Changes in self-concept, ego defense mechanisms andreligiosity
following seven-day Vispassana meditation retreats
Tipawadee Emavardhana; Christopher D. Tori
The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol.36 No.2 (June 1997)
COPYRIGHT 1997 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion
Interest regarding the effects of meditation based on traditional
Buddhist principles remains high (Goldstein 1993; Kabat-Zinn 1994;
Shapiro 1992a; Tart 1990). Vipassana, which is one of the oldest
forms of Buddhist meditative practice, was developed within the
Theravada tradition and consists of the mindful observation of
whatever arises in consciousness. It is believed the sustained
awareness of cognitive and sensory phenomena will lead to the
realization that unnecessary suffering results when attempts are
made to attach to anything within the impermanent flux of human
experience (Bucknell and Stuart-Fox 1993: ch. 4; Janakabhivamsa
1995; Nyanaponika 1988; Sold-Leris 1986). Other terms for Vipassana
practice include "insight meditation" or simply "mindfulness"
(Gunaratana 1993). This form of meditation is gaining increased
recognition, and several studies have shown positive outcome
following the application of interventions based on insight
meditation procedures (e.g., Kabat-Zinn 1982; Kabat-Zinn et al.
1992; Kaplan, Goldenberg and Galvin-Nadeau 1993; Sharma, Kumaraiah,
Mishra, and Balodhi 1990).
Within Buddhism, it has long been argued that the desire for a
continuous, unchanging self (atta) is a particularly strong and
insidious source of unhappiness (Fryba 1989; Harvey 1990; Sujiva
1990). In Vipassana, meditators are therefore encouraged to engage
in what Epstein (1988) has called the "deconstruction of the self by
paying close attention to the transitory nature of their
Problems associated with the concept of "nonself" or "egolessness"
have received particular attention by Buddhist meditation
researchers (e.g., Epstein 1988; Muzika 1990; Walsh 1978). This has
been necessary for a variety of reasons including contemporary
beliefs regarding the importance of autonomous development and the
quest for self-fulfillment through mastery, acquisition, and
individualism (Baumeister 1987; Cushman 1990). From this
perspective, the thought of selflessness can lead to severe anxiety
(Loy 1992) and may be partially responsible for adverse effects
noted among Vipassana meditators, which have included disturbances
of identity and self-concept (Engler 1986), negative emotional
experiences (Miller 1993; Shapiro 1992b; Walsh 1977), and the
exacerbation of psychiatric problems (Epstein and Lieff 1986). As
Engler (1986: 49) has cautioned, a "phase-appropriate" developed and
healthy sense of self is necessary before one can gain insight into
the ultimate illusoriness of self-depiction that persists beyond its
moment to moment mental construction.
In spite of extensive efforts by Buddhist apologists to describe the
benefits resulting from the deconstruction of the self, there has
been no empirical research directly assessing changes in
self-concept during meditation practice. If it is true that many
aspects of ego functioning are actually strengthened through
insights regarding the fluidity and impermanence of self (Epstein
1988, 1989, 1990), it seems reasonable to expect that the experience
of self will undergo discernable transformation for committed
meditators. Therefore, it was hypothesized that significant pretest
to posttest change would be found in self-concept scores of those
participating in seven-day Vipassana meditation retreats.
Most contemporary models of the self have been influenced by the
psychoanalytic view of the ego as the principal energy-directing
system within the person (Page and Berkow 1991). Freud (1923)
concluded that unconscious ego defense mechanisms regulate instinct
and affect, enabling the person to act in an adaptive manner.
Because Vipassana supposedly leads to the quieting of instinctual
drives with resulting emotional tranquility and skillful living
(Goldstein 1993; Kornfield 1993), significant change in ego defense
mechanisms were also expected.
Religious beliefs were evaluated before and after the retreats
because only one study (Shapiro 1992c) has examined the influence of
Vipassana on religious orientation. Interestingly, for a small group
of Americans, length of practice was negatively associated with
monotheism. While it is known that religious experiences can
significantly improve the self-esteem of believers (e.g., Latkin
1990; Stromberg 1990; Ullman 1989), the relationship between
heightened faith in Buddhist tenets (e.g., metaphysical
inconsistency, nonsoul, selflessness) with measures of self-concept
and ego defense mechanisms has never before been investigated.
In summary, the present study was designed to assess changes in
self-concept, ego defense mechanisms, and Buddhist beliefs occurring
over the course of seven-day Vipassana meditation retreats. It was
believed the dependent variables selected for use in this research
would capture the central outcomes of this form of Buddhist
meditative practice (i.e., deconstruction of the self, increased
self-control, and heightened religiosity). While significant pre-to
posttest differences were anticipated, the direction of change for
the self-concept and coping measures was not predicted given the
lack of empirical investigations evaluating the impact of Vipassana
meditation practice upon conscious and unconscious ego functioning.
Two cohorts of meditation participants ([N.sub.1] = 222, [N.sub.2] =
216) who attended separate retreats were utilized in this study. The
recruitment of the samples was undertaken by the staff of the
Bangkok headquarters of the Young Buddhist Association of Thailand.
Announcements of the seven-day Vipassana retreats were sent to
secondary schools and colleges throughout the country, inviting
interested individuals to complete an application form to attend the
retreat. To be accepted, an applicant had to be above the age of 12
years, a matriculated student, have parental permission (if under
18), be without any serious medical or psychiatric problems, and
present a short letter of recommendation.
The majority of the meditators were teenagers with the mean ages of
the two samples being 18.27 (SD = 4.22) and 17.79 years (SD = 4.02)
years, respectively. Most were female ([N.sub.1] = 146, 66%;
[N.sub.2] = 127, 59%) and college students ([N.sub.1] = 138, 62%;
[N.sub.2] = 127, 59%). High school students formed the second
largest group ([N.sub.1] = 75, 33%; [N.sub.2] = 76, 35%) with the
remainder of the participants in both cohorts being teachers and
other adults. Seventy-nine percent of the meditators were residents
of the Bangkok metropolitan area; the rest came from other Thai
provinces. Most (N = 309, 71%) had never before participated in a
weeklong Vipassana meditation retreat. There were no dropouts and a
certificate of completion was given to each participant at the end
of the retreat.
The control group of 281 individuals was selected to be commensurate
with the meditators on age (M = 18.11 years, SD = 4.95), gender (61%
female, N = 172), education (64% high school students, N = 180), and
demographics (82% were Bangkok residents, N = 231). Like those in
the meditation groups, the control participants were willing to
participate in a scientific study that required extra time to
complete test forms on two occasions (one week apart). Students in
both the meditation and control conditions were in good academic
standing and they came from high schools and colleges with similar
Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS). This is a 100-item
multidimensional personality inventory that assesses internal and
external aspects of self-representation (Roid and Fitts 1988). A
total self-esteem score is obtained along with a number of subscales
including (a) Self-Criticism, (b) Identity, (c) Self-Satisfaction,
(d) Behavior, (e) Physical Self, (f) Moral-Ethical Self, (g)
Personal Self, (h) Family Self, (i) Social Self, (j) Variability
(consistency of self-concept), and (k) Distribution (certainty of
self-perceptions). The TSCS was designed to be used with individuals
12 years or older who are able to read at a fourth-grade level, and
it can be completed in 10 to 20 minutes. Extensive research has
shown high reliability and validity (Blascovich and Tomaka 1991),
and the TSCS remains a very popular self-concept assessment
instrument (Marsh and Richards 1988), which has been used with
diverse international populations (e.g., Ezeilo 1982; Migone de
Faletty and Moreno 1991).
The TSCS was translated into Thai under our direction, with
preliminary versions of the Thai text being prepared by the second
author in conjunction with two bilingual Thai language instructors
at the American Alumni University Association Language Center,
Bangkok, Thailand. The first author then reviewed the translated
materials and made any necessary final revisions. Only one statement
from the original TSCS required substantial change to be appropriate
for a Buddhist population (viz., "I am satisfied with my
relationship with God" became "I am satisfied with my relationship
with my religion").
We have used the Thai version of the TSCS for five years, collecting
normative data on 1,835 participants. The results of factor
analytic, reliability, and validity analyses of these data revealed
that the factor structure of the Thai and American editions were
very similar and the item groupings suggested by Fitts had high
internal reliability (Tori and Emavardhana 1996a). For these
reasons, and in order to make the results of the present study
comparable to others that have used the TSCS, the item configuration
of scales was not altered in this investigation.
The pretest and posttest internal reliability coefficients of the
translated TSCS self-representation scales for the three groups of
participants were very similar and high. The mean of the Cronbach
alphas for the pretest Total score was .91 and alphas ranged from
.71 to .77 for the pretest Identity, Behavior, Self-Satisfaction,
Physical Self, Moral Ethical Self, Personal Self, Family Self, and
Social Self scales. The 10 item Self-Criticism scale had the lowest
mean internal reliability at pretesting (.60). Since all items are
used in the calculation of the Distribution and Variability scores,
alphas were very high ([greater than or equal to] .89).
Life Style Index. The 97-item Life Style Index was developed by
Plutchik, Keilerman, and Conte (1979) to measure the following eight
ego defense mechanisms: (a) Compensation, (b) Displacement, (c)
Denial, (d) Intellectualization, (e) Projection, (f) Reaction
Formation, (g) Regression, and (h) Repression. This instrument was
based on a psychoevolutionary theory of emotion (Plutchik 1982,
1990) and the psychoanalytic theory of unconscious ego defense
mechanisms as the primary regulators of affect (Vaillant 1992). The
psychemetric characteristics of the Life Style Index have been
described by Plutchik (1989) and the inventory has been used in a
number of American and European studies (Conte and Apter 1995).
The Thai translation of the Life Style Index followed procedures
identical to those for the TSCS, and our statistical study of the
test's reliability and validity was based on the norm group (N =
1,835) who had also taken the TSCS. Because the eight scales
conceptually derived by Plutchik et al. (1979) were stable (Tori and
Emavardhana 1996b), it was decided to retain these variables in this
Cronbach alphas for the eight pretest and posttest ego defense
mechanisms scales were equivalent satisfactory; the mean values at
pretest were: Compensation = .61, Displacement = .71, Denial = .63,
Intellectualization = .58, Projection = .61, Reaction Formation =
.66, Regression = .69, and Repression = .56.
Buddhist Beliefs and Practices Scale. An 11-item scale which
assessed Buddhist beliefs and practices (e.g., I believe in the
doctrine of no-soul; The teachings of the Buddha are very important
in my life; I observe the 5 precepts) was created by the authors for
use in the study. The mean internal consistency coefficient
([Alpha]) for the scale at pretesting was .69.
The retreats. The retreats were held at the Young Buddhists
Association Retreat Center, Bangkok, Thailand. As is common in
Vipassana retreats, a very demanding schedule was followed
(Hamilton-Merritt 1976; Kornfield 1979; Nyanaponika 1988: ch. 6).
The day began at 4:00 A.M. and the participants observed complete
silence at all times. All activities (e.g., eating, walking) were
performed with heightened awareness and the 18-hour day was divided
between alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation,
mindfulness exercises (e.g., slow, deliberate drinking of a beverage
in the afternoon), listening to brief dharma sermons, and morning
and evening prayers. There was a daily small-group discussion
regarding the experiences of the participants with the meditation
master. The day ended at 9:30 P.M. following an hour of sitting
meditation and evening chanting.
Testing. For those attending the retreats, the pretest measures were
administered during the initial orientation hour, which occurred
prior to any meditation practice. The meditation participants
completed the posttests on the last day of the retreat before the
final communal meal. Most of the control participants (84%) took the
measures in school settings and none reported any prolonged
A nonequivalent-groups, pretest-posttest design (Heppner, Kivlighan,
and Wampold 1992: 154-58) was used to assess the changes that
occurred over the course of the study. Means and standard deviations
of all outcome variables for the three groups (meditation 1,
meditation 2, and control) by time (pretest, posttest) are presented
in Table 1.
[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED]
Assumptions for multivariate testing. Because of large sample sizes
and significant correlations among TSCS and Life Style Index
subscale scores (Tori and Emavardhana 1996a, 1996b), a multivariate
approach to data analyses was adopted. Assumptions necessary for the
multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVA) and covariance (MANCOVA)
were found to be satisfactory including normal distributions,
significant tests of sphericity, and high associations between pre-
and posttest scores.
Combining data from the two meditation groups. It seemed likely the
pretest and posttest scores of the two meditation cohorts who had
attended different retreats would be equivalent, because these
participants followed identical daily schedules at the same facility
and the two groups were alike on the demographic variables of age,
gender, education, and place of residence, ps [greater than or equal
to] .07. The results of 2 (groups) x 2 (time) MANOVAs for (a) TSCS
scales (except the composite Total score) and (b) the eight
ego-defense variables, confirmed this expectation with interaction
and main groups effects being nonsignificant, ps [greater than or
equal to] .08. Univariate groups x time ANOVAs on the TSCS Total
composite score and the Buddhist Beliefs and Practices scale also
yielded nonsignificant interaction and groups effects, ps [greater
than or equal to] .11. The two different meditation groups were,
therefore, combined for all subsequent statistical analyses.
Pretest equivalence of combined meditation and control groups.
Pretest differences between those who attended and did not attend
the retreats were minimized by selecting control participants on the
basis of the demographic and social factors that characterized the
meditators (i.e., urban, young, mostly female, willing to take part
in research, and good academic standing). The results of one-way
MANOVAs on the noncomposite TSCS and ego defense mechanism pretest
scores obtained from the combined meditation group vs. the control
group were not significant, ps [greater than or equal to] .09. There
were also no significant between groups pretest differences on the
TSCS Total and Buddhist Beliefs and Practices scores, ps [greater
than or equal to] 11.
Data analysis plan. Given the equivalence of the meditation and
control groups at pretesting, several approaches to data analyses
were possible (Reichardt 1979). The contrast of the posttest scores
of the meditators vs. controls using the analysis of covariance
(pretest scores as covariates) followed by tests of pretest-posttest
change was deemed the most powerful and complete analytic stratagem
to evaluate the outcome of our investigation (Huck and McLean 1975).
Group Differences Following the Retreats
Self-concept. The adjusted, noncomposite TSCS posttest scores of the
meditation and control groups were first subjected to a multivariate
analysis of covariance (Norusis 1994: ch. 4). Following the
retreats, self-perceptions of meditators were significantly
different than controls, F(11, 707) = 8.66, p [less than] .001.
Using an adjusted alpha level of .004 (modified Bonferroni
procedure; Howell 1992: ch. 12) to protect against Type I error,
follow-up ANCOVAs revealed significantly higher posttest
self-concept scores for those in the meditation group on all TSCS
variables except Self-Criticism and Family Self. Relative to
controls, meditators became much less disapproving of themselves, p
[less than] .003; although the perception of self in relation to
family became higher for meditators than controls (p = .025), this
increase did not meet the more stringent statistical significance
The multivariate comparison of TSCS pretest and posttest scores for
the meditation group was significant, F(11, 427) = 7.67, p [less
than] .0001, while little change occurred among control
participants, p = .34. As before, with the exception of Family Self,
the posttest self-representations of the meditators were more
positive than their pretest appraisals (ps [less than] .004).
At posttesting, the overall self-esteem (Total TSCS composite score)
of those attending the retreats was found to be much higher than
controls, F(1, 716) = 12.27, p [less than] .001. Pre- to posttest
change on this variable for those in the meditation group was
significant, p [less than] .001. The pre- and posttest Total scores
of controls participants did not undergo significant change, p =
Ego Defense Mechanisms. The MANCOVA testing of the vectors of
adjusted posttest ego defense mechanism scores for the two groups
yielded significant results, F(8, 710) = 7.76, p [less than] .0001.
Using a Bonferroni adjusted alpha of .006, follow-up univariate
ANCOVAs revealed that the meditation participants significantly
decreased on the Displacement, Projection, and Regression scales
relative to controls, ps [less than] .004; Denial and Reaction
Formation scores, on the other hand, increased to a greater extent
among meditators than nontreated participants, ps [less than] .005.
The groups were alike on the posttest Compensation,
Intellectualization, and Repression variables, ps [greater than or
equal to] .04.
The Life Style Index posttest scores of meditators were
significantly different from pretest values, F(8, 430), = 5.61, p
[less than] .001 with the same pattern of change as described above,
ps [less than] .005. Control group Life Style Index pretest and
posttest scores were equivalent, p = 19.
Buddhist Beliefs and Practices. As expected, the retreats had a
powerful effect on the Buddhist beliefs and practices of the
meditators, F(1, 716) = 142.16, p [less than] .00001, while the
control group showed virtually no change on this variable, p = .72.
Correlations of Increases in Religious Beliefs with Self-Concept and
Ego Defenses Gain Scores
Gain scores (posttest minus pretest) were used to evaluate the
relationship of heightened beliefs in Buddhist precepts with changes
in self-concept and ego defense mechanisms among those attending the
retreats. As shown in Table 2, an elevation in religious convictions
was significantly associated with an increase in overall self-esteem
(Total Score), r(437) = .44, p [less than] .00001; the correlation
coefficients between the remaining TSCS gain scores (except
Variability) and the pre- to posttest difference in the Buddhist
Beliefs and Practices scale were significant (ps [less than] .01)
with gains in religiosity being associated with positive changes in
self-concept and less self-criticism.
As Buddhist beliefs increased, the Life Style Index scales assessing
the ego defense mechanisms of Compensation, Displacement,
Projection, and Regression decreased in magnitude, ps [less than]
.001. Greater use of Denial was associated with raising Buddhist
religiosity, r(437) = .22, p [less than] .001. Finally, variation in
the pre- to posttest measures of Intellectualization, Reaction
Formation, and Repression were not related to the gains in Buddhist
Beliefs and Practices scale.
The quantitative results obtained in the present study are
consistent with phenomenological accounts of insight meditators
(Hamilton-Merritt 1976; Kornfield 1979; Miller 1993; Walsh 1977,
1978) and supportive of the hypothesis that participation in a
seven-day Vipassana meditation retreat significantly changes ways
the self is perceived and defended. As predicted, the TSCS scores of
meditators underwent transformation with those attending the
retreats showing increases in overall self-esteem, feelings of
worth, benevolence, and self-acceptance. The unconscious coping
mechanisms of the Vipassana participants were also altered. At
posttesting, they were less affected by external stimuli and sexual
impulses than controls. Those in the meditation groups, further,
were less likely to use the defenses of displacement, projection,
and regression following the retreat. Heightened belief in Buddhist
precepts was associated with positive change in self-concept and
less self-criticism. Finally, increased Buddhist religiosity was
correlated with reductions in the defenses of displacement,
projection, and regression and with greater use of denial.
CORRELATIONS OF BUDDHIST BELIEFS AND PRACTICES CHANGE SCORES WITH
MEASURES OF CHANGE IN SELF-CONCEPT AND EGO DEFENSE MECHANISMS
Physical Self .32(*)
Moral-Ethical Self .32(*)
Personal Self .38(**)
Family Self .20(*)
Social Self .30(*)
Reaction Formation .11
* p [less than] .001; ** p [less than] .0001.
Understanding Experimental Findings from a Buddhist Perspective
Recognizing that more than one explanation can be offered for the
study's outcome, results will first be interpreted from the
perspective of Buddhism. Siddhatta Gotama taught that human
suffering (dukkha) arises when futile attempts are made to preserve
and intensify self-satisfying experiences that are transitory in
nature (Harvey 1990; Rahula 1974). The recognition of nonself
(anatta) is liberating because it frees people from the constant
distress inherent in clinging to an egocentric identity
construction. When self-centered cravings are relinquished, the
meditator can feel a sense of liberation, increased personal
control, and equanimity (Goldstein 1993; Kabat-Zinn 1994; Kornfield
1993). Based on these tenets, the observed changes in self-concept
following the retreats would not be surprising.
The deconstruction of the self in Vipassana, however, is not
accomplished without potential psychological dangers (Engler 1986;
Epstein and Lieff 1986). Before the self (or, more precisely,
selfishness) can be transcended, an appropriately developed
phenomenological sense of coherence and continuity is necessary
(Engler 1986; Epstein 1990; Fontana 1990). The teachers of the
retreat center, therefore, monitored the progress of the meditators
in daily interviews. Dharma lectures and a communal schedule of
activities were further guards against possible adverse reactions to
the seven days of intense, solitary introspection.
The observed changes in coping can also be understood within the
context of Buddhist psychology (de Silva 1990). From this
perspective, meditation participants would attempt to (a) be more
tolerant of stressors, (b) reduce sensual cravings, and (c) evaluate
the behavior of others with greater charity and understanding. It
was not surprising that following the retreats test items that
indicated increased detachment and forbearance (e.g., It is better
to think things out rather than getting angry; Hearing a baby cry
does not bother me) were more frequently endorsed. On the Life Style
Index, this was shown by significant increases on the Denial scale
coupled with a reduction in attributing unacceptable feelings to
others (Projection) and diminished immature behaviors (Regression).
Lessened reactivity to sexual impulses (Reaction Formation) has
important implications given the acuteness of the AIDS epidemic in
Although defense mechanisms are often thought of as sources of
psychopathology, Vaillant (1992) has explained that they should also
be understood as "potential steppingstones of ego development" (35).
There is agreement among psychoanalytic psychologists that defense
mechanisms are adaptive or pathological depending on the situations
in which they are employed and the intensity of use. Gottschalk,
Fronczek, and Abel (1993), for example, showed that anxiety denial
in psychologically healthy individuals is a functional coping
response while it furthers psychopathology among those with mental
disorders. For participants in the present study who faced stressful
environments, being less reactive and fractious was likely adaptive
if not done in an excessive manner. In this regard, it should be
remembered that Buddhism favors a "middle way" in which all extremes
are avoided. Based on Plutchik's psychoevolutionary theory of
emotion, Endresen (1991) has shown that the defenses of denial and
reaction formation are associated with the emotions of acceptance
and joy. It seems reasonable that these feelings would be prominent
following an intensive Vipassana retreat.
Limitations and Alternate Explanations
Design issues. In view of nonrandom group formation, appropriate
caution must be used when findings are evaluated. To strengthen the
validity of the study, we used two large meditation samples (Ns
[greater than] 216) and equated the nearly 300 control participants
with those in the meditation groups on age, gender, urbanity, and
educational achievement factors (Kruskal and Mosteller 1979). Like
the meditators, control participants were willing to participate in
scientific research and, in Thailand, attending a Vipassana
meditation retreat would not be considered an unusual activity
(Jumsai 1980). The equivalence of the meditation and control groups
on pretest self-concept, ego defense, and religiosity measures
provides further support for the supposition that selection biases
were reasonably controlled.
It should also be noted that the lack of follow-up testing precludes
an empirical answer to the question of the durability of the changes
that occurred following the retreats. Based on the high test-retest
coefficients of the instruments used (Conte and Apter 1995; Roid and
Fitts 1988; Tori and Emavardhana 1996a, 1996b) and research
concerning the long-term effects of meditation (e.g., Shapiro 1992c;
West 1986), it seems likely the changes would not be short-lived. In
the future, we hope to supply quantitative data on this question.
Setting variables. The influence of expectancy, demand, and social
facilitation factors on the two meditation cohorts must also be
considered when interpreting the results of the present study.
Because the vast majority of Thais consider Vipassana a meritorious
religious activity, it is likely that the meditators felt they were
going to do something hallowed and beneficial. The seven retreat
days were quite moving (e.g., total silence, intense introspection,
sermons, chanting) and physically demanding (e.g., early rising,
sitting in the half-lotus position for prolonged periods).
Meditators would, therefore, experience cognitive pressure to
undergo expected psychological and spiritual transformations (e.g.,
greater self-control, equanimity, and compassion).
The isolation of the specific factors responsible for the consistent
changes obtained after the meditation retreats remains an important,
but difficult, experimental task. In psychotherapy process research,
for example, identification of the precise mechanisms responsible
for outcome remains an elusive and perplexing task (Erwin 1994).
What can be concluded is that the Vipassana retreat, with its
ideology, rituals, and social practices can have pronounced effects
on the psychology of meditators. Separation of the unique and
interactive influences of each of the variables operating in this
intervention must await further studies with multiple comparison
groups (e.g., low expectancy for change, theologically focused
contemplation, reduced communal activities).
The final question addressed by the present research concerned
changes in self-concept and coping mechanisms that were associated
with increased Buddhist religious beliefs. Interestingly, greater
acceptance of the creed of nonattachment (no deity, everlasting
soul, or self) was significantly correlated with a heightened sense
of personal worth and fulfillment. As Buddhist beliefs increased,
efforts to correct personal shortcomings were enhanced and
self-criticism decreased. Reductions in the use of defenses that
impute the causes of one's problems to others and in regressive
immaturity were associated with heightened religiosity.
These correlational findings are not unexpected when placed within
the context of other research regarding the influence of religion on
feelings of well-being and satisfaction. As Stromberg (1990) has
argued, identity transformation is likely when persons are
influenced by any ideology which provides convincing answers to
troubling existential realities (e.g., the causes of unhappiness and
suffering). Thus, the psychological changes associated with
increased Buddhist religiosity are similar to those reported
following conversion or involvement in theistic religions (Ellison
1991; Payne, Bergin, Bielema, and Jenkins 1991; Poloma and Pendleton
1990; Ullman 1989). Although the specific mechanisms responsible for
the obtained correlations remain unknown, this first empirical
investigation of the influence of increased Buddhist beliefs on
self-concept and coping revealed many arguably beneficial effects.
In sum, results of the present study demonstrate that among
youthful Thais, an intensive seven-day Vipassana meditation retreat
has positive effects on self-concept and unconscious ego defense
mechanisms. Following the retreats, the self-perceptions of
participants were more favorable, and coping became characterized by
greater maturity and less reactivity to common stressors. While the
relative importance of variables responsible for these changes
cannot be fully specified, our findings have many theoretical and
applied implications. The transcendence of self-centeredness may be
an important step in the development of a healthy and individuated
self-concept. If the deconstruction Of the ego can occur within a
structured environment, which provides supportive philosophical
reasons for the attainment of selflessness, this process can be safe
for those without serious psychiatric problems. Results also show
that Vipassana can be used as an intervention for youths. Given the
growing problems associated with the undercontrol of impulses among
young offenders, Vipassana may hold promise as a treatment modality
in settings where increased internal control is a therapeutic goal
(Rhead and May 1983; Shapiro 182, 1992a). Finally, correlates of
increased belief in the tenets of the world's largest nontheistic
religion have been shown.
We wish to thank the administration, teachers, and staff of the
Young Buddhists Association Retreat Center, Bangkok, Thailand, for
their generous support of this research. We also appreciate the
editorial comments of our colleagues Carl Norris and Daniel Taube
and the data analysis assistance of Manoon Kusonmano and Cornet
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Tipawadee Emavardhana is an associate professor and director of the
Counseling Psychology program at Thammasat University, Bangkok,
Thailand. E-mail: email@example.com.
Christopher D. Tori is a practicing clinical psychologist and
professor at the Alameda campus of the California School of
Professional Psychology, 1005 Atlantic Ave., Alameda, CA 94501.