Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation

1.3 East/West Psychology

To talk of an Eastern Psychology is to refer toa cluster of concepts embedded within a diffuse spiritual/philosophicalframework that makes up the Eastern worldview. Psychology was an inventionof the Western mindset, with the development of the Scientific method duringthe Renaissance and the concomitant reductionism that created a set ofspecialist disciplines (which only now in the post-modern era are 'remembering'their inter-relatedness.) (Tarnas,1991) Nevertheless, the Eastern psychehas been contemplating the state of being human for millenias; by the timeof Siddhartha Gautama(over 2,500 yrs ago), the man who later became knownas the Buddha, there were many powerful methods around for inner explorationof the psyche - ways of entering altered states of consciousness. It wasa permissive, spiritually pluralistic environment and, essentially remainedso without the equivalent of the Western dark ages during which the hegemonyof the Roman Catholic Church acted as a straight-jacket to any alternativeform of psychospiritual inquiry.

Siddartha's mission, as a young prince leavinghis father's court for the homeless life of a sage, was to discover, anderadicate, the cause of human suffering. He came to the end of his search6 yrs later sitting under a tree in deep meditation when he experiencedenlightenment. Thereafter he was known as the Buddha (which means - ‘theone who woke up’) In his first teaching sermon he presented the "Four NobleTruths":

1. Dukka - the axiomatic truth that thereis suffering/unsatisfactoriness in being human.

2. That Dukka has a cause; that this is craving/ aversion

3. That a cessation of Dukka is possible by theremoval of it's cause

4. There is a path to that end; that path wasexplicated as the 'eightfold path'

The eightfold path gives guidance on the qualities,attitudes, ethics and approach to living a meditative life.

Over the next forty years of teaching he gavemany thousands of talks to both monks and lay people. The Abhidhammais the name given to the collection - finally systemised and completedalmost 800 yrs later - of teachings around the psychology of human natureand a guide to the workings of the mind.

"Many Abidhamma principles represent the psychologicalteachings common to all Eastern faiths rather than those limited to Buddhism.Asa prototype of Asian Psychology, Abidhamma presents us with a set of conceptsfor understanding mental activity and an ideal for mental health that differsmarkedly from the concepts of Western Psychology. Like other Eastern Psychologies,Abidhamma contains an ideal of the perfected personality around which it'sanalysis of the workings of the mind is oriented." (Goleman,1988, p116)

That which, in the Abidhamma, corresponds mostclosely to the western idea of self or personality is ‘atta ‘ andthis concept appears most frequently in it's negated form as 'anatta'

In fact 'anatta' appears as one of the three universal'marks of being' - along with 'anicca ' or impermanenceand dukka. The central premise of the Abhidhamma is that:

"there is no abiding self whatsoever, onlyan impersonal aggregate of processes that come and go.The semblance ofpersonality springs from the intermingling of these impersonal processes"(Goleman,1988,p117)

Loy (1992), writing from an existentialist perspective,talks of how Buddhism 'deconstructs the self' in two ways. Firstly, throughthe concept of the 5 skandhas - literally translated as 'heaps'- of aggregates of processes. They are usually described as 1) form, 2)feelings and sensations, 3) perceptions, 4) volitional tendencies -thoughtsor mental factors-, and 5) consciousness.

These are also called 'the five groups of grasping'All experiences associated with a sense of self can be analyzed into thesefive heaps, with no remainder outside them. There is no persisting selfor transcendent soul to be found over and above their functioning"(Loy 1992,p.167)

The other deconstruction is translated as theteaching of 'Dependent Origination' (or 'Co-dependent arising') It locatesall human experience within a set of twelve interdependent factors - eachis conditioned by and conditions each other factor. Ignorance isthe first factor (though this is not seen as a first cause since all factorsare interdependent) A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link, however,and this points to the Buddhist solution to this cycle of suffering. Throughthe fading away of this first factor, the second factor becomes extinguishedand so on. Meditation is considered to be the route, to be the mind-trainingmethod which can dispell this ignorance (of the true anatta natureof things - particularly the 'self' thing.)

"The Buddhist notion of interdependent factorsis thus diametrically opposed to the Cartesian notion of an autonomous,self- grounded consciousness" (Loy,1992,p.170)

It is crucial to understand that ignorance isnot dispelled by a mere intellectual understanding; an experiential understandingis required, hence meditation - the practice of observing the mind andthe mental factors which arise, endure and pass away - leading to insight.

Mental factors - or volitions as we have alreadycome across them in the five skhandas, or more simply, thoughts, are thekey to the concept of karma . The Dhammapada, a collection of versesspoken by Gautama Buddha, begins with a statement of the Abidhamma doctrineof Karma:

"All that we are is the result of what we havethought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.If a man speaks of acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as thewheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon....if a man speaksor acts with a pure thought, happiness will follow him, like a shadow thatnever leaves him"

(quoted in Goleman 1982,p.120)

Goleman goes on to explain that the Abidhammadistinguishes between wholesome and unwholesome mental factors and thatthis judgement was arrived at empirically on the basis of the collectivejudgement of large numbers of the early Buddhist meditators. Their criterionwas whether a particular mental factor facilitated or interfered with theirattempts to still their minds in meditation. Pausing only momentarily toreflect upon this early example of qualitative research, recall that thesemental factors, according to the doctrine of dependent origination, areconditioned by previous mental factors and will in their turn conditionfuture states of mind. The concept of rebirth can be best understoodin a ‘moment to moment way’ ie, that the state of mind in this moment willcondition the state of mind in a future moment. (Rather than the popularised,andsometimes misleading notion of reincarnation)

"The goal of psychological development in Abidhammais to increase the amount of healthy states - and correspondingly, decreaseunhealthy ones - in a person's mind. At peak of mental health, no unhealthyfactors arise at all in a person's mind." (Goleman, 1982,p.132)

This is the ideal that the aspirant is urged toseek. The Arahat is a model of perfected personality - someone whohas had sufficient such peak of mental health experiences to permanentlyrestructure her previously deluded personality so that the unwholesomemental factors no longer arise.

Here, then, eastern psychology offers us almostsaintly role model for psychological health which has no counterpart inthe west where psychological health, until quite recently, has been consideredas nothing more than 'not sick' (Goleman,1982) (Walsh & Shapiro,1983)

As stated at the outset of this section, the Abhidhammais embedded within a culture which, for example, often has a monastic traditionsupported by the lay community. TheVinaya is another collectionof teachings, rivalling in size and importance, the abhidhamma, which outlinesin meticulous detail the kind of ethical behaviour required of monks. (Note:'required' not in order to be 'good' but in order to increase the chancesof success in their endeavour) And -although the development of insightis understood to be naturally accompanied by an outpouring of such humanqualities as compassion, loving kindness (Unconditional positive regard)and sympathetic joy - practices which cultivate these qualities run alongsidethose 'insight' practices and 'resonate' with the natural growth of thesequalities.

In a Buddhist culture, for example, this workall takes place within a like-minded community celebrating a multitudeof yearly festivals together. The influence of this sangha cannotbe disregarded when we consider extracting a meditation technique and someof it's underlying psychology for use in our own western context.

Updated 16 June 99
by Martin Wilks