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Meditation versus Psychotherapy

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by Sangharakshita

... as it were dissolved in the water. They live and grow in that as in their element, and this he said is the illustration for the third stage of concentration.

And then the fourth stage of concentration, here he said, is like a man who on a hot day, when he is very tired and very dusty, covered in perspiration goes and has a bath in a clear pool of water, washes himself, becomes all fresh, clean, cool, comes out, and then wraps himself in a pure white sheet. In other words, in an Indian garment called a Dhoti, which covers him all round, which insulates him; he's not only clean, he's not only pure, but he's as it were insulated from all contact with the external world. He's himself, he's separate as it were, an individual as it were. So the Buddha said that this is the illustration for the fourth stage of concentration. And with the attainment of that fourth stage of concentration, likened to the man sitting wrapped in the white sheet after his bath, full concentration has been achieved and in as much as full concentration has been achieved, in as much as all the psychic energies have been progressively integrated, unified, harmonized, one can also say that true selfhood, true individuality, have been at the same time achieved.

And this brings us to the second of the three things comprising meditation. Sometimes, in the course of talks and classes, I've referred to it as 'meditation proper'. For the purposes of this lecture, we'll call it the stage of intensification and expansion. With the attainment of concentration, with integration of all one's energies, the unification of all one's energies, true individuality, at least on the ordinary empirical human level, has Lecture 87: Meditation Versus Psychotherapy Page 2 been achieved, but that is not the end, that is not enough. That individuality, that individual, must now grow, must now develop, and according to the Buddha's teaching, that individual grows and develops by passing through successively higher spheres or states, if you like, of existence. But in as much as these are somewhat remote from the experience of most people, I'm just going to mention the names which Buddhism gives to these spheres, or these states.

The first is called the sphere of infinite space, or infinite extension; if you like, the sphere of the cosmos, the universe. The second is called the sphere of infinite consciousness, the consciousness that has no limit, that goes beyond all limits. The third is called the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, in other words, where subject-object distinction begins to be transcended, and the fourth is called the sphere of nothingness, or nothing in particular, the sphere of one thing not being discriminated as a separate object from any other thing.

Now these four spheres, these four states, represent, we may say, not only a growth, not only a development, not only an intensification, not only an expansion, of individuality, but also, paradoxically, a transcendence of individuality. It's rather as Sir Edwin Arnold puts it in 'The Light of Asia' when he says "Foregoing self, the universe grows I". The more you give up yourself as it were, the more perfectly yourself do you become.

So meditation in this sense, marks we may say, the transition from the psychological to the metaphysical, or from the psychological to the transcend ental, and this at once brings us to the third and last of the three things comprising meditation.

I have sometimes called it contemplation. It is traditionally known in Buddhism as insight or wisdom, or as the perfection of wisdom. And it consists simply in seeing existence, or seeing things exactly as it is, exactly as they are. And this we may say is the simplest, but most difficultof all things to do. To see things just as they are; without addition, without subtraction; without falsification, without projection. It means seeing them free from all subjective conditionings whatsoever, free from all merely personal bias.

So this in brief is the meaning of meditation. It means in the first place, the unification, and the integration, even the harmonization, of all one's psychic energies. And this unification, this integration, leads to the achievement of true individuality true selfhood, through the achievement, through the attainment of true concentration. And this experience of selfhood, of individuality, becomes more and more intense, we can also say more and more positive; and as it becomes more intense, it begins as it were, to expand; and the more it expands, the more it transcends itself. And the more it transcends itself and its own limitations, the more it sees existence as it is. And the more it sees existence as it is the closer it is to reality. So this in a nutshell, is the whole process of meditation.

Integration of psychic energies, intensification, and expansion of individuality, and transcendence of individuality, and seeing things as they really are.

Now from meditation, we pass onto our second topic which is "what is Psychotherapy?" Psychotherapy is briefly defined as "the treatment of disorders by psychological methods" Now that's clear, but it's very general, it's not very explicit, not very detailed. So let's turn for a little help to Carl Jaspers. In his General Psychopathology, Jaspers defines psychotherapy as follows: 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 the many types of personality disorder, psychopathies, also the mildly psychotic patients, to all people who feel ill, and suffer from their psychic states, 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 Jasper's somewhat more comprehensive, even philosophical, definition of psychotherapy.

And he goes on to describe the various means, the various methods, of influencing the psyche, which psychotherapy has in its possession, at its disposal, and he classifies these means, these methods as: (1) methods of suggestion; then cathartic methods; then methods involving practice and training; then methods of re education; and finally, methods that address themselves to personality. According to Jaspers, there are these five categories of methods. at the disposal of psychotherapy.

Now as I expect everybody knows, one of the best known, and most fruitful kinds of psychotherapy, is that known as Psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis began round about the turn of the century, with the work, with the discoveries, of Freud. And according to Jaspers, psychoanalysis is one of the cathartic methods. Now catharsis means simply 'purging', and in a psychological context it refers to the freeing, to the liberation, to the purging as it were, of repressed emotion.

But of course, the great question is How did the emotion come to be repressed? It was repressed according to Freud because, putting it very generally, it was unacceptable to the conscious self. The conscious self didn't want it, didn't like it as it were. And being unacceptable to the conscious self, incompatible with its attitudes, its beliefs, and so on, it was thrust out Lecture 87: Meditation Versus Psychotherapy Page 3 of consciousness. in other words, it became unconscious. This thrusting out of consciousness of the emotion which is not acceptable to the conscious self is itself not a conscious, but an unconscious, an automatic process, Now this emotion which has been thrust out, which has been cast out if you like from the heaven of consciousness, may be repressed; - it may be unconscious but it is still alive. It is still active. According to Freud again, and here he agrees very much with Buddhist psychological teaching, according to Freud, mental life is dynamic on every level. So being active, the repressed emotion can go on producing effects. And it can go on producing effects even on the level of the conscious self, the conscious mind, But the conscious self, the conscious mind does not know what is producing these effects. The conscious self, the conscious mind, only knows that something seems to be going wrong. Only knows that something seems to be working against, counteracting its own wishes and its own desires, its own intentions, its own ideas. The repressed emotions themselves of course remain all this time unconscious.

Now all this means that there's a split. Not only a split, but a conflict. In the first place there is a split between the conscious self and the unconscious self, or between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind, or between consciousness and the unconscious. And in the second place there is a conflict between the desires and intentions of the conscious self, and the desires and the intentions of the unconscious self.

Or we may say, between emotions which have been repressed, and emotions which have not been repressed.

Now in his latest book, Freud speaks of a conflict between what he calls the Pleasure Principle, which dominates the unconscious mind, and what he calls the Reality Principle, which directs the conscious mind.

Putting it more simply, putting it more colloquially, we can say that the conflict is between what we would like to do on the one hand, and what we are obliged to do on the other, on account of the objective circumstances in which we find ourselves. And this split, this conflict, which can go very deep, which can be very intense, finds expression in various ways.

It finds expression in dreams, which are very often just simple wish fulfilment. It finds expression in what Freud called 'The psychopathology of everyday life'. ...

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