By: Rev. Koyo S. Kubose
A therapist has counseling techniques, but more fundamentally, the therapist himself is the “best tool” in his therapeutic arsenal. The therapist’s psychological health gained through personal experience is a crucial factor in being able to relate to and help a client. Spirituality also is an important aspect of personal growth. Carl Jung says it even more emphatically, “Spirituality underlies all mental health and illness.”
A therapist’s own spiritual journey can affect how well he can help others with their life problems. Traditional religions are the usual routes to deepening spirituality, but there is increasing diversity in how people are exploring their own creative paths. How can Buddhism contribute to a person’s spiritual journey? One famous response to the question, “What is Buddhism?” was: “Buddhism is to study oneself. To study oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to be enlightened by all things.” I will try to utilize these various aspects, starting with a few comments that may clarify ideas regarding Buddhism as a religion. Buddhism is more humanistic and less theistic than other religions. This means that the person as a human being is just as important, if not more important, than the theology. Individual diversity and uniqueness are respected over proselytizing dogmatic beliefs. The Buddhist teachings can help people regardless of their religious backgrounds. Buddhist teachings are better considered a call to action than a call to believe.
One can benefit from Buddhism without any threat to an existing belief system. Properly understood, Buddhism always gives, never takes away. Buddhism is a religion that can negate itself; that is, Buddhism is not overly attached to the “ism” or label of Buddhism. It is perfectly fine if by studying Buddhism, one became a better Christian, or a better Jew, or a better Muslim, or even a better atheist. In other words, the Buddhist teachings can help one become a “true” human being. What is meant by a “true” human being? It is one who is full of sincere humility and gratitude. These are the spiritual qualities that enable one to live life with wisdom and compassion, and are the basis of peace within and harmony with others. It should be emphasized that the historical Gautama Buddha was not a deity, but a human being — a human being who awoke to a spiritual reality that has provided a guiding light (called the Dharma) for countless people (called the Sangha). In sharing what he experienced, the Buddha said, “Do not believe what I teach just because I say it. Try out the teachings in your own life and then decide.” Words like teaching or studying refer more to transformation than to education or intellectual understanding.
One does not have to search for a great teaching, but has to learn how to be a great listener. Being in the dark, one doesn’t have to search for light, but has to open his eyes — to see the light that has been shining around him all the time. Being spiritually asleep, one has to wake up. The word Buddha means the awakened one.
Enlightenment or awakening means that one realizes life’s truths or reality; such understanding is wisdom. There is no sin in Buddhism, only ignorance. The greatest ignorance is ignorance of oneself; namely, thinking that one exists as an independent entity in the world and that everything revolves around oneself. The teachings help break down or free oneself from rigid conceptual categories such as self-other, internal-external, health-sick, good-evil, win-lose, etc. Suffering is caused by being mentally trapped in either extreme of such presumed opposites. We may have to function in a relative world of such dualistic dichotomies but we do not have to allow ourselves to be victimized. Instead, let’s go beyond nouns and let’s live the verbs. Forget subject-object, and distinctions like singer-song, and dancer-dance. Let there be just singing and dancing! This is to flow or become one with the dynamic nature of reality, and not get attached to the names and labels we put on this reality. Liberation comes from loosening the grip of one’s self-centered and self-created existence. Indeed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” After all, we rarely see the world the way it is but usually see the world the way we are. We have to go beyond ourselves to a wider perspective and awaken to the infinite. It is only then we are able to fully live each precious moment. Right here, right now, all things are enlightening us.