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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Psychology and Buddhism: From Individual to Global Community edited by Kathleen H. Dockett, G. Rita Dudley-Grant and C. Peter Bankart (International and Cultural Psychology: Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers) Psychology and Buddhism is intended to inform, stimulate, and broaden the thinking of psy­chologists and others interested in the interface between psychology and Buddhism. As the interest in Buddhism grows within the psychological commu­nity, the need for more information on theoretical as well as practical levels becomes apparent. In this book we move from considerations of the individual, through the community to global conceptions for world peace. We attempt to fur­ther the dialogue between psychology and Buddhism at many points along the continuum. Individuals and communities, empowered and ready to engage the millennium ultimately will have global implications for the future of humankind. Given the severe challenges to peace facing our world, the editors hope that this book will provide one more resource for those who would seek to transform the way in which human beings understand and interact with each other within and across all boundaries globally.

This collection of diverse essays opens with a brief history of Buddhism and psychology by the three editors. It takes a sweeping, broad-brush approach to the extremely complex subject of Buddhism's history, emphasizing the growth of the­ories with shared commonalties between the two disciplines. They present Buddhist doctrine, practice, and a short review of the most well-known Buddhist systems including Theravada and Mahayana, and Vipassana, Tibetan, Zen, and Nichiren. Practices such as mindfulness meditation, Tara Ropka therapy, and chanting are also reviewed. Finally, an analysis of Buddhism as it is practiced in the West today is presented, with its implications for psychological praxis.

Peter Bankart recounts in "Five Manifestations of the Buddha in the West: A Brief History," the frustrations, missed opportunities, and even downright failures that psychologists have experienced over the last century in their attempts to incorporate lessons from Buddhist philosophy into psychologi­cal practice. One of the most disturbing aspects of this history is that many of those who explored non-Western traditions seem to have done so with their judg­ments severely clouded by European-American ethnocentrism. The distortions seen in their reports of Buddhism are so distorted, in fact, they must be judged to have been influenced by that form of racism known as Orientalism. Will the efforts being made in this book and by many other contemporary psychologists fare better when judged 25 or 50 years from now? One of the challenges is to develop sensitivity to the deep philosophical messages of Buddhism so that as those messages are translated into Western theory and practice, they will retain an essence that the Buddha would recognize as coming from the wellspring of his teachings.

Edward S. Ragsdale, in "Value and Meaning in Gestalt Psychology and Mahayana Buddhism," has accepted the challenging responsibility of reviving a much neglected phase in experimental psychology's history, Gestalt Psychology, and shows clearly how the application of Buddhist philosophy helps to carry that psychology to the next stage of clarity and utility. The problem that Ragsdale addresses is one that psychologists have struggled with for all of their history. How can one make meaningful and coherent value judgments about anything important in life, when the construction of those events is almost entirely subjec­tive? Ragsdale's answer is that Buddhism shows us how to avoid the traps of both the mistaken absolutism of nihilism and its epistemological opposite - absolutist assertions of truth. The answer lies in the Buddha's teachings about dependent origination, a doctrine that attunes us to the irreducible value of compassion and persuades us of our absolute interdependency through the exercise of reason.

Part II: Healing and Psychotherapy: Alternatives in Psychotherapy: Rita Dudley-Grant, in "Buddhism, Psychology, and Addiction Theory in Psychotherapy," provides us with a clear and substantive exposition on the appli­cation of Buddhist principles to the extraordinary challenge of responding to the epidemic of substance abuse that has torn Western civilization apart over the past half century. She initially reviews how the two disciplines of psychology and Buddhism can be seen to have shared goals in seeking to provide a path for opti­mal living. Both psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral commonalities with Buddhist theories and practices are reviewed. Conceptions of the self, self­control, and addiction theory are presented for their Buddhist and psychological links. In presenting her theories on addiction, Dudley-Grant describes Buddhist conceptualizations of addiction from Tibetan and Nichiren perspectives. She then analyzes the apparent dichotomy of the 12-step program and Buddhist philosophy. The Alcoholics Anonymous approach to recovery has deep roots in Judeo-Christian beliefs of a "higher power greater than ourselves." Dudley-Grant suggests that the Buddhist commitment to community can allow Buddhists strug­gling with addiction to benefit from this highly successful approach to recovery. She suggests that the greatest commonality and healing comes from the commit­ment to community, to other rather than self, beliefs held in both Christian and Buddhist faiths.

Polly Young Eisendrath, in "Suffering from Biobabble: Searching for a Sci­ence of Objectivity," addresses the relative poverty of Western's psychology's attempts to address and come to terms with dukkha (suffering), the ever-present problem of human suffering. She finds the problem to be embedded within Western science's dedication to an epistemology that is better used to describe the motions of planets than the dilemmas of living beings. Can Buddhism help us to more fully develop and articulate a genuine science of human experience? Young­Eisendrath argues that it can because Buddhism does not impose a rigid Cartesian dualism on the human condition. She envisions a unique and powerful human science that will inform human services so that it can respond compas­sionately and comprehensively to the realities of wide spread human suffering. Moreover, Young-Eisendrath presents a cogent argument for similarities between psychodynamic formulations of the psychic compulsions that lead to repetitive dysfunctional behavior and the Buddhist conceptualizations of karma. She chal­lenges the increasing tendency to relinquish responsibility for one's behavior attributing it to genetic maladaptation or biological determinism. Rather she suggests that analysis and Buddhist practice can be equally empowering. They hold people accountable for their actions, thus providing the possibility for change. She strongly suggests the use of Buddhist and clinical psychological methods of research to study the ultimate impact and efficacy of these two great traditions.

In "Role of Responsibility in Daseinsanalysis and Buddhism," Belinda Siew Luan Khong's background that combines her psychological training with a degree in law and an appreciation of classical European philosophy is evident. Khong's goal is to elucidate the clarifying synergy between the concept of human responsi­bility in Heidegger's philosophy, existential analysis, and the notion of dependent origination in Buddhism. As she reviews the fundamentals of both systems, she shows how the idea of individuals taking responsibility for their lives and experi­ence is central to the reduction of human suffering. Buddhism, moreover, extends the notion of responsibility in a way that informs our ability as human beings to see the true nature of things - through which comes the true experience of freedom. One of the many interesting points that Khong makes is that both in Buddhism and in daseinsanalysis the individual's journey of discovery is made possible by the faithful companionship of a teacher, a teacher who may largely be a silent partner whose attentiveness supports the client's efforts towards mindfulness.

Richard Hayes, in "Classical Buddhist Model of a Healthy Mind," has con­tributed a chapter that clearly takes a major step in the direction of translating Buddhist philosophy into terms that are both accessible and meaningful to an audi­ence interested in Western psychology. Hayes stresses the importance of taking from Buddhist teaching the importance of creating and preserving a healthy mind by avoiding extremes of self-denial on the one hand, and self-indulgence on the other. Buddhism's "middle way" requires us to remain actively involved in the world both as change agents and seekers of the good. But we must do so without allowing our egos either to overwhelm the natural environment, or be overwhelmed by forces that we cannot control. The path to accomplishing and maintaining this difficult balance is shown through a combination of ethics, contemplation, and wisdom; and by stay­ing in connection with family and other members of the community.

Part III: Empowerment, Responsibility, and the Challenges of Change addresses the issues of Buddhism, community psycho­logy, and social responsibility. Western psychology's primary interest in Buddhist traditions has centered on how they can be applied in psychotherapies, stress­reduction, and other healing modalities. Yet Buddhism has considerably more to offer as a resource for community empowerment and broad-based social change. As early as the 1950's Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term "engaged Buddhism" to capture the active involvement of Buddhist monks and laity in the problems of society. Today there are schools of socially engaged Buddhism and Buddhist-scholar activists who are deeply committed to macro level change through the application of Buddhist principles to create ethical, social, political, economic, and ecological reforms. These themes resonate with community psychology and it's goals of promoting well-being, increasing empowerment, and preventing the development of prob­lems of communities, groups, and individuals.

In what is the unique contribution of this book to the Western psychological literature, Part III addresses the intersection between socially engaged Buddhism and community psychology and other applied psychologies. The five chapters in this section discuss the contributions of Buddhism to psychological models of empowerment, foundational values to guide ecological interventions, ethical guides for the resolution of environmental problems, principles of integration for transcending difference, and principles of social action. A discussion of the appli­cation of Buddhist principles of social action to the prevention of ethnic group conflict, and to community and societal-level change are found in the chapters by Chappell, by Dockett and North-Schulte, and also by Dockett.

Empowerment models of social and community change are concerned with methods for enhancing perceived and actual control over one's life. Community psychologist Kathleen H. Dockett adopts such a perspective in "Buddhist Empowerment: Individual, Organizational, and Societal Transformation." Using psychology's empirically derived models of stress-resistance and of empowering organizations as a framework, Dockett draws upon her 12-year case study of Nichiren Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai International-USA lay Buddhist organization to illustrate the processes and struc­tures through which Buddhist empowerment may occur. At the level of individ­ual empowerment, she describes Buddhist philosophies and practices that appear to promote the development of hardy stress-resistant personality traits, including a sense of personal control. This process calls for Westerners to make major par­adigm shifts in worldview, the most difficult of which is the belief that we are totally responsible for and totally in control of our destiny. At the community setting level, Dockett describes how Buddhist-inspired organizational norms, structures, and processes may promote empowerment of organizational members, and lastly she describes how socially engaged Buddhism of various types may promote societal-level or political empowerment. Dockett points to the common­alities that exist in the goals, interests, and methods of social change of commu­nity psychology and socially engaged Buddhism, and suggests the potential for a collaborative partnership where each can inform the other's understanding of processes and structures for empowerment.

In "The Role of Religion and Spirituality in Community Psychology," community psychologists Leonard A. Jason and John Moritsugu propose that a synthesis of community psychology and Buddhist philosophy may provide more comprehensive solutions to the problems of human suffering. They critique major models of social and community change used in community psychology (social competence, empowerment, and ecological) and find them lacking in the founda­tional values needed to guide our interventions. For example, in the case of ethnic group conflicts, the questions of what values should guide our selection of groups with whom to collaborate, how resources should be redistributed and toward what ends is left unanswered. The main thesis of this chapter is that Buddhist traditions could provide guides for energizing the visions of community psychology. Jason and Moritsugu review the foundational values of Buddhist schools of thought, and show how these values might be applied in assessment and therapy, with implications drawn to broader community-level interventions. The chapter advances our thinking on the question of how it is possible to join the value basis of the spiritual traditions with the action-oriented perspective of ecological community psychology, as suggested in Spretnak's (1991) concept of "Ecological Postmodernism.”

In "Transcending Self and Other: Mahayana Principles of Integration," Kathleen H. Dockett and Doris North-Schulte address the contributions of Buddhist philosophy to understanding and preventing ethnic conflict. From psy­chological and Buddhist analyses of the root causes of ethnic conflict, the authors conclude that a crisis of identity lies at the core of much of the ethnic violence around the globe. Observing that under conditions of group threat, people retrench into their primal cultural identities (e.g., as Muslims, Americans, Arab Palestinians, Jewish Israelis) and become alienated from their more universal or cosmic identities, the authors propose that a failure to understand the nature of our existence, our identity, and our mutually interdependent relationships with one another is at issue. Dockett and North-Schulte then discuss how Buddhist values and principles may be applied to conflict prevention and propose four Mahayana principles of integration (unity) that provide an alternative conceptualization of "self" and "other" and hold the promise of a harmonious co-existence.

The theme of an ethic of care, the idea that science can inform and be informed by compassion, and the assertion that every living person can be empowered by coming to direct terms with the essence of his or her own exis­tence has been recognized by some psychologists as constituting the beginnings of a deep ecological commitment to preservation of the earth. In "Environmental Problems and Buddhist Ethics: From the Perspective of the Consciousness-Only Doctrine," Shuichi Yamamoto sets forth an analysis of our environmental dilemma in a way that permits us to see and understand that the only solution that will save the planet is a solution that involves a fundamental change in human consciousness. By stressing such con­cepts as a fundamental biospheric egalitarianism in humans, living things, and non-living things Yamamoto's analysis leads us to a recognition that the ecologi­cal movement to save the earth from destruction requires both the great compas­sion and the energy of the wisdom of the way of the Buddha.

David W. Chappell introduces the concept of "social mindfulness" as a dimension of Buddhist mindfulness practice in "Buddhist Social Principles." His thesis is that the same process we pursue in the inner dialogue that is mindfulness (i.e., stopping, calming, and seeing) can be extended to the nexus of our social dialogues. Growing out of a lucid engaging description of the teachings and behavior of the Buddha, Chappell derives a set of Buddhist social principles that today guide the peace work of Buddhist social activists. He cautions us, however, that neither dialogue nor Buddhist morality are enough to resolve special prob­lems, such as structural violence, social oppression, and environmental degrada­tion. In these instances, he calls for the "middle path" of social responsibility backed by legal safeguards to ensure the stability of social change.

A key point made in this chapter is that while dhyana and pragna (medita­tion and wisdom) or samatha and vipassana (calming and insight) are two legs of the Buddhist chair, social action is the third leg without which the chair cannot stand. It is important to understand that the Buddha did not remain in isolated meditation but was socially active. Most of his career was spent on the road, actively engaging others, of all walks of life, in dialogue and reform. Not only was the Buddha a social activist, pacifying a vicious mass murderer Angulimala who wore a necklace of fingers taken from his nearly 1,000 victims; repeatedly intervening to dissuade rulers from waging war on neighboring kingdoms; and teaching kings, untouchables, bandits, and Brahmins alike; but he also sent the Buddhist community into society to help others. The Buddha's sense of respon­sibility represents a foundational value and model for our interventions.

Part IV: Future Directions: Global Impact: Finally, in "On the Path to Peace and Wholesomeness: Conclusion to Psychology and Buddhism," the editors state their belief that the ultimate benefit of the enrichment of Western psychology by Buddhism will be in the empower­ment of human beings to work together to build sustainable communities that can pursue the never-ending work of creating a more peaceful world. As much as anything this transformation of psychology will come about by helping the pro­fession engage the real, the deep, and the universal needs of the inhabitants of the planet. The vehicle for this transformation will not be in further glorification of the scientific canon or the "final victory" of the members of any specific psycho­logical enclave. It will come through the transformation of our understanding as psychologists of the interdependence of all life and of the immense power of human consciousness to transform the human condition.

Psychology and Buddhism is intended to inform, stimulate, and broaden the thinking of psy­chologists and others interested in the interface between psychology and Buddhism. As the interest in Buddhism grows within the psychological commu­nity, the need for more information on theoretical as well as practical levels becomes apparent. In this book we move from considerations of the individual, through the community to global conceptions for world peace. We attempt to fur­ther the dialogue between psychology and Buddhism at many points along the continuum. Individuals and communities, empowered and ready to engage the millennium ultimately will have global implications for the future of humankind. Given the severe challenges to peace facing our world, the editors hope that this book will provide one more resource for those who would seek to transform the way in which human beings understand and interact with each other within and across all boundaries globally.

Special Contents

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