by David Brazier

Set up not your own standards. If, from your
Experience of the senses, basic Truth
You do not know, how can you ever find
The path that certain is no matter how
Far distant you may walk? As you walk on
Distinctions between near and far are lost
And should you lost become, there will arise
Obstructing mountains and great rivers. This
I offer to the seeker of great Truth,
Do not waste time.
- Sandokai (Classic Zen text, in Kennett 1976, p.280)



This paper is a discussion of some aspects of phenomenological therapy. In particular it is concerned with the human quest for peace of mind through the attainment of a sense of certainty. The material to which I will refer in developing this theme will be a mixture of Western and Buddhist phenomenological sources. Part of my purpose will be to demystify some of this material. Another part will be to advance some ideas about where peace of mind may be found to lie. It is not my purpose to assert that there has been a historical connection between the development of the eastern and the western material. It simply happens to be the case that there are striking parallels which will come out as we go along. To those interested in the history of ideas, therefore, we may say that we seem here to be talking about parallel development rather than direct influence and, therefore, perhaps an expression of collective human realities which transcend cultural frontiers.

This paper is concerned with therapy rather than pure philosophy, but what we are doing in therapy is clarified by an examination of our implicit, philosophical assumptions. Also, philosophers are primarily concerned with ontology, that is, with the nature of existence, whereas therapists, like Buddhists, are concerned with the question of suffering. Here, therefore, I am adapting phenomenological analysis to the task of understanding the nature of human suffering rather than applying it to questions which are purely existential or ontological.

Another aim for this paper is to redress some of the balance between the two key concepts which make up the title. There is, especially since Merleau-Ponty, some tendency to over emphasize and extend the idea of epoche and thereby to transform phenomenology into an extreme form of scepticism, to take it as the doctrine that everything is mere perception and that therefore one viewpoint is as good as another. It is part of the argument of this paper that the sceptical position goes too far and involves a complete divorce from Husserl's original purpose.

Let us begin, therefore, with a short discussion of the meaning of apodicity and epoche.


The term apodicity means certainty arrived at through evidence. In psychological usage it refers to experiential knowledge. Knowledge is apodictic for me when, because of my own experience, I cannot congruently doubt it. Clearly one can go through the motions of doubting anything as an intellectual exercise, but, in practice, there are many things in life which I do not doubt because I have experienced them for myself.

In order to get this definition clear, let us consider some other cases. There are, for instance, things which one does not doubt because one has heard about them from a good authority. I do not doubt, for instance, that it takes light less than ten minutes to travel here from the sun. These things may be within the class "undoubted" for me, but they are not apodictic. Similarly there may be things which one has worked out for oneself but of which one has no direct experience. I might infer that dinner is ready from the fact that the children have all gone downstairs. I might not have any doubt about it but this is not apodictic knowledge, it is an inference. That dinner is ready will become apodictic for me when I see it on the table or, if I am the cook, when I take it out of the oven.

We can see, therefore, that there are many things in our minds which influence us which are not, in fact, apodictic. Indeed, the great majority of things which we think we know, we do not know at first hand or from the experience of our own senses. Does this matter? In many practical situations, probably not. In the quest for peace of mind, however, it may well become important. In my practice as a therapist, I encounter many people whose lives have become detached from a grounding in real experience. It is very common for intimate relationships, for instance, to be forums for interminable distressing conversations which are composed almost entirely of non-apodictic material. And, again, there are ways of thinking and talking commonly encountered in groups which have a distinct feeling of unreality about them. Appealing to apodicity, therefore, can be a way of grounding oneself or another person.

A client says to me "I am out of touch with my feelings. I never express what is going on inside me." I look at the client. The client's face is flushed. I can see the evidence of emotion in the pallor of the skin, in the tensing of the brow, the angle of the mouth, the look in his eyes. It is apodictic for me that this is not an emotionless person and I am having no difficulty reading what his feelings are. I do not therefore take the client's statement at face value. I say: "Is this your own view of yourself or is it what someone else says about you?" The client then tells me that it is not his own view, but rather that his wife is always telling him he is not expressing his feelings and he feels very hurt about this.

This example shows up, I think, a common pitfall in therapy. If we simply reflect what the client says, in the name of being person-centred, there is a real danger that we deny the evidence of our senses. It also illustrates the fact that, for this client, at least, the way to peace of mind may lie in the direction of reestablishing faith in his own experience rather than relying upon what he has been told by others.

Husserl believed that certainty, if it was to be found at all, had to lie somewhere in an appreciation of our direct sense experience. The Buddha was of the same opinion. When he was staying in the land of the Kalama people he gave a talk which included the following:

"Now, Kalamas, do not go by hearsay, nor by what is handed down by others, nor by what people say, nor by what is stated on the authority of your traditional teachings. Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument as to method, nor from reflection on and approval of an opinion, nor out of respect, thinking a recluse must be deferred to. But, Kalamas, when you know of yourselves: "These teachings are not good: they are blameworthy: they are condemned by the wise: these teachings, when followed out and put in practice, conduce to loss and suffering" - then reject them." (Anguttara Nikaya,i. 188, in Woodward 1973, p.189; also Hanh 1991, pp.420-422)

The path to peace of mind has to be rooted in "your experience of the senses" and the certainty that comes to us from knowing things directly. Such knowledge changes people in a way that other types of knowing do not. Knowing how long it takes a spaceship to go from earth to Mars is not likely to change me as a person. Going on a spaceship to Mars myself would probably change me. Therapy has to incorporate an experiential element. Therapy is a quest for what is already apodictic for the client and also a quest for new experience which will have a noticeable impact. In this regard it is important that what the client talks about may or may not be apodictic material but, the therapy relationship itself, the experience that the client has of the therapist, is always something directly and inescapably perceived and experienced. The apodicity of the relationship itself, however, may not be impactful unless it is brought into focus as an object of attention.

Apodicity is an experience. It is the experience of having something demonstrated to be unquestionably true. Apodicity refers to what happened to Archimedes when his bath over-flowed leading him, in a flash, to the realization that the volume of an irregular solid could be measured by the volume of water it displaced. Apodicity refers to realizations, to "eureka moments". These are also moments of therapeutic insight or of artistic creativity.


How then are we to achieve the kind of direct experience which will liberate us? Husserl believed that this required of us a great deal of unhooking of ourselves from what we have learned. He called this "bracketing". Bracketing means putting on one side. When I meet a client I am well advised to put on one side whatever preconceptions I may have. Perhaps a colleague has seen this person before and tells me that the client is such and such a type of case. This information is not likely to help my first meeting with the client. I am better to set it aside and see what I experience for myself in this meeting. Later, I might go back to what my colleague thought and give some consideration to it, but now I do so equipped with my own apodictic knowledge.

Epoche is a technical term which roughly means "total bracketing", or, we might say, the bracketing of everything other than what is apodictic. It means setting on one side the whole of conventional knowledge in order to perceive phenomena directly as they are. This does not mean that when the epoche is operating conventional knowledge ceases to exist. It means that in this condition the elements of conventional knowledge become objects of mind in the same way as everything else: they lose their priority status.

A great deal of what happens in therapy has to do with the induction of an epoche. When a client says something and this is reflected by the therapist, even if the therapist uses the exact same words as the client, hearing the reflection is not the same experience for the client as saying the words herself in the first place. When I, as client, say some such thing as "I have always felt that way", the statement is, in the moment of my uttering it, undoubted. When the therapist responds, "You have always felt that way," however, I am newly challenged to consider whether this statement does actually represent apodictic knowledge. Consequently, the client's next statement may well be "Well, not quite that way perhaps". This kind of sequence in which a precise and word perfect reflection is followed by a denial prompts us to think about what is happening in such instances and, by implication, in the whole process of reflective dialogue. The suggestion here is that the reflection serves to induce an epoche in the client. It kicks all that is not apodictic into touch and leaves the client in the middle of an open field upon which he must search his own direct experience.

This process can go a step further. When the therapist reflects "You have always felt this way," both parties are to assume that it is taken as read that the therapist is just making a reflection and not making an assertion from his own side. This is something to be careful about, however. Really, if the therapist is going to stay explicitly with what is apodictic for him, he should say, "You are telling me that you have always felt this way," or "I have heard you tell me that..." or some such phrase. A reflection in this style also turns the client back toward a reconsideration of his own experienced knowing but within that it has a different target. In this case, the target is no longer the (historical) experience of which the client speaks, but rather the client's (immediately recent) experience of uttering the words in question. This has a different impact.

Husserl gives the following illustration:

"if I make a judgement, for instance, establish that a straight line is determined by two points, I live the lived experiencing or doing of this establishing; I am conscious of it in a certain manner, but am not directed toward it by my judging. But quite obviously I can pay special attention to it by looking back and precisely by doing so make the reflective assertion also. Thus, instead of "a straight line is determined by two points," I assert then "I judge, I am convinced, I am just now thinking by way of judgement that ....;" obviously, I can now ask how does this judicative lived experiencing, the act of judgement, already passively given in its "how," look in more details? Does it admit of being further unfolded? What can I establish therein purely by intuition? And so in every case." (PP p.21)

To summarize, then, the epoche is a clearing away of all that is conventional or assumed from its normal position of "taken for granted" so that it may be placed in the same position as any other "object" of consideration. This is commonly achieved in therapy by taking the utterance of the client and re-presenting it to him. In this re-presentation it has become an object and therefore open to question. The implicit question is: Is this apodictic? The power it had as a "taken for granted" is thus neutralized. Such reflection can, however, have either a distant or a proximate target. The simple reflection induces the client to review what is apodictic in the experience to which the utterance refers. The fuller form of reflection, which more explicitly does justice to the therapist's own experience, directs the client to reconsider what is apodictic in his manner of relating to the therapist in the here and just now.

This analysis of how reflection works illustrates a theorem: where two people are in close psychological contact and communication, a move toward apodicity by one will induce a similar shift in the other. This is, I suggest, the basis upon which much therapy occurs and, perhaps, also is another way of stating what Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, called "A special transmission outside the scripture; no dependence on words or letters; direct pointing at the mind" (Thien-an 1975, p.17).

The epoche, in simple terms, is a giving up of presuppositions, of "scriptures". It is the means of clearing a space for apodicity: for enlightenment. The epoche operated by the therapist is primarily required, not for himself, but as a means of inducing an epoche for the client, since it is the client's own openness to direct experience which will provide the basis for healing. As we have seen, the epoche achieved by the client can enable a review of what is already apodictic and/or it can open the possibility of awareness of new experience as it is occurring. Even this, however, understates the subtlety of the process since "reflective, so-called 'internal,' experience has very many levels and depth dimensions and is exceedingly difficult to put into practice whenever one strives to go beyond the most superficial level" (PP p.21).


Before moving on, there are two other terms which we have already used and which Husserl uses in a distinctive way which we need to clarify. These are "object" and "intuition".

Firstly, in psychology generally, the term object refers to things and/or people, that is, to all real objects of mind. In phenomenology, however, the term becomes even broader since "phenomena" includes more than simply real things. Object then means "anything at all concerning which statements can be made sensefully and in truth" (PP p.15). Thus objects, in this sense, can, include my mother, the kitchen table and the government, but also courage, the number 4, and the non-existence of unicorns.

Secondly, Husserl uses the term "intuition" in a way which is closer to its dictionary definition than many people commonly do. Collins English Dictionary defines the term as follows: "knowledge or perception not gained by reasoning and intelligence; instinctive knowledge or insight." The word is derived from the Latin intuitio which means "to gaze upon or look at." In origin, therefore, the word is virtually synonymous with the words perception and experience and this is how Husserl uses it (cf.PP p.29 where he takes "intuited" and "directly seen" as synonyms). When Husserl says "the aim was a pure intuition and not a theoretical and hypothetical construction" (PP p.20), he is not talking about anything vague, nor is he talking about a hunch: he is talking about direct experience unmediated by theoretical or conventional (ie non-apodictic) considerations.

The aim of phenomenology as Husserl presents it then, can be said to be to bring about a direct intuition of objects, direct perception. This is also the objective of Buddhist meditation. Both systems seek peace of mind through reliance upon the unmediated experience of being in the world. Dis-ease is attributed to our failure to achieve such a direct intuition or enlightenment. In Buddhism this failure is called "ignorance". This term should be read as implying an active process of ignoring. It is by ignoring our apodictic experience, the knowledge that resides within us simply as a consequence of being sentient beings, and giving preference and priority to conventions and illusions, that we tie ourselves in knots. By redirecting our own or our client's attention to experience, the house of cards may fall and we may attain to a peace which is a natural function of engagement with our world.


These two terms, which have not yet been used, also need to be explained if we are to understand where Husserl's investigations took him. The "empirical world" is the world of experience, the world we encounter through our senses. It is a world of specifics. It consists of this piece of paper, that window, this body, our relationship, and so on.

The term "a priori" means "known to be true independently of or in advance of experience of the subject matter" (Collins English Dictionary). At first sight, therefore, it looks like the a priori world must be non-apodictic. What exercised Husserl, however, was: what is the relationship between the empirical and a priori worlds and how can it change? This is also a very important question for therapists to struggle to understand.

This is important because most of us most of the time actually live, mentally, in the a priori rather than the empirical world. It is rather as though we are preoccupied with the a priori world, but make excursions from it from time to time to gather raw materials from the empirical world. Why? Because, considered purely in its own terms, the empirical world is unpredictable. Positivism abhors chaos. Clients infected with it want always to be "in control". Yet, "chaos was once associated with creativity" (Wieland-Burston 1992, p.8) and a reevaluation of chaos in a more positive light is an important sub-plot of the phenomenological endeavour.

The "a priori world," then, is the world of all possible worlds. Let me explain. Husserl began as a mathematician. The science of mathematics is concerned with an elaboration of pure concepts. When we say 2+3=5, we are asserting something which would apply in any possible world. Mathematics, therefore, is an a priori science and 2+3=5 is a statement about the a priori world. It may be that 2+3=5 becomes apodictic for us by counting eggs in a basket. 2+3=5 itself, however, has got nothing to do with eggs or with any other actual countable things. It could just as well have been ducks or balls of wool. A person who cannot gain access to the a priori world cannot transfer knowledge from one situation to another and will have a very narrow and vulnerable life. On the other hand, a person who is so lost in the a priori world that they never actually really experience empirical actualities will also be blinkered and sterile.

We perhaps think that the empirical world is the real world, but mostly it is the a priori world that really matters to us. Our apodictic experiences are triggered by instances which we observe in the empirical world, but they affect us because they give us access to the a priori world. The a priori world is something we share with all other minds. It has something in common with Jung's notion of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious could be described as an introjection of the a priori world.

In Zen, as in phenomenology, the aim is to get the empirical and a priori worlds to meet, not just intellectually but experientially, so that, in the ultimate case, every moment would be a moment of apodicity, of realization. This would mean both that one would be fully aware of the moment in all its singularity and also that one would experience, in that very moment, all possible moments; that in this one empirical world, one would experience all possible worlds. Thus: "In this food, I see clearly the presence of the entire universe supporting my existence" (Hanh 1990, p.48).


The following illustration may clarify the points made so far. In the popular suspense film, Jagged Edge, the heroine is a lawyer who successfully defends a man charged with the brutal murder of a woman. Throughout the first three quarters of the film, however, there remains a constant doubt about whether he is guilty or innocent. Eventually, after he has been acquitted, and the heroine has begun to develop some romantic interest in him, she goes to stay with him at his house. She relaxes. Then, while looking through a wardrobe, she unexpectedly finds a piece of evidence. She discovers the typewriter upon which the murderer is known to have written letters. At this point her blood runs cold. She now knows that he is in fact the murderer. Suddenly she can see the whole sequence of events in a new light. This is a moment of apodicity, a crucial turning point in the plot.

If we try to unscramble what belongs in which world, we can say that in the empirical world there is a typewriter and a man who has killed a woman. In the a priori world, however, there are all the murders that could ever take place in any conceivable set of circumstances, all the dangers and satisfactions which could possibly occur in intimate relations between men and women, all the lovers and all the professional clients which the heroine (or we ourselves) could ever have. Her moment of apodicity gives her access to an overwhelmingly real experience, not just of the one empirical situation, but of all these. Though it is an event in the empirical world which acts as the trigger, it is her whole world which is transformed. Even if, at this point in the plot, the heroine were to have just gone back to her office and got on with her regular work, she would not see the next client who walked through the door as she would previously have done. Although the moment of apodicity occurred in a specific empirical context and related to a specific man and a specific case, from that point on it will affect her perception of all and any man, all and any case, all her possible worlds. In the empirical world, a certain sequence of events does in fact, of course, follow on. We can say, however, that no matter what sequence did actually follow on, from that point the heroine would be a changed woman living in a changed world.

Furthermore, we can reflect upon the fact that watching the film may change us, perhaps not so dramatically as it changes the heroine, but in ways which have real enough consequences nonetheless. This even though we know that "it is only a film." The events do not belong to the empirical world. They never happened. Yet we can still be affected and changed. How? In one sense we can say, we are affected because the film speaks of the a priori world. It affects us not because it is fact but because it is possibility. The a priori is the possible. In another sense, we are affected because seeing the film is a real empirical event, a lived experience, a relationship with the world of film-makers who, by this event, have brought a certain experience into one's life. Both these senses have direct parallels with what happens in therapy. The therapy dialogue speaks of the a priori world and it is itself an event.

Moments of apodicity occur at the edge of our experience. They occur when our guard is down. This is why the plot of the film works. The evidence appears only when the trial is over. When we talk about the edge, here, we mean the edge of our experience of the a priori world. In therapy, we can learn to lower our guard and this can open us to real experiences of encounter which also shake us. When we say that they "shake us," what we mean, of course, is that they allow us to realize that the a priori world is bigger than we thought, that we have many more possibilities than we realized. At such points life becomes more vibrant, experience more intense.



Phenomenology is a branch of philosophy. Therapy is a practical undertaking, an attempt to heal by psychological means. Phenomenology, being a philosophy, began as a quest for "Great Truth". Therapy, on the other hand, often seems like a search for the little truth which will make a crucial difference to an individual life. Great Truth and little truth, however, cannot really be separated from each other. Little truths may be like the reflections of moonlight which we see in ponds. They do not occur on moonless nights.

Phenomenology began as a quest for certainty. Husserl began within the mainstream of European philosophy which had originally grown out of the religious concern with ultimate things. He sought to find solid ground for our experience of life and he looked for it in the intuitive, pre-given ("a priori") nature of pure perception. He wanted to obtain a direct insight into how the mind "accomplishes.. that type of ideal validity which is called true being and truth" (PP p.29).

Earlier  Descartes had attempted to find a firm footing for philosophy with his notion cogito ergo sum, "I think therefore I am." Descartes was a Christian. He was looking for a proof of the existence of God. To achieve this using logic he had to establish something which could not be doubted as a starting point. He decided that the one thing that he could not doubt was his own existence since in order to think a doubt, he would have to exist, so even the doubt itself would affirm his existence. This single Latin phrase has remained to this day the most extensively discussed sentence in western philosophy. There have been many attempts to support or refute Descartes. Perhaps the simplest refutation of his underlying strategy is that by attempting to prove God by logic, he implicitly made logic more important than God. By giving logic rather than God the last word, Descartes was already more than halfway into the positivist camp without realizing it.

The history of western philosophy has been, in large degree, one of how to address the issue of certainty and uncertainty, faith and scepticism. From the Renaissance through to the Industrial Revolution this debate involved repeated attempts to redefine the place of church and science in our lives. This phase culminated in the highly theatrical debates over Darwin's ideas about evolution in which "science" won and the church was made to look foolish. As a consequence, for many people, religion and science are still seen as mutually antagonistic movements and many feel that to give allegiance to one is to reject the other. Consequently, we have seen a decline of religion and a loss of confidence in any possibility of certainty in our lives.

It is a great paradox that the church lost this debate by attaching itself to the idea that the human species was infinitely superior to all others just as it had lost the debate with Copernicus by asserting that our own earth must be vastly superior to all other possible worlds. The church lost both debates by being on the side of human narcissism; a fact which Freud was later to point out. Since winning this debate, however, science itself has, especially in the field of psychology, come to be more and more open to criticism because of its own acceptance of humanistic narcissism as a basic value. Thus, the great debate of our time is not between positivism and religion but between positivism and ecology.

Considerable prestige, then, has accrued to what is popularly thought of as the scientific approach, and what is more properly called positivism, though this prestige has become gradually more questionable as scientific advance has been revealed to be not just a source of human wellbeing, but also a threat to human existence. Positivism in its most extreme form holds that the universe and everything in it, ourselves included, is one great mechanism subject to laws which can be discovered and understood. It is, in one sense, a hopeful doctrine that all problems can, sooner or later, be solved if we just get enough knowledge about how the world works. The positivist spirit drove forward a wave of confidence in scientific research and "unscientific" came to be a derogatory description.

This spirit of positivism played a crucial part in the emergence of psychology as a discipline. Psychology attempted to become a science of the mind. This led to the emergence of behaviourism, an approach to psychology which refused to even consider what happened inside the psyche because that was not open to direct observation and therefore not "scientific" enough. Academic psychology came to consist of behaviourism on the one hand and social psychology on the other. Both had some tangible successes, but, to a large degree, scientific psychology has consisted in compiling endless statistics which purport to demonstrate scientifically facts which everybody already knew perfectly well from common observation. These two approaches both have their uses but not even in combination were they ever likely to provide an adequate comprehensive picture of the human psyche or human interaction.

Even in the more introspective psychoanalytic school, however, the need to be seen to be scientific played a significant part in shaping debate. Thus in 1910, Ferenczi initiated the setting up of an International Psychoanalytical Association (the IPA). Describing the meeting at which this took place, Stanton (1990, p.16) writes: "Ironically, Ferenczi's report generates such acrimony that discussion has to be abandoned and rescheduled for the following morning. Alfred Adler and Wilhelm Stekel interpret deep anti-Viennese sentiment in Ferenczi's presentation, particularly his suggestion that Jung and the Zurich school are more 'scientific', hence better qualified to lead the IPA."

Husserl believed that this clamour to be considered scientific, at least in the sense that the word was generally understood, was misplaced. He called the common positivistic ideas "scientism", and the psychology based upon them "psychologism", thus emphasizing that we are talking about a value system rather than about something which is above the debate. He was drawing our attention to the fact that, ironically, modern people have dethroned religion which used to provide a sense of certainty in their lives and, in its place, have made science itself into a kind of religion, a new dogma from which a new form of comforting "sense of security" is derived, but one which is still not firmly based. Along with this have come a whole set of values which still continue to affect our work as therapists. Indeed, therapy has, to a large degree, become a vehicle for the import of these values into the lives of contemporary people. Non-phenomenological psychology is still dominated by ideas of this kind including a problem centred approach, the reification of mental formations, and belief in causes. All these ideas derive from a failure to appreciate what Husserl understood when he wrote about "natural-scientifically oriented psychology" that "this entire interpretation was senseless.. the synthesis of consciousness is completely different from the external combination of natural elements.. the essence of conscious life... has no analogue at all in the physical" (PP p.26).

While science has delivered a great deal in the realm of understanding the material world, it has yielded little in the arena of psychology. For Husserl, this was because psychology was wrong in its basic assumption that the mind was a mechanism which would obey laws in the same way as physical objects appear to do. Thus physical science made great strides while psychology got hardly anywhere, despite (or rather because of) the strenuous efforts of the latter to imitate the methods of the former.

The new psychology was reproached for being actually blind to the unique essential species of psychic life, blind to all essential forms specific to mentality as an intentionally active subjectivity, constituting mental formations and also cultural community (PP p.3).

The point Husserl is making is that the mind is not a mechanism and therefore requires a completely different approach. The mind, rather than being a mechanism is "an intentionally active subjectivity" made up of "mental formations" and "cultural community". If we are to understand the mind, we have, therefore, to understand intentionality and subjectivity, we have to allow that the mind is active rather than passive, and we have to study mental formations and also cultural community. In this quote from Husserl, therefore, it seems to me that we have a very useful summary or index of what a genuine psychology would be concerned with.

If we are really to attempt to be phenomenological therapists we must both take on such a study and guard against the popular beliefs of psychologism which very easily creep into our work. Three of these, mentioned above, will be commented on here:

Problems are soluble:

The perception of life as an unending series of soluble or insoluble problems is very common. Very often clients in therapy see life this way and come expecting the therapist to be a problem solver better than themselves. Such an approach, however, is, firstly, always "jam tomorrow" because one never does get to the point where all problems are solved and, secondly, simply is not true since happiness or peace of mind are not states which arise when there are no problems and disappear when there are problems. Further, problems are not things in their own right. Problems only exist in relation to an intention. The mind does not find peace by solving problems because problems only exist for a troubled mind.

Reification of mental formations:

Reification means treating something which is really abstract as something concrete. The formations of the mind are processes but we commonly treat them as if they were solid things. Thus, for instance, anger may be regarded as something which occupies space inside a person rather as water occupies a reservoir. On this basis we may think that if we get the anger out there will then be less left in the reservoir. This, however, does not work. The more the person expresses anger the more angry they seem to become. All we are doing is reinforcing an unfortunate tendency in the person. Or, we may think that we only have a certain amount of love to give and so we better not use it up too quickly. However, the more love people give the more they find they have. Mental formations are not mechanisms.

Belief in causes:

The theory of most therapies is shot through with the idea that current symptoms are caused by events in the past in the same way as causation operates in the physical world. This simply is not so. To say this person is as they are because they were abused as a child or because their parent died is only true in a very loose non-literal sense. Events may become meaningful in the context of a history but they are not caused in this way. This is clear from the fact that three people exposed to identical conditions will react in three quite different ways. This is the reason that scientific psychology on the positivist model did not get very far. The reason that a review of the past life of the client may prove therapeutic is that it may put him in touch with his own apodictic experience, with his own inherent sanity, not that it reveals causes which can somehow be put right.


Most phenomenologists since Husserl have asserted that the certainty which he sought is unattainable. This has particularly been one of the main contributions of Merleau-Ponty who has shown that, in one sense at least, a complete epoche is not possible and what is interesting is not so much to go on and on trying to achieve it as to look at what, in any particular case, are our sticking points. Merleau-Ponty has also made very valuable additions to our understanding by his emphasis upon the fact that perception is something which is not just an abstract process but is a function of our having bodies. This has given phenomenology a much greater concern with feelings than it had before.

It could be said, and often is, that Husserl had the concern he did because he was still, in some degree, a person of the last century and one steeped in traditional philosophical concerns rather than modern ones. There is some truth in this but it probably enables us to avoid his intention too easily. The contemporary world is awash with scepticism and there is little evidence that it fosters the kind of peace of mind which philosophers have always sought and which most of our therapy clients long for. Of course, all philosophy tends to be vulnerable to its own arguments. Modern phenomenologists tell us that we can never ground ourselves in certainty - they are quite certain about it! Thus, we can go round in circles, doubting our doubts.

It would be truer to see phenomenology as an attempt to steer a middle path between the extremes of absolutism on the one hand and relativism on the other. An absolutist position is one which relies upon a dogma, upon something which is taken to be certain but which is not apodictic. This is the position offered by many religious institution. Relativism, on the other hand, asserts that nothing can ever be certain and this easily leads to the idea that nothing really matters. Relativism is the pervasive spirit of our times. It brings a kind of freedom, but it also feels unsatisfying. If we are free to do whatever we like because nothing matters anyway, we are likely to fall quite quickly into the kind of anguish of the soul which is described so well by the existentialists.

One way out of this problem is to assume that there is an inherent meaningfulness in life from the beginning and that our problem is that we are unable to see it. This basic idea has many different manifestations. One with which we are familiar in therapy is Rogers' idea of an actualizing tendency. According to this idea, we do not really need to know where we are going: we can take it on faith that if the conditions are right our organism will find the right way. There is a wisdom built in. This idea clearly has parallels with the Buddhist notion of inherent Buddha-nature or "basic sanity" (Trungpa 1992).

A phenomenological approach would suggest that the real problem lies in our failure to see things as they really are. If perception is the leader of the human dance, then misperception must be the cause of our difficulties. This takes us back to Husserl's faith in direct perception. The nearest we ever get to certainty, he might have said, is in moments of direct perception: when one looks at the sunlight filtering through the leaves in a forest, when one trails one's fingers in a mountain stream and feels the cold water slipping through, when one looks at a new born baby. At such moments we come alive. A large part of the time we lack this vibrancy. It is this which Zen poets attempt to capture:

Serving the Shogun in the capital,
Stained by worldly dust, I found no peace.
Now, straw hat pulled down, I follow the river:
How fresh the sight of gulls across the sand!
- Kodo (Stryk 1968, p.352)

When we have such intensity of experience there is something more than just a relationship between oneself and an object, there is rather a sense of unity with everything. At these points the empirical and the a priori meet. We could say, therefore, that the key to living a full life lies in tuning in to what is around us in a very direct way so that they meet all the time. In more therapeutic language we could say that it is a matter of achieving empathy not just for other people but for our whole environment, for the sky and the ground, for the sun and the rain and so on, and not just for the natural environment but for everything. There is beauty in soap bubbles, in bricks and in rubbish too.

In this observation we come closer to the goal. After all, if peace of mind is to be attained it must be attainable in all circumstances not just in some. A perfect life would be a life of perfect moments, one after another, not something which can only be attained when the conditions are right nor at any time other than now. The goal, therefore, is to be found in intensity of experience now, rather than elsewhere.

Intensity is not always pleasurable, however. If we remember the heroine of Jagged Edge, we can see that the moment of apodicity cleared away all her doubts and gave her clarity of purpose to carry out, subsequently, a high risk strategy on her own. It also filled her with terror. The goal of peace of mind cannot, therefore, be understood simply as meaning a softly pleasurable existence. Rather we are looking for a state of being fully alive which will encompass the whole range of human emotions but will be free from neurosis about them.


It is inherent in the idea of apodicity that experience is cumulative. Moments of apodicity are ones from which there is really no going back. It is common experience that we pass through much of our life in a slightly unreal state. A good deal is written about altered states of consciousness as though our normal waking condition were the baseline. Both eastern and western phenomenology draw our attention to the fact that most of us pass a large part of our lives in a bit of a dream. We only touch down occasionally, like an airliner on a busy schedule. These moments of touching the ground, however, tend to be the ones which define our existence, giving shape, direction and meaning to our lives. Buddhists call such moments "realizations" because they are the moments when life becomes real for us.

The achievement of moments of apodicity often comes after a long period of relating to something in an unreal way. Frequently it takes the perception of a particular object to crystalize our experience. The role of objects in achieving apodicity is important to understand. Thus, I may know as information that I am going to move house for many months, but, if asked, may say: "I still don't really believe it." It is, perhaps, only when I see the removal van, or in the moment of locking my suitcase, that my moving becomes apodictic for me. After that I can never go back. Even if the removal is cancelled, I have already taken a step in my own mind which will have changed me. Apodicity is a result of perception of evidence. There has to be an object to precipitate the experience. It is for this reason that many people who did not attend the funeral of someone close to them who died have difficulty grieving. The death never became apodictic for them because they never saw the body or the coffin or the grave or whatever it might take in their case. When doing bereavement work, it is always very important to try to ascertain whether or not the death has become apodictic for the bereaved person.

In my own experience I know that an important apodicity occurred for me when I once nearly drowned. The experience of swallowing salt water triggered the knowledge that I really was dying. At that moment my whole feeling about death changed. I stopped struggling and became, to my surprise, interested in what was about to happen. I completely let go of what, up to that point, had been desperate attempts to preserve myself. Although the process of drowning was aborted by a lifeguard, I was a changed person after the experience.

The system of meditation used in Zen training is designed to bring people to, or even provoke them into, such moments of contact with reality. This approach involves long periods of self examination coupled with what appear to be shock tactics on the part of the Zen teacher. What is happening, however, is not so much that the teacher sets out to shock as just that when we encounter someone who has no regard for the unreal world which most of us inhabit most of the time, it does deliver a shock to our system.

A story:

One evening as Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras a thief with a sharp sword entered, demanding either his money or his life.

Shichiri told him: "Do not disturb me. You can find the money in that drawer." Then he resumed his recitation.

A little while afterwards he stopped and called: "Don't take it all. I need some to pay taxes with tomorrow."

The intruder gathered up most of the money and started to leave. "Thank a person when you receive a gift," Shichiri added. The man thanked him and made off.

A few days afterwards the fellow was caught and confessed, among others, the offence against Shichiri. When Shichiri was called as a witness he said: "This man is no thief, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave him the money and he thanked me for it."

After he finished his prison term, the man went to Shichiri and became his disciple.

                         (Reps 1957, p.49)

Many similar stories are to be found in other spiritual traditions (Merton 1960, Shah 1973). Incidents such as this do shock the person in a constructive way. Whether something constructive happens in therapy or not may depend upon whether such an apodictic moment ever occurs. This, in turn, will depend not so much upon how clever the therapist is as upon whether the therapist is him or herself grounded in reality or just floating about in a haze of theories. It may be said that it is often the client's intention or failing, in some way, to rob or misuse the therapist. How we react at such moment will, as it were, show our metal. Such moments of raw encounter expose us and give the client apodictic experience of what the therapy really amounts to. If, at such moments we are found lacking, the client is wise to leave and find someone else.

Another story:

A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: "Is there really a paradise and a hell?"

"Who are you?" inquired Hakuin.

"I am a samurai," the warrior replied.

"You, a soldier!" exclaimed Hakuin. "What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar."

Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: "So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head."

As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: "Here open the gates of hell!"

At these words the samurai, perceiving the master's discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.

"Here open the gates of paradise," said Hakuin.

(Reps 1957, p.58)

This story illustrates a moment of real therapy.It makes me think, however, that Rogers should really have amended his theory. There are four core conditions which are necessary and sufficient for therapeutic change. These are accurate empathy, congruence, unconditional positive regard and, fourthly, exceptional nerve!


One thing that is apparent from these stories and others like them is that the most profound moments of apodicity are ones which connect us. They are about opening a door which has been closed, between a person and another person or between a person and the natural world. And they involve doing so in a way which has a quality of universal validity. This was succinctly indicated by Carl Rogers' well known comment that the most personal is the most universal. Husserl puts it more technically by saying that "evident truth" has "transsubjective validity" (PP p.29).

We need to think here for a moment about what Husserl was really after. It is evident that he is searching for insights into something which he calls "the true world". About this he says: "'the true world' designates therefore a higher product of knowledge which has its original raw material in the flowing universe of what is given to each respective experience" (PP p.42). Since "consciousness is consciousness of something" (PP p.34), consciousness and its object are mutually defining. A true mind is a mind conscious of a true world. The true world, for Husserl, however, is not just the world of this and that of everyday experience, but rather the whole, consisting of all possible worlds, within which this and that are embedded.

Let me try to put this another way. Every thing and event in our and every conceivable universe, has an open horizon. It does not exist in and of itself in isolation. It is part of a world. "In the flowing on of all-inclusive experience, the world is perpetually the stable universal ground of being upon which all our particular questions find their decisions" (PP, p.46). The true world is the perception which brings peace of mind.

If the true world is the whole of everything and if perception is always and everywhere merely the perception of a fragment of this universal flow, how can the true world ever become apodictic experience? Most people feel ill at ease because they only occupy a "little world."

To answer this crucial question, we need for a minute to think about the nature of perception generally. In fact we never see the whole of anything. When I look at my house, I do not see the house, I only see the front of the house or the back of the house or the inside or the outside and so on. However, any of these experiences can be enough for me to attain apodicity that, "This is my house," and my assertion to this effect includes not just the front of the house but the whole of it. Similarly with chains of events. As we saw earlier, it may be the moment of seeing the removal van which makes the whole experience, "I am moving house," become real for a person. This "I am moving house" includes all the real and possible meaningful events which moving house may or will entail.

In a similar way, but on a larger scale, we can say that every thing and every event which we ever encounter carries implicitly within its being every other facet of the real and possible universes within which it is embedded. It is possible, therefore, to have an experience of apodicity about the whole of what Husserl calls the "true world" even though one will never perceive every facet of its actual and possible manifestations. Such an experience is what Buddhists call enlightenment. It is the experience described in the phrase: "To see the universe in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour". This is the great truth to which philosophy and spirituality aspire.

The lesser truths to which therapy leads are reflections of this more all encompassing experience. In moments of real encounter there is apodicity not only about the world around us but also about the common nature of the consciousness which such appreciation of objects consists of. These are moments when therapist and client know each other, not so much as individuals, but as common sharers in human consciousness. Though in a sense minor, these are just as much moments of "transmission" as the famous occasion when the Buddha held up a flower and Mahakassapa smiled (see Kennett 1976, p.202; Hanh 1991, p.336). The flower is the whole universe. If the whole universe did not exist, there would be no flower. Seeing just so much as a single flower, therefore, can be enough to awaken a person if they are ready. When something deeply apodictic occurs we experience certainty not just about one thing but about all things and, in doing so, we find ourselves no longer separate from all other beings.


The ways of inducing epoche are very varied. For many people it happens when they go on holiday. Then there is leisure to ponder upon what remains otherwise taken for granted. People's lives often change after a holiday. Sometimes the change does not last long - like the effect of a summer romance - but sometimes a completely new direction may emerge and subsequently be seen through. A more deliberate development of this process is found in the use of retreats. On a retreat, many of the props of ordinary life are deliberately eschewed: no radio, no TV, no alcohol, no newspapers, no entertainment, none of the things, in fact, which we use most of the time to avoid apodicity getting into our lives. The therapy hour can, perhaps, be likened to a mini-retreat. For one hour a week the client is not allowed to avoid.

Here is a not very systematic list of some other factors which can play a part in inducing epoche in therapeutic and analogous situations:-


We have already reviewed how the use of empathic reflection induces an epoche for the client and how this can operate in relation to the life experience or the immediate relationship experience of the client. All methods of phenomenological reduction have some element of mirroring in them.


The visual representation of material enables the artist to see it from the outside. This, like the verbal reflection, makes it possible for the artist to see matters in a new light. The advantage of art is that the "reflection" is produced by the subject himself rather than by the therapist. This puts the therapist and client in the position of being side by side facing the material rather than opposed.


Just as something may be reflected by visual representation on paper, so it may be reflected by enactment, either as psychodrama or as play-back theatre. In the case of psychodrama, however, there is a difference of effect since the protagonist is inside the enactment not outside of it. Drama tends to involve a reduced distancing from the material, whereas art may increase distance.


Sometimes the "jolt" occurs when one sees oneself in others. I have often seen people in groups shift their understanding of their world when they see another member exhibit their own behaviour pattern in more extreme form. Natural mirroring may also occur as a result of empathy, when the therapist unconsciously responds to the client in a way which shows her herself. The method has also been developed, in some Zen communities, into a deliberate technique.


While empathic reflection, art and drama can all induce an epoche, they do not necessarily do so. All these methods can also be used to reinforce conventionalised thinking. When the latter happens we may talk of "collusion" between therapist and client. In order for these methods to bring about a liberation and not simply further closing down, there has to be an opening to the surplus reality. This appreciation of surrealism requires us to have intuition of the a priori world (the world in which just about anything could happen), not merely observation of the empirical one (where only certain things have happened).


Sometimes it is possible to get out of the unreflective attitude by a simple appeal. There are moments when asking the client: "Yes, but what do you really believe?" or "And have you actually experienced that?" can yield good results. An interesting exercise which has carried the idea of this kind of appeal to an extreme is the "enlightenment intensive" in which one is confronted again and again with a fundamental existential question such as "Who are you?" until, hopefully, all conventional forms of evasion have been exhausted and the question itself becomes object enough to give one apodicity about one's being.


A step on from appeal is the practice of some therapists of spotting and challenging the client's avoidance. This may go as far as the "resistance analysis" pioneered by Wilhelm Reich (1972), or it may be simply the practice established by transactional analysis and gestalt therapists of challenging the client whenever the latter says something which sounds hollow.

Simple awareness:

Just noticing what is right in front of us, or returning to an awareness that we are breathing and that we are walking or sitting or whatever, can cut through a lot of unreality and help ground a person. Relaxation exercises may have this effect. It is implicit in the phenomenological analysis of our situation that it actually takes energy for us to remain in a state of unreality. At some level we are actually working at it. Epoche is, in this sense, not something we have to do so much as something which happens when we allow ourselves to stop.


A major component of the "ignorance" in which most people pass much of the time is the mental factor: cynicism. For many, it is cynicism which cements the bricks of their self-made prison. The story of Shichiri and the thief given earlier illustrates how the encounter with unusual virtue can dissolve this cement and induce a drastic reevaluation. The moral question plays a much greater part in therapy than we generally allow. Most clients, in effect, bring moral questions for which they are seeking apodictic solutions. The sheer fact that the therapist is a person who puts others before self is the basis for the client thinking that the therapist might be worth a try.


There are a great range of different approaches to meditation. All involve some attempt at epoche, at direct perception, at examining our intuition of our world. By attempting to stay in the here and now, we become aware of our lived experiencing and of the habits and manoeuvres of the mind in a very immediate way. Therapy itself is also a form of meditation. For the therapist the object of meditation is the experience of the client as it unfolds before him. For the client it is the following of the track of felt sense as it spontaneously presents itself.


Phenomenologists talk about "horizontalization" by which they mean realizing that all phenomena are on a level: we are all in the same boat. For an epoche to be induced, there needs to be an abandonment of prejudgment in favour of this or that element of experience. This, in effect, means accepting oneself as part of the totality of things on a par with anything else. While one remains self-consciously over sensitive, therapy is hardly possible, because one will always want to control the outcomes before the investigation has even begun. The therapist needs a kind of "matter of factness" to help bring this about.


Communion with nature can induce us to let go of our mental circling sometimes. Walking in the country is itself an apodicity regarding one's concrete existence and participation in a universe of living and inanimate things with which one is functionally and inherently inter-related. This sense of inter-relation is the stuff that poetry is made of. Finding a poetic sense in small things can be releasing whether or not they ever find utterance in a particular form of words.


Apodicity refers to certainty arising from the evidence of our senses. Phenomenology, both eastern and western, suggests that true peace of mind can be found through the achievement of apodictic experience. Epoche is a method of clearing the ground for apodictic experience. Various methods are used to induce epoche in oneself and/or others. Therapy always involves some degree of induction of epoche and in phenomenological therapy this would be a prime aim.

Most people do not live very much through their own direct experience but rely rather upon "setting up their own standards" and, as a result, tend to become divorced from any possibility of a direct intuition. As a result, they waste a great deal of time. In our culture the prevailing standards owe a great deal to scientism and psychologism, ideologies which phenomenology set out to combat. Popular psychology is just one example of this process whereby assertions become substitutes for experience.

Degrees of apodicity can be spoken of, indicating that an insight may be of greater or lesser scope. All such experiences, however, are moments of truth and so all are true enlightenments at the moment of their occurrence. Moments of apodicity involve a dissolution of barriers, between people, between person and world, between subject and object. They impart a sense of certainty which brings peace of mind either in the guise of acceptance and contentment or in that of resolution and purpose.

In passing we have also observed that therapy is not simply a matter of solving problems, nor is it a matter of analysing and correcting the mechanical faults in the psychic mechanism. People are "intentionally active subjectivities" who cannot be understood simply by establishing cause and effect relationships.

Peace of mind is not something which can exist in any other place or time than here and now. A satisfying life is a life of satisfying moments. A good relationship, therapeutic or otherwise, is one in which we are real now. Being real means having what Husserl calls intuition or being "in touch". It is in the nature of perception that being in touch with an object is what is required to put us in touch with the a priori world, the world of experienced certainty.


PP = Husserl's Phenomenological Psychology, the first part of which, concerned with principles, is the main reference source for this paper.


HANH N. (1990) Present Moment, Wonderful Moment. Berkeley: Parallax*

HANH N. (1991) Old Path White Cloud: The life story of the Buddha. London: Rider*

HUSSERL E. (1925/1977) Phenomenological Psychology. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff*

KENNETT J. (1976) Zen is Eternal Life. Berkeley: Dharma*

MERTON T. (1960) The Wisdom of the Desert. New York: New Directions*

REICH W. (1972) Character Analysis. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux*

REPS P. (1957) Zen Flesh Zen Bones. London: Penguin*

SHAH I. (1973) The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin. London: Pan*

STANTON M. (1990) Sandor Ferenczi: Reconsidering active intervention. London: Free Association Books.*

STRYK L. (1968) World of the Buddha: A reader. New York: Doubleday*

THIEN-AN (1975) Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice. Berkeley: Dharma*

TRUNGPA C. (1992) Transcending Madness. London: Shambhala*

WOODWARD F.L. (1973) Some Sayings of the Buddha. London: Oxford University Press*

WIELAND-BURSTON J. (1992) Chaos and Order in the World of the Psyche. London: Routledge*

D.J. Brazier



If you wish to respond to this paper, please use the Comment Wall

or for longer responses the Discussion Forum


Subscribe to Global Sangha mailing list

Powered by EmailOctopus

Blog Posts

Turtle Island

Posted by Robert Joshin Althouse on April 28, 2021 at 18:06 0 Comments

LITANIA DI QUAN SHI YIN - HJ. Kennett - Adattamento Brazier/Johnson - Traduzione italiana

Posted by ANGELA ROMANI on April 17, 2021 at 22:31 0 Comments

Immensa e gentile Quan Shi Yin, dacci la grazia di conoscerti e riconoscerti, in qualunque forma tu ti manifesti: per la strada, in un negozio, al lavoro, nello svago;

Dacci il coraggio di riconoscerti nel piacere e nel dolore, nella felicità e nell’infelicità;

Dacci la saggezza di riconoscerti nelle tue innumerevoli forme, non solo in quelle che vogliamo…


© 2021   Created by David Brazier.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service