Buddhist Ethico-Psychology
When Psychotherapy meets Buddhism
July 15, 2013
16/07/2013 19:15 (GMT+7)
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Psychologist and management guru Dr. Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., is probably American Buddhism’s finest journalist, and was nominated twice for the Pilitzer Price. His book Emotional Intelligence in 1995 introduced millions of people the very Buddhist concept that self-awareness and empathy or EQ are essential to success in life. In his latest book, Destructive Emotions:


A Scientific Dialogue With The Dalai Lama (Bantam books, 2004), Goleman chronicles a five-day meeting of the minds among Buddhist scholars, cognitive scientists and the Dalai Lama in March 2000 in Dharamsala, India.

The following is an extract of an interview Daniel gave to the Scientific Research Society in the US.

How did you become interested in the relation between Buddhist 
and Western approaches to understanding the mind?

Back in the early 1970s, when I was completing my doctorate in psychology at Harvard University, I had a pre-doctoral traveling fellowship (from the Ford Foundation) and then a post-doctoral which gave me the opportunity to spend a total of two years in Asia, particularly India, Sri Lanka and Dharasala (a “little Tibet” in the Himaliyan foothills).
While there I began to study the Asian religions as theories of mind. I was surprised to find fully articulated systems of psychology—-generally little known– at the heart of these religions; the most fully articulated was “Abhidhamma:, a Buddhist system of thought.

This system describes how the mind works, and how that process gives rise to ordinary states of suffering and remedies—especially meditation. I, of course, had never heard of this psychology in my study of psychology in the West, even though it has been in full and continuous operation for more than 1,500 years.

On my return to the United states I began to write about this system— in my first book, the Meditative Mind in a textbook on theories of personality, and in some obscure journals– and to do research on meditation as an antidote to stress reactivity (for my dissertation). At the time as I recall, there was little interest among my professional colleagues.

However, I began meditating at about that time and have continued on and off over the years. I experimented with many different varieties of meditation, and over the years settled into a Buddhist method called mindfulness, and most recently I have been working with Tibetan teachers. Given the recent finding (summarized in Destructive Emotions) that seem to indicate a positive neuroplasticity– for example, shifts to a more positive daily mood range—I’ve tried to make more time for it.

It seems that one of the biggest gaps that must be crossed between the Eastern and Western approaches to the mind is that the scientific method requires an objective third person approach, whereas Buddhist practice is clearly a subjective first person phenomenon.

What do you think is behind the result popularity of Buddhist meditation 
techniques in psychotherapy?

There has been on again off again interest in the therapeutic uses of meditation for the last three decades— since a small circle of psychotherapists first became aware of (and themselves tried) meditation practice. But there has also been a notable increase in recent years if these applications by a much wider slice of psychotherapists– far greater interest than ever before. For example, my wife, Tara Bennett-Goleman, has written a book on how to integrate mindfulness with cognitive therapy (Emotional Alchemy, Harmony books which became a New York Times bestseller; she regularly gets invitations to teach the integration of these methods to therapists). Much of this has been driven bey recent findings on the successful application of mindfulness meditation in conjunction with cognitive therapy—notably, the research of Jeffrey Schwartz UCLA, who had success with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and of 50 percent in the relapse rate among severely, chronically depressed patients.
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In destructive Emotions, you discuss who the Buddhist notion of an “empty self” can inform science based views of the mind. I wonder if you could elaborate on these ideas a little.

The notion of an “empty self” posits that there is no “CEO of the mind,” but rather something like committees constantly vying for power. In this view, the “self” is not a stable, enduring entity in control, but rather a mirage of mind– not actually real, but merely seemingly so. While that notion seems contrary to our own everyday experience, it actually describes the deconstruction of self that cognitive neurosceince finds as it desserts the mind (most famously, Marvin Minky’s” society of mind”).

So the Buddhist model of the self may turn out of fit the data far better than the notions that have dominated Western thinking for the last century.

Finally, I wonder what’s it like to hang out with the Dalai Lama, 
or is he more formal than that?

Unless you’re far more fortunate than I, “you don’t hang out” with the Dalai Lama these days. He’s in such huge demand that his time is tightly guarded and closely scheduled. But when you’re with him (as I’ve been in meetings over the years), you do feel an immense sense of his presence, spontaneity and delight in things, which is a bit contagious.

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
This Article was taken by Book of “How to Develop Happiness in Daily Living”


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