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Psychological self vs Buddhist self

personperson Don't believe everything you thinkThe liminal space Veteran
edited October 2023 in Buddhism Today

In a recent episode of The Psychology Podcast, Scott Barry Kaufman interviewed Joseph Goldstein. At 15:11 the question was asked about how Scott's psychological understanding of self seems to butt up somewhat against the Buddhist understanding (I'll try to link it at the discussion).

What Joseph said basically was that the same term was being used to describe slightly different things. That his understanding, which Scott agreed with, was that the psychological definition of self was a healthy balance of mind while the Buddhist understanding was more of an ontological description of the nature of the whole psycho-spiritual construct that constitutes our being.

My takeaway has been to think how these definitions might trip us up on the path. That we might mistake one for the other and intend to work towards Buddhist selflessness but in actuality be working towards psychological selflessness. For example, the Dalai Lama presumably has some deep level of realization of emptiness of self but seems to have a very healthy balance of mind. While someone else might be said to have a poor balance of mind (not a very strong sense of psychological self) but be totally taken over in the fundamental ignorance of Buddhist self.

Its kind of interesting and a challenge with words, how things can get lost or misinterpreted in translation and send us in the wrong direction.


  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I’ve also found it interesting how Buddhism and psychology relate. Often you heard it said that Buddhism is a psychology of mind, but what exactly the differences are is something that you don’t often get clearly described.

    One of the goals of my Buddhist practice was to get a view on what the mind is and how it functions. Psychology has things to say about that, but Buddhism does as well. Yet over the years it has seemed to be a lost cause, using the mind to understand the mind.

    In the end, they are all thoughts, and lately I have been more focussing on my relationship to thoughts. How thoughts take possession of the me-space, how one thought triggers another thought, how insight is an end to thought, how rest comes with sleep.

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