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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
winter 2007| 54 |buddhadharma wonder why you’re doing it. Appreciating things not working is one of the best parts of the path. Jack kornfield: I still have suffering. Samsara includes suffering. Can we fix that? Judith lief: No, no, no. Let’s not do that! buddhadharma: You’ve talked about how Western therapeutic work can offer something of value to Buddhist practitioners. What does Buddhism offer to Western psychology? Jack kornfield: Of course, just as it is dangerous to talk about Buddhism monolithically, the same goes for Western psychology, which includes an enormous number of methods of study and many different therapies. We could say that the Western psychologies—plural—tend to be oriented toward the healing of a certain level of mental distress and coming into a healthy sense of functioning. In some ways, Buddhist practice almost assumes some healthy functioning. It hasn’t been the Buddhist focus to try to take people from mental illness to a level of healthy functioning. Buddhism has a vision of what is actually possible for a human being that goes way beyond healthy functioning, and that vision is some- thing we can offer not only to Western psychology but also to the West at large. That is huge. harvey aronson: I wonder really whether main- stream psychology would ever attend to those vast teachings, which are indeed an addition to the vision of what is humanly possible. They are Buddhism’s great contribution to world culture. On a nuts-and-bolts level, though, the thing that has contributed most to the practice of psychother- apy is mindfulness. At this point, you could find mindfulness taught in books on just about every mental-disorder syndrome. There’s lots of research work also going on into the effects of mindfulness, which is helping to change how many people view human potential. It’s interesting that the authors of the book Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression talked about their struggle with the idea of practicing mindfulness themselves. Initially, they thought they might just apply it as a therapy for depression, but they became converted to the vision that if they didn’t practice it themselves, they could not offer it to others. Judith lief: Beyond mindfulness, one of the things that Buddhism offers is the acceptance of a wider range of possible human experiences as valid expressions of who you are and how to live. Things are becoming narrowed to a few acceptable ways of being human, and therefore the number of treatable conditions lying outside of that is becom- ing larger and larger. harvey aronson: Buddhism certainly encourages us to appreciate the value of working with the mind directly. In my work, at a certain point during a patient’s treatment, I might hear from an insurance company that if a patient doesn’t get on medica- tion, they’re not going to support further therapy. I’m not opposed to it when it’s appropriate, but it’s clearly being overdone. Jack kornfield: The idea that we just give someone a pill so he or she can go back to being a produc- tive worker runs completely counter to the vision of who we are as human beings—a vision that lies at the heart of dharma. Medication can be helpful at times, but Buddhism also offers a vast view that isn’t evident in most of what passes for mental health care at this point. Judith lief: In some ways it goes right back to the first noble truth. If we accept a certain amount of discomfort and pain as part of being a human, then instead of just trying to free ourselves of has- sles, we take a much richer view of what it means to be human. buddhadharma: Given the difference between a spiri- tual and a scientific approach, is it realistic to sug- gest that this broader view of what it means to be human can actually make inroads into mainstream Western psychology? Jack kornfield: Scientific research in neurobiol- ogy will continue to show a much richer view of human possibility and affirm the power of medi- tation and other forms of practice and training. The good research of people like Jon Kabat-Zinn will show that there are skillful alternatives that bring people back to paying attention to them- selves, rather than relying on quick fixes or over- medication. That said, however, we live in such a materialistic world that there’s a missing piece that goes beyond ordinary well-being. It’s remembering our incarnation and what we are here for and who we really are, connecting back to our buddhana- ture and the possibility of liberation. This is a big stretch for our culture. Judith lief: If there is a meeting point between Western understandings of mind and the Buddhist view, I think it has do with the nature of conscious- ness. If there is evidence that Buddhism actually does have some insight into what consciousness is all about, it becomes another tool for Western scientists to look at a big question they’re trying to figure out. Buddhism has been looking directly at the nature of consciousness for thousands of years. The fact that Western science is taking an interest is an exciting development. Western psychology has focused on healthier functioning, but there’s a possibility of liberation and freedom offered by dharma practice that is far beyond what is encompassed in the normal vision of human capacity in Western psychology. — Jack Kornfield ©JaumePlensa,CourtesyGalerielelonG,neWyork