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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
SUMMER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 37 ANDREW HOLECEK: In terms of Buddhism as being somehow deficient, that’s mostly the hubris of the Western world. People have been waking up quite successfully without the help of Western skillful means for thousands of years, so Buddhism doesn’t need therapy—in both senses of that phrase. It is a powerful wisdom tradition, tried and tested, that has worked effectively for a very long time. So on that level it stands alone. But in this contemporary age, we have sophisticated develop- mental models that show us how ego comes together, and can therefore help us safely take it apart and transcend it. With the exception of things like the five skandhas, Buddhism doesn’t really have a developmental psychology. This is one of the great contributions of the West. We have structuralism. We have Piaget. We have Kohlberg, Erickson, Kegan, and a host of other developmentalists. We have all kinds of maps of the relative mind in the West that can augment our ability to work with the relative expressions of the mind. So it’s not that Bud- dhism is deficient, it’s a matter of richness and augmentation. One doesn’t necessarily have to supplant the other; both can be reciprocating. You can use the skillful means of the Bud- dhist tradition on its own terms, yet you can support it with the extraordinary contributions coming from the West. BUDDHADHARMA: John, what do you think about psychology and Buddhism working in tandem? JOHN WELWOOD: That would be great. I don’t see Buddhism as deficient at all—it does what it does beautifully, but it’s not designed to work with the personal wounding and personal problems people in the West have today. Traditionally in Asia you grew up in an extended family where you were part of a culture, part of the family, part of everything. Buddhism was an integral part of that. In the West we have this extreme fragmentation and people feel isolated. So just as Buddhism was practiced differently in India than in China and Japan, here it needs to work with the great alienation that people feel in this culture—alienation from one another, from the natural world, from their bodies, from their families, from their culture, from their elders. Also, on the positive side, we value the development of the individual person, which is not so much an Asian ideal. GRACE SCHIRESON: In the Zen tradition, the teachers who came to the West brought over the monastic practice they had experienced. They could not bring over the congregation, the teaching from their grandmothers who took them to ceremo- nies, the experiences they had in their family, so they brought over the container for the practice. I believe it is up to us as natives of this culture to see what else we can use to make yet again or we can step back with some intelligence. This is what Buddhists talk about as the fundamental choice of what to accept and what to reject. You accept those things in your life and your practice that help self and others and you reject those things that don’t. The other important thing to keep in mind is that these patterns are lodged in our body–mind matrix. It’s not just “mental.” John is alluding to what cognitive scientists call neuroplasticity—how your brain is circuited, and how those circuits can be changed. The hardware/software of your brain is actually changed by these repetitive patterns. I bring this up because knowing that provides a sense of patience, and even humor. It’s taken us a while to get so confused, and it’s going to take us a while to rewire this. The circuitry is not only in our brains. According to the inner yogas it’s in the very sub- strate of our bodies (we could call this nadiplasticity). So we need to have the view of the absolute, yet honor the power of the relative. Many of these Western instantaneous- enlightenment teachers—the “just do it” variety—fail to see that. Then they wonder why no one is getting enlightened. The gift of blending East and West is that we can bring the formidable power of the absolute to cut in the moment, on the spot, and we have the crowbars of the Western psychological traditions that can help us in addressing this freight train of karma as it is embedded in our emotional patterns and repeti- tive neurotic behavior. The most skillful teachers are the ones who can blend both those worlds. BUDDHADHARMA: Western psychology clearly has its strengths and has helped a lot of people. But this blending that you’re talking about seems to suggest that Buddhism without West- ern psychology is deficient in some way. GRACE SCHIRESON: I talk to people all the time about the differ- ence between therapy and spiritual practice. All of the prac- tices that we do, in each tradition, developed within a culture. When Buddhism moved from one culture to another, we’re told it took 500 years for it to fully incorporate the language and be applied skillfully into that new culture. In my tradition, Indian Buddhism was transmitted to China, where it mixed with the language of Taoism and became part of the psyche and culture of the Chinese people. That is now happening in the West, where Buddhism is meeting psychology. We’re making the connection between karma and neurotic patterns because we actually have language in the West that describes Buddhist technology and how it works to unpack these dif- ficult patterns and their manifestations, and it’s important for us to use that.