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WorldShare Books
Buddha as Therapist:
G.T. Maurits Kwee, Ph.D.
A Taos Institute Publication
G.T. Maurits Kwee, Ph.D.
In Collaboration with Daniel M. Kwee M.Sc. & Marvin H. Shaub, Ph.D.
This book is dedicated to Emeritus Professor Dr. Yutaka Haruki of Waseda University
Japan, pioneer in researching and bridging psychology and Buddhism, who stimulated me
to explore the avenue of designing a concise Buddhist psychology and psychotherapy
during more than two decades.
G.T. Maurits Kwee
Copyright ©2015 Taos Institute Publications/WorldShare Books
Cover picture is used by permission of David van Oost Visual Art.
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from
the publisher. In all cases, the editors and writers have made efforts to ensure that the text credits
are given to appropriate people and organizations. If any infringement has been made, the Taos
Institute Publications will be glad, upon receiving notification, to make appropriate
acknowledgement in future editions of the book. Inquiries should be addressed to Taos Institute
Publications at or 1-440-338-6733.
Taos Institute Publications
A Division of the Taos Institute
Chagrin Falls, Ohio
E-Book Format Only
ISBN: 978-1-938552-34-2 (e-book version)
Taos Institute Publications
The Taos Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of social
constructionist theory and practice for purposes of world benefit. Constructionist theory
and practice locate the source of meaning, value, and action in communicative relations
among people. Our major investment is in fostering relational processes that can enhance
the welfare of people and the world in which they live. Taos Institute Publications offers
contributions to cutting-edge theory and practice in social construction. Our books are
designed for scholars, practitioners, students, and the openly curious public. The Focus
Book Series provides brief introductions and overviews that illuminate theories, concepts,
and useful practices. The Tempo Book Series is especially dedicated to the general public
and to practitioners. The Books for Professionals Series provides in-depth works that
focus on recent developments in theory and practice. WorldShare Books is an online
offering of books in PDF format for free download from our website. Our books are
particularly relevant to social scientists and to practitioners concerned with individual,
family, organizational, community, and societal change.
Kenneth J. Gergen
President, Board of Directors
The Taos Institute
Taos Institute Board of Directors
Harlene Anderson
Ginny Belden-Charles
Ronald Chenail
David Cooperrider, Honorary
Robert Cottor
Kenneth Gergen
Mary Gergen
Sheila McNamee
Sally St. George
Jane Watkins, Honorary
Diana Whitney, Emerita
Dan Wulff
WorldShare Books Senior Editors - Kenneth Gergen, Dan Wulff and Mary Gergen
Books for Professional Series Editor - Kenneth Gergen
Taos Institute Tempo Series Editor - Mary Gergen
Focus Book Series Editors - Harlene Anderson
Executive Director - Dawn Dole
For information about the Taos Institute and social constructionism visit:
Table of Contents
Foreword 1 Kenneth J.Gergen
Foreword 2 David Brazier
Chapter One – The Buddha: Life and Legacy
 The Buddha’s Life in the Iron Age
 Growing Up in Splendour
 Affluence-Ascetism and Betwixt
 Awakening in Emptiness (MTN)
 The 4-Ennobling Realities (4ER)
 Forty-five Years of Mission
 Spreading Buddhism
Chapter Two – Beating Ignorance
 Ancient Greek Buddhism
 Buddhism: A Sky-God Religion?
 Philosophy and Psychology
 Counseling: When Shit Happens
 Relational Buddhism
 Brain Porn and Sexy Genes
 NeoZen: Lotus Out of Mud
Chapter Three – Don’t Worry, Be Happy
 On Becoming a buddha
 Psychology in Buddhism
 Dependent Origination of Karma
 Devoid of Substantial Self
 Unravelling Scriptures
 Inter-mind/Inter-being
 Borobudur Buddhism
Chapter Four – Meditating: Beyond Therapy
 Pristine Mindfulness: Introduction
 Breathing and Heartfulness
 Sensing Heartfulness
 Death Contemplation
 Loving-Kindness Contemplation
 Compassion Contemplation
 Laughing and Smiling-Singing Exercises
Appendix: Buddha as Therapist: Conversations and Meditations
Foreword by Kenneth J. Gergen, Ph.D.
(Senior Research Professor, Swarthmore College; President, the Taos Institute)
As I read further in the manuscript, I felt I had to write something… I have had the great pleasure
of Maurits Kwee’s dialogic companionship for almost a decade. This is no small matter. We
entered these dialogues from quite disparate worlds of theory, practice, and culture. Even our
comparative heights suggested that we might have little to share! I brought with me an
intellectual history in which I had fought strongly against foundational claims to knowledge, and
championed the social processes by which people together negotiate their realities, rationalities,
and moralities. Much of this work was represented in the social constructionist movement in the
social sciences, of which I was, and am, very much a part. Emerging from a far different cultural
background, Maurits was steeped in Buddhist history, engaged in contemporary debates on
Buddhist teachings and implications, served as a personal mentor to many, and was a practicing
therapist. By all odds, we were ships passing in the night.
Fortunately, however, in 2005 we were introduced to each other through a mutual friend,
Michael Mahoney, at an international cognitive therapy conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. We
were both very fond of Mike, so we were open to the possibilities of what might emerge in our
conversations. The potentials were quickly apparent, for the Dalai Lama was giving a keynote
address at the conference. Discussion was heated; controversy reigned. Maurits and I began to
realize that we shared an affinity well worth exploring. Cognitive therapists were eager to fold
the Buddhist tradition into their own, treating meditation as simply one more technique in the
cognitive therapy storehouse. Maurits and I were adamantly opposed to this kind of
reductionism; and on the other side, we didn’t wish to see the Buddhist tradition reduced to a
religion. We were both passionate in our seeing the tradition as far too rich and far too promising
in its potentials to be colonized in these ways. Thus began a lively, inspiring, informative, and
ultimately creative series of conversations. And dare I say mirthful!
The conversations also bore fruit. In 2006 Maurits and I joined Fusako Koshikawa in
editing a 28-chapter volume, Horizons in Buddhist Psychology. Four years later, Maurits
expanded this effort and published the New Horizons in Buddhist Psychology. These volumes
brought together scholars and therapists from around the world, in exploring and expanding on
the implications – both theoretical and practical – of a Buddhist orientation to human well-being.
During these explorations, I was also humbled and gratified to find that Maurits was able to
weave our seemingly disparate ideas into new and engaging amalgams. First, he found ways to
integrate a social constructionist meta-theory into Buddhist thought. As the dialogues moved
forward, one could begin to see that to remove the foundations from Buddhism was, in fact,
deeply congenial with the teaching themselves. To declare Buddhism to be The Truth, was to
undermine one of its greatest sources of strength. And, as the conversations continued, one could
also see that meditation functioned as a deconstructive device, that is, removing all ontological
claims. I had also begun to write extensively about ways of moving beyond the assumption of
bounded objects or entities, and understanding the world in terms of co-constitution: there are no
entities in themselves, but a relational process out of which we come to understand the world in
terms of entities. There was in this work (2009; Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community – a deep valuing of our relations with each other and
our planet. Maurits immediately saw the parallels in these ideas to the Buddhist concept of interbeing. He pressed further. At that point, all I could do was to stand back in awe as Maurits went
on to expand and enrich the world through his elaboration of a Relational Buddhism. Many of
his thoughts grace the pages of this volume.
The present volume not only meditates further on these various developments. It also
opens new vistas of discussion. New topics are brought into view, new ideas abound, and all
with keen attention to the implications for action – both in terms of professional interventions,
and in the way we live our lives together. This is indeed a rich feast, and we are all invited. This
work is exquisite… thanks for the privilege of adding some words.
Foreword by Dr. David Brazier, OAB, Ph.D.
(Dharmavidya of the Order of Amida Buddha; Doctor of Philosophy; President of the
International Zen Therapy Institute)
As for a forward, for the work as it stands I could offer the following: Buddhism can, with some
justice, claim to be the most psychological of religions. Its contemplative disciplines have given
rise to a wealth of literature on the nature and workings of the mind and its modes of
transformation. Personal encounters with the Buddha transformed the lives of many individuals.
Many of these cases were recorded. Later, disciples attempted to unravel and elucidate the
Buddha's principles and methodology and a large literature was generated expounding the
fundamentals (the Dharma) and its analysis (Abhidharma). Different schools developed and
made their own commentaries. The process is still continuing, now restimulated by the encounter
between Buddhism and modernism. This material is a treasure trove for contemporary
psychologists as well as for scholars of religion and culture.
Studying this literature over many years and working on the ways that it can be
interpreted to a modern audience and operationalised to help people in distress in the
contemporary complex social world, I have come to see how the Buddhist system anticipates all
of the major modalities of modern psychotherapy. In our modern terms we can say that Buddhist
psychology has a cognitive-behavioural aspect, an existential-humanistic aspect, a depth analytic
aspect, and an action-artistic aspect. All are found within the frame of Buddhism as part of a
single soteriological endeavour. Furthermore, in the Buddhist schema these aspects form a single
whole whereas in Western psychology they tend to appear as distinct elements, sometimes even
be at odds with one another. Buddhist psychology did not evolve as a composite of these parts,
but as a single system. The divisions within Buddhism are rather, on the one hand, cultural, and,
on the other, the result of differing needs of different types of personality. Some need more
discipline, some more kindness, some need more clarity of principle, some more intuitive
attunement and so on.
Over the centuries the Buddhist system evolved further and developed different emphases
in different Asian cultures. Here, Maurits Kwee outlines some of these developments in the
preliminary setting out of his thesis. A particularly interesting aspect is his observations on the
impact that Greek thinking had on the evolution of Buddhism in North Western India in the
aftermath of the invasion by Alexander the Great. These historical observations, however, are
only the framework within which the main thesis of this book is set. This thesis is the idea that
anybody can become a buddha (with a lower case "b") by following a particular programme of
therapeutic development that includes elements drawn from both eastern and western paradigms.
As Buddhist psychology includes the different dimensions of psychotherapeutic theory in a
single whole system it provides a particularly good matrix within which to develop integrative
At an earlier stage in his development, Kwee profited from an important collaboration
with Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Going on from that
beginning and drawing heavily on Buddhist sources he has now developed his own method
under the heading Karma Transformation. This is an approach to psychotherapy which combines
the Buddhist qualities of love, compassion joy and equanimity with cognitive-behavioural
techniques and Buddhist meditation. In Western terms, we can say it is an integration of
humanistic and cognitive therapy. In Buddhist terms it is the application of Buddhist meditation
method in an inter-personal context.
In recent years there has been an up-surge in interest in mindfulness and this has led to a variety
of integrations of methodology. Kwee's work can be seen as taking this development further.
He shows how the ideas of East and West parallel each other in important ways and develops the
idea of a "Relational Buddhism" as a container for the fusion of the two currents. Here he is very
much under the influence of K.J. Gergen, the author of Relational Being and pioneer of social
constructionism. The book is organised into four essays which alternately advance views of
Buddhism and views of psychotherapy, weaving the whole into a vision of applied Dharma for
the contemporary age. Well done. It is no small thing to write a book and everything that
advances the study of Buddhism psychology is much to be welcomed. I hope to soon see it in
This book is part of a set of four books (all published at Taos Institute Publications) and
foundational for Buddhism 4.0 which is a secular Buddhism as a psychology and a method that
deals with negative emotions. Psychotherapy is the direction Buddhism is developing toward
after The Buddha’s first teachings as a liberation quest (Buddhism 1.0) and its subsequent
developments as a religious movement (Buddhism 2.0) and philosophical inquiry (Buddhism
3.0). The first book of this quadrilogy (Horizons in Buddhist Psychology) came about after a
conference and is based on the content of eight symposia held in Göteborg, Sweden, in 2005 at a
joint conference of the International Conference of Cognitive Therapy and the Society of
Constructivism in the Human Sciences. A historical event took place during this conference.
Two giants, the 14th Dalai Lama and Dr. A.T. Beck, founder of Cognitive Therapy, held a
dialogue on the similarities and difference of Buddhism and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. This
meeting was historical because it marks a formal beginning of Buddhist psychology and therapy.
It took place 76 years later after William James’ prediction that “this is the psychology
everybody will be studying 25 years from now.” It seems that the “mindfulness revolution”
which is sweeping the field of health and mental health in the past two decades has helped the
“religionless religiosity” of Buddhism slip in through a backdoor as it begins to enter mainstream
psychology as method to heal and promote health and mental health. The second book (New
Horizons in Buddhist Psychology) is a further elaboration of the basic theme with chapters by
pioneers and authorities in the field).
This present book is a sequel to Psychotherapy by Karma Transformation (2013; which had been downloaded in 51 countries (count
summer 2014). While the former guidebook deals with psychotherapy in a conversational form,
this volume is another guidebook covering eight selected meditations “as psychotherapy.”
Meditation comprises various exercises centered in mindfulness, called “heartfulness” here, and
might mean awareness, attention, concentration, contemplation, and visualization. These
exercises, as far as they are meant at calming and tranquillizing, are a way of balancing to
prepare for awakening and enlightening. Once daring to look with heartfulness at what is
happening inside, emotionally and cognitively, with unconditional acceptance and lovingkindness, the odds of therapy success increase. Psychotherapy as conversation is an activity,
which advisably precedes an embarking on a process of awakening/enlightenment. However
both processes of speech and self-speech in therapy and meditation are intertwined as they share
the basic idea that no one can change another and that one has to transform oneself. In any case,
the effort is to be made by oneself.
On first glance the four chapters of the present guide can be read as separate essays, but
as one takes a better look and sees through some overlap, the psychological method which
inheres in the selected meditations, which help to awaken, becomes apparent. Viewed from the
perspective of a therapist, counselor, or coach, the extensive section on meditation integrates
with the non-specific factors and Rogerian practices and with the idea of specific factors like in
cognitive-behavioral therapy. The discrete meditation exercises are specific techniques to be
applied on oneself after being taught and modeled. The two main threads of this book are Karma
Transformation as meditation/therapy and Buddhism as a psychology, the backdrop. As I have
gone into detail, in the previous book, clarifying what Karma Transformation is and how it
works in the conversational mode, what is left here is illuminating meditation as therapy. In
effect Karma Transformation boils down to three components: (1) necessary but insufficient non10
specific factors (Rogerian conditions and the Brahmaviharas: kindness, compassion, joy,
equanimity), (2) specific factors like the meditations (as in the present work), and (3) the
ABCDE centerpiece and subsequent tactics of transformation as dealt with in Psychotherapy by
Karma Transformation.
This book elaborates on The Buddha and secular Buddhism and provides background
information on how and why meditation by a quest of a psychologically balanced individual
might lead to buddhahood. While respecting the “language game” of religion for the Dharma, to
use a Wittgensteinian metaphor, I apply a language game of psychology for the Dharma here (as
in my previous works) and thus I am, conform the principle of “logical fate,” designating a
Buddhist psychology/therapy. With the current craze for mindfulness there are many mainstream
therapists who might want to cater these ideas and practices. Taking these in a class by courses,
seminars, workshops, or lectures one’s seeking might be brought to completion. As for myself,
my view of Buddhism as a secular/this-worldly/non-metaphysical/non-theistic teaching is closely
integrated with my ideas about psychology, therapy, counseling, and coaching. However, this is
not necessarily the case for the reader, and where it is so, the reader's own personal integration
may not be the same as mine. The danger of advancing a secular and this-worldly Buddhism is
losing those people who are convinced that Buddhism is a religion; they will be put off reading
my books. To put the matter straight, I am not against Buddhism as a religion or philosophy, but
think that developing Buddhism as an applied psychology can go deep in its transforming
impact. Is there a necessity for Buddhism to be non-religious? The answer is yes and no; it is
definitely yes for those who are non-religious like I am. In effect, this book is not for people who
are in dire need of an Abrahamic type of religion or for those who are afraid of some after-life
hell. Knowing no other life, it is meant for those who are in hell already in spite of material
wealth and who wish for well-being in this life by serenity, contentment and happiness.
Quintessential questions to be answered are: What was in Gautama’s mind while sitting
under a tree? What can a man sitting under a tree in the Iron Age find out except about himself
and fellow human beings? Why did/does what he had discovered or uncovered in his mind have
such impact on mankind? Can we also attain what he had achieved; it cannot after all be rocket
science? Beginning with the seeking of a motherless child to end emotional suffering for all
sentient beings, via the wanderings of a young man in turmoil which eventually led to finding a
roadmap of happiness amid adversity, Buddhism has grown through over two-and-a-half
millennia into a worldwide movement comprising about 450 million people in the 21 st century.
Today, Buddhism is one of the globe’s fastest growing movements. Over 10.000 books have
been written about The Buddha, his life, and his teachings, mostly done on a studious level. In
spite of the great interest in Buddhism there is surprisingly little broad-based everyday
knowledge of what it is all about in the West, at least outside of universities and scholarly
circles, but even there one finds various interpretations of Buddhism. The present one is a nononsense pathway toward what is called sukha (happiness, ease/contentment, pleasure, or bliss)
despite life’s adversities and emotional suffering (duhkha). Due to the pervasive/ubiquitous
nature of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness usually inheres in sentient life. Nonetheless life can
be found proceeding from subpar levels of functioning to high levels of excellence.
Buddhism is usually studied as a religion and/or as a philosophy, even though it is dealt
with here as being in its very heart neither of them. Considering his emphasis on practice, The
Buddha was a not a philosopher who theorizes for its own sake, but a rational thinker about the
practice of ending emotional suffering and the wisdom to get there. Nonetheless, what he taught
cannot be found as a specialty in a department of psychology. Yet, there are numerous
publications approaching the two disciplines and bridging their relevancies. Due to its surviving
the ravages of time, Buddhism seems to be the most potent way to heal the mind and seems to be
an unquestionable “clinical discipline.” This guidebook is a psychological account of Buddhism
for the general public wishing to be informed from scratch about becoming a buddha oneself.
Because it deals with psychology, it is of necessity secular and apt for people of any or no
religious background. The goal is to provide a comprehensive and easy to understand practical
guide covering most of what people would need to get to the point of being informed about this
wisdom tradition. The most important reason for writing this guide is that everyone can become
a buddha himself/herself. The epithet The Buddha is a title understood as referring to a historical
figure who started all of this. By diligently moving forward in The Buddha’s footsteps, anyone
can become a buddha and attain nirvana like The Buddha long ago. This is because of the fair
assumption that humans have an innate “buddhanature” which opens the possibility to transform
from one evolutionary state to the next: from animal to buddha. The concept of nirvana is used
here to denote the state or trait which is empty of self but full of experience; it is the serene
silence of arousal extinction after gaining numerous AHAs of insight into life’s mystery and the
vagaries of human conduct. Nirvana is a “re-setting” of mind or a “re-booting” of
body/speech/mind. AHA is the groundwork for HAHA, roars of a lion’s laughter, expressed
courageously whenever shit happens. Buddhism is therefore not for the faint-hearted. By
ongoing AHA ignorance is countered and by ongoing HAHA a life of contentment and delight
can be secured. This is an inoculation-immunization against stress and a safeguard against
unwholesome karma, our own intentional actions.
Notes on reading: In the text I use the terms The Buddha in a double meaning. It might
refer to the historical Buddha Gautama (the awakened one) and to the Buddhist teachings
(Dharma). This is inspired by The Buddha’s own words when he stated: "Whoever sees the
Dhamma, sees me" (Vakkali Sutta). Furthermore, both Sankrit and Pali terminology are used
when appropriate to denote things as they are known in the literature of origin. The scriptures
can all be googled and read on the website of choice. In the text I have used abbreviations like
MT for empty and MTN for emptiness to denote an experiential flavor. Also I use BCE, Before
Common Era, to indicate the time before the year 0. Furthermore, I use abbreviations like the
4ER to indicate the 4-Ennobling Realities and the 8FBP to indicate the 8-Fold Balancing
Practice. Other abbreviations that I use are deciphered in the text. Lastly, sometimes the I-form is
used to get more variation in linguistic style.
Please enjoy this book as a virtual trip which is a roadmap to speed – in serene silence –
on a highway that once began as a slow pathway walked by a single person. Please sit back,
enjoy, and luxuriate in the insights and understanding provided to make you, the reader, an
informed “buddhify-ing” person and wake up your appetite to realize your buddha within. This
book might therefore also cater to the needs of participants of my presentations (lectures,
seminars, workshops, classes, courses) and to those of my interns. It happens that I have just
worked out a new template for internship with me in a private setting with students similar to
“Karate Kid” of the same name movie. In this template my students will get to know the ins and
outs of practice and theory of "internal karate" from Mr. Miyakwee as their teacher based on the
teachings as written in the previous and present books. These books are a beginning, not the last
word as I consider myself an eternal student who stays in agnosia. Last but not least: special
appreciation goes to Kenneth J. Gergen and David Brazier for their Forewords and to Venerable
Jnanamati Williams for his cogent and constructive criticisms, cordial thanks go to Padmassiri de
Silva for his blurb, Mary M. Gergen for her blurb and for wiring me typos, to my collaborators
Marvin H. Shaub and my son Daniel M. Kwee. Special thanks go to David van Oost for his
permission to use the cover picture. Finally, complementary information can be obtained by
logging on to and by emailing Those
who want to befriend me, log on to: Linkedin @Dr. G T Maurits Kwee, PhD, Facebook: @Maurits
Kwee, @Relational Buddhism, and Twitter: @MauritsKweePhD, @relationalbuddh.
Maurits Kwee
Hon. Prof. Emeritus Dr. G.T. Maurits Kwee, Ph.D.
Chapter One deals with the life and times of the historical Buddha Gautama (ca. 563-483 BCE)
and describes his journey from birth to youth, to a life in abundance, to ascetism, to finding a
middle way, to awakening, to starting mission, to building a following, to thriving and peaking,
and to passing away.
With a few exceptions (Sukhamala Sutta), The Buddha did not talk much about himself
and little or nothing was written down in his lifetime. What he taught was passed down by an
oral tradition until the point where writing on palm leaves (done in Sri Lanka as from the year 29
BCE) permitted institutionalization of the Buddhist teachings. What is presented here is a secular
and metaphorical interpretation of an inner search based on both on the Sankrit sutras of the
Great Teachings (Mahayana) and the Pali suttas, known as the Teachings of the Elders
(Theravada) which is the only extant school of Early Buddhism (out of 18). This is done
consequently and coherently which is not a luxury, considering that translations had been
qualified by contemporary Buddhist authorities as “bad” (by Gombrich) and “deplorable” (by
Griffiths) ( This negative stance is not
unrealistic considering the following story, told by the advertising man David Ogilvy. It seems
that in WWI, a British leader at the front lines, finding himself in need of more troops, turned to
his subordinate and said to pass on the following message: “Send up reinforcements we are
going to advance.” The message, passed from person to person many times and finally arriving
at headquarters reads: “Send up three and four pence, we are going to a dance.” The moral of the
story is that one needs to bypass the danger of relying on the letter. Understanding Buddhism in
the spirit of an inner quest and a psychology, which is necessarily secular, by a coherent and
consequent interpretation of the scriptures is adjusting Buddhism to the trying times of the
present era.
Born some hundred generations ago as a member of the royal Shakya tribe or clan,
Shakya is also the name of the nation (shakya means kind as well as ability or capability), The
Buddha (awakened one) can be designated as a prince. Named Siddhartha (he-who-has-reachedhis-aims/had-all-his-wishes-fulfilled or he who-has-attained-all-of-his-goals) at birth (until his
quest), he is called by his family name Gautama (most victorious on earth) until awakening. The
Buddha also called himself Tathagatha which means “thus come, thus gone” which refers to his
ability to transform mental states in an eye-blink because of being non-attached to anything.
Another name he used to give to himself is “kammavadin” meaning an expert in kamma/karma
and its vicissitudes, actions’ motivation and logic. In the Mahayana lore of East Asia The
Buddha is called Shakyamuni which denotes a quality of sageness and charitable stillness (muni).
Siddhartha Gautama The Buddha was a mortal, thus fallible, human being, who lived in
luxury at the foothills of the Himalayas in the Iron Age until the age of twenty-nine when he left
home and family to seek how to end human existential/psychological/emotional suffering. Living
comfortably, like many urban citizens nowadays, Siddhartha was eager to uncover life's meaning
after observing duhkha: suffering due to the human predicament of birth, illness, aging, and
death. Historically, his teaching (called Dhamma in Pali or Dharma in Sanskrit) countered
Brahmanism (better known by its Eurocentric denotation Hinduism) by contending "neither
theism nor atheism"; this includes “neither gnosticism nor agnosticism” as Buddhism is after all
a teaching of emptiness (from here on displayed as MTN). The Buddha's way was explained
down the ages as religious system, metaphysics, ethics, and during the past century it is also
viewed as a psychology. These various explanations are possible due to the principle of upaya or
“skilful method" enabling the Dharma to adapt to changing times and cultures which has led to
its survival up until today.
The Buddha’s Life in the Iron Age
Northern India in the 6th century BCE was changing in several important ways, perhaps adding a
sense of fluidity to the environment in which The Buddha would live and teach. First there was a
technological transition going on from what is known as the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. The
Bronze Age had developed after the Stone Age and allowed for more and easier shaping of some
utensils for everyday life. Bronze had the disadvantage of being a relatively soft metal. It proved
difficult to fabricate items such as arms, carts, and cooking utensils that would keep their shapes
from bronze, although the people did the best they could. Falling meteors containing melted iron
ore led scientists of the day to the conclusion that iron could be melted given man-made heat and
shaped into forms which, when hardened, would be much more durable than bronze. The
Buddha was born and grew up in the Iron Age.
A second major change was the development of religion. For the thousand years
preceding The Buddha’s time the prevailing religion in the Indian subcontinent (called then:
Jambudvipa) was Vedism. This is a belief system codified in four scriptures that are still studied
by devout Indians even today. The Vedic Scriptures, as they are called, inscribe ancient
knowledge dealing to a great degree with the physical world such as air, earth, fire, water, etc.,
and their connections to God-like counterparts. So, one can find in ancient Vedic lore the God of
the Day, the God of the Night, the Gods of Rain, Rivers, and different parts of the Body, etc.
totalling over 3,000 at one point. Also there are places in Vedism where followers can pray for
human success such as a long life filled with many children and a life after death pursued in
heaven with ancestors. The Vedic Gods are not connected to each other in any kind of network
or hierarchy. Each is separate and has jurisdiction over an individual sphere of experience.
The Vedic Scriptures were and are recited diligently by Vedic priests who are originally
pious individuals. As time went on, they became more and more corrupt as parishioners tried to
intervene in their own future. The most important Vedic God to emerge was the God of Thunder
and Destruction. Vedism features sacrificing animals and humans. According to ancient Indian
tradition the world began with the God Brahma, who has a great deal of power. Those favored by
him rose also to positions of power and wealth. Many consider this the beginnings of the Indian
caste system which, while somewhat weakened, can still be found in India today, particularly in
rural areas. The Buddha belonged to the warrior caste (kshatrias), the next level down from the
Brahmins who are from the highest caste. Women, even from the Brahmin caste, are devalued
under the system and therefore they mostly had a fairly difficult time. The resistance of women
and lower caste people quite probably provided a fertile audience for The Buddha’s teachings,
which emphasize self-determination and equality for all.
Eventually, the Indian people grew dissatisfied with the corruption of the Vedic priests,
the attitudinal superiority of the Brahmins and the sacrifices the religion demanded. This gave
rise to the Hinduism (a colonial name for Brahmanism) that we see in India today, which is more
concerned with ethics, morality, doing what is believed to be right for self and others, and
helping the poor. Also the Hindu concept of life after death is different from that of Vedism,
featuring a return to earth in a form driven by actions and beliefs in the previous life rather than
dwelling permanently in heaven. Many of these concepts are similar to what The Buddha would
teach but their meaning differ diametrically; e.g. while self (atman) is emphasized as part of
Brahma in Hinduism, not-self (anatman) is the state to attain in Buddhism. Interestingly,
although The Buddha’s teaching work was done mostly in India, Buddhism did not catch on as a
phenomenon as strongly as Hinduism. Today the majority of Indians are either Hindu or Muslim.
Buddhism did, however, develop strongly in other parts of Asia and the world and only revived
in India in 1956 when a Dalit (lowest caste) Secretary of State (Attorney General) converted to
Buddhism with 600.000 others.
Geographically, the Northern part of Jambudvipa was divided into sixteen principal
states, eight of which were kingdoms and the remaining were republics. Among the kingdoms,
the most powerful were Magadha and Kosala. To the North across the present Indo-Nepalese
border, was the little Shakyan state, for all practical purposes a vassal nation to the big neighbor
Kosala. Its chief was Siddhartha’s father, a Raja, who had his capital at Kapilavastu.
Growing Up in Splendor
The conception of Siddhartha is glorified. Folklore holds that his mother was conceptualized by
a white elephant. Siddhartha was a normal baby born into a royal family as the son of the Raja of
Kapilavastu and his mother Queen Maya. Probably “king” and “queen” were courteous titles as
the father was the elected leader of a rice-farming clan of circa 500 families, by the name of
Suddhodana, denoting “pure rice.” The state was organized as a “democratic republic” like the
neighboring countries at that time. Ruled by the Gautama family of the Shakya clan, Kapilavastu
was thus a nation in an area at the foot of the Himalayas known as the Terai slopes, located in
present day Nepal. The present-day inhabitants belong to the Mogolian race and probably these
people live there from time immemorial (Guang Xing, 2006, in Seven days after his birth in a grove under a sala-tree, whose
branches his mother grabbed to deliver him while standing, Queen Maya died, leaving the
mission of raising the child to her husband and his second wife, his mother’s younger sister.
Maya means illusion; this name does not seem to be coincidental, because for the child
Siddhartha “mother” remained an illusion as long as he lived. It can be conjectured that the baby,
who stepped out of her side was born by a Caesarian section, done in circumstances that would
be considered unsanitary. Infection under those conditions is likely which could explain Queen
Maya’s early death, a week after giving birth to Siddhartha.
Psychologically, a mother’s absence might have had a substantial impact for the rest of
someone’s life. Being a motherless child could be a special reason why the youngster Siddharta
developed a special sensitivity for sentient beings’ suffering. As was customary in those days a
seer checked on birthmarks and predicted that the child would become either a prominent
monarch or a great sage. This forecast was corroborated at a naming celebration by eight other
scholars who gave the five day old child the name Siddhartha. The possibility that his son could
become a hermit was alarming to King Suddhodana as he was counting on his son succeeding
him eventually. Suddhodana believed that to become a sage Siddhartha needed to become a
mendicant or poor beggar who practices the austerities of puritanic asceticism as that was usual
at the time. So, he did everything in his power to prevent Siddhartha from leaving the fortified
palace and kept him in a “golden cage” away from any human/emotional suffering.
In the shadow of the towering Himalayas an artificial climate as free from all negative
conditions as possible was created for Siddhartha’s upbringing. Not allowed out of the luxurious
home, Siddhartha’s early life was lavish, featuring an unending series of parties, celebrations,
and many other joyous occasions without any kind of major negative input. The father’s point
was to erect a barrier between Siddhartha and any condition which could conceivably lead to the
wandering life of an ascetic. The estate grounds were kept immaculately clean so that Siddhartha
did not see any dirt or disarray. There were ponds where colored lotuses and freshly picked
flowers were displayed everywhere. Even language was controlled with the forbidding of such
negative terms as death or grief – a difficult regime to attain and implement, and quite complex
when the reality of his mother’s early death is taken into consideration. Nevertheless Siddhartha
lived this kind of unrealistic, manufactured idyllic life physically bounded in a palace until he
was twenty-nine. Thus, he was kept away from sadness and death and held in a dream-like
richness until he started a quest to end human emotional suffering including his own. Seeking for
life’s meaning was bon ton for young men at the time. After all, it was his birth which killed his
mother and it could be psychologically hypothesized that, as a child, he could have blamed
himself for his mother’s premature death.
In his early childhood three outstanding events occurred, which foreshadowed and
blueprinted his teachings. The first one was a spontaneous meditative experience, later a key to
his awakening, which happened at a festival where his father and local farmers went to plough
the fields with oxen. From under a shady apple tree, the pensive boy quietly followed, in a onepointed concentration, a plough cutting the earth. While watching he flowed into a deep
meditative state of absorption (samadhi); this is a state of flow which leads to forgetting self. The
second event happened when he observed a cycle of worldly life: a lizard darted its tongue and
ate harmless ants, whereupon a snake swallowed the lizard; then an agile hawk swooped, killed,
and devoured the snake. Siddharta realized that these creatures live in the illusion of happy life
shortly, but end up in death. The question dawned: why are creations beautiful and ugly at the
same time? This seems to precurse a nondual stance. The third one was when playing with his
cousin (and life-long adversary) Devadatta, who shot a swan fluttering down in fright and pain.
They ran to pick it up. Siddhartha who reached the bird first refused to gave it to his cousin.
Devadatta was angry, but Siddhartha insisted that since the bird was alive, it belongs to the one
securing its possession first. So he took care of it, and liberated the bird when it was healed.
Tensions between Siddhartha and Devadatta remained an underlying plot of recurrence on
dealing with jealousy, anger, and hatred in The Buddha’s life. These narratives showed that
Siddhartha was, already as a child, predisposed to loving-kindness and compassion.
When it came time for marriage the Raja organized a beauty contest and on that occasion
Siddhartha, who was nineteen years old, chose Yasodhara, a three year younger cousin and the
sister of the earlier mentioned Devadatta. Like Siddhartha’s mother, she belonged to the Koliya
clan from a neighboring equally rich state. According to tradition Siddhartha had to win her hand
by proving his prowess in certain sports: fencing, swimming, archery, and combat in a
tournament. He was able to achieve all of them. These and other skills like hunting and the art of
tribal warfare reveal an aristocratic education of someone of the warrior caste. As The Buddha
later himself stated and registered in a discourse (Sukhamala Sutta), his life was idyllic and
lavish. He had a luxurious life in three palaces, corresponding to the cold, the warm, and the
rainy seasons. Music was played by beautiful women. He was dressed daily in the finest silk
clothing and during hot weather a servant was continuously holding a white parasol over his
head to ward off heat. Ten years after marriage a son was born who got the name Rahula
meaning fetter, which is a name that also strikes as symbolic in the context. In announcing the
birth of his son, Siddhartha pronounced the baby’s name in a way that points to a chain implying
that his father’s strategy of tying Siddhartha to the householder’s locality, although princely, was
having its intended effect. As the Raja’s son Siddhartha was easily elected to the Kapilivastu
constituent assembly and as a member he did participate in debating the political issues of those
days like on water rights for the Shakyas and the Koliyas.
Affluence-Ascetism and Betwixt
At age twenty-nine Siddhartha‘s life changed dramatically. He was allowed for the first time to
journey outside of the palace by his father who believed that his son’s development had reached
the point where it was, for all practical purposes, permanent. The Raja’s worry about the possible
onset of ascetism had receded into the background. So one day, when the Prince, along with
Channa, friend and driver of his horse-drawn carriage, ventured out to a party, they witnessed
things that were previously unknown to him. There were four specific shocks to his senses,
which had been carefully manipulated previously to construct a world free of negative
conditions. These four, known as “The Four Sights,” are viewing an old man doubled over and
walking with a cane, a seriously ill and dying man, a man’s dead body awaiting cremation, and a
wandering hermit who had denied himself any connection with worldly pleasures. Contact with
these scenes was very shocking to Siddhartha considering the fabricated life that he had led in a
proveerbial golden cage which resulted in a worldview construction devoid of pain, suffering,
and death.
He asked Channa about these dissonant experiences who explained that aging was
something that happened to all beings alike. Likewise, all sentient beings are subject to disease
and pain. Channa went on to point out to the Prince that death is an inevitable fate that will
eventually befall everyone. These ideas were transforming for the Prince who started grappling
with the quest “how to end existential suffering.” Because illness, aging, and death themselves
cannot by any means be prevented or solved, it is about one’s psychology – attitude and thinking
– about these things which could thus be denoted as emotional problems. It is noteworthy that
Siddhartha added “birth” to these tragedies, which is rather enigmatic unless one considers the
psychology that birth inheres in death which might take place instantly like his mother’s death a
week after his birth. In a way we all start dying after birth. Anyway, in a psychological sense,
The Buddha’s teachings seem to be about preventing the birth/re-birth of negative emotional
experiences rather than about some physical event. The impact of the human misery encountered
was thus profound that it caused Siddhartha to question his life and probably also his father’s
motives, all of which lead to the very thing his father had hoped to avoid. The fourth sight, the
hermit, provided a model for the hope of understanding suffering more clearly and for seeking
wisdom to end mental pain accompanying human misfortune. This search for a way to end
human suffering was the major motive for Siddhartha’s quest. It should however be noted that in
those days, seeking for the “truth” was in fashion for the upper class, particularly young men.
Therefore leaving the family was socially sanctioned. After his quest and awakening, Siddharta
returned as The Buddha to his home town. Eventually, all family members became his student.
One night Siddhartha decided that the time was ripe to depart. The Prince summoned his
servant-friend Channa to saddle his horse Kanthaka. He kissed Yasodara and Rahula, who were
fast asleep, bid them goodbye and cast a last dispassionate glance on them. Great was his love
for them, but greater his aspiration to acquire the wisdom of ceasing psychological suffering for
the benefit of mankind. As his wife and child had everything in abundance and were well
protected, he could leave with peace in his heart. Leaving all behind and being careful to make as
little noise as possible so as not to awake anyone and to prevent guards from knowing about his
departure, he stole away with a light heart at midnight and rode into the dark, attended only by
Channa who ran behind holding onto the horse’s tail. Legend has it that the horse's hooves were
muffled by good fortune. Thus, he snuck out of the palace to become a mendicant. This event is
called "The Great Departure.” He journeyed far and having crossed the Anoma River, he rested
on its banks where he shaved off all his hair and handed over his jewellery and other worldly
possessions to Channa with instructions to return to the palace. He then assumed the yellow garb
of an ascetic and started a life alone and penniless in search of wisdom. He transformed into the
bodhisattva (buddha-to-be) Gautama.
The Boddhisattva Gautama first associated himself with the lifestyle of the ascetic, a type
of hermit who practices austerities. Having led a lavish life, he reasoned at the time that only a
life of denial of worldly pleasures would enable him to break the bonds to his former life and
internalize the realities of existential suffering to alleviate them. Depending on charity,
Gautama’s shelter was a tree or lonely cave. Bare-footed and bold-headed, he wandered in the
scorching sun and piercing cold. With only a bowl to collect food and a robe to cover his body;
his energy was focused on finding wisdom. Initially, he went to the nearby kingdom of Rajagaha
where he was recognised and, upon hearing about his quest, King Bimbisara offered him a share
of the kingdom. Gautama rejected the offer, but promised to visit the Kingdom again when he
had accomplished wisdom. The bodhisattva went on and sought instruction from teachers who
lived in caves in the nearby hills. He joined guru Kalama who taught him the “Realm of
Nothingness,” an advanced stage of concentration. But Gautama was not satisfied as he did not
acquire the wisdom to end suffering, did not attain awakening, and did not experience nirvana.
The next was Ramaputta who taught him the final stages of concentration, the “Realm of
Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception,” when consciousness becomes so subtle and refined
that it can’t be said if it either exists or does not exist. With this complete mastery of mind, the
aim of the end of suffering was still far ahead: nirvana, the eradication of craving, grasping, and
clinging, and the correlates of hatred, greed, and ignorance.
Hereafter the bodhisattva met five ascetic companions who became his followers due to
his sincerity and austere practice of eating only one nut or one leaf a day. This proved to be
nearly disastrous; almost starved to death after six years living like that and upon collapsing,
almost drowned in a river, Gautama reconsidered his path. Hearing sitar music from a boat on
the river, wisdom began in the idea that false tones emerge from strings that are not tuned
properly. Thus, he came to the “Middle Way” which keeps balance between self-mortification
and self-indulgence. He stood up and conveyed that he was going to eat, shocking the ascetics.
Felt betrayed, they conclude that Gautama had given up seeking; thus they left him. On his way
to the nearby village Gaya the bodhisattva met a thirteen year old girl Sujata. While seeking
“blessings” from a fig tree spirit she saw an emaciated man. Thinking that Gautama had
transformed from the tree, she mistakenly offered him milk-rice in a golden bowl she brought
with her for the tree spirit. After bathing in the river, he gratefully ate, according to mythology,
in exactly forty-nine tiny morsels as, having eradicated all cravings, his stomach had shrunk
tremendously. Then he threw the golden bowl into the Neranjara River telling himself that if it
would flow upstream, he would become a buddha that day. Lo and behold, the bowl rapidly
moved up the river sand. According to a Jataka tale, it whirled down to “the palace of the watersnake king.” From then on his meditation proceeded from the consideration that just like his
body was starving for food his mind was starving for spiritual nourishment.
While meditating in a sala grove at daytime, he moved to a fig-tree in the evening where
a cutter gave him grass. Gautama arranged the blades so he could sit comfortably. The fig-tree
under which he sat was later known as the bodhi-tree or “Tree of Wisdom” (a pipal tree known
in the West as ficus religiosa). A third generation descendant of the original tree continues living
to this day in a place now called Bodh Gaya. The alleged spot of Gautama’s awakening has
become a major tourist attraction. Facing East, Gautama vowed (Ariyapariyesana Sutta):
Even if my skin, sinews and bones wither away, my flesh and blood in my body dry up,
till I attain wisdom how to end suffering, I shall not leave from here!
Clearing his mind, he sat down in a cross-legged position, firm, immovable, and in deep
concentration. What does one see when looking inside? What is there to discover or uncover?
How can sitting give any clues regarding liberation of existential/emotional suffering? To begin
with, he remembered his childhood experience at the ploughing festival and went into the flow of
meditative absorption. Thus began the process of the bodhisattva’s awakening and the very
beginning of acquiring wisdom.
Awakening in Emptiness (MTN)
While sitting, Gautama started his inner journey by applying heartfulness and being mindful of
his breathing (Anapanasati Sutta). The term heartfulness is preferred here because in the Asian
Buddhist languages the mind is located in the heart rather than behind the eyeballs. By
heartfulness of breathing the bodhisattva entered four stages of concentration and absorption
(jhana or dhyana) to be explained later. He thus cleansed his heart of impurities gathered in past
experiences due to births/rebirths of emotional suffering and got three illuminating insights. The
first insight dawns when he directed his awareness/attention to whatever appeared on the screen
of his mind and when he let emotional events from memory lane pass by without grasping and
clinging. While in balance/equanimity Gautama saw without craving the appearing,
disappearing, and reappearing of beings in happy and unhappy states linked relationally to his
own karmic/intentional-conduct/inter-action (cutupapatanana) in Dependent Origination. Thus
he envisioned the births, deaths, and births/rebirths of emotional episodes. i.e. of
feeling/thinking/doing. The second insight was that the bodhisattva focused on the eradication of
the poisonous “stains” or “taints,” defilements and afflictions of greed-hatred/passionaversion/approach-avoidance (asavas). In effect he found out how to untie and dissolve
emotional knots (asavakkhayanana) (Mahasaccaka Sutta). His insight and understanding toward
buddhahood was about the reality of psychological suffering (dukkha), its arising and cessation,
and the method leading to the end of psychological suffering eventually resulting in MTN which
entails an undisturbed serenity and delight. Having seen this, the bodhisattva unveiled realities
which ennoble people’s hearts. The third insight is that having gained the wisdom on how greed
and hatred (kamasava) come to be (bhavasava), i.e. by irrational views (ditthasava), and how to
transform them, Gautama freed himself and was able to also help others liberate themselves
(avijjasava). This liberation made an end to the quest and the seeking life he had lived
(brahmacariya) thus far. These three insights gained in one night are known as “The Threefold
Knowledge” (tevijja or trividya).
Mythology has it that at a certain point during this sitting Gautama saw all over an
abundance of his own mental projections (illusions and delusions). Meditating deeply he was
assaulted by possibly hallucinogenic experiences in which metaphoric concepts of death were
transmogrified into various embodiments of threat and temptation choreographed by the master
“demon” Mara, killer and bringer of death representing greed and hatred/aggression depicted by
war and storms and sensual temptations through Mara’s daughters. First an army of demons and
devils under the command of Mara threatened the bodhisattva with grotesque shapes and evil
intent, to no avail. Then Mara went into direct confrontation with Gautama by throwing a fiery
discus at him only to have the object change into a bouquet of flowers. Appearing again, she
asked him whether he is all alone, in grief and in need of friendship. The bodhisattva replied that
he got rid of the cause of suffering, so he has no desires, no attachments and is peaceful in
meditation. As nothing is “mine,” there is no I/me or self and Mara disappeared. At the end of
this deep meditation Gautama was also self-critical and introspected about the genuineness of his
loving-kindness, the most important and continuous life thread bringing about compassion and
joy. Concluding that he freed himself from the shackles of emotional suffering, he called on the
earth to witness his liberation by touching “mother earth” with his right hand while in Lotus
posture (bhumi sparsa mudra), signalling that he had reached “the other shore.” Finally, an
enormous (emotional) storm threatened to annihilate him, but he was saved by the mythical
Mucalinda, a king who took the magical form of a gigantic cobra wrapping itself around
Gautama’s body. Anyway, on the full moon day of May (vesak), at age thirty-five with the rising
of the morning star, he arrived at the end of his quest. The Bodhisattva Gautama emerged from a
deep meditation and became a buddha and later the greatest of all buddhas, hence his moniker
“The Buddha.” To date he might be revered as a great healer of the heart and a physician
(bhisakko) of the mind. He was in other words a psychologist and a psychotherapist/counsellor
who is an expert in transforming karma.
Having discovered how to end human existential and emotional suffering, the new
buddha’s face shined. Radiating an inner light, he is said to have declared victory with these
words (Dhammapada 49, 153-154):
Being myself subject to birth, ageing, disease, death, sorrow and defilement; seeing
danger in what is subject to these things; seeking the unborn, unageing, diseaseless,
deathless, sorrowless, undefiled, supreme security from bondage - Nibbana, I
attained it. Knowledge and vision arose in me; unshakable is my deliverance of
mind. This is the last birth, now there is no more becoming, no more rebirth [of
After awakening (Theravada term) and enlightenment (Mahayana term), The Buddha continued
sitting under the bo-tree for seven weeks enjoying serene happiness and bliss. Further insights
progressed as to the causality of Dependent Origination (patticasamutpada), its MTN, and how
this applies to karma: the self chosen intention and action leading to suffering or happiness.
Taking Dependent Origination as hypothesis, one could prove or disprove oneself by practising
what came to be called insight meditation (vipassana), which might eventually result in
experiencing of nirvanic MTN (sunyata). Contemplating on the karmic causes and effects of
affliction, The Buddha saw how this arises (anuloma) in co-dependence: “When this is, that
comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises” and how this ceases in interdependence/codependence (patiloma) as well: “When this is not, that does not come to be; with the cessation of
this, that ceases.” This enigmatic sounding thesis refers to karma and its vicissitudes, i.e.
affliction’s feeling, thinking, and doing appear and disappear in divided consciousness of
body/speech/mind which one can be aware of through attention. The quintessence is that
Buddhism teaches to cease self-infliced suffering by depriving self from inherent existence and
how to reach that by meditation and being “herenow.”
The Buddha was then faced with a dilemma. On the one hand he could choose to secure
for himself an individual state of blissful nirvana and deliverance from mental misery.
Alternatively he could choose, as urged by his own creative forces, to become a teacher of
mankind, an idea which had motivated him to quest in the first place. In solitude The Buddha
grappled and contemplated that his Dharma is hard to understand and pondered on his reluctance
to teach. Considering compassion for the many people who need liberation, The Buddha decided
to proclaim his “deathless” Dharma, meaning a teaching that will endure the ravages of time. At
the end of the seven weeks two merchants from Myanmar who were passing by offered rice cake
and honey to The Buddha and they became his first lay students (upasakas).
The 4-Ennobling Realities (4ER)
Having overcome his doubt The Buddha thought to make his Dharma first known to the five
ascetics who were staying in the Deer Park (Sarnath) of Benares. So he left Gaya for a 240 km
walk. On the way not far from Gaya The Buddha met Upaka, an ascetic who, struck by The
Buddha’s serene appearance, inquired who his teacher is and whose teaching he professes. The
Buddha replied that he has no teacher; that he is the unique peerless teacher, the supreme
awakened and enlightened arahant, someone who has eradicated all his inner enemies and
attained nirvana’s tranquility. The Buddha declared that he is the victor over affliction and was
on his way to Benares to “Set the Wheel of the Dharma in Motion” and to beat the deathless
drum in a world reigned over by blindness. Then he met a Brahmin by the name of Dona who
was awed by The Buddha’s radiance and followed him to question his identity, whether he is a
normal human being, a deity, a spirit, or an angel. The Buddha discarded all these qualifications
and called himself an “awakened” one; someone who has bloomed out of the mud like a Lotus
flower which never gets defiled by dirt (Dona Sutta). He arrived at the Deer Park on the fullmoon day and delivered his first “framework” discourse about understanding the Dharma and
karma, here called: the 4-Ennobling Realities (4ER).
This first discourse after awakening is widely known as “The Four Noble Truths.”
However, I call this the 4ER because Buddhism as a psychology does pertinently not
acknowledge Absolute or Transcendental Truths and is limited to an inner quest aimed at
developing noble/gentle human beings. Clearly, the practitioner will not literally become a
nobleman-aristocrat like a duke or a prince, but rather a “gentleman” or a “gentlewoman,” a
person of wholesome moral intentions; thus, someone with a noble heart. A psychological take
of these four reads as follows:
(1) There is karmic emotional dissatisfaction to be insightfully understood as suffering of
body/speech/mind which is self-inflicted; existence is full of psychological distress
(dukkha) - a state of being imbalanced due to the human predicament and vicissitudes of
life; life is like a grinding ride with a broken axle-wheel if one craves.
(2) The root of suffering is self-imposed grasping and clinging to greed/hatred/ignorance
on the working of the mind and irrational belief in a permanent I-me-mine/self due to
irrational/illusory-delusional thinking while living in an impermanent world – dukkha has
a karmic cause which on its turn causes karma due to attachment to self.
(3) There is a way out of dukkha by ceasing self-sabotaging greed/hatred/ignorance via
insight in Dependent Origination of feeling/thought/action and a transforming practice
toward wholesome karma (intentional action) – dukkha can be dissolved by extinguishing
needless grief, fear, anger, and depression (nirvana).
(4) The aim of nirvana (emotional extinction) can be attained by countering ignorance on
the mind and irrational self-inflating by an eightfold transforming practice – i.e. “Middle
Way” to the end of suffering – by balancing vision, intention, speech/self-speech, action,
living, effort, awareness, and attention (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta).
The latter is called here the 8-Fold Balancing Practice (8FBP) and specifiable as follows:
1. Views (on how the mind and karma works which counter ignorance)
2. Intentions (discerning wholesome/unwholsome karmic planning)
3. Speech (meaningful talk and self-talk with emotional impact)
4. Action (karmic conduct or behavior, its antecedents and consequents)
5. Living (or livelihood, creating a constructive and meaningful daily life)
6. Effort (zeal, diligence, commitment to lead a wholesome/happy life)
7. Awareness (the mind’s eye, awareness of awareness, or metaperception)
8. Attention (concentration, focus, and being purely attentive from now to now)
All eight points are like a menu in a restaurant – the particular balancing element is foregrounded
when situationally required. The “Middle Way” is inferred as a state of mind characterized by
inner balancing which starts with heedful awareness and from moment to moment bare attention;
mindfulness, here called heartfulness. Points seven (awareness) and eight (attention) refer to
heartfulness meditation.
The instruction of this core Buddhist meditation is simple. As The Buddha sat under a
tree in the Iron Age: what can he explore other than his own mind? He smiled, sat, and stayed
focused with whatever appears and its changes in the maelstrom of mind without holding on to
something or warding anything off. It can be painstakingly difficult to be non-evaluative and
kind to anything appearing in body/speech/mind. The effect might be a deep understanding of
Dependent Origination regarding feeling/thought/action and insight into the coming about and
transformation of karma as intentional thought and concomitant action. Karma is a centerpiece in
all Buddhisms if the quintessence is detoxifying the poisons of greed (fear of losing and grief of
the lost), hatred (anger toward others or oneself, aka depression) and ignorance on how the mind
functions. The latter implies that Buddhism is a clinical psychology aimed at countering
emotional disorder, illusions of self, and delusions regarding the supernatural. Its meditations
offer first person knowledge on mind, no-mind, and inter-mind by experiencing a healing mental
state of MTN and non-duality. MTN liberates from the dimension of speech and language which
inhere in the shackles of duality and antonyms. It is a healing state of mind. Its activity is
comparable to resetting or rebooting a PC. From this state of MTN one re-constructs a different
kind of reality “as-it-really-is/becomes,” free from emotional suffering and from rebirths of selfsabotaging self-talk. MTN enables easiness in reaching out to others and experiencing a “we23
ness” of inter-mind aka inter-being. It stimulates us to stop looking at ourselves as isolated
agents hiding inside the skull in-between our ears and boosts a life of joy and fulfilling
relationships. Once we reach this awakened or enlightened state of mind, we are apt to help
others accomplish the same triumph over daily discontentment and agony in the framework of
kindness and compassion. The admonition is: start meditating-contemplating the 4-ER and the
8FBP in heartfulness…
Forty-five Years of Mission
The Buddha delivered ca. 17.500 discourses as jotted down in the scriptures
(, all of them were learned by heart by The
Buddha’s attendant Ananda who was also The Buddha’s cousin. A few discourses were
delivered by the chief scholars Sariputta and Moggallana (sanctioned by The Buddha). The two
allegedly started the Dhamma’s abstracted teachings called the Abhidhamma which is revered as
a canonical book by the Theravada. They became the target of mockery in the many later
Mahayana sutras which could be viewed as alternatives to the Abhidhamma. For 45 years, The
Buddha insisted: “I teach only suffering and the transformation of suffering”, which he did out of
his qualities of loving-kindness and from a heart cooled by empathic compassion and
sympathetic joy. Here is a representative selection of twelve suttas ( in random
order. They are summarized and commented. Note that the Dharma refers to relational ways of
being in these instances.
Scholars say that the first three of The Buddha’s discourses are cardinal. What are The
Buddha’s second and third teachings about? Five days after his first discourse The Buddha
delivered his second discourse. He again addressed the group of five who became even deeper
illuminated after hearing this teaching which came to be known as the “Three Empirical Marks
of Existence.” It is on the realities of duhkha, impermanence, and not-self. The Buddha’s
proposition is that impermanence is the cause of people’s erroneous thinking about a non-abiding
self. The self is a concept or image which evaporates as soon as it is sensed because it is merely a
temporary composite of body/speech/mind and a formation of perception-affect- thought and
consciousness/awareness, here called the five psychological modalities (skandhas). These
modalities are impermanent, unstable, and the subject of change in the Dharma. Body, neither
mind, nor consciousness, emanating from body/speech/mind, nor perception, nor affect, nor
thought is permanent. Being impermanent, they lack inherent existence or substance and are thus
empty (from here on indicated as MT) and if grasped or clung onto due to craving the result will
be suffering. Furthermore, none of them can be identified as I-me-mine/self which are each and
by themselves abstractions and thus MT semantic social constructions. If there is no self there
cannot be a unity with Brahman or a transmigration to an after-life plane like a heaven or
paradise in the sky whose existence is debatable and a waste of time to quibble about as that will
not lead to awakening and the end of suffering (Annatalakkhana Sutta). This makes Buddhism a
non-theistic system of meditative action, i.e. an applied psychology that analyses the Dependent
Origination of any self-identified experience through the practice of “rational self-talk.” This
boils down to three socially de-constructional sentences to be repeated, contemplated, and
understood in meditational practice as modeled by The Buddha: “Such is not mine; such is not
what I really am; such is not my self.” Thus one can be MT of self but full of affect and free
from the toils of craving, grasping, and clinging.
The third discourse is called the “Fire Discourse” (Adittapariyaya Sutta) and is about the
three poisons and their toxic consequences. It is thus called because The Buddha used fire
metaphors when delivering his talk to a thousand Vedic fire worshippers led by three brothers.
They practiced a Brahmanistic fire ritual with liturgical chanting and symbolic offerings to a
deity in order to imbibe themselves with its power. The three matted hair Kashyapa ascetics lived
separately with five, three, and two hundred disciples. With much effort and at times using
educational wonders The Buddha succeeded in convincing them to enter the Buddhist commune
by expounding that as long as men live in ignorance they will be the victim of devouring fires.
Due to craving one is on fire; greed, hatred, ignorance are fires. Ignorant people are on fire with
the ramifications of birth, old age, illness, and death, including their consequences: sorrow,
lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Fire is burning all the time through the twelve perceptual
categories which are perishable: eyes/visibles, ears/hearables, skin/touchables, nose/smellables,
mouth/speechables, and the mind’s eye (a 6th sense perceiving conceivables). She or he who is
able to discern wholesome from unwholesome “perceivables” and “conceivables,” and choose
for the wholesome is a master of sense reactions and can become an arahant (eradicator of inner
enemies). Particularly, one is advisably mindful of the wholesome taste of the tongue through
which one utters speech. The audience’s wholesome minds transform greed into heartfelt
generosity, hatred into loving-kindness, and ignorance into savvy and wisdom. In other words,
through Buddhist practice one might extinguish the daily fires of emotional arousal, of
depression, fear, anger, sadness, and light up the candles of joy and serenity. Legend has it that
The Buddha performed miracles to convince them. These are most probably not what he did,
because the only miracle that he acknowledged is “the miracle of education” (Kevatta Sutta,
Sangarava Sutta and Sammosa Sutta). Magical miracles are additions of his proponents who
seemingly made these up in order to be able to compete in debates with spiritual acrobats of their
time. The Buddha pertinently rejected magic and forbade his students to trick people. Anyway,
after The Buddha’s “firy” discourse, they all cut off their hair and threw away their ritualistic
utensils. This event illustrates how The Buddha made use of his audiences’ wording but
transformed its meanings from the literal into the figurative. The Dhamma is highly
characterized by metaphoric language.
As the company grew, The Buddha formalized his Order (commune or sangha) with the
name of “The Order of The Shakyan Guru.” The Buddha considered the people in his company
fellow-travelers rather than followers and they may descend from any caste and may be male or
female. Within a year he had more than 1000 bhikkhus or hermits, here inferred as selfappointed scholars who beg through life to secure time to study and memorize Buddhist texts. To
keep a promise, he went to visit King Bimbisara of the powerful Magadha Kingdom, who was
impressed by his company of 1000 people and became the Order’s royal patron. He donated to
the prominent Buddha a Bamboo Grove (Veluvana Park) near Rajagaha where he and his
hermits could dwell under the trees or in caves and where a hermitage was built later. During this
time two outstanding students and later Sangha chiefs joined The Buddha after Assaji’s talk (one
of the ascetics): Sariputta (who excelled in wisdom) and Mogallana (who excelled in rhetoric).
Some events are highlighted below to illustrate that family and friends, men and women
alike, played a significant role in The Buddha’s life until his death. As his following grew, The
Buddha revisited his birthplace. King Suddhodana, knowing that his son was lecturing in nearby
Rajagaha dispatched invitations. When The Buddha returned to Kapilivastu, five years after
awakening, he had to subdue the pride of his relatives and elderly Shakyans who refused to pay
him reverence. But most of the Shakyas rejoiced and prepared a stay for the large company at the
Banyan Grove which was later donated to the sangha (commune) by Nigrodha, a rich man in the
area. Although at first skeptical, most Shakyas joined him either as hermits or as lay students
after he taught his family members who wholeheartedly accepted the Dharma. When The
Buddha visited the palace, Princess Yasodhara and their son Rahula came to pay their respects
and also attended his talks. He came to know that his former wife was devastated over his
departure. Hearing that Siddhartha became a wandering hermit when he left her, she imitated
him by removing her jewels, wearing a yellow robe, and eating only one meal a day. Yasodhara
followed the news of his actions closely in the years of his quest in spite of proposals by other
Rahula, their then seven year old son, was very obedient to his father who gave the boy
his “inheritance” and became the first novice hermit after the child’s own request. This upset
Raja Sudhodana who found him too young and demanded that caretakers should give consent in
the future. The Buddha agreed and made a rule out of it. Using the simile of the mirror, The
Buddha educated Rahula to speak truly (Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta). Asked what a mirror is
for, Rahula replied that a mirror reflects. The Buddha explained that likewise actions of
body/speech/mind need to be done in the clear reflection of the mind. One needs to reflect in
advance whether an action will harm self, others, or both self and others. If the action is
unwholesome, it will result in suffering and should be avoided. If the action is wholesome then
one may proceed. It is necessary to train by reflecting constantly whether any action leads to
contentment or happiness or not. Demeritorious actions of the body are killing, stealing, and
sexual misconduct. Demeritorious actions of speech are lying, slandering, harsh speech, and
gossiping. Demeritorious actions of the mind are greedy/covetous, hating/ill-willed, and
unbalanced. Meritorious actions are compassionate, generous, self-controlled, truthful, kind,
pleasant, meaningful, joyful, affectionate, and balanced. At a later age The Buddha instructed
Rahula (18) on heartfulness in respiration and on insight meditation (Maharahulovada Sutta) and
at a much later age (25) The Buddha taught his son about impermanence, suffering, and not-self
(Cularahulovada Sutta).
The Buddha showed much affection for his half brother and the designated Crown Prince
Nanda, who just married a Shakyan beauty. The way The Buddha persuaded Nanda is a case in
point for “skilful means.” Nanda could not forget his beautiful young wife and tried to go back
home several times. To cure him from infatuation and homesickness The Buddha taught him the
relativity and impermanence of physical beauty. The Buddha clearly lured his brother into the
Dharma by first having him visualize a heaven of five hundred most gorgeous goddesses who
made his girl pale in comparison. When hereafter Nanda desired the goddesses instead, The
Buddha took him down to hell where he relinquished his sensuous appetite for them. The
Buddha then promised Nanda all of them if he succeeds in taming his mind. Nanda did his
utmost to meditate and awakened and was no longer interested in any female beauty. These
imagery tactics resemble the modern psychotherapist’s proficiency using imagery and
visualizations to emotional/cognitive/behavioral change.
In addition to his brother, there were six other cousins/princes, who joined the commune
at The Buddha’s first home town stay; among them: Anuruddha, Ananda, and Devadatta.
Ananda, Anurrudha’s brother, was born on the same day as The Buddha and was thirty-seven
then. He became The Buddha’s personal attendant at age fifty-five. Devadatta became The
Buddha’s arch-enemy as mentioned earlier. Their barber-slave, Upali, joined the fraternity too
and later became the one who knew all the sangha rules (Vinayas) and why they were
introduced. Many other Shakyan young men, not less than 500 as tradition has it, entered the
sangha and all were treated on an equal basis by The Buddha. For The Buddha someone’s
background did not matter. Everybody capable of awakening was welcomed into the commune
as long as they followed the eight precepts: (1) not to kill, (2) not to steal, (3) not to lie, (4) not to
indulge in drugs, (5) not to engage in sexual relations, (6) not to eat after noon or before dawn,
(7) not to attend entertainment, like singing, dancing or wearing ornaments or perfume, and (8)
not to sleep on soft or luxurious beds. For lay students, obeyance to the first four precepts
suffices (Brahmajala Sutta).
Last but not least, The Buddha taught his father on several occasions. Raja Suddhodana,
although saddened because his lineage ended after his two sons and grandson left the place,
became himself a lay follower after reconciling with his eldest son who renounced any duty as
his successor. As a father he was shocked by his alms-begging which was a shame to the family.
But The Buddha retorted that mendicancy was a correct lifestyle for hermits as they have cut
their family ties. During a fifth monsoon rain retreat The Buddha heard about the impending
death of his aged father and went to visit him. Raja Suddhodana, having listened and understood
the teachings, became an arahant prior to his death. Since The Buddha observed his father’s
transformation, he declared that a householder’s liberation is as profound as a hermit’s liberation.
After his father’s death The Buddha settled a long-standing conflict between the Shakyas and the
Koliyas on the rights to regulate water from the Rohini River. The two tribes are kinsmen by
many intermarriages like between King Suddhodana and his first (Maya) and second (Pajapati)
wives, and between Siddharta and Yasodhara. Inflaming their dispute the Koliyans humiliated
the Shakyas by pointing at their incestuous past. The Buddha assuaged the feud through a
discourse on the value of water and of human life (Attadanda Sutta) and on the causes of anger
and attachment (Kalahavivada Sutta). The clans reconciled. Thanking The Buddha for the
attained peace each clan had 500 of their men join the sangha. Many of their wives were the first
to become bhikkhunis (female hermit students) in a new Order of women adepts led by Pajapati,
The Buddha’s stepmother.
At first the Buddha refused to inaugurate women due to the hardship of sangha life, but
Pajapati persisted in her argument to join and consequently led a group of aristocratic Shakyan
and Koliyan ladies, including Yasodhara, his former wife, and Sundari Nanda, his half sister.
They had their hair cut off and dressed in yellow robes, followed the male group to Rajagaha,
and reiterated their request. Concerned that admitting women would weaken the brotherhood and
shorten its lifetime, The Buddha again refused but eventually accepted them. After all, women’s
capacity to awaken is equal to that of men. However, he gave them additional rules to enter the
Order, e.g. bhikkhunis had to make obeisance to bhikkhus. Well-known is Venerable Nandaka’s
exhortation (Nandaka Sutta) to 500 bhikkhunis on impermanence and the impersonal nature of
the process of Dependent Origination observable during meditation. As the nature of existence is
considered to be impersonal, there is no inherently existing self. This applies to men and women.
The women’s Order died out on the Indian subcontinent in the year 456 CE but continued in
North and East Asia until today.
The Dhammapada recounts the tale of two other renowned bhikkhunis. Queen Khema is
praised as the bhikkhuni par excellence; she was King Bimbisara’s beautiful queen who disliked
The Buddha’s disparaging of beauty. But since the venue where The Buddha had a special retreat
was near, she decided to take a look. Upon arrival The Buddha was delivering a discourse on
impermanence in the audience hall while he was fanned by a heavenly beautiful young lady
sitting next to him. At least Khema thought she saw that scene as no-one else seemed to have
seen it. Thus mesmerized, she compared the glaring beauty of the young woman with her own
appearance and came to see her own body she was so proud of as gradually fading in her mind
and turning into an old decrepit body and finally into a stinking decaying corpse eaten by
maggots. While likewise the young beauty on stage withered away in her mind’s eye, it
happened that The Buddha, who was familiar with her attitudes of mind, addressed her by saying
that a beautiful body eventually turns into a skeleton of bones. Understanding that the lust for
beauty resembles a web wherein the spider that spun it got caught, Khema realized the beautiful
insight of the body’s impermanence and became chief bhikkhuni.
The other woman is Kisagotami, a young woman happily married to a wealthy man in
Savatthi. They had one son, a toddler, bitten by a poisonous snake when playing outside.
Kisagotami, who had never seen a dead body before, thought that he was just ill. Not accepting
his death, she went everywhere in the area carrying her child’s body in search of a physician who
has the medicine that could cure her boy. Kisagotami was so desperately pathetic that people
thought she is crazy. At length a man advised her to go to The Buddha who might have the
medicine she was looking for. Thus, she went to The Buddha who offered her a medicine in the
form of a behavioral assignment. She would need a handful of mustard seed obtained from a
house where no one has ever died and which should be given to her by someone who has no
deceased relatives. So, Kisagotami ran from house to house asking for the seed, but could not
find even one. As the day passed by, she realized that there is no single home where death did
not occur. In fact, there are more people dead than alive. Realizing death is universal,
Kisagotama could let go of attachment, buried her son, returned to The Buddha, and became a
The Buddha used to travel by walking barefoot with a large assembly of noisy hermits
numbering in the hundreds. There was a tradition not to trample the crops or disturb the animals
in the field, to retreat at one place during three summer months in the rainy season, and to
wander along during the other nine months. Then, they walked 15-20 km a day and slept
wherever nature provided shelter. The Buddha passed the greater part of his awakened life in the
Kingdom of Kosala, at Jeta’s Grove or Jetavana near Savatthi, thus called because it first
belonged to Prince Jeta who sold it to the wealthy householder Sudatta, also known by his nick
name Anathapindika (giver-of-alms) who destined the property for the sangha. As he enjoyed
doing business, The Buddha suggested him to become a lay student and continue his work. As a
benefactor until his death, he had a monumental hermitage built in the park (Anathapindika
Hermitage). Since then the hermits had a roof above their heads during summer time when they
are around. The Buddha had a favorite place there, a small house called Gandhakuti (“fragrant
hut” due to the many flowers continuously offered), which had a living room, bedroom, and
bathroom, and a balcony where The Buddha could address the sangha. In the vicinity of Jetavana
there were other wealthy patrons. Two of them donated to The Buddha, who was then in his
sixties, other hermitages: the rich female householder Visakha’s (Pubbarama Hermitage;
Visakhuposatha Sutta) and Kosala’s King Pasenadi’s (Rajakarama Hermitage; Dhammactiya
Sutta). One might say that the prosperous Savatthi was a “Buddhist city” packed with bhikkhus
and bhikkhunis. Jetavana remained a Buddhist centre until the end of the thirteenth century when
Buddhism disappeared from the Indian subcontinent. Tradition has it that The Buddha spent
twenty-five of forty-five seasonal retreats at Savatthi in one of these hermitages. Thus, Savatthi
is the place where The Buddha lived the longest amount of time and where he delivered the
largest number of talks. Each year during the months of September to May The Buddha and his
company wandered around in the Gangetic plains delivering discourses to anyone who wanted to
The Buddha’s ministry was a great success lasting for forty-five years and was
generously supported by many lay disciples, ranging from kings to commoners. In the course of
his ministry, The Buddha was indefatigable. He travelled on foot with a company of hermits all
over Northern India, from Vesali in the East to Kuru (Delhi) in the West, spreading the Dharma
for the benefit of mankind. Although his motive was pure and selfless, yet he faced strong
opposition, mainly from the leaders of sects and of the traditional Brahmin caste. Within the
Order, The Buddha also faced some problems and his dealing with them showed his fallibility as
a human being who was not immune from family intrigues, anger, and jealousy. Two examples
are the plot of his cousin and brother-in-law Devadatta and the genocide of the Shakya family.
Devadatta unsuccessfully plotted in order to take over the sangha. The Buddha looked down at
him by calling him “a piece of spittle” who was doomed to go to hell. The conflict led to
Devadatta’s attempts to kill The Buddha. At one time when The Buddha was walking on the
Vultures Peak, Devadatta rolled a huge rock at The Buddha. The rock hurtled down, struck
another rock causing a splinter flying and wounding The Buddha's foot. The Buddha looked up
and seeing Devadatta, he called him a fool. In the end, Devadatta left the Order but just before
his death, he repented and re-took refuge in The Buddha.
When The Buddha was eighty, the year of his death, a massacre took place. King
Prasenajit of the mighty neighboring kingdom of Kosala wanted to become an in-law of The
Buddha and requested from the Shakyas a princess to become his queen-consort. This would
heighten Prasenajit’s prestige and tie the two states. Stemming from high ranking nobility, the
Shakyas were unwilling to fulfill the King of Kosala’s wish. As they could not openly defy the
powerful Prasenjit, a Shakya noble Mahanama offered his beautiful sixteen year old daughter.
However, the girl’s mother was an untouchable slave which was a well-kept secret. Believing
that the girl was a Shakya, she became Prasenajit’s queen and gave birth to the Crown Prince
Virudhaka. As he grew up Virudhaka wondered why his Shakyan grandparents never sent him
greetings or presents. At sixteen he visited his Shakya relatives and was received in a specially
prepared house. Returning home, one of his escorting soldiers forgot his spear and went back to
the house. There the man saw that slaves cleaned everything the Prince had used with milk and
found out the secret. Virudhaka was enraged. Consequently, King Prasenajit sent Virudhaka and
his mother to the slave quarters.
Speaking to the King, The Buddha acknowledged that the Shakyas were wrong and
convinced Prasenajit that nobility depends on one’s conduct, not on one’s birth. Hence, the
adjective ennobling is preferred to denote The Buddha’s prime teaching: the 4ER rather than the
Four Noble Truths. Prasenajit followed The Buddha’s advice on the meaning of being noble and
reinstalled the Queen and the Crown Prince. Nonetheless, Virudhaka vowed to take revenge by
washing the Shakyas’ houses with their own blood. And once on the throne, Virudhaka, the king
and his army marched to the Shakyan capital. The Buddha made a plea for mercy and asked the
new king to spare his kinsmen. But reminded by a Brahmin of his vow, he marched on again
twice. The Buddha intervened successfully three times by staying and waiting in the hot burning
sun. This caused him a chronic headache for the rest of his life. The fourth time, however, The
Buddha dwelled somewhere further away. Doomed by the past deception and the king’s
unabating hatred, 10.000 people of The Buddha’s clan were massacred. Eventually only one
tenth of the Shakyas could escape ( and
In the same year of the massacre The Buddha died probably due to eating poison
mushrooms served by the host of the company, a man from the hostile Jain sect. It has remained
unclear whether The Buddha was poisoned by this Jain black-smith who provided the meal and
shelter or whether The Buddha’s “parinirvana” was just an unfortunate event. The Buddha’s
passing away was in Kushinagar and took place under the shade of two sala trees which are the
same kind of trees he was born under when his mother delivered him eighty years ago. His last
discourse messaged that when he is no more, one needs to seek within oneself and remember his
words as a guide to reach the “further shore.” But one must make the effort oneself. His very last
admonition was allegedly: “Strive on diligently in alert heartfulness!” (Mahaparinibbana Sutta).
Seek within oneself implies a psychology and self-therapy based on one’s own experience as a
measure for wholesomeness.
Spreading Buddhism
The Buddha was a peculiar teacher, a real brilliant, genius guru. Although his teaching can be
designated as godly, he was not a god or a son of god, nor a prophet or a messiah. Having no
connection whatsoever with a god, he was no mystical or mythological figure either. He was
fallible as can be inferred from the above. Summarizing his being human even after awakening:
(1) He doubted whether or not to disseminate the Dhamma as it is quite difficult to understand;
(2) He made a mistake, corrected by his father, by initiating his son who was under age; (3) He
initially refused to accept women as bhikkhunis in the sangha; (4) He was no saint as he could be
angry and called his cousin, who tried to kill him, names; (5) He did not perform miracles,
prohibited his bhikkhus to engage in magic and being rational he only acknowledged the miracle
of education; (6) Not discussed yet, in the 9th year of his mission he could not appease a conflict
in the sangha which was about the water closet; (7) He could not prevent the Shakyas from being
massacred in his seventees, despite his waiting in the burning sun and negociating; (8) He
suffered since then from headaches; and (9) He could not foretell or prevent his own death by
poisoning. These instances illustrate that The Buddha was a great teacher from whom we can
learn a lot even 2500 years after his passing away, but he was and remained a fallible human
being during all his life, nothing more, nothing less.
Nonetheless, The Buddha was an extraordinary and unique man (acchariya manussa), a
human being par excellence (purisuttama). Excelling in being human, he embodied compassion
and wisdom (sasana). All his achievements can be attributed to human effort. Through personal
experience he understood the supremacy of man. Due to his own unremitting energy, unaided by
any teacher, he achieved the highest intellectual attainment and mind’s MTN. Never claiming to
be a savior who tried to save souls by means of a revelation or contact with a deity or a sky-god,
his teachings cannot therefore be subsumed as a religion in the Abrahamic sense. Rejecting all
forms of external power, he proved by his own experience that awakening lies fully within man’s
range of potentialities. Enlightenment is within everyone’s reach as we all already inhere in
buddhanature. Every one of us can make the appropriate effort, break the shackles of bondage
and win freedom from attachment by self-exertion leading to insight and understanding how the
end of emotional suffering, happiness, and unhappiness come about. This requires psychological
transformation, not religion. The Buddha was the first man in history who taught that liberation
of psychological suffering can be attained without the aid of a divine power. This freedom will
be gained by investing effort to direct intention and action toward wholesomeness.
How to overcome emotional suffering is to be discovered or rather uncovered by
ourselves in ourselves. The narrative of The Buddha’s awakening shows that he was a role model
for practicing his teachings, but, pertinently, he is not someone to follow blindly. Helped by the
Dharma, we can mirror and improve ourselves by using our own experience and judgment on
what is wholesome or unwholesome. It was through perseverance and self-acquired
understanding that The Buddha proved the infinite possibility of man to emancipate toward
awakening. No one can “purify” or free another and teachers can only provide guidance; the
effort has to be made by oneself. He did not promise anybody salvation by simply believing in
him. On the contrary, he advised his adepts to work out their own development through their
own commitment and labor to look inside and transform ourselves. To be sure, not claiming to
be omniscient, he did not believe in miracles, except in the miracle of education (see also
Kalupahana, 2006, in
During The Buddha’s time there were two predominant languages in Northern
Jambudvipa (ancient name for the Indian subcontinent). One was Sanskrit, used by the highly
educated, upper class and therefore it is a language that The Buddha also could speak. Sanskrit
has survived as a language up until today, although mainly practised in written form particularly
for religious documents. However, as the vernacular language of the region where The Buddha
dwelled was Magadhi and as The Buddha, who wanted to stay close to the common people, he
delivered his talks in Magadhi. This language is quite similar to Pali, the language of the
Theravada scriptures. After being transmitted orally for six centuries, The Buddha’s talks were
written down on palm leaves as from the year 29 BCE throughout the first century and became
scriptures. Writing things down on palm leaves was the usual way of recording at that time.
Three seminal collections of literature came into being. The first basket (Vinaya) deals with rules
for bhikkhus living in a commune where they study and commemorate texts. The second basket
(Nikaya) deals with The Buddha’s and some of his excellent students’ discourses. The third
basket (Abhidhamma) is a body of work intended as interpretation of teachings in abstracted
form which was made in over four centuries subsequent to The Buddha’s death and which
impresses as being unfinished. The three bodies of written text material are collectively referred
to as the Theravada Canon aggregating to ten times the Bible (Old and New Testaments). With
the summary and commentaries authored by Buddhaghosa in the 5th century, original Theravada
writings came to an end. Theravada prevails in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar,
and parts of Bangladesh. Theravada is one out of eighteen Early Buddhist denominations; the
seventeen others are extinct.
A few centuries after The Buddha’s death variations of this early tradition came into
being which introduce metaphysical concepts from Ancient Indo-Greece (e.g. Apollo-The
Buddha), Brahmanism (e.g. Shiva-Avaloketishvara), and Zoroastrianism (e.g. AmitayusBuddha-of-the-West). They came to enjoy wide acceptance as Mahayana in many parts of Asia,
including China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia (presently a Theravada country) and later in
Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, and on some major islands of the present Indonesia.
Mahayana means Great Vehicle. Its adherents derogatorily call Theravada (“Teaching of the
Elders”), Small Vehicle or Hinayana. With its subdivisions, Mahayana which comprises more
than twelve denominations – all still existing today – is sometimes analogized to Protestantism.
Their texts are written in Sanskrit and total forty times the Bible. The Mahayana scriptures are
called sutras and these scriptures narrate the Buddhist principles in a series of new discourses
allegedly told by The Buddha as a metaphysical figure who descended from heaven to sermonize
those who are considered ready to receive the new message. Mythology says that these
metaphysical Mahayana scriptures were kept under the bottom of the sea guarded by water
snakes and to be revealed when the time is ripe; i.e. when the masses are capable to understand.
In fact they were written (in Sanskrit) by hermits, stupas worshippers, who like the Theravada
hermits, started writing in the 1 st century BCE until the 6th century. They were commented by
Buddhist scholars until the 8th century in long original texts and later by smaller texts (tantras)
with less original content until the 12th century.
These writings required a breath of many centuries did contribute to the development of
Mahayana until ca. 1200 when the Buddhist Nalanda Educational Center in Bihar (probably
founded in the early 5th century) was destroyed by Turkish/Muslim invaders (reinstated as a
university by the Indian government in 2014). The Mahayana teachings can be discerned into the
critics of Early Buddhism’s Abhidhamma (Sarvastivada), Nagarjuna’s Middle Way School
(Madhyamaka) and Asanga/Vasubandhu’s Yoga/Sitting Practice School (Yogacara). There are
100 sutras extant in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan to be subsumed under the headings of the
“Perfection of Wisdom Sutras” (125.000 lines and the shorter variants: the 300 lines Diamond
Sutra and the 25/14 lines Heart Sutra) and of the “Buddha Womb Sutras” which comprises a
family of some eight different sutras: the Lotus, Samdhinirmocana, Vimalakirti, Sukavati,
Surangama, Lankavatara, Parinirvana, and the Avatamsaka or Flower Garland Sutra which
includes the Gandhavyuha or Supreme Crown Sutra. The quantity of all these sutras was/is too
much to study in one lifetime which explains the founding and thriving of denominations which
take only one sutra as their guiding text. Vajrayana (Adamantine Vehicle), a further development
of Mahayana using tantras, began around the 6th century and is found today predominantly in the
Himalayas, Sikkim, Mongolia, and Siberia.
Mahayana is sometimes referred to as Tantrayana (the vehicle based on new texts) or
Mantrayana (the vehicle based on recitations, mantras), which stems as from for about the 8th
century and which is also explained as esoteric Buddhism. An important “liturgical” innovation
in Vajrayana is the additional use of rituals; The Buddha was against any ritualistic worship. The
Mahayana ideal is not the historical Buddha Gautama but the bodhisattvas or buddhas-to-be who
can be metaphysical, like loving-kindness, joy, equanimity, compassion, and friendliness, which
are virtues to be held high and practiced by adepts. In Mahayana helping others is set as a
priority above “selfishly” seeking Buddhahood by becoming an arahant (a sagely condition of
having eradicated inner enemies). During this period of Mahayana development ideas arose to
the effect that The Buddha performed miracles during his lifetime. As an example, in one such
miracle the metaphysical Buddha ascended to heaven via a path of precious stones and
multiplied himself there an infinite number of times so that he was omnipresent on earth. These
miracle stories would have been denied by The Buddha as he rejected metaphysics and did not
consider himself to be other than a mortal human being. The miraculous Buddha, buddhas and
bodhisattvas in Mahayana are best inferred as a “skilful method,” a tool of narrative teaching.
Ca. 2600 years after The Buddha’s life (for about 100 generations ago) Buddhism has
spread throughout the world, penetrating different languages and cultures also of Western
countries and developed from the early teachings as exemplified by Theravada to Mahayana. It is
spreading throughout the world and is situated today as an emerging way of life in many Western
societies. The inspirational presence of The 14 th Dalai Lama on the world stage has clearly
contributed to Buddhism’s popular status in the West anno 2015. In its wake the mindfulness
movement made a strong contribution if not breakthrough for Buddhism in mainstream health
care and coaching through a back-door. This book is part of a current which views Buddhism as
a psychology and psychotherapy, a development that started some 100 years ago in 1914 with a
book called Buddhist Psychology written by Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids. The present
psychological take of Buddhism does not exclude or denigrate other approaches (philosophical
reflections and religious beliefs). It is among others based on the fact that Buddhism deals
foremost with the mind and based on transforming karma as intentional action based on feeling,
thought, and behavior founded on body/speech/mind.
Table 1: Development, demise, and survival of Buddhist currents
Table 1, depicting the development of Buddhist currents, the demise, and surviving of these
denominations, speaks for itself. My allegiance as a psychologist lies primarily in what I have
called Ancient Greek Buddhism based on Early Buddhism and my personal history has drawn
my interest in reviving Borobudur Buddhism of Indonesia which forms the highlight of
Mahayana until the year 800. These two subjects will be dealt with below.
Chapter Two looks at the growth of Buddhism as from the period of ancient Greek influences,
examines some other influences from outside on Buddhism’s development, and considers the
impact Buddhism has had on various domains of life. It discusses relationships between
Buddhism as it developed and deals with religious beliefs, philosophical reflections, and
psychology/therapy. A most important and special development pointed out here is the
confluence of Buddhism and the social psychology of social construction. This merger has lead
to a fusion of the two disciplines and is described as an overlap out of which an important
relationship emerged with a probable stamp for decades to come. This combination, coined as
Relational Buddhism, offers an umbrella or meta-psychology of Buddhism and psychology
( Another relevant development is the influence of personal
reincarnation, genetics, and neuroscience on Buddhism and their correlation. This chapter closes
by showing how in the Buddhist metaphor of the Lotus could emerge out of the mud by
detoxifying the poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance on how the mind works as a function of
the modalities of clinging (skandhas) in Dependent Origination. This implies an elementary
knowledge of psychology based on the foundation that we create our own emotional destinies:
nirvana, happiness, or unhappiness. The key is karma, our intentional actions, which begs for
equanimity and a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see, kindness, and the adjoining
affect of compassion and joyfulness.
Ancient Greek Buddhism
Had The Buddha been confronted with metaphysical ideas, he definitely would consider these
anathema and non sequitur as they do not follow from his premises. He would probably have
strongly disagreed as he insisted on the abnegation of any supernaturalism in Buddhism. Spooky
metaphysics would likely make him “turn in his grave.” Nevertheless this influence remains
strong to this day in the Mahayana tradition. The origins of Mahayana replete with metaphysics
are a mystery. However it is surmised here that it has got something to do with the influence of
the mighty ancient Greek rulers, descendants of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) and the
Greek colonization of the Northern Indian subcontinent, including the present Pakistan and
Afghanistan, which lasted until the year zero. It seems that the syncretism of Buddhism and
Hellenism of the ancient Greeks of the East, rich and powerful in the area at that time, is the
missing link for explaining the import of metaphysics into the Dharma through the backdoor.
The encounter of Early Buddhism with the ancient Greeks of the East resulted in
depicting The Buddha as Apollo, a half-god of morality and healing. With Apollo came a
selection of the Greek pantheon through The Buddha’s protectors allocated by the ancient
Greeks: Heracles (strength), Tyche (fortune), and Zeus (luminosity). Heracles/strength developed
into two bodhisattvas: the bodhisattvas of dedication to awakened mind (bodhicitta) and the
bodhisattva of loving-kindness (Maitreya). Tyche/fortune developed into the bodhisattva of
unconditional love (Hariti) and the bodhisattva of empathic compassion (Avalokiteshvara).
Zeus/luminosity seems to have transformed into the bodhisattva Manjushri who stands for
wisdom which is engendered by cleaving the root of ignorance in people’s minds. These celestial
bodhisattvas represent revered human character qualities, virtues, which are considered to be
indispensable in the quest of attaining buddhahood. Thus, the human bodhisattva will become a
buddha if she or he follows a long-winding learning process which starts with a heartfelt
dedication for awakening (meet Mr. Bodhicitta) who helps people on their way to awakening,
and if she or he emits loving-kindness (meet Mr. Maitreya), love, and compassion (meet Mr.
Avalokiteshvara) accompanied by wisdom (meet Mr. Manjushri), and makes wise decisions.
Seemingly, these airy bodhisattvas subsequently developed into a “would-be” pantheon of
Mahayana Buddhism and a cosmology of five (see next chapter). All of this, particularly the
proclamation of a buddhanature, a concept which tastes like “soul,” goes much against the Early
Buddhist teachings which is non-metaphysical and therefore does not deal with the soul or an
after-life. However, this evolutionary quality enables us to understand the early beginning of
Mahayana Buddhism.
As a matter of fact, the ancient Greeks of the East, the colonial rulers and masters in the
area and no doubt influential in their citizens’ minds, adopted, not determined, the Dharma by
syncretising their godheads/demi-gods and bodhisattvas. It was not the other way around as they
obviously appropriated their metaphysical figures to the universal bodhisattva qualities. In fact
they did something similar when ruling in Egypt where they saw their own more powerful idols
reflected in the Egyptian deities ( After all their power prevailed
as they defeated the indigenous people. As occupiers they considered themselves superior and
thus could think that their idols were represented in the inferior deities of the people they have
subdued. The ancient Greeks of the East were a catalyst and dynamo for further development of
Buddhism, but they were not in the driver’s seat as the Buddhist message remained intact. From
a Buddhist stance, the identity of the revered bodhisattva qualities with the Greek idols might be
viewed as part of “skilful means” which has helped Buddhism to survive changing cultures and
the ravages of time including the Greek domination. Buddhism gained a high-class stature by
mingling with the rulers and Hellenism scored a lasting influence on Buddhism through
sculptures up until today and writings, although there are not many texts left.
One book, classified as a Theravada paracanonical work written in Pali, highlights
Ancient Greek Buddhism. It is called the Milindapanha (The Query of King Menandros) and
quite apt for the Western reader. The book stems is from ca. 150 BCE and narrates a Q&A of
King Menandros I (reigned 155-130 BCE) with the Bhikkhu Nagasena, an Indian venerable
whose teacher was by the way a Buddhist hermit from Greek descent. Nagasena came to the
attention of this important Greek king because he like many Greeks of his time was quite
interested in philosophy and Nagasena was a renowned Buddhist genius, someone to debate
with. The content centers around 304 questions and covers 15 pan-Buddhist themes. Thse
questions are direct and in that sense typically Western as they would not be asked that way in an
Indian context. The themes are mostly explained through similes and are the bare bones of
Buddhism in a nutshell. The main subjects are: the 4ER, 8FP, 3-Empirical Marks of Existence,
3-Poisons, nirvana, karma, body/speech/mind, modalities (skandhas), self/not-self, Dependent
Origination, smallest units of experience (dhammas or dharmas with small case d),
senses/mind’s eye, 12-Meditations, 4-Foundations of Mindfulness/heartfulness, and the 4Immeasurables/Social Meditations (Brahmaviharas). It is recommendable for reading by
everyone as it answers most questions in a kind of “Reader’s Digest” version as it provides a
summarized, insightful, and quite complete understanding of Early Buddhism in its shift toward
Mahayana. The centuries’ long cross-fertilization and common history of Buddhism and
Hellenism warrant the conclusion that the Buddhist Dharma has already been part of Western
civilization for 2200 years, even if this chapter of Buddhist history has been neglected for a long
time. These findings warrant the thesis, with all due respect, that there is no compelling need for
Westerners to learn the Buddhist teachings from East Asia or the Himalayas with their inherent
cultural and religious additions and adaptations.
Similes are offered on wisdom of not-self and heartfulness, to mention a few subjects. An
illustration of a simile is the explanation of not-self. Bhikkhu Nagasena (BN) taught King
Milinda (KM), as he is called in Pali, that the mind’s constituents, the skandhas, are like the parts
of a chariot. Mind deconstructed in its modalities disintegrates like a decomposed body like a
chariot which is nothing but a temporary assemblage of components (Conze, 1959;
KM asked BN: “How is your Reverence known... what is your name?” BN: “As
Nagasena I am known… nevertheless… ‘Nagasena’ is just a denomination, a
designation, a conceptual term, a current appellation, a mere name. For no real person can
here be apprehended.” KM:... “Nagasena tells me that he is not a real person… If… no
person can be apprehended in reality, who, then… gives you what you require by way of
robes, food, lodging, and medicines? What is it that consumes them? Who is it that
guards morality… practices meditation? Who is it that kills… takes what is not given,
commits sexual misconduct, tells lies, drinks… and commits… sins? For, if there were no
person, there could be no merit or demerit; no doer of… deeds, and no agent behind
them… and no reward or punishment for them. If someone should kill you, Ven.
Nagasena, he would not commit any murder… What then is this ‘Nagasena’? Are
perhaps the hairs of the head ‘Nagasena’?... “Or perhaps the hairs of the body?”… “the
nails, teeth, skin, muscles, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, serous
membranes, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, stomach, excrement, the bile, phlegm,
pus, blood, grease, fat, tears, sweat, spittle, snot, fluid of the joints, urine, or the brain in
the skull – are they this ‘Nagasena’?” BN: “No, great king!”… “Or. .. is it the
combination of form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness?” BN: “No,
great king!” KM: “Then is it outside the combination of form, feelings, perceptions,
impulses, and consciousness?” BN: “No, great king!” KM: “Then… I can discover no
Nagasena at all. Just a mere sound… but who is the real Nagasena? Your Reverence has
told a lie, has spoken a falsehood! There really is no Nagasena!” BN: … “If you would
walk at midday on this hot, burning, and sandy ground, then your feet would have to
tread on the rough and gritty gravel and pebbles, and they would hurt you, your body
would get tired, your mind impaired, and your awareness of your body would be
associated with pain. How, then did you come: on foot, or on a mount?” KM: “I did not
come… on foot, but on a chariot.” BN: …“then please explain to me what a chariot is. Is
the pole the chariot?” KM: “No, reverend Sir!” BN: “Is then the axle the chariot?”
KM: “No, reverend Sir!” BN: “Is it then the wheels, or the framework, or the flag-staff,
or the yoke, or the reins, or the goadstick?” KM: “No, reverend Sir!” BN: “Then is it the
combination of pole, axle, wheels, framework, flag-staff, yoke, reins, and goad?”
KM: “No, reverend Sir!” BN: “Then is this ‘chariot’ outside the combination of pole,
axle, wheels, framework, flag-staff, yoke, reins, and goad?” KM: “No, reverend Sir!”
BN: “Then… I can discover no chariot at all. Just a mere sound... But what is the real
chariot? Your Majesty has told a lie, has spoken a falsehood! There really is no chariot!
Your Majesty is the greatest king in the whole of India. Of whom then are you afraid, that
you do not speak the truth?” “… King Milinda tells me he has come in a chariot. But…
he cannot establish its existence. How can one possibly approve of that?”… KM: “I have
not, Nagasena, spoken a falsehood. For it is in dependence on the pole, the axle, the
wheels, the framework, the flag-staff, etc., that there takes place this denomination
‘chariot,’ this designation, this conceptual term, a current appellation, and a mere name.”
BN: “Your Majesty has spoken well about the chariot. It is just so with me. In
dependence on the 32 parts of the body and the five skandhas there takes place this
denomination ‘Nagasena,’ this designation, this conceptual term, a current appellation,
and a mere name. In ultimate reality, however, this person cannot be apprehended.”
KM: “It is wonderful, Nagasena, it is astonishing…! Most brilliantly have these questions
been answered!... Well spoken, Nagasena, well spoken!”
Another dialogue explains personal identity and (this-worldly) rebirth.
KM: “When someone is reborn, Ven. Nagasena, is he the same as the one who just died,
or is he another?” BN: “He is neither the same nor another.” KM: “Give me an
illustration!” BN: “What do you think, great king: when you were a tiny infant, newly
born and quite soft, were you then the same as the one who is now grown up?” KM: “No,
that infant was one; I, now grown up, am another.” BN: “If that is so, great king, you
have had no mother, no father, no teaching, and no schooling! Do we then take it that
there is one mother for the embryo in the first stage, another for the second stage, another
for the third, another for the fourth, another for the baby, another for the grown-up
man? Is the schoolboy one person, and the one who has finished school another? Does
one commit a crime, but the hands and feet of another are cut off? KM: “Certainly
not! But what would you say, Reverend Sir, to all that?” BN: “I was neither the tiny
infant, newly born and quite soft, nor am I now the grown-up man; but these comprise
one unit depending on this very body.” KM: “Give me a simile!” BN: “If a man were to
light a lamp, could it give light throughout the whole night?” KM: “Yes, it could.”
BN: “Is not the flame which burns in the first watch of the night the same as the one
which burns in the second?” KM: “It is not the same.” BN: “Or is the flame that burns in
the second watch the same as the one which burns in the last one?” KM: “It is not the
same.”BN: “Even so must we understand the collocation of a series of successive
dharmas. At rebirth one dharma arises, while another stops; but the two processes take
place almost simultaneously (i.e., they are continuous). Therefore the first act of
consciousness in the new existence is neither the same as the last act of consciousness in
the previous existence, nor is it another.” KM: “Give me another simile!” BN: “Milk,
once the milking is done, turns after some time into curds; from curds it turns into fresh
butter, and from fresh butter into ghee. Would it now be correct to say that the milk is the
same thing as the curds, or the fresh butter, or the ghee?” KM: “No, it would not. But
they have been produced because of it.” BN: “Just so must be understood the collocation
of a series of successive dharmas.”
King Menandros – who conquered and expanded the Indo-Greek territory significantly to
become larger than Alexander’s Greek Bakhtrian kingdom – became a Buddhist and took up a
wandering life after his career and attained arahanthood. As arahant means “someone who has
conquered his inner enemies (by befriending them),” this qualification seems to carry a special
meaning for a commanding warrior whose job is to eradicate his “outer” enemies. King
Menandros had Buddhism disseminated throughout his kingdom (from present Afghanistan to
Bangladesh). After him, from about 150 BCE to for about the year zero, 29 Greek kings (all but
one) were Buddhist, as evidenced by the coins of those days. The ancient Greeks of the East
were defeated by the Yueh Chih, a hellenized ethnic Turkish nomadic people from an area called
Xin Jiang (part of China nowadays). This defeat coincides with the demise of the ancient Greeks
in the West whose domination was replaced by the Roman Empire.
Enduring Greek ideas were massively injected into Buddhist sculpting art, which started
during King Menandros’ reign, continued by the Yueh Chih until the 4th century, and lasts up
until today. Whenever The Buddha appears wearing a one-piece Greek himation/toga, a onepiece cloak worn by free-born men or depicted with a hair-style known as the “Herakles knot,”
even if rudimentary, the Greek influence is noticeable. Before King Menandros it was considered
bad form to illustrate The Buddha at all; in the previous era he was only depicted by his footsteps
or by an eight-spoke Dharma wheel.
Buddhism: a Sky-God Religion?
Buddhologists of the early 20th century had contrasting interpretations of Buddhism, mainly as a
religion versus as a philosophy. The Belgians Louis de La Vallée Poussin (1869-1939) and his
Jesuit student Étienne Lamotte (1903–1983), who primarily studied Mahayana and Chinese
Buddhism, erroneously thought it was a religion in the Abrahamic sense which aims salvation
and liberation by believing and worshipping. This is in line with the thinking of their Christian
predecessors who tend to see Buddhism in religious terms like being the work of the devil or
thought that it was something childlike, primitive, or superstitious. In the 18th century the Jesuit
priest Desideri tried to convert Tibet and translated Buddhist texts through Eurocentric lenses.
There is a problem using the term religion, as the term, if inferred from the Latin religare, just
means “tying back to a source” which might imply that Buddhism might be a religion in this
literary sense indeed. However, mostly the term religion is used to refer to a system resembling
the Abrahamic type of deification, idolization, devotion, glorification, ritualizing, praying, and
worshipping, practices which are all in principle not-done in pristine Buddhism.
On the other hand there was Theodore Stcherbatsky (1866-1942), a Russian scholar, who
was the first to draw a distinction between Buddhism as a religious belief system and Buddhism
as a soteriological philosophy. Based on his studies of Tibetan Buddhist scholastic texts, his idea
was that Buddhism is a philosophy because of its emphasis on critical inquiry and logical
consistency aimed at liberation from the mind’s inner shackles. Despite the manifold allusions to
psychology in the scriptures no one took up the challenge to view Buddhism as a clear-cut
psychology and formulate a Buddhist psychology or psychotherapy. The present designation of
Buddhism as a psychology/therapy as in this book could not be done in those times as academic
psychology was rather immature back then and as buddhologists usually have their background
in Asian studies, (ancient) Asian languages, or (comparative) religion/theology.
Although Buddhism was a revolutionary reaction to Brahmanism/Hinduism, Buddhism
uses many Brahmanistic words although with different and differing meanings. In the Tevijja,
Brahmajala, and Canki Suttas, Brahma and Brahmanistic gods are not omnipotent everlasting
creators but creations linked to karma in the Buddhist sense. Learned Brahmins are ridiculed
satirically; their ill-founded Brahma who had little to do after having created the world, came to
learn from The Buddha. Advisably, one is mindful of The Buddha’s rejection of metaphysics
when dealing with karma. In the Tevijja Sutta the Brahmin Vasettha discussed with The Buddha
about the union of human beings with Brahma. The Buddha asked whether he or his teacher, or
his teacher’s teacher up to the 7th generation had ever seen Brahma. Vasettha’s denial sparked
The Buddha’s humorous comment on the opponent’s logic by comparing him with a person who
loves the most beautiful girl in the world without knowing her name, looks, complexion, height,
dwelling, or descent. The Buddha discouraged religious-glorifying rituals to enforce good karma
and never did he instruct students to pray, did he ever wish to be worshipped, or did he claim to
be anything else than awakened (Dona Sutta).
Of all the great teachers in history The Buddha was unique in denying any kind of
inspiration from any outside power or agent. He did not promise salvation by simply believing in
him. On the contrary, he advised his disciples or rather students to value the worth or
worthlessness of the teachings themselves through their own experience and to work out their
own emancipation through their own effort and individual will-power. The Buddha
(Dhammapada) declared that:
By oneself... is one injured. By oneself is harm left undone, by oneself is one purified.
Thus, purity (vs. impurity) depends on oneself: no one can purify another.
In present day parlance, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
This sounds more psychological than prayer-like or religious. Additionally, contrary to the belief
systems of the world, The Buddha rejected all forms of divine power and did not claim
omniscience. In his discourses (Nikayas), The Buddha promulgated a this-worldly teaching of
wisdom implying that Buddhism is non-theistic, meaning that Buddhism is neither theistic, nor
a-theistic (Sabba Sutta).
The Buddha’s non-theistic stance is compatible with the position of two great
psychologists Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Albert Ellis (1913-2007) regarding the
Abrahamic religions. Freud’s idea was that religion is a collective obsessive-compulsive disorder
akin to psychosis and an infantile wish for a parent and later Freudians thought that Buddhism is
an autistic regression into an intra-uterine stage. Ellis’ contention was that religion is a mental
illness with totalitarian, authoritarian, false, dehumanizing, grandiose, infantile, dependent,
masochistic, obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist, and rigid traits. Not featuring a belief in
godheads implies that Buddhism is a system of thought, speech, and action that is independent of
religious devotion. Religion is considered as something that is outside of Buddhism and therefore
does not per se interact with it. Depending on one’s developmental phase, it is not prohibited to
view The Buddha and the abstract principle of buddhanature as godly and to revere it as such.
This kind of attitude inheres in bodhicitta, the heartfelt motivation/commitment to awaken and to
help others eradicate suffering. This parallels the Christian inspiring thought of helping others
altruistically. Such parallels are the reason why non-Buddhists might mistakenly think that The
Buddha is a god and that Buddhism is a religion of worship. The Buddha contended that it is
foolish to assume an imaginary god (Tevijja Sutta). Even though god is denounced in Buddhism
(“god is none-of-our-business”), the Dharma is often categorized as (an atypical kind of)
religion. Many Buddhists go along with this idea because there is religious-like practice like
devotion, worship, prayer, and ritualizing in most Buddhisms. No-one would be surprised if an
economic factor plays a major role, as “monks” deserve to be revered and need income as well.
Donations might help devotees of “Buddhist churches” to earn a place in heaven in the after-life.
Therefore, Buddhism might be viewed as a “secular” or “non-theistic” religion. The term
preferred here is “religionless religiosity.” Big interests seem to be at stake.
The Buddha evaded metaphysical questions like on god and eternity as these questions
and answers do not lead to edification. The point is that The Buddha did not deny nor affirm the
existence of metaphysics. He is foremost interested in liberating humanity from emotional
suffering which is the rationale and the raison d’être of the Dharma. It is also made quite clear
that the Dharma is an action-oriented practice, not a navel-staring philosophy (Cula
Malunkyovada Sutta).
The elder Malunkyaputta contemplated the thought: These viewpoints have been left
unexplained by The Buddha “Whether the world is eternal or not eternal, whether the
world is finite or infinite, whether after death a buddha exists or does not exist, whether
after death a buddha both exists and does not exist, and whether after death a buddha
neither exists nor does not exist.” If The Buddha does not explain me, I will give up the
training.” When Malunkyaputta raised his query The Buddha replied: “Did I ever say to
you, ‘Come, Malunkyaputta, lead a life with me, and I will explain you Whether the
world is eternal or not eternal, whether the world is finite or infinite, whether after death a
buddha exists or does not exist, whether after death a buddha both exists and does not
exist, and whether after death a buddha neither exists nor does not exist?’ “You did not,
reverend Sir.” The Buddha then said, "It really doesn't have anything to do with whether I
know the answer to these things, or not. Any one, who should say ‘I will not live with
The Buddha until he explains all these questions that person would die without its being
explained.’ It is as if a man had been hit by a poison arrow and his friends, companions,
relatives, and kinsmen were to get a surgeon to heal him, and he were to say, ‘I will
not have this arrow pulled out, until I know who wounded me, whether he is a warrior, a
Brahmin, a farmer, or a pariah.’ Or if he were to say ‘I will not have this arrow pulled out
until I know of what name or family the man is…or whether he is tall, or short, or of
middle height…or whether he is black, or dark, or yellowish…or whether he comes from
such and such a village, or town, or city…or until I know whether the bow with which I
was shot was made from a cherry tree, or an oak tree, or a pine tree? Or whether the
feathers on the end of this arrow are goose feathers, eagle feathers, or vulture feathers?
Or how the tip of the arrow was made?'" "If the person who was shot were to seek the
answers to all these questions, definitely, he would be dead before he found the answers
to these questions. So Malunkyaputta, it is not that I know the answers to these questions
and I'm not telling you, or that I don't know the answers to these questions. It's just that I
know for sure that speculating on these questions does not help to live the life that we
want for practice. I have not been silent. There is something that I have told you. I have
spoken of suffering, and the cause of suffering, and the end of suffering, and the path.
Suffering and the end of suffering that is what's important. About that I have spoken."
Even when he talked about the All, The Buddha did not point at something metaphysical, but at
our psychological world, because the universe was explained as located within twelve perceptual
categories; beyond that there is no other All (Sabba Sutta):
The eyes and form, the ears and sound, the nose and smell, the mouth and taste, the skin
and object, the “brainy-mind” [sic] and mental-objects. Proclaiming another “All” is
mere talk and non-sense beyond the limits of explanatory abilities.
Examining world religions reveal as a commonality the option of calling through worship rituals
and prayer begging a “higher power” to intervene to ensure outcomes favorable to the worshiper.
In principle this is not the case in Buddhism as it relies on one’s own effort and commitment. If a
religion is a system of thought that incorporates a reification of something supernatural,
Buddhism is not a religion either.
Due to Mahayana’s religious-like and definitely metaphysical use of words (for a
teaching of MTN!), Buddhism is viewed by many as an Abrahamic type of religion although
there is no creator-god involved. Despite the MT nature of Buddhism’s teaching, Mahayana
offers deities and presents god-like interpretations as well as a cosmological framework for its
Buddha and Bodhisattva figures. These were originally meant as skilfulness-in-means (upaya) to
cater the masses after five centuries of “conservative” (Early) Buddhism. Mahayana did this to
attract the illiterate and the gullible, people who have a deep longing for prayer/worship and
support from above, and who do not per se want to become hermits. However, there is nothing
comparable to a creator in Buddhism where the thesis prevails that men created god rather than
the other way around. Once a Buddhist, one learns that “form is MTN and MTN is form.” Yet,
because the precepts of Buddhism are flexible, it can co-exist with any religion in the life spheres
of individuals like for example in Japan, where most people follow both Buddhism and Shintoism at the same time. Another example is Europe where many people seemingly keep their
Christian religion even if formally while simultaneously embracing Buddhist teachings and
practicing meditation. Combinations of Buddhism and other “non-godly” and similar ways of
life such as Taoism are possible. In fact a fusion of yinyang dualities transcending Taoism and
Buddhism took place in Chan and Zen Buddhism. It is because Buddhism is basically a teaching
of MTN that these synergetic combinations are possible and this is even more so if Buddhism is
viewed as a secular psychology of self-transformation. In this case one’s religion is simply
irrelevant. The sinification of Buddhism makes sense as the yinyang symbol representing the
Taoist attitude towards life depicts something very much the same as MTN and nirvana.
(Nonduality exercises as proposed in “Pristine Mindfulness/heartfulness,” to be dealt with later
on, leads to experiencing MTN and nirvana.)
The acceptance by Buddhists by classifying Buddhism as a religion offers the political
advantages of a religion label. Identifying Buddhism with religion does not evoke resistance by
non-Buddhists who usually are ignorant on the MT nature of Buddhism’s core teaching.
Buddhism is readily accepted as a religion in democratic countries. For instance, by proclaiming
the Adi Buddha as a Buddhist godhead, thanks to the hermit Ashin Jinarakkhita (Tee Bo-An)
(, Buddhism bears the formal status of religion
in the framework of religious freedom in Indonesia and is legally enjoying the prerogatives
which go along with it. Being identified as a religion in a nation opens the door for Buddhism to
receive state finances which help Buddhism’s viability and growth.
Philosophy and Psychology
The Buddha’s promoted free thinking as handed down in a “Charter of Free Inquiry” (Kalama
Sutta) which exudes that Buddhists should think and decide for themselves. Based on their own
experience, Buddhists determine what is (karmic) wholesome and (karmic) unwholesome for
them. Never are The Buddha’s words taken for granted as Buddhism is in principle not a belief
system. The Dharma is not a doctrine and has no dogmas; both are anathema in Buddhism. The
Buddha’s rejection of philosophy (Dighanakha Sutta) is elucidated by Thich Nhat Hanh (1991):
My teaching is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is not the result of discursive thought or
mental conjecture like various philosophies which contend that the fundamental essence
of the universe is fire, water, earth, wind or spirit, or that the universe is either finite or
infinite, temporal or eternal… they never get anywhere… I teach that all things are
impermanent and without a separate self… that all things depend on all other things to
arise, develop, and pass away. Nothing is created from a single original source… My
goal is not to explain the universe, but to help guide others to have a direct experience of
reality. Words cannot describe reality. Only direct experience enables us to see the true
face of reality… My teaching is not a dogma… [but] a method to experience reality and
not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself… [It] is a
means of practice, not something to hold onto or worship... [and] is like a raft… Only a
fool would carry the raft around after he had already reached the other shore… (pp. 211216; italics added)
Stcherbatsky contended that Buddhism is a philosophy because of its scholasticism, critical
enquiry, and logical consistency. Both interpretations, Buddhism as a sky-god religion and as a
philosophy (including ethics), are Eurocentric. It means that Buddhism is viewed from a Western
perspective, whereas, as noted earlier, the very term Buddh-ism (belief system, doctrine, or
theory) itself is an incorrect denotation for a guide and orientation to a practical way of balancing
life (magga) which aims at ceasing the fires of emotional suffering (nirvana) toward the freedom
from attachment by MTN (sunyata). However, the term Buddhism will continue to be used here
as it is so very much ingrained in the Western languages and because it is not incorrect if used in
the meaning of a container term indicating all Buddhist teachings, denominations, and practices.
However, it is good to be aware that “Buddh-ism” as a philosophy does not exist originally as the
original Dharma is not a theory, nor a philosophy, but nothing but a guide to practice a way of
life. Thus, practice comes first and the guidebook for practice is a secondary thing. It seems to us
that it is not entirely wrong but yet incorrect to call a guide for practice a philosophy or ethics. In
order to indicate the Dharma as a universal discipline, I use the term pan-Buddhism. These
comprise basic principles as recognized by all Buddhist denominations, devoid of atavisms,
religion, and philosophy, and based on the fifteen themes in the Milindapanha
In the Western history of science all sciences developed out of philosophy, including
psychology. The root of Western philosophy lies in Ancient Greece. The Hellenistic love for
wisdom (philosophy) eventually led to psychology as a full-fledged scientific discipline.
Similarly, Buddhist psychology is rooted in Hellas, even if it was only partial and founded on the
ancient Greek cultural heritage of the East. Here is an interesting analogy with the present status
of Buddhist psychology. As from the past century, psychologists are transforming the Dharma
into a mainstream psychology, a process which seemingly has come far. This process is quite
similar to what pioneer psychologists finally achieved when they separated psychology from
philosophy and transformed it into a human and social science. From a Buddhist point of view
transformation of Buddhism into a contemporary psychology and therapy is possible due to
upaya which enables the Dharma to adjust itself to changing mentalities across times and
cultures for more than two millennia. This book promulgates a Buddhist secular and evidencebased experiential psychology/therapy. The very word psychology – first used by Goclenius in
1590 – in combination with the adjective Buddhist sounds like a contradictio in terminis as there
is no self in Buddhism. However if psyche is used in the provisional sense and in the meaning of
mind, a Buddhist psychology of not-self makes sense as will be further explained below.
The emergence of psychology as a science was boosted by Descartes’ dualistic split of
mind-body in the 17th century enabling the separate study of the mind. (Note that The Buddha
made a tripartition: body/speech/mind; thus he emphasized the social interconnection is in the
human predicament.) The science formally started in 1879 when Wundt opened the first
psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany. A landmark move for Buddhist psychology was
caused by William James (1832-1910), the father of American psychology. He declared, if only
indirectly, that Buddhism was part of academic psychology. This is evidenced by the historical
offering of his (professor’s) chair to Dharmapala, a Sri Lankan monk, at Harvard in 1904. The
subject Dharmapala talked about was the skandhas translated here as modalities comprising
feeling-thinking-willing/doing in the framework of body/speech/mind and consciousnessawareness. These modalities are said to be MT and therefore the self is MT. James declared that
Buddhist psychology is the psychology everybody would be studying 25 years from then on
( In 2005, 101 years later than James
predicted, there was an event in Gothenburg, Sweden, at the 6th International Congress of
Cognitive Psychotherapy which might be considered historical. This event likely marked the
formal start of the acceptance of Buddhist psychology and psychotherapy in mainstream Western
clinical practice. During a meeting of minds the 14 th Dalai Lama and Dr. Aaron T. Beck (founder
of Cognitive Therapy) exchanged ideas and emphasized their commonalities. Cognitive Therapy
is quite similar to “analytical meditation.” This historical meeting between the two giants was
reported in an edited transcript by Taams and Kwee (Kwee, Gergen & Koshikawa, 2006;
The first to write on Buddhism as a psychology was C.A. Rhys Davids (1857-1942),
mentioned earlier. She was a Pali scholar and translated the Dhammasangani (A Buddhist
Manual of Psychological Ethics or Buddhist Psychology, Royal Asiatic Society, 1900). This is
the first book out of seven of the Abhidhamma (abstracted or deeper teachings) which is the third
out of three canonical books of Theravada Buddhism which is often considered as the basis of
Buddhist psychology. As narrated before, this canon was formulated by The Buddha’s students;
initiated by his chief disciple Sariputta it was worked out and on further for about 500 years. It is
an abstraction of the discourses of The Buddha added by interpretations of Theravada scholars
during about a millennium. It seems that the project has never been finished and awaits
completion and updating. In that sense, this book might be viewed as its seamless appendix.
Other extinct early Buddhist schools also have similar projects, but most of them are lost due to
the ravages of time. Indeed, the archaic philosophical psychology of Buddhism “without a self or
a soul” as contained in the third canonical book of Theravada, the Abhidhamma, fits well in the
cognitive-behavioral psychology because it links well to subjects like perception, cognition,
emotion, motivation, behavior, and interpersonal/social relationships. This third canonical book
of the Theravada, a corpus of deeper teachings comprising abstractions of The Buddha’s
discourses is often called Buddhist psychology. Buddhist ideas can be found to be compatible
with Western psychology and precursing the cognitive-behavioral therapies of today.
There is a host of quotes from The Buddha’s discourses (Nikayas) which substantiates
Buddhism as a psychology. A striking one reads (Rohitassa Sutta):
In this very one-fathom-long body, along with its perceptions and thoughts, do I proclaim
the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the path leading to the
cessation of the world.
In another passage he said (Lokantagamana Sutta):
The end of the world [i.e. without] can’t be known, seen or reached by going; yet without
reaching the end of the world [i.e. within] there is no making an end to suffering.
These metaphors and similes tell us that the Dharma is a psychology, because obviously the
world as meant by The Buddha is not in the metaphysical beyond or located geographically. As
the earth was considered flat in the Iron Age, The Buddha must have alluded to our inner world,
with its minutiae entering through the sense doors and perceivable/observable in meditation. If
this is the case and if there is a “dis-ease” of mind and speech to be healed, and the cure is not
medication but meditation, then one might ask whether The Buddha was perhaps a psychologist
avant la lettre? Are The Buddha’s performances comparable to those of a 21st century clinical
psychologist? His job as a kammavadin (expert in karma and its transformation) and
“kiriyavadin” (expert in the motivation of action) as he called himself is to assess and transform
greed and hatred, to lift ignorance on how the mind functions, to disillusion a permanent self, to
eradicate metaphysical delusion, and to modify unwholesome action by instructing wholesome
action (Kern, 1896;
A striking quote points to The Buddha’s psychological practice and insight on the effect
of mental training by meditation (Sallatha Sutta):
If hit by an arrow, the untrained mind touched by bodily pain grieves and laments, while
the skilled meditator will not be distraught. The untrained mind experiences two kinds of
pain: a bodily pain and a mental pain. He feels pains as if hit by two arrows, but the
meditator, if touched by a bodily pain, grieves and laments not. He feels only bodily pain,
not mental pain, as if hit by just one, not by a second arrow.
The mental arrow refers to self-causation which could aggravate suffering through vicious
cycling: a process turning effect into cause. In another instance mentioned before, The Buddha
healed Kisagotami who mourned her two year old son bitten by a snake by having her do the
healing action (kiriya). She had to look for a black mustard seed stemming from a house where
no one ever died and that it should be given to her by someone who never had a deceased
relative. The woman sought everywhere and eventually understood the behavioral assignment’s
aim is to get rid of denial; thus she was healed (Kisagotami Sutta).
Curiously, The Buddha also described defense mechanisms, like denial, in a similar sense
as in psychoanalysis. He humorously compared these defenses with horses’ obstinate reactions
(Khalunka Sutta). Like in the Freudian understanding, these mechanisms serve the function of
avoiding and escaping painful feelings, which The Buddha referred to as the agony of “sorrow,
lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.” The defenses, cognitive distortions of beguiling oneself,
play a significant role in modifying affect, thought, and action. These intra-psychological
defenses include repression and its many variations like denial, projection, displacement,
undoing, sublimation, isolation, and regression. Defenses are obstinate conduct functional to
frustration, as if one was beaten by a coach, when for instance one’s misconduct like breaking a
rule is fed back. Afraid of mistakes, one discharges discontentment, dukkha-dukkha, extra
suffering by self-beguiling defenses topping the original suffering. Through awareness and
attention one may see these truncating self-distortions. Freudian psychoanalytical defenses
belong to the generally accepted attainments of psychology. Table 2 offers parallels of Freudian
and The Buddha’s categorical examples of obstinate behaviors.
Table 2: Awareness truncating self-distortions in parallel with Freud’s defences
Buddhist examples of obstinate behaviors
Psychoanalytic defense mechanism
1. Making an excuse of oblivion, not remembering having
breaking a rule
Unaware due to “repression”
2. Criticizing in turn the others’ criticism as foolish
Attributing one’s own thoughts to another due to
3. Accusing others or something else
Diverting attention from the original source by
4. Dodging by evading the issue at hand and being aggrieved
As if the issue does not exist by “undoing”
5. Delivering an impressive speech by gesticulating with arms
Compensating shortcoming with a strength:
6. Ignoring everybody and everything, and walking around as
an offender
7. Refuting the offense, not explaining why and acting
stubbornly by being silent
Blind to own mistakes because of “denial”
8. Quitting and abandoning Dhamma and returning to a nonBuddhist life
Reverting to immature conduct because of
The Buddha’s overall view is psychological: one is perceiver (through the sense organs)
and conceiver (through the mind’s eye) of herenow reality. The best of psychology-flavored
quotes, as it offers a scaffold for therapy, is found in the Dhammapada, a book containing The
Buddha’s sayings in 423 verses and a gem in world literature (translation by Byrom, 2001). The
italicized words indicate that The Buddha subtly unveiled the major modalities of thinking,
doing, and feeling:
We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we
make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind, and trouble will follow you as the
wheel follows the ox that draws the cart. We are what we think. All that we are, arises
with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with a pure mind,
and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakable…
‘Look how he abused me and hurt me, how he threw me down and robbed me.’ Live with
such thoughts and you live in hate. ‘Look how he abused me and hurt me, how he threw
me down and robbed me.’ Abandon such thoughts and live in love. In this world hate
never yet dispelled hate, only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and
inexhaustible... However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what
good will they do you, if you do not act upon them?
The Buddha’s discourses are replete with metaphorical terms alluding to the mind and its
concomitants; thus, strongly suggesting that Buddhism is an unrevealed psychology/therapy yet
to be discovered. Buddhism contains a rich vocabulary of mind and its concomitants, detailed
terms and nuanced meanings, entangled in and alluding to psychology/therapy. Table 3 presents
a selection of terms referring to mind (nama) apt to lay a foundation for a Buddhist psychology.
Table 3: Selected Pali Buddhist terms denoting psychological concepts
Mind (vs. body), container for mental affairs: sensing, feeling, thinking, etc
Consciousness: noting awareness of sensory stimuli including thoughts & ideas
Awareness & attention to appearances in consciousness, known as mindfulness
Brain as perceptual organ (the mind’s eye) that sees dharmas & intentions
State of mind/heart, thoughts-emotions + conation/motivation to act
The (52) qualities of citta: universal, particular, unwholesome, or beautiful
Hypermentation: obsessive proliferation of distorted & irrational thoughts
Irrational/defiled thoughts/interpretations re data of sensory awareness
Ruminating on sex, grudge, opinions, doubts, conceit, youth & ignorance
Ignorance: self-illusion & god-delusions, other than non-awareness (avijja)
Reasoning or rational thinking, i.e. cognitions on incoming perceptions
Freed from suffering attained thru insight/wisdom &/or calming
Intentional action/behavior; it stems from & affects body/speech/mind
Thought and thinking are core subjects of psychology and were for instance dealt with in
an introduction to Maha-Kaccana’s Honeyball/Madhupindika Sutta. The key-term is papanca,
which is a concept with a toxic connotation as it inheres in a distortion which procreates and
proliferates, clouds our capacity to see things “as they are” or rather “as they become”, and is the
source of anxiety, depression, grief, and anger. The culprit is dwelling in faulty thinking which
fabricates and escalates craving, grasping, and clinging to misguided views, resulting in a
tsunami of thinking and suffering, and thus requires deconstruction-ing. This discourse on
unsound habits of thinking – mostly about craving, pet-views, hatred, fear, and ego – is relevant
in the Buddhist analysis of intrapersonal conflict. How papanca arises, how it leads to conflict,
and how it can be ended seem to be the quintessence of the whole Dharma. The recondite
Thanissaro Bhikkhu gave an in-depth non-linear psychological analysis with various possibilities
for feedback loops, as follows: Contact => Feeling => Perception => Thinking => Papanca.
Thus, what one feels, one perceives (labels in the mind), what one perceives, one thinks about,
and what one thinks about, one "papancizes." Through the papanca process, the agent becomes a
victim of intrapersonal conflict and emotional suffering due to habitual patterns of thinking.
How can this process come to an end? Seemingly, through a shift in perception by
appropriating the way one attends to feelings. Rather than viewing a feeling as positive or
negative, one could look at it as something neutral and as part of a causal process. Then compare
#feelings that lead to wholesome qualities. Which are to be preferred: those accompanied with
papanca and evaluation or those free of papanca and evaluation, as in mental absorption? Seeing
this, there will be a choice to opt for wholesomeness which cuts through papanca. Note that the
notion of agent and victim is avoided. There is simply the analysis of cause-effect processes, not
of things. Thus, the vicious cycle by which thinking and papanca keep feeding each other is cut,
the processes of feeling and thought are stilled, and there is a breakthrough to the cessation of
papanca and its detrimental karmic consequences. Obviously, the above is the traditional
Buddhist way to break repetitive feedback looping. There is a 21 st century conversational way
complementing this meditative practice of stopping these cycles which is called “Psychotherapy
by Karma Transformation” (2013;
Counseling: When Shit Happens
First of all, this section partly overlaps with another book (Psychotherapy by Karma
Transformation (2013; which is devoted solely to
Buddhist psychotherapy. Thus, therapy will only be dealt with below in a summarized version as
the prime focus of this book is awakening through meditation which might be considered as a
form, an Eastern variant, of therapy. The question that arises when raising the issue is whether
there can be Buddhist psychotherapy. Not only does it sound like science fiction, but also like
strange bed-fellows. We are just getting used to it. The concept of psychotherapy did not exist in
The Buddha’s time, nor is there an equivalent in the Buddhist languages of Asia. Is there a
Western therapy form whose foundations are at least compatible with Buddhism? As CognitiveBehavior Therapy (CBT) seems to be compatible and congruent with the tenets of Buddhism –
the two might even be amalgamated – the answer is definitely: “yes.” This chemistry might even
lead to a merger or fusion which aims at transforming karma, as karma is the cognition of
intending combined with the concomitant behavioral conduct. A consensual working definition
of psychotherapy reads (cf.
A process of systematic treatment/coaching and planned intervention by an expert who
methodically establishes, structures, and handles a helping relationship to eradicate
psychological disorders and reduce emotional problems of living by a well-defined
psychological method and evidence-based techniques (sic).
Karma Transformation fits into this definition like twelve other bona fide systems, out of 250
therapies in action, which can be subsumed under four major currents: (1) Psychodynamic
(Freud), (2) Experiential (Rogers), (3) Cognitive-behavioral (Beck/Ellis), and (4) Eclecticintegrative (Lazarus/Ellis). The latter category comprises ca. 60% of the total of US practitioners,
which is a known figure at the end of the last century. The transformation of karma, called
Karma Transformation, can be subsumed under the CBT/eclectic-integrative category. Karma
Transformation aimed at changing mind/heart sounds like an appropriate name for what I do in
practice: “Buddhist CBT.” A rationale for Karma Transformation as a mainstream treatment
mode is based on further numbers suggesting that 30-70% of therapeutic success is regardless of
theory, problem type, professional discipline, session mode, or dosage. Success is attributable to
relational non-specifics or common factors rather than to specific factors of the particular
approach, regardless of what was offered. Clients’ ability to pick up the offer (rather than
therapist or technique) makes therapy work. Effectiveness is likely due to the combination of
common and specific factors, specifiable as techniques of assessment and healing/remedy which
take place during the process of therapy. Outcome research showed no significant difference
between the major approaches. Thus, Rosenzweig came up with the phrase that the outcome is
comparable to Alice in Wonderland’s Dodo bird verdict: “Everyone has won, so all must have
prizes.” ( Evidence on the general efficacy of
therapy reveals four common factors’ ingredients of change on how (not what or if) therapy
works. This likely includes Buddhist therapy (
40% - client and extra-therapeutic factors: openness, ego strength, motivation,
persistence, social network, family/community support.
30% - working alliance on goals/tasks: clients’ ratings of rapport is predictive of
outcome, more than approach, diagnosis or therapist’s genuineness, warmth, empathy.
15% - expectancy and placebo factors: clients’ beliefs of being helped and hopeful
expectations regarding the method, i.e. faith, optimism or confidence in capacities.
15% - structure, model, and techniques peculiar to specific treatment approach (like CBT
and mindfulness).
Differences in approach, diagnosis, and treatment length account for less than 5% of the
variance. If clients contribute half to rapport and to placebo (including self-healing), this implies
that clients account for 70% of the variance (40+30/2+15). Clients are the most important
contributors as well as self-therapy. It seems that Karma Transformation might suit the profile of
a successful therapy due to its common factors as above and specified here: (1) Despite selfhealing and guidance, collaborative practice will likely remain; Karma Transformation’s unique
supportive and resourceful encounter unleashes clients’ natural healing potential, (2) Helping is
not fixing, but facilitating self-healing capacities through the therapist’s caring attitudes:
concern, affirmation, and understanding, (3) Caring optimizes safety during the meeting of client
and therapist and maximizes the probability that the therapist’s renderings fall on fertility (Imel
& Wampold, 2008; Clients’ experiencing
the therapist is more important than techniques: the well-studied working relationship (nonspecific factor) requires attention because their perception consistently correlates with outcome.
Clients’ initial treatment response is highly predictive to outcome: attending the working alliance
(collaborative practice) and the therapist’s ability to be an “authentic chameleon” (Kwee &
Lazarus, 1986, in
Table 4: Karma Transformation process – components, activities, and factors
(A) Common factors
1. Kalyanamitta (advisory friendship)
(all relational)
2. Therapeutic-appreciative dialogues
3. Brahmaviharas (soc. meditations)
1. BASIC-I Modalities (skandhas)
(B) Assessment
(static, photo)
2. Basic Emotions
3. Outcome Ratings
(C) Therapy
1. Karma Transformation
(process, film)
2. 12 Heartfulness-Based Meditations
3. Emotional Disturbance by Papanca
Table 4 summarizes how common factors, assessment, and therapy apply to Karma
Transformation. Each of these three factors on their own is “necessary but insufficient” to
engender effective outcome, but operating as a trio of specific and non-specific
(common/relational) factors they are powerful. While assessment and therapy will be dealt with
in the later, the present focus is on common factors. The Buddha elaborated “rapport” in the
kalyanamittata concept (Kalyanamitta Sutta) which implies a relationship of a protagonist with a
virtuous, admirable, and eminent fellow-traveller, friend, colleague, advisor, mentor, teacher,
counsellor, or therapist like in the Gandavyuha Sutra. Such companionship and camaraderie is
the whole of the wholesome life. Many were liberated from suffering through “good friendship”
with The Buddha (Upaddha Sutta). A basic text pointing in this direction is a discourse spoken
to a young layman on four types/qualities of a good friend (Sigalovada Sutta). These qualities
form a template for a Buddhist therapist in conversation with clients:
1. The accommodative friend protects the vulnerable, helps when one is afraid or in
trouble and assists or provides resources when needed; this friend is not there for gain,
i.e. to take, not give, helps a little and wishes for more.
2. The enduring friend is on equal foot, supports in good and bad times, tells secrets,
guards secrets, and is prepared to die to rescue; this friend does not talk big or treat only
with words, tells about self and evade helping.
3. The mentor shows guidance to a good life and advises one if ignorant, restrains from
wrongdoing, shows the path out of trouble; this friend does not side just to make happy
and does not criticize behind one’s back.
4. The compassionate friend is like a mother, is happy at success, sad at failure, prevents
others from speaking ill and encourages praising good qualities; this friend does not
indulge in self-sabotaging and self-destructive conduct.
In short, a Buddhist therapist who helps clients in need helps to transform troublesome karma by
dialoguing and by teaching meditation, is generous, speaks in kind words, acts towards welfare,
is impartial when discussing interpersonal conflicts, is supportive, and does not abandon in times
of hardship or helplessness, is always honest, protective against danger, and is a safe haven in
times of worry and fear. The Buddha admonished in his Great Discourse on MTN (Mahasunnata
Sutta), that:
Talk which is... leading [not] to... freedom from passion, not to cessation, not to
tranquility, not to higher knowledge, not to awakening, not to Nibbana, namely, talk
about kings, robbers and ministers, talk about armies, dangers and war, about food and
drink, clothes, couches, garlands, perfumes, relatives, cars, villages, towns, cities, and
provinces, about women and wine, gossip of the street and of the well, talk about the
ancestors, about various trifles, tales about the origin of the world and the ocean, talk
about what happened and what did not happen, such and similar talk I shall not
entertain… But... talk which is conducive to... Nibbana, namely, talk about a life of
frugality, about contentedness, solitude, aloofness from society, about arousing one's
energy, talk about virtue, concentration, wisdom, deliverance, about the vision and
knowledge of deliverance, such talk I shall entertain.
Friendship is the strongest external factor leading to harm (Dighajanu Sutta) or help
(Meghiya Sutta). It emits five proficiencies (Udayi Sutta), one speaks step-by-step, explains
karma, talks compassionately, teaches not for material reward, and expounds without exalting
self or downgrading others. Friendship contributes like “dawn, the harbinger of the rising sun”
leading to liberation from suffering through wise counsel (Pathamamitta & Dutiyamitta Suttas)
toward developing “wings to self-awakening” (Sambodhi Sutta). Buddhist therapists/counselors
cater appreciative dialogues by rendering the genuine and warm qualities of loving-kindness,
empathic compassion, sympathetic joy, and relational equanimity, and by doing so mobilize selfhealing possibilities. This takes place by “the miracle of education,” a wonder pointing at the
importance of the unique helping relationship (Kevaddha, Sangarava and Samannaphala Sutta).
The therapist needs to be flexible and willing to adapt to the client: this is exactly what The
Buddha did when delivering his discourses by attuning to the level, needs, capacities, and
language of the people he communicated with. He did so by disseminating the Dharma in
Magadhi (a variant of Pali) instead of in high-brow Sanskrit. Using local language secures
penetration into the listeners’ hearts. This has become the principle of skilful means; upaya
kaushalya (Kusala Sutta) is the principle of skilfulness to adjust the teaching to its audience,
widely applied by Mahayanists as a springboard to reform Early Buddhism. This principle also
applies when transforming the Dharma into a psychology and therapy.
“Good friendship” in therapy is more than a personal compatibility. It includes wishing
others the best of the best like in the social meditations of the Brahmaviharas. Aka the
immeasurables they comprise social meditations creating and maintaining sublime states of
kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, qualities considered godly, hence the metaphor
referring to the abodes (viharas) of the gods (Brahma). Such wishing avoids what Gergen (2009; called “deficit discourse” which, centred round
problem thinking, is suppression rather than an appreciative inquiry and social construction of
positivity-potentiality-possibility. A “transformative dialogue” dissolves the barriers of separated
meanings and promotes a conversation that nurtures and elevates relationships. Evaluating all of
this, one sees that Karma Transformation falls into the framework of psychotherapy as defined at
the start of this paragraph. Table 5 corroborates the definition:
Table 5: Karma Transformation adheres to the definition of psychotherapy
1. Is it a systemic treatment & planned intervention?
2. Conducted by an expert?
3. In a helping relationship?
4. To eradicate psychological disorders?
Yes: The 3 Poisons
5. And emotional problems of living?
Yes: Duhkha
6. By a well-defined psychological method?
Karma Transformation
7. And with well-defined techniques?
CBT and meditations
8. Which are evidence-based?
9. Comprising a model of personality
Arahant/Bodhisattva ideal
10. A model of psychopathology
Affect behind greed/hatred
11. A model of therapeutic process
As in Table 5
12. Sustained by outcome studies
Valuable for ca. 2600 years
The arahant/bodhisattva ideal of awakening/enlightenment and psychopathology need
clarification. An arahant has eradicated his inner foes (by befriending them), the three poisons,
and has not much to learn left (to be sure: ara means enemy, hant means eradicated). Another
interpretation is “someone who does not need more learning” (when a means no more and
rahant means to learn). The human bodhisattva follows the model of the celestial bodhisattvas,
i.e. she or he emits kindness, compassion, and joy in relational equanimity, while on the path of
becoming virtuous/generous and knowledgeable/wise. Thus, this ideal personality has (1)
accomplished nirvana (extinction of craving/grasping/clinging karma), (2) attained equanimity
amidst adversity due to the impermanences of gain/loss, pleasure/pain, praise/blame, and
fame/disrepute, and (3) the capacity to experience the misery of duhkha with humor
(Aranavibhanga Sutta). There exists a model of personality, viewed as habitual proclivities with
relatively stable or unstable states based on the 3-Poisons, designed by Buddhagosha. He
discerned six personality temperaments, i.e. three pairs of unwholesome/pathological and
wholesome/non-pathological typologies: (1) Greed vs. (2) Non-Greed (e.g. generosity), (3) Hate
vs. (4) Non-Hate (e.g. kindness), and (5) Ignorance vs. (6) Non-Ignorance (e.g. wisdom). A
questionnaire on these dimensions has been devised but due to space constraints only mentioned
here (Schmidt, 2009;
The heart of the matter, the practice of Karma Transformation, needs more elucidation: it
is a category of evidence/experience-based psychotherapy which uniquely puts not-self at the
core of its practice. It dispels specific disturbing emotions through proven specific techniques of
assessment and intervention which complement the “non-specific factors” and which aim peace
of mind which parallels specific calming meditations and MTN/nirvana. Furthermore, it aims at
calming and extinction of distress/agony based on a deep understanding of the mind, its
phenomena and mechanisms (like projection or denial) and their impact on intentional activity
(karma). Karma Transformation is a craftsman’s approach which pursues a contained goal:
eradicating duhkha by calming-tranquilizing (samatha), paving the way toward an optional
awakening and MTN according to the canons of scientific specificity: what works for whom,
when and in which circumstances?
Shit can happen any moment. Poison arrows can hit us any time. If so: what’s next?
Karma Transformation aims at ceasing distress and agony by a system of helping based on the
non-specific factors of loving-kindness, empathic compassion, sympathetic joy, and relational
equanimity and on specific factors: cognitive-behavioral technical procedures administered
during a process of ongoing assessment and healing of unwholesome karma. These include
Buddhist meditations and rational thinking in order to accrue wholesome karmic effect of
body/speech/mind in the larger context of seeking awakening. Regarding meditation, the scope
of this book is focused on what happens in practice at the office during a session. There is no
need at all to be a Buddhist to seek council for Karma Transformation, just like one does not
need to be a Freudian to do psychoanalysis or to be a behaviorist to be a client of a behavior
therapist. However, eventually a Buddhist could also use Karma Transformation to attain
awakening. Obviously Karma Transformation is all about karma. How karma exactly comes into
being and to fruition is, according to The Buddha, unfathomable, incomprehensible, and
impenetrable as it transcends the limits of the conceivable (Acinteyya Sutta). There is a karma
adage that reads: Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a
character; sow a character, reap a destiny.
The quintessence in Karma Transformation is transforming emotions from a negativelyfelt to a positively-felt experience, from suffering to happiness. An emotion does not stand alone
and moreover it cannot be reached directly. It can only be transformed by changing its
concomitants. So, for instance fear cannot be turned off directly; the sense of panic can be
calmed down by breathing meditation and/or by availing medication and/or by behavioral
exposure to the feared situation and/or by cognitive restructuring and correcting faulty thinking,
to mention a few possibilities. The concomitants mentioned comprise the psychological
modalities of sensing/emoting-doing-thinking. Teaching Dhamma, The Buddha allegedly said
(Culasakuludayi Sutta):
That being thus, this comes to be. From the coming to be of that, this arises. That being
absent, this does not happen. From the cessation of that, this ceases…
The Buddha’s use of the pronouns “that/this” emphasizes transitory relativism of an actual
psychological experience. To us this and that refer to the modalities which can be discerned into
the BASIC-I of provisional self, the skandhas, wherein the A of affect – an alternative term for
the different colors and intensities on the palette of emotions – plays a central role amid
determines the arising and cessation of BASIC-I suffering. We feel, think, and act habitually (on
automatic pilot) according to the sequels of karma. Experiencing arises due to the space left by
the subsiding of other specific experiences. Conditional and often habitual patterns originate
suffering experience which arises-peaks-subsides-ceases and disappears depending on dynamic
change processes and the birth, death, and rebirth of daily events due to emotional poisoning. I
submit that rebirth, aging, and death are a this-worldly proposition and that rebirth is a Dharma
metaphor which signals the start of a down to earth emotional episode.
Emotional pathology and basic emotions are scaled on a continuum. As human beings
consist of 90% water, the continuum of emotions can be metaphorized by the various
manifestations of water. When we feel anger we feel heat as if the heart is boiling; when we are
afraid we feel cold as if the heart is freezing; when we feel sadness and cry we feel as if the heart
is melting; when we feel joy and happiness we feel as if the heart is cooling; when we feel
depressed we feel as if the heart is flushed down the drain; and when we feel love and infatuation
we might feel the heart overflowing as if hit by an arrow. The Buddhist assessment of mental
anomalies based on greed and hatred is profound. Pathological greed (resulting in financial
crises) and hatred (resulting in terrorism) comprise relational-cultural scenarios of “basic
emotions.” Greed includes anxiety/fear regarding future loss of joy-happiness and sadness/grief
regarding past loss of joy-happiness. Hatred includes anger-aggression (other-blame) and selfhate or depression (self-blame), see Figure 1.
Figure 1: Clinical model of basic and pathological emotions
Thus, here is a clinical/semantic model based on detailed observations of basic emotions
which need to be kept in balance (homeostasis). The term emotion is derived from the Latin
emovere (being moved) and starts in our model with the state of being unmoved, i.e. silence. In
silence there is relaxation and order (negentropy), and the potential to grow, like into the next
blissful emotion, love. Love knows a broad range from the basic love for oneself to an exclusive
sexual love for a person to loving-kindness/compassion to charity and to benevolence toward
humanity. Another basic emotion, joy, is based on the ability to be silent; feeling love,
joy/delight, and happiness are likely the result. The flip side of joy is sadness and grief which
one cannot do without as the impermanence of life leads to losing loved ones sooner or later.
Prolonged grief can be pathological causing needless stress and suffering. Anger is another
stressful emotion which is difficult to deal with especially when the other person wants to
destroy us. It is then better to run and become a fugitive or to take up arms and make hell on
earth. Therefore, it is better not to dump anger on the other, but to transform it into compost
which helps positive seeds grow by forgiveness (for the sake of inner peace) and which might
resolve anger and create hope for peace with the other. On the surface this resolves in being calm
and asserting the preferred way of relating, i.e. being friendly and kind. The stress of anxiety
often implies the fear of losing control by which one could “lose face.” Moderate anxiety and
fear are normal and might even be helpful in overcoming difficult tasks like an exam. However,
panic and phobia are an indication that one’s thinking is going berserk and is becoming chaotic.
Depression is mostly the result of hard to solve emotional problems of living; it is characterized
by a decay of healthy inner resources. There is a chaotic type of thinking (entropy) as one suffers
tremendously. The alleviation of suffering by Karma Transformation is indicated when one
suffers from any of these negatively felt emotions and their variants.
As there are more than 4000 words denoting a variation of these basic emotions, the
therapist needs to be aware of the clients’ wording and allocate of them to one of the basic
emotions. A complete lexical/semantic guide of words cannot be given here for obvious reasons,
therefore here is a selection of most commonly used terms which can be allocated to and
subsumed under these basic emotions (see Table 6).
Table 6: A selection of terms as varieties of basic emotions
Low spirits
New research tells that there are four basic emotions (joy, sadness, fear, and anger); this
corroborates my own clinical observations summarized in the onion model. It makes sense to add
to glad, sad, mad/angry, and bad/fear: love/infatuation (the emotion toward melting with
someone) and depression (emotions going awry). The model applies a relational perspective
comprising seven layers which can be assessed and peeled in Karma Transformation: depression,
fear, anger, sadness, joy, love, and a condition of being unmoved called silence or MTN, a free
open space of not-self and liberation from self (
We are body/speech/mind specifiable in fleeting modalities operating in a flux of
Dependent Origination: sensing-feeling (vedana), thinking-emoting (sanna), and intendingbehaving (sankhara). We are perceiver and conceiver of BASIC-I comprising processes in
Dependent Origination. These are understandable if telescoped in mindful observation of the
skandhas’ concurrent functioning, as they appear, arise, peak, subside, cease, and disappear: the
BASIC-I system is interlinked and modalities overlap to a certain extent as in Table 7.
Table 7: The BASIC-I skandhas as an ABC karmic sequential episode
Karma Transformation Sequence
Vedana: 6 sense perceiving, felt: + / 0 / – (6th Sense,
internal stimuli from body/speech/ mind-memory)
Samjna: karmic conceiving & intending based on
Ignorance like projections of illusions of self &
separateness & delusions of the supernatural
Samskara: will/conation/action/motive for craving:
greed-grasping & hatred-clinging attachments
Vijnana: divided consciousness to be aware of
regarding causes and effects in body/speech/mind
BASIC-I Assessment
ABC Model
Activating event
Consequences: Emotional/Behavioral
Neurogenetic Drives/
This scheme is known in Buddhism as the “candle flame” analogy or sequence of karma’s
emotional vicissitudes (Madhupindika Sutta) and parallels the ABC model of Rational Emotive
Behavior Therapy (REBT). I have worked with the late Albert Ellis, the innovator of REBT, on
REBT’s parallels with Zen Buddhism and on the similarities of REBT and Lazarus’ BASIC-I.D.
acronym (Kwee & Ellis, 1997, 1998). Both Buddhism and REBT submit the adage that “pain is
inevitable and suffering is optional.” Ellis’ ABC is in full accord with the karma sequence and
has proven to be a quite useful clinical tool and happens to parallel The Buddha’s components of
the skandhas. The criterion applied for cognition as unwholesome or wholesome (The Buddha)
or unvalid or valid (Dharmakirti, 7th century) is in Ellisian terms: irrational or rational. The
Buddhist craving papanca proliferating is equivalent to “shouldism,” “musturbation,” and greed
leading to fear and grief. On the cognitive level these emotions contain a “must,” while hatred
leading to anger and depression implies thinking that someone or something “must not” (cf.
Mahakammavibhanga Sutta).
According to the Akasa Sutta, emotional sequels like the ABC occur amid a flux of free
associative thoughts and feelings:
Just as various winds blow in the sky, so various feelings arise in this very body [which
are] pleasant, unpleasant and neutral... having fully understood the complexity of feelings
[the practitioner of mindfulness] is freed in this very life.
Karma Transformation taps from and intervenes in these mental gusty winds by transforming
obsessive proliferating irrational papanca into rationality but not before one is mindful of what
needs to be improved. The racing of papanca is the opposite of heartfulness and draws away
from actuality, thus heartfelt awareness-and-attention or heartfulness comes first when
transforming prolific thought and feeling. The Buddhist take is that emotional disturbance is
caused by papanca: not the Antecedent event but our intentional/irrational Beliefs are the cause
of unwanted karmic emotional and behavioral consequences. Self-sabotaging papanca starts
with the eyes/ears/nose and contact with forms makes eye/ear/nose-consciousness arise. The
meeting of the three (e.g. eye/form/consciousness) is contact; with contact as a condition, there is
sense feeling: what one feels [vedeti] one perceives [sanjana], what one perceives [A:
Activating event] one reasons about [vitakka], what one cognizes [B: Beliefs] one proliferates
about [papanca, C: emotional and behavioral consequences]. Overlapping modalities and the
focus of awareness-attention make other firing orders possible: ABC, BCA, CAB, etc. (Sakka
Panha and Kalahavivada Sutta). Self-sabotaging papanca is self-inflicted by a self-defeating
attitude, self-defiling thoughts, and self-afflicting emotions. Central to this notion is one’s
irrational self-talk regarding craving, grasping, and clinging featured by irrational
“musts/shoulds” and “must-nots/should-nots.” Papancizing can be warded off by heartfulness
and directly countered by rational disputation (vitakka), a dialogical conversation and specific
procedure designated as the ABCDE method which elaborates on the ABC model, and whereby
the D stands for Disputation and the E stands for wholesome Effect. Karma Transformation
entails that self-talk is countered by questioning each lamentation
The ABCDE method is in its practical working model at a double whammy with
Buddhism because it is congruent with the modalities as above and with the basic Buddhist
teaching of the 4ER. Example of such a rebirth regarding: not A, but B leads to C is the
following unwholesome B (derived from a conversation): He must love me or else I am a
worthless human being. Questioning whether this is rational/wholesome and will lead to
equanimity/contentment (E), the answer is no. Dispute to wholesome thinking results in the
following exemplified alternative reasoning:
Thus, I won’t reach my goal of contentment. There is no evidence that he must love me,
nor is there any proof that my worth depends on being loved by him. If he loves another
woman, he must not love me which feels sad but no reason to detest myself. My worth of
self can’t be judged, because there is no accurate way to rate it. My mere existence
warrants my value unconditionally. Thus, I feel OK and avoid unnecessary conflicts with
myself and with him.
Enabling discernment of the ABC, one needs to apply heartfulness, thus awareness-and-attention
come first before transforming dysfunctional thoughts. Notably, the ABCDE as a Karma
Transformation technique can only be fruitfully applied on the fertile soil of collaborative
practice and rapport as outlined above. This presupposes some essential qualities of the therapist
when implementing transformative tactics, which are a balanced mix of genuineness, warmth,
empathy, kindness, compassion, and joy. While the first three are also known as the Rogerian
unconditional positive regard factors, named after the legendary experiential therapist Carl
Rogers (1902-1987), the remaining three are revered Buddhist social values which serious
Buddhists multiply immeasurably. These non-specific factors play a significant role in any
therapy and probably account for 50% of positive treatment outcome.
Considering The Buddha’s ideas and practices, and the quintessence of the Dharma, i.e.
to end self-inflicted suffering, he might as well be called the first psychologist and
psychotherapist ever. If The Buddha is a psychologist/therapist listed as one of the giants like
Wundt, James, Freud, Rogers, Beck, and Ellis, deifying and kowtowing The Buddha, a mortal
and fallible human being, is foolish. Here is an elucidation of the double whammy explained
through the working format of the ABCDE-method as the “birth” and “rebirth” of a karmic
emotional episode. As depicted below there are two columns, on the left side is the ABC old
karma and on the right side one sees the projected new karma DE; the D of A and the D of B are
the newly constructed karmic alternatives which comprise balanced views and wholesome
(rational, realistic, or constructive) intentions. In short the form serves the aim to think well, act
well, feel well, and be well. Transforming karmic emotional episodes by an ABCDE-Format of
the 4ER and an 8FBP to transform karma (intentional action) entails that each discerned
detrimental thought, unwholesome and irrational, is scrutinized by the three criteria as in the
above form. The firing order follows the karmic sequence and this sequence is also solidly
anchored in the 4ER and the 8FBP to change karma.
1st Reality (dukkha) – Activating event: There is an affliction evoking/sparking existential
and emotional karmic adversity/stress and emotional suffering.
2nd Reality (samudaya) – Beliefs: This leads to concomitant karmic unwholesome
intending (thinking, imaging and relational acting) which are destructive and unrealistic,
thus change these irrational cognitions into rational ones.
3rd Reality (nirodha) – Consequences: Karmic psychological suffering is to be contained
by enacting/embodying constructive cognitive intentions and relational behaviors, i.e. by
Disputing irrational greed, hatred and ignorance toward a wholesome
emotional/behavioral Effect
The Re/Birth of a Karmic Episode (Modalities/Skandhas Analysis)
Afflicting event/sense-based
D-A: Dispute by sense control
(‘video/audio taping’)
Beliefs: karmic unwholesome
D-B: Dispute by questioning each
thought (cognition/image)*
Consequence re emotion
Effect – emotional:
balanced contentment re kindness,
compassion, joy
Consequence re behavior
Effect – behavioral:
balanced contentment re kindness,
compassion, joy
*(1) Is this karmic B wholesome/realistic/constructive: absolute or rational?
(2) Will B lead to inter-mind of balanced kindness, compassion & shared joy?
(3) Phrase a new self-instruction of wholesome emotion & constructive action?
The 4th Reality (magga) – Karma Transformation, designing/creating/forming karmic
wholesome (constructive/realistic/rational) intentional thoughts (cognitions/images) takes
place by walking the talk of the 8FBP.
This comprises: (1) balancing views on the causes and conditions of karma and on how to start
transforming future karma herenow, (2) balancing intentions: being able to discern what is
karmic un/wholesome, de/constructive, un/realistic and ir/rational, (3) balancing speech:
changing karmic intentions takes place through the vehicle of dialogue and self-dialogue or selftalk, (5) balancing activity: intentional action is the seed of intentional relational behavioral
action, regretful deeds, (6) balancing living: transforming thought and action, a change of context
and way of being toward caring for relationships privately and professionally, (7) balancing
effort: suffering motivates forbearance (commitment and resolve) toward changing
action/cognition/emotion, and balancing awareness: heartful/mindful awareness-attention gives
insight and understanding in the ABCDE of karma’s vicissitudes, and (8) balancing attention:
heartful/mindful attention-awareness, the very start of focusing on the ABCDE (skandhas), their
Dependent Origination in the framework of Karma Transformation.
It is a hardly doable task to completely report the nuances, eye contact, and non-verbal
behaviors, which happen in a face-to-face conversational meeting between therapist and client.
An example of an ABC of a client accrued in a couple of sessions is illustrated below.
A: Looking out of the window. C: Grief and Crying
B1: If I feel thus, then I didn't love him properly; if I had done such and such he would be
alive; I would have a stronger negligence case; I would not have to think about money,
this proves I am only interested in money; I can label it “old script,” watch negative value
judgments and simply say that is what they are and get on with things...
D1: The idea of cultivating full attention-and-awareness is that by allowing these
thoughts to be, I expose myself to these thoughts: due to grief of the loss (cognitionsimages), these thoughts will consequently arouse co-dependent feelings like a lump in the
throat (sensory) and sadness (affect), feelings motivating one to cry (behavior) and
grasping toward a counselor or a group (interpersonal)... which is OK to connect with
people about this... However, if the bereavement is not a run-of-the-mill process (like
dying from old age) and is rather a complex process, then it’s imminent to modify the
emotions by transforming my thoughts and behaviors I am now meanwhile aware of... It
will not work if I just watch and delete these karmic unwholesome/irrational thoughts,
thus “watching negative value judgments and simply say that is what they are and get on
with doing things...” won't help or at best only partly to feel contentment and be helpful
sociable. It is necessary to construct karmic wholesome rational thoughts to replace the
karmic dysfunctional thoughts...
B2: If I had done such and such he would be alive and I would have a stronger negligence
D2: Looking back, I could have done things differently... but as I am not clairvoyant and
just a fallible human being, I am entitled to make mistakes... if I did make mistakes... In
hindsight we all make mistakes, otherwise there wouldn’t have been world wars... we’ll
maintain our talent to make mistakes because that is the human condition.... perhaps this
is also a mistake to blame myself... and what’s a mistake? The fact that B is dead can’t be
"my" fault that is too much "honor," there were numerous causes and conditions I and
we, all who were involved, could not fully know or be aware of, not even the experts. So
how can I know that he would be alive if I performed differently? I could only act on the
spur of the moment and there was and still is a lot of ignorance... to blame myself without
evidence... that is a mistake because that doesn’t help me now and will not help B
anymore, if I would have known more... I could change the world... I am just a
body/speech/mind knotlet in the whole unfortunate process and couldn’t have known
what would now have made a strong clinical negligence case... Perhaps it is strong
enough... only time can tell... Even if I have a weak case, let me for the sake of my
mental balance and my peace of mind and for B’s peaceful rest... let me focus on being
wakeful, attentive, and aware of what‘s going on now in order to enable myself to do the
necessary things for the case... so that I can leave and rest the case whatever the outcome
will be. No-one can do better than the best ones can… He did look peaceful when he
departed; he is relieved from suffering that is a blessing for him and for me...
B3: I would not have to think about money, this proves I am only interested in money.
D3: To think about money is a karmic intelligent move, because I want to take care of
myself and not be a drag to others... This practicality is no proof at all that I am only
interested in money... What a funny thought is crossing my mind: “I am only interested in
money...” The fact that I worry is no proof that I’m only interested in money... I’m also
interested in my kids... in B’s kids although they’re not always easy to handle... I’m
interested in caching... in my friends, etc... B did love me and I did love him... properly.
B4: I can label it “old script,” watch negative value judgments and simply say that is
what they are and get on with doing things.
D4: Indeed thoughts are just thoughts and they are what they are... they come and go...
but let me not believe all of them, because some of them are erroneous and karmic
unwholesome/irrational, particularly those which ring a false alarm... Let me therefore
modify these thoughts by asking myself "where is the evidence?" and "do I help myself
and B by thinking so?" …and make the effort to construct karmic alternative thoughts
which are rational, functional, and helpful to go on doing things in balance... Let me also
consider that it is not yet a year ago that all of this happened... and that I’m just going
through a normal grief process, which means that my grief "must" not yet be over now...
let me allow myself to grieve further for as long as it takes and use the opportunity to cry
as deep, intense, and loud as necessary...
Relational Buddhism
Basically there exist two important underlying schools of thought in the development of
psychology/therapy. One proceeds from the idea that humans are rational agents, reacting to
what is happening to them in a logical way. The other school believes that “the ideal human
being is not a creature of practical reason, but one who is guided by something deeper – moral
feelings, loyalties, nurturing instincts or a sense of spontaneous joy.” (Gergen, 1991; Buddhist psychology develops out of both schools.
Social construction-ing is a practice of Social Construction, an exponent of mainstream social
psychology, which submits that anything conceivable is an interpretation emanating from a
particular social group. Everything intelligible owes its intelligibility to socio-cultural
communities; in other words: nothing is “true” or “real” unless the people that it may concern
agree on its intelligibility, truthfulness, or reality. Born into a world of linguistic meaning, we are
therefore interdependent mind rather than creatures of a bounded mind, existing “in-betweenselves” rather than emanating from an illusory self. We are inter-mind rather than deluded
individual souls cut off solipsistically from others.
A bigger framework or metaparadigm for integrating Buddhism and psychology is an
innovation which I have coined Relational Buddhism (Kwee, 2010; This entails integration or even a merger or a fusion of the
two as described above and whereby psychology and pan-Buddhism, basic principles (designated
in what I have called Ancient Greek Buddhism) as acknowledged by all Buddhist denominations,
propose and acquire each other. Developing this intercultural marriage, which seemed at first
sight strange bed-fellows, is an evolution from the bottom up, whereby the bottom is the
atomistic merger of CBT/REBT and Theravada, and the up is the macroscopic fusion of the
psychology of Social Construction and Mahayana. Social construction-ing expounds a relational
view by infusing notions of multiple realities by multiple voices, and multiple – thus MT –
selves, whereby like in Buddhism the "we" rather than the "I" is affirmed as a fundamental way
of living. All of this is the result of rethinking psychology and Buddhism as a psychological
The “Charter of Relational Buddhism” forms the basis of the psychology of Relational
Buddhism which comprises 5 pillars:
I: “We can’t share our brains, but we can’t but share mind…” The Psychology of
Relational Buddhism is a cutting-edge practical understanding of life rooted in two
trailblazing paradigms: (1) mind is not gridlocked in the skull but spaced outside the body
in-between people’s interactions and (2) all that is observed in science (and noted in
heartfulness) are conceptualizations which boil down to social constructions shaped as
perception, imagery, or cognition (covert self-dialogue), only meaningful in the
interpersonal context/milieu where they occur.
II: Living in an ocean of relationships from the cradle to the grave, it is pivotal to soak
views and speech in vernacular reflecting interpersonal significance of binding “we”. In
Dependent Origination, through parental lustful intercourse (karmadathu), sensingemoting/thinking-talking capability is embodied. Speech gets form by the syllable during
meaning-making exchange (rupadathu). As “languaging” progresses formless thoughts
transform into fickle mind (arupadathu) and self-organize illusory “independent self”
that fails to see inseparable “selves” spaced-in-between-people-embedded-in-culture.
III: Thus, at bottom, to act is to inter-act and to be is to inter-be (Heart Sutra): “I am
linked, therefore I am” (K.J. Gergen). In effect, thinking is relational activity executed as
covert-private verbalized/visualized speech. Usually unbeknownst, intentional or
premeditated action (karma) arises non-independently, moves body/speech/mind, and
could result in psychological malaise. Emotions around birth, aging, illness, and death are
– like separation from loved ones, union with unloved ones, and not attaining goals –
relational performances of affect: creative scenarios expressing socio-cultural meaning.
IV: If self and autonomous mind are fictions (though functional as index), singing alone,
dreaming intimately, or retreating solitarily is social-affective expression. In search for
awakened mind (absolute bodhicitta), we encounter the smallest units of experience
(dharma). Conceived as “neither-MT-nor-not-MT” (The Buddha, 6th century BCE),
“MT-of-MTN” (Nagarjuna, 2nd century), and “MT-nonduality” (Vasubandhu, 4th
century), dharma is now fathomed as an “ontologically-mute-social-construction-MT-ofTranscendental Truth”, a provision wedded to K.J. Gergen’s Relational Being.
V: Relational Buddhism invites the co-creation of inter-mind-in-between-selves and of a
“non-foundational morality of coordinated action” to render “team spirit for humanity”
with congenial bonds as lifeline. Imbibed in-depth, this mentality (in line with the
Gandavyuha Sutra) will likely ennoble us, whenever mind blowing AHA and HAHA
experiences transform karma. In synergy with the UN-adage “think globally, act locally”,
we might want grass-roots collaborative practice toward bottom-up societal harmony by
realizing awakened mind of loving-kindness (relative bodhicitta) via on-going frontburning heartfulness of speech, including self-talk.
To date, no other system of thought and practice seeking for integration of psychology
and Buddhism has an equal level of integration as Relational Buddhism. This meta-framework
offers a helicopter view, a total picture of Buddhism and psychology/therapy, as well as insession accounts inside the consulting room. In accord with social construction-ing its
superstructure is called post-modern, a qualification that refers to a psychology which has
stopped emulating modernity’s hard science. Acknowledging the world’s multiplicity, the
characteristics of post-modern thought can be contrasted to modern thinking as follows:
Modernity is based on a self-contained individualistic life orientation and the idea that
Transcendental Truth and timeless validity exist and can be known; it thus embraces
ontology (what is there), natural-science, logical-empirical/isolated facts, realism and
absolutism, deduction and explaining, and quantitative research that excludes subjectivity
Post-modernity includes, not discards, objectivity and rocket science but does not believe
in eternal truth; based on a relational life orientation, scepticism, and relativism it is
rather interested in creating viability of reality as non-foundational (MT) social
constructions by embracing epistemology (how can we know what is there) and
qualitative research which is about induction and interpretation (verstehen); the emphasis
is on socio/cultural/historical/contextual narratives.
To be sure: Relational Buddhism is a psychological approach to the pan-Buddhist
teachings which views interpersonal relationships as the centerpiece of its daily practice. This
practice grows naturally from the awareness that human separateness is an illusion and that sane
living requires speech/wording that expresses loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and relational
equanimity in heartfulness which looks from the inside out and un-covers that what is observed
as perception or thought has been socially constructed. Here is a 10-point summary of the
relationship between Buddhism and social construction-ing which will finally confluence in
Relational Buddhism:
(1) Buddhist psychology sketches the contours of the human being as
body/speech/mind (including psychobiology). Speech and inter-mind are neither within
body, nor within mind, but in dialogical encounters; the mind is uncovered as not inbetween the ears but in-between people.
(2) Focusing on interactions, the dualities inner-outer/I-other/you-me collapse and
crumble in MTN (nirvana/Tao), inviting a socially constructed relational self that
necessarily repudiates the individual self under the skin as an independent agency and
invites a self that is MT but full of interrelational/interconnected experience.
(3) If the individual is not an isolated independent being but a manifestation of
relationships and people in dialogue, inter-mind necessitates the MTN of solitary selves;
even private thoughts emerge from a history of language, long lasting relations, and timehonoured values evolved by our progenitors.
(4) Because of unobstructed mutual identity penetration, a change in one
individual, interrelated in Dependent (or rather interdependent) Origination with other
individuals, will generate and result in a relative change in all interconnected
relationships. This is comparable to the birth of a child in a family which produces ripples
of change for all.
(5) In the context of interdependency and interconnectedness, even the private
realm is encapsulated in an inextricable relational network; looking outside in the social
orbit, we see projections of our inner worlds and looking inside in the private space (like
in meditation), we see the social everywhere.
(6) Although we are dancing alone in the room, the social dimension is still
omnipresent because we are intricately interrelated; even the private is a social
construction as we are all subsumed under the sublime meta-order of the relational.
Singing alone, dreaming intimately, or retreating solitarily is social-affective expression.
(7) Life is socially entwined/intertwined like in an interconnected web and since
concepts are social constructions, it is impossible to be self-contained; even in the
absence of the other everything conceivable is injected by interpersonal meaning and
even if we take our bonded embeddedness for granted, interrelationships abound.
(8) With regard to inter-mind and reality, community members connect by
moving together like in a dance and reality can be defined by what the community’s local
group believes reality is; in other words, reality is something provisional, linguistically
co-constructed by local people, and negotiated in a (wild) dance of meanings.
(9) Even if unveiled by science, data and facts remain a communal construction;
the “game of science and reason” conceived by scientists is inextricably space-time-andculture bound as a value narrative rather than as a final map of The Truth, thus to be
continuously replaced by new constructions going forward.
(10) Thus, Relational Buddhism discards Transcendental Truths, this includes
social construction as well as Buddhism itself as they are also made in relational context;
this void may be unsettling and necessitate a joint venture of caring relationships to
procreate inter-mind practices of togetherness. Paraphrasing Gergen, “truth” can only be
found within community; beyond community there is silence/MTN.
These ten points mark the marriage between Buddhist psychology and social construction-ing,
and the emergence of a powerful idea: Relational Buddhism. Its vision and mission follow the
adage: “We can’t share brain, but we can’t but share mind.” To be sure, the psychology of
Relational Buddhism is a cutting-edge practical understanding of life rooted in two trailblazing
paradigms: (1) mind is not gridlocked in the skull but spaced outside the body in-between
people’s interactions and (2) all that is observed in science (and noted in heartfulness) are
conceptualizations which boil down to social constructions shaped as perception, imagery, or
cognition (covert self-dialogue), only meaningful in the interpersonal context/milieu where they
occur. Living in an ocean of relationships from the cradle to the grave, it is pivotal to soak views
and speech in a vernacular reflecting interpersonal significance of binding “we.” In Dependent
Origination, through parental lustful intercourse (karmadathu), sensing-emoting/thinking-talking
capability is embodied. Speech gets form by the syllable during meaning-making exchange
(rupadathu). As “languaging” progresses formless thoughts transform into fickle mind
(arupadathu) and self-organize an illusory “independent self” that fails to see inseparable
“selves” spaced-in-between-people-embedded-in-culture. Thus, at bottom, to act is to inter-act
and to be is to inter-be: “I am linked, therefore I am” (K.J. Gergen). In effect, thinking is
relational activity executed as covert-private verbalized/visualized speech.
Here are statements of social construction-ing, as presented by its primary advocate
Gergen (2011; in Brief Encounters from the Taos
Institute (the Taos Institute is the intellectual mainstay of social constructionists and proponents
of Relational Buddhism):
What counts as Social Construction? How do we identify what is social construction in
our theories and practices? What doesn't count as social construction? Was Michael
White a constructionist, or Michel Foucault; and are all collaborative practices
constructionist? These questions were recently the subject of lively debate among some
of the Taos Associates. To appreciate the issues and to deepen understanding of social
construction, it is first useful to recognize a very important, but often overlooked
distinction. This is the distinction between social construction as a metatheory, or a
general orientation to life, and social construction as a specific or local set of constructed
ideas and practices. What does this mean? At the level of metatheory, one simply views
all theories and practices as social constructions. This is to recognize that all our
languages, customs and traditions are outcomes of people's relations. None are required;
all are perishable. Many find this orientation useful and inspiring because it invites us to
reflect critically and appreciatively on our traditions and simultaneously to join in
creating new realities and ways of life. One may also embrace this general orientation
and participate in any range of practices – scientific, religious, professional, and so on.
Nothing is required. However, on the level of specifics, among the innumerable socially
constructed practices available or under development is social construction itself. Here
one participates in a range of specific ideas, dealing for example with the way we use
narrative and metaphor in constructing the world, the ideological basis of various
constructions, issues of marginalization and power, and so on. Or, one might draw from
constructionist ideas in doing therapy, consulting, teaching, practicing law, and the like.
At this local level, one can distinguish between constructionist work, and a host of
alternatives. For example, constructionist therapies will tend to differ from
psychoanalytic or cognitive; organizational development practices in a constructionist
vein will look different from modernist strategic practices; constructionist practices in the
classroom will differ from old fashioned hierarchical practices. But the lines are fuzzy!
This is first because constructionist ideas are not owned by anyone or written in stone.
They are outcomes of dialogue – now world-wide – and there are many different accents
and emphases. The dialogue continues, and from a constructionist standpoint, this is all to
the good. By the same token there are theorists and practitioners who have contributed
enormously to these dialogues, but who have also contributed to traditions not typically
identified with constructionism. For example, any thorough constructionist education will
cover Foucault's theorizing on power/knowledge, but not all Foucault's ideas are
congenial with constructionist dialogues; Michael White's narrative therapy has been
emblematic of the constructionist shift in therapy, but not all of White's views are shared
by constructionists. Further, there are theories and practices that were once quite alien to
constructionism, but are slowly merging with it. Cognitive constructivism is a good
example. And finally, there are theories and practices that, while not specifically
constructionist, overlap in assumptions or emphases, and generate mutually enriching
dialogue. Relational psychoanalysis, complexity theory, collaborative organization work,
and the collaborative classroom movement are all exemplary. So, the dialogues continue,
and herein lies a source of continuous excitement and creativity.
Why I Am Not a Social Constructionist? This is a commentary on recent dialogues about
social construction, its meaning and possible entailments. My comments here are in reply
to the frequent question of whether person X is, or is not, a social constructionist. For
some of us, the question is in terms of whether one is an "empiricist" or a
"constructionist," “a realist” or a “constructionist,” or a "constructivist" or
"constructionist." My special concern here lies in the implication that constructionism is a
belief system – a set of ideas that are either true or false, good or evil, or in which one
should or should not place their faith. In my view, to approach constructionism in this
tradition fails to appreciate its dramatic implications. Constructionist ideas challenge the
very assumption that words can accurately or objectively map the world. Thus it makes
little sense to ask whether any scientific theory, religious teaching, or system of ideas –
including social constructionist - is fundamentally or universally TRUE or FALSE. Yes,
there are local truths, agreements of various groups of people in various situations. (Only
if we agree, can it be said that Ken Gergen is the author of these words.) As
constructionist ideas suggest, rather than asking about ultimate truth, the important
questions concern the implications for our lives together. How does a given set of ideas
contribute to human well-being; who do they advantage and disadvantage; do they lead to
more freedom or domination; do they sustain the planet or destroy it; and so on. These
are obviously questions of value, but all the better. As we speak together about the world
so do we create our futures. If so, what futures do we wish for the world? In the same
way, you don’t have to ask whether an operatic aria is true or false, though you might ask
about how the aria plays out in human affairs. But it would make little sense to ask
whether I am a “Wagnerian” or a “Verdiist.” Nor does it make sense to say that “I am a
constructionist” in the sense that I embrace these ideas as fundamental beliefs. Nor am I
an empiricist, a realist, a constructivist, a Christian, or a Muslim. Rather, I am capable of
participating in all these various ways of understanding the world - and more - without
having to ask if they are TRUE. This is no small matter. For me, one of the wondrous
implications of constructionist ideas is that when I take them on, they open the richest
world of possibilities – without fighting over the high ground of Truth.
At this point I am delighted to share with you, the reader, the identity of someone I
consider to be a buddha; a fallible human being whose greatness on pointing at MTN deserves
the epithet 4th Buddha (tongue in cheek). A great scholar and professor of social psychology, he
is one of the pioneers and innovator of social construction. His name was already mentioned:
Kenneth J. Gergen ( Why is this proposition
justifiable? Gergen expounds that thinking has evolved from the atomistic/experimental to the
relational/experiential, which culminates in a book called Relational Being (2009; This book is a product of Social Construction and
is about a practice of an appreciative process. The ideas proposed therein are congruent to the
Buddhist basic thought of inter-being and inter-mind. By viewing reality as something
constructed, merely valid in the social group where it originates, social construction-ing is not
concerned with Transcendental Truth. Similar to Buddhist thought, social construction-ing views
the mind as a relational reality. Inter-being or inter-mind are the Buddhist expressions which are
quite equivalent to Gergen’s Relational Being (2009). These concepts reflect a paradigm shifting
view, implying that individual minds, which apply language and self-speech, cannot but make
use of social constructions. Mind is thus a relational process which implies that it is an ongoing
moving and ever evolving interacting progressive operation; because of its “permanent
impermanency” the mind is MT of isolated, substantial, and inherent self. Consequently, all
mind accompanying behavior has relational meaning and impact. Individual agency is an illusory
artifact of Cartesian dualism which neglects speech and self-speech. Freezing the mind’s process
for the sake of atomistic study will accrue valuable knowledge but its reification (viewing the
concept of mind as an object) will cause losing sight of humanity’s wholeness. Gergen’s work is
fully alive and soaked with the relational dimension as is his personal life: he practices what he
preaches. His views do not deal with Buddhism but could nonetheless be qualified as
“postmodern Buddhist” and are extraordinary as they are developed out of mainstream academia
not out of Buddhism.
Brain Porn and Sexy Genes
Looking for mind in the brain is like looking inside a radio for the person who is talking. After
three decades of “brain porn” frenzy, now the hope is that the 2013 US BRAIN project will
result in a detailed and dynamic map of grey matter revealing how it functions and able to
explain brain diseases like autism and Alzheimer. Everything with the prefix “neuro” seems to
be sexy and a “non-brainer” nowadays especially when it is linked to meditation. The concern is
that there is too much media hype and inaccurate promises which eventually explain just a few
things about the 100 billion neurons making trillions of synaptic connections. These infinite
possibilities make the brain a “neuroplastic organ” forming and shaping revered skills like
loving-kindness, compassion, and joyfulness. Research-wise it appears that more is less: more
brain facts did not lead to more explaining the vagaries of thought and human conduct. Cracking
the brain code due to the availability of sophisticated instruments is a foregone conclusion. The
mystery of consciousness is far from understood and it is doubtful whether neuroscience will
ever be able to offer a grand unified theory. I propose to rely on wisdom rather than on
consciousness which study likely leads us to a cul de sac. As yet brain porn seems to be a fad
and a fiction inhering in promises comparable to those psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and
evolutionary psychology once enjoyed. Risking to be accused of being a member of the Flat
Earth Society, I am skeptic on neuroscience’s ability to modify society in a meaningful way. In
spite of sophisticated scanning machines, believing in neuroscience remains a reduction of
reality which downgrades life to matter. If mind is about meaning and brain about mechanisms, I
envision empirical findings link the relational and neurons, and wonder what is in petto
How can social construction-ing and neural science be reconciled?
Mindfulness/heartfulness can be conceived as a relational practice because by going inward we
will meet and hear the voices of others. Functional Magnetic Resonance Images (fMRI) taken
before and after heartfulness show increased gray matter in an area important for learning and
memory, the hippocampus, and a reduction of gray matter in a stress and anxiety region, the
amygdala. Scans reveal structural changes in brain areas associated with introspection,
compassion, and self-awareness. Neuroplasticity makes the forming of new pathways and
neuronal connections possible, as well as the development of thicker tissue in the prefrontal
cortex. Heartfulness also seems to help the hippocampus (involving memory and learning) grow
and to decrease the amygdala (which initiates the body’s response to stress). Most relevant is the
discovery that mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions but the
emotions associated with those actions as well. When we see someone smile, for example, our
mirror neurons for smiling fire up too creating a sensation in our own brain of the feeling
associated with smiling. We don’t have to think about what the other person intends by smiling;
brain is able to experience its meaning unmediatedly, i.e. without thoughts or an explaining
narrative. These findings suggest that a mirror neuron system likely plays a key role in our
ability to empathize and socialize with others as we communicate our emotions mostly through
facial expressions. Brain imaging experiments using fMRI, show that the human inferior frontal
cortex and the superior parietal lobe are active when a person performs an action and also when
one sees another individual performing.
The ability to immediately understand what people are experiencing suggests that mirror
neurons fire in instances of observing another executing an act. Linked to empathy and vicarious
learning these neurons were discovered in macaques by monitoring the activity of cells with
microelectrodes while the monkeys reach for food. It was found that certain cell activity in the
pre-motor cortex, an area linked to planning and executing movement, increased during the
performance. Surprisingly, these cells also fired when a researcher reached for his own food.
Thus, these brain cells came to be called mirror neurons. They seemingly transform visual
information into empathic knowledge of the other’s intended action, thus forming the basis for
learning by imitation. Apparently, we do not use logical thought processes to interpret and
predict people’s actions; we understand others immediately and effortlessly by feeling without
thinking. Mirror neurons grasp the intentions and emotions of actions and facial expressions. The
better we are able to interpret facial expressions, the more active the mirror neurons. Seeing
someone smiling, mirror neurons for smiling fire up simulating a similar affect in us: we
empathize. Empathy seemingly involves the inferior frontal cortex and the superior parietal lobe.
The mirror neuron system inspires us to understand language acquisition, could explain the
neurological underpinning of social interaction, and might help cure disorders which affect social
communication like autism, schizophrenia, or brain injury. Mirror neurons are promising in
The origin of empathy and compassion, according to Darwin (1871; The Descent of Man
and Selection in Relation to Sex), is derived from an innate moral life motive which is concerned
with the welfare of all beings. Driven by maternal instinct, a mother would risk danger to save
her child and someone could risk his life to save a friend, but be indifferent about a stranger.
Only exceptional people will jump into the water to help a stranger from drowning. There is no
explanation for these sporadic instances, but relief of one’s own suffering might be impelling for
relieving the pain of others. "Survival of the kindest" captures evolution theory better than
"survival of the fittest" if “maternal” motives are stronger than other proclivities. Natural
selection favors the evolution of compassion; the most sympathetic flourish best and rear the
largest number of offspring. It seems that sympathetic people are more successful in raising
healthy kids. One century later Richard Dawkins expounds in The Selfish Gene (1976; that nature is rather led
by deceit, competition, and exploitation. We live in The Age of Empathy (De Waal, 2009; which thrives on
empathy, cooperation, and conciliation with our fellow men. Our social fabric compensates
selfish advantages indicating that the “selfish gene” proved the contrary: unselfish conduct is the
key to success. Is the evolution of unselfishness, empathy, and compassion as derivatives of love
a genetic given: is there an “empathic gene”? ( Embedded in relationships we are not independent
agents. We value social support and group protection as these actions help individuals to survive
collectively. Where it comes to private advancement, greed accrues profit. When it comes to
survival, altruism seems to be the leading principle. Living in social contexts, animals and men
only function well if actions are relationally sane, i.e. if there is a fine-tuned balance between
“selfish” and “empathic” genes. I call this “enlightened self-interest.” Considering people’s
interconnection working together for the common good on an endangered planet is our task at
hand (
Genes have become a sexy subject as they are seemingly modifiable through meditation.
Research suggests that telomeres, protective caps, located at the ends of DNA chromosomes
serve as bumpers for genetic cargo. The longer the telomeres, the better-protected DNA is from
collisions and the longer the cell will survive. The marker of cellular and life longevity and fewer
illnesses, telomeres adapt to environmental stimuli. It is surmised that stress states shorten
telomeres, while enhancing mood like doing meditation keeps telomeres long. Shorter telomeres
are associated with aging-related diseases like cancer, stroke, vascular dementia, cardiovascular
disease, osteoporosis, obesity, and diabetes. Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn
( studied the effects of meditation on genetic activity.
Looking at the enzyme levels protection of telomere length was higher in 30 mindfulness
practitioners compared to 30 non-meditators. Hoge et al (2013) studied actual telomere length
and loving-kindness meditation ( Comparing the
telomere length of 15 experienced meditators to 22 non-meditators, they found that the first
group has longer telomeres. It seems that meditation might alter telomere length and the
longevity of cells. The Benson-Henry Institute (2013; compared
the genetic profiles of 26 first-time subjects in the “relaxation response” to 26 experienced
relaxers. In the experienced group one relaxation session could change cellular activity for the
better. Blood samples from the volunteers who practised relaxation for at least three years had
beneficial gene profiles even before the study, suggesting that relaxation had resulted in long
term changes to genes. Although Buddhist meditation and relaxation may change telomeres’
length and their longevity, the impact in terms of people’s longevity in years remains unknown.
Hopefully, these findings will change the practice of mainstream clinicians in the near future
Life style changes in diet, exercise, stress management, and social support result in longer
telomeres (Ornish et al., 2013; A controlled trial revealed that telomeres can be lengthened to
the degree that people change how they live. The researchers followed 35 men with localized,
early-stage prostate cancer for five years to explore the relationship between lifestyle changes
and telomere length. Subjects were closely monitored through screening and biopsies. Ten
patients followed a plant-based diet (high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains, low in fat
and refined carbohydrates); exercises (walking 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week); stress
reduction (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, imagery, and progressive
relaxation). The meditation was not specified. They also participated in weekly group support
and were compared to 25 participants who were not asked to make lifestyle changes. The
lifestyle change group experienced a 10% increase in telomere length. The more people changed
their behavior by adhering to the recommended lifestyle program, the more dramatic their
improvements in telomere length. Men in the control group not asked to alter lifestyle had 3%
shorter telomeres when the five-year study ended. The study is a follow-up to a similar, threemonth pilot investigation in 2008 in which the same participants were asked to follow the same
lifestyle program. After three months, the men in the initial study exhibited significantly
increased activity in telomerase (an enzyme that repairs and lengthens telomeres). The new study
was designed to determine if the lifestyle changes would affect telomere length and telomerase
activity over a longer time period. Telomere shortening increases the risk of a wide variety of
chronic diseases and telomere lengthening is preventive of these conditions and might lengthen
lifespan. The future is challenging (
Caveat ( As funding and
influence grow, neuroscientists themselves turn skeptical over its hype. Nonetheless, in the past
decades social constructionists have witnessed the increasing interest in appealing neural
determinants of conduct which is now seemingly coming to a grinding halt. Concerns with sociocultural processes and critical reflection might gain increasing interest at what could be the dawn
of this Zeitgeist change. The pendulum points at basic conceptual flaws of neuropsychological
research and swings to the idea that human action remains unintelligible in terms of neural
activity. It is safe to submit that our brain functions in the service of cultural process. Although
neuronal systems may enable and limit human activity, the cortex depends on our generating
cultural and personal meaning. As Gergen (2010, p.1) expounds: “the most promising
conclusion, both for research and societal practice, is to view the (neuroplastic) brain largely as
an instrument for achieving socially originated ends.” (
NeoZen: Lotus Out of Mud
In an article called NeoZen (; Kwee & Taams,
2005), which is a synthesis of East-West mentalities for the art of living, Zen and Western ways
of living, including the merits of science, are combined. NeoZen is an elaboration of Zen which
is a particular school of Mahayana that became known in the West under the influence of
Japanese culture. Zen began in China where its name is Chan. The golden age of Chan was in the
Sui (581-618), Tang (618-907), and Five (907-960) dynasties; during the Sung (960-1276)
Chan’s twinkling and creative vitality began to diminish gradually, but survived to blossom
further in Japan. The word Chan is a corrupted pronunciation of the Sanskrit dhyan meaning
meditation and implies “just sitting.” Chan began in the 5th century. Legend holds that it was
started by a blue-eyed monk from Central Asia called Bodhidharma. He was also the alleged
founder of Kung Fu, a martial art developed at the Shaolin temple in Henan Province.
Bodhidharma practiced “wall gazing” (zuo chan; Japanese: zazen) for nine years. His
instructions were based on the ascetic forbearing and on the Lankavatara Sutra.
Chan spread from China to Korea and Japan in the North and Vietnam in the South. Chan
is Chinese by its realism, content, form, tactics, and humorous transmission based on a love for
the paradox. Chan/Zen has quite a number of adherents in the West (Europe, North and Latin
America). Situated within the idea that life is based on contradictions and binaries of yinyang,
Taoism expounds that dualism is illusory and that life is basically “MT nonduality.” Taoism is an
indigenous Chinese wisdom tradition that is quite similar to the Mahayana practice of jnana
which means direct/dualistic knowledge as opposed to vijnana which means divided or dualistic
knowing. Thus jnana implies nondualistic wisdom of MTN or nirvana which in Chan/Zen is
called the Tao. The emphasis is on exercising meditation by sitting in a straight-backed position
with crossed legs. Practitioners of Chan enjoy kung-an (literary: jurisprudence of a court case)
which translates in Zen to koan: a tool expressing a kind of paradoxical riddle which defies a
conventional solution. Typically it is a little dialogue on logic containing a poignant question and
an enigmatic, baffling answer eliciting sudden awakening. A koan cannot be solved by logic but
can be dissolved in nondualism, like what did your face look like before your parents were born
or what is the sound of one hand clapping?
Bhikkhu Bodhi (1955;
sheds light on the issue of nonduality from a Theravada perspective. Stemming from seemingly
conflicting frameworks and not in the Theravada matrix, “merging nonduality” is risky for
theoretical consistency. The Indian Vedanta tradition might create confusion. It is also concerned
with a particular nonduality (advaita), the merger of “true self” (atman) with the divine eternal
principle of Brahman effecting the one eternal nondual Truth. Rejecting the idea of self,
Buddhism is incompatible with Vedanta. For the Theravadin selfhood is an illusion and deity is a
delusion. The individual is a complex interplay of modalities marked by impermanence,
suffering, and selflessness. Craving for, grasping at, and clinging to self lead to the rebirth of
suffering. Liberation is not attained by a realization of self, but by the dissolution of selfhood in
relation to modalities comprising I-me-mine. However, post Vasubandhu’s Mahayana (4th
century) upholds that there is no ultimate difference between binaries and contradictions, as they
are all concepts. Awakening is the realization of nondualistic experience. Ultimately all
phenomena are MT. The nature of the smallest unit of experience, dharma, is no-nature and of
self is no-self. This way of thinking is based on Vasubandhu’s view on the nature of provisional
reality as perceived and conceived, which emanates as appearance, process, MTN, and which is
based on the ultimate reality of nondual MTN. This MTN of MTN and non-MTN forms the heart
of our predilection: Chan and Zen.
Contrary to what Bikkhu Bodhi extols, the Pali teachings contain contradictions which
are inferable as nondualistic. Although not endorsing nondualism as such, The Buddha
appreciated seamless whole/direct experience, “suchness/thusness/isness,” which reflects
nonduality which goes beyond “samsara vs. nirvana” (Aggivaccagotta Sutta):
‘Views’ Vaccha, are what a Tathagata [thus come, thus go] has abandoned. Vision arises
in a Tathagata, so: ‘this is form; this is how form arises; this is how form disappears. This
is feeling; this is how feeling arises; this is how feeling disappears. Just so, this is
perception, this is the working of the mind, this is consciousness; and this is how each of
those qualities arises; this is how each disappears.’ And so, a Tathagata, through the
ending, erasing, ceasing, renouncing, and relinquishing of all constructing, all imagining,
all I-making, mine-making, conceit of self, with nothing left to cling to, requiring nothing
for sustenance, is released.” (
In this sutta the typical Buddhist logical system of the tetralemma (a four-way variation of "is",
"is not", "both" and "neither") leads to a conceptual insight of MTN. The following example
speaks for itself: 1. The Tathagata exists after death; 2. The Tathagata does not exist after death;
3. The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death; 4. The Tathagata neither exists nor
does not exist after death. The Buddha dismissed all of these views as unprofitable and unrelated
to awakening and liberation. Subscribing to a position produces unnecessary suffering. Digging
in metaphysics could be unending. Most importantly, The Buddha himself declared that he has
no views and no position on the query, and that he did not propose any answer. It is more
important to realize that the ego activity of possessiveness is fruitless. The concern should be on
attaining nirvana which is a state or trait of exhaustion of emotional fires because they are no
longer fed. Suffering's fuel is craving. While thirst (tanha) or over-desire sustains fire, nirvana is
the blowing out of fire. Confused, Vacchagotta asked “If the Tathagata neither exists, nor does
not exist, nor both, nor neither, then what happens to him after death? Speaking of
(non)existence invites contradictions (
Again, The Buddha bypasses these questions by focusing on the direct experience of
extinguished greed, hatred, and ignorance. Illustrative for a nondual flavored position are The
Buddha’s following replies (
‘Where does the monk who has been released reappear?’:
‘”Reappear,”’ Vaccha, doesn't apply.’
‘In that case, Master Gotama, he does not reappear.’
‘”Does not reappear,” Vaccha, doesn't apply.’
‘...both does and does not reappear... doesn't apply.’
‘...neither does nor does not reappear... doesn't apply.’
In the sphere of meditation, there is a difference. For Chan/Zen, meditation is not only
exclusively a removing of affliction (greed, hatred, and ignorance) and cultivating virtues
(kindness, compassion, and wisdom) which include experiencing nonduality. The practice is to
befriend rather than fight our inner demons or enemies. Affliction is the same as transcendental
wisdom: passion is removed by passion. For Theravada the practice of insight meditation
(Vipassana) is about purification. The perils of unwholesomeness need to be recognized;
pollutants need to be restrained and eliminated. The fruit of the training is the complete
eradication of the afflictions by applying virtues as wholesome antidotes. Unwholesome thoughts
and emotions are dispelled and the self is abolished and abandoned, nullified. In Zen, liberation
comes when experiencing that opposites merge and distinctions evaporate like dew, i.e. when
things are seen and known “as they really are/become.” In the end nonduality is MT as well.
Yogacara and Taoism became Chan which idealizes a simple life amid Arcadian nature
in poverty. This life goes with the moment to moment flow of nature and heartfulness as
depicted in the calligraphy: 念 which means presence (upper character) of heart (lower
character). A happy life depends on an ability to derive a natural flow through heartfulness called
wuwei which refers to living in the wakeful state of the present in open attention and full
awareness. Chan’s flow concentrates on “surfing” on the waves of herenow, from now-to-now,
and requires focus not to fall off the surfing board. Wuwei is seemingly congruent to
Csikszentmihalyi’s flow (1999; which one experiences when actively involved in creativity and skilled
activity like making music, sporting, driving, studying, painting, or writing. Research evidences
that when a challenge is in balance with concentration, skills, and perseverance, one might be
lost and totally absorbed in the activity; flow is likely the result. To go with the flow is to
abandon oneself to a situation that feels natural and spontaneous. It includes the merging of
action and awareness, being ecstatic, enraptured, self-forgetful, unconcerned for outcome,
completely caught up in the activity, devoid of self; also one experiences wonderment, losing
sense of time, a different reality, and effortlessness while performing. Paradoxically, one is in
control of the activity and does not try to control any doing. While in flow, there is no future, nor
past; there is an extended presence in which one exists. After the experience, people report
having been in an utmost positive state. This does not come from what one does, but from how
one does the activity. Flow comes from an active physical and mental involvement and this
includes work, hobbies, meditation, and relationships. Flow produces happiness: life becomes
purposeful and meaningful. While flow as studied is usually task specific, one might also
experience flow in daily activities. In Chan this has been pointed at by the term wuwei which
refers to a process amid ordinary daily activities (Chan, 1963;
The wedge of Mahayana and Taoism unifies the concept and experience of sunyata with
the Tao (yinyang). This entails a down-to-earth-matter-of-fact mentality, relatively free from
dogma, creed, superstition, and canonical texts. By focusing on how to stop thinking and on the
immediate experience of illumination, there was a tendency to abolish Buddhism and The
Buddha. Chan inheres in an anarchistic nature which challenges every non-Chan thought and
even questions the bodhisattva vows. Aren’t these testimonials of new attachments, i.e. of
craving, grasping, and clinging? To note, a Chan saying is that “There is nothing much in the
Dharma.” There is not only an idealization of a pure natural environment far from the city; the
image of the Chan master is similar to the image of the Taoist sage: an eccentric crazy drunk
who transmits a message without fluff. This crazy wisdom can be tasted in these many
iconoclastic/anarchistic expressions defying the conceptual in favor of the metaphorical and
which are full of humor, such as “The Tao is even present in shit and urine,” “The Buddha is a
piece of manure,” “Kill The Buddha,” or “Clean your ass with sutras.” These expressions refer
to an ineffable “sudden awakening” (chien-hsing, Japanese: kensho and wu-hsin, Japanese:
satori). Congruent to yinyang, the indivisible buddhanature and the dualistic world of
appearances are identical like feeling hellish and heavenly (samsara-nirvana), emptiness-form,
good-bad, or joy-sad. Oneness with the Tao, will always take place suddenly, not in parts or
gradually (even if study and practice takes place gradually), although the intensity of the flash
may differ. From a typically Mahayana/Nagarjuna point of view dualisms do not exist on the
ultimate level. Quoting the Heart Sutra, “That which is samsara is not other than nirvana, and
that which is nirvana is not other than samsara,” and “That which is form is not other than
emptiness, that which is emptiness is not other than form.”
Chan’s final settlement was made by Hui-neng (7th century), who was an illiterate man
(which indicates symbolically that texts are unimportant and points at the primacy of
experiencing) (Price & Wong, 1969; He
embodied the given that knowledge and wisdom are two different things as in the Chan adage:
“Mind without dispute is natural discipline, mind without disturbance is natural meditation; mind
without ignorance is natural wisdom.” Everything known about Hui-neng stems from the
Platform Sutra, the only Chinese text ever called a sutra named after a platform on which he
delivered a talk to 10.000 people. Elevated to a sutra the text has the potency to replace the
Lankavatara Sutra (likely the basis for Chan) and to suit a Chinese audience. Hui-neng himself
suddenly awakened by hearing somebody reciting a Diamond Sutra verse (“let the mind flow
freely without clinging”) which indicates that he was a sravaka (someone who awakens through
hearing recitations of scriptures). Hui-neng received the patriarchal insignia after a contest for
succession. The story goes as follows. The favorite candidate the rational Shen-hsiu wrote on a
wall of the monastery: “The body is the bodhi tree, the mind is a bright mirror on a stand, polish
it diligently at all times, so dust will not take hold.” This hymn was rebutted by the intuitive Huineng: “The bodhi is no tree and does not exist, there is no stand and no mirror, since everything
is already empty, where has dust to go to cling on to?” A kung-an applied by Hui-neng is: “what
is your original face before your parents were born?” This contest illustrates that the heart
prevails over mind. For Chan “dissolving” the kung-an is far more important than studying
sutras. Going beyond the realm of thinking by understanding paradox, the technique enables the
student to take a quantum leap to stop mind-chatter securing direct insight and its byproducts
delight and happiness.
Hui-neng promulgated a Taoist-quietist teaching of the mind (hsin-tung), a psychology of
how “to go with the flow while nothing remains undone.” This implies that the cultivation of
happiness as a byproduct, an epiphenomenon that goes along with whatever one does in full
awareness until it flows (wuwei). What one does to awaken one does in daily activity. Rather
than “navel-gazing” Chan favors meditation-in-action which suits the Chinese people’s utmost
practical mentality. Kung-an punch lines like “no labor, no food,” or “go and wash the dishes,”
or “the wondrous Tao consists in carrying water and chopping wood” reflect the idea that the
sinicization of Buddhism went along with being productive and happy rather than with being
philosophical or just sitting. Thus, illumination comprising the wisdom (prajna) of MTN
(sunyata) is guided by the saying that “there is no Chan without laughter.” Thus, these are
flashes of AHA+HAHA-experiences erupting spontaneously in a state of heightened awareness
and attention and characterized by absorption (samadhi) of whatever happens in herenow (ting;
Japanese: jo). Chan provides an instantaneous seeing into one’s buddhanature in daily life which
is no-mind (wu-hsin; Japanese: mushin). In effect the shortest definition of Chan/Zen and of
Buddhism for that matter is AHA+HAHA without BLABLA.
Expediting students to “wake-up-and-awaken” the master used peculiar and mad devices,
i.e. shocking “alarm bells”: shouting, beating, interjecting, gesturing, tearing sutras, snapping
fingers, pinching noses, vomitting at Chan, urinating in temples, burning Buddha statues, etc.
These didactics beyond rationality are expressions of a wordless transmission. A master never
explains: “the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon,” the teaching is just a way to arrive at
experience. Direct experience usually goes along with wit, simplicity, and practicality.
Illustrative for this style is a kung-an about Ma-tsu (8th century) who often practiced sitting.
Asked by his master what he hopes to attain by sitting, his answer was: “buddhahood,”
whereupon the master picked up a tile and rubbed it. Ma-tsu asked why he was doing that. “I am
polishing the tile into a mirror.” Ma-tsu exclaimed: “How can polishing make a mirror out of a
tile?” Master: “How can sitting make you a Buddha?” Huang-po (9th century) had a similar way
of teaching as told by Master Lin-chi (9th century). As a student he asked Huang-po “What is the
basic idea of The Buddha?” Thereupon he was hit by Huang-po three times. Puzzled he asked an
elder monk who said that Huang-po had been earnest and kind with him. As hitting immediately
stops thinking and brings the student in the herenow. Lin-chi awakened instantly and exclaimed:
“There is not much in Buddhism after all!” Lin-chi became famous by his admonition to kill the
Buddhas, kill the patriarchs, kill the arahants, and for applying the whole gamut of “lightning”
techniques: hitting students in a clear blue sky. Questioning hampers direct experience like in
searching for the ox one is actually riding on. The indubitable Tao is experienced when a
question dissolves in nonduality. This non-conventional but simple line of providing a direct
experience of nonduality in a practical and witty way was further developed in Japan particularly
by the illustrious Hakuin (1686-1768). Famous is his koan which reads “What is the sound of
one hand clapping?” Here is an illuminating anecdote on the metaphors of heaven and hell:
A samurai consulted Hakuin about heaven and hell: do they really exist? Hakuin treated
him like a beggar by having him wait. The proud warrior gradually became angry and demanded
answer. ‘A stupid man like you can’t understand,’ the master said. Furiously the samurai drew
his sword to kill the master who raised his finger and said: ‘Feel the gate of hell!’ Suddenly the
samurai understood that this was his lecture, sheathed his sword, bowed in deep grace and
kneeled in mercy and surrender. Hakuin smiled, raised his finger & concluded: ‘Feel the gate of
Chan took hold in Japan in the 12th century. Eisai is credited as the founder of Zen and
eight centuries later Dr. D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966) exported Zen to the West. By that time the Zen
student could find a sixteen centuries’ pile of literature. Suzuki left some hundred books in
Japanese and thirty in English. He succeeded tremendously in disseminating Zen as the crown
jewel of Buddhism and aroused a great interest in the West. He translated and commented the
Lankavatara Sutra, the cradle of Chan, securing the link to Bodhidharma and The Buddha.
Suzuki-Zen is intellectual and leans on Rinzai-Zen (Lin-chi). Studying is a check for the
students’ development and a means eliciting satori by itself. This is in accord with the Sravaka
idea that illumination can be attained by mere hearing, in casu reading. Endorsing the value of a
restless study of the scriptures, D.T. admonished that intellection of the ineffable is only a means
for communicating. The finger is not the moon. Any analytic discourse or dualism relentlessly
closes the gate for satori. Satori is the lotus flower which arises out of the mud.
Also important in Chan/Zen is the dokusan (J) or daxian (C), these are words derived
from the Sanskrit darshan, which refer to a private face-to-face conversation between a
Chan/Zen student and a teacher in an encounter meant to illuminate and enlighten (with or
without making use of a kung-an/koan). It thus resembles a counseling or therapy session whose
format, length, and subject depend on the teacher and understanding of the student.
Understanding nondual buddhanature (kensho/jianxing) may develop from a sudden awakening
to a full-fledged more enduring trait of total comprehension (satori/wu): enlightenment. The
conversation bears therapeutic moments whenever the student is instructed in how to transform
karmic thought, action, and emotion.
Chapter Three offers the heart of the matter. It discusses what it means to become a buddha by
meditation rather than by conversation. This is in principle a “teacherless way” and the mode
The Buddha as a bodhisattva adhered himself to awaken. This chapter provides background
information by reviewing some of the main concepts originated by The Buddha, discussing some
alternatives that have grown out of the original body of The Buddha’s teaching, and finally
explaining how to do it. What matters is how to feel happy amid adversity no matter the starting
point and how to become a lotus flower arising from the mud while still living in the mud. While
The Buddha had to pioneer his way on his own, having a teacher or this guidebook is a more
convenient way to work at blossoming.
This implies that suffering (dukkha) and happiness (sukha) – like everything else – is
impermanent (sarvam anityani) and that each experience will perish sooner or later to cycle
again through rebirths. According to The Buddha duhkha (sarvam duhkham) is pervasive and
ubiquitous for those who are ignorant. This is because our thirst for self and self-satisfaction is
omnipresent while there is no self. The only way to get redemption is to realize that we (and
everything else) are MT (sarvam anatman) of self, i.e. without “inherent existence” (svabhava)
(Mahaparinirvana Sutra). Permanent self is a false creation of ordinary mind that conceives an
illusory world based on craving, grasping, and clinging due to greed and hatred which divides
rather than bind people through relationship. The enlightened view of reality is that we are intermind in the context of the interdependence of all sentient beings. We exist in an interpenetrated
net of interrelatedness in which dynamic connectedness and mutual relationships are the ground
that brings forth seemingly different beings. In the spirit of Nagarjuna (2 nd century): the
Dependent (or interdependent) Origination of all things (pratityasamutpada) inheres in MTN
“like an open space” (sunyata) because things are no-things in and by themselves: they are MT
of “own being” as they owe existence only to interdependent relationships to everything else.
Meditation is meant to realize that, there is no inherent self.
Quintessence is the AHA insight and experienced understanding of the above and what
follows in this book: (1) that there is no key to happiness as the door is always open, there is
even no door to happiness as happiness is the door; (2) that in order to act-think-feel-be happy
the illusion of self as well as the delusion of god, the supernatural and the beyond require deconstruction-ing; (3) that the awakened eye of nonduality sees life as an enveloping process of
coincidences called synchronicity which adds enlightened enchantment to the ordinary; (4) that
life is a matter of HAHA rebirths, a delight of being inter-mind/inter-being making each day a
precious birthday celebration for everyone; and (5) that happiness is not a goal in itself but a
byproduct, of the flow to be found in daily life during whatever task one does; connect always if
possible in the interpersonal realm of love and likes.
Thus, enlightenment is not a magical trip in some supernatural orbit or being out of daily
orbit. It is a condition we are born into and to which we need to awaken so as to extinguish greed
and hatred, and end ignorance on how mind functions. There are no miracles in life out there; life
itself is miraculous through us: we are a miracle ourselves.
On Becoming a buddha
Let us begin with a strange allegory, inspired by Kafka’s The Trial (narrated by Wilson, 1990;
There was an open door called The Door of the Law and there was a guard who doesn’t
allow a man to enter. The man thought that the guard wanted a bribe so he offered him
money. The guard thanked the man for it but did not let him in. Repeating the same thing
over and over again – always with the same result – the man got older and his fortune
was used up. Finally, about to die, bankrupt, and with no hopes left, the man asked why
no one else has come to enter and why he is prohibited to go in. The guard replied that
the door was made only and especially for him, walked through the door, slammed and
closed it forever, leaving the man flabbergasted, unadmitted, and dying outside. Simon
Moon, a Zen student was enigmatic about this story and felt that he will never understand
Zen Buddhism unless he solves this parable, joke, or puzzle. Why could the man not
enter a tempting open door which was made specifically for him and does he need to die
before admittance? Why was the door closed forever at the end of the man’s life when he
was mentally exhausted and nearing a break-down? The student went to his Buddhist
teacher, told him about what he has read and asked for an explanation. The teacher
invited the student to follow him to the meditation hall. When they got there to enter the
hall, the teacher stepped inside quickly and slammed the door before Simon’s face...
What does this story in a story might mean and how could it help awakening? Whether one does
or does not like Kafka, one could wonder what the metaphorical significance of the tale is. Is it
referring to lack of human control over one’s own destiny? Or does it refer to some version of
god? Or is the tale insulting human intellect? This guide to practical Buddhism and awakening
will shed some light on why the senseless pursuit to know whatever is behind the door was not
the way for the man to attain an understanding of life.
Let me first summarize the above to pick up the thread and lay the foundation in order to
leap to a higher plane. Buddhism is a guide to a way of life from day to day which combines
worldview, psychological, and physical aspects in a combination with conduct, i.e. a modus
vivendi that is mindful of experiences in and of body/speech/mind and morality as highlighted by
Buddhist values, the basics of which have survived as compelling for a broad range of people for
ca. 2500 years. Today over 450 million people worldwide consider themselves Buddhists,
fellow-travellers who walk the talk in the footsteps of The Buddha. Please note that it is
advisable not to follow but to walk alongside The Buddha as a fellow-traveller and become a
buddha oneself. Moving in a different time frame, experience the knowledge that although
clocks exist, time does not exist. Down the centuries important modifications of The Buddha’s
original teachings developed after his life; these thrive today and are also part of Buddhism.
Ancient Indian legend holds that The Buddha was not the only Buddha as there were several
other buddhas before him. The Buddhist tradition of the first millennium knows two other
teachers who lived in the 2nd and 4th century; they are known as The Second and The Third
Buddha. Also we have a teacher who we think of as a Fourth Buddha, a buddha who stands out
and lives amongst us in the 21 st century Western world as referred to previously. Also not
generally understood is that the term buddha can refer to a state achievable by everyone in
principle, i.e. that anyone can become a buddha. The word is derived from bodhi meaning to
awaken which is a Buddhist understanding of the nature of things. How can we empower
ourselves by reaching inside ourselves and get the insights and understanding to do what is
required to gain the happiness, contentment, and delight of a buddha throughout
While Buddhism has been characterized as a religion, most scholars agree that it is not a
religion in the usual Western sense. Rather, its primary basis is the reliance on oneself in a social
context to overcome obstacles and frustrations, stresses, and strains of both internal and external
origin so as to develop a righteous, fulfilling life of contentment and delight against the backdrop
of MTN. In its marrow Buddhism is a non-theistic guide to a way of living: it can be a religion
and a philosophy, but is in fact neither of the two as it is foremost a guide for practice. Not
interested in the beyond, nor in musing, it is neither gnostic nor agnostic, neither eternalistic
religion nor nihilistic. In fact the adjective “non” signifies that believing or not believing in a god
is not an issue at all. Many combine subscription to a Buddhist way of life with a separate, coexisting religion of their own, which is very well possible. The thesis submitted here is that
Buddhism is a psychology/therapy-counseling to train a way of life of flourishing toward
happiness post the end of suffering.
The Buddhist path to happiness is to rise above the disquieting poisons of greed and
hatred due to ignorance about how the mind functions, through approaching a healing mental
state of MTN via silence, serenity, and meditation. Rather than MTN the terms “openness” and
“spaciousness” might resonate with the target experience. Once attained, MTN-opennessspaciousness liberates from illusory self as it constitutes a healing re-booting moment allowing
the meditator to reset, reconstitute, and redirect energy by reaching out appreciatively to others.
Thus, one re-constructs a different kind of existence, free of life’s emotional suffering and from
the unending cycle of re-births of imbalanced states and self-sabotaging negative emotions. This
outreach becomes the core building block of inter-mind/inter-being, the idea of enliving joyous
and fulfilling relationships rather than being shackled as an isolated agent hiding inside the skull
under the skin. Once one reaches this awakened or enlightened state – i.e. buddahood – one is
apt to wholeheartedly help others accomplish the same triumph over agony and daily
discontentment in the framework of loving-kindness (metaphorised by the cosmic boddhisattva
Maitreya) and in empathic compassion (metaphorized
by the cosmic bodhisattva
Avalokiteshvara). The message is clear: love yourself first and foremost in order to be able to
give more to others. Or, in the stewardess’ words: apply the oxygen mask first on yourself before
putting one on your child’s face. I call this enlightened self-interest. How to love oneself?
Everyone has the inherent potential to become a buddha by travelling The Buddha’s
Middle Way. This comprises determination to avoid extremes and avoidance of excess in any
direction and understanding MTN – non-connection to greed, hatred, and ignorance – achieved
by an inner path of balance which starts with being heartfully aware and attentive each and every
moment. This is called heartfulness, the mother of Buddhist meditations and a method to love
oneself toward buddhahood. Its instruction sounds simple, but its practice can be painstakingly
difficult: smile, sit, and stay focused with whatever appears and happens in the maelstrom of
body/speech/mind and notice any changes in alert awareness and attention; accepting everything
coming and going in loving kindness, gentle and friendly, and do not hold on to something or
ward anything off. Whatever we think or feel, we think or feel; whatever we see or hear, we see
or hear. There is no past and no future, only herenow and the present to stay in; no good and no
bad; no learning and no improvement. There is nothing to achieve, what you do is goal and
means at the same time. As there is no goal, let go of what is. When wobbling, wobble. Just let
whatever is and becomes originate, arise, peak, subside, cease, and disappear. This practice does
not require knowledge or experience. There are neither students nor teachers in this “totally
useless exercise of listening to the sound of silence.”
...And in heartfulness lies the solution of Simon Moon’s conundrum: there is no goal to
pursue, no path to walk on, no door to enter in, there is only the present breath and moment. It is
not about there-and-then, but being herenow. Buddhahood had always been present right here
accompanying everyone’s life as a birthright. The key is to dissolve the questioning itself. In
short: to become a Buddha one first applies heartfulness to be aware and attentive on greed,
hatred, and ignorance; subsequently ignorance needs to be countered by wisdom and knowledge
how the mind works; in addition other meditations as listed in this book need to be trained; if
meditation hampers, karma might need prior transformation by therapeutic conversations in
spiritual friendship (kalyanamitta) (see:
Psychology in Buddhism
More than 10.000 books have been written about The Buddha’s life and his teachings and none
was written down at the time of The Buddha’s life as there was no possibility back then to get it
written. Mostly if not all of these were transmitted in the first few centuries orally and later
written down, initially on palm leaves in about the year 29 BCE in Sri Lanka when technology
permitted and which eventually resulted in canonical documents. The core building blocks of
The Buddha’s teaching are consistent across many sources and centuries. The Buddhist
psychological practice that we propose is based on these key elements which all together is
called pan-Buddhism. It is derived from Ancient Greek Buddhism which reflects principles
evidently acknowledged by all Buddhist denominations and which is devoid of cultural atavisms,
(Western) religious connotations, and philosophical ballast. These pan-Buddhism themes
enabled the Dhamma to be reborn and wear various faces down the ages in various countries.
The three fires or three poisons as they are generally known are inherently present in the
lives of all people and are repeated in the daily cycles between feeling heavenly content
(nirvana) and hellish (samsara) (Maggasamyutta Sutta). This mostly results in our being a
rolling stone: “I can’t get no satisfaction… (as) can’t always get what you want”. The
hellish type feeling of suffering is due to the poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance of what is
going on, particularly with respect to our own internal processes when experiencing
body/speech/mind – collectively referred to as duhkha, and translated as a state of dissatisfaction,
discontentment, and emotional frustration or suffering. An example of greed on a global scale is
the selling of subprime mortgages which in combination with exorbitant bonuses and salaries of
the Lehman Brothers of the world cause malaise to the economy of the entire world and their
hard working citizens: we. An example of hatred is world-wide terrorism by Islamic State,
intolerant and frustrated people, who think that in the name of their god they are allowed to
behead fellow-men and murder travellers in airplanes causing safety issues for passengers,
troubling all of us. An example of ignorance is the erroneous belief in a static self. Whether new
situations or relationships and time-ticking make us grow older, sadder, and wiser “the morrow
morn” remains to be seen. Analogous to the start of The Buddha’s quest, the starting point is that
there is no apparent escape from suffering. Finding a way to alleviate mind-borne suffering due
to the poisons became the over-arching imperative for The Buddha: “there must be a way out.”
In order to be able to fully understand Buddhism as a psychology we need to understand
and interpret the main pan-Buddhist core themes – the main pieces in the “language game” of
Buddhism – by using a psychological perspective. These pieces are like pieces of a puzzle:
combining, fitting, and completing the picture will result in the designation of a Buddhist
psychology. Each of the building blocks requires a reinterpretation of the metaphors from post77
colonial religious wording to psychological terminology and meaning. Many of these terms will
be mentioned or discussed in the further balance of this chapter. Reiterating: Buddh-ism is not an
“ism” in the usual Western sense because it is not a belief system or philosophy per se but a way
(magga). Magga refers to a guidebook or manual of practice, but because the term is ingrained
and widely applied, it is used in his book as a container term. Here is a glossary of twenty-four
Buddhist terms interpreted as psychological concepts:
(1) dhamma/dharma (with small case d): the smallest unit of experience, of
happiness/sukha, suffering/duhkha, and other karmic experiences from pleasure to pain.
(2) Duhkha: dharma of psychological malaise (stress/suffering-dissatisfaction/frustration:
“shit happens”) metaphorized by a damaged axle wheel deranging a smooth ride.
(3) Three Poisons (or fires): metaphor for dharmas of emotional affliction, i.e. of greed,
hatred, and all other emotional misery due to ignorance about how the mind works.
(4) Nirvana: not a paradise in the beyond, but extinction of emotional arousal/fire and
negative affect which can be a relatively stable trait or as short-lived state.
(5) Dependent Origination: a hypothesis of multicausality that emotional dharmas
manifest in body/speech/mind through perception-feeling-thinking and (relational) action.
(6) Karma: not fate or retribution based on a book-keeping of good and bad deeds, but a
multicaused intentional action appearing in Dependent Origination of body/speech/mind.
(7) Skandhas: psychological modalities/aggregates to be aware of via bodily feeling
(sensing/emoting), thinking (cognition/imagery), and acting (behavior/interaction).
(8) Provisional self and ultimate not-self: there is an abstract indexical householder self
which is composed by MT modalities/skandhas that is full of experience but MT of self.
(9) Sixth Sense: The Buddha discerned the mind’s eye next to the five senses by which
we can focus our view inside our minds and look within at what we feel and think.
(10) Four Foundations of Heartfulness: the awareness and attention of the body and
bodily feelings and the attention and awareness of the mind and of mind’s ideation.
(11) Four Social Immeasurables/Brahmaviharas: divine dwellings, metaphor for lovingkindness, empathic-compassion, shared-joy, and equanimity (balance within/without).
(12) Bhikshu/bhikshuni: not a monk/monkess in the Christian sense, but an almsperson; a
self-appointed scholar who invests time and energy in former times to memorize texts.
(13) Arahant: not a saint, but one who has vanquished inner enemies (by befrinding
them); prototype of the awakened person in Early Buddhism, ridiculed by Mahayanists.
(14) Mara: psychological projections (bhava) of emotional states, mostly negative like
anger, fear, lust, and confusion, and which are metaphorized by an army of demons.
(15) Bodhi: awakening from ignorance-darkness/sleep, a body/speech/mind AHA-insight
on life and inter-mind, and a rational-emotive nondual HAHA-joyful/blissful experience.
(16) Reincarnation of self/soul is a typical Tibetan atavism, i.e. a pre-Buddhist religious
phenomenon (like the Bon) which became incorporated in most Himalaya Buddhism.
(17) Six realms of rebirth: this-worldly/daily recurrences of emotional episodes like the
3-Poisons and the six realms which are metaphors of psychological conditions. i.e.:
(18) Heaven: feeling godly as if elevated in heaven, metaphor for bliss and pride.
(19) Hell: bodily heat if feeling hate, anger, fury, resentment, hostility, and aggression.
(20) Titans/demi-gods: conflict, struggle, fight, envy/jealousy, distrust-paranoia.
(21) Hungry ghosts: frustrated due to craving, grasping, and clinging to impermanence.
(22) Humans: the realm we are born in which offers the best opportunity for bodhi.
(23) Animals: a rebirth depicted by a cock/greed, a snake/hatred and a pig/ignorance.
(24) Wheel of life: birth-death cycle of daily karmic greed, hatred, and ignorance.
As is clear from the tone of this book and the glossary, Buddha-talk is metaphoric and about the
psychology of our inner worlds and emotions. It should thereby be noted that the term emotion
does not exist in the Asian Buddhist languages where the mind and emotions are called heart.
The notion that mind is located in the heart implies it is “neither within nor without, nor is it to
be apprehended between the two.” (This passage [from the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra] alludes to
mind as inter-mind and consequently alludes being as inter-being.)
How this metaphorical Buddha-talk of “double entendre” in the glossary works out in
practice is nicely illustrated in The Buddha’s conversation with Angulimala whose name means
“finger necklace serial killer.” In this dialogue The Buddha showed his proficiency in
psychological conversation by metaphorical languaging. The story goes that the ruthless killer
was surprised to see a fearless ascetic in his area and so he yelled “stop or otherwise…” While
continuing his walk, The Buddha retorted “I’ve already stopped, don’t you want to stop?”
Puzzled the bandit thought: “How can the man ask me to stop while I’m not walking and say that
he has already stopped while he is still walking?” Obviously, The Buddha was juggling with
semantics as “stopping” in the particular context carries the triple meaning of stopping to walk
and stopping to kill, and on top of that it might mean stopping being I-me-mine/self. The thesis is
that The Buddha was a “semantic artist” and a “poetic activist”, a clinical psychologist/therapistcounselor who seized the awakened meaning of words and healed people by a talking cure.
A renowned Buddhist scholar from Thailand, the late Buddhadasa Bhikku (died 1993)
also dealt with this issue and discerned Dhamma/metaphorical-non-physical language vs.
everyday/ordinary language and offered Dhamma interpretations for a host of frequently used
words requiring psychological insight in the intangible mental world. One example involves the
words father and mother which in the tangible world refer to the persons who are responsible for
everybody’s birth. However, in Dhamma language father means ignorance (being unawake,
asleep, and in the dark) and mother refers to craving leading to grasping and clinging. Therefore,
The Buddha’s advice was: be ungrateful and kill your parents who give birth to I-me-mine/self
and suffering as a consequence. Obviously, an untrained mind would not be able to understand
this metaphorical language with double meanings. To luxuriate on this metaphor, the words birth
and death require discernment as well. Ordinarily, birth means to be born from a mother’s womb,
but in Dhamma language it refers to the birth of a thought or a feeling which due to ignorance
leads to craving, grasping, and clinging to illusory self. Therefore one needs to study, inquire,
and reflect about Dhamma texts and their meanings which are mostly beyond face-value.
Dependent Origination of Karma
Dependent Origination regarding karma’s vicissitudes is The Buddha’s top experience at his
awakening which deserves to be dealt with separately. It is about life which inheres in
psychological suffering caused in Dependent Origination due to imbalances mediated by speech
and self-speech, through intentional thinking and corresponding relational action. A core causal
factor for wholesomeness and happiness or unwholesomeness and suffering is intention which
leads us to act with satisfactory or regrettable consequences.
Dharma (with a capital D) or Buddha-Dharma refers to a guide of skilfulness meant to
point at a sane way of living. Such life is rooted in practicing insightful meditations and
engaging in illuminating conversations. The aim is experiencing MTN in an uphill AHA
pathway and a subsequent trajectory of a downhill HAHA joyfulness. The emphasis is on
flourishing conform what The Buddha had taught about inter-mind and happiness. The practice
of Buddhist meditation is based on knowing how the mind works and on observing the “smallest
unit of experience,” dharma with a small case d. This refers to the perishable building blocks of
feeling, thinking, and doing which comprise “perceivables” and “conceivable,” phenomena
which are impermanent and will always crumble soon or later. These can also be conceptualized
as objects which can be perceived: seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted, and which can be
known, cognized, or imagined, stored in memory, and dreamed about; many of them boil down
to self-illusions or god-delusions. They are encountered during heartfulness and other
meditations and although crumbling anytime soon they are falsely considered to be everlasting.
The Dharma is about analyzing dharmas and deconstruction-ing self-sabotaging karma toward
intentional action with wholesome outcomes. The core experience of The Buddha’s awakening is
this deep insight and understanding that the mind works in Dependent Origination within and
without which is a revelation of multicausality regarding feeling-thinking-doing in relational
context: mind is inter-mind of inter-being. On the individual level sensing-feeling-thinkingbehaving-interacting originate in interdependence. Each experience does not originate
independently; they originate, arise, peak, subside, cease, and crumble-perish-disappear in
togetherness within individual mind. On the relational/social level we are all interconnected and
are a body/speech/mind knotlets in interdependent origination. In the Buddhist lore, living with
others in various types of relationships implies that all that we are comes from the outside and
that even self-development like learning a language and thinking start via the voices of others,
from the people without to within our innermost linguistic cores.
We all acquire meaning from acculturation. From the cradle to the grave norms and
values of the societies and times we live in are instilled in interpersonal/interactional context
through speech-mediated processes. These processes have the potential to develop
unwholesomeness (decay and chaos) or wholesomeness (growth and order). Unwholesome
discontentment and dissatisfaction are produced by the negative emotions of depression, fear,
anger, grief, and their derivatives summed up in the term duhkha, which, if worked through,
could turn out to be a maturing experience toward the wisdom of contentment and happiness
amid adversity. This might be symbolized by a lotus flower arising from the mud.
Wholesomeness is produced by the positive emotions of shared or sympathetic joy and the many
variants of love, particularly kindness and compassion. Basically, wholesomeness is produced
against the backdrop of silence or a psychological state of contentment. Nirvana is the extinction
of negative emotionality rising above the poisons of hatred, greed, and ignorance. It is the
experience of unbounded liberty from craving/grasping/clinging and is not something in the
beyond but something to be experienced daily by you and me.
A key experience is karma which has a particular conceptual meaning in Buddhism. It is
action by “premeditated” intention. Although the term karma has been adopted in vernacular
English, this appropriation was not helpful for fully grasping its psychological meaning. In
Brahmanism the term karma carries a religious meaning; it is believed there to be a spiritual law
of retributive justice that works like a bank account stretching across reincarnated lifes wherein
meritorious deeds are rewarded and unmeritorious deeds punished. Consequently, in most
Western discourse karma has unfortunately come to mean destiny or a book-keeping balance of
good and bad or evil deeds with the presupposition that we are controlled by supernatural forces
who control what happens to us. In the pristine Buddhist usage karma has the opposite meaning:
we control our destinies via our own thinking, speech, self-speech, action, and interaction with
others: “to act is to inter-act” and “to be is to be related.” Although influenced by situational
contexts, karmic outcome is primarily linked to the Dependent Origination of modalities. At
bottom it is self-responsibility which counts. Karma delineates The Buddha’s postulate of
Dependent Origination as an interactive psychology of body/speech/mind, i.e. of feelingthinking-doing-interacting, modalities which co-dependently appear, “arise-peak-subside-cease”
and disappear in relational context. As discussed earlier, karma becomes a systemic process that
can lead to either experiencing unwholesomeness or wholesomeness depending on skilfulness of
the bearer.
The Buddha depicted an emotional episode of Dependent Origination in a domino
analogy as the interplay of twelve interlinked co-dependent factors in a single karmic sequence,
i.e. an emotional episode of a greed or hatred experience. Like a domino track this sequence
originates at birth (1 jati) of e.g. anger which decays as it proceeds and eventually dies (2
jaramarana); this angry episode first arises and peaks due to ignorance (3 avidya), and produces
a psychological state of detrimental intentional activity like cursing (4 samskara); awareness
might dawn about what happened in consciousness (5 vijnana) and through mind/body (6
nama/rupa); this conditions the six senses (7 sadayatana) and due to sense contact (8 phasa),
e.g. seeing the person (9 vedana) might evoke the thought of wanting to kill the person which
could later be craved for (10 tanha) and which could result in grasping and clinging onto the
anger, cursing, and a wish to kill (11 upadana); this fuels perpetuation of the fire of hatred and
leads to “becoming” and “projecting” (12 bhava); this could either be a rebirth of the next
emotional episode of hatred and being stuck in duhkha of sorrow and lamentation. The
exemplified anger can be worked through toward extinction (nirvana).
Thus, the Buddhist karma is not a mystifying “what goes around comes around” formula;
neither does it allude to a fate or destiny arrangement of reincarnation which is a Himalayan
atavism. Karma rather denotes a dynamic homeostatic process of an active behavioral choice
according to corresponding intention grounded in relational meaning. We are our own masters
who are in charge of our own fate, happiness, and emotional suffering. As feeling-action-thought
interdependently appear and disappear they have the potential to develop toward entropy (decay
and chaos), like in depression, or toward negentropy (growth and order), like in joy, delight, or
contentment. Karmic trouble arises when ignorance on the MTN of self leads to greed-grasping
and hatred-clinging. It is therefore of the utmost importance to elucidate self’s MTN and analyse
the relational meaning of grasping and clinging which are, like most daily experiences, habitual
behavioral patterns learned in dynamic interaction and seemingly happening automatically. Bad
habits and karma of regret is usually the starting point for reflection, contemplation, and
meditation to end suffering. The metaphors of aging, death, and rebirth have made many
credulous Buddhists believe that the traditional twelve steps exposition on karma is about
reincarnation, the soul, and Transcendental Truth, rather than about a mind-moment-to-mindmoment meditative scrutiny of the Buddhist reality of Dependent Origination.
One can learn to be aware of the karmic origination, birth/rebirth, which takes hold as the
arising-peaking-subsiding-ceasing of an emotional episode (i.e. of our feeling mad, bad, sad, or
glad). The admonition is to be aware of the interplay and firing orders of modalities and to
discover that craving leads to grasping and clinging to illusory self and to delusional
permanence, eternity, and godheads. Illusions can be unveiled by being heartfully aware of the
sense-perception of dharmas which can be designated as perishable and crumbling social
constructions, notably “perceivables:” “visibles, hearables, smellables, tasteables, touchables”
and everything one could know (“conceivables”), like concepts, images as well as memories and
dreams. Meditation accruing virtue and wisdom is a means of deconstruction-ing and unlearning
(habitual) karmic agony as if they were candle flames. Nirvana, the extinction that bypasses Ime-mine/self, is shorthand for a quenched hell of emotional flames. It is not a place to go in the
beyond. Neither is nirvana an immortal state of being or a being out of orbit. It is rather an
unmoved state of silence, a cessation phase of an emotional episode and the opposite of being
emotionally in motion. It is a state which belongs to the normal human realm of experience.
Nirvana, if even temporarily, is attained if fear is extinguished or when depression is dispelled
e.g. by cognitive change via conversation or meditation. Nirvana and duhkha states alternate in
daily life as the consequential outcome of karma. Samsara, cyclical recurrent states of duhkha, is
pictured by ambiguous metaphors feeding metaphysical ideas of transmigration and
reincarnation considered irrational in a secular psychology of not-self. These metaphors opened
the back door for other-worldly speculations in Buddhism. Instead of archaic qualifiers, a
contemporary psychology of Karma Transformation by conversation and by meditation is
advocated in this manual. Karma is relevant throughout life. Its relevance can be inferred by The
Buddha’s statement: “We own, are born of, relate to, and live by karma, and whatever karma we
create, unwholesome or wholesome, that will be ‘inherited.’” (Upajjhatthana Sutta)
Karma and Dependent Origination go hand in hand. While the above refers to the domino
analogy of karma, the concise candle flame analogy is quite illustrative for Dependent
Origination (Conze, 1980; The candle flame metaphor is intertwined with the modalities/skandhas
and not-self which require a separate discussion. This will be done in the next paragraph.
Devoid of Substantial Self
The essence of the Buddhist teachings was also compactly summarized in The Buddha’s second
discourse which he delivered after his awakening. This discourse is about the 3-Empirical Marks
of Existence.” Evanescent existence inheres in three characteristics. The first refers to the
impermanence of things: life comprises a constant inevitable state of imperfection. The second
refers to emotional suffering due to continuous craving for permanence while impermanence is
the basic state of existence. And the third refers to the given that suffering is because of
continuously trying to cognitively grasp and behaviorally cling to a temporary ego or a
provisional self that is believed to be inside of us. This self is constructed as a permanent fixture
of all the experiences we have but which in fact is illusory, non-existing due to the simple fact
that the self is ever changing. Self is basically impermanent and constructed via the relationships
we have had; relational interactions are consistently happening and invariably changing. They
are thus in a continuous state of flux like a series of candle flames. Therefore, self is a fiction.
Being interrelated we are non-everlasting inter-mind and ultimately not-self. The good news is
that this changing provides springboards for intervention and transformation so that emotional
suffering can always be modified.
Suffering arises primarily because of “musturbation” which refers to craving feelings,
grasping thoughts, and clinging behaviors to unsuccessfully instill a permanent and perfect self
in a non-abiding imperfect universe. Why is there no self? How come the self is an illusion? In
order to answer this query it is necessary to discern the provisional from the ultimate. In a noneverlasting, ever moving and changing world there can be no permanent, unmoving, and
unchanging self. At the most there can be a provisional, hypothetical, functional, and temporary
self “of the householder” to get things done and to go on with life. This implies that we could use
self in speech as an index (myself, yourself, her/himself, ourselves, yourselves, or themselves),
thus as an abstract pseudo-self so to say, which is a self without any retrievable/empiricalinherent substance. This self is not an ultimate thing with an intrinsic essential nature but merely
a referential or indexical self like having a name and an I.D.-card. Buddhism teaches that there is
no inherently existing ego. As life is impermanent, self is fickle like a flame. Thus, everything in
the universe that we know is MT of self as it lacks abiding inherent existence.
Although we are MT of self, we are full of experience. The question is: which? The
Buddha’s observation and discernment of the proverbial poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance
in emotional functioning are still valid in current times. Examples given earlier are: excessive
speculation in the international financial services community that led to the recent major
recession (greed), terrorism on a global scale by religious fundamentalists (hatred), and the
irrational belief in independent/isolated selves and in sky-gods (ignorance). These poisons are
inherently present in our lives and occur in the repetitive cycles (birth-ageing-illness-death/rebirth) of imbalanced states and disturbed emotions. To be sure: greed implies the grief and fear
of loss, while hatred includes anger including aggression (hostility toward others) and depression
(hostility by self-downing). Buddhism’s mission is to quiet down depression, anxiety, anger, and
sadness, and transform these emotional poisons into shared joy and loving-kindness by the
helping practice of empathic compassion. Depression, fear, anger, and sadness are basic human
emotions flaring on the painful side of the spectrum. The pleasure side includes joy, love, and
serenity/silence. Whether what was emitted is adequate and wholesome is an evaluation on the
cognitive-affective level. Affect inheres in a relational aspect and can be any inner short-lived or
long-term feeling varying from moods, preferences, stances, attitudes, dispositions to strong
emotive experiences with a positive, negative, or neutral quality.
An inadequate response is connected to some emotional disturbed or unhappy feeling and
is often the beginning of voluntarily paying attention by focusing minutely in clear awareness on
the modalities involved. Usually, we float in a sea of non-understanding of what is happening
within us in a world of impermanence and billions of dharmas. By clinging to the illusion of an
abiding self as if it is solid matter with inherent existence we could easily be engaged in being
greedy and hateful due to ignorance on the psychology of not-self and how mind boils with
suffering as result. We suffer when we are separated from our loved ones. We suffer if we do not
get what we want or get what we don’t want. We suffer even if we exactly get what we want. We
suffer because we cannot hold onto possession forever. Ordinary mind, divided and dualistic
psyche, creates most of the human predicament; life becomes troublesome and cumbersome
because psyche wants to be enduring and immune to change despite its non-abiding
preponderance. If ignorant, this likely creates a cycle that lasts throughout a lifetime with
recurring rebirths of detrimental emotions. Dualistic mind disseminates fire like lightening up
candle flames which is happening every time we are on fire and entrapped by hellish emotions
(Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta). The Buddha’s breakthrough is to find a roadmap to a mental
condition, a state or trait of nirvana which refers to a short-lived or longer lasting extinction of
burning emotional flames. This allows breaking the chain of unwanted emotional fires and
facilitating a shift via a reset point of rebooted stillness to a transformed state of life in
contentment and happiness based on the revered values of shared joy, empathic compassion, and
loving-kindness to ourselves and all people on earth.
Thus, we are ultimately MT not-selves and simultaneously provisional or indexical selves
full of experience but devoid of selves. We experience through behavior (interacting), affect
(emoting), sensation (perceiving) and cognition (imagining). These components’ combination
might spark any time and lighten a candle flame that can be captured in an acronym of
modalities, the “BASIC-I of self,” i.e. the skandhas of Behavior-Affect-Sensation-ImageryCognition. As these dimensions function in conjunction as a whole in interpersonal context, their
tearing apart in the specific modalities/skandhas is somehow artificial; however, MTN abounds.
The Buddha used the analogy of the lute (Sigalovada Sutta), whose elusive music (the self’s
Gestalt) comprises the combination of strings, box, and bow which are full of momentary
experience but MT of eternal sound, i.e. of a substantial self. On its own, each of the constituents
lacks sound as the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In modernity, Pirsig’s Zen and the Art
of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) deals with the same issue: where does inherent existence,
eternal soul, or substantial self reside if the bike is torn apart? In other words: there is no ghost in
the machine, only MT parts (
There is a need for a satisfying psychological interpretation of the skandhas. Naming
them modalities is a significant step forward. The scattered italicized concepts in Table 7 offer a
reflection of the modalities in psychological (BASIC-I) terminology.
Table 7: Buddhist scholars’ interpretations of the psychological modalities (skandhas)
Physical form
Practical knowledge
Expressive form
Discrimination, Psychological
process, Mentalism
Consciousness (Cs)
Material form
Bodily forms
Aggregate of
Cs /Thought faculty
Mental formations
Mental formations
Conscience, knowledge
C. RhysDavids
activities planning
Form, Sensuous
Thought /Cs/
D.T. Suzuki
Material existence
Mental perception
Volition & related
Cs of mind
Volitional forces/
They comprise: body (rupa) and mind (nama), i.e. perceiving/Sensation (vedana),
conceiving/Imagery-Cognition (samjna), connoting/Affect-Behavior (samskara) and ordinary
consciousness (vijnana). (cf. Gethin, 1998;
buddhism/oclc/43476260). For the time being, the BASIC-I seems to reflect the psychological
meaning of skandhas adequately. Buddhist scholars – no-one of them is a psychologist – have
offered various different, often contradictory, translations, inferences, and inadequate meanings
of the skandhas.
The self exists only as a mind construction in an artificially freezed flux of BASIC-I
processes. Thus, a modalities’ view contends that there is no self, only modalities. The robot
only comes to life as an assemblage. The modalities one tends to grasp and cling onto are MT.
Somehow one gets the idea that Buddhist psychology resembles the mechanistic model of
behaviorism. However, as opposed to the Dharma, behaviorism lacks the Buddhist taste which
makes the difference: heartfulness, kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity to mention a few
humane, relational, and wholistic values to be pursued in life. Allocating karma a central place,
The Buddha attributed a secular/non-metaphysical meaning to the concept. Karma is an
emotional episode due to meaningful intentional action and event-specific related consequences.
Adhering to Dependent Origination of the modalities, The Buddha conveyed pragmatism which
excludes any speculative thinking (Culasakuludayi Sutta):
Let’s put aside questions of the universe’s beginning and end; I’ll teach you Dhamma:
That being thus, this comes to be. From the coming to be of that, this arises. That being
absent, this does not happen. From the cessation of that, this ceases...
The Buddha’s shorthand presentation of karma in this “this/that conditionality” implies that (1)
when this is, that is; (2) from the arising of this comes the arising of that; (3) when this isn’t, that
isn’t; and (4) from the cessation of this comes the cessation of that. This multicausality or
functionality comprises the interplay of a linear principle and a synchronic principle which if
combined form a non-linear pattern. The linear principle takes 2 and 4 and the non-linear 1 and
3. When the two principles combine, a given event is influenced by (relational) input from the
past and (relational) input from the present. In other words, when there is feeling (S/A), there is
also thinking (I/C) and there is also action (B). There are numerous combinations of modalities’
orders making the process a complex thing. They are all sequences of emotional episodes
(Mahakammavibhanga Sutta).
This compact way to explicate karma is in line with how the modalities manifest
themselves: the body enables psyche to experience firing orders like a SICAB sequence of
emotional episodes. This order is in line with the concise candle flame analogy of karma alluded
to before (next to the long-winded domino analogy of karma). Experiencing may take place
depending on the purposeful awareness and attention paid to the object of choice. Regrettable
responses are usually connected to some emotional disturbance or unhappy feeling and the
motivation to start Karma Transformation. The SICAB karma firing order is worked out in the
below steps of Dependent Origination:
(1) Mind/body skandha (nama-rupa): A momentary stimulus configuration makes
contact (sparsa) and impinges on the organism; the somatic radar screen of the sense
organs detects and wilfully attends in awareness, amid streaming consciousness, an
external and/or internal momentary stimulus configuration evokes a dharma experience.
(2) Perceiving skandha (vedana): Sensation – “I see my ex.” – After attending, there is
perception and apperception, a post-perceptual but pre-conceptual tiny dharma moment
which is unafflicted but immediately impacted by memory/recognition weighing in on
Affect; this sensory-affective feeling automatically rates positive, negative, or neutral.
(3) Conceiving skandha (samjna): Imagery/Cognition – “Shit, I remember a fight.” – The
stimulus becomes a full-fledged dharma via mental representation, i.e. visualizationconceptualization which dualistically classifies black/white, good/bad, right/wrong, etc.,
against the backdrop of memory and fabricates/proliferates beliefs, attitudes, and values.
(4) Conating skandha (samskara): Affect/Behavior – “Anger and intention to scold.” –
Appraisal emits an emotive response motivating an intentional/volitional karmic act
which is usually an automatic/habitual response due to ingrained premeditated patterns of
self-talk eventually leading to verbal expression in an interpersonal context.
(5) Divided/dualistic consciousness skandha (vijnana): Ordinary consciousness is aware
of dharmas in duality as a SICAB sequence wherein the formation of I-me-mine/self
illusions and god delusions take place and the attack of others is sanctioned as self
defence; meditation might bypass the resort to a self and transcend dualistic notions.
Ingrained sequences through routine interplaying of the modalities form habits. Habitual patterns
form the bulk of regretful actions. Their intentionality remains mostly unaware. Remorse and
sorrow might be the beginning of reflection. Taking place in relative unawareness and depending
on the willfully paid consecutive concentration on what is attended, daily experiencing is often
habitual. Habit, if inadequate in a stimulus situation, begs for an adequate response to be figured
out by the organism. Transformation of nasty habits usually starts in collaborative “karma
transformative” conversation which is characterized by scepticism (about immutable knowledge
and “the truth”), particularism (nobody is the same), interactionism (intelligibility emanates from
co-action), and connectivism (we are inter-mind): ultimately we cannot but be interlinked and
exist in Dependent Origination of not-self.
Unravelling Scriptures
As can be inferred from the above four major scholarly currents, which are based on distinctive
interpretations of the Dharma, can be discerned post The Buddha. This was and is possible
because The Buddha did not appoint any successor. There is no single authority or hierarchy in
Buddhism whatsoever. So how come that since The Buddha passed away there is a
mushrooming number of sacred texts, suttas and sutras, which are allegedly words spoken by
The Buddha. These scriptures total as much as sixty times the size of the Bible.
The suttas refer to the discourses of The Buddha written on palm leaves in the 1st century
BCE; it started in the year 29. Before they were orally memorized during five centuries after The
Buddha’s passing away. Together with the collection of texts on the commune’s discipline and
on the deeper teachings (Abhidhamma) comprising abstractions, e.g. on the nature of
experiencing, and classifications of dhammas, they form the “canon” of the Teaching of the
Elders (Theravada). Written in Pali, a language which is close to ancient Magadhi, the language
that The Buddha had spoken, Theravada Buddhism is the one and only alive and kicking out of
once eighteen denominations of Early Buddhism. Each of these denominations had an
Abhidhamma of their own, but most of them did not survive the ravages of time. These deeper
teachings, containing seven books, were also written in the 1st century. They were probably
already formulated not long after The Buddha’s final nirvana, codified by Sariputta, and worked
on until the 6th century. Fundamental differences in interpreting The Buddha’s words became
apparent as fragmentation and hair splitting between factions grew worse.
Probably, one of these Early Buddhist schools developed into Mahayana in about the 1st
century BCE. At this time these Mahayana adepts also began to write down their scriptures, the
Sanskrit sutras. The Great Vehicle is based on Great Knowledge and Great Wisdom, greater than
those of the early Buddhists who are derogatorily called Hinayana or Small Vehicle, a dwarfing
invective. Mahayana particularly belittles the “hearers” (sravakas), hermits who by hearing the
early scriptures became arahants with The Buddha as the prototype. They were accused of only
selfishly thinking of their own liberation, excluding non-hermits from bliss, and being
uninterested in exuding compassion to the needy. The Mahayana alternative is a humane way of
striving to reach the bodhisattva ideals. Buddhas-to-be postpone their own bliss until all beings
are liberated. There are up to a 100 sutras forming a loosely connected body of these scriptures
which were written between the 1st century BCE and the 6th century. They were probably made
by wandering groups of dedicated venerables who lived near or around a shrine (stupa)
containing a relic (tooth, hair or bone) of The Buddha. Qua form the sutras have a metaphysical
commonality with the Abhidhamma: both are considered to be The Buddha’s words spoken from
or when descended from heaven and revealed to those who are ready to digest stuff which is
more difficult than usual. Qua content there are noticeable differences as just explained. The
ideal is now the bodhisattva whose prime concern is to save and serve while protected by a
pantheon of cosmic bodhisattvas who represent excellent qualities like loving-kindness,
compassion, wisdom, and other virtues. While in the Abhidhamma The Buddha talks respectfully
to his chief disciple Sariputta who supposedly started the deeper teachings, the sutras deride and
make fun of the arahant like in a parody: Sariputta, considered outstanding by The Buddha, is
viewed by Mahayanists as a stupid adherent of an inferior way.
The suttas and sutras can be roughly categorized into three major headings according to a
classical quasi historical classification which discerns three turnings of the Dharma Wheel
(Samdhinirmocana Sutra). The first turning was done by The Buddha at the Deer Park in Sarnath
where he held his first talk on the 4ER (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) as detailed above. The
content of this first turning are primarily The Buddha’s discourses (Nikayas) as transmitted and
extant in the Theravada Pali tradition which is fundamental to all Buddhist teachings and which
reveres the ideal of the arahant. The second and third turnings are part of Mahayana. The
bodhisattva can be a householder with an ideal of being compassionate. Founded on a pervasive
and ubiquitous MTN of all things and on a commitment to help others toward enlightenment
(relative bodhicitta as opposed to absolute bodhicitta) the bodhisattva let his own happiness
depend on the awakening of humanity. The Early Buddhist denominations were in hot debate
with each other in those times as they had basic disagreements on the nature of things in their
respective Abhidhammas. The Mahayana movement which uses fiction applies ritual devotion
(like “taking refuge” to The Buddha, the teachings, and the commune) was a paradigm shift
which brought Buddhism to a next developmental level. Mahayana could seemingly unify the
progressive factions to such an extent that except of Theravada Early Buddhism vanished and
was replaced by an appealing Great Vehicle.
The second turning is based on the “Perfection of Wisdom Sutras.” These are scriptures
(Prajnaparamita Sutras) which have eight versions in various line lengths, from 125.000 to 300
(Diamond Sutra) to 25/14 lines (Heart Sutra). These versions were probably produced by
various brotherhoods as from the 1st century BCE until probably the 6th century. According to
mythology these sutras were hidden at the bottom of the sea protected by water serpents (nagas)
and only revealed when humanity was ripe to digest these texts. They were “retrieved” and
commented on by Nagarjuna, a 2nd century scholar - aka as the Second Buddha - who expounded
a philosophical wisdom system of the “Middle Way” (Madhyamaka) which emphasizes the total
MTN of non-conception and non-self in all that exists (sunyata). Non-self includes the Hinayana
concept not-self of the individual (anatta). Nagarjuna’s Middle Way relativity acknowledges the
existence of a provisional self (indexical self) against the backdrop of an ultimate non-self. This
all encompassing MTN forms the heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. In these sutras The
Buddha allegedly descended from heaven to land on the Vulture Peak Mountain in Bihar, India,
as if he were alive, to elucidate arahants who are baffled by these new teachings in the contextual
scenery of heavenly bodhisattvas and other celestial beings. All of this went against the grain
with the conservative arahants.
Perfect wisdom sounds irrational and paradoxical but logical at the same time as there is
no perfect wisdom and bodhisattvas do not really exist if everything is MT. In the Perfection of
Wisdom Sutra Sariputra asks the bodhisattva of compassion (Avalokiteshvara) how the practice
of profound perfect wisdom should be operationalized. Mr. Compassion replied that he should
see that “form is MT and that MTN is form.” What does this mean? It seemingly points at the
lack of inherent existence in form, because form depends on many causes and conditions for its
origination. There is no form which exists permanently and independently. But this MTN takes a
provisional form which is tangible and which we could very well live with and by if we also
understand its ultimate MT nature. Form and MTN are the same thing. MTN is an existential
mode of the thing; and to make it easy: for sure the concept is not the thing. Therefore, do not
grasp the thing; it is transient and only provisional, just for the time being. This is also how
Nagarjuna saw the 4ER. So suffering can be alleviated by breaking up the barriers between us,
you, and me through universal MTN. Priority then is given to compassion for all sentient beings
to fill the gap of MTN.
The third turning is based on scriptures which could be called the “Buddha Womb
Sutras” from which buddhanature and other concepts emanate (Tathagatagarbha Sutras). This
sparked a Mind-Only stream of thought (as opposed to the MTN-Only current) which is
specifically known as the Yogacara or “meditation/yoga experience only” school. These sutras,
mostly written as allegories were also made by anonymous brotherhoods probably in the 1st to 3rd
century and comprise scattered texts. These sutras bear exotic names like Lotus Flower, Realm
of Bliss (Sukhavati), Affliction-free Hailed Lay-person (Vimalakirti), Indestructible Meditation
(Shurangama), Explaining Underlying Meaning (Samdhinirmocana), Entering Lanka
(Lankavatara), Final Extinction (Parinirvana) and Flower Garland (Avatamsaka). They were all,
from the first (Lotus Sutra) to the last (Flower Garland Sutra) systematized by Yogacara
commentators headed by the two half brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu in the 4th century. While
Asanga had a more metaphysical interpretation against the backdrop of total MTN
(cittamatra/vijnaptimatra or mind-only school), Vasubandhu had an epistemologicalpsychological explanation of the texts which led to his modern moniker of Buddhist
Psychological Doctor (vijnavada/divided-consciousness school). Vasubandhu is considered to be
The Third Buddha in history.
The Mahayana works are originally Sanskrit texts but some scholars think that some of
the later works which are extant only in Chinese translations might be forgeries or even
originally Chinese texts translated into Sanskrit. In many instances they also exist in (much
younger) Tibetan versions. Notwithstanding, because of their anonymous character, all sutras
were probably written by brotherhoods who are wandering pilgrims of Buddhist stupa shrines
and who rather than learning the old suttas by heart started to make up their own sutra stories,
similes, allegories, and parables after the period of Abhidharma writing of their predecessors.
The commentaries had definitely been written by single authors. In the Madhyamaka tradition
Nagarjuna’s successors who stand out are Aryadeva (3 rd century), Chandrakirti (5th century),
Shantideva (8th century); in the Yogacara tradition: Dignaga (6th century) and Dharmakirti (8th
century). After these great thinkers the Buddhist texts (tantras) and systems (shastras) of various
authors took over the stage and thus Tantrayana and Vajrayana came into being. These streams
of thought are of an esoteric nature with a cosmology of divinity that grew from five to a
decadent eight. Eventually, the difference between the later Mahayana and Brahmanism blurred
and this Buddhist “bubble of MTN” burst leading to its demise in India, but surviving up until
today in the Himalayas and neighbouring areas. (See Table 8 depicting the Yogacara cosmology
of five.)
Table 8: Yogacara cosmology of five against a backdrop of emptiness (MTN)
Ratnasambhava Amitabha
Imperturbable Jewel-born
Infinite Light
Family name:
Fearing not
Sense feeling
Imagery/Cognition Affect/Behavior
Buddha Cs
Memory Cs
Self Cs
6th Sense Cs
5 Senses Cs
Hungry ghosts
Loving Kindness Joy
Transportation: Lion
The Buddha’s discourses (Nikayas), the Perfection of Wisdom and Buddha Womb Sutras
relate to each other in a dialectical way, meaning that the conceptual language of the discourses
(e.g. Buddhism is non-theistic) is subsequently completely nullified in a via negativa by a
fourfold method of negation, the tetralemna (Buddhism is atheistic, Buddhism is not atheistic,
Buddhism is both, and Buddhism is neither). Simply stated, this tetralemna leads to the
conclusion that Buddhism is non-theistic (i.e. neither theistic, nor atheistic) which pushes us
down into an abyss of MTN. However, the question dawns: how can MTN make people happy?
As this reasoning might lead to a fear of voidness (horror vacuum) this via negativa is completed
by an innovative via positiva (Asanga). Inhering in dualism this positive way requires synthesis
of the positive and the negative (Vasubandhu). In oher words, Yogacara leads on the one hand to
a teaching of a wise cosmology, understood in Asanga’s cittamatra. However, this also evokes
duality. While nondual MTN is the Buddhist summum bonum: how to transcend
ordinary/dualistic/divided mind? Here Vasubandhu’s vijnavada comes in. Both teachings are
only skilful means which use metaphors to arrive at MTN and to fill it meaningfully
(Upayakaushalya Sutra).
The last book of the “Flower Garland” or Avatamsaka Sutra, an extensive sutra comprising 39
books – the pinnacle of the Mahayana sutra literature – is called the “Entering the Realm of
Reality” or Gandavyuha Sutra. This “supreme crown” sutra, like all sutras is a product of
upayakaushalya and written as an allegory. Considered the apex of Mahayana, it deals with
MTN and inter-mind through a narrative about the journey of an affluent young man, a
merchant’s son, named Sudhana (Mr. Good Wealth) who is seeking inner wealth. It is a story in
a Lucy-in-the-Sky-with-Diamonds long-winded Mahayana style told by “The Buddha” who
descended from heaven. Like The Buddha, Good Wealth had enough of a void lavish life, so he
left home in a tireless quest for the highest wisdom. Advised and guided by Mr. Wisdom (the
cosmic Bodhisattva Manjushri) Good Wealth met 52 teachers. So he set out on his 10 stage
bodhisattva path, visited good/guru friends (kalyanamitra) and learned the blissful course of
virtual conduct. During his wanderings far and wide in as much as 110 cities, he encountered
various gurus: a monk, physician, banker, king, slave, girl, boy, householder, Brahmin, a god,
merchant, fool, boatman, queen, prostitute, and many more. Each encounter was an enchanting
adventure. Lastly he discovered that life itself is a teaching: any action and interaction are
significant for discovering meaningful practices: meditating, helping, dedicating; and eventually
he acquired purity, resolve, curiosity, joy, kindness, righteousness, generosity, compassion,
patience, and much more. Eventually Good Wealth ceased ideas of attaining and non-attaining
buddhahood, but not before he met his two last guru-friends.
These are Mr. Loving-kindness (the cosmic Bodhisattva Maitreya), who crowned him
lastly for understanding generosity, and Mr. Virtue (the cosmic Bodhisattva Samantabhadra). It
is only when he met Loving-kindness who showed him the “Tower of Buddha Vairocana” (one
of the 5 metaphysical Buddhas) on the mountain where Good Wealth learned something most
significant. In the center of the great phantasmagoric tower he saw Indra's Net, a baffling
metaphor of inter-mind which is characterized by endless interpenetrations: there was a universe
of a billion-worlds where Good Wealth was mirrored everywhere as one is all and all is one.
Loving-kindness showed mind’s infinite interpenetrating interdependency, MTN, and human
interconnectedness: we are inter-mind. The conceptual bubble burst; life’s mystery ceased to be
as the existential realm is revealed devoid of form. Before Good Wealth met his last guru-friend,
he was once more with Mr. Wisdom closing the cycle of the quest and suggesting that the
wisdom so fervently sought was already present all the time even before the start and is thus a
practice rather than something to be gained. The circle is round. Virtue, the last guru-friend, had
Good Wealth make a tenfold vow. Wisdom is useless if not put in practice, thus there is a need to
commit and vow. Having discovered that form is MTN, that you are me, and after being merged
with kindness, compassion, and joy, there is a compelling need to benefit all living beings. When
this is done, the world of the Gandavyuha ceases to be a mystery as this is an entering into the
realm of reality of daily life. Virtue becomes us in simplicity.
This final sutra seems to be the summum bonum of the Mahayana teachings. It was in
combination with the Mahavairocana Tantra (Text on the Great Buddha Vairocana) thus
influential that a subcurrent of Mahayana, Vajrayana (Adamantine Vehicle), sometimes referred
to as Tantrayana/Mantrayana (Wheel of Texts/Sounds), emerged in the 6th to 12th century. In
addition, Vajrayana, which is widely practised in the Himalayas, is sometimes also referred to as
the "fourth turning of the wheel.” Another claim for the fourth turning was proposed at a
supreme period of Chinese Buddhism by Fa Tsang (643-712) who established the Flower
Garland or Huayen School in China which, as the name indicates, was also based on the Flower
Garland or Avatamsaka Sutra. I propose a third candidate for the fourth turning of the Dharma
wheel which is Buddhism as a mainstream psychology of body/speech/mind with Social
Construction as meta-psychology. This happened to correspond and even overlap with the
summit of what is taught in Buddhism. I have coined the confluence of social construction-ing
and the Dharma: Relational Buddhism.
Relational Buddhism entails that our activity is inextricably entwined with the social
levels of our functioning according to the adage that we are born into relationships, a network of
culture and language. We are born from parents, dwell in a family surrounded by friends,
colleagues, customers, and so on, and stay in there from the cradle to the grave. Viewed from
this umbrella perspective psyche or mind could be thought of as located in-between people rather
than in-between the ears behind the eyeballs in the skull under the skin. If mind is inter-mind,
reality is a relative and context-dependent social construction. This proposition erases fixed,
ultimate and absolute Transcendental Truths in favor of transient communal reality constructions
which eventually perish and crumble. The implication of this understanding is that declared
“eternal truth” misses any other foundation than that which is provided by the endorsing
community and which is only relevant there. Missing a solid base “the truth” is therefore “nonfoundational” or MT. This healing MT non-foundational basis corresponds with the salubrious
MT self or not-self as understood in the Buddhist context. The development of these ideas is the
result of a confluence of Buddhist thought and premisses of Social Construction a practice and
theory as championed by Kenneth Gergen. His book called Relational Being (2009) is
particularly interesting as it partly overlaps inter-mind and inter-being. This fusion of ideas
promotes a meta-vision which is the quintessence of Relational Buddhism.
An exponent of Relational Buddhism is Karma Transformation. Any emotional surplus
experience is caused by one’s own chosen karma. Thus grief due to a beloved person’s passing
away is an appropriate adjustment, whereas depression is a karmic inadequate behavior and
overreaction featuring an irrational view of self, the future, and the world. Fear of danger like
being under attack is an adequate preparation for a fight or flight reaction, but agoraphobia is a
karmic overreaction. Anger when being brutalized is not abnormal; however aggression is a
karmic overreaction. Karmic overreacting is in principle self-chosen and entangled to self-chosen
thoughts with emotional and behavioral impact. In order to transform karma, one first of all must
assess the nature of the target primary emotion one is moved by (depression, fear, anger, grief,
joy, or love) and pave the way toward tranquillity, silence, and healing MTN. Embedded in
thinking, behaving, sensing, and relationship each of these emotions originates, arises, peaks,
subsides, and ceases. Transforming negativity toward positivity necessitates assessment and
appropriate reacting which could require “Therapy by Karma Transformation.” This targets
emotional aberrations via changing conduct and thought in the framework of Dependent
Origination so as to facilitate insightful AHA and joyful HAHA.
Borobudur Buddhism
If you were free to whisk yourself to Java, in Indonesia, an island where I was born you could
explore the educational structure of the Borobodur, one of the wonders of the medieval world,
the biggest known Buddhist construction, and a prime destination among Buddhist pilgrims and
tourists today. It was built in about the year 800 in-between two twin volcanoes in a mandala
form and covered by lava for centuries before it was rediscovered in 1814. There you could have
a revealing experience because it describes the way of the bodhisattva. In other words it depicts a
relevant theme in Buddhism: how to become a buddha and be happy amid adversity. The
following is an abbreviated account on the Borobudur (for an extended version, se my artcle in
The Borobudur is a Mahayana Buddhist and UNESCO protected world wonder located
near the town of Magelang. Interested people question what the function of the mysterious
pyramidal mandala-based construction in dome/stupa-style is. Some numbers: the magnificent
andesite structure is 35 m high and shows a tower, 72 domes, 504 sitting Buddha statues on 10
floors, and circumambulating corridors of more than 5 km with 2672 bas reliefs (2 by 1 m each)
of which 1460 narrative panels refer to 5 books. Roughly one third of the marvellous storytelling
panels is dedicated to the last book which is taken from the pinnacle of Mahayana Buddhism,
called Entering the Realm of Reality or Gandavyuha Sutra, the 39th and last book of the earlier
mentioned Avatamsaka Sutra and to date the very last sutra ever. An eminent and widely
celebrated 11th century prince/guru from Sumatra who resided at the Borobudur was
Dharmarakshita Suvarnadvipa. This man wrote Javanese tantras on karma as a boomerang and
on heartfelt relative bodhicitta (awakened awareness) and originated the healing meditation of
compassion by “terima” (receiving) and “kasih” (offering) visualizations to help others. Known
in Tibetan as tonglen, it is a component of extensive mind training toward karmic
wholesomeness practiced daily worldwide by many along with the Dalai Lama who practices it
everyday. Up until today Dharmarakshita is revered in Tibet where he is called Serlingpa.
Serlingpa was the guru of Atisha, a Bengali prince, who, after studying 12 years with his master,
was instigated by his master to go the Himalayas which he did later in his life. There he became
a key figure in 4 out of 5 Tibetan Buddhist schools where up until today Serlingpa and Atisha
continue to play a pivotal role.
Considering the books carved in stone, it seems that one main function of the Borobudur
is to educate adepts to become a buddha. To this end the bodhisattva climbs 10 floors
symbolizing the stages of perfections to constantly work on until reaching the MT summit and
becoming a buddha. These 10 stages are the relational scenarios of being generous, righteous,
forbearing, endeavouring, meditative, wise, impartial, skilful, educative, and awakened. The
practical guide to attain these psychological qualities are depicted in enchanting scenes derived
from books on (1) the working of karma with examples from daily life (Karmavibhanga Sutra),
(2) The Buddha’s previous lives as bodhisattva in a fairy tale style (Jatakas), (3) the renowned
Buddhists’ noteworthy and legendary deeds (Avadanas), (4) the “unfolding play” on Siddharta
Gautama’s life until his awakening, his first talk, and his setting the Dharma wheel in motion.
(Lalitavistara), and (5) the Gandavyuha Sutra, an allegory on Mr. Good Wealth’s educational
travels guided by Mr. Wisdom. It leaves no doubt that it is this last book which is considered to
be the most relevant by the Borobudur constructors and principals of the Sailendra dynasty who
had this construction made. These Sailendra rulers also aspired to be crowned as bodhisattvas.
The books are adapted to the readers’ developmental phase. By analogy, books 1 and 2 are apt
for readers at an elementary school level, books 3 and 4 for a high school level, and book 5 for
an advanced college level.
By narrating Good Wealth’s journey which could be the inner travelling of anyone who,
like The Buddha himself, was satiated by material luxury, the message is that anyone who
prospers is ripe to flourish. Apparently, this kind of seeking for the meaning of life by affluent
young men was bon ton and even perhaps an archetypical pattern throughout Asia during those
days. Living in the West in relative wealth we are like the seeker in the story who is ripe to look
for inner wealth and wishes to awaken like The Buddha. The quest of “kingliness without and
sageliness within” ends up in the crown Buddhist experience of inter-mind with its overflowing
nectar of loving-kindness, empathy/compassion, and joy/delight. All of this contributes to
happiness. Studying at this sanctuary on the hill one could attain wisdom at the summit of this
“open air university.” The pinnacle of the Buddhist awakening, the not-self experience at the
highest top, is the greatest healing of all, a rebooting and resetting point of MTN erasing negative
and positive emotions. Thus, ascending, one would get complete awakening by the numerous
AHA experiences by a painstaking quest to become a Buddha. When descending, one would be
ready to live a flourishing HAHA-happy life amid adversity as a bodhisattva. Thus, the shortest
definition of Buddhism is: AHA and HAHA.
In search for awakened mind (absolute bodhicitta), we encounter the smallest unit of
experience (dharma) which has been conceived as “neither-MT-nor-not-MT” (The Buddha, 6th
century BCE), “MT-of-MTN” (Nagarjuna, 2nd century), and “MT-non-duality” (Vasubandhu, 4th
century). These dharmas are now fathomed as “ontologically-mute-social-construction-MT-ofTranscendental Truth”, a provision wedded to K.J. Gergen’s Relational Being. Relational
Buddhism invites the co-creation of inter-mind-in-between-selves and of a “non-foundational
morality of collaborative practice” to render “team spirit for humanity” with congenial bonds as
a lifeline. Imbibed in-depth, this mentality (in line with the Gandavyuha Sutra) will likely
ennoble, whenever mind blowing AHA and HAHA transform karma. In synergy with the UNadage “think globally, act locally,” we might want grass-root collaborative practice toward
bottom-up societal harmony by realizing awakened mind of loving-kindness (relative bodhicitta)
via heartfulness of speech.
But one doesn’t have to journey anywhere as nirvana is herenow, right here where we
already are. A buddha understands the “survival of the kindest”. S/he eradicates suffering by
psychological transformation which comes from within, however without ever losing sight of
inter-mind, the relational origin of mind. It all starts with focusing on emotional change leading
to experiencing nirvanic MTN. The initial task is to be inquisitive and tranquilize the mind. Once
calmed down, one is ready to awaken the mind’s eye, i.e. brain circuits enabling a look within,
and to discern Behavior/conduct-Affect/feeling-Sensation/perceiving-Imagery/visualizingCognition/conceptualizing; th BASIC-I, where “I” stands for the Interpersonal/relational context
of body/speech/mind. The focus is on unwholesomeness and extinguishing detrimental emotions.
Having ceased negatively felt emotion – a nirvanic experience – MTN is at hand. This is a state
of timeless security, a feeling of universal serenity, and a condition that provides a scaffold for
serving humanity by disseminating loving-kindness, empathic compassion, and smiling
joyfulness. All of this is meant to arrive at a conclusion which Hakuin, a Japanese 17th century
Zen maverick, alluded to as: “This very land the lotus paradise; this very body Buddha.”
Chapter Four covers a key part of becoming a buddha by practising meditation. Here below are 8
meditations, instructions and detailed directions of specifically what to do. Whenever one is in
relative psychological balance, getting to this part as an immediate start is advisable. Otherwise,
when one is in a condition of disturbing emotional imbalances or other psychological
aberrations, therapy/counseling is prescribed first in order to be able to grow and flourish
through meditation later on. In the same way as The Buddha awakened, no outside teacher needs
to be involved per se. Meditation has various meanings which involve awareness/attention,
calming/concentration, breathing/meditation, mindfulness/heartfulness, and visualization/
contemplation. Mindfulness enjoys mushrooming interest due to research since Kabat-Zinn
introduced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the medical setting (1979; Buddhist-lite MBSR, stripped off from its
Buddhist roots, is on its way to go mainstream as a kind of panacea. Again covered by Time
Magazine it appears that 2014/2015 are the years of mindfulness as it is the talk of the town from
Davos to Silicon Valley. Is a frenzy going on? ( aolp00000009&ir=Religion). However, the
term McMindfulness has also been used to denote the self-help stress-reduction technique which
is decontextualized from its Buddhist roots ( The danger lurking here is that someone with premeditated
hideous plans, comparable to “black ninjas,” might misuse mindfulness training for wicked aims.
Is it necessary to include Buddhist values?
The “Buddhist-lite” mindfulness of MBSR refers to an 8-week outpatient program. This
program entered the field of therapeutic health care and is subsequently applied in other settings
like management, sports, teaching, parenting, military/veterans, jailhouses, and politics. Thus it
became a hot topic not only amongst professionals but also with the public at large. Kabat-Zinn
(1994; defined mindfulness
as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally (p.4).” Emphasizing that mindfulness is “just” a human capacity, he seemingly
excluded the Buddhist wisdom inhering in the practice and framed it instead by the “Hippocratic
Oath” (Kabat-Zinn, 2009;
Not explicitly acknowledging its Buddhist roots, MBSR has been harshly criticized by
psychologists with a Buddhist background as his rendition denied mindfulness’ undeniable
Buddhist source (e.g. Kwee, Gergen & Koshikawa, 2006;; Kwee 2010; Most importantly, the mindfulness-based mindfulness (e.g. Segal,
Williams & Teasdale, 2002; isolates the training from the 12-Meditations which embeds
the 4ER and the 8FBP. Is disconnecting mindfulness from its origin a chutzpah?
Pristine Mindfulness: Introduction
An alternative for mindfulness-based mindfulness is what I have called Pristine Mindfulness or
heartfulness. The term heartfulness is preferred because in the Buddhist Asian languages mind is
located in the heart-in-between-people rather than in the head. Heartfulness refers to the
overarching process constituting a general/G-factor for clearing the mind and for practicing the
Dhamma’s 12-Meditations. Against the backdrop of the 8FBP, heartfulness is a scaffold for a
meditative way of living which comprises the balancing of attention-concentration and
awareness-introspection. In formal meditation training, the first step is to tame the restless mind
through the practice of Jhana/Dhyana of sitting. One sits cross-legged or in a chair with the soles
flat on the ground with the spine held upright, not slouched forward. Research suggests that
holding the back straight strengthens confidence in emitted thoughts, negative or positive
(Brinol, Petty, & Wagner, 2009;
This posture boosts a positive mood, while a doubtful posture invites and worsens dejected mood
(Haruki, Homma, Umezawa, & Masaoka, 2001;
7f1b765684b&ext=.pdf). This Jhana/Dhyana sitting uses breathing as an anchor and aims at
sharpening concentration leading to immersion-absorption (Jhana) in four steps (the 4-Jhanas).
These steps comprise the 1st Jhana (one-pointedness/pleasure-joy), the 2nd Jhana (onepointedness/joy-happiness), the 3rd Jhana (one-pointedness/contentment), and the 4th Jhana (onepointedness/equanimity-stillness). One-pointed concentration is the early beginning to make the
very first step in Pristine Mindfulness – calming and tranquillizing – which is one out of eight
steps in a run-up to awaken in MTN by witnessing body/speech/mind (sati). MTN is a pervasive,
ubiquitous, and omnipresent experience prompted by the insight and understanding that the everchanging nature of impermanence regarding the experience of things, persons, and self is the
ultimate level of reality. The training in calming and tranquillizing bears a therapeutic flavour as
they deal with human suffering regarding death, illnesss, and aging. In order to cease duhkha, it
deals with these miseries by training. Training entails exposure to body/speech/mind and
confrontation by visualizing the full catastrophe of living in the mind’s eye. These exercises
cover calming/tranquillizing and various educational themes; they all belong to the 1st step of
heartfulness (see Table 9):
Table 9: Heartfulness on 12 topics for calming/tranquilizing (samatha)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1 Focused breathing: noticing air passing the nostrils
2 Behavioral dignities: sitting, walking, standing, lying, and other activities
3 Body repulsiveness: the body is a bag of food/liquids enveloped by the skin
4 Natural elements: earth/water/fire/wind to dis-identify from body
5 Decomposing body: visualizing one’s own dead body from flesh and bones to dust
6 Sensed feelings: skin-deep or heartfelt – pleasant, painful or neither?
7 Progress hindrances: pleasures/ill-will/sloth-torpor/agitation/doubt-worry
8 Psychological modalities: body/speech/mind, sensing, thinking, emoting/acting
9 Sense bases: contact of the six senses with their focused objects
10 Awakening: not asleep, analytic/forbearing/enthused/serene/focused/balanced/aware
11 4-Ennobling Realities: duhkha, its causes, way out, and practice
12 8 Fold BalancingPractice: view-intention-speech-action-living-effort-awareness-attention
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Being calm and tranquil is the conditio sine qua non to be able to proceed to the next 7
steps. Other well-known meditations are the contemplations on loving-kindness, empathic
compassion, and joy/happiness which follow these 12-Meditations. Because the Dharma is a way
of life, our lives are preferably spent meditatively by being aware and attentive to what bubbles96
up as feeling and pops-up in mind. Formal meditation exercises can be done on all precious
experiences in daily life, like laughing, smiling, singing, drinking, or eating. Before sliding into
practicing heartfulness, “Breathing Heartfulness” is a meditation for novices to learn to be in the
herenow (see instruction below) (
Heartfulness is a G-factor and an appealing alternative for mindfulness as it associates
with a resonating mind. The notion that mind is located in the heart implies that it is “neither
within nor without, nor is it to be apprehended between the two” (Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra). As
in the Gandhavyuha Sutra, mind is not locked-up between the ears but operates as “inter-mind
in-between people.” This is the main proposition of Relational Buddhism. In heartfulness there is
no grand aim to pursue: what one does in the moment is means and goal at the same time. By
heartfulness one perceives sensory experience by an effortless effort of a beginner’s mind with
no aim and no gain. 1 Thus, “there is no way to mindfulness, mindfulness is the way,” which is
realizing that “we are not going anywhere for we are already there;” therefore nothing needs to
be done: “the grass will grow by itself.” Cutting to the chase, the relational practice of
heartfulness refers to cultivating (affective) memory not to forget to neutrally focus, observe, or
note every moment in order to guard or protect against unwholesomeness, to introspect, to
inquire intelligently, and to form wholesome karma in relational (intrapersonal and
interpersonal) context. Dwelling on karma where a “law of magic” rules: the observation
prevails that cause is effect and effect is cause in a chain of events; thus, a seed accrues a tree, a
tree ensues seeds. Hence, the advice abounds: if effect is cause, create the effect. In daily life: be
genuinely happy and luck will follow suit. Heartfulness fine-tunes attention-concentration (to
discipline a wandering mind) and awareness-introspection (to understand “not-self” and karma
as intentional action). It operates through the “mind’s eye” in sensorium and refers to process
and outcome, and is a tool which enables seeing and experiencing MTN as an ultimate reality.
The mind’s eye is the 6th perceptual organ discerned by The Buddha and inferred here as the
brain that is able to perceive and integrate internal stimuli.
Heartfulness can be process (perceiving and observing) or outcome (being consciously
aware) and is an inward or outward concentration of attention (swiftly changeable foreground
presence) and introspective awareness (slowly changeable backdrop presence) which illuminate
consciousness (constant backdrop presence in wakeful states) and enable the alert monitoring
and luminous comprehending of dhammas/dharmas, a technical term for the smallest units of
BASIC-I experience; i.e. the arising and subsiding of emotion, cognition, and action in
Dependent Origination (pratitycasamutpada). A major factor in the Buddhist training toward
awakening to karma, MTN, and not-self, The Buddha ascribed sati a central place in his
Dhamma/Dharma as designated in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta and the Satipatthana Sutta on the
four frames of reference of sati. The training to sharpen the mind’s eye as in the
Mahasatipatthana and Satipatthana Suttas refers to the four frames of reference of heartfulness.
Heartfulness focuses on (1) the body, (2) the body’s “behaviors” (i.e. feelings: sensations, and
affect/emotions), (3) the mind, and (4) the mind’s “behaviors” (i.e. thoughts: visualizations, and
concepts/speech). Thus, the first half of the exercise refers to the body and bodily feelings, while
the second half refers to the mind and “brainy” thoughts. During heartfulness we
Luxuriating in a Chan metaphor, the protagonist develops a mind (inter-mind) like water which is a state of mind that flows, reflects, and
adapts. Flowing to the lowest point like water, the natural state of the mind is never to get clogged or stuck by any thought or feeling. Water does
not react, it responds appropriately, adequately, and effectively. A centred mind is just like a pond that returns to a state of a reflecting mirror
after tossing a pebble. In total readiness and never losing control, the mind’s natural proclivity is to return to inner calm and flexibility after being
disturbed. Like water, the nature of the mind is not to be rigid by always taking the shape its container. It requires rigorous training to keep total
encounter dhammas, the perishable smallest units of BASIC-I experience, i.e. “perceivables”
(experienced through the body and its feelings) and “conceivables” (perceived and experienced
through the mind and its events) (Mahasatipatthana Sutta). According to The Buddha, the
human predicament of suffering is relational and rooted in the 3-Poisons of greed, hatred, and
ignorance on how mind functions (Sedaka Sutta). Wisdom detoxifies by healing speech (selfdialogue and interpersonal performance) which emphasizes an extended view of heartfulness and
the mind as located beyond the brain and in-between-people.
Aiming for no less than the accomplishment of buddhahood, Pristine
Mindfulnss/heartfulness was first introduced at the 8th United Nations Day of Vesak Conference
(2011) in Bangkok ( It is
presented here in contrast with the Buddhist-lite mindfulness which has progressively imbued the
psychological literature in the past decades. The present comprehension is constructed on the
pillars erected by The Buddha, Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Chan/Zen, and Relational Buddhism.
Based on these integrating views and grounded in almost a half century of exercise, I came to the
following differentiation of 2 phases, 4 stages, and 8 states of cultivating awareness and
attention. The cyclical spans are based on psychological understanding and relational insights.
Even though the cycles suggest strict categories, the phases, stages, and states do have some
overlap as they are not static entities but fluid processes of discernible but inseparable stretches.
Table 10 designates the 2 phases (A and B), 4 stages (I to IV), and 8t states (1-8).
Table 10: Pristine Mindfulness in 4 stages and 8 states/steps©
Context: 8FBP/8-Fold
Balancing Practice
Stage I (gradual)
Heedfulness of a 1-point
concentration with zeal
& diligence(appamada
Stage II (gradual)
Wise reflection: aims at
wholesome karmic
action (yoniso
Stage III (sudden)
Wisdom through an
alert & clear
Stage IV (sudden)
benevolence of intermind (antaratman) aka
Attention (nr 8/8FBP)
Awareness (nr 7/8FBP)
Non-verbal/no speech
Samatha targets calm
& tranquillizing
Samadhi targets flame
extinction: Nirvana
Vipassana: insight in
Dependent Origination
(The Buddha)
Sunyata as wisdom of
Non-duality of subjectobject/MTN=form
Kill-the-Buddha: the
last of hindrances
Brahmaviharas: social
dharmas: MT social
(Relational Buddhism)
In Mahayana terms: Phase A (Stages I and II, States 1-4)2 is a gradual journey of
absolute bodhicitta, the spirit of heartfelt diligence to awaken along AHA/introvert experiencing
which traverse a process of socially deconstruction-ing self via insight and understanding while
sitting in front of a wall in order to gain full insight in self’s MTN (anatman). Balancing and fine
tuning heartfulness during Stage I, the student in witnessing and watching develops the
composure of self-control by calm tranquillizing as outlined above. Subsequently, the exercise
shifts to a stress-free/undisturbed serenity amid adversity (Samatha) leading to nirvana (the
extinction of emotional arousal flames which is a momentary state that might become an
enduring trait) via a stable/firm concentrative but gentle focus, receptive immersion/absorption
of the object and non-suppressing quiescence during the activity which could be any; this state is
aka “flow” or “the Zone” (Samadhi): being one with ever-changing impermanence and MTN.
Having thus tamed emotional affliction the practice advances onto cleansing the doors of
perception enabling to seeing-things-as-they-are, i.e. how things come into being in Dependent
Origination. This introspective insight comes about by remembering to be heedful regarding the
un/wholesomeness of karma. Speech, thought, and self-dialogue arise on insight in the
Dependent Origination of body/speech/mind and karma (Vipassana) leading to the highest
wisdom of sunyata (not-self/MTN), a state of “luminous suchness” or “vast zeroness”, a reset
point in the absence of emotional flames and the pinnacle of self-inquiry. The witness or
watcher, i.e. self, disappears in oblivion and MTN.
Shifting to Phase B (Stages III and IV, States 5-8), a deepening of Phase I, one is ready
for sudden insight when travelling in relative bodhicitta, the dedication to awaken along
HAHA/extravert experiencing which reflect a process of (re)constructing inter-mind via joyful
experiences while fully functioning in the marketplace. Inter-mind is depicted as Indra’s net in
the Gandavyuha Sutra. This is a jewel net with a gem at each crossing which reflects every other
gem and thus mirroring infinite interpenetration. MTN is deepened by practicing/experiencing
the silencing state of non-duality (also known as mahamudra/great seal which resembles the
Tao). It transcends and eradicates yinyang dualities created by speech, language, and duality
inhering concepts; thus cause=effect, emptiness=form, beginning=end, left=right, up=down,
heaven=hell, beautiful=ugly, good=bad, yes=no, etc., which usually culminates in a mindexpanding sparkling humor. If worthless is worthy, is The Buddha worthless? In this non-dual
spirit, “kill-The-Buddha” is a Chan anarchistic practical instruction of the genius Lin-chi (died
866) who eradicated awakening-hindering concepts like “The Buddha” and progress-impeding
dependency. The Buddha often used Brahmanistic terms like Brahmaviharas to which he alluded
a different meaning. For Buddhists the term is a metaphor for sublime places of benevolent
dwelling in one’s heart that embodies kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Many more
exercises boosting positive affect can be practiced, e.g. mirth-laughing, joy-smiling, delightsinging, savoring-eating, and so on. These meditations-in-action are applied most solidly “post
MTN.” Lastly, the trainee experiences dharmas as “neither-MT-nor-not-MT”, “MT-of-MTN”,
“MT-non-duality” and as “ontologically-mute-social-constructions-MT-of-TranscendentalTruths.” Telescoping dharmas in inner galaxies, insight dawns that things and thoughts are MT
on the ultimate level and socially constructed on the provisional level. The whole process is a
track of “social deconstruction-ing.” Point zero of MTN is not a goal in itself. A blank mind is a
reboot/reset point and a scaffold for jumpstarting the collaborative practice of “social
reconstruction-ing” via joyful experience. We are able to fully function “in the marketplace” in
States 1 and 2 parallels the 4-Jhanas discussed earlier as these Jhanas also result in immersion and absorption onto nirvana; they are equivalent to
the Buddhist-lite mindfulness in the mindfulness-based approaches.
the pivotal quality of what we already are: inter-mind. As Dogen (1200-1253) said: “To study
Buddhism is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be one
with others and be able to help others”
Each stage requires a particular effort. The 4 phases and 8 states of heartfulness require in
Stage I (during States 1 and 2) training in heedfulness onto nirvana (emotional/flame extinction)
by a 1-pointed concentration with zeal, diligence, and vigilance (appamada). Understandably
and as a matter of course heartfulness continues in the remaining stages II-III-IV. Stage II
(during States 3 and 4) requires wise reflection on karma and Dependent Origination (of BASICI functional links, aka pathanas) while aiming (yoniso manasikara) at the highest wisdom: the
MTN of self. Stage III (during States 5 and 6) provides sudden insight experiences, i.e. alert and
clear comprehension when working toward autonomy by non-clinging to the last hindrance, The
Buddha concept, and by spying/witnessing (sampajanna) and understanding the non-dual nature
of things and thoughts. Stage IV (during States 7 and 8) provides sudden experiences of insight
by accomplishing benevolence toward understanding inter-mind or “mind-in-between-selves”
(antaratman), while exercising kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, based on a deep
understanding of the MT nature of reality and of dharmas as a social construction. The 8 states
or steps specify as follows:
1. Samatha: a stress-free-serenity-amid-adversity state subsequent to the 12-Meditations
preceded by concentration and immersion of the Jhanas and consecutive calming as a
basis for serenity during sensing, perceiving, and meta-cognizing. Apex is absorption
(“neither-perception-nor-non-perception”), taught to the Bodhisattva Gautama by gurus
Kalama and Ramaputta at the start of his quest.
2. Samadhi: a deep state of concentrative awareness quenching all flames of emotional
arousal, aka nirvana, experienced in firm-focus/receptive absorption (also in action, e.g.
when painting, making music, or writing) called flow in psychology (Csikszentmihalyi,
1990). As a child Siddharta spontaneously slipped into a state of flow while watchingfocusing-following a plough pulled by an ox cutting the earth.
3. Vipasanna: a state of insight on emotions. Mind and karma work in concert in
Dependent Origination, a process which refers to body/speech/mind: feeling-thinkingbehaving-interacting/BASIC-I modalities of clinging which arise/peak/subside/disappear
in conjunction while feeling greed (or underlying fear of loss or sadness of the lost) or
hatred (or underlying other-hate/aggression or self-hate/depression).
4. Sunyata: a state of MTN (in Chan wording “luminous suchness” or “vast zeroness”), a
reset/reboot point after discerning-cleansing unwholesomeness and constituting the
highest wisdom as opposed to believing in a god, metaphysics or supernatural powers
which would imply the end of seeking self and self-inquiry, and missing Buddhist
wisdom on MTN including the non-self nature of things.
5. Yogacara’s non-duality (advaya) is a state requiring heartfulness of speech and selfspeech which inheres in dualities as a trap. The practice transcends cyclical (samsaric)
suffering and nirvana; thus cause=effect, MTN=form, sad=joyful, foolish=wise,
wrong=right, sin=virtue, evil=good, devil=god, etc., culminating in eradicating The
Buddha as a hindring concept. If worthless = worthy, is The Buddha worthless?
6. “If you meet The Buddha on the road, kill him” is an expression by Chan master Linchi (died 866) whose anarchistic/iconoclastic genius is still impressive for those who are
eradicating concepts of attachment in favor of the freedom MTN and not-self provide. As
The Buddha is already dead, this conceptual liquidation kills progress hampering and
impeding psychological dependency on a guru (gee u r u ).
7. Brahmaviharas: This Brahmanistic caption refers to values which The Buddha and
Buddhists revere. It does not mean a residence where the gods dwell literally, thus not
some other-worldly place, but a this-worldly heartfelt heaven, a paradise inhabited by the
affect of loving-kindness, empathic compassion, shared joy and meditative equanimity.
These metaphoric sublime social feelings are to be immeasurably multiplied.
8. dharmas: this scholastic term with lower case d refers to the smallest unit of BASIC-I
experience and is conceivable as “neither-MT-nor-not-MT” (The Buddha), “MT-ofMTN” (Nagarjuna), and “MT-non-duality” (Vasubandhu); it is here fathomed as
“ontologically-mute-social-construction-MT-of-Transcendental-Truths” (K.J. Gergen).
This advancement is coined Relational Buddhism, which is a 4th Turning of the Dharma
Wheel and also termed Buddhism 4.0.
Transitional conditions or feeling states might transform over time into relative stable
“personality traits”. Note that the Buddhist-lite approach only covers the first two states; not
dealing with self/not-self, it maintains the illusion of self which Pristine
Mindfulness/heartfulness aims to dispel. It would be exciting to see future studies on heartfulness
take place in the context of Relational Buddhism, Karma Transformation, and Buddhist
psychology/therapy/counseling or coaching. Summarizing, heartfulness cultivates attentionawareness toward calming-tranquility (samatha), concentrative absorption (samadhi), deep
insight/understanding (vipassana), profound MTN (sunyata), nondual silence (Yogacara),
“Buddha-kill” dis-attachment (Chan), the social sublimes (Brahmaviharas), and toward
understanding Dependent Origination of BASIC-I in each smallest unit of experience (dharma).
It offers a broad-spectrum practice which includes a “judgmental aspect” as an inherent part of
the exercise by discerning wholesome and unwholesome karma, and by cultivating wholesome
karma as an inherent and inseparable part of the training.
Review of the literature warrants the conclusion that the salubrious outcome evidence of
Buddhist-Lite mindfulness-based approaches relates to the 4-Jhanas and heartfulness’ initial
stages of stress-free serenity (samatha) and concentrative absorption (samadhi). The Bahiya
Sutta includes an instruction toward samadhi by The Buddha in a seemingly urgent situation.
Bahiya was a man who was stressed and hurried as he apparently felt that his death was
imminent. It reads as follows:
O Bahiya, whenever you see a form, let there be just the seeing; whenever you hear a
sound, let there be just the hearing; when you smell an odor, let there be just the smelling,
when you taste a flavor, let there be just the tasting; when you experience a physical
sensation, let it merely be sensation; and when a thought or feeling arises, let it be just a
natural phenomenon arising in the mind. When it’s like this, there will be no self, no I.
When there is no self, there will be no moving about here and there, and no stopping
anywhere. And that is the end of dukkha. That is nibbana. Whenever it’s like that, then it
is nibbana. If it is lasting, then it is lasting nibbana; if it is temporary, then it’s temporary
nibbana. In other words, it is just one principle.
Another translation reads:
Bahiya (B), in the seen, there is only the seen, in the heard, there is only the heard, in the
sensed, there is only the sensed, in the cognized, there is only the cognized. Thus you
should see that indeed there is no thing here; this (B) is how you should train yourself.
Since (B) there is for you in the seen, only the seen, in the heard, only the heard, in the
sensed, only the sensed, in the cognized, only the cognized, and you see that there is no
thing here, you will therefore see that indeed there is no thing there. As you see that there
is no thing there, you will see that you are therefore located neither in the world of this,
nor in the world of that, nor in any place betwixt the two. This alone is the end of
suffering (Udāna. 1.10).
The following paragraphs present selected instructions for engaging in 8 intricately
entwined meditations which are all linked to heartfulness: Breathing Heartfulness will accrue
serenity and flow. Meant to understand MT dharmas, Sensing Heartfulness likely leads to
experiencing MTN. The Death Contemplation will contribute to serenity, nonduality, and might
help in lifting motivational hindrances. The contemplations of Loving-kindness and Compassion
as well as the training in shared Laughing (meant to defy the fear of death) and Smiling (meant
to boost healthiness) are all relational meditations. The Immeasurables are particularly meant to
boost sociability. The instructions anchor exercising but cannot reflect the delicate interactional
improvisations during the drift of the session.
Breathing and Heartfulness
This breathing and heartfulness part consists of four parts: an instructional text on breathing
meditation, on deepening breathing meditation, on breathing for the sly man, and on the four
foundations of mindfulness/heartfulness.
Breathing Meditation
Hug each other3… smile as best possible from the bottom of your heart and sit, if on a chair, with
the soles flat on the ground... If kneeling/sitting on a stool, be comfortable… and if on a cushion,
fold legs… Settle the whole body in a comfortable, relaxed, balanced posture, always with an
upright spine, straight but not stiff… Keep eyes closed or half open and concentrate… anchor
focus on the nose-tip area… and note how air enters and exits the nose… Keep smiling and turn
inward… now let go all tension from body, speech, and mind, and calm down… Apply belly
breathing: breathe in, belly up... breathe out, belly down... smile to the whole body breathing...
While sitting comfortably and allowing bare attention, focus awareness on being here, from
now-to-now… Relax; be impartial, mild, and friendly to whatever thought or feeling appears,
without picking or choosing... abstain from judging by merely watching and observing inner
talk... There is nothing to expect, no goal to pursue... this exercise is means and goal at the same
Hugging someone one likes is physically beneficial as the hormone oxytocin gets released which reduces stress and lowers blood pressure.
Oxytocin, released by the pituitary gland, is known for increasing bonding and closeness between loved ones. Hugging softens as one becomes
more empathetic. According to neurophysiologist Sandkühle, the positive effect only occurs with people who trust each other and if the positive
feelings are mutual. If the hug is unwanted, the effect is lost. Stress might even occur because distance is disregarded releasing cortisol, a stress
hormone. Although hugging is good, it needs to be accompanied by trust. The worldwide “free hugs” campaign offering hugs to strangers is
therefore not always beneficial. If clear for everyone that the hugging will be fun, the benefit will appear; otherwise it could be an emotional
hassle (
time... just observe experiencing: what happens inside and outside the body... and within the
mind?... What happens now?... Witness things happening unconditionally... allow things as they
appearand as they are, from now-to now... tolerate and accept, and never fight them...
Keep opening up by just paying bare attention to what is... Whatever you hear, hear... whatever
you see, see... whatever you feel, feel... whatever you think, think... whatever is, is... Stay open,
without clinging to anything... let things come and go in loving-kindness... You cannot do
anything right or wrong... There is no learning, no headway, no failure... What is will always be
different... Knowledge and wisdom do not count... There are no teachers on what you
experience... You are the only master...of what comes and goes this moment... ... ...
Let go all tension from body/speech/mind… breathe in, calm down the body…breathe out and
smile… Note how air enters and exits the nose… Turn inward and observe how air touches the
nostrils… and the upper lip… covertly note cool air entering the nose… and lukewarm air
leaving the nose… Also, observe the abdomen and note falling… and rising, while breathing
out... in… out... ... ...
Breathe in, calm the body… breathe out and smile from your heart… Calmly note the type of
breathing: is it shallow, deep, long, or short…? Attention may be drawn to sitting, then be aware
and observe: is it soft or hard… warm or cold… painful or comfortable…? Gently return to
breathing and smiling from the heart…Any sensation might draw attention: a sight, sound, smell,
touch, or taste… whatever it is: note the input… and gently return to breathing and smiling from
the heart… If hearing sound, watch: do you sense its arising and disappearing? ...note its
specifics and nuances… gradation… texture… and gently return to breathing and smiling from
the heart… No matter the perception: sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste, accept, and watch
arising and disappearing without judging… Whenever attention wanders to thinking, inner
chatter, or self-talk… gently return to breathing and smiling from the heart... ... ...
Here is guidance to move from calm and tranquil serenity to arousal extinction and emotional
balance... go with the flow of breathing whatever happens in body/speech/mind... This extinction
of emotional arousal leads to absorption, to a state called nirvana... Smile from your heart as best
possible and establish with each breath a state of even-mindedness: breathing in, I feel evenminded... breathing out, I feel even-minded... While even-minded, feel smiling contentment all
over body/speech/mind... and feel joy and delight setting in while smiling from the heart and
breathing... Keep on settling comfortably with eyes closed or half open, and concentrate on the
tip of the nose… Take a few deep breaths out... in... and let the air flow naturally... go with the
flow: breathe in calmness, breathe out smiles coming from your heart... ... ...
Breathing Deepened
If there is a need for deepening of Breathing Heartfulness let’s do the following adjusted version
of what was basically an instruction The Buddha gave to his son Rahula at age 18 (Rahula
(1) Concentrate and watch the breath in and out on via your nostrils, be a gatekeeper, there is no
need to follow the air in and out the body, just note each breath: is it deep, shallow, long, short,
or smooth? If breathing is deep, discern “breathing in deeply… and breathing out deeply.” …
(2) Never manipulate breathing, only be aware... if attention wanders, notice distraction without
annoyance and gently return to breathing... just note each breath: is it deep, shallow, long, short,
or smooth? If smooth, discern “breathing in smoothly… and breathing out smoothly.” …
(3) Able to feel your entire body: breathe in, feel the body... and breathe out, feel the body…
inhaling, the body calms down... exhaling the body relaxes… Exercise as follows: “breathing in
sensitive to the entire body, relax… breathing out sensitive to the entire body, relax.” ...
(4) Only be aware of breathing... and allow your body to quiet down with every breath and feel
the whole body breathing in calmness… if distracted, refocus on the breathing anchor… Exercise
as follows: “breathe in, calm down body… breathe out, calm down body.” ...
(5) Calmness enables feelings of joy and delight: breathe in... out... in delight... breathe in...
enjoy.... never grasp joy or cling to delight, therefore: revisit the nostrils and observe the gate...
Exercise as follows: “breathe in delight… breathe out delight.” ...
(6) Contentment emerges from joy and delight… feel contentment deep in your veins while
breathing in... and feel contentment deep in the veins while breathing out… Exercise as follows:
“breathe in contentment in the veins… breathe out contentment in the veins.” ...
(7) Awareness might arise... it can be of a sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch... Feel whatever
perception arises: be aware of perception while breathing in... and while breathing out... Exercise
as follows: “breathe in, feel an arising sensation… breathe out, feel an arising sensation.” ...
(8) Whatever you perceive: a sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch... let it come and go... the
perception fades with every inhalation and exhalation... every breath cools down perception…
Exercise as follows: “breathing in, perception fades… and breathing out, perception fades.” ...
(9) Your mind’s eye perceives thoughts as they come and go... a thought could be an image or
words... just note what it is, an image or words, each time when you inhale and exhale…
Exercise as follows: “breathe in, thoughts fade… breathe out, thoughts fade.” ...
(10) Understanding and realizing that thoughts are merely thoughts not tangible reality, not an
eternal truth, relief goes with breathing... breathing in and out, feel released... Exercise as
follows: “breathe in, thoughts are just thoughts… breathe out, thoughts are just thoughts.” ...
(11) At this point, absorption and flow might be attained while breathing and attending whatever
appears in the space of body/speech/mind... surf in deep concentration and mild attention, and...
Exercise as follows: “breathe in, steady the mind… breathe out, steady the mind.” ...
(12) Having established a stable, non-distractible attention, breathe in and out while releasing the
mind in undisturbed attention: inhaling releases the mind... exhaling releases the mind…
Exercise as follows: “breathe in, release the mind… breathe out, release the mind.” ...
(13) At this stage observe impermanence when breathing in and when breathing out... go with
the flow... nothing is to be grasped... watch impermanence while breathing in and out… Exercise
as follows: “breathe in, focus on impermanence… breathe out focus on impermanence.” ...
(14) Breathe in and observe that everything appearing in the mind fades… breathe out, observe
that everything in the mind fades... in dispassion and even-mindedness… Exercise as follows:
“breathe in, focus on dispassion… and breathe out, focus on even-mindedness.” ...
(15) Breathe in, observe the subsiding of what is in the mind... breathe out and observe the
subsiding of what is in the mind… breathe and focus on the ceasing of any appearance…
Exercise as follows: “breathe in, focus on ceasing... breathe out, focus on ceasing.” ...
(16) Breathe in, relinquish and let go of whatever is in the mind... breathe out, relinquish and let
go whatever is in the mind toward the open space of MTN... Exercise as follows: “breathe in, let
go in open MTN… breathe out, notice let go in open MTN.” ... ... ...
Sly Man Breathing
F*ck It Meditation (variation on a theme of Jason Headley, Sept 5, 2015; G.T. Maurits Kwee).
The term sly man in a meditator’s context was first used by G.I. Gurdjieff who denoted a way
which unlike the way of the fakir, monk, or yogi doesn’t require retreating from society. It is a
“cunning” method which ordinary man living in the ordinary condition of a householder might
want to follow.
Sit or lie in a comfortable position bringing about physical rest and inward silence...
Close your eyes and allow yourself to be completely here-now with your self...
Ask and reply: Where am I? Here! What time is it? Now! What am I? This moment!...
If you want to be in touch with your self, shut up and monitor feeling and thinking...
Shut up and bugger off your usual shitting of daily life occupying your head...
Only watch in full awareness and attention that thoughts change every time...
Observe your mind: what self-talk, words, and images appear in your consciousness?...
If attention wanders and awareness dwells to something else than now, this moment...
Say: I am in this fucking place, here-now this moment instilled with inner peace...
Deep down you know that much what goes on in your head is horseshit or bullshit...
Don’t let this shit rock you, upset you, rather say “fuck it” and flush it down the drain...
Don’t let them be any of your concern and gradually all fucking nonsense fade away...
Breathe in strength, breathe out shit and find universal trust in your innermost core...
Allow breathing discover your inner quite place, your most natural sweet home...
Drop the fucking chatter inside your skull instantly with each and every out breath...
As you whisper “fuck it” feel power streaming and filling your whole breathing’...
Let your quiet breathing body follow its natural course and timing of unstressing...
Whenever thoughts wander to the melodramas and shit in your life, repeat “fuck it”...
Allow your body saying and repeating covertly “fuck it” and notice thought stopping...
Every time you stop your thoughts by saying “fuck it” your body feels pure and light...
Enjoy this moment, no fucking asshole or cock sucker can ever ruin your life again...
By your saying “fuck it” disturbing thoughts float away, you feel contented and glad...
Feel light, weightless and bright as brainshit disappears and you are free of thoughts...
“Fuck it” the washroom was rinsed clean: you are cleansed and reborn glad and happy,...
Find yourself stress-free and greet the world with a wonderful breath of “fuck it”...
Hug each other… smile as best possible from the bottom of your heart and sit, if on a chair, with
the soles flat on the ground... If kneeling/sitting on a stool, be comfortable… and if on a cushion,
fold legs… Settle the whole body in a comfortable, relaxed, balanced posture, always with an
upright spine, straight but not stiff… Keep eyes closed or half open and concentrate… anchor
focus on the nose-tip area… and note how air enters and exits the nose… Keep smiling and turn
inward… now let go all tension from body, speech, and mind, and calm down… Apply belly
breathing: breathe in, belly up... breathe out, belly down... smile to the whole body breathing...
While sitting comfortably and allowing bare attention, focus awareness on being here, from
now-to-now… Relax; be impartial, mild, and friendly to whatever thought or feeling appears,
without picking or choosing... abstain from judging by merely watching and observing inner
talk... There is nothing to expect, no goal to pursue... this exercise is means and goal at the same
time... just observe experiencing: what happens inside and outside the body... and within the
mind?... What happens now?... Witness things happening unconditionally... allow things as they
appear and as they are, from now-to now... tolerate and accept, and never fight them...
Keep opening up by just paying bare attention to what is... Whatever you hear, hear... whatever
you see, see... whatever you feel, feel... whatever you think, think... whatever is, is... Stay open,
without clinging to anything... let things come and go in loving-kindness... You cannot do
anything right or wrong... There is no learning, no headway, no failure... What is will always be
different... Knowledge and wisdom do not count... There are no teachers on what you
experience... You are the only master...of what comes and goes this moment... ... ...
Smile from your heart and witness the heartfelt rhythm of breathing… observe, notice, and
accept impermanence… As every moment changes... abide with ever-changing breathing and
rest in even-mindedness… Silently witness the whole body as it breathes... in a neutral and
accepting mode, note the rising and falling of the belly... If distracted and attention wanders,
gently but firmly refocus attention to breathing, thinking, and feeling... how they just like the
breath appear and disappear... Go with the flow and enjoy absorption, you might feel
contentment by accepting whatever appears and disappears in the space of body and in the space
of mind... ... ...
(1) Heartfulness meditation aka as mindfulness is based on four frames of reference: the body
and its feelings and the mind and its thoughts including speech and self-speech... ... ... Breathe in
with delight while sensitive to the body... and breathe out calming down the entire body... Focus
with open attention and pure awareness on the whole body... relax the body and put aside tension
with reference to others and the world by abstaining from judging and evaluating... ... ...
Smile from your heart... and focus with open attention and pure awareness on the body... the
feelings of the body... to sensation, mood, or emotion... Silently witness the whole body
breathing as it breathes, in an accepting mode... feel and perceive the body... its sensations and
let these feelings be... Whatever the experience, allow and accept any sensation and feeling
unconditionally... by only paying attention: watch, witness, and observe neutrally how sensation
and feeling come and go... If distracted, gently but firmly refocus attention on breathing and
body, bring back attention to the body... observe sensation and feeling unconditionally... how
they appear and disappear... how feeling comes in conjunction with thinking... and how thought
and feeling originate, arise, peak, subside, and cease in mutual interdependency... ... ...
Smile from your heart... and gently let open attention and pure awareness flow with bodily
changes occurring from now-to-now... Go with this flow... note each and every sensation and
feeling of the body... accept and focus on each of them... absorb sensing and feeling... Whatever
the experience, note pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant... if glad, note pleasant... if mad or sad, note
unpleasant... if neither pleasant, nor unpleasant, note neutral... Watch and rate each sensation
and feeling in open attention and full awareness, without inner chatter... only observe sensation
and feeling originate, arise, peak, subside, and cease... and how bodily-felt experience appears in
co-dependence with thinking... whenever noticing this, value this insight of self-understanding...
Keep smiling from the heart and enjoy contentment... ... ...
(2) Breathe in with delight while sensitive to the space of body... breathe out and feel your
body... Focus with full attention and open awareness on feelings in the body... breathe in while
sensitive to the feelings in the space of body... feel anything just as it is, neutrally, without
judging or evaluating... breathe out while remaining focused on the feelings in the space of
body... feelings are just as they are... observe them unconditionally, without judging or
evaluating... ... ...
Enjoy and absorb the flow of contentment and delight... be free, never grasp or cling to feeling...
Keep-on silently watching and witnessing the ever-changing, impermanent, and non-abiding
body, its feeling, mood, or emotion… Do I feel glad, sad, mad or bad, or do I feel depressed or
am I in fear?... Note the emotion: if pleasant, note pleasant... if unpleasant, note unpleasant... if
neither pleasant, nor unpleasant, note neutral ...Whatever you feel, allow its presence... watch
and witness the coming and going of feeling... how feeling, mood, or emotion originate and arise
with thinking... and how each experience peak, subside, and cease to be... Observe and notice the
impermanence of bodily-felt feeling, mood, emotion... and accept whatever appears and
disappears in the body unconditionally, without judging or evaluating... ... ...
Whether blue or depressed... anxious or fearful... annoyed or angry... whether you feel sorrow or
grief... elation or joy... love or kindness... just observe and smile in serenity from your heart… If
attention wanders... or otherwise distracted, gently and friendly, but firmly refocus on observing
feeling, mood, or emotion... Be aware of whatever happens in the body, herenow and from nowto-now in open attention and full awareness... Allow, accept, and leave anything felt as it is,
unconditionally... whatever the feeling, unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral, note: this is not I, not
me, not mine, not my self... This is sensation, feeling, mood, or emotion, but not my self… It is
impermanent bodily-felt experience developing continuously as long as body breathes... Smile
from the heart and rest with your body and its feelings as they are... impermanent and everchanging... ... ...
(3) Keep on smiling from your heart... Now breathe in while sensitive to the thinking mind and
breathe out easing the mind... Focus with open attention and open awareness on thinking... quiet
thinking mind and embrace tranquillity toward peace of mind with reference to others and the
world... abstain from judging and evaluating... Allow unconditionally whatever arises in the
space of mind, while remaining silent in the space of body... ... ...
Keep smiling from your heart... and serenely focus open attention and pure awareness on the
mind... Silently watch, witness, and neutrally watch anything appearing in the mind... whatever it
is, allow it to be... tolerate and accept its presence without judging or evaluating... See in your
mind’s eye how thinking originate, arise, peak, subside, and cease to be... This could be an image
or a concept, or self-talk... just observe and note whether the object is a picture or a word...
whatever the thought is, allow it to be and perceive it in the mind’s eye like watching a movie...
hear without listening and see without looking... The mental objects perceived in mind are
always new and fresh, even if recognized and previously seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or
touched… Whatever it is, just observe, watch, witness unconditionally, with open attention in
pure awareness ... ... ...
Be like a watcher on a river’s bank seeing objects drifting… without holding or pushing, without
being carried away by the stream of consciousness… thoughts come and go continuously... Your
focus might be distracted and wanders to something specific... if so, smile from your heart,
tolerate, accept, and gently but firmly refocus with open attention and pure awareness on
whatever appears and disappears in the mind’s eye... Allow unconditionally any thought to be
just there... and notice its coming and going... and on how a thought feels like… observe whether
feeling accompanies thinking: is this feeling wholesome or unwholesome?... Watch and witness
any thought coming and going unconditionally, in freedom... Determine in open attention and
pure awareness: does this thought feel wholesome or unwholesome?...... ... ...
(4) Keep on smiling from your heart... breathe in while sensitive to thinking and self-talk in your
space of mind... breathe out while silencing thoughts in the mind... Focus with open attention and
pure awareness on thinking and self-talk... breathe in while sensitive to thoughts in the space of
mind... just as they are, unconditionally, without judging or evaluating... breathe out while
remaining focused and reposing the content of mind... thoughts are as they are... tolerate and
accept any thought or self-talk unconditionally, without judging or evaluating... ... ...
Amid a flow, let any mental object float freely without dwelling on any of them... and notice that
the mind settles down… Serenely watch, witness, and unconditionally observe in open attention
and full awareness the ever-changing, non-abiding impermanence of mental activity... of
thinking, of imagining, of conceiving... If thoughts jump from here to there, note jumping… if a
thought is sticky, note sticky… Observe whether wholesome and unwholesome feelings go hand
in hand with wholesome and unwholesome thinking... Was thinking wholesome when there was
wholesome feeling?... Was thinking unwholesome when there was unwholesome feeling?...
Assess: was my thinking wholesome or unwholesome?... Whether wholesome or unwholesome,
they arise and subside... and are not I, not me, not mine, and not my self... ... ...
Notice whether wholesome feelings are accompanied by wholesome thinking... and whether
unwholesome feelings are accompanied by unwholesome thoughts or self-talk... It might be
imminent to transform unwholesome self-talk into wholesome ones... to accrue future
wholesome activity at long last... Are my intentions for future action wholesome or
unwholesome?... How do wholesome intentions feel?... How do unwholesome intentions feel?...
Observing wholesome thinking, how do they feature?... Observing unwholesome thinking,
which are their features?... Whatever the features, watch, witness, and observe present thinking...
notice that thoughts come and go... they appear and disappear... in open MTN... Does their
disappearing liberate you?... ... ...
Sensing Heartfulness
Hug each other… smile as best possible from the bottom of your heart and sit, if on a chair, with
the soles flat on the ground... If kneeling/sitting on a stool, be comfortable… and if on a cushion,
fold legs… Settle the whole body in a comfortable, relaxed, balanced posture, always with an
upright spine, straight but not stiff… Keep eyes closed or half open and concentrate… anchor
focus on the nose-tip area… and note how air enters and exits the nose… Keep smiling and turn
inward… now let go all tension from body, speech, and mind, and calm down… Apply belly
breathing: breathe in, belly up... breathe out, belly down... smile to the whole body breathing...
While sitting comfortably and allowing bare attention, focus awareness on being here, from
now-to-now… Relax; be impartial, mild, and friendly to whatever thought or feeling appears,
without picking or choosing... abstain from judging by merely watching and observing inner
talk... There is nothing to expect, no goal to pursue... this exercise is means and goal at the same
time... just observe experiencing: what happens inside and outside the body... and within the
mind?... What happens now?... Witness things happening unconditionally... allow things as they
appear and as they are, from now-to now... tolerate and accept, and never fight them...
Keep opening up by just paying bare attention to what is... Whatever you hear, hear... whatever
you see, see... whatever you feel, feel... whatever you think, think... whatever is, is... Stay open,
without clinging to anything... let things come and go in loving-kindness... You cannot do
anything right or wrong... There is no learning, no headway, no failure... What is will always be
different... Knowledge and wisdom do not count... There are no teachers on what you
experience... You are the only master...of what comes and goes this moment... ... ...
While belly-breathing, concentrate on the nose-tip, focus open attention and full awareness on
breathing herenow, from now-to-now... on air passing the nostrils, cool air in... lukewarm air
out... be a gate-keeper of the breath... just watch its coming and going without following the air
inside or outside the body... If breathing long, notice long breath... if breathing short, notice,
short breath... If breathing slow or fast, notice slow breath… or fast breath... If smooth, notice
smooth breath… Smile from your heart and feel the whole body breathing herenow... When
attention and concentration wander, be friendly and gently but firmly refocus on the
nostrils... Watch breathing as it is: in, belly up... out, belly down... Doing this fuels clear
concentration, open attention, and pure awareness... be impartial and non-evaluating, free of
judgment, evaluation... free of inner chatter... Only watch and witness the rhythm of breathing...
inhaling, exhaling… notice impermanence: every moment changes... abide, and rest with
breathing as it happens, ever-changing, arising, and subsiding, in even-mindedness… ... ...
Keep smiling from your heart… and focus open attention and pure awareness to the body…
while watching the abdomen… and noting in… out… falling… rising… attention may be drawn
to sitting, be aware of touch inputs and note their specifics:… is sitting soft… hard… warm… or
cold… is sitting painful or comfortable?... While smiling from the heart and noting other
sensations might draw attention… maybe a sight… or a sound… a sight… a smell… a taste…
whatever it is observe, and note sense input, one at a time… Observe viewing if a sight enters…
note its staying… its disappearing… Observe hearing if a sound enters… note its staying... its
disappearing… notice not what… but how a sight or sound is sensed… its texture… its nuance…
its gradation… sense its specifics… Irrespective the perception: seeing… hearing… smelling…
touching… or tasting… only watch each arising... subsiding… If attention wanders from
sensation, gently return to breathing… and focus on the next sensation arising on the
foreground… ... ...
Keep smiling from your heart... and focus open attention and pure awareness on body
sensations... on the feelings of and in the body... and see the color of mood or emotion... Is it
blue, bad, or bright and good?... Is there perhaps some feeling of fear, anger, grief, joy, or
love?... Silently witness the body breathing as it breathes... in an accepting mode and whatever
the feeling is... thereby note the rising and falling of the stomach at each in and out breath...
Perceive and feel the body and let any feeling, any sensation be... whatever the experience,
abstain from evaluating, from judging, from any self-talk... just watch, witness, and observe
neutrally how feeling comes and goes... If distracted... and attention wanders away... gently and
friendly, but firmly refocus attention on breathing and the body... Bring back attention to body
and neutrally observe feelings, how they arise and subside... how they come in conjunction with
thought... how thought and feeling dependently originate, appear, and disappear... ... ...
Keep smiling from your heart... and gently allow attention flow with the changes occurring in the
body from now-to-now... Go with the flow of each and every bodily sensation by focusing and
totally accepting each of them... and becoming absorbed in openly attending to sensation... to the
color of each sensation... and watch the combination of sensations making up mood... or
emotion... Whatever the experience, note pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant... if glad, note
pleasant... if mad or sad, note unpleasant... if neither pleasant, nor un-pleasant, note neutral...
Watch, witness, and notice each feeling in open attention... silently, without inner chatter... just
observe that each bodily-felt sense experience originates, arises, peaks, subsides, ceases... and
disappears... and how feeling appears with or without thinking... Keep and cherish this insight on
feeling and thinking as a valuable understanding... Thought and feeling are basic to action...
Smile from the heart... and while going with the flow, note the experience: is it pleasant, neutral,
or unpleasant... ... ...?
Keep smiling from your heart... and enjoy the flow of absorption... you might feel joy,
contentment, delight... smile, but do not grasp or cling to any feeling regardless how pleasant...
Keep on silently watching the ever-changing, impermanent, and non-abiding experience of
sensing, feeling, mood, emotion… Do I feel glad or perhaps sad, mad, or bad?... Just note the
experience: if pleasant, note pleasant... if unpleasant, note unpleasant... if neither pleasant, nor
unpleasant, note neutral... Whatever feeling on the foreground, allow its presence... only observe
its coming and going... how does the sensation or feeling originate and arise?... Was it dependent
on thinking?... On an image or a concept?... How does the feeling peak, subside, and cease to
be?... Keep on observing and notice the impermanent character of any bodily-felt experience...
Allow and accept whatever unpleasant or pleasant sensation or feeling appears and disappears
from body... Witness its coming and going unconditionally, without judging or evaluating... ... ...
Keep smiling from your heart... whether feeling blue or depressed... anxious or fearful... angry or
annoyed... whether you feel sorrow or grief... elation or joy... love or kindness... only observe
and smile in serenity from the heart… If you are distracted and focus wanders away, gently and
friendly, but firmly refocus on watching breathing... witness the body and bodily feelings...
Silently allow being only aware of herenow... and openly attend bodily sensation from now-tonow... Allow and accept what’s felt, as it is... whatever the feeling or emotion, unpleasant,
pleasant, or neutral, note: this is neither I, nor me, nor mine, nor my self... This is bodily
experience: sensation, feeling, mood, emotion... but body is not my self… It is only impermanent
experience... appearing and disappearing... it originates, arises, peaks, subsides, and ceases...
experiences continuously replace each other as long as the body breathes... Smile from the heart
and rest with everything always changing... ... ...
Keep smiling from your heart... now on this moment of smiling... focus open attention and pure
awareness on mind... Silently watch, witness, and neutrally observe what originates and appears
in mind... whatever arises, allow it to be... accept its presence without judging and evaluating...
without inner chatter... In a tolerant mode, see in the mind’s eye thoughts originate... arise...
peak... subside... and cease to be... This could be an image, concept, or self-talk... whatever it is,
observe neutrally... note, is the mind’s object a picture or a word? ...what is in mind?... Whatever
the thought is, a picture or a word, allow it to be and perceive it in the mind’s eye like watching a
multi-sound movie... hear the sounds without listening... see the images without looking... The
mental objects perceived in mind are always new... even recognition is a fresh thing... Whatever
you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch… whatever it is, just watch and witness unconditionally,
without judging or evaluating… ... ...
Keep smiling from your heart... focus might be distracted and wander away from bodily feeling...
if so, be friendly and gently but firmly refocus open attention and pure awareness on breathing...
to what is now appearing and disappearing in the mind’s eye... Allow anything to be there...
watch and witness its coming and going… be like the watcher on a river’s bank seeing objects
drifting downstream… mind objects come and go continuously… Without being carried away in
the stream of consciousness, watch anything originating and arising in mind... without holding
on to it... or pushing it away, only witness the changes which occur from now-to-now in the flow
of thinking, appearing from the openness of MTN and disappearing in MTN… Allow and accept
unconditionally each and every object coming up without suppressing... grasping... or clinging...
Smile from the heart and let the mind flow freely without dwelling on anything... and if astray,
gently but firmly refocus on mere watching, witnessing, and noticing mind objects...: let the
mind flow freely without dwelling on anything...
Keep smiling from your heart... Amid a flow of letting mental objects float freely without
dwelling on anything, mind might want to settle down…Silently observe and watch... witness in
open attention and full awareness the ever-changing, non-abiding impermanence of mental
activity... thinking... conceiving... imagining... visualizing... If thoughts jump from here to there,
note jumping… if a thoughts are sticky, note sticky… be mindful and note anything herenow
from now-to-now... abstain from reacting habitually... the nature of thoughts is to arise and
subside... and to be quickly replaced by other thoughts... its impermanence is apparent... Does
thinking originate, arise, peak, subside, and cease in conjunction with bodily feelings?… Do
thinking and feeling correlate?... Are thinking and feeling dependent on each other?... Notice any
insight and understanding how mind works: are thinking and feeling entwined in Dependent
Origination?... ... ...
Keep smiling from your heart... whenever the feeling is pleasant or unpleasant notice the
accompanying thoughts... discern if there is any intention for action... If so, take feeling as a
compass whether thinking is wholesome or unwholesome... If attention is distracted by feeling,
be friendly and gently, but firmly refocus on breathing... be neutral... never judge, evaluate, or
comment... Allow any thinking and accept that thoughts are only thoughts not reality or the
truth... things are as they are: continuously becoming, changing toward something not yet
known... Whatever the thought, it is neither I, nor me, nor mine, nor my self... I am neither mind,
nor thoughts or images about my self... concepts are not my self… Letting all thoughts go, I
detach from self... it appears from open MTN... floats in a stream of consciousness... and
disappear in MTN... they cannot be grasped or clung on to... Thoughts and feelings will always
disappear... Let’s therefore not worry, be happy, and smile for the rest of the day... ... ...
Death Contemplation
Hug each other… smile as best possible from the bottom of your heart and sit, if on a chair, with
the soles flat on the ground... If kneeling/sitting on a stool, be comfortable… and if on a cushion,
fold legs… Settle the whole body in a comfortable, relaxed, balanced posture, always with an
upright spine, straight but not stiff… Keep eyes closed or half open and concentrate… anchor
focus on the nose-tip area… and note how air enters and exits the nose… Keep smiling and turn
inward… now let go all tension from body, speech, and mind, and calm down… Apply belly
breathing: breathe in, belly up... breathe out, belly down... smile to the whole body breathing...
While sitting comfortably and allowing bare attention, focus awareness on being here, from
now-to-now… Relax; be impartial, mild, and friendly to whatever thought or feeling appears,
without picking or choosing... abstain from judging by merely watching and observing inner
talk... There is nothing to expect, no goal to pursue... this exercise is means and goal at the same
time... just observe experiencing: what happens inside and outside the body... and within the
mind?... What happens now?... Witness things happening unconditionally... allow things as they
appear and as they are, from now-to now... tolerate and accept, and never fight them...
Keep opening up by just paying bare attention to what is... Whatever you hear, hear... whatever
you see, see... whatever you feel, feel... whatever you think, think... whatever is, is... Stay open,
without clinging to anything... let things come and go in loving-kindness... You cannot do
anything right or wrong... There is no learning, no headway, no failure... What is will always be
different... Knowledge and wisdom do not count... There are no teachers on what you
experience... You are the only master...of what comes and goes this moment... ... ...
Repeat covertly: sitting or lying down in a dying position of choice, I close my eyes... I smile in
these last moments of life... death is the only certainty in my life… Now I recollect the dead
persons who were dear to me, dear ones who are dead now... and view their faces and ages… I
see each one of them dead like a stone... I might see a person whom I particularly loved... s/he is
lying in a coffin... While visualizing this… I say silently: my nature is to die as well… death is
not beyond me… death is inevitable and guaranteed in life… In fact, I may die when underway,
not reaching my destiny... I may die when I stand, walk, or sit… I may die before I sit… when I
sit… or while sitting... I may die when I get up... when I am standing or walking... I may die
anytime… In fact, I may die before my next meal… I may die before I go to sleep… I may die
before I wake up... Mindful while breathing in, I say covertly: I may die before I breathe out...
and breathing out I silently say: I may die before I breathe in… I may die anytime... I may die
any moment… Breathing in, I may die anytime... breathing out, I may die anytime... ... ...
Repeat covertly: attending in full awareness my dead body as I am sitting or lying down… I am
mindful of my lifeless body... mindful of my corpse, I am clearly aware of being dead…
Watching and focusing attention to my stone-dead body, I see my corpse and flesh
decomposing… I see my skin, muscles and organs dead, in dissolution… All flesh, skin,
muscles, and organs are decomposing and rotting from top to toe… I see how organs are rotting:
my lungs are rotting... my intestines are rotting… my kidneys are rotting… my spleen is
rotting… my liver is rotting… my heart also rots and decays… Yes, my lifeless body and organs
are totally in a state of decomposition, dissolution, and decay... My corpse is disintegrating… I
see my disintegrating corpse eaten by rats and worms… vermin crawl all over my corpse…
Vermin, worms, flies, and other insects, they are all feasting in and all over my horrendous,
abhorrent lifeless body… they eat what remains of my body flesh… My body remains smell and
my body residue spreads nauseous odour of death… I smell of death and decay... ... ...
Repeat covertly: now, I burn this malodorous, stinking corpse of mine... seeing this I let flames
flare up high above my cadaver... vaporizing body liquids… and freeing air… I see the fire starts
burning below on the right side… it first dissolves my right big toe... then it spreads to the other
toes... to my entire right foot… The fire goes subsequently to the left below... to my left toes and
foot… spreading to both legs… up to my hips… I see how it spreads quickly… devouring my
torso… my spine, backbone, vertebrae… then also my chest burns fiercely… the flames go
higher and higher... and swallow my shoulders… they reach to my arms and extremities.. my
hands burn… the flames reach my neck and head… my jaws… my mouth… my nose… my
ears… my eyes... my forehead… my hair… My entire body turns into a fierce blaze… eventually
only bare bones are left of body... a carcass… a skeleton… ... ...
Repeat covertly: seeing my skeleton... it glows a silver, bright white light… which extinguishes
eventually… Nothing is left of my once living body… Finally, these bones fall apart in pieces...
leaving mere MTN... Since my body has vanished and my remains are dissolving, my bones turn
into dust... and turned into dust, what is left of my body blows away… scattering everywhere… I
stay in this open MTN… an experience of non-self… In effect: I am not my body... body is not I,
not me, not mine and not my self… body is not I-me-mine or self… I am not body… Body is not
I-me-mine/self… I am not body… … …
Loving-Kindness Contemplation (Kindfulness)
Hug each other… smile as best possible from the bottom of your heart and sit, if on a chair, with
the soles flat on the ground... If kneeling/sitting on a stool, be comfortable… and if on a cushion,
fold legs… Settle the whole body in a comfortable, relaxed, balanced posture, always with an
upright spine, straight but not stiff… Keep eyes closed or half open and concentrate… anchor
focus on the nose-tip area… and note how air enters and exits the nose… Keep smiling and turn
inward… now let go all tension from body, speech, and mind, and calm down… Apply belly
breathing: breathe in, belly up... breathe out, belly down... smile to the whole body breathing...
While sitting comfortably and allowing bare attention, focus awareness on being here, from
now-to-now… Relax; be impartial, mild, and friendly to whatever thought or feeling appears,
without picking or choosing... abstain from judging by merely watching and observing inner
talk... There is nothing to expect, no goal to pursue... this exercise is means and goal at the same
time... just observe experiencing: what happens inside and outside the body... and within the
mind?... What happens now?... Witness things happening unconditionally... allow things as they
appear and as they are, from now-to now... tolerate and accept, and never fight them...
Keep opening up by just paying bare attention to what is... Whatever you hear, hear... whatever
you see, see... whatever you feel, feel... whatever you think, think... whatever is, is... Stay open,
without clinging to anything... let things come and go in loving-kindness... You cannot do
anything right or wrong... There is no learning, no headway, no failure... What is will always be
different... Knowledge and wisdom do not count... There are no teachers on what you
experience... You are the only master...of what comes and goes this moment... ... ...
Loving-kindness contemplation is about wishing and intending... Can you imagine in your
mind’s eye a jar of love filled with the healing potion of heartfelt friendliness and infinite
kindness?... Can you imagine that this potion of loving-kindness enables a good mood every
day?... Can you see that from this jar loving-kindness is poured and shed and diffusing
abundantly on your head?... And dripping bountifully all over your body?... Can you feel lovingkindness penetrating your veins and converging to your heart?... Can you sense this stream of
loving-kindness from your head to all over your body and into your heart?... Can you feel love,
kindness, and friendliness centring in your heart?... While smiling and sending smiles to your
heart, can you feel your heart filled with smiles of genuine loving-kindness?... Can you feel that
your smiling heart is deluged by loving-kindness... and soaked in heartfelt friendliness?... Can
you feel your heart smiles back to you and that your smiling heart connects to immeasurable
loving-kindness and heartfelt friendliness?... Can you feel kindness and friendliness overflowing
your body/speech/mind?... ... ...
Now, from within my smiling being... from inside my smiling body and loving heart... I pour out
loving-kindness and friendliness to myself... I appreciate me as best as I can and wish myself, the
May I be safe and free from danger, free from outer troubles... free from harm done by
others... free from inner troubles... free from ignorance...
May I live happy and mentally sane, free from irrationality... free from emotional
turmoil... free from unnecessary fear... anger... and grief...
May I live a happy and physically healthy life, free from weakness... free from
infection... free from illness... and be happy even in case of sickness...
May I live in relational well-being and contentment... free from doom and gloom... from
sorrow and pain... first, by being loving, kind, and friendly to me...
Harmony and peace require my being true, honest, and loyal to me... I am first of all
married to me... Putting myself first, allows me to give more to others...
Freed from tension in relation to me, I enjoy freedom from within... and ready to help
free others so that there will be enough love going round in the world... ... ...
Keep on smiling from the bottom of the heart and shift to a dearest one... a person to whom you
wish the best of best... s/he may be a lover, a friend, a relative, or a benefactor... Visualize and
sense a very dear person... and imbibe and anchor the following:
May you be safe and free from danger, free from outer troubles... free from harm done by from inner troubles... free from ignorance...
May you live a happy and mentally sane life, free from irrationality... free from emotional
turmoil... free from unnecessary fear... anger... and grief...
May you live happy and physically healthy, free from weakness... free from infection...
free from illness... and be happy even in case of sickness...
May you live in contentment and well-being, free from doom and gloom... free from
sorrow and pain... Wishing loving-kindness, let there be love go round in the world...
May my spouse, friends, relatives, and benefactors have fulfilling lives be free from
stress and relational tension... Let us enjoy a healthy social life... ... ...
Keep on smiling from the bottom of the heart and move to a neutral person, like someone you
work with or have met casually, someone you know from a distance... Visualize and sense your
neutral person... imbibe and anchor the following:
May you be safe and free from danger, free from outer troubles... free from harm done by from inner troubles... free from ignorance...
May you live happy and mentally sane, free from irrationality... free from emotional
turmoil... free from unnecessary fear... anger... and grief...
May you live a happy and physically healthy life, free from weakness... free from
infection... free from illness... and be happy even in case of sickness...
May you live in contentment and well-being, free from doom and gloom... free from
sorrow and pain... Wishing loving-kindness, we send love go round in the world...
May you be balanced in face of ups and downs in relation to people and enjoy evenmindedness between honour/dishonour, praise/blame, gain/loss, pleasure and pain...
Keep on smiling from the bottom of the heart and switch to a difficult person, someone you
dislike, feel enmity for or even hate... You could have had a fight with your foe in the past...
Visualize and sense this ennemy and imbibe... and anchor the following:
May we both be safe and free from danger, free from outer troubles... free from harm
done by from inner troubles... free from ignorance...
May we both live a happy and mentally sane life... free from irrationality... free from
emotional turmoil... free from unnecessary fear... anger... and grief...
May we both live happy and physically healthy... free from weakness... free from
infection... free from illness... and be happy even in case of sickness...
May we all live in contentment and well-being, free from doom and gloom... free from
sorrow and pain... Wishing loving kindness, we send love to go round in the world...
May you live without anger and hatred... We now say together: “Let’s forgive each other,
I forgive you, you forgive me... Let’s forgive each other, you forgive, I forgive”... ... ...
Keep on smiling from the bottom of the heart and slide to an unknown person you don’t know,
like a neighbour or simply someone sitting next to you, on your right or left side, in front of you,
or behind you... Visualize and sense one or more unknown persons... then imbibe and anchor the
May we all be safe and free from danger, free from outer troubles... free from harm done
by from inner troubles... free from ignorance...
May we all live happily and mentally sane... free from irrational thinking... free from
emotional turmoil... free from unnecessary fear... anger... and grief...
May we all live a happy and physically healthy life... free from weakness... free from
infection... free from illness... and be happy even in case of sickness...
May we all live in contentment and well-being, free from doom and gloom... free from
sorrow and pain... Wishing loving kindness, we send love go round in the world...
May we live free from poverty and happy... by unconditionally giving, not seeking
return... let’s live in peaceful harmony by radiating loving-kindness in the world... ... ...
Compassion Contemplation
Hug each other… smile as best possible from the bottom of your heart and sit, if on a chair, with
the soles flat on the ground... If kneeling/sitting on a stool, be comfortable… and if on a cushion,
fold legs… Settle the whole body in a comfortable, relaxed, balanced posture, always with an
upright spine, straight but not stiff… Keep eyes closed or half open and concentrate… anchor
focus on the nose-tip area… and note how air enters and exits the nose… Keep smiling and turn
inward… now let go all tension from body, speech, and mind, and calm down… Apply belly
breathing: breathe in, belly up... breathe out, belly down... smile to the whole body breathing...
While sitting comfortably and allowing bare attention, focus awareness on being here, from
now-to-now… Relax; be impartial, mild, and friendly to whatever thought or feeling appears,
without picking or choosing... abstain from judging by merely watching and observing inner
talk... There is nothing to expect, no goal to pursue... this exercise is means and goal at the same
time... just observe experiencing: what happens inside and outside the body... and within the
mind?... What happens now?... Witness things happening unconditionally... allow things as they
appear and as they are, from now-to now... tolerate and accept, and never fight them...
Keep opening up by just paying bare attention to what is... Whatever you hear, hear... whatever
you see, see... whatever you feel, feel... whatever you think, think... whatever is, is... Stay open,
without clinging to anything... let things come and go in loving-kindness... You cannot do
anything right or wrong... There is no learning, no headway, no failure... What is will always be
different... Knowledge and wisdom do not count... There are no teachers on what you
experience... You are the only master...of what comes and goes this moment... ... ...
Here is a contemplation of healing compassion by offering and receiving... Start by vividly
visualizing a clear white light radiating from an immeasurable source located in your heart...
This light vibrates compassion... it is a bright cool light of purity that energizes from within the
heart... From this infinite source of energy... a cool shining light beams so pleasantly bright that
you strongly wish to share this with others... This light of pure compassion brings forth delight
which increases with every heart beat... Each heart beat breeds compassion and empathy for
others from deep inside your healing heart... Repeat covertly: “Every out-breath radiates a clear
white light of pure compassion out of my heart... this brightness purifies impurity, darkness, and
dirt... Pain heals whenever I breathe, at each cool white out-breath”... ... ...
Visualizing suffering as a dark and filthy cloud, negativity and stress arise... whether it’s from
regret or agony... or from fear, anger, grief, or depression... whatever it is from, suffering occurs
as a dark cloud which I imbibe and take all in me at each inhaling... and at each outbreath this
filthy cloud transforms into a clear white light of forgiveness and compassion... making stale
suffering disappear into the bright light vibrating out of my heart... This impure cloud of
negativity which I inhale transforms, whenever I breathe out, into a radiating cool light of
compassionate forgiving... Without leaving a trace of defilement this pure bright light heals,
revitalizes, and energizes me and the people around me... Whatever mistakes, wrong doing, or
evil intentions, I inhale... and forgive whatever is done to me as I exhale... thus, healing,
releasing... and freeing myself and others by self-compassion... ... ...
Repeat covertly: Inhaling, I take in and imbibe a dark and filthy cloud of all my life’s suffering,
comprising negatively-felt emotions, feelings of anger, grief, fear, and depression... and exhale a
clear, cool, bright, white light of healing self-compassion... I inhale fear and darkness about
future events... and exhale a clear, cool, bright, white light of healing self-compassion ... I inhale
filthiness and regret of the past... and exhale a clear, cool, bright, white light of healing selfcompassion... Whenever I inhale and exhale, negative emotions transform into a clear, cool,
bright, white light of healing self-compassion... liberating me and others... Having transformed
stale clouds into a clear, cool, bright, white light of healing self-compassion, I evoke positive
feelings without leaving a trace of the black cloud... As there is only a white light of forgiveness
and self-compassion which heals and revitalizes, I rejuvenate myself and the people around me
by forgiving and self-compassion... Thus, I feel released... healed... and freed... ... ...
Repeat covertly: I now visualize and empathize someone I love and dear to me... it can be a
spouse, man, woman, child, parent, friend, or neighbour... someone who needs liberation from
suffering and negativity, emotional and physical pain... Visualizing this person, I inhale and
imbibe a stale cloud... as I exhale I vividly send my clear, cool, bright, white light of heartfelt
compassionate healing... and silently say: “I wish you happiness from the bottom of my heart, I
stand by you... Seeing you in the best way imaginable and in the depth of your eyes, I wish you
freedom from all suffering”... At each breath, I repeat the genuine wish from the bottom of my
heart: “May you be free from suffering, its causes and conditions”... While breathing, I visualize
you and your problems... and genuinely express my heartfelt wish: “May you be free from
suffering, its causes and conditions, and all the problems that you face”... ... ...
Repeat covertly: “dear one... let me empathize and carry your burden of misery by transforming
your dark and filthy cloud by my breathing”... I inhale and imbibe your stale cloud... and exhale
a clear, cool, bright, white light vibrating from my healing heart... My out-breath radiates and
beams heartfelt compassion, healing you... and I see how the dark and filthy cloud gain in clarity
and whiteness without leaving a trace of defilement... As brightness increases, you are
progressively freed from misery... Here is my genuine wish: “I wish you be really well and may
happiness always accompany you in life... May all your wishes come true and may you attain all
goals in life”... While I am wishing you this, I radiate beams of clear, cool, bright, white light to
you...This is my compassionate healing coming from an infinite source: the bottom of my heart...
from where I penetrate and satiate you with rejuvenating energy... Noticing delight in your eyes,
I wish you again: “May you be well and happy”... ... ...
Repeat covertly: feeling strong and energetic, I keep on radiating my clear, cool, bright, white
light of healing compassion... Thus breathing and vibrating, I empathize and beam my
compassion to someone who is in need... or to a group of people in need, like a family struggling
with illness, a community struggling with violence like terrorism or war... or people struggling
with a natural disaster, like a tsunami... an earthquake... I now vividly visualize the people who
really need to be liberated from suffering, from all sorts of pain... caused by a natural disaster or
by human weakness... resulting in pain due to greed like a financial crisis... in pain due to hatred
like terrorist torture... or in pain of stress due to ignorance... Inhaling, I imbibe all your misery...
and exhaling, I send you, someone in dire need, a clear, cool, bright, white light of
compassionate healing from the bottom of my heart... While sending, I notice growing happiness
in your twinkling eyes... ... ...
Repeat covertly: Feeling strong and energetic, I keep on radiating my clear, cool, bright, white
light of healing compassion... Thus breathing and vibrating, I empathize and beam my
compassion to someone or to a group of people I hate or strongly dislike... I now vividly
visualize people I hate and resent... I forgive all of you who treated me disrespectfully: who
insulted me, humiliated me... and were unjust to me... This includes me, I forgive myself for
hating... by hating, I poison myself and cripple my functioning... hatred is self-sabotage... it
backfires, creates and increases animosity and suffering... Inhaling, I imbibe hatred... and
exhaling, I send you, whose behavior, action, and conduct I hate, I send you a clear, bright, white
light of compassionate healing from the bottom of my heart... and notice hatred crumbling and
compassion shining... there is peace in your eyes... ... ...
Repeat covertly: imagining vividly, I visualize and empathize all suffering of people I do and do
not know personally... Inhaling, I imbibe people’s dark and dirty cloud of suffering and by
exhaling I transform it into a clear, cool, bright, white light of healing compassion... Inhaling
people’s stale cloud, I clear it by exhaling healing compassion... Wishing all people freedom
from suffering, I say silently: “May all people be liberated from all the causes and conditions of
greed, hatred, and ignorance”... Visualizing clearly and vividly all the problems people can have
as I inhale... I then exhale and repeat my dear wish to transform people’s dark and filthy cloud of
stale misery... and make it disappear into a clear, cool, bright, white light of compassion and
healing... without leaving a trace of defilement... Radiating beams of compassion to free all
people from misery, I genuinely express the heartfelt wish: “May all people be free from
suffering, may all their wishes be fulfilled... and may all of us fare well and be happy throughout
Laughing and Smiling-Singing Exercises
This part on laughing and smiling-singing comprises 3 components: laughing meditation
instructions, smiling visualizations instructions, and smiling songs texts. The instruction of
laughing meditation can only be presented in a structured and rudimentary form as much of what
will happen depends on the spur of the moment and require improvisation. The quintessence is to
laugh death away as well as to laugh self away. First there is a power-point introduction to sitting
and heartfulness followed by the exercise which is a spring-board to jumpstart the 4-Foundations
of Heartfulness. This is about befriending whatever arises in the body (feelings) and in the mind
(thoughts and speech).
Laughing Meditation
The laughing instruction consists of 5 parts:
(1) Hugging each other…
(2) Stretching and loosening the body (in various ways) as well as relaxing the face by
making funny faces (4 minutes).
(3) Out-of-the-belly laughing (6 minutes) at death, at self, at mistakes, or for no reason at
all; workshop leader makes a round laughing to each group member and maintaining
laughter inspired by:
a. making funny faces to each other while holding hands in claw posture like a cat
and switching partners frequently,
b. breathing in and bringing arms/hands up and then releasing in laughter while
bringing arms/hands down to the ground,
c. pointing at each other with both hands as if arguing and also pointing to oneself
while laughing all the time,
d. approaching the other by stretching the right hand as if wanting to shake hands
but drawing back at last moment, etc.
(4a) A sudden stop: sit with the back in a straight line to your head and with the soles flat
on the ground – now start heartfulness (10 minutes)...
(4b) Or start the smiling meditation as in the below instruction (the italicized warming-up
is optional)...
Smiling Visualization
Hug each other… smile as best possible from the bottom of your heart and sit, if on a chair, with
the soles flat on the ground... If kneeling/sitting on a stool, be comfortable… and if on a cushion,
fold legs… Settle the whole body in a comfortable, relaxed, balanced posture, always with an
upright spine, straight but not stiff… Keep eyes closed or half open and concentrate… anchor
focus on the nose-tip area… and note how air enters and exits the nose… Keep smiling and turn
inward… now let go all tension from body, speech, and mind, and calm down… Apply belly
breathing: breathe in, belly up... breathe out, belly down... smile to the whole body breathing...
While sitting comfortably and allowing bare attention, focus awareness on being here, from
now-to-now… Relax; be impartial, mild, and friendly to whatever thought or feeling appears,
without picking or choosing... abstain from judging by merely watching and observing inner
talk... There is nothing to expect, no goal to pursue... this exercise is means and goal at the same
time... just observe experiencing: what happens inside and outside the body... and within the
mind?... What happens now?... Witness things happening unconditionally... allow things as they
appear and as they are, from now-to now... tolerate and accept, and never fight them...
Keep opening up by just paying bare attention to what is... Whatever you hear, hear... whatever
you see, see... whatever you feel, feel... whatever you think, think... whatever is, is... Stay open,
without clinging to anything... let things come and go in loving-kindness... You cannot do
anything right or wrong... There is no learning, no headway, no failure... What is will always be
different... Knowledge and wisdom do not count... There are no teachers on what you
experience... You are the only master...of what comes and goes this moment... ... ...
This inner smile meditation takes your smile beyond the polite social convention... Matching
your personality, it may feel enjoyable, because it keeps you in high spirits... If you might want
to practice it informally throughout the day, just reset your inner smile... You can do it at any
time... any given moment of the day, whenever it suits you…
Close your eyes and start seeing your brain inside the skull... visualize the inner space of your
body from top to toe... Projecting from the centre of your head, inside out… you might want to
imprint a smile on your forehead, on the inside and the outside… if you are able to see a big
smile on your forehead... Then please direct attention to the inside of your eyeballs… you may
be able to see your eye sockets, eye muscles, and eye lids... while your eyes are the windows to
the outside world, your mind’s eye is the window to your inside, your inner world... you are
going to take a mind’s eye tour inside your body… ... ...
You may be able to see the inside mask of your face… if so, then see the inside of your eyes and
feel your eyes curling up as if they are smiling… if you can feel your eyes smiling even if
slightly… Then watch the inside of your nostrils... observe the ebb and flow of air passing the
nostrils... simply witness effortless inhaling and exhaling… and while enjoying life’s breathing...
you might want to focus on your jaw and chin… watch your jaw and chin... see and feel its skin,
muscles and bones from the tip of your chin to the hinge of the jaw as they relax… and witness a
relaxing mask of your face, your mouth relaxes… While your mouth is relaxed, your mouth
opens a tiny bit, slightly separating your lower and upper teeth, then have your tongue lightly
touch the palate against the back of the upper teeth… Now see and feel the inside of the lips and
its corners as they relax… ... ...
Focusing on your mouth and lips and paying attention to the corners of your mouth, you might
feel the whole area relaxing… you might want slightly, raise the corners of the lips… and feel
the inner smile… Perhaps unseen, you lift the corners of your mouth, ever so mindfully, until
you feel a distinct shift to a warm sense of wellbeing... and now focus attention to the inside of
your eyes and raise the corners of your eyes, until you feel the inner smile in and around the
eyes... a warm sense of wellbeing… Allow the smiling corners of the eyes and mouth to feel and
radiate a warm sense of wellbeing: this is the inner smile… ... ...
Can you see your heart?... While your lips curl upward and your face smiles all over, swallow
down your inner smile along with a gulp down to your heart… You may allow your smiles to
enter your heart... and fill your heart with smiles… feel smiles penetrating your heart... plentiful
filling and overflowing your heart with your smile… and see a flaming red of love coloring your
heart and veins… Again swallow down and send smiles to your heart… You might notice your
heart smiling back to you… say thanks to your heart for functioning well… despite heartaches
that you might have had… “Thank you, heart!”... ... ...
Keep smiling and focus on your lungs: can you see lungs?... If so, swallow down your inner
smile to your lungs along with the gulp… Allow your smiles to penetrate the spongy tissue… as
your smiles penetrates the lungs they might radiate a bright white color... and feel that they smile
back to you… say thanks to your lungs for cleaning air… you might feel your lungs expanding
and possible tightness in the chest evaporate… “Thank you, lungs!”... ... ...
Keep smiling… is it possible for you to visualize your liver, the largest organ below the right
lung?... If so, swallow down your inner smile to your liver… your gulp immerses your liver with
smiles… Can you feel your liver vibrating and kindly smiling back to you?... Thank your liver
for working hard detoxifying substances like fat and alcohol… you might be able to see your
liver radiating a wonderful green color… “Thank you, liver!”... ... ...
Keep smiling and focus on your spleen located in the left, below the rib cage next to the liver...
Can you visualize your spleen?... It has the size of your fist... Swallow down your inner smile to
your spleen... feel your spleen fills in smiles with your gulp... As smiles immerse the spleen, you
might see a brown-yellow/earthen color… Thank your spleen for strengthening immunity and for
guarding against disease… worry fades as you become centred… “Thank you, spleen!”... ... ...
Keep smiling and focus now on your kidneys, they look like beans with the size of your fists…
Can you see your kidneys in the low back part of the rib cage on either side of the spine? ...If so,
swallow down and send your inner smile with a gulp to your kidneys... your kidneys fill in
smiles... While smiles penetrate the kidneys, gently thank them for clearing and filtering blood...
and for regulating blood pressure… Notice the clear blue color of your kidneys… “Thank you,
kidneys”... ... ...
In closing, smiling will be able to help you in any situation: Being able to smile when being
slightly misunderstood is good upbringing. When you’re wronged and you smile with calmness,
it is generosity. When you’re being taken advantage of and you can smile, you’re being openminded. When you are helpless and you can do a philosophical smile, you’re in a calm state.
When you’re in distress and you can laugh out loud, you’re being generous. When you’re looked
down upon and you can calmly smile, you’re being confident. When you’re being jilted in
relationships and you can smile it off, you’re being cool and suave (Li Ka-Shing;
(… … …
Smiling Songs
These songs can be sung immediately after the smiling visualization stops.
1 Smile (lyrics Charles Chaplin)
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
2 When You're Smiling (lyrics Louis Armstrong)
When you're smilin'....when you’re smilin'
The whole world smiles with you
When you're laughin'....when you’re laughin'
The sun comes shinin' through
But when you're cryin'.... youu bring on the rain
So stop your sighin'....beee happy again
Keep on smilin’...cause when you're smilin’
The whole world smiles with you
When you're smilin'....when you’re smilin'
The whole world smiles with you
When you're laughin'....when you’re laughin'
That sun comes shinin' through
But when you're cryin'.... youu bring on the rain
So stop that sighin'....beee happy again
Keep on smilin’...cause when you're smilin‘
The whole world smiles with you
3 Smiling is Infectious (Anonymous/Melody: Fly me to the moon)
Smiling is infectious you can catch it like the flue
Someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too
So if you feel a smile begins, if you smile grow that grin
Walking down the street, some-one saw my grin...
When he smiled I re-alised, I‘ve passed it on to him
In other words grace begins, in other words grow that grin
Walking down the street, some-one saw my grin...
when he smiled I re-alised, I‘ve passed it on to him
In other words grace begins, in other words grow that grin
Musing on that smile, yes I re-alised its worth…
a single smile like mine could travel round the earth
In other words, you love you, in other words...
In other words: catch that flu!
4 Pack Up Your Troubles... (lyrics George Asaf)
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, And smile, smile, smile!
While you've a Lucifer to light your fag, Smile, Boys, that‘s the style.
What's the use of worrying? It never was worth while…
So, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, And smile, smile, smile!
This appendix comprises an article which was a paper on a 36-hour comprehensive clinical
course for Buddhist and Non-Buddhist educators, presented by G.T. Maurits Kwee at the United
Nations’ Day of Vesak (Bangkok Conference, May 2015):
Buddha as Therapist: Conversations and Meditations
On the metaphysical question: “Would you exist after physical death?” The Buddha replied:
”…I expound and point out only the reality of suffering and the cessation of suffering.”
(Anuradha Sutta)
UNESCO's "Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women" is an appropriate adage for
psychotherapy interested in advancing the Buddhist spirit of healing in a world of Buddhists and
non-Buddhists. In order to reach non-Buddhists the skilful means (upaya) of religious neutrality
as a paramount quality of the Dharma seems to be a dire need. Troubled minds, religious or nonreligious, might require therapeutics: sane self-talk and emotional balancing. These are practices
of a Buddhist therapist proficient in explaining psychological working mechanisms in secular
terminology and implementing interventions which are by necessity worldly. If Buddhist therapy
and meditation are to be helpful for humanity and applied worldwide, formulating a teaching
which transcends communal contexts would be a gap-filling boon. This educational effort is
called pan-Buddhism, a bare-bone teaching of Buddhist basic ideas which – devoid from cultural
and worshipping hurdles – is able to eclipse conflicting doctrinal tendencies, is capable to bind
the numerous schools of thought and is likely acceptable by all factions interested in the bright
future of Buddhism as psychotherapy. In the field of meditation a Buddhist approach toward
building a peaceful mind requires a silent mind which dawns when thinking ceases which cannot
be commanded. As means-is-end, there is no way to peacefulness but peace at every step. A
peaceful mind can be effectively exercised via the silencing meditation of heartfulness/Pristine
Mindfulness and the relationally equilibrating contemplations of kindness, compassion, and joy.
In helping non-Buddhists of any or no religion, Karma Transformation offers a talking
cure (psychotherapy) (Kwee, 2013a) for disturbed emotions which leans on Western mentality
due to the simple fact that therapy is invented in the West. My observation when teaching and
treating is that clients are best served by meeting their preference for an evidence-based
approach. This prompted the creation of a method that could compete with established systems
like psychoanalysis, experiential therapy and cognitive-behavior therapy. In Karma
Transformation, The historical Buddha Gautama (6 th century BCE), referred to as The Buddha in
the remainder, is viewed as a mortal - thus fallible - human being (though a genius) who is the
precursor of Freud, Rogers and Beck, to mention a few giants. Pan-Buddhist concepts like the
skandhas (equivalent to the modalities of emotion, cognition, and action) offer an orderly
structure for a practice congruent to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, a variety of cognitivebehavior therapy founded by Albert Ellis (1913-2007). These psychological modalities provide a
fitting sequential format for karma defined as intentional (cognitive) action (behavior) and for a
clinical tool for transforming self-sabotaging emotions. Disseminating a confluence of panBuddhism and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (Kwee & Ellis, 1998) could be a land-sliding
enterprise conceivably evoking conflict with religionists as it might shift attention away from
vested interests whose prime concern is prayer and devotion. Notwithstanding Buddhism is a
search for happiness amid existential suffering (Kwee, 2013b).
Proposing a Buddhist therapy as a secular practice is diametrically opposed to a view of
Buddhism as a religious practice of worship. These conflicting tendencies might engender a
struggle, confusion, and crisis in the minds of students in Buddhist education. In a teaching of
mind-emptiness the controversy between religionists vs. secularists impresses as an issue on the
surface, at bottom anathema. However, going forward, there could be a "crisis within and
without" which might continue to exist in the scholarly arena until surpassed by a peace of mind
for all on the need and needlessness for a Buddhism as religion or secular intervention. This
contribution is based on a program which was presented earlier (Kwee, 2014). Its content is
rooted in three books (Kwee, 2010, 2013a, 2015a).
Not-self and heartfulness
This offering starts with the proposition that Buddhism (the Dharma) is a “religion-less
religiosity” commenced by a godly but godless man who got his insights by sitting under a tree
and using his heart and rational intellect. What he discovered or rather uncovered in the Iron Age
was obviously not rocket science but knowledge and wisdom how to get along with self and
others. Against the current of the time his teaching excludes metaphysics and references to the
beyond and highlights instead the primacy of one’s own experience. When asked by the Brahmin
Dona what kind of being he is or will be, his answer was that he is awakened, thus not a god, a
ghost, or a prophet (Dona Sutta). This makes his teaching fundamentally different from known
systems which propagate some other-worldly/all-mighty deity or deities who rule the world and
its inhabitants. The Buddha’s teaching can be delineated as the skilful art of relating peacefully
within (as well as without) which is based on confronting oneself with one’s own body and
mind, i.e. feelings and thoughts, the only experiencing available when sitting alone under a tree.
Basically this is a search for self in a secular way and could also be called a psychological quest.
Ironically, in his exhaustive quest to “know thyself” The Buddha did not find any self but found
“not-self” instead. Thereby, metaphysics and worship are anathema in his teaching on “balanced
views” which exclude projections of godheads ( Kaccanagotta, Aggivacchagotta and
Gaddulabaddha Suttas).
Opposed to the Brahmanical belief in godheads and self, The Buddha expounded
“emptiness” and not-self which imply that there is no everlasting fixed self (I-me-mine/ego) to
be found (due to life’s impermanence). As manifested in thinking (cognition and imagery) and
feeling (sensation and affect) this impermanence causes continuous imperfection and
psychological suffering. The latter is due to one’s habitual striving to crave, grasp, and cling
while any attachment will surely weather, leaving one in despair. The trilogy of impermanence,
suffering, and not-self, also known as the 3-Empirical Marks of Existence (Dhamma-Niyama
Sutta), is characteristic to The Buddha’s basic teaching which rationale is to pacify human
psychological/emotional suffering on existential issues in life. This pivotal insight implies the
possibility of a choice to suffer or not to suffer and raises the question of free will: does free will
exist? According to classical experimental studies by Libet et al. (1985, 2004) there is a “free
won’t” rather than a free will, meaning that in a psychological change process habit might
prevail and is stronger than the will to change. On a positive note, “free won’t” allows the choice
not to act the old fashioned way and that the power not to do or to turn around habitual
intentional tendencies can be mobilized at any time (Kwee, Gergen & Koshikawa, 2006).
The peaceful method that The Buddha applied to end suffering under a tree is known as
mindfulness which I rather call heartfulness. The Chinese calligraphy for this meditation is 念
which means presence (upper character) of heart (lower character) denoting that it is about being
wakeful while practicing loving-kindness, compassion, and joyfulness when confronted with
whatever feeling, thought, or action popping up in body/speech/mind. These dimensions might
be discerned into Behavior-Affect-Sensation-Imagery-Cognition-Interaction, one’s BASIC-I, a
wordplay for self and an acronym for the modalities of clinging (skandhas) (Kwee & Lazarus,
1986; Kwee & Ellis, 1997). Affect is the psychologist’s term for inner feelings, from vague
moods to fierce emotions. The discovery that there is no self comes in naturally as insight and
understanding dawn that self is a non-abiding abstraction which exists as an illusion as well as a
useful practical index in provisional reality. On an ultimate level of reality, the Buddhist
experience is that “I am not.” The BASIC-I is to be witnessed, attended, and embraced in
unconditional positive regard which is in effect letting experiences come and go with tolerance,
acceptance, openness, curiosity, gentleness, humor, caring, and trust. By doing so, particularly,
when the 3-Poisons – greed, hatred, and ignorance on how the mind works – are met, the
practitioner becomes peacefully grounded and relatively unmoved by the daily recurrent storms
of negatively felt emotions of fear, grief, anger, and depression. Practice while in action is the
quintessence of heartfulness which boils down to a method of relating to experiences
encountered throughout the day. If self-acceptance is concerned heartfulness is hands-on by
being non-judgmental when dealing with thoughts about self, but pertinently judgmental to-themax when intentions of karmic actions are at stake.
Karma and ignorance
The Buddha called himself a kammavadin and kiriyavadin, someone who explains the causes and
conditions of karma and the consequences of action (kiriya) to live a “self-actualized” fulfilling
life ( This illustrates the importance of karma and
effective action. His take of karma was radically different from the Brahmin meaning as an
account balance of good and bad deeds and in the context of reincarnation. As the self and soul
were negated by The Buddha, reincarnation, the transmigration of a spiritual substance from one
body onto another body, is anathema. The meaning of karma and reincarnation was modified by
The Buddha who was also known as an analyst vibhajjavadin (Peoples; He interpreted
rebirth in a present life context as a this-worldly event, i.e. the recurrence of an emotional
episodes due to one’s karma defined as intentional-action/behavior. Heartfulness changes one’s
undesirable conduct and might extinguish karmic emotions by unconditionally and peacefully
accepting whatever enters the spaces of body/speech/mind. Hence the admonition is that one
needs to be mindful, i.e. aware of and attend to the intention of each deed in order to transform
karmic unwholesome into wholesome emotions and peaceful behaviors.
The 3-Poisons (greed, hatred, and ignorance) hold a central place in a karmavadin’s
practice of Karma Transformation. These poisons follow a traditional Buddhist classification of
affect and make more sense if they are formulated in psychological terms by using an equivalent
taxonomy of emotions. The framework to do this is the onion model of basic emotions (Kwee,
2013) comprising specific layers, from outer to inner: depression, anger, fear, grief, joy, love,
and silence. Silence is the state of being unmoved which could change into being moved
(emotion is a term derived from the Latin emovere, to move), toward positively felt positive
emotions (love and joy) or negatively felt negative emotions (grief, fear, anger, and depression).
Experiencing negative emotions is although painful, agonizing and distressing not per se
something negative in the end. Its meaningfulness can be insightfully understood and
subsequently transformed if totally accepted in heartfulness with unconditional positive regard.
The Buddha’s greed inheres in fear (anxiety, fright, scare, panic, terror, apprehension, etc.) and
usually the act of fleeing when anticipating the loss of a loved object and inheres in grief
(sadness, bereavement, anguish, pain, despondency, etc.) and often the act of crying when having
lost a loved one. Hatred inheres in anger (fury, enragement, hostility, resentment, contempt, etc.)
and sometimes the act of fighting/aggression when blaming someone or something outwardly
and inheres in depression (dysphoria, dejection, melancholia, gloom, and doom, etc.) and
frequently the act of self-downing when anger down-hearts self. Peace within and without are
then far away.
The most controversial concept in Buddhism is karma. The Buddha however was clear
about karma’s entanglement with the 3-Poisons because he viewed them as intertwined with his
teaching on ceasing karma (Kamma Sutta). Detoxifying the poisons is a matter of education
which is a prime interest of the Dharma when anti-doting the poison. Ignorance is lifted when the
4-Ennobling Realities (on “suffering, diagnostics, prognosis, and therapy”) are completely
understood. The quintessence of diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy revolves around karma.
Educating therefore includes a rational interpretation of karma, not as a law of retribution but as
a concept of logical fate: willful feeling and thinking reap willful action. In summary:
1. The sober and secular (non-metaphysical/this-worldly) shortest definition of kamma or
karma is intentional action.
2. Karma comprises an intention plus an action (behavior/conduct/deed) which is planned
3. A karmic or intentional action takes place wilfully during or after an affective or
emotional episode.
4. Karmic/intentional action consists of feeling, thought, and action which exist and
originate in interdependence.
5. Although karmic/intentional action arises in dependent origination what counts
eventually is the deed.
6. Dependent origination is a sequential process of arising-peaking-subsiding-and-ceasing
of emoting-thinking-doing.
7. Karma Transformation requires awareness and attention (mindfulness/heartfulness) of
intention and action.
8. Karma Transformation starts with investing heart-mind in witnessing BASIC-I to gain
experiential insight in not-self.
9. This implies an understanding of the transient nature of Behavior-Affect-SensationImagery-Cognition-Interaction.
10. Heartfulness is a love affair with karmic self resulting in vanishing of feeling-thoughtaction of self as lover and self as beloved.
The items above can be nicely wrapped up by the following image: Karma is the ever changing
knotlet of body/speech/mind events in which one is embedded and participates. ~
The miracle of education
The Buddha’s down-to-earth teachings point at demystifying the redundancy of exotic inferences
and magic in explaining life’s phenomena. The rejection of everything beyond the human
experiential range is also illustrated by his acknowledging only one miracle namely: the miracle
of education. Education is meant to attain inner peace of emptiness and nirvana (i.e. the
extinction of emotionality rather than going to paradise as a tangible destiny) (Kevatta Sutta).
This “miracle” can be exemplified by the metaphorical language The Buddha used to practice
when eradicating ignorance. Consider a dialogue with Angulimala, the cruel “finger necklace
serial killer.” Surprised to see an ascetic in his area, the killer yelled “stop or otherwise,…” while
continuing to walk. The Buddha retorted “I already stopped, don’t you want to stop?” The
bandit, puzzled: “how can he ask me to stop while I’m not walking and say he stopped already
while still walking?” Obviously, The Buddha juggled with semantics as “stopping” carries the
double entendre of stopping to walk and behaving unwholesomely. Another instance of the
metaphorical use of terms is his view on nirvana: rather than becoming literally unified, the
Buddhist “union with Brahma” is through exercising the Brahmaviharas (which include applying
loving-kindness, compassion, joy in the equanimity of heartfulness) (Tevijja Sutta). The thesis is
that The Buddha was a “semantic artist” and “poetic activist,” a therapist who seized the
awakened meaning of words and cured by talking metaphors.
As a mortal man, The Buddha was a fallible human being who lived à la condition
humaine, to use a Malraux phrase, starting with his mother’s death which was likely due to his
birth. Uncertain, he doubted whether to teach the world or not (Dhammacakka Sutta). He also
made mistakes like ordaining an infant (Rahulovada Sutta) and initially refusing women in the
order (Kisagotami Sutta). Not free from anger, he called his cousin Devadatta, who tried to kill
him spit licker, a “vile one to be vomited like spittle” (Abhayarajakumara Sutta). Also, he could
not dealt with a crisis in his own commune in the ninth rainy season of his 45 year mission
(Kosambiya Sutta) and could not prevent the massacre of his clan (the Shakyas) (Ambattha
Sutta). Illustrating the latter two instances might explain The Buddha’s fallibility. Once in
Kosambi a quarrel with sharp words arose among hermits about water and a bathroom jar
(equivalent to not flushing the WC). An escalating conflict divided the commune in two factions
hitting each other. The Buddha admonished to no avail and was asked to keep out of the conflict
which he did by leaving the spot. The second illustration: remarkably, The Buddha did not
perform any miracle when toward the end of his life his family was massacred by King
Vidudabha, bastard son of a Shakyan king and a slave girl. He revenged a denigrating fate by
murdering almost all Shakyas and despite The Buddha prevented Vidudabha three times
previously from marching against the Shakyas, he failed this time. During these events, many
hours in the burning sun caused a headache for the rest of his life. The Buddha was not
omniscient and not invulnerable (Kariyawasam, 2010). Finally, The Buddha was not able to
foretell or escape his own death due to poisoning (Malalasekera, 2003, p. 876;
Emphasizing his teachings’ humane nature, The Buddha did not only use Brahmanistic
words in a new meaning, he also applied fresh terms (Kalupahana, 2010). The term dukkha is an
example of a new term justifying his claim that what he uncovered under the tree is “unheard of
before”. While the term sukha is linked to “kha”, meaning “axle-hole,” with “su” as prefix meaning
good, thus a “good axle-hole,” the term dukkha, literally means “a bad axle-hole.” The latter does
not properly align with the axle by being too loose or too tight. If too loose, the wheel wobbles,
when too tight, the wheel gets heated and burns up. Exactly this happens in life if in dukkha, if
tensed, under stress, or burnt-out, i.e. when suffering emotionally, one is either unsteady or wobbly
in one’s action. Happiness then is a well-aligned axle providing for a smooth ride which is certainly
what The Buddha meant by sukha. Thus, freedom or nirvana enables someone to lead a smooth
flowing life as illustrated by the phrases “Whose thought, when in contact with the worldly
phenomena, does not tremble, who is sorrowless, without blemish, and peaceful, this is the highest
bliss” (Mahamangala Sutta). Furthermore, “Just as the ocean has only one taste, namely, the taste of
salt, so is the Dharma possessed of one taste, namely, the taste of freedom” (Hemavata Sutta). Thus,
The Buddha has his own language game plenty of metaphors and texts whose meaning is to be
inferred metaphorically. Moreover, translations using Western religious terms, like e.g. sermon or
monk, rather than talk or hermit, likely set the reader on a wrong footing if the Dharma is to be
viewed as a secular psychology/therapy.
Eradicating ignorance
Although The Buddha and his soteriological teachings can be qualified as godly, he is neither a
god nor a prophet, just a fallible mortal human being; a teacher on extinguishing emotional
suffering by eradicating ignorance by practical education. Thus he resembles a “clinical
psychologist” of today. The present offering proposes the working title “Buddha as therapist:
Conversations and Meditations” which contains a practical guideline for training in meditation
(A) and conversation (B). The program might be qualified as Manjushri’s double-edged sword
meant to educate practitioners skilled in the art and science of meditation toward emptiness and
of wise talking and walking the talk as a “cure.” The world of psychotherapy might benefit from
learning meditation, while the world of Buddhism might benefit from learning psychotherapy. In
both instances modeling by live demonstrations forms the educational way to teach how to
practice Karma Transformation. Depending on the set goal the various themes/subjects can be
offered flexibly as a half to one hour lecture, a two hour workshop, a four hour seminar, a one
day master class, or a 1 or 2 week intensive course. All presentations are accompanied by
powerpoint slides and is structured like a show of “infotainment/entertrainment.”
(A) Buddha as therapist: meditations
This one week intensive course toward a peaceful mind might include a practicum (3-5 days)
and is one out of two consecutive courses (on meditations and conversations) which are
complementary to each other. Each could be the other’s introduction or sequel. Buddhist
practices like emptying the mind and deconstructing the ego or self are intelligible in the
framework of contemporary psychotherapy. That is why The Buddha is presented here to you
as a therapist. He was a pioneer and forerunner of transforming emotional afflictions by
changing conduct and cognition. This course is meant for everyone who is professionally or
personally interested, in gaining insight in “provisional self” and in balancing life. Ideally,
one is willing to embody the spirit of loving-kindness, empathic compassion, joyful
contentment and meditative balance in relationship with others and with self in private selftalk. These are also the basic Buddhist attitudes of the therapist in conversation with the
client. They function as the necessary “therapeutic common factors” when transforming
unwholesome conditions to wholesome ones. The course features a lively interaction and
ingredients for an inspiring presentation with lots of humor and seriousness. It aims at
understanding the Buddhist taste of karma and its transformation. The student might gain
deep insight in Buddhism and its methods with a far-reaching after-effect. (A certificate
might be issued at the end.)
Here are the 18 subjects of “Buddha as Therapist: Meditations” summarized per hour:
1 Psychology in Buddhism 1: virtual excursion Borobudur
This presentation is meant to highlight the development of Mahayana Buddhism as a
psychology by understanding and revealing the mystery of the Borobudur, a UNESCO
protected construction in mandala form situated on the island of Java. This will be done
by a virtual excursion to this open air university where students learn to become a
buddha-to-be (bodhisattva) in 10 steps, guided by 5 books depicted on open air graphic
narratives, 2672 panels to be read in a 5 km walk, culminating in a resetting/rebooting
emptiness and to be subsequently finalized by imbuing the contemplations of lovingkindness, empathic compassion and shared joy in balanced inter-mind. Thus, it offers
awe experiences of AHA on the way up and HAHA experiencing on the way down
(Kwee, 2012a).
2 Psychology in Buddhism 2: virtual excursion Borobudur (Ibidem 1)
3 Buddhism: Westward, secularity and psychology
Buddhism’s arrival in the Western hemisphere went along with a religious-like flavor
due to the Christian background of the translators. Since for about a century the first
psychological interpretations of Buddhism appear in the academic literature. This might
be viewed as a paradigm shift and a promising contribution to the helping professions.
However, for Buddhism to become a psychology as a social science discipline it needs to
be secular and non-theistic (neither theistic, nor a-theistic) which it already was. This
presentation offers a metaphorical and non-metaphysical/this-worldly interpretation of
the Theravada suttas and Mahayana sutras. Firmly rooted on the Buddhist scriptures the
basics for a Buddhist psychology are founded which main constituents are assessment of
self/not-self and the clinical practice of therapy/counseling/coaching.
4 Buddhism as non-theism (Ibidem 3)
5 Schools of psychotherapy
This presentation is about the links made between Buddhism and psychotherapy which
starts at the middle of the past century with the work of Fromm and Watts. The present
author belongs to one of three psychologists who offered a cognitive-behavioral concept
of Buddhism. A comparison is made between the major systems of therapy:
psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive-behavioral, and social constructional. After
introducing The Buddha as therapist, Karma Transformation is explained as a Buddhist
psychotherapy which could be described as a confluence of Buddhism and Rational
Emotive Behavior Therapy, an eclectic-integrative brief but comprehensive system of
treatment designed by this author.
6 Pristine Mindfulness/heartfulness 1: explanation/exercise/homework
A presentation of views and experiencing reclaims the Buddhist origins by reviewing the
Theravada and Mahayana representations and by integrating the relational perspective of
reality of Social Construction. The “what” and “how” of experiencing awareness and
attention are enhanced by meditations/contemplations which acquaint with the Buddhist
mentality of “zeroness.” It aims at (1) familiarizing with “pristine mindfulness” or
heartfulness and by re-contextualizing the mindfulness-lite undertaking as part and parcel
of the Buddhist 8-Fold Balancing Practice; at (2) acquainting with four conceptualizing
approaches to emptiness/not-self and “non-foundationalism;” and at (3) experientially
traversing the 4-stage/8-step model of heartfulness culminating in not-self/nirvana,
dependent origination, non-dual wholesomeness and reality as a social construction
(Relational Buddhism) (Kwee, 2015b).
7 Pristine Mindfulness/heartfulness 2: explanation/exercise/homework (Ibidem 6)
8 Breathing meditation (exercise/homework)
A calming/tranquilizing exercise which uses breathing (air passing the nostrils) as an
anchor; witnessing the whole body breathing is the first step in learning meditation.
9 The common factors approach
Studies suggest that 30-70% of therapy success is regardless of theory, problem type,
professional discipline, session mode or dosage. Success is likely attributable to
relational non-specifics or non-specific/common factors rather than to specific factors of
a particular approach. The Buddhist main common factors consist of advisory friendship
(kalyanamitta), therapeutic-appreciative dialoguing, and the social meditations
10 Sensory meditation (exercise/homework)
Sensory meditation is meant to learn to watch the working of the sensing organs and their
functioning (eyes/vision, ears/hearing, nose/smelling, skin/touching, tongue/tasting and
the mind’s eye: brain/thoughts-feelings). It is an exercise in heartfulness because of the
subject’s unconditional acceptance by being kind, compassionate, humorous, curious,
caring, open, gentle, trustful, non-striving, and letting go to incoming stimuli.
11 Karma assessment (static)
Learning to assess the illusory skandhas of clinging, here conceptualized as BASIC-I
(Behavior-Affect-Sensation-Imagery-Cognition-Interaction), and to check the person’s
basic emotions (depression, fear, anger, grief) from a 3-Poison perspective of greed,
hatred, and ignorance on how the mind works.
12 Death contemplation (exercise/homework)
A supreme meditation by visualizing exercises acquainting with the transience and
impermanence of life. Images of one’s physical death and decay of the body make a
lasting impression and contribute to increasing appreciation for life even if fickle.
13 Karma Transformation (KT)
An introduction to the meaning and ins and outs of karma as intentional action which
opens up a cognitive-behavioral view and idem ditto intervention. A conversation aiming
at ceasing distress and agony by a system of helping based on the non-specific factors of
loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and relational balance and on specific factors,
techniques administered during a process of ongoing assessment and remedy, including
heartfulness and other meditations, to accrue wholesome karmic outcome of
body/speech/mind in the larger context of seeking awakening
14 Loving-kindness (exercise/homework)
This contemplation is about intending and wishing oneself and others heartfelt healing
loving-kindness showering over oneself and others by visualizing in the mind’s eye a
sane life of contentment, health, and happiness, free from greed, hatred, ignorance,
trouble, sickness, harm, blame, doom, gloom, sorrow, and pain.
15 Dependent origination of emotional suffering
The dependent origination of emotionality might be understood in a candle light
(Theravada) and domino (Mahayana) metaphor. This presentation explains a down-toearth 12-link understanding of the domino metaphor regarding depression, fear, anger,
and grief as they arise, peak, subside, and cease interdependently as a function of feelingthought-action or more extensively of the BASIC-I. In the framework of the 3-Poisons
the realms of heaven, hell, gods, titans, humans, and animals are viewed as metaphoric
for various variants of affect.
16 Empathic compassion (exercise/homework)
Compassion meditation is an ancient Buddhist training and practice of “receiving and
offering” designed to increase feelings of compassion and wanting to help and forgive
self and others. In a 30 minute guided meditation, one cultivates feelings of compassion
for loved ones, oneself, strangers, as well as people one is in trouble with. Compassion
meditation is like training the compassion muscle, starting with the lightest weight of a
loved one and working up to a heavier weight of a difficult person. It was scientifically
validated to show that practicing compassion meditation for 30 minutes a day for two
weeks increases altruistic behavior and changes the brain’s responses to human suffering.
Compassion is the feeling of caring for and wanting to help self and others who are
suffering. Forgiveness is a strong cleansing affect toward peacefulness, within and
17 Karma functional analysis (process)
The Karmic Life History Questionnaire is a 300 question anamnestic assessment tool
which can be used by therapists of any denomination. It covers stress factors, narrative
rebiographing, self as narrative, pathography, biography, and finding meaning
culminating in a karma topographical analysis (BASIC-I structure) and karma functional
analysis (BASIC-I process). Whatever happened to the man shot by a poison arrow (of
greed and hatred) and who felt physical and psychological pain? Chronic emotional
disturbance can be functionally analyzed in five vicious cycles which give clues to
intervene how to break through the circles.
18 Laughing meditation, smiling visualization, and evaluation
Affluence is not so much in money as it is in a good mood, laughing, and smiling. This
training is meant to be applied when one is confronted with unfortunate circumstances
and when making mistakes. The AHA of Buddhism sometimes needs cleansing by
HAHA to reset/reboot the mind by laughing at death, at self, and at mistakes. Life’s
mission is “to dance as though no one is watching, to love as though never hurt before, to
sing as though no one is hearing, and to live as though heaven is on earth.” A sign of
understanding is in smiling which is trained here by learning the inner smile, i.e. to smile
to our vital organs.
(B) Buddha as therapist: conversations
This one week intensive course toward a peaceful mind might include a practicum (3-5 days)
and is one out of two consecutive courses (on conversations and meditations) which are
complementary to each other. Each could be the other’s introduction or sequel. Buddhist
practices like emptying the mind and deconstructing the ego or self are intelligible in the
framework of contemporary psychotherapy. That is why The Buddha is presented here to you
as a therapist. He was a pioneer and forerunner of transforming emotional afflictions by
changing conduct and cognition. This course is meant for everyone who is professionally or
personally interested, in gaining insight in “provisional self” and in balancing life. Ideally,
one is willing to embody the spirit of loving-kindness, empathic compassion, joyful
contentment and meditative balance in relationship with others and with self in private selftalk. These are also the basic Buddhist attitudes of the therapist in conversation with the
client. They function as the necessary “therapeutic common factors” when transforming
unwholesome conditions to wholesome ones. The course features a lively interaction and
ingredients for an inspiring presentation with lots of humor and seriousness. It aims at
understanding the Buddhist taste of karma and its transformation. The student might gain
deep insight in Buddhism and its methods with a far-reaching after-effect. (A certificate
might be issued at the end.)
The 18 subjects of “Buddha as Therapist: Conversations” summarized per hour are:
1 2600 years of Buddhism: the East and ancient Indo-Greece
The thesis put forward here is that there is no need to learn Buddhism from the East as
Buddhism was shaped by what I have coined Ancient Greek Buddhism which started
after the late Greek-Bactrian kingdom post Alexander (from 4thcentury Before Common
Era) which developed into the Indo-Greek kingdom (2ndc BCE-c.0). It all began with
Basileos Soteros Menandrou (Buddhist Saviour King of Taxila, present-day Afghanistan;
reigned 155-130 BCE) who declared his allegiance to the Dhamma after 304 of his
questions were satisfactorily answered as reported in the Milindapanha. After him 27
Greek Kings of the East were Buddhist until the demise of the Kingdom. Ergo: Buddhism
belongs to Western civilization since 2200 years.
2 Pan-Buddhism: pivotal themes
The Questions of King Menandros as in the Milindapanha accrue 15 themes which
constitute the foundation of the Buddhist teachings. Wise understanding of these
interdependently related subjects warrants one’s knowledge on basic Buddhism.
3 The Buddha: psychological life story 1
A psychological account on The Buddha’s life narrated from conception to death. It
highlights the places where he was born, got awakened, held his first discourse and
attained parinirvana; it also presents some significant discourses out of the available
17.505 suttas which are relevant to Buddhist therapy. The biography is illustrated by
Greek styled sculptures as found in the bigger area of Gandhara.
4 The Buddha: psychological life story 2 (Ibidem 3)
5 The ABCDE of 4-Ennobling Realities: karma episodes
Papanca is a habitual process: an obsessive elaboration and proliferation of distortions
and falsifications due to emotional craving, cognitive grasping and behavioral clinging
which can be designated as “distress and agony perpetuating irrational hypermentation.”
Papancizing self-sabotages by self-infliction through self-defiling thoughts and selfafflicting emotions. Central to this notion is irrational self-talk resulting in craving,
grasping and clinging featured by irrational “musts/should” and “must-nots/should-nots.”
Due to papanca there is common ground for Buddhism and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy,
particularly Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. This combination offers a specific
method for therapeutic conversation of karma transformation. Emotional reality is
personal but the way one derives reality is universal. In short this comes down to what we
call the ABC of karmic episodes, twofold deeply rooted in Buddhism. It is not the
external circumstances (called A-vedana/dukkha) that make me feel bad, mad, sad or
scared (called C-sankara/niroda), but my own ignorant-unrealistic-irrational thoughts,
opinion, judgment, evaluation and attitude regarding (called B-sanna/samudaya). In order
to change B, we need to focus on each thought leading to C and change them through
thorough disputation (D/marga) into wise-realistic-constructive thoughts to accrue a new
desirable karmic emotional effect (E-sankhara). Disputation takes place by scrutinizing
each thought by questioning: is it wholesome and does it lead to kindness, compassion, or
6 Demonstration (homework) (Application of 5 with a volunteer from the public)
7 The ABC of Karma Transformation (See 5)
8 Exercising the ABC in dyads or triads (homework) (See 5)
9 The DE of Karma Transformation (See 5)
10 Exercising DE in dyads of triads (homework) (See 5)
11 Psychotherapy by Karma Transformation 1 (See 5)
12 Demonstration/exercise 1 (homework) (Application of 5 with a public client)
13 Psychotherapy by Karma Transformation 2 (See 5)
14 Demonstration/exercise 2 (homework) (Application of 5 with a public client)
15 Psychotherapy by Karma Transformation 3 (See 5)
16 Demonstration/exercise 3 (homework) (Application of 5 with a public client)
17 Psychotherapy by Karma Transformation: the end (See 5)
18 ABCDE (student’s paper), evaluation of goals and expectations (See 5)
N.B.: the above representation reflects a tight and compact program, meaning that for the sake of
assimilation some loosening by more interaction, Q&A and breaks is recommended. Thus the
total 36-hour (6-day) program could be extended onto a 2-week (10-day) program.
The literature to be read as homework comprises a selection of chapters/articles from my
works listed below and provided by a host of Buddhist scholars. The texts are authored by
among others: James Austin, Peter Bankart, Henk Barendregt, Aaron Beck, Guy Claxton, the
14th Dalai Lama, Michael DelMonte, Padmal De Silva, Padmasiri De Silva, Albert Ellis, Paul
Fleischman, Kenneth Gergen, Yutaka Haruki, Dian Marie Hosking, Jane Henry, Jon Kabat-Zinn,
David Kalupahana, Yakupitiyage Karunadasa, Belinda Khong, Fusako Koshikawa, Jean
Kristeller, Michael Mahoney, William Mikulas, Pahalawattage Premasiri, Lobsang Rapgay,
Deane Shapiro, Sik Hin Hung, John Teasdale, Asanga Tilakaratne, Dennis Tirch, Michael
Tophoff, Paul van der Velde, Mark Williams, Han de Wit, Ven. Xing Guang, Zhihua Yao. Due
to space constraints, the selected literature, also derived from other sources than from the below,
will be specified on request.
This contribution provides a course for trainers, an infotainment-entertrainment, how to practice
Karma Transformation by traversing a 36-hour comprehensive curriculum for Buddhist and nonBuddhist educators. The Buddhist venture is a practice of “liberation within” and the theory is a
guide, a roadmap for practice. Psychologically, liberation implies a freedom of emotional
captivity. Therapy, counseling, and coaching are meant to disentangle psychological knots.
Because of the primacy of practice, the above curriculum is inextricably entwined with clinical
practice, supervision, and intervision. A minimum amount of hours for face-to-face or longdistance personal guidance (via Skype) is advisably done and depends on the student’s individual
needs and the supervisor’s assessment of the student’s skilfulness.
The topics of psychology in Buddhism and Buddhist psychotherapy are conspicuously
missing in textbooks used in university curricula internationally. Acclaimed introductory books
reviewing Buddhism like Gethin’s (1998) and Harvey’s (2013) touch the subject of psychology
only sideways; and the term psychotherapy is as yet completely absent in Buddhist course books.
Surveying of other works varying from Buddhist encyclopedias to dictionaries (e.g. Keown &
Prebish, 2003) accrues the same result. Texts amalgaming Buddhism and psychology are
exceptionally rare (An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology; De Silva, 1979/2005 and The
Principles of Buddhist Psychology; Kalupahana, 1987). After these two pioneering books
Buddhist psychology as a term became accustomed, but this does not apply to Buddhist
psychotherapy. As Buddhism is primarily viewed as a religious belief, Buddhist therapy
struggles for acceptance in academia. Somehow psychotherapy sounds like a strange bedfellow
in combination with Buddhism. For Buddhists, this might be due to the nature of the concept
psyche which is anathema in a teaching contending the emptiness of self and ego. Moreover,
what could be Buddhist therapy? A clear-cut methodology seems lacking. After the 1980s
authors from an experiential/Rogerian (e.g. Brazier, 1995) and psychoanalytical/Freudian (e.g.
Epstein, 1995) perspective pioneered the cross-fertilization of Buddhism and psychotherapy. To
date this author introduced the first integrative account of Buddhist therapy and coaching
through his book Psychotherapy by Karma Transformation: Relational Buddhism and Rational
Practice (2103; This offers a practice oriented
mosaic of pan-Buddhist principles and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (Kwee & Ellis,
1998). The basis of Karma Transformation is a Buddhist psychology (of a cognitive-behavioral
signature) which was elaborated earlier in various edited books, backed by professionals in the
field (Kwee, 1990; 2010; Kwee & Holdstock, 1996; Kwee, Gergen & Koshikawa, 2006). Based
on three decades of practice, theory, teaching, and research, the present contribution launches the
specifics of a concise but comprehensive university level curriculum to secure Karma
Transformation for the next generation. Because of the curriculum’s practical implication,
participants need to have access to clients for the practicum. Eligible for the course are students
in the helping professions. In effect, the curriculum is particularly apt for professional therapists,
counselors, and coaches. This includes MAs, MDs, PhDs: psychiatrists, physicians,
psychologists, buddhologists, reverends, social workers, and managerial or organizational
advisors. The proposed curriculum aims to train trainers and teachers.
Most programs introducing Buddhism do not refer to psychology or therapy (e.g. or offer a “science of mind” which alludes to the teaching of Nagarjuna. The
latter appears to be a program expounding a “middle way theory (Madhyamaka) of logical
consequence ad infinitum (Prasangika) on things lacking inherent existence (svabhava) which
emptiness however does not mean that things do not exist” (e.g.
Traditionally, most Buddhists consider Buddhist psychology to be the “deeper teachings” of the
Abhidharma (the 3rd Theravada canonical book). From a second millennium point of view, I
view this work as an archaic philosophical psychology trying to shed light on the nature of “the
smallest unit of experience” (dharmas) which does not lead to rescuing “the man shot with a
poison arrow” (of greed, hatred, and ignorance; Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta). In fact it has lead to
a centuries long lasting hair splitting dispute of sectarians, i.e. the supramundanes
(mahasanghikas) vs. the elders (sthaviravadin) (4th century BCE), the personalists
(pudgalavadin) vs. the realists (sarvastavadin) vs. the differentialists (vibhajyavadin) (3rd century
BCE), and between adherents of these realists: the materialists (vaibhashikas) vs. the sutra-ists
(sautantrikas) (2nd century). Out of 18 schools and sub-schools only the Theravada (“heirs of the
elder differentialists”), survived the ravages of time. Offered as a closed system by Tibetan
Buddhist teachers such courses seemingly exclude other views and require submission to a guru
(cf. Batchelor, 1990). In effect, it likely leaves the student full-headed but empty handed (save
meditations) and cannot be called “conversational therapy” of equal partners
Regarding the literature to be studied, there are works on Buddhist psychology/therapycounseling-coaching which are “neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring.” I surmise that this is
because there are only few professional psychologists and buddhologists who are well-versed in
both Buddhism and in clinical psychology. Most authors are theoretical/research psychologists
(e.g. Claxton, 1990), practicing psychoanalysts (e.g. Safran, 2003), Buddhist philosophers (e.g.
Hall, 1979), Buddhists adepts (e.g. Wallace, 2003), Nichiren psychologists (e.g. Dockett,
Dudley-Grant & Bankart, 2003), and there are psychologists who became Buddhist gurus (e.g.
Kornfield, 2009). A powerful current is headed by the 14 th Dalai Lama who is boosting
expensive Buddhist research on psychology, neuropsychology, and neuroplasticity (e.g.
Goleman, 2003; Despite the huge effort, these
writings do not seem to have a real impact on designing a full-fledged Buddhist psychotherapy.
There are exceptions to the rule (e.g. Watson, 1998; De Silva, 2008) and a collaboration
of a Buddhist adept/philosopher and a mainstream psychologist accrued a gem of an article in
mainstream literature (Wallace & Shapiro, 2006). The notable exception is Kabat-Zinn’s (2003)
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction which has become and is still hype in medicine and mental
health care. It changed clinical practice all over the world. Helpful to achieve this was the
smuggling away of mindfulness’ Buddhist roots. In its wake there is Mindfulness-Based
Cognitive Therapy (Segal, Williams & Teasdale, 2002) and other mindfulness-based
interventions. However, creating a Buddhist psychology and therapy is quite a different ball
game than establishing an 8-week technique-oriented procedure. Considering the thriving
research on compassion, forgiveness, and happiness (e.g. Kwee & Taams, 2004), the next logical
step is to originate Buddhist psychotherapy. Karma Transformation endeavors Buddhist therapy
on cognitive-behavioral lines, which I (Kwee, 1990) ventured in conjunction with Mikulas
(1978) and De Silva (1984). My take differs from cognitive-behavioral approaches like
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (Linehan, 1993) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
(Hayes, 2004) which – despite their Buddhist inspiration – are not Buddhist psychotherapies.
They are at best cognitive behavior therapies with a Buddhist flavor.
A stream of thought which bear correspondence with the current non-theistic take is
Batchelor’s (1997) secular Buddhism. However his innovative take remains in the framework of
philosophy and does not include psychology at all. My proposition bears resemblance with Zen
Therapy (D. Brazier, 1995) and with a similar program (C. Brazier, 2003). However, our
differences regarding Buddhist background (Amida Buddhism) and therapy approach
(experiential therapy) are significant. In fact, having teamed-up with David Brazier my
conclusion is that Karma Transformation complements Zen Therapy. There is high hope that a
cognitive-behavioral approach to Buddhist psychology/therapy, counseling, and coaching will
make headway going forward via the present curriculum.
In closing
UNESCO's "Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women" is a global striving which asks
for a local beginning: change the world and start with me, like by compassionately forgiving self
and others. There cannot be peace unless there is peace within the individual person. Peace is
likely not the avoidance or absence of difference and conflict but the presence of harmony and
silence. These insights can only be understood through education. However due to the jungle of
norms, values, differing cultures and religions peace might have gotten lost in a myriad of good
intentions. The practice without is hard because there are so many involved; so is the practice
within, but at least there is only me and self to deal with which are in principle comprehensive
and transparent. Notwithstanding, one might have gotten lost on the road and unable to find the
right track, unless helped by a guide. Here is where psychotherapy by Karma Transformation
comes in; it has been practiced by the present author for more than three decades. Many
denominations of therapy exist and the widespread need for a Buddhist version remains to be
seen. Considering the increase in interest in Buddhism in the Western world, the future seems
bright. Buddhist therapy is rooted in Buddhism as a psychology which on its turn is based on The
Buddha’s teachings and the Buddhism that has developed during 2500 years thereafter. An
extract of all of this has been published about (Kwee, 2013c) and forms the groundwork for a
practice of conversation and meditation as presented here as a curriculum. Supervision and
intervision on delivering meditation and on conducting conversations are part and parcel of the
The present secular approach to Buddhism is based on Ancient Greek Buddhism and
differs from other Buddhist therapy approaches (e.g. Watts, 1961) and non-religious/worldly
takes of Buddhism. It offers a brief but all-inclusive method of therapy meant to advance the
Buddhist spirit of healing in a world of Buddhists and non-Buddhists. While most of them (e.g.
Batchelor, 1997) stay within the realm of philosophy, they are unable to make the paradigm shift
to a next phase of conversational therapy practice. This is due to a lack of methodology to
transform greed, hatred, and ignorance into bliss and to a lack of a relational and meaning
perspective as proposed by Relational Buddhism (Kwee, 2012bc). The present author made
strides to make a comprehensive psychology/therapy out of the Dharma to help people help
Website and social media , Fb @ Relational Buddhism , Tw @ relationalbuddh
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G.T. Maurits Kwee, Ph.D. (Emeritus Hon. Prof.), Clinical Psychologist, is a Faculty Member of
the Taos Institute (USA) – Tilburg University (Netherlands) Ph.D.-Program and Founder of
the Institute for Relational Buddhism & Karma Transformation (
Chan and heartfulness adept from his teens, Professor Kwee earned his doctorate in
Medicine at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, and was a Chief Clinical Officer of an inpatient
psychiatric facility for severe anxiety and depressive disorders, during two decades, Delft, as
well as a Research Fellow at Waseda University, Tokyo, Honorary Professor at the University of
Flores, Buenos Aires. Currently Guest Lecturer at the Buddhist College, Budapest, he is also an
active Advisory Board Member of Shan You Counselling Centre, Singapore.
A clinician, researcher, and supervisor, he was also a convenor of a dozen conferences
and lectured world-wide as a Past President of the Transcultural Society for Clinical Meditation
(Japan) and a Board Member of the Society for Constructivism in the Human Sciences
(USA). Dr. Kwee promulgates a cutting‐edge secular Buddhist psychology/therapy founded on
pan-Buddhism, a confluence of Theravada, Ancient Greek Buddhism, and Mahayana, based on a
relational perspective.
His latest books: Horizons in Buddhist Psychology (2006; with K.J. Gergen and F.
Koshikawa), New Horizons in Buddhist Psychology (2010; both at Taos Institute Publications,
USA), Psychotherapy by Karma Transformation (2013; downloaded in 51 countries: and Buddha as Therapist: Meditations (2015) and
the present volume. His subjects include the Pursuit of Happiness Amidst Adversity (Oxford
University Press) and Pristine Mindfulness: Buddhist Foundation of Heartfulness
Dr. Kwee demystifies Buddhism into a psychology which is by necessity secular and
featured by a no-nonsense, non-devotional, and “non-religious but not religion-less religiosity.”
He has designed a cutting-edge integral psychology of Buddhism which transcends the
traditional Buddhist schools and earlier trials of transforming Buddhism into a psychology. The
heart of the matter of his Buddhist psychology is finding happiness as joy and contentment amid
life’s adversities by Karma Transformation of fear, anger, and grief.
He devotes his energy to presenting a Buddhist psychology-psychotherapy/counseling
and disseminates a refreshed/rejuvenated Buddhist teaching as an innovative method to boost
mental hygiene through stress-inoculation. Dr. Kwee instructs and engineers a practical art and
science of living for the public at large by empowering change advocates (therapists, counselors,
coaches, trainers, managers) as well as organizational leaders, clients, and students. Languages:
Nederlands, English, Deutsch, Français, Bahasa Indonesia, Hokkien (passive).
For more info:, Linkedin @Dr. G T
Maurits Kwee, PhD, Facebook @Maurits Kwee, @relationalbuddhism, and Twitter
@MauritsKweePhD, @relationalbuddh. Contact, E: and M:
Daniel M. Kwee, M.Sc. is currently the creative director of East West. East West is a creative
platform showcasing the ongoing confluence and debate between East and West. East West
initiates its own multi-disciplinary projects with and for the pan-Asian diaspora in The
Netherlands ( In 2005 Daniel graduated at the University of
Amsterdam in Communication Science with a minor in Comparative Asian Studies. Under
supervision of Prof. Dr. Jeroen de Kloet he wrote his master’s thesis about Hiphop subculture
and cultural globalization in Hong Kong. After graduation Daniel played and still plays as a
professional vocalist, presenter, host, and lyricist at national and international nightlife events
and festivals.
Marvin Shaub, Ph.D., received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, majoring in
Sociology concentrating in Social Psychology. He went on to The Harvard Business School
earning an MBA. A 40+ year business career followed in which he excelled as an entrepreneur,
corporate executive, consultant, and leader. He had high level executive assignments in Munich,
London, and Tokyo as well as The United States for The Franklin Mint Corporation then a
NYSE and London Stock Exchange listed company. For 18 years he ran his own consulting and
venture firm specializing in marketing to cultural minorities. At age 65 he returned to academia,
earning his Ph.D. (Doctor of Social Science) from Tilburg University, Netherlands. He is
Chairman Emeritus of The Taos Institute Associates Council and taught International Business at
Montclair State University. Dr. Shaub wrote and published two books about cross cultural issues
before collaborating with Dr. Kwee on the current book Buddha as Therapist: Meditations.
Taos Institute Publications
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