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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
42 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2014 BUDDHADHARMA: Buddhism doesn’t cater to personal prefer- ences; on the contrary, it insists on a certain degree of sur- render and relinquishment. But culturally, it seems that the tendency is to pick and choose the parts of Buddhism that we like or that we think will serve our mental health. Do you see a tension between what Buddhism asks of us and what we’re asking of it? BODHIN KJOLHEDE: I do think one of the basic challenges for American Buddhists is that rather than accommodating to Buddhism, we want Buddhism to accommodate to us. Expect- ing that we will have our preferences met is a perilous habit. We are reared to expect that we will be able to arrange our lives to avoid adversity and get our desires met. Working toward a more balanced, integrated sense of self has its place, but we don’t want to settle for the dharma being reduced to that. Psychology is about personal suffering, whereas Bud- dhism is about the suffering that’s inherent in the human condition. JUDY LIEF: We tend to look for a way to weasel out of anything uncomfortable and to avoid having to face ourselves. Trungpa Rinpoche, my teacher, used tell us, “Don’t edit the teachings, don’t pick and choose,” but it’s an ongoing struggle; we all tend to pick and choose. We go for what’s easier and avoid what’s harder. But we have to start somewhere. People make initial connections with the dharma for a variety of reasons. Over time, expectations tend to drop away, when one realizes they really aren’t the point anymore. It is perhaps then that the more mystical aspect of the dharma is revealed. JACK KORNFIELD: The essence of dharma is the teachings of emptiness and selflessness. Of course Buddhism offers lots of medicine, ways to reduce personal suffering and live in a wise, skillful, and nonharming way. But without the perspec- tive of emptiness and selflessness, the dharma wouldn’t be the great gift that the Buddha gave to us. I think in every culture, people start where they are, and then the invitation is offered to move into the greater dimension of mystery and liberation that brings the truest human happiness and freedom. BUDDHADHARMA: Are there ways in which our familiarity with psychology might help us be more receptive to that larger invi- tation? By understanding ourselves better through psychology, can we perhaps open more easily to Buddhist teachings and absorb them more fully? BODHIN KJOLHEDE: Most Westerners are familiar with the con- cept of the unconscious, which may help them be more recep- tive to the Buddhist teaching of alayavijnana, the storehouse consciousness. A student of mine who reached the age of forty having always broken off intimate relationships had begun to feel distressed and to wonder whether there was some spiritual bypassing he wasn’t seeing after twenty years of practice. He found a good therapist, and just a few months of therapy precipitated a profound questioning about his sense of self. He was gripped by the question “Who am I?” That questioning brought on by therapy then triggered the deepest opening of his life. Within a year he was married, and he still is twenty- three years later. I think this clearly shows how psychotherapy can contribute not just to psychological self-insight but also to spiritual self-realization. JUDY LIEF: I think another benefit is the way in which psycho- logical or scientific language has made the dharma more acces- sible to many people. A lot of the trappings of dharma can seem very alien culturally. I had a student who wasn’t really understanding meditation until I spoke in terms of neuroplas- ticity, and then she said, “Oh, I get it!” Familiar language can provide the inspiration to begin practice. BUDDHADHARMA: Sometimes a word like “ego” comes up in a Buddhist context, and it can be confusing to figure out whether we’re really talking about ego in Buddhist terms or in terms of what we learned in Psych 101. Do you see the overlap of the language of Buddhism and psychology as a source of some confusion? When Trungpa Rinpoche was introducing Buddhism in America, he used psychological language to avoid the trap of religiosity, which he felt really stifled the freshness of Buddhist teachings. —Judy Lief subconscious