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What Forever Means After The Death of a Child.
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Fighting for Mental Health: A Personal View.
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Understanding the Mind: The Nature and Power of the Mind. 2nd ed.
Reviewed by
Scott Bishop, PhD, CPysch Zindel Segal, PhD, CPsych


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Book Review


Psychotherapy 2919_Gyatso2.JPG - 7191 Bytes

Understanding the Mind: The Nature and Power of the Mind. 2nd ed. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Cumbria, England: Tharpa Publications; 2002. 312 p. US$17.95.


Reviewer rating*: Good

Review by: Scott Bishop, PhD, CPysch Zindel Segal, PhD, CPsych
Toronto, Ontario

This book presents a model of the mind as understood from the perspective of Buddhist psychology. The central tenet of Buddhist psychology is that all happiness and suffering depends on the mind, so if we wish to avoid suffering and find happiness, we need to understand how the mind works and use that understanding to reorient ourselves in relation to our inner experiences and external circumstances. Meditation practices, which facilitate intensive self-observation, are used to gain insight into the nature of the mind and to transform it. Buddhism is a hermeneutic tradition of inquiry and, like contemporary psychoanalytic traditions, uses introspection to gather data and formulate a model of the structure and function of the mind. The mind has been at the centre of inquiry of Buddhism for over 2500 years, and based on the experience of generations of practitioners and scholars of meditation, a complex, multilayered model of a mind that can reflect upon and change itself has evolved. This book provides detailed descriptions of the nature of the mind as conceptualized from a Buddhist perspective and illustrates how to apply a greater understanding of the mind to reduce one’s suffering.

Buddhism has much in common with the Western hypothetico-deductive (empirical) traditions of modern science. Buddhist teachings eschew dogma in favour of basing one’s insights on evidence gained only from direct observation of the mind and objective validation. Buddhist teachings are presented as hypotheses that can be tested in the laboratory of meditation practice. Not surprisingly, there are striking parallels between Buddhist psychology and contemporary psychological constructs supported by the Western empirical method (1–2). Yet, Buddhism offers a unique perspective on the mind—one that, rather than being antagonistic to more contemporary views, could lead to considerable conceptual and methodological innovations in psychological theory and practice, if we approach this system with openness and a willingness to examine it objectively. Of course, if we choose to borrow from these traditions, then we must fit the concepts and technological innovations into our field theoretically and subject them to a recursive process of analysis and revision based on empirical scientific methods, without being limited by their religious or spiritual past. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for prevention of relapse in major depression (3) and dialectical behaviour therapy for borderline personality disorder (4) are 2 examples of successful integrations of Buddhist concepts and practices into contemporary psychotherapy. In our own work, we have taken the position that such concepts and technologies—particularly those based on Buddhist mindfulness practices—can be theoretically integrated with current models of psychopathology, possibly leading to innovations in treatment (5).

For those interested in Buddhist psychological principles, this book will provide a fascinating view of the human mind as conceptualized from another empirical tradition. For the uninitiated, however, this is a difficult book to read. The text is replete with unfamiliar terminology and concepts, and although the terms are defined and examples are provided, the narrative presupposes at least some familiarity with the basic tenets of Buddhist teachings. Those unfamiliar with Buddhist thought may find the concepts somewhat hard to grasp. Further, this book does not attempt to fit a Buddhist model of the mind within a more contemporary psychological science. This is understandable, because the author is not an academic in the Western sense but rather a well-respected Buddhist monk and scholar. Although the book is well written and the author is obviously highly knowledgeable, readers are left on their own to compare, contrast, and fit Buddhist ideas on the nature of the mind within a more contemporary framework.

How relevant is this book to contemporary psychiatry? The answer depends on the purpose of inquiry. For those who wish to gain some understanding of the nature of the structure and function of the mind as conceptualized from Buddhist psychology, this book will be an interesting, if not thought-provoking, read. This book will be of less interest to those looking for something more academically focused; that is, something incorporating or synthesizing Buddhist psychological concepts with contemporary science.

References

1. Campos PE, editor. Special series integrating Buddhist philosophy with cognitive and behavioral practice. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice 2002;9:38–79.

2. Epstein M. Thoughts without a thinker. New York: Basic Books; 1995.

3. Teasdale JD, Segal ZV, Williams JMG, Ridgeway VA, Soulsby JM, Lau MA. Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. J Consult Clin Psychol 2000;68:615–23.

4. Linehan MM, Armstrong HE, Saurez A, Allmon D, Heard HL. Cognitive behavioral treatment of chronically parasuicidal borderline patients. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1991;48:1060–4.

5. Bishop SR, Lau M, Shapiro S, Anderson N, Carlson L, Segal ZV, and others. Mindfulness: a proposed operational definition. Clin Psychol Forthcoming.



*Reviewer Rating Scale/ Échelle d’évaluation du réviseur

Excellent / Excellent
Very Good / Très bon
Good / Bon
Fair / Passable
Not recommended / Pas recommandé

 


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