The Intersection of Buddhism and Modern Psychology

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June 4, 2019
Buddhism and Modern Psychology featured image - Mahalaka, protector of the Faith
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Buddhism and Modern Psychology have multiple conjunctures and overlapping points. This includes a descriptive phenomenology of mental states, emotions and behaviors as well as theories of perception and unconscious mental factors.

Connections between Buddhism and Psychology

Buddhism includes an analysis of human psychology, emotion, cognition, behaviour and motivation along with therapeutic practices. A unique feature of Buddhist psychology is that it is embedded within the greater Buddhist ethical and philosophical system, and its psychological terminology is coloured by ethical overtones.

Psychotherapists such as Erich Fromm (buy his books from Amazon) have found in Buddhist enlightenment experiences the potential for transformation, healing and finding existential meaning.

Some contemporary mental-health practitioners such as Jon Kabat-Zinn (buy his books from Amazon) increasingly find ancient Buddhist practices (such as the development of mindfulness) of empirically proven therapeutic value, while Buddhist teachers such as Jack Kornfield see Western psychology as providing complementary practices for Buddhists.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

The first noble truth is life full of suffering. The very essential conditions of life appeared to be fraught with suffering-birth, old age, disease, death, sorrow, grief, wish, despair, in short, all that is born of attachment, is suffering. 

The second noble truth is that there is a cause of this suffering. Suffering is due to attachment. Attachment is one translation of the word trishna, which can also be translated as thirst, desire, lust, craving, or clinging. Another aspect of attachment is dvesha, which means avoidance or hatred. A third aspect of attachment is avidya, meaning ignorance.

The third noble truth about suffering is that suffering can be extinguished. Nirvana is the state of being wherein all clinging, and so all suffering, can be eliminated here, in this very life. Buddha pointed out that work without attachment, hatred and infatuation (rāga, dveṣa, moha) does not cause bondage.

The fourth noble truth about suffering is that there is a path – marga -which Buddha followed and others can similarly follow-to reach to a state free from misery. He called it the Eightfold Path to liberation.

The Eightfold Path

Eight fold Path  – astangika-marga as advocated by Buddha as a way to extinguish the sufferings are right views, right resolve/aspiration, right speech, right action/conduct, right livelihood, right effort right mindfulness and right concentration.

DivisionEightfold Path factors
Moral virtue (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Meditation (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
Insight, wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā)1. Right view
2. Right resolve


Mid-twentieth century saw the collaborations between many psychoanalysts and Buddhist scholars as a meeting between “two of the most powerful forces” operating in the Western mind. Buddhism and Modern Psychology overlap in theory and in practice. Over the last century, experts have written on many commonalities between Buddhism and various branches of modern western psychology like phenomenological psychology, psychoanalytical psychotherapy, humanistic psychology, cognitive psychology and existential psychology.

Buddha was a unique psychotherapist. His therapeutic methods helped millions of people throughout the centuries. 


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