A. It is true that there is something of a conflict between the different views of the spiritual path and forms of therapy. I think if we first of all understood what constitutes the ‘spiritual path’, then this misunderstanding would be less likely to arise.

From my understanding of the spiritual path, I would define it as a path of complete transformation of the whole of our mental and emotional make up – with this entire transformation taking place in direct relation to the sense of a self. For it is that sense of a self that appropriates and possesses our mental and emotional being in the first place and it is from this that we create and enter the world of samsara and unfulfilment. Buddhist practices work with the entirety of our mental and emotional state, which includes our acknowledgement that there is this sense of a self and that it carries great influence. The major characteristic of the spiritual path is that it does not chop any of these parts into pieces, but rather embraces the whole, and it constitutes a journey that could be described as complete surrender through wisdom.

Dharma practice is a sort of ‘polishing’ process whereby, through ever-deepening insight, the influence of that sense of a self is polished away, until it is thoroughly cleansed and seen through. When that seeing reaches its final maturity, the delusion of self, for a short period of time at least, shows itself to have been from the very beginning nothing more than a figment of our own imagination. It is at this moment that awakening takes place, and the astonishing nature of reality is revealed.

Whilst many therapies these days may refer to the whole of ourselves as a sort of reference point, often using established Buddhist concepts, they nevertheless have to leave that wholeness of being to target specific aspects of the emotional personality. After all, it is the emotional personality imbalances that have brought the patient to the therapist in the first place, isn’t it? There then takes place a clear and very different approach to that of Dharma practice, a one-to-one interaction with the patient specifically targeting the personality problem, and finding ways to change it.

Therapy has a significant role to play among those with imbalances and anxieties so great that they cannot practise the Dharma in a correct way. If you feel you are outside the parameters necessary to be able to practise, then seek out a therapist. Hopefully, one day after treatment you will be able to step back into the fold and practise the Dharma again.

Personally, I think very few of us Buddhists need therapy. What we do need is to learn how to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in a proper way and specifically take a teacher with the knowledge to encourage us to create a physical and emotional framework that will help support those perceived difficulties, and also, crucially, teach us how to work with these difficulties for ourselves. Through time, and a willingness to bear with the emotional forces you will inevitably experience, transformation will take place, and you will come through to be emotionally stronger and wiser. Strong negative self-views are common in us westerners, but true Dharma practice will work on that self-view burden; and should you need still further help, there are many meditation practices inherent in Buddhism to help support you.