Buddhist Psychology Compared to Western Term Paper

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Subject: Psychology
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #88236416

Excerpt from Term Paper :

In this field attachment is seen, as it is in Buddhism, as a continual pattern of never-ending desire for further attainment and objects. "Social psychological research on subjective well-being supports the assertion that people's desires consistently outpace their ability to satisfy their desires."

McIntosh 39) further issue that relates to Western psychology and the Buddhist view of attachment is the nature of existence as impermanent.

The nature of existence is that nothing is permanent. Therefore, even when people attain the object of their attachment, it is only a temporary situation, and people's attempts to maintain the object of their attachment are ultimately doomed to fail. As people struggle to maintain possession of things to which they are attached, those things inevitably continue to slip through their fingers, so people with attachments suffer.

McIntosh 40)

There have been many psychological studies on the effects of attachment structures as a form of neuroses in the West.

2.1 Yogacara

Among the many schools in Buddhism dealing with mind, one of the most significant in terms of Western psychology is the Yogacara or mind-only school of thought.

This school of thought best exemplifies the above ideas about mind in Buddhism.

Yogacara was the second important philosophical school to develop in Mah-y-na Buddhism. The distinctive nature of this doctrine is derived from its comprehensive view and analysis of the experience of mediation or the practice of yoga. The term mind-only can be confusing and the focus on cognition in this school of thought has often been interpreted incorrectly as rigidly implying that reality is constructed of mind-only, and as a form of idealism. An analysis of the doctrine however provides a very different and more extensive interpretation.

At the centre of Yogacara is the overarching Buddhist foundational concept of the karmic wheel of birth and death and the search for praxis towards liberation and enlightenment. This relates to a central concept in Yogacara, that in order to overcome the ignorance that prevents humanity from attaining liberation from the karmic rounds one has to focus on the processes involved in cognition. (Yogacara) This doctrine does not suggest that external objects to the mind do not exist as such, but rather that they are constructs of mind only.

Their sustained attention to issues such as cognition, consciousness, perception, and epistemology, coupled with claims such as "external objects do not exist," has led some to misinterpret Yogacara as a form of metaphysical idealism. " (ibid) The key to understanding the importance of cognition and "mind-only" in the Yogacara school of thought is that in terms of this thinking, consciousness itself is only real in a relative and representational or constructive sense and, simplistically put, acts as a 'tool' for the eradication and reduction of illusionary practice and thought in the search for true reality. Therefore, in terms of Yogacara, consciousness or mind itself is illusionary and is used to penetrate the world of Samara.

To this end the doctrine evolved a technique to understand the inner workings of the mind through enlightened cognition.

The school was called YogAcAra (Yoga practice) because it provided a comprehensive, therapeutic framework for engaging in the practices that lead to the goal of the bodhisattva path, namely enlightened cognition. Meditation served as the laboratory in which one could study how the mind operated. Yogacara focused on the question of consciousness from a variety of approaches, including meditation, psychological analysis, epistemology... scholastic categorization, and karmic analysis. (ibid)

The study of cognition is in essence a method of understanding the influence of mind in both the creation of illusion and seeing though the misconceptions about reality.

The rationale of Yogacara is therefore a process of understanding mind and consciousness and reducing the effect of appearances in the search for reality.

Western psychology

From the above albeit very brief overview of some aspects of mind in Buddhist philosophy, the disparity with Western thought becomes clear. In Western thought on mind there is a propensity to see reality in primarily dualistic terms and mind or consciousness as a reality in itself and not as an illusionary mechanism. However, modern psychology theory and praxis has attempted in many areas to cross the divide separating Eastern and Western thought. For example, the concept of attachment has been aligned with the modern psychological concept of 'ruminative thought'.

Attachment-based thought is consistent with the social-psychological concept of ruminative thought. Ruminative thought is thought directed at some unattained goal. Typically, ruminative thoughts are repetitive, intrusive, and unpleasant. According to Martin and Tesser (1989), people only ruminate when an important goal is blocked, and they continue to ruminate either until the goal is attained or pursuit of the goal is abandoned. Recall that attachments are the things that people desire, that people believe will make them happy, in other words, important goals.

McIntosh 41)

Another aspect that has been introduced into Western thought and supported by the popularity of Zen Buddhism in the Western culture is the idea of the relativity of thought and mind. This is close in some ways to the Buddhist concept of mind as essentially illusionary.

Social psychology has long recognized that thoughts necessarily rely on relatively stable representations, and that these concepts are used to represent an ever-changing reality. The clearest example of this is the schema. Schemas can be defined as mental representations people use to organize perceptions (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). In other words, schemas guide people as they interact with the phenomenal world, providing a filter through which people perceive the world.

McIntosh 41)

The psychological literature also provides a number of studies on the relevance to modern psychology of the concept of "mindfulness."

In her research, Langer (1989) used the term mindfulness to describe "a state of alertness and lively awareness" (p. 138). According to Langer's concept, mindful people see new possibilities.

McIntosh 48) The work of Cark Rogers can also be mentioned in this regard. He is considered as the one of the founders of Humanistic Psychology, and has incorporated many Eastern therapeutic techniques and theories into his work. (Quitmann, 1985, p. 14)

Possibly the most promising signs of interaction between East and West in psychology was the development of the Transpersonal School of Psychology in the 1960s. Transpersonal psychology's concept of the person and of the world is similar to that of humanistic psychology. However, in contrast with the latter, the experience and the explanation of alterations of (or the turning off of) "normal" consciousness and the limitations of the self are central to transpersonal psychology; these alterations transcend everyday life. In the attempt to explain these phenomena, non-Western psychology (e.g., Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Yoga, and Sufism) is consulted. (Cummins, R. D, 1996. P 112)

Another development is the postmodern psychotherapy which has made a point of including the Buddhist understanding of mind into its theoretical framework. Buddhism and postmodern psychotherapy are similar to the extent that they both attempt to understand the Mind and find a way to alleviate human suffering.

Buddhist Practice and Postmodern Psychotherapy)

4. Conclusion

The above references only apply to some of the attempts of Western psychology to come to terms with and incorporate Buddhist forms of understanding into the contemporary discussion of the mind. There are numerous other studies and research papers that see an increasingly important need to understand Buddhist concepts of mind in modern psychology. However, while there are different degrees and levels of integration and communication between East and West, the central difference has yet to be overcome. The world of the West still confronts a reality which it sees in essentially dualistic terms; while Buddhism sees the word as purely a construct of mind and therefore illusionary in the final analysis. It is this basic deference between a dualistic and a non-dualistic mode of thought that is the central difference between Western and Buddhist understanding of mind.

5. Bibliography

Buddhist Practice and Postmodern Psychotherapy. Accessed January 14, 2005. http://mindis.com/CONTENT/Buddhist%20Practice%20&%20psychotherapy.htm

Conze, Edward. Buddhism: Its Essence and Development. New York: Harper & Row, 1959.

Coward, Harold. "Response to John Dourley's "The Religious Significance of Jung's Psychology." International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 5.2 (1995): 95-100.]

Cummins R. David. Person-Centered Psychology and Taoism: The Reception of Lao-Tzu by Carl R. Rogers. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Vol. 6, 1996.

Fox, Douglas A. Buddhism, Christianity, and the Future of Man. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972.

Goodenough, Erwin Ramsdell. The Psychology of Religious Experiences. New York: Basic Books, 1965.

Griffiths, Paul J. On Being Mindless: Buddhist Meditation and the Mind-Body Problem. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1986.

Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology A Historical and Biographical Sourcebook. Ed. Donald Moss. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Increasing use of Buddhist Practices in Psychotherapy. American Scientist Volume 92, Number 1 January-February 2004. Accessed January 17, 2005. http://www.buddhanet.net/psychotheraphy3.htm

King, Richard. "Early Yogacara and its relationship with the Madhyamaka school.," Philosophy East and West, October 1, 1994. PP.659-683

Mackenzie, Vicki. Why Buddhism?: Westerners in Search of Wisdom / . Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin,…

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