PODCAST GS63 2022 0330 The therapy of Kisagotami

Transcript by Helen evanfé

In the sutras we read the story of Kisagotami. Kisagotami comes to the Buddha, "Please heal my child," she begs. Clearly in the mind of Kisagotami the child is sick, but not dead. The Buddha, however, can see that the child is dead. The Buddha perceives both how the world appears in Kisagotami's eyes, and also perceives the fact. However the Buddha does not say, "the child is dead".

The Buddha sends Kisagotami to get medicines for the child, but he does so in such a way that she will encounter other people who have suffered losses. At each house she goes to she hears a new story of how this, or that, family member passed away, and she sees in the faces of the people the grief that they have suffered - the grief that she, we can say psychologically, that she is avoiding. So through her exploration, which is an extension of her own way of seeing things, she encounters the reality, the reality of the human condition, and this upsets her original way of seeing things.

She comes back to the Buddha accepting that her child is dead, and she grieves. And then she follows the Buddha in order to receive more understanding.

We can learn a lot from this about the therapeutic encounter. The therapist understands and intuitively experiences the world as perceived by the client, but is not trapped within it in the way that the client is. The Buddha can see both how it is seems to Kisagotami and also how it is. The therapist then facilitates the client in exploring the client's world, within the clients framework, but in a way that pushes the boundaries. The therapist refrains from confronting the client too immediately with truths that the client can’t fathom or won’t accept - it’s pointless (to do so) - but the therapist creates the conditions in which the client will make their own new discoveries and have real encounters with reality . especially the reality of the human predicament, which you might say is ‘the universal koan’ , the koan of impermanence. The hard facts of life, death and so on.

If the Buddha had just said "The child is dead," Kisogotami would have thought, he was a poor doctor and gone elsewhere, but when she heard the stories of other grieving people, she understood the reality in a way that couldn’t be avoided. People change when they have a new conviction of truth. It’s not just enough to hear about truth: to know about things is not the same as deeply experiencing them with conviction. Conviction comes from experience and also from the review of experience. Clients come with a great quantity of experience that they bring with them and much of therapy can be a matter of reviewing that experience, reviewing it in new ways perhaps. Going over it from different perspectives. Experience is much more difficult to deny than the opinion of another person. If the therapist just says it is ‘such and such‘ the client can always brush that aside , "Oh well, that’s just what he thinks". So therapy involves review of experience and it also involves setting up conditions for new experience.

Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much

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  • Ah I heard the story of Kisa differently… and shared with a few clients to help them accept death of a loved one.

     In the story (I read) she knew she lost her only child - and was desperate, looking for a way to recover… her sense of loss was great. She was told to visit Buddha to see if he could help.  

    According to the version.... Buddha told her that her child was dead (the truth- the reality) AND she could bring her son back to life IF she could find mustard seeds in a house where no one had ever died…so she immediately began visiting the homes in the village. Buddha told her the truth – and helped her to realized that there was no family who had NEVER lost a dear one…

    As she did not find such home and faced with this fact … she gain compassion, for herself and all those she met, understanding of her grief, and managed the truth that no one can control or escape mortality.

    Life is impermanent. And the learnings keep coming, and sometimes we changed what we knew... other times we review what is new, and adjust to what we know.....

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