Entry for August 11, 2006

The illustration is of the Wheel of Life from Buddhanet.

When I was at the bookstore last night, I came across psychiatrist Mark Epstein’s book Thoughts without a thinker:  psychology from a Buddhist perspective ( 242 pp. New York, BasicBooks, 1995. $22. ISBN 0-465-03931-6) which was reissued by its original publisher with a new introduction in 2005.

In it, epstein examines the applicability of the Buddhist schema of The Wheel of Life as it applies to psychotherapy.

The six realms are:

  • Human
  • Animal
  • Hell
  • Hungry Ghost
  • Jealous Gods
  • God

He maintains that in the past various psychotherapists have concentrated on only one realm, for instance Freud on the animal, W.R. Bion and D.W. Winnicott  on the human (narcissistic), Maslow on God and so forth.

Through the teachings of the Wheel of Life we are reminded that it is not enough to expose the inhibitions in ust one or two of the realms; we must do so in all.  A person who is cut off from his passions but not his God-like nature  will be as unbalanced and as insufferable as a person who suffers from the reverse scenerio.

In Mary Talbot’s interview, Epstein describes why he found this perpective more optimistic.

Freud always said that the best psychoanalysis could do was to take people from neurotic misery and return them to common unhappiness. That’s fine, but I wanted something more for myself, both professionally and personally. In Buddhist psychology, there’s the possibility held out for some kind of happiness. It’s a positive view of working to change the mind.  

He tells Rachel Kohn, in her interview for the radio program The Spirit of Things on 9/30/01, he explains why  the usually closed system of psycholoanalysis was ready to accept the Buddhist perspective:

I think is more indicative of where they’ve come through their own psychology that through 100 years of searching for the self, the psychoanalytic community actually has come up against a problem which is that it’s hard to find the self when you look for it, and the more you look.

It’s like an electron in the uncertainty principle, you know, the more you try to zero in on it, the more it becomes a wave instead of a particle, and since that’s the Buddhist teaching I think there’s a natural receptivity to a psychology that starts from a place of no self.

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Buddhanet, a project of the  Buddha Dharma Education Association of Tullera, Australia,  offers a wealth of online resources including a tutorial on meditation, daily meditation prompts, and links, including one to Engaged Zen, a Buddhist prison ministry.   

In researching this page, I came across a book which looks interesting by Robert Young, who  I linked to for Bion: Darwin’s metaphor.  Young edits Free Associations, a journal on the applications of non-clinical psychoanalysis to to psychotherapy, groups, politics, institutions, and culture.

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I may come back and add more later.  I’m at the Roanoke City library which has a strict time limit. 

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