Epstein ch 2-5. Buddha's Four Truths

According to Epstein, developing the four noble truths will allow one to live through the differing levels of the wheel of life without getting stuck.

A more psychoanalytic way to express this would be to say: acquiring these truths would allow one to engage experience without becoming defenses, regressions or fixations.

The four truths are:

  1. Humiliation or the universality of suffering (dukkha).
  2. Dukkha is a Pali word that means pervasive dissatisfaction, impossibility to be fully happy. For a Judeo-Christian sense of dukkha, read the book of Ecclesiastes.

    Understanding that we are not different, that we too have to suffer, will get sick, old and die attacks our sense of narcissism or self-absorption. What we are, who we are, what we accomplish is next to nothing. "Vanity" says the writer of Ecclesiastes, "it all is vanity and rushing after the wind". The Hebrew word translated as "vanity" means "nothingness".

    Freud, as we have seen talks about the "unbridgeable gap" between desire and satisfaction. You cannot get what you really want --or if you do get it, you find out it isn't what you really want.

    To defend ourselves against possible suffering, we create a "false self" (Winnicott).

    Some expressions of narcissism would be: seeking the "perfect" relationship, the "perfect" self (physically or psychologically), the "perfect argument", the being "totally sure" or "totally right". Pronounced narcissim will make a person defensive, unloving, mentally ill, or even evil.

    An important part of one's mental health is the ability to accept our limited condition, our uncertainties. Buddhist parlance calls this approaching life with a "don't know" mind.

  3. Truth about the arising of dukkha: the cause of suffering is craving or desire.
  4. Buddhist psychology says that there are 2 kinds of desire:

    craving for sense pleasures --the problem being with treating sense pleasures as sources of ultimate satisfaction

    craving for existence or non existence, or desire for self-definition, for a fixed image of self, for certainty. The Buddha, say Epstein refuses to answer most questions that are the basis for powerful religious, philosophical, or scientific dogma.
    Narcissism is endemic to the human condition, and self-generated (not just because of parental practices as Freud would say)

    Understanding the second noble truth makes the false self crumble, leaving a "nothing" true self. The true self cannot be apprehended. The self cannot be said to exist, and it cannot be said not to exist. Once a person sees that, there is no need anymore for defensive strategies because there is no self to defend.

  5. Release (noble truth of the extinction of suffering) is possible

    Not through unconditional love, not through imagined perfection, but through the unconditional freedom of the enlightened mind: it is possible to become detached from a craving by becoming aware of it, by seeing a craving for what it is.

    Things that work against a free mind --once we see (through observation, reflection) their true nature, we are free.

    1. The wish for security and perfection is our core unconscious craving, our basic narcissistic wish.

    2. Ignorance: i.e. considering as solid things that are not: "solidifying" of experience --when experience is fleeting and passing. This is a way to create a reality that satisfies our narcissism

  6. The way to the cessation of suffering (the eightfold path toward selflessness).
    1. Ethical foundation: behavioral categories, living a righteous life: right speech, right action, right livelihood
    2. Mental discipline: formal practice of meditation: right mindfulness
    3. Wisdom foundation: right view: right understanding and right thought
      Simply knowing, observing feelings, holding them (not acting them out, nor identifying with them, nor trying to change them --fighting an emotion empowers it)
      . Mindfulness: i.e. bare attention, moment to moment awareness of changing objects. (not obliteration of the self, nor "cosmic union")
      . Selflessness is not a stage beyond the ego, rather it is emptiness (sunyata) showing that the individual ego is not solid, not a separate reality

From this examination of the 4 truths, what is the ideal of mental health in Buddhist psychology? How is it similar to or different from western ideas of mental health?