The Buddha As the First Psychotherapist?

As John Naish so eloquently put in his excellent book “Enough: Breaking Free from the World of More”. Human beings are designed to want, to crave to covet. For good or ill, it is what has got us to where we are today. It has worked very well as a survival strategy and without it, the human race would probably have become extinct by now.

He even posits that the human race should not be called “homo sapien” (thinking or wise man), but “homo expetens” (wanting man).

However, we have now got to a point where those natural cravings have become a hindrance to our development (both socially and evolutionarily) and we need to get beyond them so that we can continue to develop and evolve…

I have been involved in Buddhism since I was about 19. I was sort of aware of it from an early age, when I took up martial arts at the age of 12, but that was really just the draw of a far off and distant land (the mythic “east”) and the iconography and aesthetics of it all.

But I remember when I real became interested in Buddhism was when I was sat in a bar in Cheltenham, I was a little bit drunk and rambling on to this bloke I had just been introduced to about how I thought the majority of problems people have is because they were always wanting more and more things and if they were just appreciated what they had got then the world would be a much better place and we would all be happier (see I was even “Slow” back then…). He interrupted me to ask me “How long have you been interested in Buddhism?”, I had no idea what he was talking about and asked him what he meant, he said I had almost, word for word quoted the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life is suffering.
  2. The origin of suffering is craving (or attachment to things).
  3. The cessation of suffering is attainable by relinquishing cravings.
  4. We can follow the path to the cessation of suffering.

Turns out this guy was an ex-Buddhist monk and he introduced me to Buddhism, recommended books, and groups and events where I could learn more (I feel a bit guilty, as I can’t even remember his name!).

I studied Buddhism through my early 20’s, getting involved with varies groups including The “Friends of the Western Buddhist Order” (FWBO) and “Sanbo Kyodan Zen”, but around 2004 I found myself getting more and more distracted by the world of more, until I peaked in 2007 and found myself the craving, striving, stressed “success coach” that I had become.

What has this potted history of my relationship and involvement in Buddhism have to do with Slow or John Naish?

Well, over the years studying the Buddha’s teachings and methods I starting to formulate the idea that Buddhism was not really a religion but a process of therapy and the Buddha was in fact the first “psychotherapist”! His teachings helped you undo our natural propensity to want and crave and evolve beyond our instinctive urges.

I was not alone in this interpretation and notable Buddhist scholars such as Stephen Bachelor, Caroline and David Brazier, to name a few, have discussed Buddhist techniques and ideology, particularly Zen practices in a therapeutic context. Philip Kapleau has explaines:

“Bompu (or Ordinary) Zen, being free from any philosophic or religious content, is for anybody and everybody. It is a Zen practiced purely in the belief that it can improve both physical and mental health. Since it can almost certainly have no ill effects, anyone can undertake it, whatever religious beliefs they happen to hold or if they hold none at all. Bompu Zen is bound to eliminate sickness of a psychosomatic nature and to improve the health generally.”

This has finally led to Western psychologists and therapists, particularly Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg, to have researched and studied Buddhist practices, particularly mindfulness, and recent research supports promising mindfulness-based therapies for a number of medical and psychiatric conditions, notably chronic pain, stress, depression and substance abuse and recurrent suicidal behaviour.

The more I study, explore and develop the slow life, in particular the slow mindset (which, to me, is where it is at), the more I recognise that mindfulness is the corner stone to that mindset and the spring from where everything else comes.

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