Buddhist Psychology: On The Development of The Ego

Qin Shu, Lotus flower with dragon fly the morning .

The Western psychologist who wishes to explore Eastern psychology may wonder where to begin their search. Buddhism is an ancient tradition that has many variants and thousands of years of texts to explore. In this essay I would like to introduce a few basic concepts about Buddhist psychology, and discuss a basic description of the development of the ego.

There are many books available for Western psychologists who wish to explore Eastern psychology. Some of these books are more friendly to the beginner than others. Two books which I have found to be very helpful in my exploration have been The Sanity we are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology by Chögyam Trungpa, and Psychotherapy East & West by Alan Watts. Both of these texts offer the Westerner basic theory as well as basic attitude of Eastern psychology.

A few Basic Attitudes

Alan Watts describes the basic attitude of the Eastern psychologist with the image of the lotus flower. The lotus flower remains uninjured from the most turbulent storms, both from the sometimes restless waters from which it arises, and from the winds, rains, and scorching heat that it will encounter during its life. The lotus flower is a part of the world but is not destroyed by it. Stormy rains and high waters “roll off” its petals. This is the image that many Buddhists use as a lesson for how to be in the world. The lotus flower is the example of the serenity that one can cultivate despite the most hostile environments.

Search not Research

Eastern psychology is distinctively personal. Whereas Western psychologists may be taught methods of “research” that are based on the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment concept of objectivity, the Eastern psychologist engages psychology as something personal. In this way, we can think of Eastern psychology as searching, whereas Western positivistic psychology focuses on researching. The Western philosophical traditions of Existential-Phenomenology, Humanism, and some psychodynamic theories are exceptions to this distinction. It is acknowledged by even the most objective Western psychologists that “research is me-search.” In Buddhist psychology this is the basic assumption. The “research” done by the Buddhist psychologist is a personal searching.

Enlightenment not The Enlightenment