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Zen and the Psycho - therapeutic Process

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by Sangharakshita

Aspects of Buddhist Psychology

Lecture 46: Zen and the Psycho-Therapeutic Process Mr Chairman, Venerable Sir and Friends.

Today we come to the last lecture in the present series on "Aspects of Buddhist Psychology". And as those of you who have been coming along week by week know, in the course of the last few weeks we have been able to cover a considerable amount of ground. We started off with "The Analytical Psychology of the Abhidharma", which some of you found rather a tough nut to crack; then to the "Psychology of spiritual development", tracing the spiritual evolution of humanity up the stages of the spiral to Nirvana. We then explored "The Depth Psychology of the Yogacara" and after that we investigated the "Archetypal Symbolism in the Biography of the Buddha". We came on next to the "Psycho-Spiritual Symbols of the Tibetan Book of the Dead", which seemed to arouse a quite extraordinary interest in people's minds, and then last week we had "The Mandala, the Tantric Symbol of Integration." Those of you who have been coming along week by week will have noticed what in fact I have already pointed out; will have noticed a sort of shift as the course progressed from the conceptual to the non-conceptual type of approach. And as the course went on, we began to appreciate, I hope, the importance of myths and symbols and legends and the poetic imagist element generally in the religious and spiritual life, especially in Buddhism.

And as we went on week by week - not every week, but on at least three occasions, three weeks - our progress was very much enlivened and made easier by the very excellent charts which were prepared for us by Mike Ricketts. So I hope that having come so far, I hope that those who have attended the whole course will have been able to appreciate something at least of the richness of the psychological side of Buddhism. We very often hear it said that Buddhism is very rich, very explicit, very profound, on the psychological side, but very often that statement is lacking in content, we don't actually see it in detail. So I hope that in the course of the last few weeks, it has been possible for us at least to begin to see that in detail.

Now today, there is, as it were, a new departure. Today our subject is Zen and psychotherapy. And here, I may say, I have a sort of confession to make. As you probably appreciate, the course of lectures was decided upon quite some time ago, and the actual titles were settled nearly three months ago. And when the course was drawn up and when the titles of the lectures were decided upon, I may say that I had a fairly clear idea of what the contents of each lecture would be - at least the first six. But I may say that when I put down the title of "Zen and Psychotherapy", I had no idea at all what I was going to say on this subject, under this heading. Some of you might think, well, that is only too appropriate in the case of Zen - one shouldn't perhaps know in advance too much what one is going to say - if one does, well, it isn't Zen, and you shouldn't know three months in advance what you're going to say on the subject of Zen.

So the question may arise, "Well, why was Zen included at all? How did it, as it were, gain entry into the course?" Well, Zen was included for two reasons. First of all, simply for the sake of completeness. After all, you can't leave Zen out: someone would object if you did! or if you tried to do.

In the course of one of the lectures, I remember I referred to the three major forms of Buddhism representing the three principal phases of its development in India, the land of its birth. These three phases are, of course, the Hinayana, the Mahayana and the Vajrayana. I'm not going to explain at this stage what these are, most of you know what these are. But the first two lectures in this course covered more or less the same ground as the Hinayana. The second two covered, more or less, the Mahayana and the fifth and sixth lectures were concerned with the Vajrayana, or the Tantra, especially in its Tibetan forms.

Now Zen as I'm sure most of you will agree, is too important to be included under any of these headings, either Hinayana, Mahayana or Vajrayana, so for this reason, I decided that there should be a separate lecture on Zen, even though I didn't know what I would be saying when the time came. So in this way, we cover the whole field of Buddhism - all the principal forms.

Secondly, I decided to include a talk on Zen simply because so many people nowadays are interested in Zen.

If you talk to them about Buddhism, well, there's a response, but it's not so striking. But if you talk about Zen, even though you say exactly the same thing, at once interest is aroused, people start waking up, they start perking up, and looking around, and they say "Zen, yes!" - they're stimulated at once. It's the name, which has a sort of magic about it, the name at least, we may say, is quite well known. Sometimes, of course people are interested in Zen, or what they think is Zen, entirely for the wrong reasons. There are misunderstandings about Buddhism, certainly, but we may say the misunderstandings about Buddhism are nothing compared with the misunderstandings about Zen. So I hope that this evening, at least incidentally, I shall be able to clear up at least a few of these misunderstandings.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________ To begin with, of course, Zen is a form of Buddhism. Now this plain and simple statement may appear to some people as quite obvious - that Zen is a form of Buddhism. But many students of Zen, or Zen devotees, or Zen fanatics, or "Zenists", as they sometimes call themselves, don't seem to realise this, don't seem to realise that Zen is a form of Buddhism, a form, in a sense, of Mahayana Buddhism. And they treat it, or try to treat it, as something standing quite independently, on its own, with no roots in Buddhism, with its roots in the sky, as it were.

Now, Buddhism itself, of which Zen is one form, is a religion. I hope I don't have to emphasise this, but many people don't realise this. They don't realise that Buddhism is a religion. They think, very often, that it's something very cold, very abstract, very scientific and purely rational. That's the sort of impression which many people have about Buddhism, that Buddhism is the sort of North Pole among the religions of the world, a sort of beautiful, glittering icicle - very beautiful, yes - very attractive - but cold. This is their impression about Buddhism, much of the time. Of course, we may say, that Buddhism isn't a religion in the theistic sense - there's no Supreme Being, there's no personal God. But it is a religion - a non-theistic religion - all the same.

Now I propose, this evening, to deal with this subject of Zen and psychotherapy in three progressive stages.

First of all, we shall consider briefly, religion and psychotherapy (or psychotherapy and religion); then we shall consider Buddhism and psychotherapy; and lastly, we shall consider Zen and psychotherapy. And while so doing, I shall try to share with you some of the thoughts which have suggested themselves to me, contemplating these subjects in the course of the last couple of days.

So first of all, Psychotherapy and Religion What is psychotherapy? For a brief, but very compendious definition, let us turn to Carl Jaspers. In his "General Psychopathology", he says: "Psychotherapy is the name given to all those methods of treatment that affect both psyche and body by measures which proceed via the psyche. The co-operation of the patient is always required. Psychotherapy has application to those who suffer from many types of personality disorder, psychopathies, also to the mildly psychotic patient, to all people who feel ill and suffer from their psychic state and almost without exception to physical illnesses which so often are overlaid with neurotic symptoms and with which the personality must inwardly come to terms." So this is Jaspers', as I said, brief but compendious description of psychotherapy. He then goes on to describe the various means of influencing the psyche which psychotherapy has at its disposal. He classifies them under various headings. He enumerates, for instance, methods of suggestion such as hypnosis; then cathartic methods and here he includes all forms of psychoanalysis; then methods involving practice and training, and it's interesting that here, though the book was written a long time ago, that he mentions various kinds of breathing exercises; then methods of re-education; and finally, methods that address themselves to personality.

Now we're not going into all these methods this evening. For the present we're concerned with only two of the points made by Jaspers. First, his basic definition of psychotherapy, when he says "All those methods of treatment that affect both psyche and body by methods which proceed via the psyche." And here, we may say, to this extent, religion and psychotherapy stand on common ground - they both proceed via the psyche - both proceed via the mind, or if you don't object to the term, via the soul. In other words, both psychotherapy and religion address themselves to the deeper part of man, not to the surface, not to the superficial layers of human nature, but to the deepest part, which we call the psyche, the mind, the heart or even the soul.

Secondly, Jaspers says that psychotherapy is applicable to all people who feel ill and suffer from their psychic state. Now this is extremely important. To begin with, what is meant by "feeling ...

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