A Buddhist remedy

by Hayao Kawa

UNESCO Courier

Vol. 51 No. 2 Feb.1998 Pp.12-15

Copyright by UNESCO Courier

The unifying approach of Buddhist thought encourages a fruitful relationship between doctor and patient A major psychological problem of our times is what I call "loss of relatedness". It takes many forms and seems to me to some degree intertwined with the progress of modern science and technology. Here are two examples taken from my experience as a psychotherapist. The father of a boy who obstinately refused to go to school over a long period once said to me: "Today human beings can go to the moon and back when somebody merely presses a button. Why can't you find the right button to press to make my son go to school?" In other words, he wanted to operate his son like a machine. Sensing this lack of "relatedness", the son resisted his father, consciously or unconsciously. Another modern trend is the increase in psychosomatic diseases. Modern medicine, based on the premise of a dichotomy between mind and body, has made great progress in many fields, especially the conquest of disease. But at the same time, this dichotomy seems to be responsible for an increase in psychosomatic illnesses; it is almost as if nature were taking revenge. I suspect that the rapid progress of modern science has something to do with this. To see whether this is so let us examine the main principles of scientific methodology. The basic premise of scientific methodology is that the observer must be separated from the phenomena that are observed, so that the results of observation are independent of the observer and have universal value. The distinction between subject and object is a great achievement of modern European culture, which can claim thereby to have given science Its universal quality. Science has also become inseparable from technology, which is now available to anyone. To use technology, all you have to do is follow the instructions in the manual; you don't need any special skill or ability. As the father of the high-school boy said, a human being can go to the moon just by pressing buttons. The success of modern technology has led many people to want to apply its methods to family and social relationships. Everybody wants to know the best technique for controlling or managing others. There has been a flowering of "how to" knowledge: how to raise a good baby, how to treat old people, and so on. The social and human sciences have followed in the wake of the natural sciences and technology. When a researcher can objectify a specific aspect of a human being this approach can achieve reasonable results, but if we think of a person as a whole being, the methods of natural science do not work. A researcher is human, so that it is impossible to make a clear distinction between subject and object; the quality of the relationship between the subject and object always influences the results. The wholeness of human beings As a psychotherapist, if I meet a hyperactive six-year-old boy who cannot concentrate on his work in the classroom and try to be as objective as possible and avoid any relationship with him, all I can say is that he is insecure, of low intelligence and so on. However, if I try to establish a good relationship with him, so that he feels protected and is allowed to behave freely, his behaviour will change. The important thing is not so much to observe his present situation accurately as to wait for his inner possibilities to show themselves. No positive results can be achieved in psychotherapy unless there is a relationship between subject and object. This is also true in education and some fields of medicine. When I have come across patients with psychosomatic diseases I have sometimes deliberately tried not to explore their causes, give advice or use medical drugs. While I have not "cured" these patients, their symptoms have spontaneously disappeared. This approach is completely different fro m technology, where everything is very clear-cut. What one should do and the kind of responses one gets are all described in the operating manual: a specific action produces specific results. Instead, I wait for something to happen, without knowing exactly what it will be. My approach is heuristic and I feel that I am creating something. Patients are cured by their creative activities, which are fostered by the relationship between them and me. The Buddhist approach I think Buddhism has much to teach us about this kind of relationship. The most important point stressed by the Buddhist text known as the Garland sutra is that no being has its own innate "self-nature". I am myself because of an infinite number of relations that I have with others. This is a radically different idea from the common belief that everything that exists has its own nature and then has its own relations with others. The Garland sutra starts from the premise that there are relationships and that these relationships define each being. This Buddhist idea stems from a state of consciousness which is different from the ordinary state in which each object is separated from others. At a different level of consciousness the demarcations between objects become blurred and eventually everything becomes one being which cannot be named. This whole being is called Nothingness because it has no name, but actually one might say that it is Everything. After this experience, consciousness returns to its ordinary state in which the whole being manifests itself as separate objects or creatures. However, each object is a manifestation of the whole being. In the Kegon School of Buddhism, this is known as "the Arising of True Nature". This is what I do in psychotherapy when I abandon active intentions and simply wait on events. This attitude is diametrically opposed to that of modern science and technology. Our everyday consciousness is oriented by modern science towards discrimination, whereas in Buddhism it is oriented towards fusion. Those who are totally dominated by modern scientific thinking may feel that Buddhist ideas are confused or nonsensical. For my part, I think we need Buddhist ideas as a necessary counterweight which may, by admitting the existence of a relationship between subject and object, make a positive contribution to the development of science and technology. PHOTO (COLOR): "The dichotomy between body and mind posited by Western thought seems to be responsible for an increase in psychosomatic illnesses." PHOTO (COLOR): The Buddha is shown meditating (centre) and preaching on a 5th-6th century A.D. mandala from Bamyan (Afghanistan). PHOTO (COLOR): A father and eon are shown. In this detail from an Indian Buddhist low-relief sculpture (2nd century B.C.). ~~~~~~~~ BY HAYAO KAWAI HAYAO KAWAI, a Japanese psychotherapist, is the author of Japanese Psyche (Spring Publications, Dallas, Texas, 1988) and The Buddhist Priest Myoe: a life of dreams (Lapis Press, Venice, California, 1992). -------------------