Different Cultural Traditions Between East and West: Theory and Reality

In Plato’s “Phaedo”, Socrates said death is the separation of the soul from the body.

Body is sensation, pleasure and emotion, which represent the shackles of the body thereby creating illusion.
To reach ‘truth’(wisdom, reality etc.), one must die. So Socrates was glad to die because he would then attain the truth by his death. But after his death, Plato - his devout disciple and sole scribe of Socrates’ philosophizing (according to western philosophical tradition) - subsequently tried to purify the mind(catharsis) via intellectual pursuit or theory building(eg Rene Descartes et al), whereas in the East the Tao was practised instead. This is the reason why the East and West are apparently headed in different directions. The East has the tradition of practising Tao(ie reality-oriented), but the West became a more conceptually and theoretically oriented tradition.

In Buddhism, nirvana(complete liberation) is liberation from bodily shackles(which create illusion) whilst alive. Socrates believed that one needs to die, in order to be liberated. This is the crucial difference between Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. Carl Rogers(Rogers 1980) noted that empathy is curative in psychotherapy, whereas Heinz Kohut(Goldberg 1980) recognized the importance of empathy as a nutrient and curative, but wanted to use empathy as a construct for data gathering, in order to build theory for recognition by others.

In western culture one must coin new words, new concepts and new theories in order to be recognized.
The need for recognition is a neurotic motivation. Westerners feel somewhat culturally compelled to return to
a “conceptual prison”(Barrett 1956) as soon as they feel overly confronted by ‘truth’ or ‘reality’.

This is Prof. RHEE’s interpretation of western tradition. In the eastern tradition, intellectual pursuit is recognized and perceived as a hindrance to reaching reality.

Words, thoughts(concepts) and theories are not reality; they are only the means to reach reality - the pointing fingers.

It is said that one can remove neurotic anxiety in western psychoanalysis but cannot remove normal and existential anxiety and, although existential philosophy is aware of normal anxiety, it cannot remove it by any means. But in eastern Tao, one aims to remove this existential anxiety originating from the fear of death, by facing death without anxiety.

In the eastern Tao, it is possible for us to face the fear of death by complete removal of our neurotic desire(s). Prof. RHEE says that if we see reality, we should forget the theory by quoting the ideas of Buddhism, “Leave the words! And cut the thoughts! Get the meaning and forget the words. Then you become friendly with the Tao. Leave the name and cut the appearance!”

Taopsychotherapy is the fusion of eastern Tao and western psychotherapy.

It surely is difficult for us to reach that state, but we can be more mature as therapists when we become aware of the possibility of a higher standard and try to attain it.

This can be the contribution of Taopsychotherapy to western psychotherapy.


As to the pathogenesis of mental disorders, Prof. RHEE does not agree with the idea that these are only organically based diseases. He also points out that this idea is out-dated and arose from the influence of the Cartesian division between mind and brain/body.

He quotes the 40-year-old research of Eric Kandel(Kandel 2001) which shows that the brain is shaped by memories and experiences. He says such ideas as recognizing the eastern Tao alongside the notion of corrective emotional experience - as described by Franz Alexander(Alexander 1946) - are being proven by research developments within current neuroscience.

In Taopsychotherapy, the purpose of comparing Eastern Tao and Western psychotherapy and the explanation of the identified differences in the cultures of east and west are not aimed at determining superiority of idea, thought and cultural tradition. Prof. RHEE’s attitude seeks instead to maintain and create openness to all which constitutes ‘truth-bearing’, whether its origin is in the East or West.

His credo is Aristotle’s ‘Nil Admirari’ - ‘No admiration’. Furthermore, he does not think that he is responsible for the creation of Taopsychotherapy. Instead he has merely perceived reality as it is and managed to describe it as how it was also described in the Analects of Confucius - “The Sage is only describing and not creating.”
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※ Ten-Oxen-Pictures illustrate the process of purification of mind. Pictures of this site are Ten-Oxen-Pictures of Songgwangsa Temple.