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?
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?
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.
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.