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Young-Eisendrath, P. (2020). Therapeutic Impasse in a Famous Zen Case: Memorial Tribute for Jeremy Safran. Psychoanal. Inq., 40(5):360-366.

(2020). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40(5):360-366

Therapeutic Impasse in a Famous Zen Case: Memorial Tribute for Jeremy Safran

Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D.

In this article, I examine the iconic Zen story of a meeting of the Buddhist master known as Bodhidharma with a Chinese emperor called Wu, in a paradoxical encounter about the nature of wisdom. I use the case as an example of a “therapeutic failure” because the two parties were never in contact with each other, but instead appeared to be locked into a projective identification. I set the stage for my analysis of this case by discussing Safran’s work on therapeutic impasse and my own understanding of idealization, splitting, and projective-identification as they apply to the case, as well as the many scandals in the contemporary Buddhist world that are framed by the desire for a flawless, pure and “enlightened” master.

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