Where is that Buddhist Cognitive Therapy?

In addition to Buddhism I like to read books about cognitive therapy. Some authors like write how Buddhism has cognitive therapy embedded in the dhamma.

I haven’t seen it.

I’m mostly familiar with Theravada. The closest thing to cognitive therapy ( cognitive reappraisal, reframing thoughts systematically etc ) is https://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh463_Weissman_Wise-Reflection.html"Wise Reflection". That isn’t quite the same thing, and it is scattered through out the suttas such that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on it as a distinct practice.

I just always figured any teachings about systematically reframing thoughts would be somewhere in the Mahayana teachings.

Am I wrong?

1 Like

You could try the Vitakkasantana sutta -the Relaxation of thought- MN20.

Also the 6th step of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right effort which is:

  1. Stopping negative thoughts from arising- being mindful, doing metta meditation, etc.
  2. Dealing with negative thoughts when they have arisen- Vitakkasantana sutta, other suttas on defilements (see Craving, Anger, etc one topics index on Accesstoinsight.org- just easy to find them there).
  3. Developing positive thoughts: developing faith, energy, mindfulness, unification/samadhi, insight/wisdom, four divine abodes-metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha. Patience. Humility. Gratitude. be easy to instruct, simplicity, fewness of wants, etc.
  4. Further developing positive qualities-protection of positive qualities that one already has and not letting them dissolve away- using sensory restraint, samadhi, wisdom etc.

Dvedhavitakka sutta, MN19 is another. Satipatthana sutta, M10 would be another. Bhayabherava sutta, MN4 describes the ‘exposure and response prevention’ technique in managing fear, found in Cognitive behavioural therapy!

with metta



Thanks for the reading list!

1 Like

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy, the founder of which is named Teasdale, based the technique on Ajahn Sumedho’s teaching. That’s the most direct connection between theravada buddhism and therapy I have found.


There is a whole industry now that is based on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). If you do an internet search you will discover that there are hundreds of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations that offer MBSR sessions. Some hospitals provide it at reduced cost for cancer patients, for example.

I for one found out that an old friend of mine who practices Buddhism also provides MBSR services at a cost to clients. Much of what he provides is also incorporated into a lot of Buddhist practice, and vice-versa.

Yes, but MBSR is something else developed by John Kabat-Zinn in Boston at Harvard. Teasdale is UK-base and while they may have similarities, they are different systems.

1 Like

From the quick look I have seen MSBR is light on the cognitive therapy: listing automatic thoughts, analysing for irrationality, and substituting more realistic thoughts in their place.

I’m curious about direct descriptions of discovering, disputing, and replacing thoughts in the Buddha’s teachings, as many cognitive therapy authors claim it is there and I have not seen it.

Not the topic I was asking about ( listing thoughts, disputing thoughts, and replacing thoughts as a distinct exercise in the Buddha’s teachings ), but a very interesting comment.

I had no idea there were two branches of MSBR.

I’ve only dabbled in Ajahn Sumedho’s writings,but like almost everything I read.

I remember reading his book on the four noble truths and how he emphasized passively observing feelings rising and passing away, noticing impermanence to the process.

I can see how that could evolve into MSBR.

I’ll to make it a point to read more of Ajahn Sumedho’s stuff.

Observing one’s thoughts feeling reactions and the idea of kamma ra ther than sin-based assessment of behavior seem dhamma-inspired to me. But we are fortunate to have a Buddhist psychiatrist among us. Great question, ty for it.


"where evil, unskillful thoughts arise in a monk while he is referring to and attending to a particular theme. He should attend to another theme, connected with what is skillful. MN20

Mindfully managing anger: SuttaCentral

with metta

1 Like

Still not the same thing Mat :slight_smile:

Cognitive therapy involves taking a negative thought, analytically disproving it with evidence/lack of evidence, analytically disproving it with logic, then replacing it with a different appraisal of reality that has more evidence & logic.

The second quote doesn’t employ reason or analysis, but rather distraction ( a useful, but different strategy ). The person blocks out one thing by thinking of something else.

The one thing that comes first involves unwholesome (akusala), is unpleasant, connected with suffering for oneself and others (arising from craving, aversion and delusion). While this is quite broad, a subset of that is what is dealt with in Cognitive behavioral therapy. The latter are known as Negative automatic thoughts. For example: ‘I am worthless’ -note the delusion ‘I’ and aversion ‘worthless’ in it. Analytically testing it as you say is one method. This is ‘reality testing’ and falls into a delusion category, so must be removed and replaced with something real. I have had training in delivering CBT and worked as a CBT therapist. Another method is checking how useful or functional a certain thought is. So while it may have helped as a child a certain thought (or a certain kind of though/way of thinking) isn’t helpful and maybe dysfunctional now. We could measure it against ‘does this though help me’ (or others) as per the kalama sutta. SuttaCentral

Here’s an example of controlling ‘rumination’ (or constantly going over the same negative thoughts) ie. limiting it:

‘He insulted me,
hit me,
beat me,
robbed me’
— for those who brood on this,
hostility isn’t stilled.

‘He insulted me,
hit me,
beat me,
robbed me’ —
for those who don’t brood on this,
hostility is stilled.

Hostilities aren’t stilled
through hostility,
Hostilities are stilled
through non-hostility:
this, an unending truth.

Unlike those who don’t realize
that we’re here on the verge
of perishing,
those who do:
their quarrels are stilled. Yamakavagga, Dhp

with metta


I’ve had training in CBT for myself. CBT offered me some of the most helpful pointing out instructions and meditation instructions that I’ve received. CBT was about reducing dukkha by quenshing the fires of delusion, clinging and aversion. CBT had specific techniques for each.

CBT has the advantage of a set of contemplation instructions that are more tuned to the way my thoughts were arising. A teacher or spiritual friend can be of great value when they translate the teachings of the EBT into circumstances and particular situations of one’s life. For me CBT required little translation.

CBT helped illuminate my Buddhist practice and Buddhism helped illuminate CBT.

One factor remained constant which modern technology has not been able to address. With CBT results come mostly from sustained, diligent practice. Oh darn. :roll_eyes:


Cognitive therapy involves taking a negative thought, analytically disproving it with evidence/lack of evidence, analytically disproving it with logic, then replacing it with a different appraisal of reality that has more evidence & logic.

The analysis of anatta in the Samyutta Nikaya sounds a lot like what you are describing: SuttaCentral

In terms of the Mahayana approach, the analysis in terms of sunyatta/anatman that is used in the Prajna Paramitta texts focuses on breaking down views or beliefs by seeing them in terms of emptiness.

I might be uninformed or mistaken on this, but i think cognitive therapy involves other tools in addition to logic. For example, learning and training to recognize associated feelings, sensations or associations involves more than logic or even just the brain; it is a whole “self” exercise; body, history, education, etc all become relevant… if recognizable.

And once such “things” become recognizable, recognizing other aggregates becomes easier too, imo.

And the emptiness can become apparent, perhaps. Whether in particular anxieties, or beliefs, or in the conceit of a “self”, perhaps.


When it goes from becoming therapist driven to patient driven, its more successful, I suppose. Buddhist practice is essentially self driven (perhaps not ‘self-help’), but with seeking other’s guidance.

with metta

1 Like