Thursday, January 28, 2016

buddhism and modern psychology

You know how people ask you at parties, "What are your hobbies?" I find myself wondering if I should share mine. Will it really interest them? Do they really want to know? Do people consider learning how to play the melodica or failed attempts at contact juggling a hobby? 

Well, I am here to say that one of my hobbies is learning. I simply love to learn. I also have subjects that fascinate me. Buddhism and Modern Psychology are a part of that growing list. So, I thought I would share a not-so-polished course essay I wrote on the comparative of Dukkha and modern psychology. Enjoy!
The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, offers a pragmatic diagnosis in which he establishes the relationship between permeating dukkha and the Four Noble Truths. Dukkha itself is a label, used to explain the structure of suffering or unsatisfactoriness. Whereas, the Four Noble Truths rely on the understanding of dukkha to pinpoint the human experience of suffering and ultimately explain the steps towards ending the cycle of suffering. It is in this process that an outsider can glean the importance or root of dukkha in regards to the Four Noble Truths.
The first noble truth is often translated into English as, “Life is suffering”. This translation is a simple way of explaining the complexity of an idea that reappears throughout all of the noble truths. But what is dukkha, what is suffering? Bhikkhu Bodhi states, “The first noble truth, the truth of suffering, is to be fully understood: the task it assigns us is that of full understanding.” This is to say that the first noble truth isn’t just, “Life is suffering”, it is also the acknowledgement and study of suffering.
To reflect on the meaning of dukkha is a natural segway to the second of the noble truths; or the causation of suffering. It is hard to study this and not reach the point where you ask yourself, “Why am I suffering?” The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta states that the origin of suffering, as a noble truth, is the craving that produces a renewal of being accompanied by enjoyment and lust, and enjoying this and that; in other words, craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving for non-being. Which leads the Buddhist practitioner back to the idea of dukkha or unsatisfactoriness.
The third noble truth is simply the absence of dukkha, a non-satisfactoriness if you will. Bhikkhu Bodhi outlines this concept in the following quote, “The third noble truth, the cessation of suffering, implies the task of realization. Although Nibbana, the extinction of suffering, can only be personally realized by the noble ones, the confidence we place in the Dhamma as our guideline to life shows us what we should select as our final aspiration, as our ultimate ground of value. Once we have grasped the fact that all conditioned things in the world, being impermanent and insubstantial, can never give us total satisfaction, we can then lift our aim to the unconditioned element, Nibbana the Deathless, and make that aspiration the pole around which we order our everyday choices and concerns.” Here, a value is given to finding the place of non-suffering.
One could argue that the quest for non-suffering might lead a person to indulge in satisfaction or want instead of stepping away from them. Satisfaction, however, is temporary. Professor and author Robert Wright explains how this is true with psychology studies. He cites one study done involving a monkey where the monkey is given fruit juice and they measure the dopamine spikes. If pleasure was permanent that spike would be continuous. Which leads to the importance of the fourth noble, the truth where the Buddha explains the steps to reach a place of non-suffering through the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path is where a practitioner can cope with dukkha and hopefully reach Nirvana or non-suffering. Living in those “right-ways”, is a guideline to allow the Buddhist to fully perceive the first two noble truths. Understanding dukkha and its relation to how it manifests sets precedence for the steps to non-suffering. In this way, the Buddha has given a clear diagnosis which works conjointly with the prescription. As the Eightfold Path is simply the prescription to the root, the first noble truth, and the dukkha.

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