Psychoanalysis and Buddhism
Jeffrey B. Rubin
Harlem Family Institute, New York City, Visiting Lecturer—Union Theological Seminary, New York City
The relationship between psychoanalysis and Eastern meditative disciplines has intrigued me for many years. I have immersed myself in both traditions since the late 1970s in the hope of ascertaining what light they might shed on the art of living. Judiciously integrating them can open up new vistas that might ultimately enrich our lives and the lives of the people in pain with whom we work.
Imagine the following scenario. A person is in a room with a minimum of sensory stimulations and distractions. She is still, alert, and relaxed. Her eyes are closed. She pays careful attention to whatever she experiences moment after moment ... I could be describing an analysand in psychoanalytic treatment. In this particular instance, I am actually depicting a person meditating. What I hope to do in this paper is interest you in the possibility that one's experience on the meditative cushion might enrich one's experience in the psychoanalytic consulting room, and one's experience in the psychoanalytic consulting room might aid one's experience on the meditative cushion.
An increasing number of people that I know both in and outside of therapy complain of being too burdened and distracted. They feel oversaturated with e-mails, faxes, and pagers. They frenetically juggle multiple and conflicting roles and responsibilities—parent, therapist, spouse, lover, friend. They often feel a hollowness in their lives. Those of you who feel more grounded and less depleted may still long for a life of greater inner peace and equanimity.
Imagine that you could find a sanctuary in your daily experience from the cognitive overstimulation and the frenetic pace that all too often consumes us. Imagine that within this safe haven you might quiet the inner maelstrom and gain a measure of clarity and focus about what you feel and who you are. Imagine further that you could see and work through restrictive psychological identifications and conditioning. You could then have a less insulated and egocentric view of self and reality. There might be a profound sense of connectedness with yourself and other people. Imagine even further that if this happens, then something sacred will be revealed. Your daily life might be infused with greater meaning and purpose. You might then live with greater compassion and wisdom. This is part of the promise of Buddhism.
Buddhism, like psychoanalysis, is not one thing. Meaning, as the Russian thinker Bakhtin (1986) knew, is the product of an interaction or dialogue between reader and text, rather than a singular essence waiting to be revealed in a neutral, fixed,