the Dhamma
There are two psychological aspects of preaching and teaching the Dhamma, the one concerns the contents, the other the way of communicating them. While preaching we cannot teach the Dhamma elements as practical skills (kusala), because that requires a systematic training that builds upon the trainee's dispositions. The contents of preaching are just theoretical elements of knowledge (ñana), even when they may give the hearer some inspiration for practical coping.
Psychological erudition helps preacher to formulate the contents of his teaching so that the hearers pay attention well and profit from it. Traditionally the Buddhist monks are expected to see clearly what is the motivation of their preaching (sutta-nikkhepa): it may be motivated by the meaning arisen in the situation (atthuppatti), or by the preacher's talent (attajjhasaya), or by the assessed inclination of the hearer (parajhasaya), or by the endeavor to answer a clearly posed question (pucchavasika). Thereafter the preacher is expected to explain the possibilities of the life-coping according to the Dhamma gradually (anupubbapatipada) up to what he estimates as still graspable for the hearer. These and similar themes are explored also by modern educational psychology - and there are no reasons why the Buddhist preachers should ignore such alternative approaches. And the same is true about the ways of communicating, answering questions (pañhabyakarana), etc. - there is a wealth of findings available for example in literature on the psychology of communication. The point I want to make here is that the traditional monastic training should be complemented by studying - once we know where to search for - the relevant psychological literature.
The Buddhist teachers should first explore and exploit the wealth of knowledge and skills contained in the Dhamma tradition matured and handed down to us since centuries, before turning for advice to the one hundred years young science of Western psychology. Some of the paradigms traditionally used for efficient preaching and teaching were just mentioned. The best systematic account of them gives the Nettippakaranam, which the European Ayukusala teachers are using in the excellent English translation by Ñanamoli: The Guide (Pali Text Society, London 1977). One of the most useful instruments applied in the Ayukusala approach to any form of the Dhamma work is the paradigm of five masteries (pañca-vasiyo) - see the handout Ayukusala-Pañha. This paradigm will help you in whatever project - whether you want to teach the meditation to yourself, train yourself or others how to produce most effective session of preaching or counselling or anything else. First of the five masteries consists in the choice and preparation of the session (avajjana-vasi), second is the methodical start of it (samapajjana-vasi), third is the abiding by the decision for time and object of the session (adhitthana-vasi), fourth is the methodical ending (vutthana-vasi), fifth comes the reviewing of all stages in the process (paccavekkhana-vasi). We shall demonstrate soon how to use this paradigm of five masteries in group counselling.
7. Questions of the Buddhist counselling
Can we at all speak about Buddhist counselling? What do you imagine when you hear this combination of words? Does the counselling become Buddhist due to the fact that a Buddhist monk does it? What is the purpose of Buddhist counselling? If the counselling should help the client to cope better with any of his tasks and problems, then we can say that all counselling is Buddhist. Well, behind this is the typically Buddhist open-minded attitude of metta that wishes happiness to all living beings without exception; but besides that we may conceive also of counselling that is meant particularly for Buddhist people in a similar way as other religions offer such help just only for their own people. Once we have decided to see the Buddhist counselling this way, it becomes desirable to promote the special counselling for Buddhists, which concentrates upon the questions how to use the particular strategies of Dhamma in everyday life.
What is then the difference between preaching and counselling? In preaching the Dhamma we offer the Buddha's way that leads to the goal defined by the Buddha, whereas in counselling we provide help to the goal defined by the client. As already mentioned, when preaching we mediate information as knowledge (ñana), but we cannot teach the Dhamma elements as practical skills (kusala). Teaching skills requires a systematic training fitted to the needs of the client. In counselling we also mediate knowledge, but only that knowledge, which is relevant to the client's problem. The person who requires counselling comes to the counsellor of his or her own choice with the themes of his or her own choice. Thus the first and most important skill of the counsellor is to be able to listen. The counsellor has to have empathy and to practice karuna towards the clients in order to understand fully their situation and to help them finding personally relevant solutions. The competent counselling does not consist of giving advices that are valid for all. Most valuable are those ways of problem-solving, which have been discovered and developed, with assistance of the counsellor, by the clients themselves. The individually relevant personal approach to the counselling client retains such qualities even when we practice counselling for couples, families, or institutional teams.
The counsellor's acts of skilful assisting to find own solutions should become a model of facilitative acts, which are then used by those clients who themselves work with groups. As an example should serve here another handout titled Family Conference used for the parents of children who attended the Sunday Dhamma School. The parents used to sit in our temple garden while their children worked in the age specific groups asked me to teach them how to cope with various problems arising in the regular family life. Most of them were already instructed by me in Buddhist meditation and thus knew also the paradigm of five masteries (pañca-vasiyo). Drawing upon my old experience from training the educational counsellors in Switzerland, I have selected some group exercises to put them under the headings of five masteries and then subsume them under the following five steps to be practiced at every meeting:
1) Remember only as much knowledge as necessary for adverting towards the successful action (kamma). You start by very briefly communicating the purpose (attha) of the meeting and initiate it by a symbolic action - that will through repetition become a ritual; see point 4.
2) Create the working situation (kammatthana) auspicious for your purpose. That is, you initiate setting of the place, time, programme of procedure, and general rules - these are actions that should be always at first agreed upon and explicitly confirmed by all the participants of the conference. This is then the contract that is binding for all the participants.
3) Determine the object (arammana) of this conference session and get it accepted by all the participants. You win a relevant object during an introductory questions-round (pañha-vatta). You have to then watch over the staying with the object that was decided upon; in case of a distraction, you comment upon this as such, very simply, by only noticing and naming it (sallakkhana).
4) Help the group - for mindfully ending the session - to develop a ritual of transition (vatta-pativatta), literally of instating-and-cancelling the conditions, to go on living happily. Such a ritual should contain a short formula of courtesy from you as the leader, a brief spell of meditation and wishing well (metta).
5) Conduct reviewing (paccavekkhana) briefly before the end of each meeting.
During the first meetings, the object (arammana) was "How to Conduct the Family Conference". Then at each meeting, a selection was made out of the themes offered by the participants during an introductory questions-round (pañha-vatta). Some told me later that they have tried similar simple sessions of group counseling also with the theme of their employees - and it worked.
This example of amateur group counselling contains principles, which should be well known to any Buddhist teacher. Yet we should keep in mind that counselling sessions for couples, families, or institutional teams have to be performed by highly qualified professionals. To conduct a training of professional counsellors is a sophisticated issue that takes its time. The counsellors have to learn to listen what the client says, to understand his attitude to the problem, and to look how congruent with it is the client's body language. All these cues are very important during the gradual offering of the possible ways of problem solving. The counsellor must not become preoccupied with the client's difficulties and drawbacks, it is very important to see first what are the client's capabilities. The competent counsellor is always able to find out the client's assets and to use them ingeniously as the basis for gradual exercise of new skilful life-coping. And, specifically for our Buddhist counselling, we have the Dhamma as repertory of skilful life strategies (ayukusala), for which I wish to refer to my book The Art of Happiness - Teachings of Buddhist Psychology (Shambhala Publishers, Boston and London 1989).
8. Can exist something like Buddhist psychotherapy?
We have accepted the thing called Buddhist counselling as a meaningful undertaking, which is Buddhist because it is for Buddhist clients and solves problems connected with Buddhist teachings. Then what about a healing treatment that is for Buddhist patients and cures the sicknesses connected with Buddhist teachings? It is obvious nonsense to conceive of Buddhist psychotherapy this way. And here at the outset of our discussing this theme, I want to state very clearly that it is misleading and dangerous altogether to label any healing treatment as Buddhist psychotherapy.
Yet there are - and there have always been - mentally ill people in every civilisation. Then how were these mental patients treated in Western countries before the psychotherapy came to exist some hundred years ago? And how are the mental patients treated in the Buddhist countries nowadays? There was no special treatment for mentally ill people in the West; those quiet and depressed were ignored and those more active were either locked up or chained down. More attention was given to those who hallucinated; they were considered either holy or possessed by the devil. For the possessed, the Christian clergy used sometimes exorcism, sometimes physical liquidation by drowning or burning alive. In the Buddhist countries the treatment of mentally ill people was maybe somewhat less brutal as we can gather from old texts. There has existed nothing what could be called psychotherapy.
Only recently some anthropologists and ethnopsychologists started to explore the indigenous ways of treatment for mentally ill people in traditionally Buddhist countries. The best book on such research was written by the Swiss ethnopsychologist Beatrice Vogt: The Skill and Trust - The Tovil Healing Ritual of Sri Lanka as Culture-Specific Psychotherapy (Amsterdam, VU University Press 1999). Dr. Vogt was herself trained in Western psychotherapy and became experienced in treating Westerners, before she started her research on traditional healing procedures in the Buddhist country. She describes several types of treating mental patients, such as based on Ayurveda, connected with the worship of deities (deva-puja), contained in Buddhist rituals for protection (paritta) etc. the greatest part of her book is devoted to the rituals performed by the demon-tamers (yaka-adura) whose procedures come closest to the Western psychotherapy by means of psychodrama. Dr. Vogt shows also how the Buddhist demon-tamers reconcile their procedures with the goals of the Buddha's Dhamma.
In preaching the Dhamma we offer the Buddha's way that leads to the goal defined by the Buddha, whereas in whatever counselling or psychotherapy we provide help to reach the goal defined by the client or the patient. Here we have the fundamental difference between the practice of the Dhamma and the professional supply of counselling or psychotherapy. Then why could we admit Buddhist counselling but state that Buddhist psychotherapy is nonsense?
What is the difference between psychotherapy and counselling? In counselling, the client poses a question, describes the problem, and defines the goal of the demanded procedure. And in Buddhist counselling there is something distinctly Buddhist about the question, the problem, and the goal. The client accepts the goal as defined by the Buddha. The Buddhist counselling is thus subordinate and auxiliary to the practice of Dhamma. In psychotherapy, the patient asks for help and he complains about a sickness or disease that he cannot grasp clearly, yet he wants to get rid of it. Thus the patient demands some healing procedure, which the professional healer should provide to reach the patient's goal. Psychotherapist is just a specialist chartered to accompany the patient on the patient's way to his goal - there can be nothing subordinate or auxiliary to the practice of Dhamma in psychotherapy. Thus there can be no Buddhist psychotherapy.
And what about the Buddhists who became sick due to the incompetent guidance by the pseudo-teachers of Buddhism? Yes, there are such cases both in the traditionally Buddhist countries and in the West. To treat this problem would, however, lead far beyond the limits of the present occasion. Besides that, if such a patient seeks help from a behavior-therapist or a psychoanalyst, can we say that the patient undergoes a Christian or a Jewish psychotherapy? Yet both the founders and the patients of the mentioned psychotherapies are Jews and Christians. So let us better stop talking in this sense about Buddhist psychotherapy.
9. Satitherapy developed on the basis of Abhidhamma
To have psychological problems is a part of normal life in every civilization and, especially in more advanced societies, it is a matter of course to use regularly services of a psychotherapist. A psychotherapist, unlike a counsellor, helps to identify the unclear discontents and points also to the patient's blind spots in order to open up the ways to healing. Some less edified persons eschew psychotherapists due to their traditionally insufficient distinguishing of the psychological problems and discontents, which are so to say normal, from the heavy pathologies of neurotic or psychotic patients. The most serious amongst the other drawbacks of traditional Western psychotherapists is their orientation to see exclusively the problems and pathologies, which is the heritage of obsolete psychiatric belief in having a specific medicine for any of the diagnosed sicknesses. These shortcomings of older Western psychotherapy became more so visible on the background of my belief that the psychotherapeutic help should protect and promote health by activating the healing life-force in the patient. Hence, during the 1970ies, I started to develop new techniques for use in traditional Western psychotherapy. This was the beginning of what is now known as Satitherapy.
The psychological training that I personally underwent took more than ten years. I was lucky to enjoy personal guidance by Carl R. Rogers and Zerka T. Moreno. My psychoanalysis was done by Ernst Blum, a direct pupil of Sigmund Freud. All what I have learned from these great masters of Western psychotherapy plus my Buddhist meditation experience and Abhidhamma studies contributed to the arising of the psychotherapy system called Satitherapy.
Satitherapy is a system of integrative psychotherapy, which uses mindfulness (sati) as the key principle within a person-centred approach as developed by Carl R. Rogers. It integrates the techniques of psychodrama developed by Jacob L. Moreno for therapeutic acting-out with the procedures of Buddhist insight meditation (satipatthana-vipassana) for therapeutic acting-in. In the training of satitherapists, the conceptual frame of Western mainstream psychology is used (cf. the article on Mindfulness in Corsini, R.J. (Ed.): Encyclopaedia of Psychology, New York, Wiley 1994), yet the theoretical basis for Satitherapy is provided by the system of psychology and ethics elaborated within the ancient Asian teachings of Abhidhamma (Frýba, M.: The Art of Happiness - The Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, Boston, Shambhala Publications 1989).
Satitherapy is a method, which is as easy to learn as e.g. piloting an aircraft or dental surgery. Any intelligent person, who has already studied the Abhidhamma and Western clinical psychology, can be trained as a satitherapist in a course of eight semesters. The satitherapists have usually completed first their university studies and obtained an M.D. with specialization in psychiatry or Ph.D. in psychology. But there are also some practitioners of Satitherapy without these degrees, having though the disadvantage of health insurance not paying their work. For more details on training in Satitherapy see the Internet pages: www.volny.cz/satiterapie
Now at the end of this presentation, hardly more can be expected than providing the basic information on Satitherapy and its place within the context of Buddhist psychology. There is one more thing though, which I want to share here in this context. Satitherapists working with Buddhist clients and patients can be usefully assisted by Buddhist monks and nuns trained in the practice (and not simply the ritual chanting!) of the fourteen skills of Buddha-ñana. An example illustrating the format and the procedure of such an assisted psychotherapy session is given in the handout titled A Satitherapy Session - which is available at the Ayukusala Internet pages: www.webpark.cz/dhamma/ or: www.volny.cz/dhamma/
Satitherapy is a healing treatment. It is a methodical cure of psychological, social, and spiritual problems. The goals of its procedure are defined by the patients - not by the psychotherapists! The psychotherapist is just a specialist chartered to accompany the patient in the healing process. Satitherapy is not a religious performance. It is not some Buddhist psychotherapy either. Satitherapy may use the patient's religious sentiments, whether Buddhist or otherwise, without any coercive persuasion or missionary influencing. The religious issues are subject to the patient's own decision. The cured person may then want to know more about the Buddhist teaching of Abhidhamma, which the Satitherapy is based on, and there is no reason for not giving the information about the practice of Dhamma, which is meant for the healthy persons. Participation in Satitherapy does not prevent the person's using the Dhamma as a method of skilful life-coping, namely Ayukusala.
The simplest way to review this our session would be to recount the nine themes we made to the headings. Those who participated mindfully have no problem to recount that we started with the definition of psychology and continued to see how modern Western psychology opens up for Buddhist teachings. We saw why the Dhamma cannot be reduced to psychology, philosophy or religion, and we remembered that the Buddha gave us Dhamma the practical method of skilful life-coping, Ayukusala. All this was formulated in relation to such notions that are familiar to an educated Westerner.
In the second part of this session, we have dealt with the psychological aspects of preaching, teaching, counselling and psychotherapy in such a form that should appeal to open-minded Buddhists who are well instructed in the practice of Dhamma. A special attention was given to the question whether some psychotherapy can be Buddhist. Then the system of Satitherapy was explained as an example of psychotherapy based on the Buddha's teaching. After showing what is common and what is different in the Buddhist and the Western psychology based procedures, we have extracted some paradigms applicable in all of them. The most useful being the paradigm of five masteries, the fifth of which is the reviewing (paccavekkhana-vasi), as we are doing it right now.
Question: What is the efficacy of Satitherapy in comparison to meditation?
Satitherapy is a method of professionally healing the patient's illness, the goal of which is defined by the patient. Meditation is a part of the Dhamma training, the goal of which is defined by the Buddha. These are two very different procedures and their efficacy cannot be compared.
The efficacy of a procedure is measured by the extent to which the procedure's goal has been realized. In order to be able to speak about efficacy, one has to begin with clear comprehension of the goal (satthaka-sampajañña). One has also to grasp the instrumentality (sappaya-sampajañña) in order to apply the means proper for attaining the goal. When the goal is healing of the patient's illness, meditation is not the proper means to realise it. Then there must be clear comprehension of the realm (gocara-sampajañña), which means whether we are in meditation training or in a psychotherapy session. There is much damage done to patients by those who say that meditation is a psychotherapy. Some time ago I saw in Sri Lanka a book with the title Buddhist Psychotherapy; it contained nonsensical claims such as healing through instructing the patient in the four satipatthanas one after the other. The author of that weird book and his business-minded friends, including an American monk with a Ph.D. in history, were selling group sessions of Buddhist psychotherapy, which have damaged several persons. May such Buddhists get some insight into their wrong-doing! Then those who realise that they did wrong due to delusion (sammoha) can correct it and thus reach the clear comprehension of overcoming delusion (asammoha-sampajañña). These four types of clear comprehension are explained for example in the commentary to the Jhana-Vibhanga of the Abhidhamma-Pitaka.
Here we should just remember that meditation is not psychotherapy. Buddhist meditation is a part of training for healthy persons. Psychotherapy is done to satisfy the requests of sick patients. And we should be very cautious when someone speaks about Buddhist psychotherapy.
Question: Does the mind of a Buddhist work in a different way? Even before coming here to study and to become a nun, I was different from those other people back home. They could not understand me and I saw that the people think and behave very much unlike me. Already in Europe I was behaving like a nun. Is there a psychological explanation for that?
The best explanation that Western psychology can give is by analysing the differences of personal value-orientation. There are possible also other explanations according to personality types of various psycho-diagnostic theories, which are of no use in this case. About fifty years ago, Charles Morris, a leading specialist in semantics and social psychology, wrote a book about his research on personal value-orientations in various cultures. He has described there also a value-orientation, which he designates as Buddhist. However, even persons with the same value-orientation may act differently, depending upon how much they are aware of their values and how mindful they are.
There are also differences in thinking and acting according to the person's identification with a social role. Unless you are an ordained nun or monk, it is better not to act as one. Better behave the same way as other people around you do in order not provoke misunderstandings. You could get exploited or harmed, because you are not socially protected by monastic identification. Wearing the monk's or nun's robe gives you protection even in non-Buddhist countries.
In terms of Buddhist psychology we can also explain the differences in thinking and acting in terms of progress on the path of Dhamma. An advanced person adopts uncommon ways of coping with life. Thus we can discover whether the person is an uninstructed worldling or a trainee well instructed in the Dhamma. We can see how the person is using the wise apprehension called yoniso-manasikara or some other strategies of Dhamma, as I have described them in my book The Art of Happiness.
Question: Can I, as a Buddhist monk, become a satitherapist?
Yes. Why not? There are monks who train in various skills and use them for good purposes while staying fully in accordance with the monastic discipline of Vinaya. You may train in the skill of a typist and, even as a monk, use a typewriter or a computer (for example) in translating Pali into your native language. To become a satitherapist means to acquire skills in listening to a patient, how to have empathy (karuna) towards suffering persons, in order to understand fully their situation and help them find a way out of it. As a satitherapist you do not have to use astrology, fortune telling or other practices criticised by the Buddha as the beastly schemes of tiracchana-vijja. A monk skilled in satitherapeutic problem-solving and counselling can be, as a result, a much better meditation instructor and teacher of the Dhamma.
Corsini, R.J. (Ed.): Encyclopaedia of Psychology, New York, Wiley 1994.
Frýba, B.V. & Frýba, M.: Silabbata - Virtuous Performance, the Empirical Basis for the Science of Buddhist Psychology in the Sri Lanka Journal of Buddhist Studies, Vol. III, 1991, p. 71-104.
Frýba, M.: The Art of Happiness - Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, Shambhala Publishers, Boston and London 1989.
Ñanamoli, B.: The Guide - Nettippakaranam, Pali Text Society, London 1977.
Vogt, B: The Skill and Trust - The Tovil Healing Ritual of Sri Lanka as Culture-Specific Psychotherapy, Amsterdam, VU University Press 1999.
further information contact: Venerable Bhikkhu Ayu Kusalananda
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