Miles Neale on Buddhist Psychotherapy, Karma, & Nirvana (#19)

Dr. Miles Neale lives in NYC and operates a private practice as a Buddhist psychotherapist. He is the Assistant Director of the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science, as well as a Clinical Instructor of Psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College and contributing expert on mindfulness meditation for the BBC World Service. CHITHEADS' host Jacob Kyle sat down with Miles to talk about his approach to personal healing and transformation through the rigorous study of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist psychology and the meditative arts.  

In October, the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science will be launching its incredible Yoga Psychology Program. For information, go to the program page.

His Story

At twenty years old, Dr. Miles Neale was living in a monastery in India. Born in Singapore and raised in Hong Kong and Turkey, Miles has traveled the world extensively. It was in his search for healing and an alternative to consumerism that he discovered the Buddhist path. Driven by a passion to share his teachings, Miles studied at the mind/body institutes at Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell, earning a Master’s degree in meditation research from New York University’s Gallatin Program and a Doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the California Institute for Integral Studies.

For twenty years, Miles studied in the tradition of the Dalai Lama under the guidance of American Buddhist scholars and Tibetan meditation masters.

The Comprehensive Path to Liberation

Fragmented from nature, humans are dissatisfied and yearning for connection. Miles talks at great length about the commodification of mindfulness in recent years, in which people are seeking a quick fix without understanding the truth of their suffering.

The comprehensive path to liberation, Miles says, is a combination of quantum view, harmonious lifestyle, and the meditative arts. In the Age of Reason, there was a parting between science and religion in Europe, which has led to several breakthroughs in medicine and in our global infrastructure, in turn allowing us to communicate widely with human beings across the planet.

The shadow side of such progress has been the rejection of the spiritual, of consciousness.

“We reduce everything, we commodify everything,” Miles says. There’s a lot more to the technologies than just mindfulness, breathing and prayer. Patanjali and the teachings of Buddhism - both subscribe to a multifaceted, comprehensive approach to transformation. When we reduce everything, we are no longer interested in or have any connection with the spiritual, which has created an epidemic of the spiritually malnourished. As a result, we do not know how to define what ails us.

In Buddhism, there was never a divide between Spirit and science, as the spiritual life of Buddhism always welcomed practitioners to take a scientific attitude to their spiritual experience. 

Buddhist Psychotherapy

Miles’ teachings on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy came from the Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman, and Dr. Joe Loizzo, who has spent the past decades integrating traditional Buddhist studies and psychoanalysis.

Miles talks about the ego not being something that must be destroyed, but as an integral part of a unique human personality. Referencing Freud, Miles speaks of the ego as being the “moderating principle of the psyche.” It balances the psyche and the personality. Without an ego you can fall into delusion, but with too much of it, one can become overly-identified, rigid and neurotic in one’s social role.

When it comes to self-care and selflessness, Miles speaks of this contradiction. The Buddha teaches causality, that everything is connected and touches the soul because the soul is relational. Selflessness then is about embracing this fluidity.

“You are not just your job. You are not just your role in society. You are not just your gender. You are more than that.”

The Causality Between Emptiness and Karma

You can’t talk about emptiness without talking about karma. Miles references two truths:

  1. Conventional reality: A deceptive reality, because it relies on our physical apparatuses, which react to our surroundings and create an idea of separateness.

  2. Ultimate reality: Ultimate reality is non-dual. It is energy and consciousness and interconnectedness.

Everything in reality is a blank screen, Miles says. Everything is empty, but meaning is what is ascribed to create an experience. Because of this, karma is just the build-up of residue on perception that creates a certain response. It is not a simple cause/effect, but an energy that is responsive to past psychology that colors perception.

Karma should not be a shaming of the traumas experienced in life, because it is not personal. In fact, Miles says that it is through this experience that there is an opportunity to compassionately transform adversity to advantage.

Does Nirvana Mean That There Is No More Sadness?

Nirvana can be translated as "cessation", however, the Buddha would not answer this question: “What happens when you get enlightened? What happens when you reach Nirvana?”

Miles talks about Nirvana perhaps meaning the end of this sense of separateness from the rest of the world. When this root affliction is extinguished, then the following consequential negative emotions of pride, yearning, grasping, these “karmic residual activities that color future moments are extinguished.”

When this happens, the living is liberated. But that does not mean that there is the destruction of personality. On the contrary, personality, empathy, a playfulness that is not weighed down by this self-imposed suffering is only strengthened.

“Transcendence doesn’t mean transcendence of humanity. It’s an embracement of it.”

Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science

The Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science is not a dharma center, rather it is an institution that is home to medical doctors and psychiatrists steeped in tradition with a history of this commitment to a blend of Western and Eastern philosophy and healing.

It’s intention is not to alienate academia or ritual, but to welcome both aspects with a nod to the importance of each. After teaching Buddhism for 15 years, Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science will offer a yoga psychology program in October.

For more information about this incredible opportunity to study yoga psychology alongside Dr. Miles Neale and some other fantastic faculty, check out the program webpage

To Find out More About Miles…

Show notes written by Jessica Obert.

 Jacob Kyle

Jacob Kyle

Member Login
Welcome, (First Name)!

Forgot? Show
Sign In
Enter Member Area
My Profile Not a member? Sign up. Log Out