Buddhism & Modern Psychology

The human predicament according to Buddhism is the ever-present nature of dukkah, or suffering, in our lives. Suffering is caused firstly by the samsara life cycle of birth, illness, ageing and death. It is secondly caused by a human attachment to permanence, called anicca and an inability to stop having cravings or desires, relating to the not self, called anatta. These 3 concepts form the human predicament.

Buddhist ideals about the human predicament are supported by natural selection theory.

Natural selection tells us that we are constantly striving to be the best and further our genetics into the next generation. This strive creates a level of anxiety that becomes a cause of suffering. Humans naturally dislike change and want to hold on to things that make them feel good. They also want things that they believe will make them feel better and in this modern, materialistic world there are many forms of social media that will dictate this for us. The concept of the not-self aims to dispel the invisible hand that guides us. When the not-self is embraced it gives us a learned wisdom that allows us to detach from materialism – instilling Buddhism as a rebellion to natural selection. As long as humans are prone to natural selection governing their life choices they are inevitably victim to a life in suffering, as the Buddha has taught.

Buddhists meditate to overcome the human predicament and as they follow the noble eightfold path on their way to enlightenment.

Modern neuroscience lends support to the benefits of meditation.

The default mode system is the part of the brain that is the last part of mind activity to shut down. It is the system that operates when we are doing so simple of a task that we allow our mind to wander. Research suggests that when we let our minds go we generally think about the future, sometimes the past, but rarely the present moment. However meditation works on shutting down this network. It brings awareness to the brain and when we are consciously aware and mindful, we bring the brain back to the present moment. When we practice this we reduce stress on the mind. This is evidenced scientifically by noticing a reduction in gamma activity levels in the brain on people that are meditating – this is the calmness stereotype that we associate with Buddhism and meditation. Therefore, meditation acts as a reset button on the default mode network, giving people a clearer frame of mind, much the same as Buddhist monks are closer to obtaining pure clarity in life, or enlightenment.

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