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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Psychoanalysis & Buddhism 

Mixing Minds: The Power of Relationship in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism by Pilar Jennings and Jeremy D. Safran (Wisdom Publications) THE ENCOUNTER between Buddhism and Western psychotherapy has a long history. Carl Jung had an early interest in both Western and Eastern mystical traditions, and in 1954 wrote a psychological commentary for Walter Evans-Wentz's translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (first published in 1927). Other influential psychoanalysts' followed suit: in the 1950s and 1960s Erich Fromm and Karen Homey took a particular interest in Zen Buddhism. While in retrospect we can see that this interest continued to percolate in the culture at large, in many respects it disappeared from the mainstream scene and went underground within psychoanalysis. In the 1990s as Buddhism became more thoroughly assimilated into Western culture, and a generation of authors who came of age in the 1960s began to emerge, the interest in Buddhism by psychoanalysts began to resurface. A series of books on Buddhism and psychoanalysis were published by authors such as Jack Engler, Mark Epstein, Jeffiey Rubin, John Suler, Anthony Molino, and Barry Magid, and isolated articles began to appear here and there in professional and popular journals.

At the same time, a certain momentum of interest began to emerge among behavioral and cognitive therapists as well. Theorists and researchers such as Marsha Linehan, Alan Marlatt, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Steven Hayes began to incorporate principles of mindfulness into their therapeutic approaches—and these drew increasing attention. I remember attending a panel on mindfulness at the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy (AABT) in the early 1990s and I remember my surprise that what seemed like esoteric fare for an ostensibly conservative organization like AABT was so packed that there was standing room only. My second surprise came when one of the panelists asked the audience how many of them meditate—and over ninety percent of the audience members raised their hands.

While the momentum of interest in the relationship between Buddhism and psychoanalysis has continued to develop at a steady pace, I think it is fair to say that Buddhism, or more specifically mindfulness practice, has taken cognitive-behavioral therapy by a storm. Since the first empirical studies came out demonstrating that mindfulness practice can reduce relapse in recovered depressives, a slew of studies have come out demonstrating the effectiveness of mindfulness practice in the treatment of a range of psychological disorders and books on what is referred to as mindfulness-and-acceptance-based approaches to cognitive-behavioral therapy are proliferating. Mindfulness has more than gained acceptance within mainstream therapy; indeed it has in some respects become the leading edge of the mainstream.

The assimilation of Buddhist thinking into psychoanalytic thinking, while continuing at a steady pace, has been a slower and more subtle process—and I think it is worth speculating about the reasons for this. Because of the emphasis on skills-training and self-help technology in behavioral and cognitive therapy, the process of adapting the technique of mindfulness practice and then testing it empirically is a fairly natural and straightforward one. However, I think that the popularity of mindfulness practice among cognitive-behavioral therapists is due to more than this. Traditionally the emphasis in mainstream cognitive therapy has sometimes been on changing or controlling feelings by changing one's thinking. This leads to the paradoxical situation in which the goal of self-acceptance needs to be achieved through a type of self-control. The assimilation of the principles of awareness and acceptance (embedded within mindfulness practice) has led cognitive-behavioral therapy to a subtle paradigm change that helps to negotiate or transcend this paradox.

Although psychoanalysis does have its techniques, it is on the whole less technologically oriented than cognitive-behavioral therapy. In some respects psychoanalysis is thus more similar in type to Buddhism as a whole, in that both are complex and comprehensive worldviews and philosophical systems, each composed of multiple schools of thought and practice. Theoretical and philosophical debate is the order of the day within both traditions, and it is only natural that any real contact between them will involve conversation at broader levels as well.

In addition, psychoanalysis from the beginning has had an interdisciplinary character to it. It both influences and is informed by areas such as cultural and historical studies, anthropology, sociology, and political science. Increasingly 0ver time psychoanalysis has become particularly attuned to the cultural context that gives rise to various theoretical developments as well as the impact of those developments on the culture. While early forays by psychoanalysts into Buddhism to some extent had a natural tendency to emphasize and idealize certain tenets of Buddhism as antidotes to the rigidity and other shortcomings of psychoanalytic orthodoxy, a new stage in the dialogue between Buddhism and psychoanalysis is emerging that is more nuanced and sophisticated in nature.

When I edited the anthology Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue in 2003, I was hoping that the essay and commentary structure of the book would play some role in catalyzing this new stage of dialogue. Since that time I've been gratified to see a number of important new books coming out that have contributed to this growing dialogue. Examples include: Mark Unno's Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures, Robert Langan's Minding What Matters, Barry Magid's Ending the Pursuit of Happiness, and Mark Epstein's Open to Desire. Of particular note is Harvey Aronson's Buddhist Practice on Western Ground, which does a superb job of embedding the exploration of the relationship between Buddhist practice and psychotherapy in a cultural context, and highlights the strengths and limitations of both approaches.

When Josh Bartok at Wisdom Publications first asked me to read a draft of Mixing Minds, I was somewhat hesitant because of pressing work commitments. After reading the first few pages, however, I was hooked. And after rereading it before writing this foreword, I am even more enthusiastic. With this remarkable book, the dialogue between Buddhism and psychoanalysis has finally come of age. Pilar Jennings writes from the perspective of one who has been deeply steeped in these two great wisdom traditions for many years, and who has a rich and nuanced understanding of areas of convergence, divergence, and potential synergy. By taking into account both cultural differences in the origins of these two practices as well as differences in emphasis (spiritual/universalistic vs. psychological/ personal), Jennings is able to highlight the strengths and limitations of both traditions, as well as potential stumbling blocks along the path of practice for Western Buddhists. In this way she deepens our understanding and appreciation of both traditions, and darifies the way in which they can complement one another. In a voice that is personal, humorous, yet at the same time wise and sophisticated, Jennings takes us on a fascinating and deeply rewarding voyage of discovery. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. --Jeremy D. Safran

AFEW YEARS AGO my Buddhist teacher asked me if I would be the personal driver for a senior teacher in our Tibetan lineage during his upcoming visit to New York City. I was flattered but also concerned about taking so much time from my various professional responsibilities. After having agreed, I spent the first day driving the rinpoche (an honorific meaning "precious one") and his entourage of monks throughout the city. Passing by the many New York landmarks, I found myself pointing out historic buildings he might have heard of, the parks and famous avenues. We passed by the hospital where I was born, which I indicated with a childlike enthusiasm.

My lama, who had been sitting quietly in the back, leaned forward. "Is that Bellevue?" he asked. I looked at him in the rear-view mirror, a sly smile overtaking his face. I laughed and tried to explain to the rinpoche why this was funny. If I had been with my analytic friends, I might have blurted out, "Projection!" milking the joke for more laughs. So too, I might have—in the spirit of fun—divulged that my lama had called me the week prior to find out if there is a diagnosis for people who will not eat a bowl of noodle soup if the noodles are stuck together. After I suggested that this could indicate obsessive-compulsive disorder, or perhaps anxiety and thus repressed hostility, he wanted to know if this "was right."

"Is this for your friend?" I quipped. I took the high road and processed this humorous exchange and the many memorable moments that transpired during this week with my psychoanalyst, who was forever curious about my relationship to a Tibetan lama and Buddhist practice. With my analyst, I worked through the fear of having "fallen behind" in my secular life during this time with the rinpoche, and consciously integrated the precious experience of immersion in my spiritual community and the riotous moments' of cross-cultural communication I had experienced as a Westerner pursuing traditional Asian Buddhism.

I come to this world of "mixing and matching" healing traditions through a lifetime in which the boundaries between East and West have been constantly blurred. As a child I slept on traditional. Japanese bedding in a macrobiotic study house where I lived with my mother, after years of wolfing down Lucky Charms swimming in whole milk. Periods of quiet pervaded my early childhood household, when my mother may have been reading Krishnamurti or D.T. Suzuki, but such moments could be followed by a blaring Beatles record that my older brother played along with on his sparkly red drum set. My upbringing with a Peruvian psychoanalyst mother and a Scottish, New York City–born ad man father was an ongoing study in contrasts. After their separation when I was eight years old, I was raised on either side of the country, where the values and goals of each seemed as different from the other as those of any two countries. Not surprisingly, it was during my time on the West Coast that I was introduced to meditation and Eastern religions.

As an adolescent and young adult, I continued my interest in both Eastern and Western perspectives as they manifest in the divergent realms of spiritual and psychological healing. I read the literature of great Zen masters and Tibetan lamas alongside Freud and D.W. Winnicott. In this exploration, I found a balance between these disparate healing methods. The Eastern approach to well-being struck me as being a more primary process—a truly experiential mode of coming to know oneself (and eventually no-self, as one discovers in Buddhist terrain) and one's world with greater depth and clarity—that was perhaps more heart-centered and less diluted or defended against by cognitive processes. Western psychological healing efforts, in contrast, seemed to me more rooted in discursive thought, despite the intention to honor emotionality, and a stronger emphasis placed on our capacity to make meaning through analyzing our own history and character.

In the former I learned of the interplay between perception, reality, and universal markers of humanity. In the latter I explored my personal history, the nuances of my family of origin, and how my unconscious and conscious psychic halves intertwine. Between the two, I envisioned and began to experience a more encompassing net in which to catch the complexities of the human mind as it intersects with the turbulent and challenging experience of relating to others. And most relevant to this work, I learned through my comparative experience with Buddhist teachers and psychoanalysts how to enter into and sustain the formidable experience of interpersonal relationship amid this ongoing turbulence.

Over the years ideas have taken root, offering me a roomier way to see and understand our complex world. Through these many compelling ideas of healing and my own pursuits of spiritual and psychological wellbeing, I have entered into relationships with Buddhist teachers and Western psychoanalysts, and have in recent years been working with my own clients as a therapist and psychoanalyst. As I have deepened my practice through the experience of these interpersonal relationships, I have learned about each tradition through the other. And perhaps most importantly, the unique experience and perspective I have gained in each interpersonal relationship has given me necessary tools for remaining in relationship when the work involved has been difficult or unsettling.

It is for this reason that I now write about the many radical differences and areas of synergy between Buddhism and psychoanalysis, with a focus on the primary relationships within each system. In the following pages, I will explore how each tradition helps us enter into and sustain relationship. I will propose that the core teachings of each tradition come to life by examining how Buddhist teachers relate to their students and how psychoanalysts relate to their analysands.

I take up this exploration of Buddhist and psychoanalytic healing dyads—the teacher/ student and analyst/ analysand pairs—at a time when interest in the convergence of Eastern and Western healing paths is flourishing. Nevertheless, I find myself writing amid a growing community of American Buddhists and psychotherapists interested in Buddhist practice who approach this exploration with radically divergent perspectives and goals. People such as Jeffrey Rubin, Mark Epstein, Jack Engler, Polly Young-Eisendrath, and Mark Finn, who are both psychoanalysts and Buddhist practitioners, have explored the far-reaching compatibility between these two healing traditions, as well as the many blind spots that have hindered conversation between spiritual teachers and psychologists. These contemporary theorists carry the torch for those seminal psychoanalytic theorists whose interest in Eastern religious practice pioneered this now-burgeoning field.

Psychoanalyst Joseph Thompson, working under the pseudonym Joe Tom Sun, published the earliest exploration of the parallels between psychoanalysis and Buddhism in 1924. Carl Jung followed suit, bringing forth passionate caveats for Western practitioners of Buddhism alongside a genuine respect for the ego-softening tools he discovered in his ventures east. Franz Alexander, an eminent Hungarian psychoanalyst and colleague of Freud, continued this exploration in a 1931 essay on Buddhism from a psychoanalytic perspective in which he noted the relevance of concentration practice in Buddhist meditation to the Freudian notion of regression.

Erich Fromm and Karen Homey carried on this nascent tradition of investigating Eastern spiritual practice as it interfaces with Western psychology through their shared interest in how culture influences our psychological experience. For Fromm, waking up to reality and enlightenment were universal categories of human experience, suggesting that Buddhist practice was in no way restricted to Asians or those born in Buddhist countries (Fromm, 1960). In her theories of self, which became increasingly fluid throughout her career, Homey discovered a meaningful resonance with a Zen Buddhist approach to reality as unfixed and forever reconstructed. British psychoanalyst Nina Coltart picked up the torch, offering insights into what she found to be an easy compatibility between Theravada Buddhism and psychoanalysis. She discovered that her practice of mindfulness brought a new understanding of her capacity to listen to her patients with deepened analytic attunement (Coltart, 1996).

Through the application of what some Buddhists call "friendly curiosity" and what Freud called "evenly hovering attention" to contrasting approaches of psychological healing, many more theorists joined in with their particular insights, concerns, and wishes for the next generation of theorists interested in the dance between the Western psyche and the Eastern spiritual path. Within this expanding group of authors there are clear differences in methodology and mission. Some theorists express an interest in finding ready parallels between Buddhism and psychotherapy. While all of the writers I've mentioned reveal a depth of appreciation for the potential compatibility between these two systems, some are more inclined to focus on what Jeffrey Rubin has called "a pseudocomplementary/token egalitarian model" (Rubin, 1996). In this approach, the young Western theory of psychoanalysis and the ancient Eastern tradition of Buddhism are perhaps too easily conflated, rendering neither realm clear enough for the rigorous investigation that both Freud and the Buddha were committed to pursuing (Molino, 1998, p. 235).

Others present an equal personal investment in both realms while being tethered to neither (Epstein, 2007). On the spiritual side of this discussion there are those who are wary of the growing tendency to psychologize Buddhism. In this camp important red flags are raised about the dubious assertion that psychoanalytic processes can produce the same results as in-depth Buddhist practice (Batchelor, 1997; Kornfield et al., 1998, p. 99). So too, there are those who propose that Buddhist practitioners might be well served in their efforts to reduce suffering by investigating personal psychological experience, which is typically minimized in spiritual practice (Rubin, 1996; see also Engler, 2006; Unno, 2006, p. 29). Yet others recognize the potential pitfall in expecting either of these two contrasting realms to provide ready answers to all of life's struggles (Eigen, 1998a; Rubin, 1996). From their perspective, human experience is too vast and complex to be fully and adequately addressed by any one teaching or teacher.

Where do I find myself in this growing web of theoretical exploration? Having grown through my commitment to both traditions, I feel strongly that the human quest for happiness and wellness begs for conscious exploration of our psyche and our spirit. To embark on one path of learning and healing without the other, I believe, limits our true potential for transformation. Throughout my life I have used psychoanalytic tools in my spiritual practice and Buddhist tools in my psychoanalytic process. This capacity to bring a spiritual perspective to psychological experience, and a psychological perspective to spiritual endeavors, has been helpful to me. With this dual perspective I have felt better equipped to work with and honor what each tradition provides, and less tempted to give up when the wellness promised felt illusory and intangible.

While I am aware of the dear differences in the history, cultural contexts, and goals of these divergent approaches to human wellness, I have written this book in the spirit of encouraging a committed curiosity from both camps, and particularly from Buddhist teachers and psychoanalysts, about the tools and methods found in the contrasting tradition. Through comparison, I hope to clarify what is unique to each tradition and healing relationship as they stand in contrast with the other. This, I believe, is the primary benefit of comparison: it can offer increased understanding of what any one category or system can be. To compare a rose to a Star Gazer lily expands exponentially our sense of what a flower can be. To compare a green apple to a scone helps us understand and relate to nourishment (Paden, 1994, p. 5). The same is true with healing systems. Through a comparative study of religion and psychology we may begin to imagine new ways of addressing vexing personal struggles and the wish to live fully and joyfully.

Throughout this exploration of Buddhist teachers and students, alongside the analysts and analysands, I will propose that the process of awakening to reality, which in Buddhism is often called enlightenment, happens within the context of relationship. I have discovered that in both enterprises it is through relationship to healers that the teachings and methods begin to mix with one's mind. Perhaps most importantly, I have found over many years in divergent Buddhist lineages that the relative health and resonance of the student/ teacher relationship has a profound impact on a student's willingness and ability to incorporate Buddhist teachings into their lived experience. The student's ability to engage with reality—their own and that of others—is shaped through the many subtle psychological dynamics that take place within the teacher/ student relationship. In my experience, these complex dynamics are not easily worked through—particularly for Western students—without another healing system designed to address how the psyche responds to the labyrinth of interpersonal relationship.

In offering a glimpse into my own history with Buddhism and psychoanalysis, I will explore the particular traditions I have practiced and the influence of each tradition on my evolving interest in primary healing relationships within Buddhism. Out of this subjective exploration, I hope to clarify why this topic may be useful for Western students of Buddhism, for Buddhist teachers (both Eastern- and Western-born), and for clinicians working with Western Buddhist clients who need or want to explore their particular convergence of psyche and spirit.

I offer this book particularly to Buddhist students and to analysands (and their analysts) for whom healing and the wish to be happy and free from suffering are the driving forces toward wellness. It is with an abiding respect for the courage and fortitude necessary for any authentic effort at healing that I enter into the topic of relationship to religious mentors and psychoanalysts. I know well the risks we take in sharing our most vulnerable and tender places with people we hope will prove trustworthy and capable of ushering in the wellness we seek. So too, I bring to this project my deep appreciation for the healers in both traditions, whose care and kindness I have gratefully received.

While I have not attempted to provide absolute answers to how healing happens in these divergent realms, I hope that this exploration will offer a mirror for the journey of Western Buddhist students and people in psychoanalysis who come to these contrasting paths to experience fuller and more authentic relationships—with themselves, with others, and with the world they inhabit.




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