Sunday, October 25, 2009




Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Hong Kong, 2009
Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

Mental health is an integral component of health that helps a person to realize his or her own relational abilities using the psychomotor, affective and cognitive domains. With a balanced mental disposition, one becomes more effective in coping with the stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and attains better capability to make a positive contribution to his or her community.

The considerable interest is expressed by people of various countries in recent years on Buddhist psychology. This is due to the fact that there is a great deal of psychological content in Buddhist teachings. Some parts of the Buddhist canonical texts deal with explicit psychological theorizing and many of the others present psychological assumptions as well as discusses on topics on psychological relevance. In Buddhism, there are three synonymous words are used to refer to mind. These are “Citta” meaning consciousness, “Mano” meaning mind and “Vinnana” meaning cognition.

The Abhidhamma Pitaka contains a highly systematized psychological account of human behavior and mind. The practice of Buddhism, as a religion and a way of life, involves much in terms of psychological change. The ultimate religious goal of the arahant state requires major psychological changes. The path towards the achievement of this goal, the Noble Eightfold Path, involves steps related to right thought and right understanding which are regarded as psychological. This goal is attainable only through one's own efforts, thinking and behavior.

Buddhism rejects the concept of God, so there is no real God to whom one can turn to for one's own salvation. The Buddha too never claimed to be able to ensure any of his followers, the attainment of this goal. He explicitly stated that he was only a teacher who could show the way. The actual task of achieving the goal was up to each individual's own efforts. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to liberate the mind. In order to liberate the mind, it is necessary to develop the mind and know the mind.

The Mind-Body Relationship
The “Nama” in “nama-rupa” is a collective name for the following five mental factors namely, feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), volition (cetana), sense-impression (phassa) and mind’s advertence, or attention (manasikara). The “rupa” in “nama-rupa” refers to organic matter (the matter that enters into the composition of the living being). So, “rupa” is a material form that refers to the four primary elements of matter (mahabhuta) and secondary material phenomena that depend on the primary elements (upada rupa).
Buddhism avoids the dualistic theory which asserts that mental and material realities are strictly separate entities. It also avoids the monistic theory which maintains that mental and material realities are reducible to one, either to mind (Idealism) or matter (Materialism). According to Buddhism, the relationship between mind and body is one of mutual dependence or a reciprocal conditionality. Consciousness is neither a soul nor the quality of a soul because the body is seen to persist for a limited period of time, while the consciousness which is also known as mind or intelligence, arises as one thing, ceases as another, in a continuous process throughout life.

Analysis of the affective, cognitive, and volitional dimensions of every experience (psychological) are done by the mind with the help of five aggregates which are Rupa (corporeality / materiality), Vedana (feelings), Sanna (perceptions), Samkhara (mental formations) and Vinnana (consciousness). The six corresponding sense objects to the six sense organs: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind are the visual form, sound, smell, taste, touch and mental objects, which give rise to the six kinds of sense consciousness.

The Early Buddhist Theory of Perception
The visual consciousness arises depending on the eye and visible form. The correlation of the three is sensory contact (impingement). Depending on sensory contact, there arises feeling. What one feels, one perceives. What one perceives, one investigates. What one investigates, one conceptually proliferates. What one conceptually proliferates, one begins to assail and overwhelm the percipient individual. The different stages of the perceptual (cognitive) process are eye-consciousness (cakkhu-vinnana), sensory contact (phassa), feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), investigation (vitakka) and conceptual proliferation (papanca).

Abhidhamma is based on the analysis of the apparently continuous stream of consciousness into a series of discrete, evanescent cognitive events, and the analysis of each cognitive event into bare consciousness called citta and a group of mental factors called “cetasikas”. The “cetasikas” perform more specific tasks in the act of cognition.

The Basic Principles of Buddhist Psychology
According to Buddhism, the world is lead by the mind and the world is activated by the mind (e.g., Cittena niyati loko, Cittena parikissati). Since Buddhism discarded the concept of a soul, it had explained the sense functions, such as vision, hearing, etc. without reference to the idea of any soul.

Consciousness does not arise without any condition. Consciousness always springs up in dependence on a duality. For example, in case of eye consciousness, it is eye, acting as the visual organ is impermanent. It is constantly changing and becoming-other. Accordingly, the visible objects also are impermanent and they too are changing and becoming-other. This is the transient, fugitive duality of eye-cum-visible objects. Since, eye-consciousness arises by depending on an impermanent condition, it is also impermanent. The coincidence, concurrence and confluence of these factors (called contact) and those other mental phenomena arising as a result of them, are also impermanent. Consciousness has no independent existence of any sort. It always exists in conjunction with the other four aggregates into which the individual is analyzed.

Buddhism and Modern Psychology
Buddhist psychology is pre-scientific, in a sense that it developed prior to, and outside the context of, modern Western science. But it offers hypotheses which could be brought within the realm of scientific inquiry. The modern scientific psychology during its process of evolution would incorporate ideas, concepts and techniques from Buddhist way of judgment and evaluation. Buddhist psychology would thus contribute towards the further expansion and development of modern psychology. Within the broad limits of psychology, it is indeed possible that some areas of modern psychology, which are able to derive from or have in common with Buddhist psychology, may develop and flourish with close interaction. Buddhist psychology is likely to keep interacting with modern psychology, rather than achieving integration with it. During this interaction, it will continue to make a contribution to both theory and practice in different areas with varying degrees of significance. This contribution is likely to be particularly significant in the area of psychological therapy in the form of Jhana or meditation. The transpersonal school of psychology had started incorporating a good deal of Buddhism and other ideas related to personal development and self-motivation.

Though there is no 'Self' in this psychology, but Buddhist Psychology is very much compassionately concerned with individual persons. It is possible to envisage that some integration between certain aspects of Buddhist psychology and parallel areas of modern psychology might be fruitfully affected. The most important thing that Buddhist psychology offers to the modern psychology is a framework of a different way of visualizing and evaluating the phenomenological and personal experience. Buddhist psychology as a discipline, distinct from Buddhism as a religion, can make greater worldwide appeal and significant impact on the minds of the common people.


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