Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Freud, Buddhist Psychology and the Unconscious

Sigmund Freud’s major contributions to psychiatry were his theory of the unconscious and theory of dreams. Like the Buddha, Freud used first-person research methods. He concentrated on his dreams and childhood memories to deepen his theoretical insights. Much of this reflection occurred during a particularly difficult period of Freud’s life when after the death of his Father he suffered cardiac irregularities and bouts of depression. Linking this loss with the onset of mental and physical distress, Freud decided to look within his own mind to heal his suffering. That does sound to me just like a Buddhist psychological prescription for relief of suffering.

Another area of agreement between Freud and Buddhist psychology is the postulation of an unconscious. Freud visualized the unconscious as a storehouse for repressed concepts, feelings, and instincts, too unacceptable to reside freely in the preconscious, from where all mentation arises into conscious awareness. Freud did not view repression as a problem in and of itself and even advocated repression of primitive sexual and aggressive urges to aid maintenance of societal norms. But he also believed that excessive repression of libidinous desires was most likely a result of unwarranted societal restrictions of his time.

Professor William Waldron wrote a fantastic book called, "The Buddhist Unconscious". According to Waldron, Buddhist psychology espouses several competing topological theories of mind all of which include some form of an unconscious. The Abhidharmic model conceptualizes the unconscious as bhavanga-citta, a ground consciousness that is conditioned by karma and acts as a conditioning factor for current life habitual tendencies. Later revisions of that model view the unconscious as ālaya-vijñāna, a store consciousness containing the individual’s karmic seeds of suffering. Like Freud’s unconscious, bhavanga-citta and ālaya-vijñāna are thought to motivate the mind to produce destructive habitual mind states. However, Buddhist psychology has no concept of active repression, which would force these seeds to remain in the unconscious. Instead, birth itself is the proximate cause for the existence of bhavanga-citta and ālaya-vijñāna’s karmic contents.

©2012 Lisa Dale Miller, LMFT

1 comment:

psychology education said...

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