Volume 9   Number 1     Fall 2015

Buddhism, Dialogical Self Theory, and the Ethics of Shared Positions

Basia D. Ellis
Henderikus J. Stam
University of Calgary, Canada
pp. 115-134

Abstract. Eastern-inspired concepts of mindfulness, compassion, and acceptance have become widely recognized in mainstream psychological research, especially within applied fields such as clinical and counseling psychology. Within this context it is reasonable to question whether Eastern ideas can also inform dialogical self theory. The question is apposite given that dialogical self theory takes as its prerogative the ‘bridging’ of distinct, even opposing, theoretical approaches and research traditions into a single framework.  Our paper examines what is at stake in such attempts through a study of Buddhist understandings of mind and consciousness. We argue that Buddhist principles are grounded in a unique, ethical epistemology contradistinctive from Western traditions and this makes a bridging of dialogical and Buddhist approaches unlikely in the first instance. Attempts to do so, we argue, risk compromising the meanings of Buddhist concepts. Does this preclude the possibilities for dialogue between Buddhism and dialogical self theory? We do not think so. Rather, we suggest that Buddhism can be drawn upon to study the assumptions of dialogical theory, and we exemplify this through an analysis of the dialogical self’s moral program. Our study reveals how dialogical self theory retains a uniquely Western ethics that, despite being explicitly open to alterity, remains at risk of imposing itself onto alternative cultural positions. To genuinely engage Buddhism in dialogue, we conclude, is not a matter of translating Buddhist ideas onto the dialogical platform but to allow the Buddhist position to disturb the certitudes of the dialogical model.


Keywords: DST, Buddhism, ethics, self