In Buddhist psychology, the aim is somewhat different from most Western psychology. The latter aims to make the person self-assertive, self-sufficient, self-esteeming, and even self-entitled. This is expressed in such phrases such as “You deserve it,” “You’re worth it,” and “Be in control of your life,” This is not the Buddhist way. Buddhist psychology aims for a humbler, kinder, easier, more spontaneous sort of person who esteems the world around rather than self. Such a person has a quiet strength, a gentle smile and a sense of humour, especially regarding the ironies of life. He or she practises great acceptance and appreciates the radiance inherent in everyday things, great and small. They have a wisdom that is in tune with nature.

This means that the Buddhist therapist is not so much concerned with self-esteem or even self-awareness. We were not given awareness primarily to gaze at ourselves. Better to be more deeply aware and appreciative of the others, the object world that surrounds. We are what we are as a function of our relations. As we construe others, so are we. As our way of construing them changes, so do we. This can happen without need of insight or self-rumination. It is more a matter of taking seriously the evidence of what we see and hear around us. Sometimes an insight does stop us in our tracks and make us think again about how we conduct ourselves in the world, and this kind of contrition can be valuable, but it is occasional. The main reason for the existence of our faculties is to relate to the world in which we are embedded. Self is not an independent variable. It is a mirror of our world, a function of our relations. Change them are one is a different person.

Another way in which Buddhism is a somewhat different approach concerns the matter of morality. We have developed an idea of morality as a kind of rigid jacket that one has to wear, a set of restrictions that one must abide by in order to be considered an acceptable person. This frame is at war with one’s nature which, one learns, is selfish to the core. Buddhism does not see it that way. It is concerned with the discovery of a kind of naturalness. True compassion is not something one does self-consciously nor as a form of self-expression. It springs spontaneously from the perception of need or suffering in an other. It is a response to what needs to be done in the world. Humans are not only selfish, their nature is a mixed bag of qualities and it is possible for the more benign ones to come to the fore. This does not happen by putting on a pose. It happens through relating to the world in a more objective and realistic manner.

Thus, the kind of outcome that Buddhist psychology values is a character that regards the world with amazement, admiration and sympathy, that feels at ease and can meet adversity with equanimity. Such a person is sincere with no need to strut or act with affectation. They are aware of their own frailty and vulnerability and equally so that of others. This makes for natural fellow-feeling and understanding. Most psychological problems are, in one way of another, a result of taking oneself too seriously. The therapy leads in the direction of realism and naturalness.

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