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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
BODHIN KJOLHEDE: Jack, do you see a downside to mixing the psychological tradition with the strictly Asian dharma tradition? JACK KORNFIELD: Well, I don’t see “strictly dharma” anything; I think that idea is a mistaken one. If you read the texts, you see people coming to the Buddha with every kind of problem, like Kisagotami with a child who died in her arms or King Pasenadi asking how he could avoid war with the neighboring king. The Buddha didn’t shy away from any of those ques- tions. He responded with his knowledge as a warrior when he spoke to warriors and with his knowledge of farming when he spoke with farmers. Using Western psychological tools falls in that same tradition of skillful means. Of course, psychol- ogy can in some unconscious ways limit us, but dharma used in unconscious ways can limit us too, and meditation can be used or misused. Fundamentally, I see psychology as being complementary to Buddhism. JUDY LIEF: I’m not a therapist, but I too see a very natural con- nection between Buddhism and psychology; both psycholo- gists and students of dharma are interested in the nature of mind, and in issues of suffering and mental health. We’ve had only a brief slice of history with dharma in the West so far, and even in the last twenty years, we have seen shifts in the language used to describe dharma practice. In addition to psychology, neuroscience has become more prevalent in the discussion of mind and behavior. I worry that something that may be lost in the paradigm of the therapeutic model, which is really an individual one, is the relationship to community, whether in terms of sangha or society as a whole. JACK KORNFIELD: The psychological lens, whether Buddhist or Western, is a very limited part of dharma. Community, devo- tion, interconnection, our relationship to the earth—all of these other parts that make for a wise human life—are so central to the dharma, and they’re lost if Buddhism is only seen as a psychological practice. Teachers like Chögyam Trungpa who came to the West used a lot of psychological language: the language of ego, neu- rosis, and so forth. But Trungpa also taught a huge breadth of dharma that included engagement and devotion. I think we’re now seeing the hunger for a broader dharma than meditation, something that can empower us in these difficult times. People want a dharma that encompasses social engagement, environ- ment, and ritual, not just the individual meditation path that so many were first drawn to. Psychology can in some unconscious ways limit us, but dharma used in unconscious ways can limit us too. —Jack Kornfield (LEFT—RIGHT):UNKNOWN,JUDYLIEF,SASHAPULLEYN Often, when we use the term “therapy,” we are talking about how can we save ourselves from our problems. We are confronting our problems by using some kind of tech- nique or medium. Could we wear plastic gloves, or could we use anesthetics so that we don’t have to face our problems? We are afraid to relate with what we are and what our problems are. We are embarrassed to work with all that or to confront it. Such an approach is the wrong usage of the word “therapy.” It is a kind of linguistic problem. Viewing it in such a way, if we are involved in therapy, automatically means that we don’t have to face our wife or our husband. Instead, we go to a therapist who is going to create a kind of numbness between us. We begin to lose the sharpness we experience with our husband or wife, the sharpness and irritation. We would like therapy to help us get together by putting some kind of numbness or lozenge between those sharp edges. We would like therapy to numb us to that sharpness we are experi- encing so intensely, so that we never have static. We would like to join together with our husband or wife, but at the same time we would like the physician to put us on anesthetics so that we don’t have to go through the pain of being joined together. Then we could wake up very happy and feel ourselves already sewn together. It could work out and we could feel happy ever after. That approach has been the problem, I’m afraid. The word “therapy” has come to mean the notion of being joined together by anesthesia. On the other hand, the word “therapy” could be used as skill- ful means or application for how certain parts of a jigsaw puzzle could fit together. Then therapy has the sense of application or method. In that sense, therapy should not become anesthe- sia, but instead a method of sharp precision. It is the way you get yourself together, rather than a way of being anesthetized. The desire for anesthesia seems to be the problem, whether we use the term “meditation” or “therapy.” That attitude always becomes a problem. In the true sense, therapy is not anesthesia but actual expe- rience. That is very important. We should experience our own embarrassment or whatever it may be, and try to link together another embarrassment, which is what the world is relating to us, rather than using any anesthetic or numbing agent to solve our problems. There’s no particular hospitality involved from that point of view. To be willing to experience our world directly is the mark of our courageousness, our openness, which actually means freedom. So in other words, we could say quite seriously that freedom cannot be bought by anesthetics. Originally published in the Journal of Contemplative Psychotherapy, Vol. VI, Naropa Institute, 1989 TWO KINDS OF THERAPY People can look to therapy to numb their experience or to fearlessly embrace it, says the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.