How to avoid falling into spiritual bypassing while practicing Buddhism?

Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is much more common than we might think.


  • Practice with experienced people who can help recognize problems and give appropriate direction. Easier said than done, but cherish whoever or whatever in your life calls you on your BS.
    – Dan Bryant
    Sep 11, 2014 at 22:24
  • Wideshanks, if you have already read my answer, you may want to reread it. This morning found passages in Mountain Record of Zen Talks that spoke to me as if directly answering this question.
    – soulsings
    Sep 12, 2014 at 12:22

3 Answers 3


The guy in the article appears to have this favorite style of psychology and solutions for everyday problems drawn from the world of psychology.

I'm guessing that "spiritual bypassing" is sort of like using religion to solve problems instead of using this guys favorite methodology.

I think the most legitimate trap is to not distinguish between problems that Buddhism is good as solving and which problems are better solved with pharmacology, or one of the many talking cures from the world of psychology.

Buddhism does a really good job of addressing the problems of existential angst-- the who am I and why am I here questions. It isn't especially suited on its own to deal with marital problems (Dr Gottman is a better expert), or literal delusions (like seeing little green men in the drain of the bath tub), substance abuse, bacterial infections, cancer, stroke, clincial depression and so on.

But if some wants to try to deal with their problems using Buddhism instead of Freudian psychoanalysis or any of the other talk cure systems that have since followed and bypass this the article's author's methodology, I wouldn't hold it again them. The various talk cure systems are probably as difficult to prove right or wrong as it is to prove one religion to be better or worse.


While reading this morning 9-12-14 MOUNTAIN RECORD OF ZEN TALKS by John Daido Loori pg 187, I was struck how this spoke to the question about bypassing:

In Zen training, when we get the surface mind quiet, a lot of the deeper stuff that we do not want to think about begins popping up...Little by little, as concentration builds, and joriki, the power of concentration, develops...If the joriki becomes strong enough, samadhi happens...but it can also be a trap. It can also be a way of avoiding dealing with things or tuning them out. In Zen, it is considered "dead-end samadhi" to stop in samadhi. To stop anywhere is a dead end.

This is the big trap. Or stopping anywhere and thinking you have arrived is a trap.

The author goes on page 188

Developing concentration and samadhi, sitting in meditation year after year, is like scaling a mountain. You struggle up the slopes...Finally you reach the top, which is like the ground of being...But if you stay there, it becomes just as much a delusion as everything else...You need to keep going down the other side of the mountain, back into everyday life, into the marketplace...in the way we raise a child, grow a garden, drive a car, live our life...Zen has to do with everyday life.

I leave the rest of the answer, but you probably do not need to read it. The above really answers the question for me.

One pathway that steers around bypassing is to meditate to experience your inner suffering without running from it or reacting to it. Meditation can be a highly elevated experience that is a tempting way to get out of suffering temporarily, but the human condition is suffering. By running from suffering, the shadow it casts is larger than life and it is constantly chasing us. If one could bypass this suffering would that really be a Buddhist practice or would it just be a clever self-deception that would fall at the first test? Here is a zen story that illustrates how a true practice and a contrived practice hold up under real life situations. "Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"

"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?""

There are many sources of this story. this one was found at http://www.mdjunction.com/forums/agoraphobia-discussions/general-support/2027111-muddy-road-a-zen-story

The point I see is that any self-deception will not stand against the realities of life.

The intention of the practice may be a key factor. If the goal is self-enlightenment all the trickery of the self can hamper real awakening. If the goal is to dedicate all the results of your life and practice to helping all, then where can the tricky appearance of self get a foot hold?

  • Loved the story at the end
    – konrad01
    Sep 12, 2014 at 13:35
  • Yes stories are more expressive than a whole book.
    – soulsings
    Sep 12, 2014 at 16:43

One main aspect of Buddhism is to deal with reality as it is. Also sensations (Vedananupassana) is a main aspect your meditation. So you are taking the bull by the horns when dealing with pain. So when practicing Buddhism you do not by passing it.

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