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Buddhism and Psychoanalysis

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by Sangharakshita

... sharing with you some of my thoughts on this particular subject. Obviously this is a very vast and a very complex subject, one which one cannot fully explore in the course of an hour or so. One cant even attempt a proper introduction to such an exploration. In the first place, Buddhism itself, which is a very ancient tradition, contains hundreds of different schools of thought, and they dont always speak with the same voice. Theres Theravada Buddhism, current in Ceylon, Burma, and Thailand. Theres the Mahayana, the Zen, theres Tibetan Buddhism, there are all these great major forms of Buddhism, and also there is subdivisions. They represent different aspects of the total Buddhist tradition, the metaphysical aspects, psychological aspects, ethical aspects and so on. But we have in Buddhism this vast plethora of schools, teaching the same basic things but with many important differences of emphasis and so on. Now, psychoanalysis is of course a very much younger movement. Whereas Buddhism is 2,500 years old, psychoanalysis was started, by Freud, only about the beginning of this century. So its not even 100 years old. But already there are quite a number of different versions of psychoanalysis. We know that in the case of Buddhism, within a century of the Buddhas passing away, eighteen schools sprung up, eighteen schools of Buddhism came into existence within the hundred years immediately following the Buddhas death. Now, almost as many schools of psychoanalysis developed in Freuds own lifetime. First of all theres Jung, and his analytical psychology, theres Ardler [?] and his individual psychology, and at present there are orthodox Freudians - the psychoanalytical movement has developed its own orthodoxy you see - and various kinds of what are called neo-Freudians, or revisionist Freudians. Now, weve also got the humanistic type of psychoanalysis and the existentialist type of psychoanalysis. And in addition to these there are schools of, for instance, Henry Stack Sullivan [?], of Erich Fromm and Karen Horney [?]. So obviously, when youve got so many types, so many schools, of Buddhism on the one hand, so many types, so many types, so many schools, of psychoanalysis on the other, its not possible to make a detailed comparison between the two systems - Buddhism and psychoanalysis - in the time at our disposal. We can only speak in very general terms indeed, and just get some idea of the subject in a very broad way, in a very, very bare outline. So all that I propose to do this morning, or to attempt to do, is to compare what we may call basic Buddhism with basic psychoanalysis. By basic Buddhsim I mean the body of teachings common to all the different schools and by basic psychoanalysis I mean principles common the orthodox Freudians, to the Jungians, the xxxxxxxx, the neo-Freudians, and so on. And I hope that in this way those that are more interested in Buddhism may be stimulated to study a little psychoanalysis and those who are perhaps more interested in psychoanalysis may be stimulated to go a little more deeply into Buddhism.

Now first of all, with regards to the general subject matter, the general subject matter of Buddhism and of psychoanalysis, with what are these disciplines concerned? This is the first question which we must tackle. Now Buddhism and psychoanalysis are both concerned with man. It might seem an obvious statement, but it is very important and the point needs to be made that Buddhism and psychoanalysis are both concerned with man himself. In other words they are both humanistic.

They are man centred, they are not God centred either of them. Neither Buddhism nor psychoanalysis is concerned with God, with any form of supreme being, except quite empirically, as a psychic image. So this is the first point that we must stress: that Buddhism and psychoanalysis are both humanistic. For this reason it is sometimes doubted whether Buddhism is a religion at all.

If you read books about comparative religion written by Christian ministers for instance or missionaries sometimes they say well, Buddhism is a very decent sort of system, it teaches you to be good and not to kill, not to steal, but it isnt really a religion. Or certainly they will say it is not a religion of the highest type. Now whether one defines Buddhism as a religion or not depends of course, in turn on how widely one defines, or how narrowly one defines, the word religion. If you define religion as meaning belief in of, worship of a supreme being, then obviously Buddhism is cut out. But if you define religion more broadly, as any sort of system, any way of life, which takes into account the existence of something transcending the senses and the mind, some ultimate spiritual reality behind the universe, and informing the universe, filling the universe if you like, then Buddhism is a religion in this broader sense. Nowadays, of course there is the tendency to broaden the meaning of the word religion, to use it in a wider and wider sense. People are beginning to recognise that, broadly speaking, there are two major kinds of religion in the world: what we may call a theistic and what we may call the non- theistic. There are all those systems which posit the existence of God, a personal god, a supreme being, a creator, these are called theistic religions- that is to say, all the Semitic religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity and some popular forms of Hinduism and so on. And on the other hand, one has a number of very important religions which are non- theistic, which get along quite well without the concept, the idea of a personal god, a supreme being, a creator and governor of the Universe. And in this group of religions you've got the more philosophical forms of Hinduism, like the Vedanta, you have got the religions of China, that is to say Taoism and Confucianism. The religion of Japan ( the indigenous religion) Shinto (?), and also you have in this group, in this category, Buddhism itself. So it's important for us to realise this- that religion is not necessarily theistic. In this country, we've been brought up to think that religion is necessarily theistic. Religion itself means "belief in God".

Practise of religion is going to church and worshipping God on Sundays, if not for other days of the week, at least on Sundays. But until very recently, people were not aware of the fact that there was such a thing as non- theistic religion. A religion which was complete in every way, but which had no belief in a personal god, a supreme being. Now in modern times, quite recently, even within Christianity, some quite extraordinary developments have been taking place. People have been talking about religion -less Christianity, for instance they have been talking about Christianity without God, a sort of non - theistic Christianity, centred upon Christ rather than God. And this sort of idea, this sort of outlook, as some of you no doubt know, is associated with the name of the Bishop of Woolwich. He seems to believe that the traditional Christian concept of God is finished, it must be got rid of , and he suggests that we replace it with the idea, the concept, of the "ground of being" which has a sort of oriental and Buddhistic ring we may say. In fact I can't help thinking that his concept is a sort on non-thesitic Christianity, the Bishop of Woolwich, is moving, whether he knows it or not, really in the direction of Buddhism. And no doubt, being a modern man and a modern mind, he has been influence to some extent by psychoanalysis. And Freud has tried to show that the traditional conception of "image of God" is really a sort of father figure. What do we mean by this ? When we're born, when we're infants, we're completely helpless. We don't recollect at this stage, so often we tend to overlook it, but when we're born, the human infant, for quite a long time, for several years, is completely helpless, it cannot do anything for itself. It has to be fed, it has to be clothed, it has to have it's nappies changed and all that sort of thing, everything done- it has to be carried about, until it can crawl at least. So it's condition of complete helplessness and dependency. There's only one thing that the infant can do, which it usually does very well. What's that? Oh yes, it can cry at the top of it's lungs. It can certainly cry. So if it wants anything done, if it's cold and wants warmth it cries. If it feels hungry it cries. If it feels afraid, it cries. If it feels angry it cries, very loudly indeed. So this is only thing an infant can do. When it gets into difficulties , when it wants something, it just cries. Now the infant of up, becomes a child, becomes a man or woman, and as this person grows up, it begins to experience, begins to encounter all sorts of difficulties, in living, dealing with other people, and so on. Now sometimes the person concerned, the man or the woman, may succeed in coping. But only too often, it happens, for one reason or another, the person can't cope, something goes wrong. The person doesn't know what to do, it wants to do something but can't succeed, can't manage on its own. So very often what happens, according to Freud, is that the grown up person, in desperation as it were unconsciously regress to an infantile attitude. Just as the child has a sort of omnipotent mother or father who can do anything you want if only you cry, if only you let out a loud enough yell, mummy or daddy will come running and do whatever you want done, so when an adult person gets into difficulty theres a tendency, according to Freud, to regress to this infantile attitude. So, the adult person, the grown-up person imagines this all-powerful figure, someone who can do it all for you when you cant do it yourself. So when a person gets onto difficulty, instead of letting out a yell, as the infant does, the adult person, the grown-up person prays for help: please do it for me. This is essentially ...

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