Buddhism is better known as a set of doctrines than as real working system. In modern Indological research, both in India and the West, there has been little
reflection on Buddhism as a system of Psychology, and the behavioural implications of the Pali canon have hardly been examined. Buddhist Psychology is
interdisciplinary and thus of interest to both historians and psychologists, for academic boundaries are artificial. Realities are the problems, and these have a way of
crossing boundaries. Interest in understanding ourselves and our fellowmen has compelling justification, for virtually all human interaction requires that we evaluate and
try to predict the behaviour of other persons with whom we must deal. Attempts to forge a systematic understanding of human personality did not originate with
contemporary Psychology which is about a hundred years old, and may be regarded as a recent version of an endeavour as old as history. In many instances, ancient
Eastern systems have been the forerunners; they have been found to be sophisticated in their observations about human nature, quite apart from their cosmologies and
The treatment of the subject will be with regard to Buddhism as a theory of personality, and a psychological approach will be used throughout. The aim is twofold: to
provide accurate, interesting information about important and enduring issues in the field of Early Buddhist psychology; and to whet the appetite for more advanced
study by suggesting problems and opening tempting vistas. To meet these goals as effectively as possible, knowledge gained from several areas of research will be
used to complement the early texts, for they will help to expose the questions that need to be asked, particularly in an area which is so new. Integration across various
theoretical viewpoints has been necessary, and quotations and bibliographical references have been used liberally.
This work is based on the Pali Tipitaka and related sources consisting of
I. Vinaya Pitaka
II. Sutra Pitaka which consists of :
Anguttara Nikaya and
Khuddaka Nikaya—this is made up of :
[II. Abhidhamma Pitaka, which is made up of :
Commentaries on the Pali canon as well as related works like the Milindaphanho, Visuddhimagga, and the Abhidhammatthasarigaha are also
used. In order to provide perspective on the ‘Psychology of Today’ we have drawn freely from the works of the following:
Maslow, A. - Freud, S.
Bugental, J. - Jung, C.
Rogers, C. - James, W.
Tart, C. - Jourard, S. & Landsman, T.
Fadiman, J. & Frager, R. - Hall, C. & Lindzey, G. etc.
Tradition not unnaturally refers the whole of the Tipitaka to Gautama Buddha, and it is hardly necessary to say that its voice in the matter cannot be admitted. We
have tried throughout to let the books speak for themselves through context and constant cross reference, the aim being not one of value judgement, but an
examination of a system in order to be able to apprehend its richness. We shall not venture to sketch in a general outline the roots nor the immense development of
the dogmas, nor will there be an occasion to refer except in passing to the biography of the founder; in a word, we shall touch on doctrine and history only in so far as
it is found necessary to explain the psychological system of Early Buddhism.
We have tried to shun attempts to change the Buddhist terms into English ones, for the latter never exhaust the connotations of the original notion, especially since the
words are intricately linked with a particular culture and mode of life. Rather we seek to enrich the current lexicography and present a true picture of the inner life of
the Early Buddhist.
Early Buddhism was an attempt to help man better himself, not by being born in a better world, but by changing himself. It is necessary to pause here for a moment
and say—here is the essence of Early Buddhism, here is its power. This theme is central throughout the Pali texts, though sometimes played in different keys. The
format is designed to give a general picture of the Early Buddhist position, the points they emphasized, the nature of the evidence they considered, and the
assumptions they made.
Research proceeds through a series of choice points, at each of which the investigator has to choose —in the process some doors are closed, but many more open.
Early Buddhist psychology can at one and the same time be extremely complex, and yet very simple. The title of the book may be a triflle pretentious; we do
recognize the presumptions inherent therein, and have tried to be circumspect in our claims. We are not seeking to convert readers to our views, but have attempted
to present a balanced and judicious distillation of historical and psychological knowledge, from the enormous wealth and evidence of two great disciplines.
Chapter l ‘Basic Vocabulary of Buddhism’ is necessary prelude to the symphony of thoughts which will be treated in the following chapters. Terms which have a
psychological significance are emphasized. Chapter 2 ‘The Nature of Consciousness’ deals with the fascinating sphere of consciousness. Buddhism analysed the
consciousness of man into a complex continuance of phenomena, and this tableaux of insights was aimed at organizing its system of personal self-culture. In harmony
with the various tenets of Early Buddhism, a range of methods, devices and means were put forward in order to guide and instruct man and lead him to
self-transcendence; this is discussed in chapter 3 ‘Treading the Ways’. These ways are a testimony to the bold and boundless experimentation of the Early Buddhists,
and their appeal lay in their pragmatic value. Arahantahip and Nibbana were admirable ideals, but the great adventure lay in the experience of walking on, moving
forward, wherein each step mounted was to be regarded as an imperfection left behind, and treading the path resulted in a refinement of every facet of the individual.
Chapter 4 ‘Self-Transcendence’, notes that Early Buddhism provided an outlet for man’s gropings by insisting on a system of self culture which would change man
from within. This would result in a ‘higher’ or ‘expanded’ form of functioning which was potentially available to every man if the right process was followed.
Abnormal psychology has been a part of the human condition in all times and in all cultures, and chapter 5. ‘Psychopathology’ attempts to answer some of the
following questions: Who were the sanctioned labellers of the Early Buddhist period? What behaviour was labelled as deviant? What techniques were used to change
undesirable behaviour? Abnormality in Early Buddhism is viewed from the perspective of contemporary psychiatric nomenclature. The concluding chapter is an
overview of the present inquiry.
Behaviour is multi-determined, and man’s efforts to understand himself are indeed formidable; in fact, the excitement of such a work seems to indicate that we are at
last starting to grasp the reality and complexity of Early Buddhist psychology; thus this volume can equally be a study in itself of the beginning of a study which will
never end. But by knowing more, we also realize how little we know, and our endeavour represents a coming nearer, an approximation, and not a consummation. As
we provide the final touches to this work, we are aware of new breakthroughs but one has to call a stop somewhere, even as the information explosion continues.
Our hopes are many, but if there is one hope more poignant than others, it is that this work may serve as a gateway, to one of the avenues which lead man to a
deeper and wider perspective in his search for truth and authentic living.
From the Jacket:
Attempts to forge a systematic understanding of human personality did not originate with contemporary psychology, which is about a hundred years old, and may be
regarded as a recent version of an endeavour as old as history. In many instances, ancient Eastern systems have been the forerunners, and they have been found to be
sophisticated in their observations about human nature, quite apart from their cosmologies and religious beliefs, This book is based on the Pali Tripitaka and related
sources, the aim being to provide accurate information about important and enduring issues in the field of Early Buddhist Psychology, and to whet the appetite for
more advanced study in this field of interdisciplinary research by suggesting problems and opening tempting vistas. To meet these goals as effectively as possible,
knowledge gained from several areas of research is used to complement the early texts.
Early Buddhism was an attempt to help man better himself, not by being born in a better world, but by changing himself. Beneath man's thin veneer of consciousness
lies a relatively unchartered realm of mental activity, the nature and function of which the Early Buddhists tried to explore and conceptualize. Their approach is that of
a practical and personal discipline, and they offer certain techniques, which affect alterations in body states and consciousness. They focus on human potential for
growth and health, and go beyond existing models to emphasize the centrality of consciousness in shaping and enhancing well-being. The book, while explaining these
concepts of the Early Buddhist psychology, brings out vividly their contrast with those concepts of modern psychology which are negative and neutral.
About the Author:
Edwina Pio (born in Bombay, 19-12-1955) has had a brilliant academic career, having graduated from St. Xavier's College, Bombay, with Psychology and Pali. She
stood First Class First at the Bachelor of Arts Examination in the University of Bombay and won the Duke of Edinburg Fellowship and other awards. She teaches
Psychology at St. Xavier's College, besides writing occasionally for the Press. She is professionally involved with the activities of The Heras Institute of Indian History
and Culture. She has a Doctorate in Ancient Indian Culture.
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