Start Where You Are

Standing at the Edge
December 9, 2019
Creating a Life
December 9, 2019

A Guide to Compassionate Living

by Pema Chödrön.
Author of “When Things Fall Apart”.

I s Buddhism a religious tradition or a method of psychological inquiry? Every person will probably answer this question differently. My answer is, “neither and both.”

C lients have asked me, ”What is the religion that is most compatible with psychoanalytic and depth psychological approaches?” All religions, especially the mystical or contemplative aspect of religious traditions, are very compatible with depth-psychological approaches.

For instance, in The Gospel of Thomas (part of the Dead Sea scrolls, discovered in 1946), Jesus sounds like a Jungian analyst! (I’m quoting someone else - if you know who it is, please let me know!)

T he specific challenges she writes about are how even the greatest virtues can become our downfall; altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, engagement and most of all - compassion.

For those who practice these ”virtues” as part of our daily life and profession, it is a wake up call that such qualities can also have a dark side. The Shadow lurks even here. Roshi Joan guides us through a thorough self-examination.

I personally found this very illuminating, and an example of how we can stray off the path even while being dedicated to it. For instance, if our path requires compassion, and we give readily, what does it mean when we resent our situation?

This book will help carers of all kinds, from parents, to teachers, to therapists - and end of life carers, which has been Joan Halifax’s particular dedication.

T he fundamentalist interpretation of any religious tradition is, however, inimical to personal individual inquiry because a fundamentalist belief is about adhering to external rules rather than inquiring into one’s own soul-depths.

This brings me back to Buddhism, which does not shirk the personal inquiry so dear to both psychoanalysis (Freud) and depth psychology (Jung). Pema Chödrön, the redoubtable Buddhist, is a good place to start if you want to understand Buddhist tenants.

Here is a conversation between Pema Chödrön and K D Laing, if you have not had the delight of learning from them before.

And back to “Start Where You Are” - indeed it is a very good place to start, both with Pema Chodron and with Buddhism.