The Pointer of the Road
admirers of the Buddha, because of his understanding of human nature, have
compared him to a physician who diagnoses and prescribes; a biologist, who
studies, organizes and discerns genetics; an anthropologist, who anticipates
the evolution of life; a psychologist, who delves into the recesses of the
mind, or a psychotherapist, who brings to light emotional problems.
there are interpretations of the teachings of the Sage that would partially
validate such similarities, there is a good dose of generous exaggeration in
them. It makes more sense to raise a different issue: Are the teachings some
sort of psychotherapy? A cautious answer is the affirmative. Anxiety and stress
-the suffering the Buddha aims to eliminate- are dysfunctions that have existed
since long before the words 'psychology' or 'psychotherapy' were coined.
treatment the Buddha recommended for the eradication of anxiety and stress
parallelizes the standard sequence in the solution of any health complication:
1) Symptoms: There is a malady that shows as anxiety and stress. (2) Diagnosis:
Such evil originates in cravings and aversions. (3) Prognosis: The disease is
curable. (4) Prescription: There is a procedure - a road - to eliminate the
causes of the condition, which is the application of eight common sense
practices, out of which mindfulness, the seventh one, is the most relevant.
many streams of psychotherapy (psychoanalysis, Gestalt, hypnotherapy, group
therapy ...), cognitive therapy is the closest to mindfulness. Cognitive
therapy suggests that changing harmful thoughts -the cause of depression and
anxiety- corrects harmful emotions and behaviors. The emphasis, however, does
not focus on individual thoughts but in their patterns -the negative
distortions (generalizations, disqualifications, all-or-nothing thinking...) -
that are the actual cause of harmful mental states.
in turn, demands the impartial and permanent monitoring of sensations and
mental states, with no consideration of its nature, cause or effect. For
example, the observer, without making any judgment, becomes aware of how
sensations feel (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral), or whether they are subtle
(almost unnoticeable) or clear. Likewise, for mental states, monitoring is
exercised on the presence or absence of greed, fear or mental biases, or on
whether the mind is concentrated or distracted.
as a permanent habit, and meditation, as
an exercise aimed at strengthening the faculty to awareness, have such a
remarkable popularity in modern life that even the severe 'Scientific American' has covered the subject
from the physiological and psychological perspectives. With the American
magazine’s characteristic caution, it writes in a recent issue:
"Meditation has made its way into the secular world as a means of
promoting calmness and overall well-being." Emphasizing the need to submit
research studies to the rigors of the scientific method, the magazine
acknowledges that the various practices developed by the Buda "provide new
insights into methods of mind training that have the potential to enhance human
health and well-being"
How do the
exercise of psychotherapy and the practice of mindfulness differ?
Psychotherapists themselves are an integral part of the therapy process (sometimes
up to the undesirable extreme of generating patient-counselor dependency);
therapists not only direct every session but they share the responsibility for
results. In contrast, the outcome of mindfulness as a continued practice is the
sole responsibility of the practitioner. The Buddha is categorical on this
certain occasion a disciple asked the Sage the reasons why some followers of
the teachings succeeded to eliminate suffering while many others failed in
their purpose. "The directions to reach the end of the path to the
cessation of suffering are precise,” he replies. “Some follow them properly and
complete the journey, other misinterpret them and get lost. If the map is
accurate, is it the Buddha’s fault that many misread it and fail to reach the
destination?" "No way", replies the disciple. "The
instructions are correct and the responsibility to follow them is the
traveler’s", reaffirms the Master. Then he adds to close the dialogue:
"The Buddha has nothing to do if someone goes astray; the Buddha is only
the pointer of the road."
Author of 'INNER HARMONY through MINDFULNESS MEDITATION'
Atalnta. April 10, 2015