Since Buddhism’s inception more than 2,500 years ago, it has been interested in the study of mental states. With the rise in popularity of mindfulness-based techniques and other therapies over the past few decades, this interest—which has affected Western approaches to psychology since their inception—has recently come to the fore. In light of the original Buddhist teachings, it may be relevant to reevaluate Buddhism’s contribution to contemporary psychotherapy which demonstrates how negative mental processes are brought on by our existential dread and anxiety. The dark sides of the psyche should thus not be avoided when approaching psychology; instead, they should be held within a larger understanding of the good potentials present in life when such emotions are confronted head-on. This concept of embracing life serves as the foundation for a therapeutic approach that values a relationship with the unknowable and acknowledges that we can only be completely awake to the present by letting go of pre-conceived frameworks.
Prominent psychologists such as William James, Carl Jung, and Eric Fromm recognized the importance of Buddhist philosophy and its good influence on mental health. Buddhist psychotherapy has been shown to have unparalleled therapeutic efficacy by modern mental health practitioners. Buddhist psychotherapy has emerged as a significant supplemental treatment technique in mental health care. Recent research has demonstrated the value of Buddhist psychotherapy in the management of depression, anxiety disorders, psychogenic illnesses, addiction disorders, medically unexplained symptoms, and a variety of other psychological maladies. In the Western world, Buddhist psychology is increasingly informing psychotherapy treatment.
What is Psychotherapy and how does Buddhism add to it?
Psychotherapy is typically understood to be a verbal or nonverbal communication-based approach to treating emotional, behavioral, and personality issues. Buddhism is a means of developing one’s thinking (Bullen, 1994). Situational and psychological situations are perceived more comprehensively from the Buddhist perspective. According to research, Buddhist psychotherapy is founded on the noble fourfold truths, a Buddhist theory of the causes of mental suffering, and the ideas of attachment, permanence, and clinging to self-identify as the causes of mental suffering.
In order to reduce psychological discomfort, Buddhist psychotherapy focuses primarily on self-knowledge, ideas, feelings, and actions. Buddhist psychotherapy integrates elements of conventional psychotherapy with traditional Buddhist psychological theory and practice and can be viewed as a unique approach to the therapeutic practice of mental health.
Western psychology and Buddhism frequently share theoretical and practical grounds. Numerous similarities between Buddhism and several fields of contemporary western psychology, such as phenomenological psychology, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, humanistic psychology, cognitive psychology, and existential psychology, have been noted by specialists during the past century.
What are the roots of Buddhist Psychology?
The four noble truths are regarded as the Buddha’s initial teaching in Buddhism. According to the Buddha, these are “Noble Truths” because they are “actual” (tathni), “infallible” (avitathni), and “do not change” (anathni).
Additionally, the name “Buddhism” is derived from the words “buddha,” “buddhi,” and “bodhi.” Literally translated, these terms denote “intellect,” “intelligence,” “wisdom,” or “supreme knowledge.” They are often translated metaphorically as “enlightenment” or “awakening,” while “Buddha” is rendered as “enlightened” or “awakened.” If you’ve been meditating or practicing yoga for a while and want to know what comes next on the spiritual path, Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths are a natural next step. Whether you’re Buddhist, spiritual but not religious, or “Buddhi-curious,” the timeless truths of Buddha’s first teaching can transform your heart and mind. The Buddha described the four noble truths as essential, timeless, and transcendental happenings. The Four Noble Truths are:
- Life is suffering (The truth of Dukha)
- The cause of suffering is craving (The origin of Dukha)
- The end of suffering comes with an end to craving (The extinction of Dukha)
- There is a path that leads one away from craving and suffering (The path leading to the extinction of Dukha)
The first of the four truths identifies the inherent physical and psychological suffering, or the inherent misery, pain, and suffering entwined in the essence of life; the second identifies the origin and cause of the suffering; the third recognizes the state in which the suffering and its cause cease and are thus absent, and the fourth formulates a practice regimen towards this state of pause.
This lesson starts with an investigation of the idea of pain, which is something we all experience, and its origin, which is a desire we have within us. We continuously attempt to acquire experiences and possessions that arouse positive feelings out of desire and in order to feel safe and secure. We strive to manipulate people and events to get what we want while avoiding anything that hurts. In actuality, we are frequently disappointed and saddened since the rest of the unpredictable world rarely matches what we want. If we are able to resist our desire, the pain will go away and we will feel more at peace with ourselves and the world around us. The Noble Eightfold Path, which acts as both a road map and a means of attaining non-attachment, is the means by which this is accomplished. The precepts give guidance for a traveler’s next steps as well as a path for practicing spiritual discipline.
Noble Eightfold path
The Noble Eightfold Path helps us to transcend our “I,” experience more harmony with the environment, and ultimately get rid of the anguish we frequently feel. The Wheel, a representation of the Dhamma, is shown on this route with eight rays that represent the subsequent eight principles:
- Right View
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
How are Psychology and Buddhism Integrated?
- Mental and Mind Elements in Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion that extensively explores the workings of the human mind. Buddhism places a special emphasis on the human mind and has conducted a thorough analysis of it. The unhealthy and non-pathological parts of the human mind are discussed in Buddhist philosophy.
The higher teaching of the Buddha, known as Abhidhamma, provides a detailed analysis of human thought processes. Abhidhamma offers a microscopic examination of human thought, describing the man as a psycho-physical creature made up of both mind and matter (Narada, 1956). The Buddha portrays consciousness as a flowing stream that is intricately interwoven in Abhidhamma. William James mirrored these sentiments in his theory of mind, which he published in 1890. James said that conscious mental life flowed continually like a stream.
- The Connection Between DSM and Buddhist Jathaka Stories
The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)-based on mental diseases heavily influenced by the Buddhist Jathaka narrative book. The Jathaka Tales are a vast collection of tales that date from the third century B.C. to the fifth century A.D.
In the Jathaka tales, the majority of the DSM-based mental illnesses are clearly represented. These Jathaka tales cover important psychological subjects. These tales have for ages encouraged people to have a sympathetic perspective on those who suffer from mental diseases.
- Buddhist Psychotherapy and Empathy
According to Rogers (1961), an environment that fosters growth is one in which there is empathy and unwavering positive esteem for the customer. The therapeutic relationship is strengthened through empathy.
Buddhism is a real ideology that encourages empathy for both people and other living things. Empathy has a specific place in the psychotherapy technique used by Buddhists. Empathy in the Buddhist tradition is a mentality characterized by knowledge, tolerance, and loving-kindness. Buddhism defines compassion as a wish, a mental attitude, and a desire for others to be free from suffering. It’s not passive and it’s not just empathy; it’s sympathetic altruism, which actively seeks to end the pain of others (Dalai Lama, 2005).
Major School of Thoughts and Buddhist Psychotherapy
- Behaviorism and Buddhism
The behaviorism school founded by Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner adopts a “hard science approach” to psychotherapy, seeking to define or reduce human functions to behavioral principles that may be changed to improve the patient’s quality of life. This strategy is reflected in the noble eightfold path’s exhortations for right action, right discourse, and right living.
- Existential-Therapy and Buddhist Psychotherapy
There are parallels between existential-humanistic psychology and Buddhism in representation, action, and self-reality. Both psychotherapies are centered on the possibility of growth and are founded on conscious awareness. Both take into account the entire human situation. The goal of existential psychotherapy is to improve self-awareness and the quest for purpose.
According to Frankl (1946), a person’s primary priority in life should be finding meaning rather than seeking pleasure or avoiding sorrow. When coping with trauma, those who are seeking meaning are more able to build connections, discover insight, and go through a healthy transformation. People who have survived traumatic situations frequently show a need to interpret their experiences in order to make sense of them and restore their sense of coherence, which restores the lost biographical continuity. Buddhist philosophy has a link with the search for meaning. Buddhist psychotherapy promotes clients’ quests for significance, enabling posttraumatic progress. The Buddha’s Eightfold Path exhorts people to look for the purpose behind suffering, death, and life.
- Psychoanalysis and Buddhism
Psychoanalysis, pioneered and popularized by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, rests upon the idea that uncovering and making conscious buried complexes and memory is a therapeutic process. The relocation of a complex or neurosis from the unconscious to the conscious easily equates to the principles inherent in the right meditation and right understanding.
- Cognitivism, CBT, REBT, and Buddhistic Approach
In general, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy strategy that targets dysfunctional emotions, unhelpful behaviors, and cognitive functions and contents using a variety of explicit, goal-directed methods. Buddhism holds that mental attributes that influence how we perceive and react to situations, rather than outside, traumatic occurrences, are what actually cause suffering. Albert Ellis, a psychologist, used these same words in 1953 to create Rational Emotive Therapy, an action-oriented therapy method. According to Ellis, the client’s beliefs, not the experience, are what generate psychological discomfort. He goes on to say that one’s tendency toward catastrophic thinking when evaluating stressful experiences is what truly leads to mental suffering.
To help his followers gain awareness, the Buddha frequently engaged in insight-oriented conversation and employed the Socratic Method. Dialogue that is focused on insights is comparable to the approach used in cognitive treatments. Buddhist psychotherapy focuses on identifying faulty mental coping mechanisms that result from a patient’s association with their traumatic story. The therapist and patient collaborate to uncover these coping mechanisms. Once these particular problems are identified, patients are ready to engage in the therapeutic alliance as an emotional corrective and to apply meditation techniques to break specific cognitive, affective, and behavioral patterns.
Meditation and Buddhism
Buddhist meditation is meditation as it is practiced in this religion. Bhāvanā (“mental growth”) and jhāna/dhyāna are the closest terms for meditation in the traditional languages of Buddhism (mental training resulting in a calm and luminous mind). Buddhism incorporates a range of meditation practices, most notably Anapanasati, as part of the route to freedom from defilements (kleshas) and clinging and yearning (upādāna), also known as awakening, which leads to the achievement of Nirvana (mindfulness of breathing).
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Asubha Bhavana (“reflections on repulsiveness”), reflection on pratityasamutpada (“dependent origination”), anussati (“recollections,” including “Anapanasati“), and sati (“mindfulness”) are further methods. The Brahma-viharas is another method (loving-kindness and compassion). These practices purport to foster composure, sati (mindfulness), samadhi (mind unity), samatha (tranquility), and vipassanā (insight), as well as to result in abhij (supramundane powers). The practices that support this growth, such as moral restraint and making an honest attempt to cultivate healthy states of mind, precede and are paired with these meditation approaches.
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A coordinated mind-body approach and deliberate effort called meditation to aid in mental transformation. In Buddhism, the second category of the Eight-Fold Path is meditation. Interventions based on Buddhist meditation have been incorporated into modern psychotherapy. Research-based data shows that meditation may be used therapeutically to treat a variety of psychological conditions. It also shows that Buddhistic meditation has favorable effects on respondents’ feelings of coherence, self-esteem, and life purpose.
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Numerous studies have demonstrated that certain brain areas are both activated and deactivated during meditation. Numerous studies have shown that different styles of meditation can deactivate the posterior cingulate cortex, which is important for processing pain and retrieving episodic memories. Some of the powerful meditation techniques given and preached by Buddhism are:
- Vipassana meditation
The Buddhist meditation method Vipassana provides the foundation for the idea of awareness. According to some definitions, mindfulness is the discipline of honing in on the present moment with openness, acceptance, and curiosity. The practice of mindfulness is gradually being incorporated into Western therapeutic practice in the context of psychotherapy and stress management, as Tusaie & Edds (2009) suggest. Numerous studies support the healing benefits of mindfulness meditation. As a complementary therapy for unipolar depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, stress, and somatic discomfort, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is highly advised. The use of mindfulness practices more frequently is linked to better sleep. The study found that Vipassana meditation induces a brain state with improved perceptual clarity and less automatic reaction.
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- Methha Meditation or Loving-kindness Meditation
Buddhist psychotherapy frequently employs Methha meditation, also known as loving-kindness meditation. The goal of loving-kindness meditation is to increase compassion and kindness toward oneself and others. With fewer signs of PTSD and depression, loving-kindness meditation seems safe and acceptable. Neuroimaging studies suggest that compassion meditation (CM) and loving-kindness meditation (LKM) may increase the activity of brain regions associated with emotional processing and empathy. They suggest that practicing loving-kindness and compassion meditations may offer potentially helpful methods for addressing a range of psychological issues that involve interpersonal interactions, including depression, social anxiety, marital conflict, anger, and coping with the demands of long-term caregiving.
loving-kindness meditation is very helpful for addressing various psychological issues. Watch our video to know more about it.
- Anapanasati meditation
The Buddha first discussed Anapanasati meditation, or “mindfulness of breathing,” in the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta, the Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness (Ariyadhamma, 1994). Stress is reduced and oxygen intake is increased with mindful breathing. According to empirical research, attentive breathing may assist to lessen responsiveness to habitual thinking.
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Buddhism and psychotherapy in a nutshell
Buddhist concepts have a profound influence on Western Psychotherapy. Buddhist psychotherapy is based on the Buddhist model of the cause of mental suffering and deals with self-knowledge, thoughts, feelings, and actions to minimize psychological distress. Buddhist Psychotherapy has a positive impact on mental health and it can be used to treat a wide range of mental illnesses.
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