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The Analytical Psychology of the Abhidharma

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by Sangharakshita

Aspects of Buddhist Psychology

Tape 40: The Analytical Psychology of the Abhidharma Mr Chairman and Friends: We find nowadays, whether in the modern East or whether in the West, whether in this country or in any other, a very widespread interest in what we now know as psychology, and it is perhaps very easy to understand why this should be, why there should be this great and widespread interest in psychology. Psychology, as the very term itself suggests, is concerned with the psyche; is concerned with mind. We may say, perhaps emphatically, that the mind is the most interesting thing about man. In fact it has been suggested that the word 'mind' itself and the word 'man' are etymologically connected, which is perhaps of some significance. But it does seem at the same time as though we are just only now beginning really to wake up to the fact that it is the mind of man which is the most interesting thing about man himself, and hence our renewed, our increased, interest in psychology.

Now psychology, as we all know, is both theoretical and practical. We all know, some of us only too well, that the strain and the pressure of modern living produces all sorts of mental tensions, mental strain, even breakdown and so on. And therefore we have in modern times, various systems of what is known as psychotherapy, to assist us and to relieve us in states and conditions of that kind.

Reference has been made to the fact that I returned to this country after twenty years in the East only some three years ago, and on my return as I got to know people, I was extremely surprised to find how many people suffered from nervous mental strain and tension in some form or another. I was in fact very surprised to find as I got to know people even better, how many of them had to have in the course of their lives what we know as analysis. I got almost used to people saying to me in the course of a conversation "Oh, when I had analysis" or "Oh, when was having my analysis" or "I said to my psycho-analyst" - this seemed to be part of the general currency of conversation. And some, I found, were still having analysis. Some had been having it for two years, some for three years - I remember the record case which I came across was a lady who had been having it for 17 years! I don't say daily, but certainly several times a week.

Now, not only is there this interest in psychology, theoretical and practical, but also, there is a growing interest, I find, in Buddhism. Very recently I have been up and down the country, visiting various groups, various Buddhist groups, giving lectures, holding meditation classes, and I do find that during the last few months, as compared with even a year or six months ago, there is a sort of quickening of interest everywhere. So much so, indeed, that some of us feel that a new stage in the history, in the development, of Buddhism, has been reached in this country - where we are reaching out to, as it were, wider horizons, to new dimensions, which were not known before.

Now with this great interest in psychology on the one hand and this growing interest in Buddhism on the other, albeit on a considerably smaller scale, it is inevitable, we may say, that sooner or later, Buddhism and psychology should come together, that there should be as it were, some sort of dialogue (to use the fashionable term) between them, and this is why we have decided to have, to organise, this course of lectures. And in the course of the next 8 weeks, we shall be studying, as practically all of you know already, Aspects of Buddhist Psychology. And this evening, we are starting with the topic, the very good introductory topic, of the Analytical Psychology of the Abhidharma. But before we start on this evening's topic itself, just a few general observations prefacing as it were the whole course, the whole series.

We are concerned, as I've just said, with aspects of Buddhist psychology. But first of all, before we embark on any consideration of Buddhist psychology, we have to understand, at least briefly, succinctly, "What is Buddhism?" We have to answer this question initially. Now there are many answers to this question; some people tell you Buddhism is this; some tell you Buddhism is that; but we're not going into any details of the matter this evening because we don't have time.

Historically, we may say, that Buddhism is the spiritual tradition, or the religion if you like, inaugurated by Gautama the Buddha in India some 2,500 years ago, about 500 BC. And this tradition which he inaugurated, which he founded, continues down to the present day, in the countries of south-east Asia, in Japan, and elsewhere. In all these countries, in all these areas, it is a living, vital tradition, still.

Essentially, we may say, Buddhism represents what we may describe as growth in, or the systematic development of, awareness at the highest possible level. And this awareness, when we examine it, when we look into it, we find, has several dimensions. And for Buddhism itself, two of these dimensions are the most important; one the dimension of Wisdom; the other the dimension of Compassion.

In this context, by Wisdom, we mean complete and utter freedom from subjectivity, both affective and Tape 40: The Analytical Psychology of the Abhidharma Pag e 2 _________________________________________________________________________________________________ intellectual. And by Compassion, we mean the spontaneous activity which springs up, as it were, in accordance with the needs of living beings within the context, within the framework, determined by Wisdom.

So much, perhaps, will suffice for a general definition or description of Buddhism.

Now what about Buddhist psychology? Strictly speaking, we have to confess, there is no such thing as Buddhist psychology. Now you might think it's rather odd that we are gathered together to hear a series of lectures about Buddhist psychology only to be told at the outset that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as Buddhist psychology! What do we mean by this statement? If we look at Buddhism - if we look at the whole Teaching, the whole tradition - we see that it is a fully integrated Teaching, a fully integrated tradition: it all hangs together. It's all of one piece, as it were: take up any one aspect of it; all the others automatically follow.

Now in this total tradition, this fully integrated Teaching, we find there are a number of different aspects. And when we study Buddhism, or what we call Buddhism but which Buddhists themselves call the Dharma or the Sasana, when we study Buddhism from a western point of view, we isolate these different aspects from the whole and we apply to them various western terms, and in this way we come to speak of Buddhist philosophy, or Buddhist ethics, or Buddhist logic, or Buddhist epistemology, or Buddhist ontology. We speak also of Buddhist art, Buddhist culture, we even speak of Buddhist sociology, Buddhist anthropology.

But the important thing we have to remember is that really, truly, none of these terms fit. All these terms, whether philosophy, psychology and so on, belong to a totally different universe of discourse, and in applying them to Buddhism, in trying to make them fit Buddhism, we can quite seriously distort the whole picture of Buddhism. So it's the same when we use this expression 'Buddhist psychology'. In a sense, there's no such thing.

In other words, there's no independent field of study within Buddhism which Buddhists know as psychology or which they label as such. At the same time, we have to make it clear, the term "psychology" in the present context, isn't entirely inappropriate. Otherwise we wouldn't have used it at all.

And so far as the present course of lectures is concerned, by Buddhist psychology, we mean simply, all Buddhism's teachings about the nature and functioning of the mind, especially as this has to do with, or has bearing on, the religious and spiritual life in general, and on the practice of meditation in particular.

Now in this course, we shall not be dealing with the subject in a strictly systematic manner, as you might have gathered from the titles of the various lectures. This in fact, is impossible. We may say quite categorically, that the history of Buddhist psychology, using that expression, has yet to be written. We don't yet have any complete systematic study by any scholar, of Buddhist psychology. A few aspects only have been touched upon, and then remotely and in passing, as it were. So therefore, we have selected for this course, certain important aspects, and these aspects will enable us to approach the subject from a number of different angles and attitudes, and to penetrate, we hope, deeply into them. At the same time, it is hoped, we should be able, through Buddhist psychology, to penetrate into the nature of Buddhism itself.

Now, having said so much by way of preface to the whole series, let us come on now to this evening's subject, the Analytical Psychology of the Abhidharma.

Despite the use of this expression, analytical psychology, I'm afraid there's no connection here with Jung. For some of you, that may be a disappointment, but we hope that in the course of the lecture, there may be compensations, and in any case we shall have something to say about Jung later on in the series in at least one or two of the other lectures.

Now the first question which suggests itself to us, the first question we have to answer, is "What is the Abhidharma?" I am quite sure that this term is completely foreign. Unless you've made a quite serious study of Buddhism, you will not have come across it. So what is the Abhidharma? This is the first thing we have to understand.

Historically, we may say that the Abhidharma ...

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