Saturday, April 18, 2015

Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in the Light of Modern Psychology

Buddhism cherishes its Three Jewels, which are keys on the path to enlightenment. They are the Buddha (a particular sublte, centered experience of self), the Sangha (the spiritual community), and the Dharma (the spiritual path and practice together with its knowledge).

Modern Psychology pursues a tripartite model of attitude change, that is mediators that facilitate an internal, cognitive reconstruction (adaption): consistent or favourable evaluation of self, satisfactory relationships with other people, and informational accuracy (know-how). Attitude change is key to changes dealing with emotional facticism, or samsaric roots. Abstract concepts only appear real to us because the invoke the same emotions that are evoked by other phenomena that we have experienced and classified as real at an earlier point in time.

There is a striking similarity between the Buddha Jewel and a favourable evaluation of self. The Buddha Jewel, as an ideal, propagates a completely centered ideal of self that no longer display samsaric roots. There are two relevant samsaric roots: physical matter (i.e. body, biology), thus in Buddhist terms it is favorable to give up identification with the body (and any physical phenomena beyond). Secondly, mental constructs, that most commonly includes concepts of a soul. Being free from both one resides as observer, experiencer, or in terms of acceptance and commitment therapy: as self-as-context. This detached form of observation ensures constistent and favourable evaluations of self that are independent from external circumstances and perceptions.

There is another similarity between the Sangha Jewel and satisfactory relations to others. It is much more likely that people will experience satisfactory relations to people who are on the same path as themselves. As spiritual seekers on a Buddhist path obviously are a minority, positive experience is more likely to be found in a Sangha than in the open public. However, today, with a huge industry of spiritualism, hierarchical thinking has been widely reintroduced into Sanghas, deviating form the Buddhist ideal of sameness in nature of all individuals. These misconstructions of Sangha reintroduce concepts of competition to realms that are supposedly devoid thereof.

Thirdly, the Dharma Jewel and the informational accuracy seeking, the knowledge how a goal can be achieved in a non-contradictory canon, strongly relate to each other. Cognitive progress will only arise from internalization of concepts, each step building upon prior experience. Thus the next step will have to be within the vicinity of the before, in a zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) or a zone of influence (when seen from an external perspective). This strongly suggests consistent syllabi like Buddha's Dharma or modern scientific theories are facilitators in this progress.

Buddha's teachings in many ways appear to be more psychological than spiritual. If one reduces spiritual commerce and religious ritualism, Buddhism appears as a sophisticated, more than 2000 year-old psychological syllabus based on introspection whose findings are astonishingly often confirmed by modern scientific studies.