Wednesday, October 29, 2008


There's a fascinating article I found on Integral Options Cafe by Thanissaro Bhikkhu about egolessness, which compares it with western psychological ideas. He doesn't attribute John Welwood to the idea of spiritual bypassism, but we can fogive that. I downloaded the PDF (couldn't find the original source page). Interesting.

While I don't think that top Buddhist teacher's health egos proves that nobody from the east needs therapy, only Buddhism, I do agree with this suggestion: "One way would be to read the ancient texts with new eyes. Instead of assuming that the not‐self teaching is counseling egolessness, how about assuming that it’s part of a regimen for developing a healthy ego?"

This is also interesting: "As for the concept of not‐self, the Buddha would advise using it whenever unskillful attachment to things or patterns of behavior got in the way of your happiness. In effect, he would have you drop unhealthy and unskillful ways of self‐identification in favor of ways that were more skillful and refined."

Finally, "If you open your mind to the idea that the Buddha was actually advocating ego development instead of egolessness, you see that there’s nothing lopsided or lacking in his understanding of healthy ego functioning. In fact, he mastered some ego skills that Western psychology has yet to explore, such as how to use right concentration to satisfy the desire for immediate pleasure; how to develop an integrated sense of causality that ultimately makes a sense of self superfluous; how to harness the ego’s drive for lasting happiness so that it leads to a happiness transcending space and time."

Now do you need psychotherapy to become enlightened? I don't presume to know what people need, but I have found both of them very useful, complimentary projects and areas of thought. I'm not trying to take over Buddhism with psychotherapy or vice-versa. For me, there is great synergy between the two areas, modes of personal development. I have no problems with Thanissaro Bhikkhu not going to therapy.


Jayarava said...

Hi Stephen,

You've redecorated since I last looked in! I like the vanilla look. I found this fascinating. I'm about to go off and read the article, but was struck by how much it resembles some of the conclusions I have come to about ego - wrote about it on my blog a couple of years ago. I tend to think that most Westerners need a stronger sense of self or ego, we are underpowered in that department and it undermines our ability to undertake spiritual practices. I think we need a mature and secure sense of who we are - R.D. Laing called it "ontological security" - before undertaking practices which undermine our sense of solidity.

And what's more I think this is implicit in Sangharakshita's system of meditation the first two steps being: integration and positive emotion. The integrated individual has a clear and strong sense of themselves, and is more able to direct their attention and their activities with purpose.

I also recently wrote about the context of the teachings about anatta - that is the Brahminical search for immanent Godhead (rather like the search for Buddha nature in my view).

I have suggested translating anatta as "selflessness" - because I think that in English this has different and preferable connotations to no-self. The selfless person may well have/be a self, but is altruistic. To be altruistic one needs to be big on the inside.

It will be interesting to compare my ideas with Thanissaro... might pop back if anything interesting emerges.

Best Wishes

S. Bell said...

Thank you Jayarava for your comment.

I've been thinking lately that just to reverse it isn't the solution. I think there is something to tearing down and building up.

I thought of Milarepa building that tower just to tear it down, over and over again. I also like the image of a snake shedding skin--he still has skin after he sheds it. Self and self making is an interesting topic.

I also think about the system of meditation too. I was into the 6 Element practice for a little while a few years ago and I felt like I was disintegrating. At the time with babies and a new profession, that wasn't what I really needed, and I kind of wanted a hand off sadhana to build up something positive (probably Avolokita if I'm lucky enough to be asked to join the order). Anyway, the handoff goes to whatever, the Buddha or the 3 Jewels, there doesn't really need to be a handoff.

Now I feel more comfortable about the process of tearing down and shedding the skin, but my meditation practice hasn't gotten strong enough to move to 6 Element at the moment. I need to simplify my life more and get a regular meditation time. Hopefully when I start my new job I can fall into a routine of meditation.

I follow your blog Jayarava and wish I had the power for such thorough and insightful essays. Best wishes.

Jayarava said...

Hi Stephen,

Yes. In a way what we need to do is notice what is actually going on, to have the time and space to just pay attention to our experience and reflect on it in light of what the Buddha was talking about. It's not about this or that theory or practice, but whatever helps us to see that we have suspended disbelief and got caught up in the movie.

As for my blog... I'm definitely standing on the shoulders of giants, and rely on professional scholars for most of my ideas. I am excited by ideas though which makes me rare in our movement!

Best wishes