Re: Taoism and PCP

Tim A. Connor (
Thu, 10 Sep 1998 11:56:17 -0700 (PDT)

I have thought about the parallels between Taoism/Zen and PCP. I think
the parallels start at a much more fundamental level than the dichotomy
corollary. At the most basic level, both assert that reality is
undifferentiated flow, and that all distinctions are made by
people--including the distinction between self and not self. The idea of
the person as a form of motion is very consistent with the Buddhist idea
that "personality is just an individual stream of becoming" (Burtt,
Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, p. 86)

But I think there are some differences--Taoism and Zen seek to transcend
all distinctions, to recognize the unity of all opposites; PCP doesn't
acknowledge that this is possible, perhaps because it's seen, rightly or
wrongly, as irrelevant to psychology. (The Tao Te Ching says "The name
which can be named is not the unchanging name"; PCP is concerned with the
process of naming/construing things. The finger is not the moon, but we
try to understand the finger on its own terms. PCP acknowledges
complementarity, but emphasizes contrast.) From a Western scientific (and
psychotherapeutic) perspective, once one accepts the constructed nature of
distinctions, the problem becomes how to make the distinctions that will
be most useful, since unhappiness appears to result from making
distinctions that lead to undesired consequences; from an Eastern
religious perspective, it is the making of distinctions itself that leads
to suffering. Psychology could probably stand to extend its vision in
this area. (Consider Linehan's use of Zen in Dialectical Behavior
Therapy, or Douglas Flemon's attempt to integrate Taoism with Batesonian
systems thinking in family therapy).

It seems to me that PCP does offer a way through the thicket of relativism
in which German intellectuals got caught with regard to the Nazis. Kelly
was quite emphatic about constructs being guides to action. Recognizing
that constructs are our creations, not given by the universe, does not
relieve us of the necessity of testing them experimentally. Commitment
(aggression, in Kelly's terminology) is inherent in the construing
process. German intellectuals seemed to believe that, having given up the
idea of an objective mandate to oppose Hitler, they had no grounds for
action. Constructive alternativism would suggest that you need to make
you best construction and test it by acting as if it were true, being
prepared to revise it as your hypotheses are invalidated. If you take
responsibility for your constructions, you don't need to declare something
objectively evil in order to oppose it. This may be a point of divergence
from Taoism--but I don't think I really understand the Taoist concept of
"non-action"--is there a PCP construct that is somewhat parallel?

The Tao Te Ching also says: "Scholarship abandoned, sorrow vanishes." Oh



Tim Connor, M.S. "Psychotherapy is not
Pacific University an applied science, it
School of Professional Psychology is a basic science in
2004 Pacific Avenue which the scientists
Forest Grove, OR 97116 USA are the client and his
<> therapist"
--George Kelly