Is spirituality a substitute for mental health?

The rise of eastern spirituality in the west correlates to two preceding factors: number one, the decline in authority of western religion, and, number two, the splintering into factions of psychotherapy. The Christian church continues to lose its sway over the souls of Europeans and Americans, while the old orthodoxy of Freud and Jung within the schools of psychology and psychiatry has been increasingly called into question since the academic roots of the science were replaced with a statistical formalism. The answers that psychotherapy promises to bring were capable of replacing those provided by Christianity. However, the failure of psychotherapy to take the central position in our society has led the void to be filled by systems that are not, properly speaking, psychological but spiritual.

Spirituality is necessary in life. The practice of meditation, central to many Eastern traditions, is a useful tool for quieting the mind and coming to a sense of peace with others and the environment. Nonetheless, they are not adequate responses to the psychological problems faced by individuals in the western world of the present day.

The western mind has suffered trauma after trauma ever since it was invented by the ancients. Nonetheless, a return to egoless unity will not solve this problem. The western mind, however self-destructive, does not entirely seek death. So long as it wants to live it will call into existence all the dualities and sufferings of existence. The meditative trance only provides a momentary balm. The self-unifying, self-fulfilling resolution that the individual needs, it cannot supply.

To choose spirituality over the individualistic search for satisfaction is ultimately a rejection of destiny. If it were not, monks would be the leaders of the world. While the religious calling is no doubt suitable for some, for many others it represents an opportunity to escape from the relativistic maelstrom of the outer world into the comforting orthodoxy of the cloister.

What psychotherapy represents is an adapted response to the unique problems of the western psyche in the post-Christian era. Given the detachment of the self from the old absolutes, it is natural that many should seek to set up new certainties in their place. The failure of psychotherapy reflects the failure of scientists and academics to accept the challenge that it presents: to fix the self from within the self, to reject outwardly applied salvations. This is the only reparation that the traumatised ego will ultimately accept as satisfying.

In the perfect situation, one would make use of all available spiritual opportunities that please the self’s aesthetic preferences. On top of this, proper recourse would be made to that art and science that has been developed for fixing the problems that western history has imposed, a series of issues universal to those who have undergone ego-formation in a western historical context, and that would have been as utterly alien to Buddha as to Christ.