One of the most interesting things that I have learned on my scholarly journey was that there is a type of psychology known as Buddhist Psychology. Whenever this topic was covered, it brought me back to 13-14 year old me when I first started developing my passion for psychology. It was also around the time that I endeavored to explore other religious and spiritual practices since I was originally raised as an SBC Christian. I remembered how originally, I wanted to look into Buddhism to understand the practice and evolution behind it and now I can understand why I was originally drawn to Buddhism first before any other lineage of religion.
Before I go into detail about Buddhist Psychology, it is important to understand that in this context, Buddhism is used as a form of psychology or therapy – not religion. The point of this explanation is that there are aspects of Buddhism which are beneficial in the development of healthy personalities. This will not feature any of the religious teachings of Buddhism, but it will cover self-help aspects.
Buddhism is about attaining enlightenment, finding your life’s journey, and eventually achieving nirvana. The belief that not of an authoritative law, but a natural law of how things should work. The four noble truths are the basic tenets that Buddhists live by: “duhkha” or there is suffering, the origin of suffering, the end of suffering, and the eight-fold path.
The first truth of ‘There is suffering’ is essentially the frustration to fulfill basic needs. It is essentially the “unwoken” phase; the people who believe that things are better than they actually are – or – to relate to the masses better, thinking of being stuck in the matrix. Everything is not as it seems. However, in Buddhism, this is not to acknowledge that nothing can be done. Self-pity is not an option because once one becomes aware that things are not as they seem, it can now be used as motivation to follow the path.
Next, the origin of suffering truth is an attachment to desire, a craving to be better. Initially, this leads one to crave the wrong things, forcing an unhealthy attachment to mental or physical (figurative) crutches. In my school’s text (cited at the bottom of the page), it provides a great example of craving tobacco (or nicotine), and when you remove that object of dependence from your life, the craving eventually disappears. Once you achieve independence from that cycle, you can move forward. Additionally, there are people who tend to get stuck in the cycle of suffering, moving from one craving/addiction to another. This is called samsara.
The end of suffering comes, as I’ve said before, once detachment from cravings happens. Now though, it includes material goods, possessiveness, relationships, etc. Not just addictions, but also greediness. It means detaching from people that don’t necessarily share the same wavelength anymore, but it doesn’t mean dropping them out of one’s life altogether. It means setting boundaries with certain people, some more than others. This ALSO means giving up certain mindsets, notions, beliefs, etc. In this stage, it’s about working on being open-minded and open to hearing new facts to redevelop what one thought they already knew.
The Eightfold Path is the aspect of Buddhism that makes it so much closer to western psychology than religion. It starts with having the right view – or the right mindset. Once one can gear their thoughts in the right direction, they can move on to the next path. This is a view that is not prejudiced and perceives accurately. The next path is the right intention which means that there are realistic goals based on acceptance of the world as it is. Next is the right speech, speaking in ways that are direct, assertive, and respectful. Then, we have the right action – implying the way we behave and act matter on the path to growth. Then, there is the right livelihood. This is about doing work that is meaningful and aligns with your ethical/spiritual beliefs. Right effort is the next path, which is about knowing how far to push yourself and if you push yourself enough or too much. Then, we have the right mindfulness. This is where it’s important to remain aware of yourself and your surroundings, making sure that you’re still seeing the bigger picture. And finally – the right concentration – which is understanding that we, individually, are all a part of the bigger picture.
By applying this understanding to any given life of a person, it can explain the common ebb and flow that we see in the ‘average’ person’s life. So, ultimately, Buddhist Psychology can provide an explanation and understanding of every individual path and recognize that everybody eventually takes this journey.
All references were made to one singular chapter from my former class’ textbook cited below in APA format.
Cloninger, S. (2019). Theories of personality: Understanding persons (7th ed.) [Custom]. Pearson.
Chatham, R. (2013, July 17). What is Buddhist Psychology?. Whole Self Therapy. https://wholeselftherapy.com/2013/07/17/what-is-buddhist-psychology/