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Cooper, P.C. (1999). Buddhist Meditation and Countertransference: A Case Study. Am. J. Psychoanal., 59(1):71-85.

(1999). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 59(1):71-85

Buddhist Meditation and Countertransference: A Case Study

Paul C. Cooper, M.A., M.S.

The lens of Freud's psychoanalytic vision colored his thoughts on Eastern meditation. As a result, his observations led to reductionist and pathologizing conclusions (Kovel, 1985). Freud learned about Indian meditation indirectly through his correspondence with the French poet Romaine Rolland. He argued that the bliss-inducing Indian yoga meditation practice evokes a pathological regression to a state of infantile narcissism (Epstein, 1984; Rubin, 1992). Following Freud's lead, Alexander (1931) characterized Buddhist meditation as an “induced catatonia.” These early impressions have tended to perpetuate “a tradition of errors” (Cernovsky, 1988). For example, Shafii (1973, p. 431), who views meditation “as an integrative and adaptive phenomena, rather than as a pathological experience” nevertheless describes the process as “a controlled regression [which] helps the individual reexperience union with his earlier love object on a pre-verbal level of psycho-sexual development” (p. 432). This stance strips meditative states of any transcendent or progressive quality and reduces the experience to an infantile memory or a regression to an earlier mode of being.

A minority of Neo-Freudian psychoanalysts have approached Buddhism with a spirit of openminded inquiry distinctive of the psychoanalytic dialogue initiated by Freud (Horney, 1945; Kelman, 1960; Suzuki et al., 1960). This group of analysts looked eastward to expand their psychoanalytic vision. For example, Horney draws from the Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki's notion of “wholeheartedness” or “sincerity of spirit” and writes that “nobody divided within himself can be wholly sincere” (1945, p. 163). Harold Kelman (1960), a colleague of Horney, argued that psychoanalysis is experientially “Eastern.” While deriving from fundamentally different theoretical assumptions, Kelman observes that Buddhist thought and technique can deeply enhance psychoanalytic technique.


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