Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue

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9780861713424: Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue
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"What a wonderful book! Jeremy Safran has assembled an absolutely stellar group of writers and has himself contributed an illuminating introduction. The essays are riveting and the book is the rare edited collection with real thematic unity. If you think you might have an interest in the intersection of psychoanalysis and Buddhism, this is the place to start. If you already know you're interested, once you look at the table of contents you'll find (at least I did) that you want to let Psychoanalysis and Buddhism displace whatever you were going to read next."--Donnel B. Stern, PhD, author of Unformulated Experience and editor of Contemporary Psychoanalysis

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About the Author:

Jeremy D. Safran, PhD, is a professor of clinical psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York. He received his doctorate in psychology from the University of British Columbia in 1982 and his postdoctoral certification in psychoanalysis from New York University in 2001. To learn more about his psychotherapy research lab, visit www.safranlab.net.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface

The roots of my involvement with Buddhism go back a long way, certainly as far back as my interests in Western psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. I first began meditating at a Zen center in Vancouver prior to beginning graduate training in clinical psychology in the early 1970's and long before undergoing psychoanalytic training. The teacher was an earnest young Zen monk from England. He had a pious manner more reminiscent of my stereotype of a Presbyterian minister than the iconoclastic Zen masters I had read about in Alan Watts' "Psychotherapy East and West." And he had little of the humor and spontaneity I would later come to experience in the Zen masters and Tibetan lamas who have had the greatest impact on me. But to his credit, he did manage to impress upon me the importance of actually sitting and meditating in a disciplined fashion. Although I can't claim to have always been the most diligent of practitioners, my interest in Buddhism has remained consistent over the years. Nevertheless, although the influence of Buddhist thought and practice on my professional writing began to explicitly appear as early as 1990, it has taken considerably longer for me to undertake a project such as this one. As to what all the forces are that finally motivated me to attempt to bring my interests in Buddhism and psychoanalysis together as the central focus of a professional project, I can only speculate. No doubt, as Freud taught us, there are multiple determinants, both conscious and unconscious. And perhaps as Buddhism teaches us there are karmic determinants as well. What I do know is that the time now feels ripe to me.

Although the dialogue between psychoanalysis and Buddhism has a long history, attempts to think about the interface of these two disciplines in a systematic fashion have been scattered and episodic in nature. Psychoanalysts who have been interested in this dialogue have tended to be on the margins- functioning outside of the mainstream of analytic thinking. In recent years, however, there has been an accelerating interest in Buddhism by psychoanalysts that parallels the growing interest in Buddhism both by Western psychotherapists in general and by the culture at large. This book is the first to initiate a formal dialogue between mainstream psychoanalysts and those who write about the interface of psychoanalysis and Buddhism.

It is structured in the form of: primary chapters followed by commentaries, followed by replies written by the authors of the primary chapters in response to the commentaries. The primary chapters explore various aspects of the interface between psychoanalysis and Buddhism. These chapters are written by authors who are equally conversant with the worlds of psychoanalysis and Buddhism, and who in many cases have made seminal contributions to this interface in the past. The commentaries are all written by psychoanalytic theorists who in most cases have a rather limited familiarity with the topic of Buddhism, but sufficient interest to be willing to engage in the dialogue. I was fortunate to be able to enlist the participation of a highly prominent group of psychoanalytic thinkers, many of whom have had an important impact on the development of contemporary psychoanalytic theory. Their willingness to participate in this enterprise is a reflection of the growing interest by psychoanalysts in Buddhism in recent years. Although there has always been an underground of "Buddhaphiles" within the psychoanalytic community, it is unlikely that the type of dialogue represented by this book could have taken place as recently as a few years ago. My hope is that this dialogue will help to raise thinking about the interface between psychoanalysis and Buddhism to a new level of sophistication, and to stimulate an interest in the topic by both a wider audience of psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, as well as the general public.

I have written the introductory chapter, "Psychoanalysis and Buddhism as Cultural Institutions", to provide a context for this dialogue. It does so by sketching out the cultural and historical factors that have influenced the development of both psychoanalysis and Buddhism, and that are currently influencing the accelerating interest in Buddhism within Western culture and by the psychoanalytic community. A second agenda of mine in this chapter is to review some of the major themes and developments within both psychoanalysis and Buddhism in order to provide some background for those who are less familiar with either of these two traditions.

A final objective of the my introductory chapter, and of the book as a whole, is to provide those who are not familiar with contemporary psychoanalysis with a taste of some of the exciting and forward looking developments that are taking place within it. Western psychotherapy began with the emergence of psychoanalysis at the beginning of the twentieth century and for many years psychoanalysis was the dominant form of psychological treatment. Although psychoanalysis has always provided a conceptually rich and sophisticated framework for understanding human experience, it has also had tendencies towards reductionistic thinking and pseudoscientific sterility. As it became increasingly well established as a cultural institution, it tended to lose some of its more revolutionary and progressive potential, and to become arrogant, conservative and insular. In the 1960's psychoanalysis began to fall upon hard times. Within the field of psychiatry it was superceded by the biological revolution. And as a form of psychotherapy, it was outflanked on one side by the cognitive-behavioral tradition, with its pragmatic emphasis and its claim to scientific legitimacy, and on the other by humanistic psychotherapists with their recognition of the fundamental importance of human dignity and potential. In recent years, however, there has been a revitalization in psychoanalytic theory and practice that has broken the shackles of conservatism and that is shaping it in a direction that is increasingly responsive to the yearnings of the human heart and soul. I see this book as both a reflection of this revitalization process and as a continuation of it.

Jeremy D. Safran, April, 2003

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