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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 49 |winter 2007 that context, and in terms of spiritual life, it did what it needed to do. Analogously, the Tibetan medical system offered a great deal, but there were several things that Tibetan medicine could not do, such as deal with something like leukemia, which they probably couldn’t diagnose and certainly couldn’t treat. For many ailments, you would die sooner and die naturally, and that would be that. When we try to transplant the traditional Tibetan approaches to spiritual life into the mod- ern West—which is dramatically different in terms of values, language, child rearing, ideals, expecta- tions, and so forth—we will almost certainly run into difficulties. There are a host of problems that individuals have that Buddhism was never designed to address, including the whole spectrum of men- tal illness, from anxiety to depression to psychosis, and to the nuts and bolts of couples’ issues. When Buddhism came to the West, we injected it into our culture under the rubric of mental health, and that was to some extent an arbitrary injection. It could have come in under religion or philosophy, but there was a lot of interest in Buddhism in the men- tal health world. As a result, some of us probably carried a misguided expectation that Buddhism would offer everything to everyone. I’ve heard teachers say, “Take care of meditation and it will take care of you,” with the implication that it will cure everything by itself. But I have seen students of these teachers suffering from psychosis, and the teachers didn’t know what to do with it. Buddhism is a system that is full of techniques and wisdom. It is a path that leads successfully to liberation—that is clear. But it is also clear that there are people in the West practicing these paths who have medical, emotional, and mental health issues that few, if any, Buddhist teachers can address. Judith lief: Buddhism is a complete path to libera- tion and it existed as such long before psychother- apy developed. Yet I do know many practitioners who have without a doubt benefited from the skill- ful methodology of various forms of psychology and counseling. I would say, though, that the entry of Buddhism into our society using psychological metaphors so strongly may have led some people to think of Buddhism as a kind of magic pill, as a way to go beyond problems that we might not have wanted to face personally or as a society. The goals of psychology and the goals of bud- dhadharma have often been confused as well. In the bargain, buddhadharma can turn into a means for becoming a remodeled, better person—a new and improved version of yourself—able to cope with difficulties of all kinds. This is a very different approach from looking directly at who you are, as you are, and mining the wisdom within that. There is a radical difference of view there. Buddhism has a very strong trust and belief in some quality of basic goodness, no matter what your moment-to- moment traumas and states of mind are or what your personal history might be. The confusion between Buddhism and psychol- ogy also goes the other way. I’ve seen students ask Buddhist teachers questions that seem to me appropriate to talk to a friend or a psychologist about, with the expectation that Buddhist teachers should know everything. For example, a person will sometimes ask a monastic teacher detailed questions about how to deal with their personal relationships. Jack kornfield: Or how to raise their children. Judith lief: Yes. Why on earth would you ask a monk how to raise children? That comes once again from the misguided idea that Buddhism is designed as a problem-solving methodology. Overall, Buddhism comes from the ground of coming to understand the qualities of your basic nature. So one does not need to feel deficient or engage in self-doubt and self-hatred, wanting to somehow reject oneself in the hope of constructing the better self we envision. Jack kornfield: The liberation that’s offered at the core of the buddhadharma is indeed beyond the self. The realization of selflessness and of emptiness is not found in very much of Western psychology. There are a few transpersonal and perhaps even spiritual perspectives that come into that terrain, but for the most part it is based more on what Judy called the remodeling of the self. Western psychology has focused on healthier functioning, but there’s a possibility of liberation and freedom offered by dharma practice that is far beyond what is encompassed in the normal vision of human capacity in Western psychology. It’s as if we could take Western psychology’s DSM—the volu- minous listing of all the diseases and mental illness- es—and reverse it and create a DSM that showed all the possible positive capabilities of enormous love, compassion, inner luminousness, and freedom that Buddhist practice causes a human being to realize. Those are far beyond what is normally a part of the discourse of Western psychotherapy. harvey aronson: Yes, I would agree. Judith lief: That’s a great idea, Jack. I think you should produce that reverse DSM. buddhadharma: So you all seem to agree that there is nothing lacking in Buddhism per se, but that people in certain circumstances may need some- thing more. Judith lief: I would add that the very notion that Buddhism is supposed to do everything for every- Buddhism is a path that leads successfully to liberation—that is clear. But it is also clear that there are people in the West practicing these paths who have medical, emotional, and mental health issues that few, if any, Buddhist teachers can address. — Harvey Aronson