From Moses and Monotheism to Buddha and Behaviorism: Cognitive Behavior Therapy's Transpersonal Crisis

By Seiden, Douglas Y.; Lam, KaNei | Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview
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From Moses and Monotheism to Buddha and Behaviorism: Cognitive Behavior Therapy's Transpersonal Crisis

Seiden, Douglas Y., Lam, KaNei, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

ABSTRACT: Philosophers of science in psychology have traditionally defined the field in such a way as to keep it distinct from inquiry into external referents of transpersonal experience. The cognitive behavioral mindfulness therapies (MTs) provide a forum for increased assimilation by the mainstream discipline of knowledge and skills drawn from the perennial psychologies and technologies of transcendence, and for accommodation of psychology's own world hypotheses, root metaphors and truth criteria. The science-metaphysics debate in psychology is presented, including the pragmatism of William James, the radical behaviorism of B.F. Skinner, and the functional contextualism of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Classical and operant behavioral approaches to mysticism are explored, with a proposal for an integral behaviorism incorporating ''putative events'' associated with anomalous states. The authors recommend a Transpersonal Cognitive Behavior Therapy drawing from the full range of wisdom tradition teachings in a manner that is entheo-syntonic with a given client's world view.

Reality may be merely an inference and, according to some authorities, a bad one. What is important may not be the physical world on the far side of the skin but what that world means to us on this side.

-B. F. Skinner (The steep and thorny way to a science of behavior, 1975, p. 43)

With our thoughts we make the world.

-S.G. Buddha (Byrom,Dhammapada:The sayings of theBuddha, 1976, p. 1)

In 1939, the reigning psychological explanatory model of the day, psychoanalysis, ventured into scientifically uncharted territory to investigate the ''true'' relationship between Moses and Monotheism (Freud, 1939/1967). In 1984, behaviorism employed its own investigatory method, behavioral analysis, for a similar feat. Here, the quest was nothing short of scientifically explaining mystical experiences such as nothingness, immortality, unity and omnipresence (Hayes, 1984). In both cases, a prevailing scientific theory was used as an alternative to unfavored truth criteria (i.e., the Bible, mystics and the man in the street) to arrive at a scientifically palatable conclusion (in the former, that Moses learned monotheism from Akhenaten, and not from God; in the latter, that metaphysics, for the game of science, is overvalued linguistics).

In a recent survey of historians of American psychology and founders of transpersonal psychology, it was suggested that '' ... the emergence of mindfulness practice and Buddhist psychology as flourishing domains in mainstream academic and clinical psychology'' may be a sign that ''Perhaps American psychology is just now, 40 years following Maslow's declaration of a fourth force, ready to embrace a transpersonal perspective on psychology'' (Ruzek, 2007, p. 173). The integration of historically esoteric spiritual techniques such as meditation and mindfulness into mainstream scientific psychotherapy has been a welcome development in the evolving field. As to be expected, the theoretical and technical implications of the endeavor have provoked both controversy and cautions (Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Moran, 2008; Styron, 2005). We might even consider the discipline's rising tide of existential self-inquiry, provoked by the ''Third Wave'' cognitive behavior therapies, as indicative of a crisis of spiritual emergence (Grof & Grof, 1986/1993) for a nascent ''transpersonal behaviorism'' (Tart, 1979). There is nothing better for science than some healthy disagreement and finger pointing (at the moon or otherwise), and the advent of the cognitive behavioral mindfulness therapies (MTs, or ''empties'') promises to provide both.


In a historical sense, ''transpersonal psychology,'' far from being oxymoronically neologistic, as some would have us believe, is redundantly archaic. Until the mid- to late 19th century, psychology was the doctrine of the soul and an ally of religion (Reed, 1997).

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From Moses and Monotheism to Buddha and Behaviorism: Cognitive Behavior Therapy's Transpersonal Crisis


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