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Thread: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

  1. #1

    Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    I notice there seems to me to be a lot of psychology in various forms creeping into and offered as a supplement to Zen and other forms of Buddhist practice. Many books I have read, from Joko Beck and her students Barry Magid and others (and Big Mind techniques) are keen on some sort of amalgamation of Buddhism with modern psychotherapeutic techniques. So, since the Buddha's teachings were mostly designed to deal with suffering in various guises, why isn't our Buddhist path alone sufficient to deal with suffering in any modern form? Or do we all suffer more nowadays and need extra specialised help? Or is Buddhism being adapted and absorbed into Western psychology and there's nothing wrong with that?

    This subject came up in another forum, where this article was being discussed:

    Still Crazy after all these Years:
    Why Meditation isn’t Psychotherapy

    by Patrick Kearney
    (concluding paragraph)
    “….Buddhism is not a collection of spiritual or therapeutic techniques. Buddhism is an ocean. If we want we are free to paddle on the edge of the shore, trying a technique here or a therapy there, occasionally getting our feet wet, but staying safely within our limitations. Or we can take the advice of Døgen Zenji, who said: "Arouse the mind that seeks the way, and plunge into the ocean of Buddhism." Ultimately the future of Buddhism in the West will be decided by those who take the plunge, because the paddlers will always draw back and, rather than adapt Buddhism to its new home, will develop new forms of Buddhised psychotherapy. For ultimately we must choose whom we will follow. We can follow Buddha or we can follow Freud; we cannot do both, because they are just not travelling in the same direction.”

    I would like to hear what you all think as I am still a bit confused about this.


  2. #2

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    I've trained and worked as a therapist in various settings and noticed too how more and more Buddhist ideas were becoming common place in mental health and psychology. I would say that my Buddhist practice brought me to question deeply my involvement in mental health, but I'll ome back to that.

    I think its important to note that there are some mental health conditions where meditation could actually exasperate the condition. Imagine for example someone with serious clinical depression (also be careful what you think depression to be as it is battered around carelessly these days).
    Depression in a way can be seen as a completely negation of self. Which ont eh surface sounds as if it would fit with Buddhist practice. But this kind of negation is a very destructive one, with no compassion for yourself. It also brings about a heightened sense of self: why is this happening to me? No-one cares about me etc etc.
    Someone clinically depressed will lose interest in looking after themselves, neglect themselves in terms of cleanliness, eating, responsibilities and duties etc.
    Its a self-sabotaging condition.
    Meditation could potentially reinforce these things in a depressed person because it is somthing of an internal action.
    Sitting observing oneself in zazen could end up being a catalyst to stoling the depressive thinking patterns.

    Also, generally where conditions are perhaps moderate or more acute, more immediate support is needed than the potentially long process of Buddhist practice.

    This is not to say however that I don't think Buddhist practice would actually help a lot. I really think it would.

    Mindfulnes meditation is being used, with clinically proven success, in treating anxiety and depression, reducing relapse and instances of suicide and hospitalisation.

    One thing I've noticed common to a range of mental health conditions is a reduced ability to sit with distress in whatever form. Obviously this is something that a mindfulnes or zazen practice can help with.

    I would encourage clinets interested in mindfulness to do it in conjunction with other therapies. And perhaps with some clients to build their mental health up to a certain state and then get into the practice.

    I think Buddhism and particularly zen, opens you up. It is the ultimate confrontation with your own self and all your issues. There are people who just would not be able to cope with this without prior support. Most people I encounter in life avoid doing this whethe they have a mental health condition or not.

    As for psychology absorbing Buddhist ideas. I think generally the west is absorbing many ideas from Eastern philosophies throughout science and elsewhere. Psychology should be no different. I think it would be healthy to have an amalgamation of Western and Easter ideas, a middle path where the mystical is scientific and the scientific is mystical.

    There are potential problems however in that psychology is very protective of itself. The amount of training you have t do, the way you have to do it etc, make spsychology a very closed profession and a very white middle class profession. It tends to be dominated by a hierarchy in which when you get to the top, you can kind of do anythign you like really. So it may be that there are psychologists with an interest in zen who start using zen or other buddhist practices in their work, taking bits and pieces and applying them without applying them as a whole, and without being people who are experienced practitioners and understand Buddhism to the level they understand psychology. Psychology would be in an uproar if a zen master started trying to offer psychological support to people, and yet they seem to be happy for them to offer spiritual based support.

    I think the more Buddhist practices in the world the better. If people can find something useful in any of the practices that benefits their mental health, whether its authentic or a whole practice or not, who cares as long as it works for them.

  3. #3

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Almost forgot:
    at its core, psychology and psychotherapy are essentially about ego and tend to support the idea of self and of ego so n that sense they run counter to Buddhist practice. However there is so much more to psychology than Freud etc. CBT or example is very similar to Buddhist ideas on mind and attachment and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy used mindfulness as an integral part to explore the nature of self.

  4. #4

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Hello Folks!

    There are a lot of probably useful and even more useless thoughts running through my head regarding the whole psychology and Buddhism shebang. Insofar as Buddhism and/or Buddhadharma is helping us to point directly at reality itself, it is in no need of Freudian/Jungian/Adlerian-add-ons. It is IMHO and from my experience whole and complete at the beginning/middle/ and end. However psychobabble and psychoanalysis has become such an integral part (albeit in a very superficial way) of our everyday language....and thus part of our thoughts (for great modern stuff on the relation between language and our minds I refer you to the works of Mr. Steven Pinker), that especially westerners need the language of modern psychology as a form of translation of certain dharma techniques, so that they can make sense of them, especially since a lot of us don't want to use their old religious frame of reference anymore. If I tell you that Kshitigarbha(Jizo)-Bodhisattva is a powerful guardian of wisdom you can

    a) think that's superstitious nonsense needed to pacify the non-intellectual peasants
    b)view it in a Jungian way (archetypes)
    c) or in a Joseph Campbellian way that combines the two somehow
    d) one can be sceptical of all the cultural baggage one finds especially in e.g. Tibetan Buddhism
    e) one can simply have certain experience's and not give a rat's behind whether they are true.
    f) insert your favourite one in here ----------------------

    Just looking at the external rituals of most esoteric Buddhist schools e.g. one can easily get the impression that it's all religious nonsense, however the psychobabble is a great explanatory medium to show that in many ways that is not the case. One could even argue that the Vajrayana is a highly advanced psychological system making ingenious use of the human mind's reactions to symbolic stimuli to convey the Buddha's teachings.

    In my humble and sometimes not so humble view, the Buddhadharma doesn't have a problem, it's an issue of compatibility with our western minds. Is there loads of superstition to be found in Buddh-ism ? Yes.

    Does that necessarily mean it's all useless? No.

    Does the oldschool culturalized stuff need our western explanations to work and to show its power? No.

    Do we sometimes need already familiar terms to make sense of it all? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

    Is the Buddhadharma lacking anything per se? No.
    84000 dharma gates should be more than enough for just about any kind of personality.

    Like old socks, my opinions stink very often...and yeah, I've got plenty of them.



    P.S. IMHO modern western style psychology can do a whole load of great things, however it is extremely overrated and is not half the empirical science it'd like to be.

  5. #5

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Hellos to those posting here.
    It's a good topic. I've seen an increase in people who not only practice psychotherapy as counselors/therapists, but also purport to be buddhist-based, zen psychotherapists. I've always found this kind of advertising--linking one's relgious perspective as a marketing device with regard to psychotherapy to be a turn off for me.
    But I think it comes from marketing--among all therapists out there practicing, how does one get to stand out from the crowd?
    Therapists are supposed to have answers, or engage in a process with you which leads to answers. What could be a better therapist at this stuff than a zen-master therapist? 'Cause everyone knows zen masters have all the answers, or at least have the One Big Answer and that's got to be a better brand of therapist, no?
    I really prefer not knowing one's religious affiliation. Good is good. Integrity is integrity. Professional competence, excellence, are not derived from stated religious affiliations.
    I do understand that people are out there trying to make a living. It just is creepy to me, the use of terms buddhism/zen as if there is then a 'superior' product to offer vis a vis another professional who does not make use of these terms.
    In my day to day experience of others--plenty of boddhisattvas out there who never heard of the term, they don't even practice buddhism--and there they are, selflessly being selfless--buddha nature in abundance fully acting harmoniously in concert with everything else--the Baptist bus driver, theBa'hai Iranian taxi driver, the atheist gas station attendant, the born again Christian hairdresser, the Jewish dentist.
    Not really a completed thought, but my son needs me to go run some errands and now's the time!

  6. #6

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    I am working at getting smarter on Psychology. But I can see a link pretty clearly.
    The historical Buddha reportedly saw himself not as a savior but as a healer, with the malady being suffering.
    The eight fold path being a way to relive one from that suffering. Please forgive my sometimes Theravada views.

    Isn't Psychotherapy also aimed at reliving suffering?

    Just some thoughts.


  7. #7

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Psychotherapy is aimed at healing, but it offers healing based on talking and therefore onlanguage It also depends a lot upon the clie t being able to set aside their issues and objectively observe themselves and find reasons as to why they have certain issues and then apply strategies to deal with those issues. It can also mean giving full reign to those issues in order to allow them to run their course, fulfilling an unfulfilled need so to speak.
    I have worked with people who have issues wit memory and cognition and are therefore unable to form much of the cognitive thinking that is necessary for most psychotherapy. this makes it a limited approach.
    Buddhism offers a psychological model of the mind in the same way as mainstream psychological theories do, but of course it offers much more than that. IT offers much more than that because Buddhism is a religious approach. It is about more than just reliveing emotional suffering. Whereas psychology has a very distinct goal of working o the emotional/psychollogical level. Its not particularly fair or even useful to compare the two on this level as they aspire to different things. There is no ground for a reasonable comparison if you're getting to the point of saying this one is better than that one.

    Again I'd like to emphasise that early theorists in psychology and therapy: freud, jung and adler, were developing theories nearly a century ago. There has been so much work done since that really we shouldn't take psychology and therapy as a homogenous whole. More modern approaches and integrated theories were developed as critiques of the early forms of therapy and cannot be levelled with the same criticisms.

    As for using zen as a marketing tool, no doubt there are people who do this but I think its unfair to argue this as a sweeping statement against all therapists who subscribe to some kind of zen approach to therapy.

    I think there is much that overlaps between Buddhism and psychotherapy in the west because, based on my experiences in England, Buddhism still attracts far more middle class people, affluent people than from other classes and strata in society. To me there seems to be something about that search for personal and spiritual development which is either unappealing or not made as available to people from more working class backgrounds. I think its therefore inevitable that the same kinds of people who are attracted to therapy become attracted to zen too, and in the west this is resulting in the kind of convergence we're talking about.

    Buddhism is still a young religion in the west and as such it will inevitably take on forms which are reflective of the western secular mind. Personal development then becomes an obvious category for Buddhism to fall into, as previously mentioned, because it is a comfortable frameowrk within which ti place it.

    Given time, and as Buddhist ideas become mroe popular and de-mystified for the general public, perhaps people will want to search out more authentic forms.

  8. #8
    Member roky's Avatar
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    Jul 2008
    silver city, new mexico, usa

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    ok, as usual, these are just my own opinions, this time, as a recovering psychotherapist

    like science, the field is treated as a religion -- but unlike science, it is not easily quantified, and therefore, not measurable -- for that reason, it attracts a lot of folks who actually can't do much -- and because these folks(including me) are too often treated as "special", "expert", even shaman-like, it also attracts many folks who get off on the power boost -- i.e., i'm really screwed up, but if you seek me out for advice, then i guess i can't be too bad

    the dark side of the helping coin: it empowers the helper, it dis-empowers the helpee -- this often becomes addictive for both

    meditation, if not a concentration form, while not a substitute for treatment, has the plus of being able to do away with this power issue -- i hope that others find it empowering, i do(unless you think jundo is your daddy, and will carry that load for you)

    we don't even "know", in a scientific sense, what consciousness is -- and yet we have silly things like a book of "diagnoses" -- to create the illusion that we really know whats going on -- and "techniques", for that same reason, primarily to deal with the therapist's anxiety, since deep down, he/she knows that they are in way over their conceptual head -- oh yes, and now we have "chemical imbalances:", compliments of the pharmaceutical industry

    instead, the only good that i've seen coming from psychotherapy is when someone sits down with someone else, is fully present, fully accepts them as equal(not fake, but really), i.e., empowers them -- i saw more of that as a mechanic than i saw in the elitist field of psychotherapy -- its just plain, old-fashioned love, very un-scientific -- sometimes called metta, if you're "buddhist" -- but you can't use your license to claim expertise($$)

    in the u.s., we have a luxurious style of suffering, much as the historical buddha(back then you had to be a prince to experience the luxury of angst), and together with our relative affluence, it is fertile ground for marketing psychotherapy -- nothing more bizarre then to sit in the plaza in mexico, where folks are dirt-poor, where their children still die of disease we've eradicated, juxtaposed with the amercan tourists -- the mexicans seem reasonably happy, in spite of it all -- the americans, on the other hand, are there to score prozac and viagra

    gassho, bob

  9. #9

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen


    I needed to reply to this post from a purely personal perspective.

    A while back, I was involved in a serious auto accident and after about six months into physical recovery,
    during which I could not sit to meditate, (I had to lie down and could'nt think or not think straight) and I found that I had a great deal of anxiety(that's putting it mildly). I listened to relaxation tapes, and especially a meditation involving a body scan, etc. Finally, the dr.'s diagnosed PTSD. So, off I go to the psychologist. By this time it was a year after the accident. Two things he offered were tranquilizers (which I refused) and something called precognitive therapy. I said I was doing my meditation and they seem to be working well as I was getting some relief. After a couple of months of chatting and me defending "my" way, it finally dawned on me that what I was doing and calling my Buddhist meditations, he was calling pc. Anyway, after a while he said dont' come back unless I felt that I really needed it, I was doing o.k. by myself.

    Anyway, the point of this rather long-winded post, is that it does'nt really matter what you call it, if it works for people - great! I sure would'nt want to see anyone deprived of something that helps them, just because they're not "Buddhist". And this doctor, who seemed to me to be very sincere and compassionate can reach and help far more people by calling it whatever. I don't think Buddha would mind.

    I believe that for a while, people need to "pick the best and leave the rest". And if at a later date they decide to embrace all the teachings, good, if not, good.

    In my limited reading the Buddhist teachers say that one of the reasons that Buddhism has survived over time is because of its adapability into various cultures. I see no reason why it can't be adapted in the western world and if it expands the current limitations (me, myself and I - and of course, the old favourite, it's my mother's fault) of our physchotherapy that's great.

    I do'nt need to know the how and why of electricity, I just need to know how to flip the switch to use it.

    I'll shut up now!

    Many blessings,

  10. #10

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Zen practice is is about the heart of this moment. Open awareness. Wisdom.

    It is not about dealing with issues. It is dropping issues. It is not a quick fix. It took Siddhartha 6 years. It is not about one person, it is about everything.

    It is not about getting better, it is understanding there is no one to get better. It is seeing your original face.

    I am only a little familiar with psychology , but within that field I am presuming that such issues don't come up on a regular basis. Or they are limited to a technical, experimental, verbal and methodlogical approach.

    Although there are similarities, Buddhism has been dealing with the issue of self for 2600 years. In the future perhaps psychology will merge with Buddhism on the same level and bring with it a new practice, but at the moment it seems it is not necessarily a consistent practice. There are many theories and methods being produced all the time, whereas Buddhist practices generally have a common method. In Zen that consistent method is Zazen and Dokusan.

    A teacher is very important in certain cases, as is a Sangha of practioners. However, I think if one continues to practice year after year, it will eventually become beneficial. Practicing on one's own though (in certain cases) may be detrimental or prolonged.

    From what I understand therapy also has the capacity to reinforce the delusion that there is something wrong with you.

    From the start there is not one thing.

    Please correct anything that might be off. I'm not a psychologist. Thanks.


  11. #11

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Any relevant website or article links would be useful.


  12. #12

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    I am not a medical doctor ... I just play one on TV.

    But actually, the idea that Zen teachings might be a good basis for psychotherapy have been around for a long time ... probably since the Buddha's time (depending on how you look at his teachings on "suffering"), but certainly since the 1910's. Just from common sense, it seems to me that our Zen teachings about not "over thinking" or becoming a prisoner of one's own thoughts and emotions would be a good treatment for certain types of neurosis or depression which are fueled by over thinking and being trapped in our thoughts and emotions (as a former depressee of many years as a young man, I can testify that getting caught in "dark" and hopeless thoughts was a lot of it).

    Please read a little about Japan's "Morita Therapy", still considered a popular and effective therapy ...

    Morita psychotherapy was developed by Japanese psychiatrist Shoma Morita in the early part of the twentieth century. He was influenced by the psychological principles of Zen Buddhism. His method was initially developed as a treatment for a type of anxiety neurosis called shinkeishitsu. In the latter part of this century the applications of Morita therapy have broadened, both in Japan and North America.

    The Naturalness of Feelings (Arugamama)

    If we find out that we have just won the lottery, we may be excited and happy. But if we find out about the death of a loved one, we may feel sadness and grief. Such feelings are natural responses to our life circumstances and we need not try to "fix" or "change" them. Arugamama (acceptance of reality as it is) involves accepting our feelings and thoughts without trying to change them or "work through" them.

    This means that if we feel depressed, we accept our feelings of depression. If we feel anxious, we accept our feelings of anxiety. Rather than direct our attention and energy to our feeling state, we instead direct our efforts toward living our life well. We set goals and take steps to accomplish what is important even as we co-exist with unpleasant feelings from time to time.
    By the way, I have often said that Zazen will not fix all your problems in life. It won't cure your acne, fix a flat tire on your car, or fix a truly broken relationship with your significant other. It will allow you to see those things in new ways (e.g., "be one" with your pimples or flat tire or cheating spouse), but it will not solve the condition itself. Same for certain psychological conditions, for example, certain types of neuro-chemical induced depression, alcoholism, gambling or drug addiction, psychosis ... Zazen will not fix those any more than it will cure your cancer (it sure will help if you have alcoholic tendencies, or even cancer, and can be a key part of the cure or healing ... but it is not a cure in itself). So, seeking additional help for certain issues ... no problem.

    If you have a bad tooth, see a dentist ... not a Zen teacher. Of course, do Zazen while sitting in the dentist's chair. Same for many other medical, physical and psychological conditions. Go see a counselor if you need.

    Gassho, Jundo M.D.

  13. #13

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    If you have a bad tooth, see a dentist ... not a Zen teacher. Of course, do Zazen while sitting in the dentist's chair. Same for many other medical, physical and psychological conditions. Go see a counselor if you need.
    Thanks Jundo and everyone else for the interesting responses. The quote from Jundo's post summarises what I'm thinking at the moment. Many might be turning to Zen practice to solve psychological problems and there's no doubt that it can help. But it's like Harry's question 'Why sit zazen'? Why do we practice Zen or Buddhism? If we have severe mental health problems maybe we should go to a psychotherapist/psychoanalyst in the first place and then continue with a zen practice? I like this quote from Alan Watts in a Wiki article I found:

    “….The psychotherapist has, for the most part, been interested in changing the consciousness of peculiarly disturbed individuals. The disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism are, however, concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people." (Watts, 1975, pp. 3-4.)


  14. #14

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    I teach counseling for a living, and so have a couple of points to add.
    1) One of the most basic things that counselors in training need to learn is to just accept their client as they are. No to judgment, yes to open mind.
    2) There is a lot of evidence that the technique or theory a counselor uses matters less than the client-counselor relationship (see #1), because this helps clients accept themselves as they are
    3) Once the client and counselor both accept things as they are, it creates a safe place where the client can explore and experiment with new thoughts and behaviors, thus allowing them to find their own way out of whatever problem they were experiencing in the first place
    4) Counseling/psychotherapy is NOT about giving advice or answers. It is about facilitating the process of positive self-discovery

    Call it whatever you want, but the counseling process I just described looks to me a lot like zen, and the relationship I just described seems to me a lot like the relationship between a zen student and their teacher. Are counseling and zen the same? No, absolutely not, for all sorts of reasons already stated above. But the similarities are interesting and, I think, important.

    On a personal note, I teach counseling as a form of zen without ever saying the words zen or Buddhism. I say things like "don't try, just do" and "don't think about your client, just BE with your client" etc. One of my students last year called me Yoda :lol: .

  15. #15

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Thanks Alan, I am considering going in to counseling (after my next retirement) and I think I would mimic your approach.


  16. #16

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Your mimic-ing has my blessing, not that you need it.

  17. #17

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen


    "by AlanLa on Fri Aug 08, 2008 8:30 am

    I teach counseling as a form of zen without ever saying the words zen or Buddhism. I say things like "don't try, just do" and "don't think about your client, just BE with your client" etc. "

    Your post hit it right on the head for me, AlanLa! Thankyou.

    This is how my counsellor was, but "I" was bound, bent and determined to "defend my Buddhist teachings" - even to my own detriment! I had felt that I'd worked too long and too hard and did'nt want any more self-help, kissy, kissy, huggy, feel good affirmations to boost the very thing that really interferes with this life. Namely the ego. No ego there, right!?

    Someone said on another post to just have enough ego to stop one from stepping in front of a bus. For a while there I was really challenging the bus!

    I also realized that others may defend their belief systems (B.S.!) as strongly as I did and therefore lose out on valuable help. I'm grateful that he had much more sense than I did and enough compassion for both of us to just "be with me".

    Thanks everyone,

  18. #18

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    I need to correct myself regarding my response to Jordan above. Sorry, sometimes I am slow on the uptake.

    It is NOT ok to mimic the process I described. The experience of BEing with a client needs to come from deep inside a person and be heartfelt, and from that source rise to also be on the surface. It is simultaneous multidimensional humanity (with some skills worked in). But to mimic is to be on the surface only. To mimic is to try; to experience is to Be as you Do. Students get into trouble when they mimic; students learn and grow when they experience.

    Again, this could be about zen just as much as it could be about counseling.

    OK, I think I've beaten this dead horse enough.....

  19. #19

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Thanks Alan, I like that! I will grow :wink:

    Harry, I think Watts, had his reasons for saying what he did at the time and place that he did. I am not a fan, but I think his comments were directed at a particular audience.

    Gassho to all of you Buddhas, and thank you all for your practice.

  20. #20

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB

    If this is true then let us cease the 'meditation in prisons' programmes, all the genuine bodhisattva efforts in our 'normal' socially fragmented towns and cities and return to our safely suburban Zendos to thank the Buddha for our being born middle class and white.

    Watts was full of it and was of that ilk of 'seekers' who were/are maybe a bit too concerned with the 'changing of consciousness'.
    Ok Harry - sorry if you don't find Watt's teaching to your taste. Some of it is a bit outdated I agree but I still find a lot of value in it. I didn't interpret him in term of class divisions, though.

    I don't see any harm in using techniques and therapies derived from Buddhism, like MBSR - they are very beneficial in relieving mental suffering, as has been well proved over the years. But they aren't the same as a Buddhist practice are they? Maybe I am making a false distinction where there shouldn't be one. But I'm not the only one. In 'Eight Gates of Zen' John Loori says: (and this section has bothered me for a few years)

    "..[*]many people come to training centres and monasteries seeking something that is not necessarily within the province of what a monastery or training centre can provide. Most Zen teachers and Zen centres are not equipped to deal with someone who is troubled by significant psychological tensions and distortions. Common neurosis and anxiety are one thing, deep psychological problems are quite another.... Physical and psychological well-being are often byproducts of this training, but if they are the students main goal, there are more appropriate ways to work on them. But if the student is concerned with the ground of being, with fundamental questions of life and death -- Who am I? What is truth ? What is reality? What is life ? What is death ? -- then they have come to the right place. Those are spiritual questions, and that is what Zen training is specifically designed to deal with. Those who begin Zen practice without a central spiritual motivation usually do not last too long in training."[*]

    But that last part opens up again for me a point that I thought I had got a handle on in another thread: Is Zen practice chiefly a way of dealing with suffering or answering spiritual questions? I suppose it's both. Or maybe I'm asking too many questions again, :?


  21. #21

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Zen practice is is about the heart of this moment. Open awareness. Wisdom.

    It is not about dealing with issues. It is dropping issues. It is not a quick fix. It took Siddhartha 6 years. It is not about one person, it is about everything.

    It is not about getting better, it is understanding there is no one to get better. It is seeing your original face.

    I am only a little familiar with psychology , but within that field I am presuming that such issues don't come up on a regular basis. Or they are limited to a technical, experimental, verbal and methodlogical approach.

    Although there are similarities, Buddhism has been dealing with the issue of self for 2600 years. In the future perhaps psychology will merge with Buddhism on the same level and bring with it a new practice, but at the moment it seems it is not necessarily a consistent practice. There are many theories and methods being produced all the time, whereas Buddhist practices generally have a common method. In Zen that consistent method is Zazen and Dokusan.

    A teacher is very important in certain cases, as is a Sangha of practioners. However, I think if one continues to practice year after year, it will eventually become beneficial. Practicing on one's own though (in certain cases) may be detrimental or prolonged.

    From what I understand therapy also has the capacity to reinforce the delusion that there is something wrong with you.

    From the start there is not one thing.

    Please correct anything that might be off. I'm not a psychologist. Thanks.

    Zazen is not, strictly speaking, a psychological practice. I would say it is trans-psychological.

    I know this will expose me as the disgusting 'marketplace Zennist' that I am - but I am finding that using Byron Katie's 'Inquiry' as a discursive practice truly helps with my zazen practice. Discursively inquiring when I have pain-causing beliefs allows powerful but destructive thoughts to drop away of themselves. Anyone with any experience with compulsive thoughts (I suspect that means everyone) knows how difficult it is when a fearful or angry thought grabs hold of you and you cannot dismiss it because you truly BELIEVE the thought. Inquiry helps me realize that such beliefs are not fundamentally true.

    Sitting zazen broadens the base of the wisdom thus arrived at. It is often provides experiential evidence that one is not one's thoughts. The synergistic action of these two is pretty amazing and I wish that I'd have had inquiry when I was sitting alone for so long as a beginner. I was under the sway of many neurotic thoughts.

    It's not that zazen is insufficient but its job is significantly different than psychotherapy. Psychotherapy's job is to heal the ego. Zen's job is to transcend the ego. IMHO, YMMV.

  22. #22

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    well i dont think that zen has much goal or purpose in life except for living...

    about therapy i have some experience on both sides of the met so to speak, as a person who went to it and as someone who worked with patients in a sanitarium ( i am a nurse ). my stay at the center was a short one ( i was there as a student ) but i did see the benefits of unconventional treatment, ranging for music and song interpretations to vent ones feelings to discussion groups about current affairs such as the changing of currency.

    i have even performed a form of meditation, sitting quietly on the chair with relaxing music and the practice of simple breath counting.
    unfortunately i only go a chance to do one of those but i did see how it helped patients and it was something the regular staff joined in and made a sense of equality in a way.
    and i do think it could be a very good thing for some people.

    as for therapy or zazen as a healing procedure i think it is less not the same. but some good could come from the combination of the 2. although i must say that not everyone could sit zazen and get any positive effects from it, in short i just think that both have something to offer but zen is not a therapy and any such uses would be only byproducts of practice, and since it is an endless practice it is not very useful in the short run.

  23. #23

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    hi... so many great comments... Forgive me my personal part of this note. At the age of 45, when my life completely fell apart inspite of doing "everything right" I became interested in psychology. 'Psychology' meaning 'mind-science.' At this time I never even heard of Buddhism or even 'Eastern Philosophy', functioning as a 'perfect' (meaning obedient to social/cultural expectations) sleepwalker all of my life. Did not cry for 40 years, could not laugh either... yes, I was always smiling... Completely numb and unaware of anything inside. In a desperate search for something to hold on to, some explanation why I was dying (literally - 5 years of depression - medicated to the point of not being able to function at all). Stumbled in to an announcement of a Yoga lecture in a bookstore. The lecture was a first and powerful enough stimulus to jolt me out of depression. First emotion I was ever aware of was anger... so much anger... yet the depression was gone and so the medication. This was a beginning of a "new" Gautami. Gautami who was able to walk away from everything she new and she was close to, continued through 8 years of full time college, dedicated herself to helping others who also struggled with their 'psychological' problems. This was Gautami who could finally cry and laugh and feel love for the first time in her life. After years of searching and coming back to Buddha's teaching, his path was the one she stayed on. In her work she quickly and to her dismay learned that the science of a mind (psycho-logy) she was taught was extremely culture-specific. In addition to this, the mainstream Western use of psychology seemed to be directed toward helping people to adjust to the culture, aspects of which I was very much beginning to question. Then Clients came. Clients with very different beliefs and expectations, Clients with a whole variety of cultural patterns, Clients with experiences (inwardly as well as external) impossible to quantify or comfortably fit in to diagnostic cathegories to satisfy financial aspects of care or therapeutic approaches.
    Looking for some over-reaching starting point (s), points I was also able to relate to, an observation was made regarding the degree of a person's 'intraversion - extraversion'. A person's ability to be aware of their internal experience. In the Western culture, where extraversion is glorifyed and intraversion pathologised, people are so very much un-awere of their internal functioning.

    This is where, finally, (if you are still with me) I found the value of a practice of meditation so very central to Client's needs. "Meditation" meaning practicing, as in practicing a skill, to first, paying attention to the awareness of the body, then thoughts, emotions... first to notice, then to learn to observe them come and go... learn to live with the experience of them coming and going... This (aparently simple :wink: ) practice proofed to have many other healing aspects... you know the rest of the story. If there is only one aspect of Buddha's (if not generally Eastern psychology) teaching that is so very needed in Western culture, is to balance the ideal of extraversion (attention to external) with the skills of 'self' awareness.
    Yes, self-awareness is not a panacea for all psychological challenges, a specially where well informed psychiatric/medical intervention seem to be more appropriate. Yet, we all know, that even medical interventions are efective within a particular cultural mindset.
    Ugh... Thanks for letting me to vent... :lol: So much more to muse upon...
    Greetings and Gassho

  24. #24

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    This is where, finally, (if you are still with me)
    You almost lost me, but I stuck around to the end


  25. #25

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    ... hi again... after thinking about this on and off most of the day, I would like to address an issue I would like to hear you comments on also:

    There are people/teachers within Buddhist community who are radically against any "unqualified" teacher teaching anything related to the Buddhist tradition, a specially anything related to a meditation.

    The assumed benefit of this restriction is that the teaching remains "pure" therefore potentially more effective. The assumed caveat is that the teaching becomes distorted and the Buddhist tradition and a particular practice (as meditation) loses credibility.

    I can see both sides of the argument, and choose to (with an utmost care and effort to understand all issues involveed, including my own limits of competence) teach when I feel it is appropriate and might serve the client well.

    What are your comments?

    BTW... spend the day at the County Fair. While watching young children showing their animals... sheep, pigs... rabits, in a dusty and hot (close to 100F) arena, children who spend hours and hours working with and nurturing their animals. In front of me, on the hot metal bleachers, sat a young woman. She was carried to her seat by an elderly man, and she mainatined stability with a help of pillows supporting her body. In front of her stood a tripod with a camera... the young woman could not hide her excitement with the chance to take picures of compeating children and animals in the arena...It was life and it was perfect... Is it OK to be sentimental for a Zen practitioner? Or was it the heart of Zen?


  26. #26

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by Gautami
    It was life and it was perfect... Is it OK to be sentimental for a Zen practitioner? Or was it the heart of Zen?
    i think it is the heart of our human nature...
    it is impossible to be without feelings and it is what makes us be ourselves.
    so embrace it and let it be all the time knowing that it is just that ( feelings ) and it will not last forever.
    and than embracing that too


  27. #27

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Well said, Daniel.


  28. #28

    Re: Psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and Zen

    Psychotherapy and Zen are absolutely complementary. One is not a version of the other and they do not impede one another. Of course, just as you can get a bad Zen teacher, you can get a bad psychotherapist. But in general, I think both are useful and each addresses an area the other does not address as fully.

    In Zen practice, you are training in the ability to see through and see beyond thinking. In zazen, you can drop everything, including concerns about the particular content of thought. In psychotherapy, you are delving into the content of thought and trying to come to a better understanding of how and why you think in particular ways.

    I know from experience that people who have sat zazen for some time and developed some insight into the nature of mind can still be almost completely blind to their particular "issues," why they think and act the way they do. They might understand that thought has no inherent self-nature but they don't understand why they experience the same patterns in their relationships over and over again. And, of course, there are people that have gone through therapy and developed a better self-awareness in terms of understanding why they think the way they do, but who have not addressed the deeper background noise of dukkha in their lives.

    In a way, I think it's an even greater concern when Zen practitioners don't develop a good working knowledge of the content of their own psyches than when people who do develop such knowledge don't practice Zen. Not everyone is drawn to or needs to address deeper questions to realize a basic level of happiness. But it is entirely possible for people to spend years practicing Zen and have almost no understanding of themselves at all. This can be toxic, as they may completely justify abnormal and destructive behavior to themselves as part of their practice or "enlightenment." I actually suspect that most Zen practitioners don't have a particularly deep understanding of their own psychology; I believe that many people turn to spiritual practice out of psychological need, and Zen practice becomes something of a "Band-Aid" that helps alleviate the distress and dysfunction caused by psychological rifts somewhat, but yet also allows it to continue.

    Let me give you a fictional example (and no, this is not a thinly veiled version of myself or anyone I know, though many people I know, including myself, have issues somewhat like this, though differing in kind, origin, and degree). Let's say that Zimmy grew up in an emotionally abusive home. He was constantly called names and affection was withheld from him on a regular basis as punishment. He grew up with the feeling that something was wrong. As he started to have adult relationships, he started to notice recurring dysfunctional patterns in those relationships--he was drawn to people who would treat him very coldly. It was a comfort zone with him. Along the way, he discovered Zen practice. He started sitting with a sangha and going to retreats. His zazen deepened and he began to understand emptiness and feel a little less bothered by the disappointments in his life.

    But he never recognized what had happened to him growing up for what it was. On the contrary, he began to criticize himself for not appreciating his parents enough, that they were just doing their best. As wonderful as zazen could be, it began to exacerbate the feelings of emptiness inside of him. Instead of getting any better, his relationships with others began to get worse. He told himself that this was simply natural for a spiritual practitioner, to withdraw from the world. When he yearned for better relationships, he told himself that this was just the kind of desire that creates dukkha. He sat until the sad feeling started to turn into numbness, and saw this as progress. His life became colder and lonelier over the years and he never realized that because of his childhood, he'd never been able to love himself. Because of this lack of self-understanding, his relationships never got any better, and whatever peace zazen brought him was tempered by a disconsolate sadness inside him that rendered his life into an emotionally barren wasteland for its duration.

    This is entirely possible, and I have seen variations of it. Even worse, I've seen people whose harmful behavior toward others was aided and justified for them by their Zen practice. Learning how to see beyond thought does not automatically clarify for you the particular knots in your own thinking process. Nor are these knots magically untied simply by sitting zazen. Our selves are formed very early on and even as Zen practitioners we depend on those mental structures to navigate our world. We can never abandon them completely in normal everyday life. If we do not understand the particular wiring of our own version, we can suffer needlessly no matter how much wisdom we may have about the fact that these structures are inherently empty.

    And the sadder thing is that in their pride, a lot of people would never even admit they have "issues," when most of us do, in one form or another. In a lot of ways, as difficult as it is, it's easier to enter into spiritual practice and ask questions about the cosmos than it is to enter into therapy and ask questions about one's own particular pain. I think I learned more about myself in one year of grad school for social work than I have in a lifetime of introspection and years of practicing zazen. Because you might become better acquainted with the contents of consciousness in zazen, but unless you have someone helping you who understands, you'll probably never understand why you think the way you do. And this is no small matter; your whole "spiritual life" could be built up around some psychological problem you've never understood as such.

    I've noticed that a lot of really sick and damaged people find their way to zendos and there's some really sad, heartbroken people that become monks, that all along are enabled in their lack of awareness of themselves by the milieu in which they find themselves. They don't necessarily understand that they're sick or heartbroken, and that it's possible to heal. For such people, real liberation is not possible, because they are not free within themselves, from the detritus of what's happened to them. I would urge everyone drawn to Zen or the spiritual life to work with a therapist and/or study Western psychological concepts. The common notion in Buddhist circles that Western psychology is just watered-down versions of deeper ideas that can be found in Buddhism is false. These theories have their own wisdom, as they address areas the Buddha and most Buddhist teachers never bothered with at all.

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