Similar ideas between Buddhism and Western psychology

Buddhism and Western science converge on a number of ideas.

Similar ideas between Buddhism and Western psychology
Photo credit: Paula Bronstein / Getty Images
  • Modern psychologists attribute less power to the conscious self.
  • Buddhism has significant insight on how to counter listless states of desire.
  • Doubting the ego just might be good for the ego itself.

Many Western philosophers and scientists have for some time neglected Buddhist thought. As they saw it as either pure mysticism or couldn't wrap their heads around the seemingly contradictory nature of its teachings. Due to this incomprehension, much has been lost from ignoring this rich body of thought. On first glance, the teachings will sound quite counterintuitive to our usual logical mode of inquiry.

Take for example this quote from Nagarjuna, a second-century Buddhist philosopher who once said:

The nature of things is to have no nature; it is their non-nature that is their nature. For they have only one nature: no-nature.

Alan Watts, the philosopher-sage, knew very much about this marriage of opposites and their contradictory but often illuminating perspective on the nature of reality. In one of his many books, Psychotherapy East and West, Watts remarked about the similarity between the madman and the enlightened guru type.

One's life is an act with no actor, and thus it has always been recognized that the insane man that has lost his mind is a parody of the sage who has transcended his ego. If one is paranoid, the other is metanoid.
While this division of the cultural thinking has produced drastically different ways of treating mental illness and approaching psychological matters; it would seem that on closer inspection that Buddhism and modern psychology and even science for that matter have a lot more in common than people realize.

On the pursuit of happiness and self-control 

Robert Wright, journalist and professor of a class called Buddhism and Modern Psychology recently wrote a book titled Why Buddhism is True. He finds a number of parallels between modern psychology and Buddhism. Take for example, Dukkha or "suffering" which is our wish to desire pleasure and seek happiness, although we know it will never last we continually still search for it. Current studies in the field of neuroscience are trying to determine the exact region in the brain that stimulates this activity, the so called "chasing the rainbow effect."

Early results are showing that measured brain activity is proving that these effects of gratification eventually start to wane thin and that puts us in a lowered mood. Wright talks about how Buddhism already offers significant insight on how to counteract these negative but inevitable states of mind. Some of those remedies being in the realm of mindfulness and detachment.

On the subject of self control, Wright brings up an old dialogue from Buddha: A man named Aggivessana is goading Buddha into a debate about the nature of self and trying to discount Buddha's maxim that there is no self.

Buddha cross questions and asks:

"What do you think, Aggivessana? When you say, 'Form is my self,' do you wield power over that form: 'May my form be thus, may my form not be thus'?"

Eventually he admits that he doesn't have full control over his body or self.

Wright states in his book:

This is a matter of nearly unanimous agreement among psychologists: the conscious self is not some all-powerful executive authority. In fact, according to modern psychology, the conscious self has even less power than Aggivessana attributed to it after the Buddha clarified his thinking…

This then brings us to the subject of the ego.

Buddhism and psychology on the ego

Mark Epstein, writer of A Guide to Getting Over Yourself, believes that the ego is a necessity at a young age. He states:

"The ego is born out of fear and isolation. It comes into being when self-consciousness first starts to come, when you're two or three years old and you start to realize, 'Oh, there's a person in here,' and you're trying to make sense of everything: who you are, who are those parents there? The ego is a way of organizing one's self, and it comes from the intellect as the mind starts to click in."

Eventually though he believes this can become a negative state of mind. For example, when it comes to taking in too much negative feedback and fastening ourselves to states of negativity. The ego starts to reinforce and restrict itself and think that is the whole being even if its severely mistaken on what constitutes you as a whole person.

Alan Watts calls the ego an absolute hoax like many things we force ourselves to believe in,

Ego is a social institution with no physical reality. The ego is simply your symbol of yourself. Just as the word water is a noise that symbolizes a certain liquid without being it, so too the idea of ego symbolizes the role you play, who you are, but it is not the same as your living organism.

Epstein goes on to say that to bring Buddhism into therapy or to bridge over to a more skeptical Western audience, we need to start doubting the ego a little bit more. This is something psychotherapy and other psychiatric methods do by probing in at old fixed ideas we have operating inside of ourselves.

Sigmund Freud mistakenly believed that all Buddhism cared about was eradicating the ego. But both of these schools of thought were after something very similar, even if they didn't know it.

Sigmund Freud versus Siddhartha Gautama

Both Buddhism and psychotherapy to some degree are about reintegrating the self, and ego into harmony with the world surrounding them. We cannot completely eliminate an ego, as we utilize this notion of selfhood to navigate and control the world around us. These therapeutic practices are ways to build ourselves into better human beings.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

Videos
  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

Personal Growth

Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

Quantcast