Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Buddhist Path as Therapy

Amber Larson and Seth Auberon (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Ven. Thanissaro, "Healing Power of the Precepts" (Noble Strategy); Mary Loftus (Psychology Today, Sept. 5, 2013); Sunny
Fairness or martyrdom? When virtue becomes a vice (Jeff Riedel/
Virtue becomes a vice? (PT)
The Buddha was a kind of doctor [referred to in some sutras as a "master physician"], treating the spiritual ills of living beings [human and devas, also referred to as "the teacher of gods and humans].

The path of practice he taught was like a course of therapy for suffering (disappointed) hearts and minds. This way of understanding the Buddha and his teachings or Dharma dates back to the earliest texts, and yet it is also very current.

Buddhist meditation practice is often advertised as a form of healing, and quite a few psychotherapists now recommend that their patients try (mindfulness based) meditation as part of their treatment.
After several years of teaching and practicing meditation as "therapy," however, many of us have found that meditation on its own is not enough.

Psycho Mike (Suicidal T.)
In my own experience as a Western monk and abbot of Wat Forest Monastery in California (Thai Theravada), I have found that Western meditators tend to be afflicted more with a certain grimness and lack of self-esteem than any Asians I have ever taught.

Our psyches are so wounded by modern civilization that we tend to lack the resilience and persistence needed before concentration (serenity) and insight practices can be genuinely therapeutic.
Other teachers have noted this problem as well and, as a result, many of them have decided that the Buddhist path is insufficient for our particular needs. To make up for this insufficiency they have experimented with ways of supplementing meditation practice, combining it with such things as myth, poetry, psychotherapy, social activism, sweat lodges, mourning rituals, and even drumming.

The Buddha's full course
The problem, though, may not be that there is anything lacking in the Buddhist path, but that we simply haven't been following the Buddha's full course of therapy.
The Buddha's path consists not only of mindfulness, concentration, and insight practices, but also of virtue (sila), beginning with the Five Precepts. In fact, the precepts constitute the first and most basic step on the Buddhist path.
Balance? (Jeff Riedel/PT)
There is a tendency in the West to dismiss the Five Precepts as Sunday-school rules bound to old cultural norms that no longer apply to our modern society. But this misses the role the Buddha intended for them: They are part of a course of therapy for wounded minds/hearts. In particular, they are aimed at curing two ailments that underlie low self-esteem, regret and denial.
When our actions do not measure up to certain standards of behavior, we either regret the actions or, worse, engage in one of two kinds of denial -- either denying that our actions did in fact happen or denying that the standards of measurement are actually valid. These reactions are like wounds in the mind... More

(Sunny and the Sunliners) Self-esteem low? Depressed after a bad relationship? "It's Okay," says Sunny. "Ha, ha, ha/ It's all right/ I've been hurt before/ It's all right/ You don't love me anymore/ Maybe someday/ I'll find a way without you/ Ha, ha, ha/ Who am I kidding?/ It's okay/ Baby, I can see/ It's okay/ But, but would it make you happy?/ Maybe someday/ I'll find a way without you./Ha, ha, ha/ Someday, it won't be long/ You're gonna find yourself all alone/ It's okay/ Baby, I can say see/ It's okay/ I will set you free..."

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