Enlightening minds | Daily News

Enlightening minds

Buddhism and Psychology (Similarities and Differences in Buddhism and Western Psychology) written and compiled by Dr Ruwan M Jayatunga is a readable and resourceful work running to 12 chapters containing enlightening factors drawn from both disciplines as a comparative study. It is proved down the centuries that studies in religion and science provide broad perspectives that enable the growth of new subject areas interconnected.

As such, the philosophers, creative artistes and various other research scholars have embarked on comparative studies as the most significant methodology in the understanding of one discipline and the impact of the same on another. At the outset, the researcher, Dr Jayatunga triggers off to say that historian HG Wells more for the advancement of works civilisation than other influences in the chronicles of mankind.

As such, Buddhism at the outset is regarded as a philosophy about a way of life intended to reduce or decrease the discomfort and suffering in order to interest the pave the way for a better and happy existence. This is the main intention of the way of life as shown in the four noble truths. It is the way of the wise man who has embarked on the search for wisdom (pragna). On the other hand, as the learned psychologists have pointed out the behaviour of an individual paves the way for a better happy and resilient life.

From birth to death, people suffer. But one attempts to know the reasons for being a sufferer, he or she may be a wiser person than the others in the search for a better lifestyle. This is regarded as the essence in the teaching of the Buddha, about which volumes of research have been conducted down the centuries.

Dr Jayatunga attempts to present most of them in the pages of his work. In Chapter One, the researcher doctor exemplifies the basic premise that lies between Buddhism and psychology. He recounts most of the Buddhist teachings as laid down in the Citta Vagga of the Dhammapada. He lays down that the mind is thought to be the seat of perception, self-consciousness, thinking, believing remembering, hoping, desiring, willing, judging, analysing, evaluating and reasoning.

Then says that the approach of Buddhism is one seeing and understanding. It is a scientific phenomenon of attitude and behaviour. As such, he states that more and more philosophical and psychological doctrines are similar and corroborated by new scientific discoveries. Perhaps these factors are more elaborated in the inner layers of Buddhist metaphysical teachings known as Abhidhamma.

Laying down the Buddhist teachings on suffering (Dukkha) and the way to get rid of the same, the researcher takes the reader on to the path of modern psychologist doctrines as laid initially by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Eric Fromm and more modernistic findings of Jacques Derrida. Thus psychological factors similar and dissimilar are brought to light gradually.

This paves the way for the researcher to discuss the concept Nirvana from a psychological point of view. As the researcher points out the concept of Nirvana as laid down by the Buddha is more than 2500 years ago. What the Buddha tried to explain as ‘Nirvana as the supreme state of mind as Enlightenment (Bodhisattva) could never be explained in simple terms.

But the supreme state of mind which is ungraspable in simple terms could only be a state of achievement through the supreme purity of a mind by trying to gauge the teachings in the eight pats which led to a supreme state of happiness. The Buddha describes Nirvana, the supreme state as a state of deathlessness and the highest spiritual attainment the reward for one who lives a life of virtuous conduct.

As such, this state of achievement could be understood with empirical phenomena that cover such factors as meditation and concentration. As laid down in the work, the Buddha tries to explain this concept to one of his disciples as follows:

“He asks whether the fire, when it is extinguished, can be said to have gone north, south, east or west. Nirvana, however, cannot be described as existing, not existing, both existing and not or neither existing nor not.

At this juncture, he inserts a concept as laid down by Venerable Walpola Rahula Thera in ‘What the Buddha Taught’, that goes as follows:

“It is incorrect to think that Nirvana is the natural result of the extinction of craving. Nirvana is not the result of anything. If it would be a result, then it would be an effect produced by a cause. It would be ‘produced’ and ‘conditioned’. Nirvana (thus) is neither cause nor effect. It is not produced like a mystic, spiritual, mental state such as ‘Dhyana’ or ‘Samadhi’. From the basic doctrines pertaining to the Buddhist teachings on ‘Nirvana,’ the researcher takes the reader further realms of psychology drawing streams of visions as laid down in existentialism as well.

One of the most stimulating factors emerges in the exemplification of the concept of conquering fear. Dr Jayatunga lays down various forms of phobia as taught in modern psychology. They are alphabetically arranged ‘Achluophobia’ means fear of darkness, ‘belonephobia means fear of pins and needles cynophobia means fear of dogs, gumophobia means fear of marriage to name a few

But as the researcher points out, Buddhist psychology pays special attention to fear. According to Buddhism, there is rational fear and irrational fear. Rational fear is the fear of committing evil mundane people are full of irrational fears (as such) the Buddha explained the craving has no fear. They are not shattered by the past and not horrified by the future and they operate in an easy mind.

The material as laid down in the chapter on psychological aspects of Jataka stories is quite fascinating. The learned researcher selects several Jataka tales from the great collection of 550 tales in order to pinpoint some of the human psychological traits as inducted by the Buddha in his teachings. He has also given credit to those schools who had been the pioneers in the direction. All in all, as a reader, I found that Dr Ruwan M Jayatunga has been in search of a worthy human cause by producing this work as a tribute to a fruitful mission.


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