On the one hand, Buddhism is a broad church or umbrella under which many diverse ideas and methods can cluster. Currently there are many popular methods that have some Buddhist connection. Thus we have mindfulness, qi gong, and reiki, and there are a range of derivatives such as mindfulness-based stress reduction or other supposedly mindfulness-based approaches. Also Buddhist centres are often hosts to yoga, martial arts, Tai Chi and other groups. We have now also reached the point where almost anything can be included under the mindfulness rubric - after all, minds are always involved - mindful gardening, mindful eating, whatever. This is not very different from how, some years ago, just about anything was being labelled person-centred since, similarly, persons were always in there somewhere.
When we reflect upon this scene, we can see that some things are closer to actual Buddhism than others. So whereas it is true that Buddhism is broad and welcoming, it is also possible to discern that there is a rigorous core Buddhist teaching that is absent from most of the methods mentioned in the first paragraph. If one wants genuine Buddhist psychology it must be based on Buddhism, which is to say that its theory and aims must be Buddhist, and Buddhism is a different paradigm from popular Western psychology. Many of the people operating in this field are completely unaware of this.
The other day I was in a conversation with a person that I respect who has many years of experience in Western psychology. We were talking about a medical problem that I have. He was telling me how to keep exact records of what happens - when there is pain, when other symptoms occur, what I eat, when I rest, and so on. All these things can certainly be interesting. Then he said, so if you do this you can get to be in control, so that, in relation to the illness, you control it rather than it controlling you. This was said with some passion and obvious conviction and with a sense that this was the reason for all that had gone before. I thought about this for a moment and asked, “Why would I want to be in control? I have never wanted to be in control.” The conversation continued but this small interaction stood out as the pivot that revealed our difference of thinking. If I collect all the data, it will possibly enable me to see the nature of the natural phenomenon that currently has a grip on my body, and doing so might be very interesting, but in Buddhism body and mind fall away. In Buddhism we learn, "This is not me, this is not mine, this is not myself." This or that process is passing through. I cannot be in control of birth and death, loss or fortune. Furthermore, if I am always striving to be in control, then when inevitable things happen I am likely to experience them as a frightening and as defeat, rather than meeting them with peace in my heart.
THE BIG OBSTACLE
Buddhism is not about self and its power or enhancement. It is not about making the self stronger. It is not about developing a self before you let it go. It is not about self-esteem, self-love, self-anything. The Buddha regarded the conceit of self as the biggest obstacle to spiritual emancipation. It is very difficult for a Western educated person to take this teaching in. We Westerners have been, in the past half century especially, saturated by the idea that wellbeing is all about looking after oneself and one's own wellbeing is all important. We need time for oneself. We need to love ourselves. We even feel guilty when we do not love ourselves enough. Many forms of malaise are nowadays attributed to failure to love oneself sufficiently or in the right way. From a Buddhist perspective, this is all nonsense.