Engagements With The World
Engagements With The World
Emotions And Human Nature
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After fi fty years of futile research on mind and behavior, trying to fi nd their causes in the brain, without success, psychiatrists and psychologists are turning their attention to the emotions, also looking for their causes in the brain, also without success. The problem is that there is no generally accepted theory or paradigm for understanding the emotions. William James suggested that such a paradigm must meet two criteria: (1) it must explain each individual emotion (i.e., anxiety, anger, depression, etc.), and (2) it must relate all the emotions to each other. This book presents such a paradigm. It is based on the accepted biological principle that all organisms from the lowest to the highest function in two biological motives, which I call bipolar reactivity. All organisms seek pleasure and/or that which sustains and promotes life, and all organisms seek to avoid pain and/or that which threatens or disables life. Interestingly, this biological principle corresponds to a basic principle of Buddhist psychology that the pain we cause to ourselves and to each other is caused by the Three Poisons: desire, aversion, and ego. Desire and aversion link humans to the great chain of being, and ego distinguishes humans from all other beings and recognizes our unique capacity for symbolic reactivity. I have used this paradigm for fi fty years in my practice of psychotherapy and have found it very useful for understanding my patients’ mental and emotional pain and helping them to understand and heal themselves.
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Ron Leifer, MD, MA, is a psychiatrist with fi fty years’ experience as a nonmedical, noncoercive psychotherapist. He received his psychiatric training at the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where his mentor was Professor Thomas Szasz, MD, author of the classic In the Name of Mental Health. After publication of this book, the state commissioner of mental health and the chairman of the department tried to fi re Szasz but failed because he had tenure. Leifer and his friend and colleague Ernest Becker, future Pulitzer Prize winner for The Denial of Death, defended Szasz and became outcasts in the department. While he was a resident, Leifer earned a master’s degree in philosophy at Syracuse University where his mentor was the Cambridge philosopher of language, A. R. L. Louch. At the same time, Leifer received his fi rst meditation instruction from the Hindu monk Ahehananda Bharati, who was chairman of the department of anthropology. Noticing Leifer’s interest in Buddhism, Bharati suggested that he fi nd a Tibetan lama teacher. Leifer then became the student of Khenpo Khartar Rinpoche, abbot of the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery in Woodstock, New York. He later became a full-time student at Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, New York, where he studied Buddhism in the Tibetan language. His interest then turned to a synthesis of Western psychology and Buddhist psychology, the result of which was the publication of his second book, The Happiness Project (Snow Lion, 1996), and Vinegar into Honey (Snow Lion, 2006). This book is the third of the trilogy.

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