Buddhist concepts sharpen Western theories
Psychologists' work with Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars can serve as a model for future discourse between scientists and other contemplative religions. Even the conversations that could lead to a sharpened understanding of cognition, emotion and even consciousness
Buddhist theories of the mind have also prejudiced the work of Stephanie Rude, PhD, an assistant professor of counselling psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is interested in applying these ideas to work with people with mental illnesses such as depression. Rudes, (2009) finds “the particular merit in an idea borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism, that the self of a belief in something permanent, stable and integral to a person which hinders happiness”
According to Rudes, (2009), "When you read Buddhist writings, you get a sense of self as an obstacle in achieving fulfilment”. That is a huge difference in perspective from the West, where the concept of self-esteem or a "healthy" self is central to both theory and clinical practice. Yet, consistent with the Buddhist view, some Western research suggests that focusing on the self can compound negative emotions.
"A depressed person may make himself feel worse by interpreting his suffering as meaning he has failed in some way," Ekman, P. (2003). It explains that a trained Buddhist monk might choose to see his suffering as an inevitable part of being human.
Levingston (2007), “Westerners are conditioned to take suffering more personally and to think about suffering as something about themselves” (p.199). Eschewing a concept of the self as something immutable and central may help us to feel less harmed by the slings and arrows of misfortune. Rudes (2009), “Buddhist acceptance of mental suffering as an unavoidable condition of life, rather than a reflection on their personal failings, may help monks face sadness with equanimity” (p.57).
While Levingston (2007), agrees “A plan to study monks directly considers the body of knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism to be a major resource in continuing study of depression” (p.39).
According to Rudes, (2009), "It's a big challenge to Western researchers to figure out how these ideas might be used without losing too much in translation" (p.75). Eventually, psychologists may be able to use techniques cut on the teeth of Buddhist theories to teach people with depression to reconceptualise their ideas of self in ways that promote mental health.
Levingston (2007), agrees that “interdisciplinary understanding between Western psychology and Tibetan Buddhism not just borrowing concepts, but can be beneficial to both traditions.
Thus the hopes psychologists' work with Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars can serve as a model for future discourse between scientists and other contemplative religions. Even the conversations that could lead to a sharpened understanding of cognition, emotion and even consciousness. "There is a lot we can learn from these traditions" (Levingston, 2007, p.74).
- Davidson, R.J. & Harrington, A. (Eds.). (2001). Visions of compassion: Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists examine human nature. Oxford: Oxford Press.
- Ekman, P. (2003). Emotions revealed: Recognizing faces and feelings to improve communication and emotional life. New York: Times Books.
- Houshmand, Z., Livingston, R.B., & Wallace, A.B. (Eds.) Consciousness at the crossroads: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on brain science and Buddhism. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.