Friday, May 12, 2006

Zen and Psychotherapy

I attended a continuing education lecture called Zen and Psychotherapy yesterday. The speaker said something very interesting right off the bat. He said that if the teachings of the Buddha are presented as a religion or as a philosophy (as they have been historically done) they will be rejected in the United States, but if they are presented as a psychotherapy, they will be accepted. I think he is absolutely right about this. I think that he is right that Buddhism as a religion offends our civil religion. We at least like to think that we are Christians. And few enjoy a philosophy.


This author wants to bring Zen principles into counseling because he things that they work. He is a pragmatist and he feels that American Buddhism can be practical and avoid both doctrine and intellectual rigor. According to him, Zen works. Why not use it?


Do you think that the American church may have used the same mentality to spread the "teachings of Jesus"? If we present Christ as calling us all sinners, that will offend. If we make him out to be an intellectually serious philosopher, that will satisfy some, but it won't be accessible to the masses. If Jesus makes us feel good and fixes our problems, then we really have something.


Regarding the content of the presentation, I thought that the notion of suffering was interesting. I think that we have become accustomed to living without suffering to such a degree that if a child dies, we rage against Heaven or sue a doctor, because such things offend our sense of justice and security. Now, the Zen doctrine essentially espouses the notion that Suffering is a human given. I think that the Christian understanding of Suffering is that it is a human universal, due to the fall, and not the natural condition of the world. Also, that suffering can have meaning, and not in the Nietzschean sense that it makes you a stronger person. I wouldn't go to the extreme of some Roman Catholic mystics' notion of the Victim Soul - one whose personal suffering can be applied as merit to others. Certainly we are called to bear our crosses (which are by definition unpleasant and not self-chosen) with patience. I like Luther's take on the vine and vinedresser regarding suffering. The vine complains about the pruning and the piling high of manure, but that these are for the vine's overall health in the end.


The 8-fold path out of suffering involves Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Basically, the internal law. You are able to fulfill the Law through meditation, eventually letting go of your desires. So basically, you can keep the second table of the commandments, if you let go enough (the speaker warned about making it too much of a duty or trying too hard.)


The idea of Right Livelihood is the Buddhist doctrine of vocation, which seems to assert that whatever you do , you should make sure that your lifestyle doesn't inadvertently hurt someone else. So, owning apparel that is made in a sweatshop violates this principle.
Right Mindfulness I thought was interesting because it has to do with being mindful of living on the path of life and being in process. I do think that mindfulness is a healthy practice, but mindfulness of living Coram Deo.

2 Comments:

Blogger solarblogger said...

We do tend to get language bound when asking these questions. Something like "Christianity is a religion. Zen is a religion. Since Christianity is true, then Zen must be false." G.K. Chesterton had some remarks in a chapter of The Everlasting Man called "God and Comparative Religion" that those who study comparative religion are comparing incomparable things. Christianity and Islam may be two in a similar category. But some of these Eastern Religions are not really rivals to Christianity as they answer different life questions. I would want to ask questions more like, "Is this Zen practice involving me in false worship? Does it make dogmatic assumptions that contradict Christian doctrines?" If not, then perhaps these are just deep insights from Easten people that got packaged and then later labelled a religion.

The idea of walking into a situation without assumptions can be a good exercise. I heard one therapist talk of another who would sometimes enter a session "as if" they had never met the person they were talking to. So that their previous assumptions would not prevent them from seeing something new. I thought that was intriguing.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Tracie said...

That 8 fold path. What a concept.

11:32 AM  

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