Lecture Series on Buddhist Psychotherapy 8
The Four Methods
Bodhisattvas Employ to
Guide People toward
Love and Truth:
Love and Truth:
The Four Supreme Behaviors a
Therapist must Cultivate
Therapist must Cultivate
Ven. Seogwang | Director, Korea Institute of Meditation & Psychotherapy
Bodhisattvas use four strategies (Cattari sam.gaha-vatthuni) to guide beings toward the Dharma. They are: selfless generosity, kind words, beneficence and cooperation. Combined with meditation on the four immeasurable minds (loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity), these four guidelines of bodhisattva conduct complete the bodhisattva’s practice. They also represent the noblest attributes a psychotherapist can cultivate.
When asked by a student to explain how a patient is cured in an analytic setting, Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, replied that the patient is cured by love. Love offered by the analyst and recognized by the patient is pressed into service during treatment. On the other hand, Freud noted that whenever he believed he was in love with a patient, he experienced tremendous difficulties in their doctor/patient relationship, and for this reason, he recommended avoiding those feelings during treatment.
The power of genuine love is unarguably the most powerful force in any human relationship, be it psychotherapy or a bodhisattva’s efforts to save all beings. The question is, what does ‘love’ really mean in a concrete context? Sadly, too many people have abused the word ‘love’ too often as an excuse to act on their resentment, hatred and jealousy, to justify their pathological emotions and conflicts that cause suffering to others. Furthermore, if you trace the root cause of most psychological issues, in the deep recesses of people’s minds lies an urgent longing for love and security.
Out of the confusion about what love really means come desperate attempts to define it by adding modifiers, in order to ascribe health and happiness to it. To express the qualities of love that grow and heal, we start describing it in different ways, such as genuine love, unconditional love, altruistic love and motherly love. Nevertheless, the joy of love is short lived as we are still prone to pollute love in the helpless quagmire of our delusional fantasies and misguided concepts. Then, we blame love for the heartaches and despair that usually follow.
But Cattari sam.gaha-vatthuni shows how love can be perfected. These four virtues embody the best therapeutic techniques therapists can foster in themselves. If the Freudian model is applied, one can lay out in detail what analysts should do to love their patients correctly. If these virtues are sincerely expressed in a psychotherapeutic setting, the patient will trust the therapist’s intervention as originating from earnest concern about his or her wellbeing, and will experience genuine love from the therapist
This analogy between Mahayana bodhisattvas and psychotherapists is doomed from the beginning to be limited and imperfect as they do not share the same aspiration or motivation. They are two entirely different paths with two different goals. The depth of insight about non-self and wisdom on the reality of emptiness, stressed as the most important prerequisites on the bodhisattva path, are not necessarily relevant in the field of psychotherapy. But both are inspired by the ardent wish to heal and to help those in pain and in need. Besides, psychotherapy has been closely associated with Buddhist practice from the beginning. From the psychotherapeutic point of view, reflecting on the four primary methods of bodhisattva practice can shed new light on this ancient tradition and help modern society to approach and apply it more easily in everyday life. Let’s look at the four skillful means bodhisattvas (or therapists) use to communicate love and connect with sentient beings (patients).
The four methods bodhisattvas employ to guide people toward
love and truth can be put into action right away,
whether one is a beginner who has just started on the path of Dharma,
or an adept with great spiritual capacity.
The first method is selfless giving to all sentient beings of whatever they need, both material and immaterial. Such generosity serves to free their minds from affliction and lead them to the world of Buddha-dharma. Sakyamuni Buddha used the analogy of the emptiness of space to describe the ideal form of giving. The bodhisattva (therapist) is free from all expectations and attachments, and everything is offered from an open heart, as boundless as the emptiness of space. Such generosity is performed fearlessly and without reservation, without any selfish desire for gratitude, recognition or worldly reward. Such selfless giving does not discriminate between who is worthy or unworthy to receive it and is perfectly in sync with the principles of the laws of interconnectedness and the Middle Way in terms of what and when to give.
The second is kind words. Kind words will lead sentient beings to the world of truth.
Considerate and caring words calm the mind of the listener, soothing the rough edges of their torment and replacing them with happiness, joy and tenderness. Such loving and tender words are offered to comfort anyone in pain regardless of their social position, gender, nationality or age and set them on the path to get in touch with their True Self, their essential nature, the innate Buddhahood in all of us.
The third is conduct beneficial to others. Actions benefiting sentient beings should be reified through the harmonizing of thought, word and deed. A bodhisattva’s thoughts, words and deeds are sacred gates through which sentient beings are carried to the world of truth. Unlike Western psychotherapy, a bodhisattva’s actions are not contingent on psychological theories or settings, nor are they restricted by a prescribed set of therapeutic interventions. Bodhisattvas are dedicated to serve the highest welfare of all beings with unconditional love from an enlightened heart, not just with the intellect. Those who are hungry will be fed. Those who are anxious will be calmed. Those who are ill will be given medicine. Those who are plagued by evils thoughts will be inspired to purify them into goodwill. A bodhisattva’s conduct is not confined to conceptual learning or intellectual conjecture. The purity of a bodhisattva’s thoughts, words and deeds, governed only by the Buddha’s teaching, leads sentient beings to know the cause of suffering and practice ways to eliminate it.
The fourth is cooperation with and adaptation to others for the sake of leading them to truth. It requires putting one’s self on the same level as others and participating alongside them in the pursuit of truth. For bodhisattvas, it means assuming the same form as sentient beings to better accommodate each being’s characteristics and capabilities. Their thoughts, words and deeds are entirely transformed and become nirmanakaya in order to empathize and resonate with sentient beings.
To be a psychiatrist or psychotherapist in the West, one must receive rigorous training and pass many exams to get certified. In addition, the competition is fierce and one must invest an inordinate amount of time, money and effort. But how deeply and sincerely one loves and cares about their patients is not an important requirement. At the center of their profession is an obligation to help and heal people in distress, yet, not much professional attention is paid to how genuine the therapist’s empathy for the patient is, nor how sincere his compassion is, nor how warm his heart is. There is no psychology class to cultivate and evaluate such qualities.
To be a healer in the Buddhist tradition can be surprisingly simple; no special course or training is needed. However, if there is one condition that is absolutely essential, it is an unshakable belief in the inherent goodness of human nature. For Buddhist psychotherapy to work and release all beings from suffering, the bodhisattva (therapist) must be free from the prison of ego, and having unwavering faith in the Buddha nature inherent in all beings is one of the most powerful cures to ease the iron grip of the ego.
The four bodhisattva virtues can transform human suffering and the harsh experiences of life into stepping stones that will lead us to refuge. This transformative process can be compared to the ten paramitas, or ten perfections, the vessel that delivers all beings from this shore of samsara to the far shore of nirvana. Selfless giving is the universal starting point, while the paramitas of ethics and patience are the ideal venue on which the virtue of kind words should be carried out. Conduct benefiting all beings is best accomplished by perfecting the paramitas of perseverance, mediation and wisdom, and the practice of cooperation and adaptation must rely on the paramitas of skillful means, vows, power and omniscience for proper application.
Illustrations by Soha