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Buddhadharma : Spring 2012
SPRING 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 63 to take root than where emotional and mental suffering is overwhelming and pervasive? Back in 1974, when Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche declared to Daniel Goleman, then a Harvard psychology professor, that “Buddhism will come to the West as a psychology,” he foresaw that our deepest suffering would come dressed in the clothes of mental illness. And true to his words, in the past decade Buddhist practices and mental health therapies have increasingly joined forces. My introduction to mindfulness came through a type of psychiatric therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), developed by Zen practitioner and psychologist Marsha Line- han. Other people find their way to the dharma through pain and stress management therapies such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction pioneered by another Buddhist, Jon Kabat-Zinn, or through Mindful Self-Compassion therapy, developed by psychologist Christopher Germer, a Vipassana meditation practitioner. The umbrella term for all these approaches is mindfulness-based therapy and what is so revolutionary about them, and what leads par- ticipants toward Buddhism, is their emphasis on acceptance, nonjudgmental awareness, and mindfulness of the present moment. My train- ing in a mindfulness-based therapy taught me, after decades of talk therapy and six different psychiatric diagnoses, to successfully learn how to live with overwhelming pain and to man- age my urges for self-destruction. After therapy ended, I wondered: “What next? Where can I further my recovery and continue to use the soil of my suffering to grow and help others?” It was then that I opened to the dharma. First intellectually, through books and audio tapes, then interactively though meeting teachers and joining a sangha. I came to Buddhism like an aching body inches into a hot bath: first my toe, then my leg, until I wanted total immersion. So I moved into a dharma center. While some of the language and the practices of Buddhism differed from what I was used to in therapy, the overall picture remained constant. I suffered; there were causes for my suffering; there were ways to be free from this suffering, and I was treading the path that would accomplish this. Until I went off my medications. CLOSE TO A YEAR INTO MY STAY at the center, disturbing news arrived: One of our long- time members, who went rogue shortly after I arrived, was discovered dead in the woods of Vermont. A suicide. I’d met the young man only twice and he showed no signs of depression or self-destruction. He’d refused, however, to visit the center’s new residence; he insisted it was pos- sessed by evil spirits and angry energies. Granted, it was an old building, with its double pantry and creaky servant’s staircase and an inherited out-of- tune upright piano still wedged among the dining room’s mahogany and glass cabinets. But there were also ordained lamas, and the house was filled to capacity with the bright treasures and accoutrements of a full-bodied Tibetan shrine, providing most people with a sense of peaceful enclosure, if not outright protection. We knew only certain facts: The young man’s suicide letter described evil spirits pursuing him all the way to Mexico, where he’d traveled to find some means of exorcism. Having failed at that and still tortured and hounded, he returned to the woods by his home to die. People at our center wondered how he could have done it. He was obviously in pain, but he was also a longtime practitioner who believed in the law of karma, who understood that the act of kill- ing would result only in more suffering. In the Vajrayana tradition especially, there is a special My sangha housemates lovingly translated my self-disclosed psychiatric symptoms into a Buddhist vernacular that made each suffering—from addiction to anxiety to rage to self-hatred— a symptom of being human with a corresponding antidote. DAVIDTUCKER