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Freud and the Buddha

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This book investigates what psychoanalysis and Buddhism can learn from each other, and offers chapters by a Buddhist scholar, a psychiatrist-author, and a number of leading psychoanalysts. It begins with a discussion of the basic understanding of both psychoanalysis and Buddhism, viewed not as a religion but as a psychology and a philosophy with ethical principles.The focus of the book rests on the commonality between the psychoanalyst's neutrality as he listens to his freely associating patient, and the Buddhist monk's non-judgmental attention to his mind. The psychoanalytic concepts of free association, the unconscious, transference and countertransference are compared to the implications of the Buddhist principles of impermanence, non-clinging (non-attachment), the hard-to-grasp concept of the "not-self", and the practice of meditation. The differences between the role of the analyst and that of the Buddhist teacher of meditation are explored, and the important difference between the analyst's emphasis on insight and thinking is compared to the Buddhist attention to awareness and experience. Mention is made of the authors' implicit recognition of the dissolution of the mind-body split and the relevance of neuroscientific discoveries of the increasingly important role of the right brain in thinking is noted. The book concludes with a discussion of the controversies about free association, words, and understanding, in both psychoanalysis and Buddhism.

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Chapter One - The Origins and Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis

ePub

Nina Savelle-Rocklin

 

When people learn what I do for a living, they often ask in surprise, “You're really a psychoanalyst? Like Freud?”

“Yes,” I say. “And no.”

Equating modern psychoanalytic thought to early Freudian thinking is akin to expecting a twenty-first century electric Ford Focus to be identical to an early twentieth century Model T Ford, and furthermore, expecting that the only cars on the road are Fords. There is no single mode of psychoanalysis, since psychoanalysis encompasses a range of theories, philosophies, and techniques.

Many people are unsure about the difference between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. They wonder, is everything about the past? Is it always the mother's fault? Why not just prescribe medication?

And they want to know, “What's with the couch?”

These assumptions and ideas about psychoanalysis are likely informed by New Yorker cartoons, Woody Allen films, and other media depictions of the analytic experience. Thankfully, these caricatures bear little resemblance to reality.

 

Chapter Two - It's not Just about the Mindfulness: Foundations of Buddhist Thought and why it Matters for Psychoanalysis

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Delia Kostner

Buddhism has entered the common vernacular of psychology through the vehicle of mindfulness. Within the psychotherapeutic community, mindfulness is variously operationalized (Grossman & Van Dam, 2013), but commonly thought of as moment to moment awareness of present experience with acceptance of whatever occurs in the psycho-physical field (see Germer, 2005; Kabat-Zinn, 1990). The concept of mindfulness appeared on the psychotherapeutic scene almost three decades ago and has greatly influenced our way of approaching mental and physical health. Additionally, mindfulness has heralded an interesting paradigm shift within academic psychology by placing subjective experience back into the research arena as a legitimate area of exploration. However, the zeal to empirically demonstrate the usefulness of mindfulness as a therapeutic construct has led to a troubling denaturing of the concept, such that it has become a mere synonym for attention. This chapter will address this problem by placing mindfulness back within the context of Buddhist thought in an attempt to demonstrate the significant psychological gains of understanding mindfulness within the broad program the Buddha proposed for achieving freedom from suffering.

 

Chapter Three - The Practice of Psychoanalysis and Buddhism

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Nina Coltart

 

There is a long study yet to be written comparing and contrasting the practice of psychoanalysis and the practice of Buddhism. This is not it. This is a sketch for a more detailed exploration which I hope to make at some point in the future. Psychoanalysis and Buddhism are in many ways profoundly different, and indeed belong to different orders or categories, and yet on a simple, practical, and philosophical level, they have much in common.

The evolution towards Buddhism in my thinking, as with a number of people I have met, goes back to Christianity. I was a practicing Christian until a year or so before I went into analysis; so it was not the demon Freud who undermined my faith, it was a natural development. As it is said, “I lost my faith,” almost from one day to the next. I have come to think that this is rather an odd phrase because in a very real, but altered sense, faith was precisely the quality I retained; that is, faith in the ultimate and present value of the long, slow, often frustrating daily practice of both Buddhism and psychoanalysis. What I lost was belief in the existence of a personal, or any form of conceivable, God, and it has never returned. I missed this and the Christian practice a lot, and was in the wilderness for a long time, searching around for another path; and thus gradually moved toward and finally into Buddhism, in the Theravada tradition, about twenty years ago. The Theravada practice, as with all the main schools of Buddhism, centers on daily formal sitting meditation.

 

Chapter Four - Buddhist Psychology: A Work in Process

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Andrew Olendzki

 

 

The Buddhist tradition offers an ingeniously simple model of the human psyche that has much to offer the modern understanding of ourselves. It is a model that has developed entirely through introspection, through the sustained and disciplined first-person observation of the subjective flow of phenomena. Exploring the internal landscape of lived experience was a unique feature of early Indian religions, very different from the outward-facing and upward-turning religious habit of the West. Consciousness itself is both mysterious and tremendous, in this tradition, and the direct investigation of its landscape offered the promise of attaining the most profound well-being available within the human condition. Perfect happiness comes, not from transcending this body and life and world for something better elsewhere, but rather from purifying consciousness of its numerous toxins and limitations in order to experience this moment, in this body, life, and world, with unshakable tranquility and freedom.

 

Chapter Five - On the Seashore of Endless Worlds: Buddha and Winnicott

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Mark Epstein

 

Soon after my introduction to Buddhism in my early twenties I began to write, trying to articulate my confusion while searching for ways of describing what meditation did for me. I wrote first in an academic style befitting my training, trying to reason my way through my conundrum. I began with the key words of both Buddhist and Western thought. Was the ego that Buddhist teachers thought a problem the same ego that psychoanalysts thought essential? Was the emptiness that Buddhism thought so important the same as the emptiness that my therapy patients decried? Was the self that Buddha said was an illusion the same self that psychotherapy felt so necessary? (Epstein, 2007). These questions compelled me and at the same time gave me an opportunity to find words for how meditation actually felt. Behind each of them lay my own baffled but sanguine confusion about how this so-called vehicle of emptiness could in fact be so enriching.

A series of papers followed. I read Freud on religious experience and found that he had corresponded for thirteen years with the French writer Romain Rolland, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1915 and one of the most prominent Westerners of his generation to have a personal understanding of the wisdom of the East. Rolland, a student of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna, Indian swamis in the Hindu Vedantic tradition, had a profound effect on Freud, challenging him to take spiritual experience seriously. I read Freud's correspondence eagerly; it was the first time that the beauty of Freud's writing revealed itself to me. He was really grappling with what Rolland reported; he took it very seriously. As Freud described the exchange:

 

Chapter Six - Faust, Mephistopheles and Attachment: Discussion of Mark Epstein's Chapter—“On the Seashore of Endless Worlds: Buddha and Winnicott”

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Axel Hoffer

In his chapter, Dr. Epstein offers startling new insights into the work of Donald W. Winnicott, MD, a leading and highly influential British psychoanalyst. Epstein shows us that Winnicott, while still Freudian in his orientation, was engaged in a quiet revolution against the Freudian orthodoxy of his time. He spells out Winnicott's heretofore unrecognized affinity with Buddhism.

Considering Winnicott from a Buddhist perspective, Dr. Epstein points out that Winnicott dramatically and profoundly shifts analytic attention in two important ways. Rather than focusing on the drives of the infant, the centrality of the father, and the triadic relationship between the parents and the child, Winnicott's attention is on the mother and her experience. He focuses directly not on the child's libido but on the environment and the emotional transitional processes which the mother provides. Winnicott's statement (1975), “There is no such thing as a baby,” means that baby and mother both live, change, and grow in the maternal-child emotional environment. The focus is on the mother and her feelings in relation to the child, not on the father. While not ignoring aggression and sexuality in the child's development, Epstein and Winnicott initially focus on the importance of the relatively selfless, loving, compassionate connection the mother provides the infant and then to the separating child. The Freudian emphasis on the oedipal conflict, castration anxiety, competition, and patricide is left until later.

 

Chapter Seven - A Clinical Encounter: Mind without Walls

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Sara L. Weber

 

 

Jewish mysticism offers us a poetic metaphor for what it feels like to be alive. The Kabbalah (Drob, 2010) suggests that each of us is a vessel. For a time, a lifetime, we each hold a unique bit of the energy of the universe, a spark. Each vessel, each of us, is partially broken, inadequate to hold this spark. Our job in this life is to repair that vessel of self the better to hold, through relationship with others, this energy and the very universe together.

Notice, in this metaphor of the vessel, the duality of the container and contained. In what it feels like to be alive, dualities abound: You and I, self and other, body and mind, observer and observed, therapist and patient, container and contained, all these on and on join mother and baby, thinker and thought, form and emptiness.

Form and emptiness? Form versus emptiness takes us back to the duality-smashing central paradox of the Heart Sutra (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1988), wherein the awakened Buddha proclaims that form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is none other than emptiness, emptiness none other than form. Beyond dualities, the awakened mind is without walls.

 

Chapter Eight - My Lives in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism

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Gerald I. Fogel

 

I have been a Buddhist meditator for almost as long as I have been a psychoanalyst. I graduated from analytic training in 1972. Not long after, I began a regular meditation practice. My professional expertise is limited to psychoanalytic practice and thought. I have no comparable authority when describing Buddhist practice and thought. On the few occasions I have spoken publicly about the two disciplines and their possible relation to each other, I have pulled together reflections spun around vignettes that provide examples of personal experiences while doing psychoanalysis and Buddhism.

Axel Hoffer read an essay I once presented along these lines. Engaged by the descriptions of personal experiences that were its centerpiece, he asked if he might include that essay in this book. Such descriptions are seldom found in discussions that compare the two disciplines. I agreed to contribute to the book, adding additional material and bringing my parallel journeys in psychoanalysis and Buddhism up to date.

 

Chapter Nine - Controversies and the Potential for Mutual Enrichment

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Axel Hoffer

 

The contributors to this book include a psychiatrist-author (Epstein), six psychoanalysts (Coltart, Fogel, Hoffer, Kostner, Savelle-Rocklin, and Weber), and a Buddhist scholar (Olendzki). They share many areas of agreement and, of course, some striking, fascinating differences. Each in his or her own way describes the problems of truly understanding such Buddhist concepts as clinging (attachment), impermanence, and the especially difficult to grasp Buddhist concept of no-self, as well as developing an appreciation of the Buddhist concept of suffering. They recognize the importance of greed, hatred, and delusion, perhaps better rendered as clinging, aversion, and ignorance, as the causes of suffering. Meditation, they agree, can enhance the analysts’ capacity to listen with evenly-hovering attention. Further, there is agreement that the capacity to respond to suffering with compassion and equanimity is also enhanced by meditation.

Two areas of agreement, as well as three areas of contention, are especially noteworthy. Both Coltart and Fogel highlight the significant differences and limits inherent in the roles of the analyst and meditation teacher. In addition, they both warn against introducing the patient to the idea or the practice of meditation during a psychoanalytic treatment if the patient has not brought it up first. They believe that to introduce it might amount to a suggestion that could interfere not only with the transference but with the development of the analytic process. Should the analyst, in order to preserve the integrity of the psychoanalytic frame and process, keep private his or her commitment to meditation from the patient?

 

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