Psychological Aspects of Buddhism & its' Noble Truths


Amit Kumar Srivastava
Assistant Professor
Shri Ram Murti Smarak College of Engineering & Technology
Nanital Road, Bareilly, U.P.

Akansha Abhi Srivastava
Assistant Professor
Bansal Institute of Engineering & Technology
Sitapur Road, Lucknow, U.P.


Buddha is commonly referred to as "the great physician" and like any therapist, made it his aim to identify, explain and end human suffering. All therapists do have similar aims in the same way his four noble truths are the method to adopt a diagnostic format to explain suffering and its cure; these noble truths identify the disease, provide etiology, give a prognosis, and suggest a remedy. What Buddhism is really all about is returning to this life, by being more calm, more aware, a nicer person morally, someone who has given up envy and greed and hatred and such, who understands that nothing is forever, that grief is the price we willingly pay for love… this life becomes at very least bearable. We stop torturing ourselves and allow ourselves to enjoy what there is to enjoy, so this paper is an attempt to explore the chemistry of Buddhism & Psychology.  

Key Words:  Buddhism, Psychotherapy, Etiology, Noble Truths & Zen Buddhism.


The Four Noble Truths

Buddha was primarily an ethical teacher and reformer, not a metaphysician. He disliked metaphysical discussions devoid of practical utility. Instead of discussing metaphysical questions, which are ethically useless and intellectually uncertain, Buddha always tried to enlighten persons on the most important questions of sorrow, its origin, its cessation and the path leading to its cessation. The answers to these four questions constitute the essence of the Buddha's enlightenment. These have come to be known as four noble truths:

* Life is full of suffering (Duhkha)
* There is a cause of this suffering (Duhkha-samudaya)
* It is possible to stop suffering (Duhkha-nirodha)
* There is a way to extinguish suffering ( Duhkha-nirodha-marga)

1. Life is Full of Suffering: Is saying, essential conditions of life appeared to be fraught with suffering-birth, old age, disease, death, sorrow, grief, wish, despair, in short, all that is born of attachment, is suffering.

2. There is a Cause of This Suffering: Is saying that suffering is due to attachment. Attachment is one translation of the word trishna, which can also be translated as thirst, desire, lust, craving, or clinging. Another aspect of attachment is dvesha, which means avoidance or hatred. A third aspect of attachment is avidya, meaning ignorance.

Buddha preaches about the chain of 12 links in the cause and maintenance of suffering. These chain of causes and effects lead to sufferings in the world. The suffering in life is due to birth, which is due to the will to be born, which again is due to our mental clinging to objects. Clinging again is due to thirst or desire for objects. This again is due to sense-experience, which is due to sense-object-contact, which again is due to the six organs of cognition. These organs are dependent on the embryonic organism (composed of mind and body), which again could not develop without some initial consciousness, which again hails from the impressions of the experience of past life, which lastly are due to ignorance of truth. These constitute the wheel of existence (bhaba-chakra): Birth and rebirth.

3. Suffering can be Extinguish:  Is saying Nirvana is the state of being wherein all clinging, and so all suffering, can be eliminated here, in this very life. Buddha pointed out that work without attachment, hatred and infatuation (r¥ga, dve¥a, moha) does not cause bondage.

4. There is a Way to Extinguish Suffering (Marga): Is directing the path  which Buddha followed and others can similarly follow-to reach to a state free from misery. He called it the Eightfold Path to liberation.

Eightfold Path (Astangika-Marga): It provides the essentials of 'Buddha Ethics'. This Path is open to all. The first two segments of the path are referred to as Prajña, meaning wisdom:

* Right views-understanding the Four Noble Truths, especially the nature of all things as imperfect, impermanent, and insubstantial and our self-inflicted suffering as founded in clinging, hate, and ignorance.

* Right resolve/aspiration-having the true desire/determination to free oneself from attachment, hatefulness, and ignorance.

The next three segments of the path provide more detailed guidance in the form of moral precepts, called Sila:

* Right Speech-Abstaining from lying, gossiping, and hurtful speech generally. Speech is often our ignorance made manifest, and is the most common way in which we harm others.

* Right action/conduct-Right conduct includes the 'Pancha-Sila', the five vows for desisting from killing, stealing, sensuality, lying and intoxication.

* Right livelihood-Making one's living in an honest, non-hurtful way.

The last three segments of the path are the ones Buddhism is most famous for, and concern Samadhi or Meditation despite the popular conception, without wisdom and morality, meditation is worthless, and may even be dangerous so it is saying:

Right Effort - Taking control of your mind and the contents thereof, effort to develop good mental habits. When bad thoughts and impulses arise, they should be abandoned. This is done by watching the thought without attachment, recognizing it for what it is and letting it dissipate. Good thoughts and impulses, on the other hand, should be nurtured and enacted.

Right Mindfulness - Mindfulness refers to a kind of meditation (vipassana) involving an acceptance of thoughts and perceptions, a "bare attention" to these events without attachment. This mindfulness is to be extended to daily life as well. It becomes a way of developing a fuller, richer awareness of life.

Right Concentration - One who has successfully guided his life in the life of last seven rules and thereby freed himself from all passions and evil thoughts is fit to enter into deeper stages of concentration that gradually take him to the goal of his long and arduous journey – cessation of suffering.

Right concentration is possible through four stages: 

* The First stage of concentration is on reasoning and investigation regarding the truths. There is then a joy of pure thinking.

* The Second stage is unruffled meditation even free from reasoning. There is then a joy of tranquillity.

* The Third stage of concentration is detachment from even the joy of tranquillity. There is then indifference to even such joy but a feeling of a bodily case still persists.

* The Fourth and final stage of concentration is detachment from this bodily case too. There are then perfect equanimity and indifference. This is the state of nirvana or perfect wisdom. This is the highest form of Buddhist meditation, and full practice of it is usually restricted to monks and nuns who have progressed considerably along the path.

Buddhism and Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy:

Zen Buddhism is a mixture of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. It began in China, spread to Korea and Japan, and became very popular in the West from the mid 20th century. The essence of Zen is attempting to understand the meaning of life directly, without being misled by logical thought or language.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote the foreword to Zen's scholar Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki's introduction to Zen Buddhism, first published together in 1948. In his foreword, Jung highlights the enlightenment experience as the unsurpassed transformation to wholeness for Zen practitioners. "The only movement within our culture which partly has, and partly should have, some understanding of these aspirations for such enlightenment is psychotherapy".

Psychoanalysts like Karen Horney and Fritz Perls studied Zen-Buddhism. Karen Horney was intensely interested in Zen Buddhism during the last years of her life. Richard Wilhelm was a translator of Chinese texts into German language. The Text was:

"I Ching, Tao Te Ching i.e The Secret of the Golden Flower"

Another Psychoanalyst R D Laing, went to Ceylon, where he spent two months studying meditation in a Buddhist retreat. Later on, he spent time learning Sanskrit and visiting Govinda Lama, who had been a guru to Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. Suzuki, Fromm and other psychoanalysts collaborated at a 1957 workshop on "Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis" in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In his contribution to this workshop, Fromm declared:

"Psychoanalysis is a characteristic expression of the Western man's spiritual crisis, and an attempt to find a solution. The common suffering is the alienation from oneself, from one's fellow men, and from nature; the awareness that life runs out of one's hand like sand, and that one will die without having lived; that one lives in the midst of plenty and yet is joyless".

Fromm continues: "Zen is the art of seeing into the nature of one's being; it is a way from bondage to freedom; it liberates our natural energies; and it impels us to express our faculty for happiness and love."What can be said with more certainty is that the knowledge of Zen, and a concern with it, can have a most fertile and clarifying influence on the theory and technique of psychoanalysis. Zen, different as it is in its method from psychoanalysis, can sharpen the focus, throw new light on the nature of insight, and heighten the sense of what it is to see, what it is to be creative, what it is to overcome the affective contaminations and false intellectualizations which are the necessary results of experience based on the subject-object split" Referencing Jung and Suzuki's collaboration as well as the efforts of others, humanistic philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm noted; "there is an unmistakable and increasing interest in Zen Buddhism among psychoanalysts". Erich Fromm also wrote the forward to a 1986 anthology of Nyanaponika Thera's essays on Buddhist philosophy.

There have been many other important contributors, to the popularization of the integration of Buddhist meditation with psychology, including Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Tara Brach, Epstein and Nhat Hanh.

Psychoanalysis, pioneered and popularized by such philosophers/psychoanalysts rests upon the idea that uncovering and making conscious buried complexes and memories is a therapeutic process. The relocation of a complex or neurosis from the unconscious to the conscious easily equates to the principles inherent in right meditation and right understanding. One might recall that on Jung's deathbed, he was reading a translation of Hsu Yun's dharma discourses and was reputedly very excited by the succinct and direct methods of Chan's practice in working with the unconscious.

Buddhism & Psychotherapy Principles:

Gestalt Therapy is an approach created by Fritz Perls, based heavily on existentialist philosophy and significantly, Zen Buddhism (among other influences). In Gestalt, the premise is we must work with the whole person, the "gestalt" in German, which echoes the wisdom of Right Understanding. Its techniques encourage Right Mindfulness, and the focus on the immediate, phenomenological and experiential reality of the here and now, in the physical, emotional and mental realms.

David Brazier in his book Zen Therapy makes a thoughtful comparison of some principal Buddhist concepts and person-centered (Rogerian) Therapy. Developed by Carl Rogers, this therapeutic approach includes virtually all effective therapy, either in principle or technique. In basic terms, its goal is to provide the patient a safe place, an environment where he or she may express their problems. The therapist does not direct the process, but works on the assumption the patient has the resources to deal with their own "cure" and self-growth, provided the environment is supportive of them. Like the Buddha, this non-authoritative approach suggests the patient can be "a light upto themselves". Although the therapist may do little more than provide active and empathic listening, and reflect and validate the thoughts and emotions of the struggling patient, they nonetheless, provide three crucial components for change to occur; unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence (or genuiness). These are the elements that are considered essential to create an environment where the individual can grow, learn and evolve.

This is of particular interest to the Buddhist student who is taught that all suffering stems from the three "bitter roots" or "poisons" of greed, hatred and delusion. Brazier demonstrates how, from a therapeutic perspective, Person-Centered Therapy counters each of these "poisons"; empathy is the "antidote" to hate, unconditional positive regard provides a model of acceptance of self and other which counters the grasping, needy nature of greed, and congruence (genuineness) is the opposite of delusion. Delusion itself, as Brazier suggests, could just as well be translated as "incongruence", the separation of self and mind from what is real and what is present.


Buddha is a symbol of unique psychotherapist. His therapeutic methods helped millions of people throughout the centuries. Today the Western world has realized the psychological essence of Buddhism. Many Psychotherapeutic systems in the West are derived from Buddha's teaching. Buddha showed empathy and non-judgmental acceptance to everyone who came to him. He helped people to gain insight and helped in growth promotion while eliminating troubling and painful emotions. His therapeutic methods are exceptional and can be applied for all times.

Prince Gautama gave his entire life in understanding and then propagating his philosophy. People have devoted their entire lives in studying and understanding his philosophy. Being a student of modern psychiatry, I do not claim to be an expert in Buddhist philosophy and/or religion. This essay is just an expression of what little I have understood on His philosophy and an opportunity to offer my deep tribute to one of the greatest psychotherapists the world has ever produced!


* Chatterjee S, Datta D. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. 8th ed. Calcutta: Calcutta University Press; 1980. The Buddha philosophy.
* Goleman D, editor. Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health. Boston: Shambhala Publications; 1997.
* Goleman D. Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. NY: Bantam Dell; 2004.
* Rhys Davids CA. Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing; 2003.
* Suzuki DT, Jung CG. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. Vol. 1991. NY: Grove Press; 1948.
* Thera N. The Heart of Buddhist Meditation: A Handbook of Mental Training based on the Buddha's Way of Mindfulness. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser; 1996.
* Watts Alan W. Psychotherapy East and West. NY: Random House; 1975.

Amit Kumar Srivastava
Assistant Professor
Shri Ram Murti Smarak College of Engineering & Technology
Nanital Road, Bareilly, U.P.

Akansha Abhi Srivastava
Assistant Professor
Bansal Institute of Engineering & Technology
Sitapur Road, Lucknow, U.P.

Source: E-mail August 4, 2016


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