There are a lot of good aspects involved, if your teacher is a trained therapist or comes from a healing background. He or she will be qualified to catch you falling and help you work through any of your traumas. This is awesome and wonderful. There cannot be enough therapists using the Dhamma to help people heal.
However, I also recognize problems every time a meditator with a strong healing background becomes a teacher and starts to give Dhamma talks. Particularly when the teacher wants to make a living out of it. A teacher who wants to earn a living lives in great danger to tell his students whatever they want to hear, so they will come back and bring their friends. It happens consciously or unconsciously. What usually happens next is that you end up with a weird mixture of Wellness and something approaching spiritual tree-hugging. Maybe it’s just me, but contemporary Buddhism seems to overflow with healing teachers who want their students to feel good about themselves. You don’t get that a lot in Zen circles, however the Healing-Vipassana seems extremely popular these days and it even starts to export the ideas of Wellness-Buddhism back into Mahayana, which is hilarious in its very own way. I actually know a Zen-Place that renamed itself, just so it could get a piece of the mindfulness-business. If you know how Mahayana evolved, than this little fact is just cute.
So, what are the issues with that trend? What is wrong with a teacher who wants to make people feel good about themselves? How can I have possibly a problem with that?
Well, the problem is, that this not what Buddhism is for. Buddhism was not designed to make you feel good about yourself. Quite the opposite is true. In fact, healing and Buddhism can very well be opposed to each other, unless you are very clear and specific about what you mean by ‘healing’.
Most people talk about the need for healing, if they suffer from anything that restrains or hinders them from participating in conventional reality. This would be the reality that in Buddhism is subsumed under the umbrella-term ‘Samsara’. This is the reality where all your relationships and jobs and careers and all that stuff takes place. Any healing will therefore try to integrate you better into this meta-structure of reality, e.g. to heal the childhood trauma that keeps you from having healthy relationships with your wife. Or fix the idea that you are unworthy and not special enough to get promoted to the job that finally will make you happy. And while we are at it, fix the erectile dysfunction you get because you are secretly scared of women, so you can finally have the house full of children you always wanted. This is when you need to accept yourself and feel good about who you are.
And this, coincidentally, is also the place you should be in, >before< you enter the path of the Dhamma. You should have a place of healing and acceptance and well-being, not because this is the purpose of the Buddha’s teachings, but because this stable ground is needed to apply them. The job of a Dhamma-Teacher is to bring the whole of the realm of conventional reality to your awareness. A place you hopefully occupy in a stable and healthy way. He will point to the whole of this existence you created for yourself. Everything about what makes you happy, the dreams of jobs and relationships and career and plans for the future and family and almost everything that is dear and close to you… and then shred it to pieces. Because it is all fake and unreal. (This is why you should be stable in the first place. If your life is a psychotic mess, then a Zen-Sesshin is probably not the best place to address this…)
Buddhism is about deconstructing conventional reality until nothing is left you can use to lie to yourself. Buddhism is not meant to help you function better in Samsara. The Buddha was not about ‘Wellness’. A Dhamma teacher who meets you in your convoluted, neurotic samsaric mess and makes you feel good about yourself is useless. (He may be a good healer, though.) A Dhamma teacher is supposed to challenge you, to irritate you and to heavily piss you of. I once spent a weekend with a Zen-Teacher who was extremely cultivated and well behaved, friendly and polite. One day into the weekend I was ready to punch his face down his throat. The man was a really good teacher. He saw me as a big strong bear and therefor he gently but constantly kept poking me with a stick. Metaphorically speaking, of course. (Although Zen-Masters of the old days were known to use sticks, too.) That is what a teacher is for. Find you in your deluded place and use the right stick to beat you out of there.
I would like to repeat this point, just to really sail this home. If your teacher keeps telling you in his Dhamma talks that the moon does not shine in the sky but in your heart and you go home thinking that this is really, really deep and that the world would be a better place if we all could start and end the day with a big warm group hug, then you experienced something very, very strange, but it was not the teaching of the Buddha. If a true Dhamma-Teacher finds your exact frequency and hits you with what the Buddha taught, you will end up in tears and shaking, … trust me. (Yes, I know, you are supposed to grasp the truth and start laughing and dancing, that is another cliché. But this is really for monks, who already turned their back on Samsara and know exactly what to look for. The rest of us, who are still up to the neck in conventional reality will rather shake and cry.)
Now, is the path to enlightenment, which deconstructs conventional reality, not also a form of healing? Is it not a more (for lack of a better word) ‘real’ healing, since it is supposed to free us from suffering for good, while any form of healing in conventional reality is by definition only a painting over symptoms? Yes, of course. This is exactly the case and therefore I started out by saying that we should be really careful, what we talk about, when we use the word ‘healing’.
This is something we have to define for ourselves. What do we want healing from and what is this healing supposed to move us closer to? Is the place the healing got us to a place worth being, or is it really just another sickness. And is the sickness a disease that can be healed by wellness…?