What is Buddhist Psychology?

“In its true state, consciousness is naked, immaculate, clear, vacuous, transparent, timeless, beyond all conditions. O Nobly born, remember the pure open sky of your own true nature.”

-Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation.

Welcome to the first official post of ‘Professor College Kid’, a series in which I teach general overviews, meant for beginners, on all kinds of intriguing topics! Let’s get going with this amazing theme, Buddhist Psychology. 

What is Buddhism, Anyway?

Buddhism is a non-theistic religion (it doesn’t involve worship of any particular god), and a philosophy of life, which originated in the teachings of the “enlightened” Siddhartha Guatama Buddha, born in 563 B.C. Nepal. 

  • Buddhism is a way of life, and a path to becoming mindfully centered and “awakened”.
  • Buddhism offers a way to diminish human suffering through meditation & the practice of detaching oneself from material goods and pleasures that distract our peaceful states of being.
  • Buddhism is not a religion in the Western-sense. There are no gods or strict doctrines to adhere to, but simply the prophetic figure of the Buddha, and ancient Eastern oral teachings stemming from him, that create the backbone of Buddhism.

Buddhist Psychology

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My artistic representation of the Buddha, painted May 2015

“Buddhist teachings are not a religion, they are a science of mind.”

-The Dalai Lama.

Buddhist Psychology is a very unique emerging field of science, especially in terms of its novelty. The field of Psychology itself has only been legitimate for less than 140 years, so comparatively speaking Buddhist Psychology is in its infancy stage, roughly dating back to only 50 years ago. Buddhist philosophies and lifestyles have been observed and practiced for thousands of years in the Eastern hemisphere of our world, but only recently have western psychologists and researchers begun to take notice of these philosophies. They are finding more and more, with research to back up their findings, that Buddhism has a real place and effectiveness in the world of Western Psychology and our mental health.

The main focus of incorporating Buddhism into clinical psychology methods has been on the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is “the nonjudgemental, unbiased awareness of life in the present moment” (Robins, History of Psychology in the East). Mindfulness is a radical concept to Western psychology, because it focuses on self-knowledge and gaining an understanding of your inner workings through careful awareness of your mind, rather than focusing mainly on the external factors that may contribute to your mental health. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with meditation, a practice that Eastern Buddhists place a huge emphasis on. Mediation and mindfulness allow us to become aware of our states of mind as they come, acknowledge whether they are healthy or unhealthy to us, and release them if they are unhealthy.

The Main Principles of Buddhist Psychology

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A revolutionary thinker, teacher, and best-selling American author on Buddhist psychology, Jack Kornfield, has written nearly a dozen books on this field of science. He offers us a way to practice mindfulness, improve upon our personal consciousnesses, change our negative self-doubting mind states into healthy and peaceful mind states, and provides us with the best information to date on the growing popularity of Buddhism incorporated into Western psychology (I highly recommend checking out his work if you want to learn more).

Here are the main principles of Buddhist Psychology, as outlined by Jack Kornfield in his book The Wise Heart:

1. See the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings.

We tend to build a protective layer around our hearts when we deal with difficult or threatening situations. To see our inner nobility is to realize our fears and negative thoughts are not who we are, but rather that we are filled with an innate dignity and goodness.

2. Compassion is our deepest nature. It arises from our interconnection with all things.

We all deal with confusion and sorrow over the difficult aspects of our lives. Buddhism offers that compassion happens when we are able to see our human situation clearly. Suppressing our pain doesn’t do any good-we must open our eyes to our situations, and only then can we approach ourselves and others with the “kindly eyes” of compassion.

3. When we shift attention from experience to the spacious consciousness that knows, wisdom arises.

We gain wisdom by looking past all the things we simply sense and perceive, and focusing more on being mindful of our own consciousness and observing “without being caught in our experience” (Kornfield 37).

4. Recognize the mental states that fill consciousness. Shift from unhealthy states to healthy ones. iStock_000005669855Medium

Think of your consciousness, or rather the essence of your mind, as a clear and endless blue sky. It never changes. Mental states are like different weather patterns that arise. For example, your sister steals your favorite shirt and you become angry at her. Your clear mental sky is now developing dark and heavy rain clouds (anger). We can learn to be aware of these mental states as they appear in our consciousness, and even choose to cast these clouds away to make room for sunnier weather.

5. Our ideas of self are created by identification. The less we cling to ideas of self, the freer and happier we will be.

As we progress in life, we often take on different roles. We begin to identify ourselves with various labels. Mother, daughter, bully, liar, teacher, lover, failure. The list goes on until eventually we don’t know who we are anymore. Buddhist Psychology calls us to strip away the layers of shallow identities we give ourselves, and to discover our original selves again.

6. Our life has universal and personal nature. Both dimensions must be respected if we are to be happy and free.

 

Life is about both our physical human forms, and the spiritual beings we are within the material world and body. We all live in these two realities, each being equally important to who we are.

7. Mindful attention to any experience is liberating. Mindfulness brings perspective, balance, and freedom.

“We can become mindful. When we are mindful, it is as if we can bow to our experience without judgement or expectation. ‘Mindfulness,’ declared the Buddha, ‘is all helpful’.” -Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart.

8. Mindfulness of the body allows us to live fully. It brings healing, wisdom, and freedom. b214be0a064703426a35e75880406cf6

Our human bodies are very precious, because they are necessary for us to realize freedom and true happiness. We can learn to be mindful of our bodily conditions, noticing suffering or well-being through it. Noticing these things helps us work towards peace.

9. Wisdom knows what feelings are present without being lost in them.

There is nothing wrong with experiencing pain. It doesn’t mean we have somehow failed ourselves. But it is important and wise to learn to acknowledge our good and bad feelings as they happen, but not get swept away in them.

10. Thoughts are often one-sided and untrue. Learn to be mindful of thought instead of being lost in it.

Our thoughts on a daily basis become habitual; we typically don’t realize how often the same type of thoughts pop into our heads, and are unknowingly creating habits and our sense of self and everyone around us. Being aware of our thoughts can help us shape our mindsets into something much more positive.

*There are 26 principles in all, check out The Wise Heart to learn more!*

THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING!

Follow & Comment with any thoughts/suggestions, this is my first ‘Professor College Kid’ post so I’d love to hear your input! I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this topic. 🙂 

Sources

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