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New Directions in Buddhist Psychology

by Dr. Kenji Akahoshi
Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 9:00 am

“We are not alone.” These four words greeted the more than seventy attendees to the First International Conference of Other-Centered Approaches. This historic gathering marked the initiation of a movement that has the potential to illuminate the human condition with the light of Buddhist psychology.

This conference was like a nursery for a sapling that had endured a long sea voyage and was being prepared to be planted into new soil. The presentations by five keynote speakers provided various perspectives of the other-centered approach. An other-centered approach is a shift from a focus on self-esteem enhancement, to an understanding of the self as defined by our relationship to others.

The opening remarks by Caroline Brazier presented evidence that our present western society embraces the focus on self-centeredness. According to the Buddha, this illusion of a substantial, independent self is the cause of much of our suffering. The other-centered approach is not so much a negation of the self but instead offers a more realistic image of a connected, interdependent person: i.e., I am not defined by my inner thoughts of myself, but instead, I exist as an integral part of everyone and everything. Naikan theory, ecology, and love were some topics which demonstrated that this experience of interdependence can result in a grounded, healthy and happy individual.

The 2,600 year history of Buddhist psychology validates the effectiveness of this perspective. Much of the language, customs, and culture of the East have been heavily influenced by Buddhist principles that remind us of our relationship to and gratitude for all those around us.

David and Caroline Brazier of England, Gregg Krech of Vermont, Daijaku Kinst of the Bay Area, and Clark Strand of New York are all outstanding authorities in their respected fields. Their geographical and professional diversity speaks to the universality of this new perspective. Each had been guided to this fundamental Buddhist principle by their unique personal and professional histories. The conference format provided opportunities for other presenters and participants to share their experiences with the Buddhist approach regarding how the self relates to others. For Shin Buddhists, this other-centered focus allowed for an expanded understanding of Amida Buddha, or “Other Power.”

The truth that “We are not alone” was experienced by the selfless support of about twenty volunteers who provided meals and other necessities for the conference. The success of this conference could be measured by the gratitude participants felt for their connectedness with others.

Shinran’s words of Amida’s spiritual presence represent an insightful perspective of the nature of the self. Inspired by Shin principles, an other-centered approach can provide us with a true assessment of an interdependent self in a supportive universe. We can express this awareness with the words Namo Amida Butsu.

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