Q: What is the view of Human Nature?
A: The core of human nature is love. Our love is never totally unconditional, but we can intuit unconditional love and strive toward it. Actual love in a conditioned world inevitably involves choices, conflicts, frustrations and disappointments as well as joys, satisfactions, creativity and growth. How we cope with and respond to these various challenges and graces makes us the characters that we are. The elements in this mix that we have difficulty resolving crystalize as our personal koan which is our individual manifestation of the universal existential questions about mortality, life, existence and meaning. .
Q:What are the therapeutic techniques and procedures used in Zen therapy?
A: Zen therapy is an approach not a technique. It can make use of almost any therapeutic method - conversation, psychodrama, art therapy, outdoor pursuits, dance therapy, whatever. However whatever method it uses it will tailor to the principles of Buddhist psychology.
Q: How has your thinking changed about therapy since writing Zen therapy?
A: The Zen Therapy book was written while I was still considerably under the influence of Thich Nhat Hanh. Most of the theory in the book I will still stand by. There are, however, some specific areas where my interpretation has changed. First there is the reinterpretation of the Four Noble Truths as set out in The Feeling Buddha. Second there is a different take on dependent arising as set out in The New Buddhism. I do not think that it is useful to think in terms of "everything being part of everything else" or "everything depending on everything else" any more because I realised that if you follow such ideas through consistently they undermine ethics. Ethics has to involve choices in which we accept relations with some things and reject others. Also many actual relationships are one way. I need the sun but the sun does not need me. I have come to think, therefore, that while interdependence sounds good, the real challenge is to accept our dependency. This also chimes with a growing appreciation of the Pureland perspective on human nature as vulnerable and fallible. So I would only use concepts like Buiddha nature now in a very restricted manner as they too easily play into a human weakness for grandiosity.
Q: Can you say more about what you mean by Buddha Nature and how it reconciles with Carl Rogers view that "if one is able to get to the core of an individual, one finds a trustworthy, positive center" (Rogers, 1987)
A: Buddha nature is no nature. A person is as shunya as anything else which means that one can be many things. Some say BN is the potential to be a Buddha, but that is like saying every plot has palace nature - you still have to build the palace and many people are far from having got it together to build a palace and are busy building casinoes, abatoirs or shanties instead. Many Western people have conflated BN with the Rogerian idea and/or with "that of God in everyman" and this expresses the inevitable invasion of Buddhism by Western popular spirituality. Inasmuch as it means "Have a positive regard for others" I have no quarrel with it, except insofar as it confuses the real Buddhist idea. A Buddha is not attached to being reliable or non-reliable, good or bad, trustworthy or non-trustworthy. It is because they are not attached and are able to adapt that, in the ultimate analysis, they really are trustworthy, but this does not mean that they conform to any conventional idea of what that looks like. A Buddha is willing to be whatever the situation requires. Buddhism basically does not have the idea of a "core" in the person. Many people want to introduce this idea and it has been a perennial struggle in Buddhism, at least since Nagarjuna, to resist and refute this notion. It is well meant, but the Buddhist truth goes beyond it. To me the Rogerian statement comes out like this: when he says "if one is able to get to the core of an individual" he is referring to being genuinely empathic and warm toward that person. If you are genuinely empathic and warm toward a person you will sooner or later encounter the best aspect of that person and you will provide the conditions that maximise their chance of growing in a constructive manner. Buddhism agrees that treating people well is to be recommended and that good things result, but it does not conceptualise this as being due to the existence of a "core", it conceptualises it in terms of likely outcomes from providing conducive conditions.
Q: "Modernists believe in objective reality that can be observed and systematically known through the scientific method. They further believe reality exists independent or any attempt to observe it" (Corey 2009) "Postmodernists, in contrast believe that realities do not exist independent of observational processes. Social constructionism is a therapeutic perspective within a postmodern worldview: it stresses the clients's reality without disputing whether it is accurate or rational". Can you comment on these two statements and how they relate to the phenomenological approach to Zen therapy?
A: I believe in an objective reality and that Buddhism is about bringing a special kind of objectivity to areas that are often considered subjective. Measuring reality does involve interfering with it. In some domains, such as sub-nuclear physics, the necessary interference substantially changes the entity being measured and this puts a limit on what one can know. However, what we measure is not the reality itself, it is an abstraction related to the reality. You cannot measure tableness, you can only measure heights or lengths or weights of tables. Heights, weights etc do not exist. Tables exist. Science concerns itself with the relationships between abstractions, many of which have great concrete usefulness. The scientific method is not, however, some kind of ultimate truth, it is simply a useful method. There has been an unfortunate tendency, well described by philosopher Mary Midgley, to treat science as a kind of neo-religion and scientific method as a kind of religious dogma. This undermines good science as well as leading people astray. Scientific method does some things very well, but cannot, for instance, tell us what we should do. If we know what we want to do then science can often help us to do it. This is like art. An artist may be assisted by science that tells us about how pigments work, but the artist has to do the painting. Therapy is an art. It can be assisted by science but it is not a scientific procedure. Science yields knowledge of a certain kind, but you could have a vast amount of such knowledge about a client and the client still not be healed, or you might heal them with very little knowledge, just as painter might produce a very effective minimalist design. However, whether what the client is saying and doing chimes with reality matters. Acting unrealistically leads to disasters. Therapy always challenges the client's frame of reference. An empathic reflection, for instance, implicitly calls what is reflected into question. Why does one look into a mirror if not to consider the possibility of altering something? If you don't want to have the possibility of reconsidering your life, don't look into the mirror that the therapist/spiritual guide holds up. However, as therapist, I do not actually always need to know whether what the client says is accurate or rational. If I show him what he is saying he can decide for himself. If he decides well his life will go better. If he decides badly it will probably go worse. Well and badly do, here, however, refer to congruence with an objective reality. So the ZT position is neither modernist nor post-modernist. There is a reality but there are limits to our ability to know it. Whether our lives conform to it affects well-being even though our knowledge of it cannot be total. Life cannot, therefore, be perfected in the sense of becoming totally harmonised with reality. However, we can accept and have faith that if we are of a generous spirit and a happy disposition, good will come of it one way or another.
Last updated by David Brazier Jul 8, 2013.