Buddhist Psychology

This site working in conjunction with www.buddhistpsychology.info. It will include answers to questions relating to courses at Amida Trust and will give explanation and comments on aspects of Buddhist psychology.

Friday, January 28, 2005

How can Buddhist psychotherapy aid the dying?

(Written for Buddhist Hospice Trust, UK)

Facing death is probably the deepest challenge which each of us faces in our spiritual lives. It can also be the greatest opportunity. The inevitability of death lies behind our living at all times, but for the most part we are able to avoid its reality through preoccupation with day to day activities and pleasures. Yet it was the sight of death that set the Buddha on his spiritual journey and became the heart of his insight. It can be the source of spiritual growth for all of us.

The Buddhist understanding of death, affliction and impermanence underlies a Buddhist approach to psychotherapy. Habitually we distract ourselves from the recognition of our own impermanent state, but in doing so we create compulsive and mind-dulling patterns of behaviour. This is what Buddhists refer to as avidya or ignorance. It is not seeing. In avoiding death we learn to avoid life. We do not see the beauty or love that surround us.

When death is near, whether it is our own or that of someone to whom we are close, some of these layers of avoidance may slip away. At this time, we may have an opportunity to see things more clearly. People going through the experience of closeness to death will often describe feeling more fully alive at this time than they have at any other point in their lives.

Buddhist psychotherapy is grounded in an understanding that aliveness comes, not through seeking ordinary comforts in life, but in facing our existential position with courage and faith. A Buddhist psychotherapist can be a source of strength and support at such a time, a midwife to the process. The familiar may be comforting, but if we can enter the space in which there are no certainties with confidence, we will live the time we have fully.

So we step into the unknown, holding no more than our faith, whatever this may be. In death we discover life.