Buddhist Perspectives

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Buddhist PerspectivesAccording to Buddhist teachings, the first noble truth is the acknowledgement of suffering, dukkha. Dukkha is subdivided into three categories: physical and mental pain and discomfort, apprehension of future pain and existential dissatisfaction. The second noble truth is that suffering is caused by craving, tanha. Tanha stems from vedana, feeling. The objects of craving are termed kama tanha, craving for sensation, bhavan tanha, craving for a particular state of being or for ongoing existence, and vibhava tanha, craving for oblivion. The third noble truth is the cessation of suffering, attained through Buddhist practice, which described as “going for refuge”. The fourth noble truth concerns liberation, the ending of suffering (nirodha) achieved through espousal of the noble eightfold path (Samyutta Nikaya). This is a moderate way, (magga), a “householder’s path”, avoiding the extremes of both hedonism and asceticism. Those precepts concerning mind and the inner world relate to ethical speech, action, livelihood, .thought, understanding, concentration, effort and mindfulness. An enjoinder to live continently and do no harm epitomises the pragmatic nature of the code.

Mindfulness meditation arises from the Buddhist tradition. The technique aims to bring about a state of non-reactive attention, in which mental contents can be witnessed impartially without reaction. No theoretical meaning is imposed on intrapsychic phenomena, although the experience is set in the context of Buddhist teachings about anicca, the impermanence of all phenomena, anatta, the non-identification with the egoic self and dukkha, the various forms of suffering.

Craving, tanha, one of the key mental processes which Buddhism sees as afflictive, is based on a distinction between subject and object, an unrealistic exaggeration of an object’s desirable characteristics and diminution of its less desirable features. It involves displacement of the source of wellbeing from the subject’s own mind to external objects, and it engenders anxiety, frustration and discontentment. Identification with tanha is viewed as harmful.

The second affliction, hatred, is a destructive impulse towards any obstruction to the gratification of tanha. It involves projection of the resented qualities onto the object, and denial of the source of the anger.

The third affliction is the belief in and attempt to sustain the illusion of a permanent, fixed personal identity. This erroneous belief, and the actions that arise from it, are seen as the roots of all suffering.

Psychology recognises that states can change, but sees dispositional traits as immutable. Psychological methods to cultivate healthy mental attributes are employed only in psychopathology. Buddhism, however, offers techniques for the modification of affective characteristics and the development of sukha, which refers to not only positive affect but a deep sense of contentment and qualities of compassion, resilience and empathic awareness. These involve discipline, effort, the refining of skill over many years and ongoing practice.