The dialogue between Western Buddhists and Psychotherapists is significant. There is a value to an ongoing inquiry into what is in common between the Dharma and therapy and what the differences are. This article is a contribution to this inquiry.
There is evidence to show that all the major schools of psychotherapy give recognition to the Buddhist approach to the resolution of suffering and the variety of afflictions that impact on our lives. There is also evidence to show that psychotherapy has proved beneficial to dedicated Buddhist meditators and Dharma practitioners.
It is often not realised that the Theravada tradition, the oldest of the Buddhist schools, had some influence 2200 years ago on the spiritual exploration in some Mediterranean countries. Thera (Elders) and vada (Way)) derives its meaning from the elders in the earliest Sangha who established the way of the monks and nuns.
The concept of 'Therapy' derives from 'Theravada. ' Around 200 BC, King Asoka, the revered Buddhist king of India, sent Theravada monks and nuns to the Egyptian city of Alexandria that attracted spiritual seekers worldwide in the pursuit of self knowledge, as well as prophets, teachers and sects from various traditions.
In Alexandria, the Theravada monks and nuns became known as the Therapeutae (Sons of the Elders). A Jewish contemplative, name Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, wrote an appreciative tract, De vita Contemplativa (On the Contemplative Life of the Therapeutae) describing the Buddhist monks and nuns as "spiritual athletes" for their disciplined way of life, austere rules and vegetarian diet in their community in the hills outside Alexandria.
The Greek word 'therapeuta' has come to mean 'healing' with its initial derivation from the Buddhists in Alexandria practising to heal suffering. In terms of the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha described himself as a doctor who
1. diagnosed the problem
2. gave the diagnosis
3. showed the cure
4. gave the prescription.
The healing (therapeutae) of suffering is the major task of the Buddha's dharma. Incidentally, numerous statements of the Buddha (around 500 BC) find their parallel in the teachings of Jesus. Therapy owes its name to Theravada Buddhist tradition.