Kerala Seminar - Psychology in India: Past, Present and Future

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Paper and event sponsored by the Infinity Foundation, NJ, USA

Abstract of Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy by Peter Fenner, PhD

This presentation offers my own explorations in developing of form of psychotherapy that is explicitly indebted to the wisdom contained in Buddhist and Hindu nondualistic traditions.   This form of therapy, which I call “nondual psychotherapy,” extends the wisdom of non-duality directly into the therapeutic arena.

The primary aim of “nondual therapy” is to introduce people to a pure and expanded way of being that goes beyond “loss and gain.” In Indian traditions this experience is known, among other names, as pure awareness, the viewless view, not knowing, contentless wisdom, witness consciousness, self-awareness, unconditioned freedom, true nature, authentic existence.  These terms all refer to an experience that has no structure, yet which is meditated through our conditioned organism.

In nondual forms of spirituality, habitual and reactive ways of being are “deconditioned” by gaining access to the unconditioned state of pure awareness.  The focus in “nondual therapy,” then, is to gently introduce clients to the experience of unstructured awareness while they are present to their thoughts, feelings and perceptions.  This is achieved through a conversational form of contemplative inquiry (jnana-yoga) that reveals the coincidence of objectless awareness and everyday empirical experience.

The particular form of therapy I have developed is minimalist and natural.  It seamlessly integrates key methods drawn from Advaita, Madhyamika, Mahati and Zen.  It uses the methods of self-inquiry (atma-vichara), deconstructive analysis (prasanga-vichara), natural release (rang grol, svamukti) and the “naturally occurring koans” found in original Zen.  The above traditions provide a rich set of possibilities for dissolving a client’s identification with limited ways of thinking and feeling.

For example, the Madhyamika and Advaita forms of deconstructive inquiry are used in a focused and targeted way to dismantle the narratives that support emotional fixations.  The Mahati approach, on the other hand, is nonstrategic and non-interventionist.  This tradition “creates space” around a client’s problems and relies on the mind’s natural capacity to release (rang grol) emotional problems.  The Mahati creates an atmosphere that allows clients to accept “what is,” without judgement or preference.  These approaches—the proactive and noninterventionist—are blended into a form of therapy that respects a clients’ conditioning, but which doesn’t collude with their need to change their experience, or resist transformation.

These methods and other methods are integrated into a form of therapy that works in the here and now to dissolve the fixation or grasping (graha) that blocks an effortless access to the unconditioned nature of being itself (dharmata, brahman, etc.).

This presentation will outline the theory behind “nondual therapy.”  The flavor and clinical contours of this form of therapy will be demonstrated by working with fixed perceptions that arise during the presentation.