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The Couch and the Tree

I started reading this book, The Couch and the Tree: Dialogues in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism, edited by Anthony Molino. It is a compilation of essays, the first of which is titled “Psychology in Primitive Buddhism,” by Joe Tom Sun, published in 1924. The essay is a paragraph by paragraph comparison of basic Buddhist concepts with basic Freudian thinking.

This paragraph was particularly interesting to me:
“Profound insight into the psychology of the conscious mind was attained and later expounded in their [Buddhist] philosophy. Emotion, for example, was frankly stated to be due to ignorance. A casual glance at the underlying motive for the majority of emotional outbreaks will make it clear that these are due to the mechanism of displacement, a by-product of ignorance, lack of psychic insight. Furthermore, a morbid emotion is not cured by merely teaching a patient its etiology. Its cure is, however, brought about by analysis (vijja, wisdom) which is characterized by instruction and the deepest of meditation – that is, free association and being led gently backwards from the present effect to the past cause” (7).
Strange wording aside, I liked how Joe Tom Sun compared wisdom and analysis. It implies a deep understanding of one’s emotions and where they come from as being a key component of mindfulness. This is something that resonates with me. My “emotional outbreaks” are almost always due to my own lack of understanding about my reaction to an event or something someone says, and letting it spiral out without stopping to analyze it.
What do you guys think?

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posted April 1, 2009 at 10:07 am

The significance of Joseph Thompson’s (he published under a pseudonym) 1924 essay should not be underestimated. Within psychoanalysis at that time, and for another roughly 20 years, the only comparative work related to analysis and Buddhism being done involved the concentration, as opposed to the mindfulness, tradition. Thompson’s introduction to analysts of the latter tradition, as important as it was, unfortunately went undeveloped for a while.

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Patrick Groneman

posted April 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm

I don’t know much about the field of Psychology, but I have found analysis to be an effective way to reveal insight.

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Stillman Brown

posted April 4, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I really like the line, “being led gently backwards from the present effect to the past cause.” Lovely.

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