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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 51 |winter 2007 buddhadharma: How would traumas have been dealt with in traditional Buddhist societies? Jack kornfield: In a traditional context, you would have close and intimate access to the teacher. Someone working with Ajahn Chah, or certain lamas or Zen masters, might live with them for years in the monastery. As difficulties would arise, they could be more easily met with compassion and non-identification and wisdom, allowing the student to pay attention to the trauma in a way that would allow that to release. But if you go to a meditation retreat for a month, you might get good instruction and lots of attention for the time you are there, but when you go home and a lot of trauma comes up, you don’t have the teacher and the environment so close at hand. Also, I have seen great teachers offering tra- ditional practices who didn’t know what the hell to do when people were going through intense personal difficulties, and they would just offer Buddhist scholarly teachings that left people stuck. A teacher needs to be present for the content of experience as well as the emptiness of it, and some teachers do that better than others. harvey aronson: Because of our democratic culture in the West, it’s also very hard for us to make use of authority in the way that people were able to in a traditional culture. In addition, they would have had a variety of traditional means of ritual healing that we don’t have in our culture. buddhadharma: Are there aspects of Buddhist tradi- tion and practice that we may be leaving out or overlooking that would accomplish some of what Western psychotherapies do? harvey aronson: This is a complicated issue. It’s not so easy to put something into operation when you don’t have the supporting system. If you consider, for example, the way that pilgrimage, sangha, and respect worked in traditional culture, these kinds of practices were not just external protocols. They also had internal affective behavioral elements, emotional elements, that all contributed to a certain mind state. The way of life altogether embodied and fostered a religious vision, and it also created a communal holding that may have prevented some of the kinds of emotional issues we run across so frequently in our atomized culture. There are many aspects of the tradition that we haven’t been able to adopt in a whole-hearted way because they’re just so far away culturally. Even if we have three hundred people meditat- ing in a hall together, they’re really three hundred atoms who don’t usually feel very connected. The people meditating in the hills of Tibet would feel very connected to the village at the bottom of the The Zen ATTACk Psychiatrist barry magid says that often the best way to tackle old patterns is by placing difficulties in one’s path—something that has always been a central part of Zen training. Zen’s attaCk on selfcenteredness demands a radical transformation of our isolated minds, both at the level of conscious, subjective experience and at the level of the prereflective and dynamic unconscious. in heinz kohut’s self psy chology, structural deficits in the self are healed when compensatory structure is established based on new nonselfcentered values and ideals, which then form the basis for “spontaneous” compassionate responsiveness. Psychoanalysis tends to view old patterns of organization as something to be gradually outgrown or moved beyond developmentally. Zen, on the other hand, is more likely to directly confront and challenge the old patterns or organizing principles that constitute our selfcenteredness. the difficulties inherent in Zen practice (the emotional and physical stress of long hours of sitting), and the conceptual quandaries that arise by having our usual frame of reference radically challenged by the seeming incomprehensibility of a nondualist, nonessentialist perspective as encapsulated in koans, all combine to undermine preexisting modes of organizing and mastering experience. in this sense, the experience of not being able to answer a koan may be as impor tant as finally answering it. one’s selfimage and selfimportance, along with one’s usual modes of knowing, may be threatened or undermined in the face of a seemingly unsolvable koan. a story (perhaps apocryphal) that made the rounds in one Zen center told of a student so enraged by the roshi’s repeated refusal to accept his answer to his koan that he threw himself on the teacher and tried to strangle him! Who was the student? a famous psychoanalyst! deliberately placing difficulty in the path of the student has always been a central part of Zen training. meanwhile, psychoanalysis seems to be moving in the oppo site direction. self psychologists have gradually backed away from kohut’s own notion of “optimal frustration” and toward a more nurturing stance of “optimal responsiveness.” Perhaps the example of Zen can remind analysts that optimal response may sometimes take the form of a difficulty that challenges or disrupts old patterns of organization. from Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common Ground of Zen and Psychotherapy, by barry magid (Wisdom Publications). hill because of the whole context within which they were working. That provided an embedded dharma, an implicit dharma world, that’s very hard for us to duplicate in the West. Jack kornfield: Of course that culture has a shadow side, which is a kind of complacency. In this atom- ized culture, our shadow is a kind of individualistic materialism. In some sense, we have to bring the mandala of dharma here so that we can become free of it. buddhadharma: What about practices that are intended to activate compassion, such as lojong? Can we make use of these in some cases where others might use therapy? ©JaumePlensa,CourtesyGalerielelonG,neWyork