Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Engaged Path

I have started reading a book I bought a while back, Buddhism on the Couch: From Analysis to Awakening Using Buddhist Psychology, by Caroline Brazier. It's a fairly technical look at Buddhist psychology as a means of psychotherapy. The back cover bills it as "the first no-self help book." Uh, yeah.

Anyway, I liked this passage from early in the book:

The Engaged Path

The teaching of the Four Noble Truths describes the whole-hearted application of energy that becomes possible when you contain and use the fire of your passion. It is an active process. Buddhism is not a path of withdrawal from the world, but one of engagement with it. In order to live whole-heartedly, you need to connect with others deeply; and in connecting with others, you cannot help but see and face their experiences of dukkha. Our lives are intertwined and we each provide the conditions for one another's well-being or otherwise. The engaged path is not one of quietism. It is one of constant challenge. It requires the containment and direction of our energies in the creation, not so much of personal improvement, but of the conditions for a better world for all.

In crisis situations we are often confronted with people who have much passion. Passion is the other side of depression and despair. .... Through galvanizing your energies and containing your passions, you can apply your actions whole-heartedly to a higher purpose, bringing many benefits. Nor should you think that you are too hurt or too damaged to be of use. It is often those who have been through the most who have most to give. It is from the energy of suffering that transformation becomes possible. All this is not, however, a matter of willpower. It is a matter of being willing to flow.

I like her vision of suffering as the fuel for transformation -- it's one of the reasons I first became interested in Buddhism after reading Sogyal Rinpoche many, many years ago.

I am also drawn to the idea that behind depression and despair is passion. This makes an intuitive sense in my own life. (Obviously, she doesn't mean passion as romantic lust.) It seems to me that the people I know who are the most passionate about things (animals, art, music, whatever) are the ones who suffer most often from depression and despair.

Thwarted passion in other areas of our lives manifests as depression. It seems worth reflecting on.


Unknown said...

In this vein...

Caroline's husband David Brazier wrote Zen Therapy, one of my favorite books! So thanks for the recommendation. [btw, the latest edition of Zen Therapy has a very similar cover to Caroline Brazier's Buddhist Psychology. Hmmm.]

Also, if you enjoy suffering [that doesn't sound quite right] I must recommend to you Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross in a recent, remarkable translation by Mirabai Starr. Starr is keen on Eastern religions and provides a very readable, less-turgid, less word-for-word literal translation that gives better access to St. John's meaning. It's a terrific little book.

william harryman said...

Hey Tom,

Yeah, I'm planning to get her husband's books, too. And thanks for the recommendation of the St. John translation.


brian said...

very informative, seeing things in a different light.