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Meditation versus Psychotherapy

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by Sangharakshita


Lecture 87: Meditation Versus Psychotherapy Friends, Today's lecture very obviously falls into three parts. We have in the first place to consider at least in very general terms, without necessarily being too specific, the nature of meditation. We have also to consider in a very general way the nature of what is known as psychotherapy, and in addition to that we have to consider, we have even I may say, to investigate, the relation between the two; between meditation on the one hand and psychotherapy on the other.

Now in our title as you no doubt have noticed we speak of meditation versus psychotherapy and this suggests that whatever the relationship between them it is one of antagonism. So we have therefore to investigate the extent of this antagonism to consider to what extent it is the case. And as I need hardly remind you at this stage, this being the fifth of our lectures in the whole series 'Aspects of the Higher Evolution of the Individual', as I hardly need remind you, we shall be considering discussing these three topics; meditation, psychotherapy and the relationship between them against the background of the Higher Evolution of the Individual. That is to say the individual's development from simple consciousness to self-consciousness and from self-consciousness to what we have come to call Transcendental consciousness. We shall also be considering these three types against a background of some of the problems that arise, that it seems necessarily arise in the course of this development that we call the Higher Evolution of the Individual. And in addition to that, as we shall see, we shall also be considering these topics against a background, unfortunately a rather dark background of mental suffering, mental disorder, and mental disease.

Now first of all, what is meditation? Meditation comprises three things. In the first place there is concentration; it is what is called in the eastern tradition 'fixing the mind on one point'. It may be a point inside us, it may be a point outside us, it may be a point located in or on the surface of our own body, or it may be a point situated outside, as it were, in space. But whether the point is inside or outside wheresoever it is situated we invariably find or we almost invariably find that to concentrate the mind, to bring all the forces of the mind to bear on that one point, is very difficult, is extremely difficult, so much so that we are hardly ever concentrated - one pointed - in that sort of way. And when we try to account for this fact, when we try to account for the fact that we are unable to concentrate that we are unable to keep our minds fixed on any one point for any length of time, whether it is the one point of the breath, whether it is the one point of the print we are reading, or whether it is the one point of the picture that we are looking at; when we try to account for this lack or loss of concentration we usually explain it by saying that there are too many distractions, there are too many other things taking away, luring away, very insidiously our minds, so that we are unable to concentrate, unable to keep up that one pointedness of the mind. But when we say that the distractions, like when someone comes in the door, you look round to see who it is. When distractions arise or when we say a distraction arises; what does this mean? It means that our energies are not unified, they are not all pulling in the same direction. One part of us, as it were, wants us to concentrate - is trying to concentrate - wants to meditate - is trying to meditate, but there is some other part or parts, a quite big part or quite big parts that doesn't want, that don't want to meditate. So the situation arises in which energies are divided. Some of the energies are pulling in this direction, others are pulling in that direction, and we are not able to concentrate on any one point. We are subject to distractions because not all our energies are available for the activity of concentration.

So real concentration, concentration in the full sense, concentration without even the possibility of distraction means really unification of all the energies of the psyche; bringing them all together into one focus of energy, one focus of power, bringing them all to bear on that one point, that is concentration.

Now we don't usually think of concentration in those terms. We usually think of concentration in terms of more or less forcible fixation of the conscious mind on the point concerned. We sort of make up our minds, make up our conscious minds that we are going to concentrate, so that we are going to force the mind onto that point. But that isn't good enough. Distractions arise because all the energies are not available. All the energies of the mind are not pulling one way, so that if we want to concentrate, we have to unify our psychic energies. So it isn't a question of forcible fixation of consciousness, it is a question, concentration is a question of unification of energies, even unification of interests. It is not just a question of exerting willpower. If you sit down, if you grit your teeth, if you try hard enough, you will end up by concentrating.

Maybe for some time, but not for very long. Some distraction, sooner or later, will come along.

Concentration therefore, we may say, is much more a question of understanding. Not of exerting will-power, not of forcible fixation of attention, but of understanding; that is to say of understanding that we do have a multiplicity of interests; that some of these interests are in conflict, and that these interests, these sometimes conflicting interests, share among them our psychic energy, and that it is for this reason that we are unable to concentrate for long upon any one thing, any one object, any one point.

Now this whole question, this question of true concentration, this question of unification of the psychic energies, is connected with something we discussed the week before last, that is to say with the problem of individuality, or selfhood. We saw the week before last that we like to think that we are as it were, ourselves, that there is as it were, just one of us. But we saw that this was not in fact so. We saw that we are not just one self. We are rather a whole series, a whole succession of selfs, one popping up after another, to put it in a slightly different manner, we saw, we can say, that we are rather a sort of bundle, a rather untidy bundle, if you like, even a heap of selves, of which only one is operative at any given time. We are not in fact one unified completely integrated continuously operative self as we tend, or one of our selves, tends to assume.

So in this context, in the context of two weeks ago, the problem is that of integration of selves and fragments of selves; in other words, of achievement of true selfhood, or true individuality. But in the present context the problem is that of unification, of integration of energies - in other words, achievement of true concentration; and these two things, the achievement of true selfhood, and the achievement of true concentration are obviously quite closely related. We might even go so far as to say that they are different aspects of one and the same process.

Now, in the general tradition of Buddhism, four progressive stages of concentration are usually distinguished. That is to say, of concentration in the true sense of the term, and these four stages are illustrated in the Buddha's teachings by four appropriate and even delightful similes. Now I am going to refer to these briefly. They make it clear, between them, that concentration is attention above all else, a matter of unification and integration of psychic energies, So let's take the first illustration, illustrating the first stage of concentration, of unification and integration of one's energies. The Buddha said it's just like mixing soap powder with water. Now that's a rather simple, and rather obvious simile. So what does the Buddha mean? He goes on to say that you start off as it were with two things, two separate things, soap powder which of course is dry, and which is as you articulate it, lots of little bits, and on the other hand water, which is as it were all one thing, which is fluid, which is continuous. So we together start off with these two opposites if you like, and then you mix them And he says that you mix them together in such a way, that the soap powder is fully saturated with water, and all the water is used up in saturating the soap powder, so that you've got a bowl in the end, a bowl of soap powder fully and completely saturated with water, and without even a drop left over, without even a drop extra, a drop too much. And the first stage of concentration the Buddha says, is just like that.

Then the second stage of concentration. Here the Buddha takes another illustration, he says, is just like a lake, a great lake of clear water. And there's an inlet to the lake, there's a sort of subterranean spring, which is constantly feeding the lake, flowing into the lake, so that all the time fresh water, clear water, is bubbling up from deep down, into the lake. So in other words, there is a continual replenishment of the lake from deeper and deeper sources within. The lake is kept continually refreshed, continually clear, and the water never dries up. If anything it gets more and more, the lake gets bigger and bigger because of this water flowing in from deep down, from the depths. And the Buddha said that the second stage of concentration is just like that.

Now the third stage, the third stage, he said, is just like lotus flowers growing completely immersed in water.

The lotus flowers are not above the water, they are in the water, and they are soaked in the water, they're permeated by the water, but they're still lotus flowers, and not ...

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