Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

A Spiritual Side to Psychotherapy

I have to leave “Psychotherapy Beyond the Fringe” for a while, because I need to write about something else that has come to mind, namely mind and body.  This is a bit convoluted, so try to bear with me.

Siddhartha Gautama was born about 500 B.C., the son of an Indian king who, for the first twenty nine years of his life, raised him in an opulent palace built just for him and sheltered him from knowledge of the human hardship outside the palace walls.  Then one day he ventured out into the world and was confronted with the aged, illness and death, and an asthetic.  His charioteer explained that all people grow old, and that the asthetic had renounced the world to seek release from the human fear of death and suffering.  Overcome by these sights, Siddhartha left his kingdom, wife, and son to lead an asthetic life and try to discover a way to relieve the suffering that he now understood to be part of the human condition.

For the next six years, Siddhartha lived as an asthetic, meditating and using the words of the various religious teachers as his guide, but without success until one day a young girl offered him a bowl of rice.  As he accepted it, he realized that physical austerity was not the way to find the answers that he sought.  That night and for some time afterwards, he meditated under the Bodhi tree until he finally found the answer to the questions about human suffering that he had been seeking for so many years; and in his enlightenment, he became the Buddha – the “enlightened one” – and set out to teach his discoveries, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Now, there are always people who will create a religion out of anything – witness the “Church” of Scientology – but the Buddha, like Christ, didn’t set out to create a religion.  He set out to teach people how to escape from suffering; and enlightenment, which some people have achieved through meditation, will do that.  Meditation is an essentially Eastern practice which has only recently found its way into the Western world, where it has been found to have many health benefits, both spiritual and physical, and I would highly recommend it to you.  (Interestingly, and as an aside, the church that I continue to belong to, the Community of Christ, used to have an apostle who was a Buddhist as well as being a Christian, but that is a whole different set of stories and, right now, I would rather talk about relieving human suffering.)

The four noble truths which the Buddha expounded are:

  1. Life is mainly suffering.
  2. Suffering is caused by desires which put us in conflict with the laws of the universe. For example, we want such things as power, fame, beauty, undying love, or not to be subjected to loss, sickness, pain, old age, death, and so on, all of which goals are either unattainable or fleeting.
  3. The way to extinguish suffering is to extinguish desire.
  4. The way to extinguish desire is to follow the Eightfold Noble Path, which is composed of:

    i)      right understanding – e.g., of the four noble truths.

    ii)     right intention – e.g., to renounce fleeting or unattainable desires.

   iii)      right speech – e.g., to try to live peacefully with the rest of the universe.

  iv)      right behaviour – e.g., lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy,                                               and equanimity.

   v)      right livelihood – e.g., no dealing in intoxicants, weapons, slavery,                                                    and so on.

  vi)      right effort – e.g., meditation to remove unwholesome, unhelpful                                                      states of mind.

vii)      right mindfulness – e.g., living in the present or, as Jesus said, “Why take ye thought for raiment?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.  They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these….”

viii)     right concentration – e.g., a mind as focused as a laser beam.

By following these teachings, many people in addition to “the Buddha” achieved enlightenment, i.e., they also became buddhas. 

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