Dr. Charles T. Tart on August 17th, 2009

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 2, Part 15 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: If Buddha said that this was the way to enlightenment to him, then why do these different branches of Buddhism have all these crazy different practices that they’ve got? Like Tibetan Buddhism, for example, has so many different practices.

CTT: Aren’t they run by people?

(Laughter)

Student: Because Buddha’s dead.

CTT: How many things have you learned in life that you do exactly as you were taught, without elaboration or alteration?

(Laughter)

Student: I don’t know.

CTT: There might be a few, but you know we’re all quite creative in our ways. And again, the particular way the Buddha taught something may be exactly right on for certain people, but variations on it were needed for other people. And they worked better.

Student: Are they all variations on Vipassana, basically?

CTT: No, some of them are variations on the concentrative procedures. Some of them are devotional kinds of things. You get into the full scale phenomena of human stuff there.

Student: But I mean –

CTT: You can take a kind of purist attitude toward Buddhism and say Buddhism’s not a religion. It has nothing to do with religion. Oh yeah, they have gods in Buddhism, but gods aren’t enlightened, so, you know they’re not of much help. Buddhism is all about the psychology of individual beings, and how they make themselves suffer, and how that suffering can be ended through meditative and other practices. The Buddha taught that, as well as how to live a good life, and these things would start shading over into the religion kind of thing, and karma and the like. But all this stuff gets elaborated.

I think this goes back to something we discussed earlier, although I can’t quite exactly remember what. There are lots of spiritual teachers around who have very useful things to teach people. They are people who are really brilliant in certain quite important kinds of ways. To then make them into infallible beings, as we usually do, is probably one of the worst mistakes we can make.

I can remember someone I took as a teacher for awhile who I thought was profound psychologically, but people warned me don’t ever go anywhere with him if he’s driving. He’s really reckless and stupid as a driver!

When you get very good at something that people value, there’s a tendency to get involved in it, for people to start elaborating it, for people to assimilate, adapt, and automatize it. The whole human sociology and psychology starts to add on to it, and so you get to wear the right hat for the right kind of ceremony. I tend to doubt that Gautama Buddha ever made any specifications about what kind of hats to wear, but let a couple of thousand years go by and you got to have the right kind of hat. And people will tell you it’s the inner practices that really matter, but they feel better with the right hat.

(Laughter)

You’ll see that all through your career as a transpersonal psychologist. And it may happen to you. You’ll get involved in some particular growth system that works really well for you, and there will be a real tendency at that point to realize you found The Truth and to see everything in terms of that particular system.

But your job as transpersonal psychologists, in a sense, is…. You know, we. Transpersonal Psychology, we’re not a religion. We don’t have a doctrine, other than we think this stuff is important. Your job as a transpersonal psychologist, especially as any kind of counselor or therapist, is to be aware of a variety of approaches and try to figure what’s going to best help the particular clients or the particular students you have at that time. Regardless of what you think is the best possible way to the truth. And sometimes that’ll be fairly easy and sometimes that’ll be tough, because you tend to see everything in your favorite way, the Way of Your Truth.

I saw it expressed recently in an online discussion group I’m in. Someone was raising the question of why some otherwise brilliant scientists really behave like totally prejudiced asses when they come across data that doesn’t fit into their system. This particular person was saying that psychology pointed out a long time ago that we organize our perceptions in accordance with perceptual and organizational schema. And once you see things in a certain way, that becomes an automatic perceptual bias that organizes everything you see.

How many of you have seen the Big Dipper up in the sky? (All hands go up) Okay. You go out there next time you can see it and try to see it as just a random collection of stars. It’s going to be real hard!

Perception is not a simple matter of seeing what’s actually out there. It’s a kind of optimized, very rapid thinking, with its own biases built into it. One of the things Vipassana is designed to do eventually is to get you back closer to what you might call the raw sensory data about what’s actually happening in the world, and give you alternative ways of seeing it, rather than always having it organized into your particular belief system and culture.

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11 Responses to “The Buddha wore plaid”

  1. Sandy says:

    So how do transpersonal psychologists know what to tell someone who has come in for counseling? I have a counselor that believes my weird experiences are OK. But he doesn’t seem to know what I need to do to be OK about them. He was much better at helping me with a problem I was having as a TA dealing with an unreasonable instructor. That was something he had seen before and it was easy for him to help me do what I needed to do to deal with that problem. But when I show up crying because I’ve seen the ghost of a student who committed suicide… He doesn’t know what to tell me.

  2. @Sandy:

    So how do transpersonal psychologists know what to tell someone who has come in for counseling?
    That’s a good Q, relevant to a lot of people. Rather than give you my more theoretical answer – I’ve never been a practicing clinician, even though I understand the language pretty well – I’m going to ask around among some of my practicing clinical colleagues and see what they have to say.

  3. anonymous says:

    Hi Sandy,

    “So how do transpersonal psychologists know what to tell someone who has come in for counseling?

    But when I show up crying because I’ve seen the ghost of a student who committed suicide… He doesn’t know what to tell me.”

    My guess is that it would be most helpful for a councillor to focus more on their “psychologist” role.

    They should probably question you to diagnose what is upsetting you. Are you scared because you saw a ghost? Are you grieving because someone you know died? Did someone else that you know commit suicide? Do you have a problem being different? Etc, etc. They would psychoanalyze you and then try to treat all the different problems they detected.

    Have your councillors been trained clinical psychologists?

    I’m not a psychologist, I’m just an anonymous commenter so take this for what it’s worth, but I think your councillors need to focus attention to the psychological aspect of your problems more than the transpersonal aspects. The transpersonal part of their training should help them get past the fact that your anomolous experiences are not symptoms. However your reactions to those experiences are probably within range of human reactions to other phenomena and they can be treated according to whatever psychological treatment methodology that councilor practices.

  4. Sandy says:

    Hi Anonymous,

    I find that counselors are sometimes so caught up in thier curiosity about the anomalous stuff, they forget about the fact that I’m not always happy about these experiences. It doesn’t help that there aren’t any well researched answers to many of my questions. I’d like to know how common my experiences are. I know having some kind of an anomalous experience is common, but no one seems to know how common it is to see colored lights around people, or how common it is to be a medium. I would feel better if I knew there were a lot more people like me. I just don’t want to be alone this way. When I ask about others like me, it sounds like there aren’t very many like me. That makes me think I must be crazy, because I can’t be the only one to be this way otherwise.

    My current counselor is so excited to hear about my experiences. In some ways it does help to talk to someone with such a high comfort level for the weird stuff. But he does get a little too caught up in the experiences. I understand that he values these experiences, but I’m not always able to share that enthusiasm.

  5. anonymous says:

    “I would feel better if I knew there were a lot more people like me. I just don’t want to be alone this way. When I ask about others like me, it sounds like there aren’t very many like me. That makes me think I must be crazy, because I can’t be the only one to be this way otherwise.”

    Hi Sandy,

    Do you need someone to tell you these things or would it help you to find out for yourself?

    I still think you should look into the Spiritualist churches in your area. You will probably meet people there who have similar experiences. They also might be able to recommend a psychologist who accepts your experiences as real and who is able to see past them and deal with your reactions to the experiences.

    Have you read any books by or about psychics? You can find a lot of books which will describe people who have had similar experiences.

  6. Sandy says:

    Anonymous,

    I think what I really want is to be able to be open about my experiences and still be accepted by my peers, and more importantly, accepted by my family. It takes a lot of energy to constantly deny my experiences. I wish that I knew other scientists like me. Not just people over the internet, but people close by that I could meet and talk to. I know I can’t ever talk about my experiences openly. That frustrates me and makes me wish for a cure. If I could stop having these experiences I could just forget about the weird stuff and go back to being a typical scientist. I wouldn’t have to pretend to be like everyone else; I would be like everyone else.

    I do understand why people call this a gift. Really, I do. But maybe I’m not worthy of it. I’m terrified of going to something like a Spiritualist church. What if someone found out? I know that is silly, but that is how I feel. I’d worry most about my family knowing. I don’t want them to think I’m crazy. I worry enough about that possibility myself.

  7. anonymous says:

    Hi Sandy,

    You wrote:

    ” I wish that I knew other scientists like me. Not just people over the internet, but people close by that I could meet and talk to. I know I can’t ever talk about my experiences openly. That frustrates me and makes me wish for a cure.”

    “I’m terrified of going to something like a Spiritualist church. What if someone found out? I know that is silly, but that is how I feel. I’d worry most about my family knowing.”

    It sounds like you are living in an environment that is not respectful of you as an worthy, free, intelligent individual. Maybe you should look at the problem from this angle and see if there is some way to fix it. I think this is something any therapist would be willing to help you with.

    For example, there are ways to learn to be assertive of your own needs without being confrontational or selfish and while still being considerate of other people.

    Is your husband willing to go to counciling with you? If you are married to someone and you can’t freely discuss with him something that is traumatizing you, it might be a good idea to fix that situation.

    Maybe you are not being realistic in your expectations about how other people will react. I don’t know if you are or not, but it’s something you might consider that might be part of the problem.

    It’s hard for me to understand why you are afraid of people finding out if you went to church. In the US freedom of religion is one of the basic freedoms guranteed by our constitution. People tend to respect that even if they aren’t religious. Is it different where you live?

    I never met a scientist who was a spiritualist but there were still many well educated people at the churches I went to, particularly psychologists and nurses seemed to be highly represented. I only met one engineer there.

  8. Sandy says:

    Anonymous,

    I can’t really expect my husband to believe in my experiences when I have so much trouble believing in them myself. I defend my opinions on other topics, sometimes quite enthusiastically. I’m not exactly a pushover when I’m confident about what I’m saying. But I’m not happy or comfortable talking about paranormal or spiritual things. I’ve been in discussions with other scientists where the idea that a scientist with religious beliefs is a poor scientist has come up. I bought into that mindset for a long time. It seems very logical. You have no idea how difficult it is to give that up. In a weird way, it kind of protected me from the weird stuff. I could just ignore those experiences because I was a scientist, and scientists don’t have religious or spiritual things happen to them. I know that seems silly, but it worked for a while.

    I’m embarrassed by and sometimes ashamed of my experiences. I don’t want to be seen in any kind of church because deep down I see that as potentially a red flag showing what a poor scientist I am. Today probably isn’t the best day for me to discuss this topic. I’ve been on the road, so I haven’t been doing meditation or seeing my counselor. I really haven’t had any time to myself in about two weeks, so I’m a little on edge. On the positive side, I did have some unusual experiences while I was away that I was able to handle pretty well. But I really want a cure very badly right now. It might help if I could talk to my husband about these experiences, but I can’t. I don’t want him to know there is something wrong with me. Normal people don’t see ghosts. And I’m pretty sure that good scientists don’t either.

  9. anonymous says:

    “I can’t really expect my husband to believe in my experiences when I have so much trouble believing in them myself.”

    He doesn’t have to believe them. He should be able to support and comfort you because you are having traumatic experiences.

    “I bought into that mindset for a long time. It seems very logical. You have no idea how difficult it is to give that up.”

    I know exactly how difficult it is to give that up. I used to be a materialist athiest. What changed my mind was reading about the evidence for the afterlife. For me it was not difficult, it was easy once I learned about the evidence.

    The history of science shows that what is reasonable to conclude from evidence is subjective. When continental drift was first proposed, it was ridiculed. Scientists didn’t believe in continental drift because they had preexisting beliefs they didn’t want to give up.

    It might help you to examine your negative beliefs about being psychic. Maybe that is something you can work on with your councillor.

    “I’m embarrassed by and sometimes ashamed of my experiences. I don’t want to be seen in any kind of church because deep down I see that as potentially a red flag showing what a poor scientist I am.”

    I don’t know what your are experiences are like for you, but
    given the vast amount of evidence for the afterlife, I think it is unscientific to consider belief in the afterlife unreasonable.

  10. anonymous says:

    Much of the best evidence for the afterlife is discussed on my web site:

    http://www.geocities.com/chs4o.....dence.html

    This web page includes links to free on-line sources of additional information including e-books reviewing the evidence for the afterlife as well as original reports by investigators of the evidence for the afterlife. It is a good place to start an indepth investigation.

  11. Sandy says:

    Anonymous,

    I think my biggest issue with anomalous experiences is that I pick up stuff from other people (living and dead) that I have trouble coping with. The meditation helps me figure out where I stop and they start. When I don’t have that sense of where the boundaries are… well, that’s when I get into trouble and want it all to stop happening.

    I was visiting a clinically depressed person over the last week. Her thoughts were so dark, I had to keep reminding myself that those feelings were hers and not mine. Once I figured that out, I discovered that I could feel better just by sending light to her. It seemed to make us both feel better. Everyone was actually pretty amazed by the fact that she got out of the house, went on family outings and participated in social activities for the first time in about a year. She said she had a fun week, which shocked more than a few people. I don’t really know if it had anything to do with me sending light to her. I’m pretty good at getting people to socialize and have fun. Maybe she was just ready to do some of the things her doctors have been telling her to do, like get out and participate in life. She has a medical condition that causes her to be unhappy, and maybe she wasn’t dwelling on it as much because she was paying attention to her family and friends instead.

    I enjoyed visiting her, and we had a good week. But I need to be alone now to find my boundaries again. I almost broke out in tears in a crowded restaurant last night because I felt overwhelmed by all the people. Everything felt like too much. I think that’s why I want a cure sometimes. I really just want a bit of my own space.

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