Theravada Buddhist Insight Meditation and an Object-Relations Model of Therapeutic-Developmental Change: A Clinical Case Study of an Ethnopsychiatric Tradition

Engler, John H.

     This study "is an attempt to interpret one of the 'traditional psychologies,' the Buddhist practice of vipassana, within the framework of one of our most important contemporary clinical-developmental perspectives, psychoanalytic object relations theory. The specific issue for the dissertation is the nature of this tradition of meditation, practiced in Buddhist Asia for millennia and now being transplanted in the West . . . as a form of therapeutic intervention: its methods, its process and its outcomes. . . . The thesis is that meditation accomplishes some of the major goals of conventional therapies but aims at and achieves as its end-state a change beyond the type of change aimed at or envisaged in contemporary psychiatric or psychological thinking: the end of intra-psychic conflict and suffering. . . . This study is based on an investigation of insight meditation in one of its contemporary forms, Buddhist Satipatthana-vipassana . . . . represented by a major retreat center established in Barre, Massachusetts, the Insight Meditation Society. . . . The subjects of this study are students and teachers in the lineage of the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw (U Sobhana Mahathera), founder, director, and meditation master of Thathana Yeiktha Center in Rangoon, Burma."
     Two major considerations dictated the research design for this study": (1) "the experience of enlightenment was used here as the sole criterion of selection"; (2) "an idiographic case study approach was taken. . . . On the basis of clinical observation, . . . the nature of vipassana as a therapeutic discipline" is analyzed, including "its overall structure as a course of training, its various action system components, the prerequisite levels of personality organization and ego functioning necessary for undertaking it, the actual instructions for practice, the technique, and the role of the meditation teacher." The next chapters "systematize the phenomenological data from interviews . . . and interpretively reconstruct the actual meditative process from the perspective of psychoanalytic object relations theory, from its preliminary stages . . . through Insight Practice to the different levels of enlightenment." The next step is "to infer the modifications in intrapsychic structure which vipassana brings about and the type of personality organization which results. . . . The outcomes reported by the subjects . . . [are] supplemented by the outcomes reported in the classical literature since no subject had attained the fourth and final stage of enlightenment (Arahanta) at the time the study was done. . . . In conclusion, an attempt . . . [is] made to briefly suggest some implications of these findings for current psychodynamic theory; and to suggest an extension of the 'developmental diagnostic-therapeutic spectrum' so central in modern clinical practice to include a range of suffering, therapeutic technique, and personality organization which has not yet been incorporated in contemporary psychiatric and psychoanalytic thinking.