Sunday, May 21, 2006


This introduction aims to present some of the basic concepts in Buddhist psychology which relate to other-power and also to give an indication of how other-power might be seen in relation to therapy.

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Other-power is a Buddhist concept contrasted with self-power. It basically means not to rely on one’s own efforts alone. The concept of other-power in Buddhism is understood against the background of non-self. The Buddhist understanding of the subjective experience of self is that from our earliest encounters and retreats from painful experiences we build up mental structures that act as a shield against experiencing affliction (dukkha). We identify with these self-structures and mistake them for a stable self that we cling too. Although this defensive self-structure, which we fabricate, is comforting and understandable it cuts us off from fully connecting with our world. It has the effect of acting as a distorting filter through which we experience that which is other. Buddhist psychology deconstructs this experience of self in two ways.

Firstly it does not see a person as a solid self, but instead sees the person as an open system in which perception, cognition, feelings, imagination and symbolic processes interact in an on-going flux. Secondly, it challenges our artificial sense of being the center of our universe and of being separate from our environment because of its understanding that all things arise conditioned through the working of dependent origination.

The theory of dependent origination illustrates how whatever arises (e.g. mental states) is conditioned by all preceding events. Past events do not determine, but influence what comes next. On the smaller scale this process is sustained by the moment to moment conditioning of our mental states by their objects of perception (rupa). On the larger scale it shows how we go round in cycles, habitually finding ourselves repeating patterns of behavior (clinging and aversion) that lead us back into old and familiar situations and ways of relating.This awareness of the dynamics of self-building is useful in understanding the application of other-power in therapy.

A therapist grounded in a sense of other-power will have faith in the unfolding process between themselves and their client. For instance, a client entering therapy is often experiencing some sort of crisis, their faith in life having been confronted to a varying degree by the contradiction between their idealized image of self and the reality of their life. By being open and accepting of the client just as they are, the therapist can help the client to let go of the need to continue struggling with this contradiction (self-power), and instead start to let go into being accepted just as they are (other-power).

Object related work can be used as a key tool to get a client to loosen their fixed sense of self through a more genuine connection to that which is other. Through this connection they can also learn to trust the process, and become more able to be with what is real and more open to others, their own vulnerability and the capacity to live more fully and authentically. At the same time it also highlights our own fallibility, creating a greater acceptance of our imperfections which, if appropriately cultivated, can allow both a gentleness around our own expectations and an aspiration towards positive change.

In conclusion, a therapist grounded in a sense of other-power will have faith in the positive effect of the client’s experience of the true other and in the unfolding process between themselves and their client.

A Range of Views From Those In The Pureland Tradition

Thanks to a list of contacts provided to us by Jonathan Watts and Dharmavidya of Amida Trust, we asked them (listed here as the first five respondents to this site - Jonathan Watts to Reg Pawle), "I would be grateful if you felt able to contribute something on your personal understanding of Other Power".

These first responses are from a range of people in the Pureland tradition that we have talked to: a priest, a leading academic, someone who runs a major Shin group in Australia and a therapist. The variety of their responses to our request for a personal understanding of other-power offers a taste of the range of possibilities covered by the theory and practice of other-power, although what is here is not a selected sample, but was dictated by who we received responses from. It also shows that variety exists between individuals and not just between the two Japanese schools of Jodo Shu and Jodo Shin Shu.

The next three responses - from a youth worker and two therapists - give an impression of what other power means to this small collection of people unfamiliar with Pure Land Buddhism.

We look forward to hearing your reponses and any developing discussion.


Blogger Other Power and Therapy said...

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12:06 AM  

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