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Buddhism and Psychology

edited August 2009 in Arts & Writings
I may have posted about this before, but I've renewed my interests considerably. I am thinking about editing a volume on the topic and the senior editor of Wisdom Publications has expressed some interest.

One thing I wanted to do was compile a bibliography with your help.

Here's what I could grab off my selves for now. Some of the links are actually to essays or even excerpts but most to amazon.

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma by Bhikkhu Bodhi ... himan.html

An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology by Padmasiri de Silva ... H4VYTHBEQF

A Buddhist Psychology by Caroline Brazier ... H4VYTHBEQF

Zen Therapy: Transcending the Sorrows of the Human Mind by David Brazier ... pd_sim_b_4

The Couch and the Tree edited by Anthony Molino ... 0865475741

Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation by John Welwood ... 002&sr=1-3

Buddhist Practice on Western Ground: Reconciling Eastern Ideals and Western Psychology by Harvey Aronson ... 124&sr=1-1

Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings by Seth Segall

*Mindfulness Meditation essay by Segall ... tation.pdf

Mindful Therapy by Thomas Bien

Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunarantana


  • edited August 2009
    'Get out of your mind and into your life' - Steven Hayes

    'Anywhere you go, that's where you are' & 'Full Catastrophe Living'.... Jon Kabbat Zinn.

    I'll ask my wife for any more - she's a psychologist who uses some mindfulness stuff so may have further resources.
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran
    edited August 2009
    Brazier's The Feeling Buddha is also good. Mark Epstein's early books are good, too. Disciplines of Attention is very rewarding, but it's hard to find and hard to read.
  • edited August 2009
    I rather preferred this book by Brazier myself, although I will readily admit to being biased:

    And I should mention at the outset that I disagree with Brazier on virtually all of his points, except one: There is a real need for a critical re-appraisal of Buddhism. I don't know that he does a particularly good job of it, but at least he stuck his neck out and made a beginning.

    As far as psychotherapy books go, I would certainly agree that Epstein is the best that I've read:

    What I would really like to see, however, and what I think would be far more interesting, would be for someone to get away from the Buddhism-as-psychotherapy kick. Enough has been done on that genre to last for quite some time.

    On the other hand, I have not heard a peep from the Buddhist community concerning the recent advances in evolutionary psychology and cognitive psychology. This is where the real challenges lie.

    For example, here is an extended quote from Pascal Boyer:

    [Our] minds consist of many different, specialized explanatory engines. Consider this: It is almost impossible to see a scene without seeing it in three dimensions, because our brains cannot help explaining the flat images projected onto the retina as the effect of real volumes out there. If you are brought up among English speakers you just cannot help understanding what people say in that language, that is, explaining complex patterns of sound frequencies as strings of words. People spontaneously explain the properties of animals in terms of some inner properties that are common to their species; if tigers are aggressive predators and yaks quiet grazers, this must be because of their essential nature. We spontaneously assume that the shape of particular tools is explained by their designers' intentions rather than as an accidental combination of parts; the hammer has a sturdy handle and a heavy head because that is the best way to drive nails into hard materials. We find that it is impossible to see a tennis ball flying about without spontaneously explaining its trajectory as a result of a force originally imposed on it. If we see someone's facial expression suddenly change we immediately speculate on what may have upset or surprised them, which would be the explanation of the change we observed. When we see an animal suddenly freeze and leap up we assume it must have detected a predator, which would explain why it stopped and ran away. If our houseplants wither away and die we suspect the neighbors did not water them as promised—that is the explanation. It seems that our minds constantly produce such spontaneous explanations.

    Note that all these explanation-producing processes are "choosy" (for want of a better term). The mind does not go around trying to explain everything and it does not use just any information available to explain something. We don't try to decipher emotional states on the tennis ball's surface. We do not spontaneously assume that the plants died because they were distressed. We don't think that the animal leaped up because it was pushed by a gust of wind. We reserve our physical causes for mechanical events, biological causes for growth and decay and psychological causes for emotions and behavior.

    So the mind does not work like one general "let's-review-the-facts-and-get-an-explanation" device. Rather, it comprises lots of specialized explanatory devices, more properly called inference systems, each of which is adapted to particular kinds of events and automatically suggests explanations for these events. Whenever we produce an explanation of any event ("the window broke because the tennis ball hit it"; "Mrs. Jones is angry that the kids broke her window"; etc.), we make use of these special inference systems, although they run so smoothly in the mind that we are not aware of their operation. Indeed, spelling out how they contribute to our everyday explanations would be tedious (e.g., "Mrs. Jones is angry and anger is caused by unpleasant events caused by other people and anger is directed at those people and Mrs. Jones knows the children were playing next to her house and she suspects the children knew that tennis balls could break a window and ..."). This is tedious because our minds run all these chains of inferences automatically, and only their results are spelled out for conscious inspection.

    By discussing and taking seriously the "religion-as-explanation" scenario, we open up a new perspective on how religious notions work in human minds. Religious concepts may seem out of the ordinary, but they too make use of the inference systems I just described. Indeed, everything I just said about Mrs. Jones and the tennis ball would apply to the ancestors or witches. ... No one need say all this—no one even thinks about it in a conscious, deliberate manner—because it is all self-evident.

    ... The way our banal inference systems work explains a great deal about human thinking, including religious thoughts. But—this is the most important point—the workings of inference systems are not something we can observe by introspection. Philosopher Daniel Dennett uses the phrase "Cartesian theater" to describe the inevitable illusion that all that happens in our minds consists of conscious, deliberate thoughts and reasoning about these thoughts. But a lot happens beneath that Cartesian stage, in a mental basement that we can describe only with the tools of cognitive science. This point is obvious when we think about processes such as motor control: the fact that my arm indeed goes up when I consciously try to lift it shows that a complicated system in the brain monitors what various muscles are doing. It is far more difficult to realize that similarly complicated systems are doing a lot of underground work to produce such deceptively simple thoughts as "Mrs. Jones is angry because the kids broke her window" or "The ancestors will punish you if you defile their shrine." But the systems are there. Their undetected work explains a lot about religion. It explains why some concepts, like that of invisible persons with a great interest in our behavior, are widespread the world over, and other possible religious concepts are very rare. It also explains why the concepts are so persuasive ...

    The quote is from pages 17 and 18 of this book. [The bold print is not in the original, although the italicization is.]

    I would suggest that the notion that the workings of inference systems—which comprise the bulk of our brain's activity—is beyond introspection would be of supreme interest to Buddhists ... but, I have yet to hear a Buddhist comment on it. Nonetheless, recent research has turned up mountains of evidence to support Boyer's contention. So why this lack of attention?

    Other books along this line that are worth reading:

    A nice study on bias, or, as I like to think of it, how the Ego really works:

    This is a great book, which goes well beyond traditional Buddhist teachings. I learned a lot from this one.

    And this is just a great little summary:

    Reads like a novel.

    Perhaps most importantly, the Buddha's ancient recognition that the Ego, the “self,” is fictitious is now a commonplace in modern psychology. So why are Buddhists absolutely silent on this point???

    Another quote:

    ... [T]he “I” who narrates this book and then vanishes on the final page is no different from that other “I,” Chris Frith, who wakes from nothing every morning at about 7 a.m. and vanishes again every night. I am not sure which of us is writing these final pages, but in both cases this “I” is created by my brain.

    From page 184 of this book:

    Not a peep out of the Buddhist community on this point. Not a peep. [I should correct myself—before somebody else does—at least, not a peep that I'm aware of.]

    Not a peep. Why? Why?

    This book is also worth reading. It has more detail than Frith's book, but it's comparatively dry:

    Anyway, this is probably moving things far, far away from your original focus ... and I'm sorry if I've pushed things to the point where it's off-topic ... but I do think that the time has come for the Buddhist community to move beyond its usual habit of placing the word “mere” before “psychology.” And that won't happen without somebody doing a little bit of old-fashioned work ...

    ... which I certainly don't have time for myself ... but, hopefully, someone else does ...

    Good luck with the writing!
  • edited August 2009
    ragyaba wrote: »
    I do think that the time has come for the Buddhist community to move beyond its usual habit of placing the word “mere” before “psychology.”

    You know, now that I've had some time to think about it, this strikes me as being unnecessarily arrogant.

    My apologies.
  • edited August 2009
    ragyaba wrote: »
    You know, now that I've had some time to think about it, this strikes me as being unnecessarily arrogant.

    My apologies.

    Not at all, friend, your point is quite valid and important.
  • DhammaDhatuDhammaDhatu Veteran
    edited August 2009
    Indeed. The Buddha said: "I teach only two things, namely suffering and freedom from suffering".

    This is mere psychology yet many Buddhists wish for Buddhism to be otherwise.

    Nibbana is psychology with suffering.

  • edited August 2009
    It's psychology-Zilla, Super-Psychology, and waaaaay more. Modern psychology is only just now beginning to scratch the surface of what the Buddha addressed in his teachings. Paticcasaumppada is a psychological model that traces the influence of ignorance (and its children greed and hatred) upon the psychological process as it causes the arising of suffering in the here-and-now. Garbage In --> Garbage Out. Ignorance In ---> Suffering Out.

    But along with that psychology thre is an ethical plank, morality and wisdom. And a practice that enables one to get from "here-to-there", from the point of not having any understanding at all, all the way up to the point of perfect and enduring peace of mind, and everywhere along the scale in between.
  • DhammaDhatuDhammaDhatu Veteran
    edited August 2009
    1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

    2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.


  • edited August 2009
    1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

    2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.




    Certainly inspires me to learn all I can about what actually does make up the mind and how it really does function.

    I haven't read this particular book yet, but it's been highly recommended to me by a friend of mine. I hope I can get to it later this year:
  • edited August 2009
    Let me add one more quote from this book by Steven Pinker:

    ... and then I will go away, never to darken this particular thread again. The quote is from page 42.

    Educated people, of course, know that perception, cognition, language, and emotion are rooted in the brain. But it is still tempting to think of the brain as it was shown in old educational cartoons, as a control panel with gauges and levers operated by a user—the self, the soul, the ghost, the person, the “me.” But cognitive neuroscience is showing that the self, too, is just another network of brain systems.

    Pretty much seems to be in line with traditional Buddhist teachings.

    Now, tell me why wouldn't any red-blooded Buddhist get fired up to learn more about that??

    And I would really, really like to see someone take the time to give a thoughtful answer to that question. I feel pretty confident in saying that nobody will, for obvious reasons, but I'd really like to see it.
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