This is a profile article on the founding father of psychology in the Philippines, Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ written for the sesquicentennial issue of The GUIDON, published in print November 2009. The article is part of a series of profile articles of Jesuit priests. The full article may be found here.
“Our common goal is a glorious one: to make that blue and white jewel against the black velvet of space a little closer to home,
and the Philippines a little closer to heaven.”
– Jaime C. Bulatao. S.J., Phenomena and Their Interpretation: Landmark Essays, 1957-1989
Photo by Ean L. Dacay
JESUIT PRIEST. Clinical psychologist. Teacher. Hypnotherapist. Writer. This mix of identities still does not encapsulate the remarkable life of Father Jaime Bulatao, S.J. Although what many laud about him is his being a passionate preacher. He has faith in the spiritual and understands the depths of the human psyche. A priest and a scientist, he is both a preacher of God and of science.
The Filipino father of psychology
Always warm, kind, and candid, “Father Bu” who knows how to make women feel beautiful and sing with a disarming voice. His remains modest and down-to-earth, even after becoming the first Filipino to acquire degrees in psychology up until the doctorate level, earning a master’s in Experimental Psychology and a Ph.D. Comparative Physiological Psychology at Fordham University in New York.
He has authored and co-authored more than a dozen books—including topics on hypnosis, faith, and its implications on Philippine society, many of which have become reading staples for Filipino psychology students. His writings on the phenomena of consciousness, of healing through hypnotism, of the complex link of psychology and Christianity, are in themselves, phenomenal.
After establishing the Department of Psychology in the Ateneo in 1961, he became a psychology professor. Since then he has been teaching for more than four decades. The department tried advised him to retire to no avail. Therefore, he continues to hold seminars in hypnosis, along with informal class sessions aptly titled Conversations with Father Bulatao.
How he learned psychology
The youngest child in a brood of four, Jaime Bulatao grew up in Lingayen, Pangasinan where he was first taught by Belgian nuns and soared at the top of his class. His childhood was filled with quaint memories: refusing to let his mother cook chicken because he wanted to raise chicks, sticking love notes on chicken wire on the wall dividing Assumption college and Ateneo High School, and many more innumerable tales. Narrating his memories from decades past, he ended each anecdote with a witty line: “That’s how I learned psychology!”
His life is filled with moments of revelation, finding God in many ways. “I was looking down on people who were not perfect. I began to see how narrow that way of looking was,” he says.
As his sixteen-year-old self takes a first step to divinity, he recounts saying goodbye to his childhood sweetheart, Fely Gonzales. “In those days, boys never cry,” Bulatao says. But he still did, after he left, and didn’t see her again for twelve years.
The day of his ordination into priesthood is one of his greatest turning points in life. “I felt Jesus. I felt strong. And kind,” he says.
Humans as spiritual beings
Father Bulatao, now in his late eighties, maintains a mystical aura about him. Sporting thin graying hair and fine creases around his face, he sits serenely in his rocking chair, speaking softly.
Roberto Buhain, a senior psychology major, is one student who has felt Fr. Bulatao’s mystical touch, after attending a few of his hypnotism sessions. “Fr. Bu’s class is a class that shatters beliefs, destroys skepticism, and makes you start believing in the mystical and unreal.”
Dedicating one’s life to helping people discover their inner selves, to expand their consciousness is a job that demands more than passion. It is a job that requires understanding and get through the people he touches. “My experience with Fr. Bu’s class was something that exemplified the meaning of different,” Buhain says. He recalls his first class: “He told us to fly. True enough we did fly. Not literally of course, but our consciousness flew and our bodies did things that we weren’t used to, like we felt like we were being controlled by forces outside of us—our hands we’re being held in the air by some sort of force.”
Many worlds of consciousness
“His classes are amazing in the sense that they truly make you experience what is beyond the physical. Some would criticize and probably say it’s some sort of trick, but it’s not. The magic is real and I think one of the most important things he teaches you is that the magic is real. And it’s just in you,” Buhain says.
In many modern societies, hypnotism is considered as taboo. Scientifically speaking though, going into deep trances, altering one’s state of consciousness is undoubtedly possible. Bulatao uses hypnotism to heal his patients, aptly called hypnotherapy.
When asked what he wants to tell each Atenean if he were given the chance, he says, “Do something different from what you are doing now. Don’t allow your comfortable experience to shut you off from life. Don’t be caught by the curriculum. Live beyond borders.”
While Filipinos all around the world and at home know the name greatest boxer in history, there must be a way for them to know about the greatest Filipino psychologist as well, to learn from his priceless teachings, to understand the seemingly infinite depth of the human mind. Then their lives could turn out infinitely better, with the magic touch of Father Bulatao.