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Epstein, M. (1990). Beyond the Oceanic Feeling: Psychoanalytic Study of Buddhist Meditation. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 17:159-165.

(1990). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 17:159-165

Beyond the Oceanic Feeling: Psychoanalytic Study of Buddhist Meditation

Mark Epstein


Psychoanalytic interpretations of the meditative experience have traditionally focused exclusively on the concentration practices rather than on the mindfulness practices that are actually distinctive of Buddhist meditation. The concentration practices emphasize one-pointedness or absorption, lead to what Freud (1930) called the oceanic feeling, and can be conceptualized dynamically as gratifying the desire to merge ego and ego ideal. The mindfulness practices, on the other hand, require moment-to-moment attention to changing objects of awareness and lead to examination of the subjective sense of 'I'. In dynamic terms, this can be expressed as investigation of the self-representation as agent and confrontation with the ideal ego. Thus, the traditional view of meditation as recreating the state of primary narcissism is seen as incomplete; a more accurate formulation sees Buddhist meditation as encouraging a confrontation with the vestiges of primary narcissism, in the form of the ideal ego. Such a view makes possible more comprehensive clinical insights into traditional Buddhist psychology and its contemporary practitioners.

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