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Pouker, S. (2009). Ancient Religious Wisdom, Spirituality and Psychoanalysis. By Paul Marcus. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003, 212 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(3):539-544.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(3):539-544

Ancient Religious Wisdom, Spirituality and Psychoanalysis. By Paul Marcus. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003, 212 pp.

Review by:
Samuel Pouker, M.D.

In Ancient Religious Wisdom, Spirituality and Psychoanalysis, Paul Marcus has produced a terrific primer on psychoanalysis and religion. Marcus believes that there is a “spiritual malaise” (p. 2) that haunts psychoanalysis. Patients thirst for a meaning in their lives that the secular humanism of psychoanalysis, clearing away one's neurotic difficulties does not address. He feels that this can be remedied by looking to the wisdom literatures of the world's seven main religions and one secular philosophy, Stoicism.

He uses a major text of each to point out its salient features and how they can be of benefit to us and our patients. Each chapter is twenty to thirty pages in length, some of which have appeared previously as independent articles, so there is some overlap in the conclusions he draws from each.

The first chapter covers Hinduism, for which he discusses the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is part of a larger Indian national epic poem written between 200 BCE to 200 CE. It recounts the doubts of a great general on the eve of a final major battle regarding the meaning of life. He speaks to his charioteer, who is Krishna, an incarnation of God. Krishna serves as his guru/teacher of wisdom.

Through Jnana, right thinking; karma, right action; and bhakti; love and devotion, one can attain “Moksha,” a lasting peace of mind and freedom from worldly attachments. In a sense, the Bhagavad Gita recounts the psychodynamic transformation of Arjuna at the hands of his guide/analyst Krishna.

Marcus feels that these insights speak to the universal longing of the “finite” in humanity for the “Infinite.” He thinks we should consider the Gita's claim that fundamentally the mind has a “spiritual cast.” Wellness, Marcus argues, must include a “mystical participation in the world.”


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