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There has been an ever-growing discussion of this or that parallel between Western psychotherapy and Eastern philosophy. But thus far no one has attempted, comprehensively, to find some basic design common to the methods and objectives of psychotherapy, on the one hand, and the disciplines of Buddhism, Vedanta, Yoga, and Taoism, on the other. The latter are not, perhaps, psychotherapies in the strict sense, but there is enough resemblance to make the comparison important.My purpose in writing this book is not, however, to sum up or review the development of this discussion. It is rather to give it a new turn . . . to describe what I feel to be the most fruitful way in which Eastern and Western psychotherapies can fertilize one another. For not only have they much to learn from each other, but also it seems to me that the comparison brings out hidden and highly important aspects of both. I decided, therefore, to write not a compendium of sober conclusions, but a provocative essay which may jolt both parties to the discussion. For I feel that both are fumbling in the dark, though not without some light. Wonderful as I have found them, I do not believe that the Eastern disciplines are the last word in sacrosanct and immemorial wisdom such that the world must come and sit humbly at the feet of their masters. Nor do I feel that there is a gospel according to Freud, or to Jung, in which the great psychological truths are forever fixed. The aim of this book is not to say the last word on the subject, but to provoke thought and experiment.From “The Ways of Liberation”:First, liberation is not revolution. It is not going out of one’s way to disturb the social order by casting doubt upon the conventional ideas by which people hold together. Second, the whole technique of liberation requires that the individual shall find out the truth for himself. Simply to tell it is not convincing. Instead, he must be asked to experiment, to act consistently upon assumptions which he holds to be true until he finds out otherwise. The guru or teacher of liberation must therefore use all his skill to persuade the student to act on his own delusions, for the latter will always resist the undermining of the props of his security. He teaches not by explanation, but by pointing out new ways of acting upon the student’s false assumptions until the student convinces himself that they are false.Human nature could be trusted enough to leave itself alone because it was felt to be embedded in the Tao, and the Tao was in turn felt to be a perfectly self-consistent order of nature, manifesting itself in the polarity of yang (the positive) and yin (the negative). Their polar relationship made it impossible for one to exist without the other, and thus there was no real reason to be for yang and against yin. If, on the other hand, men do not trust their own nature or the universe of which it is a part, how can they trust their mistrust? The difficulty of Zen is the almost overwhelming problem of getting anyone to see that life-and-death is not a problem. The Zen master tackles this by asking the student to find out for whom the world is a problem, for whom is pleasure desirable and pain undesirable, thus turning consciousness back upon itself to discover the ego.
Alan Watts (1915–1973), author of Psychotherapy East & West, was a British-born American philosopher, writer, speaker, and counterculture hero. Best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience, he wrote over 25 books and numerous articles weaving scientific knowledge into the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy.