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«Raul Moncayo Masao Abe, Zen and Western Thought, 1999, University of Hawaii Press, reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan. Ekaku Hakuin ...»

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and Zen Buddhism

Raul Moncayo

Masao Abe, Zen and Western Thought, 1999, University of Hawaii Press,

reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

Ekaku Hakuin (1685–1788). Daruma, 18th century. Hanging scroll, ink on paper

© 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY.

First published in 2012 by Karnac Books Ltd 118 Finchley Road London NW3 5HT Copyright © 2012 by Raul Moncayo The right of Raul Moncayo to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with §§ 77 and 78 of the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A C.I.P. for this book is available from the British Library ISBN-13: 978-1-85575-476-8 Typeset by V Publishing Solutions Pvt Ltd., Chennai, India Printed in Great Britain www.karnacbooks.com In Zen, the positive and creative aspects of human thinking have been neglected and only its dualistic and discriminative aspects have been clearly realized as something to be overcome. Reason in Buddhism was only grasped as a negative principle …. The Zen position of non-thinking always harbors the danger of degenerating into not- thinking …. Essentially, the standpoint of non-thinking should also be able to be said to have the possibility of giving life to the positive aspects of human thinking that have been developed in the West. But this possibility has not yet been actualized. Precisely the actualization and existentialization of this possibility must be the theme of the future for the standpoint of the true emptiness of the Eastern tradition.

Masao Abe, Zen and Western Thought (1999, p. 112)





The cultural context: contemporary psychoanalysis and postmodern spirituality 1


Psychoanalysis as a secular and non-theistic study of the mind 24


Meditation as thinking and non-thinking in Lacan and Zen 50


True subject is no-ego 72 vii viii CONTENTS


Turning words and images of the unseen: symbolic uses of the Imaginary and the Real in Lacan, Zen, and Jewish Kabbalah 134


The Tetragramaton, the Borromean knot, the four worlds, and the Tetralemma 156

–  –  –

I wish to dedicate this book to my Zen teacher Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi to thank him for his teaching over several decades of practice and study of Soto Zen, for transmitting Suzuki Roshi’s teaching of beginner’s mind, and for having supported me despite his misgivings about psychoanalysis, intellectual pursuits, and doing more than One main thing in one’s life. This book represents my One purposeful or “senseless” mistake of proposing a non-dual relationship between Zen and psychoanalysis. Are they one or are they two? The relationship between Zen and psychoanalysis is best described by the Zen principle of “Not-one, not-two”. Only the mistake is One; neither the two nor me are. Do you understand? This book will neither mix them up nor leave psychoanalysis and Zen unrelated and isolated from one another.

Sections of Chapter One were previously published in the Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society under the title “Psychoanalysis and postmodern spirituality” (1998). Chapter Two began as a response to Michael Thompson’s commentary on a chapter that was published in Safran’s edited collection on Psychoanalysis and Buddhism (Wisdom Books, 2003). Chapter Nine is an expanded and revised version of the chapter in Safran’s book. Chapter Three is an expanded version of a ix


chapter that appeared in Molino’s edited collection: Tra Sogni Del Buddha E Risvegli Di Freud (“From the Dreams of the Buddha to the Awakenings of Freud”, Milan: Arpanet, 2010). Sections of Chapter Four appeared under a different title in the journal Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought (Autumn 1998). Finally, Chapter Five is a revised and updated version of a paper that was published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion (Autumn 1998).

Last but not least, I want to thank Andre Patsalides for being one of the few Lacanian analysts who openly supported my interest in Zen and psychoanalysis, and for believing that my understanding and elaboration of Lacanian psychoanalysis were significantly enhanced and made possible by Zen practice. Patsalides’ stance is entirely consistent, of course, with what Roudinesco called Lacan’s desire for the Far East.

The first and third paragraphs of this page point to a polarity between Zen and psychoanalysis that is not always easily negotiated. Despite D. T. Suzuki’s and Fromm’s introduction of Zen to the West as a form of spirituality highly compatible with Western Enlightenment values, tensions between Western and Eastern approaches to enlightenment still remain. Many psychoanalysts, intellectuals, and scientists, especially in Europe, remain highly suspicious of any religion or spirituality, including Buddhism, and there are Buddhists who reject many of the values associated with the modern and postmodern worlds.

The latter has become a tension internal to Buddhism itself, and one that has a long history within the Buddhist tradition extending all the way back to councils before the Common Era. Monasticism may reject the modern ordinary world and promote a life consistent with the monastic or ascetic rules that existed during the Middle Ages whether in Europe or Asia (China and Japan). Lay Zen Buddhists, by contrast, emphasise the importance of living and testing/tasting the Dharma and meditation practice in ordinary activities of life in the contemporary world. Both of these “sides” over time have struggled for the control of the legitimate or authentic manifestation of the tradition. Sometimes monks refer to lay practice as “Zen Lite” (as lightweight and “laid-back” or lazy illumination). These kinds of expected disagreements diminish the non-duality of the teaching of Big mind or beginners’ mind whether in its monastic or lay aspects. Most Buddhists interested in psychoanalysis have come from the lay manifestation of meditation practice, although not exclusively. Several monasteries or residential xi


communities in the West have enlisted the help of psychoanalysts or psychotherapists to help them with the mental health problems of community members or to facilitate issues and scandals within community residential life.

Finally, internal tensions and divisions, not unlike those of Buddhism, also exist within psychoanalysis and psychology, but for different reasons. My personal way of working through these tensions is by creation, rather than by ignoring or holding grudges against different perspectives. The importance of creativity highlights the value of scholarship and the free exercise of reason/intuition (the sun of the Real) and language (evocative and communicative) in providing a venue for differences to be aired out. It is very important to address differences in a Way that bypasses the restrictions and bitterness that group dynamics and hierarchies place upon open and empty speech.

May this book be of some help in building a bridge across the various schools and perspectives.


Raul Moncayo is a Zen teacher at the Berkeley Zen Center in the lineage of Shunryo Suzuki Roshi, supervising analyst of the Lacanian School of Psychoanalysis of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Training Director for Mission Mental Health in San Francisco. He has a private practice of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.


This book is intended as a contribution to the growing field of psychoanalysis and Buddhism and reviews most of what has been published on the subject. This book differs from books that are written “as if” this was the first book on the subject.

Unfortunately, books are often marketed in this way. Whether in psychoanalysis or Buddhism, many books ignore or don’t mention other authors who have written books on the same topic. This is an aspect of power and capitalism (master’s discourse) that creeps into the ideology of the social sciences and spiritual literature. Without critical theory or a metalevel analysis that can take various social, cultural, and ideological factors into account, market forces and the ego will continue to rule the production and diffusion of knowledge even in the universities. The natural sciences may be in a better position because of the agreement on the scientific method and established channels for funding and publication.

The social sciences need different levels/types of logic and therefore the exclusive appeal to the empirical method and the limitations of university discourse only fragments the field among different cultural and national manifestations. The lack or paucity of critical theory leaves people with pragmatic or technical procedures that become more xiii xiv INTRODUCTION rigid and fragmented over time and applicable to limited situations, circumstances, and populations. Authors come up with their own pet theories, however deficient these may be in the light of the broader stream of knowledge that has been transmitted over the generations.

At the other end, sophisticated theories can become dogmatic statements by forcing adherence to principles of faith that ignore other schools of thought and practice.

In the case of Zen in China, the five original schools, of which two survived (Soto and Rinzai), were somewhat unified by the common practice of zazen or Zen meditation. In addition, Zen is related to the larger movement of Mahayana Buddhism, which includes Tibetan Buddhism, and that owes its inner coherence to the scholarly writings of Nagarjuna and Vasubhandu. The latter were two major theorists/practitioners/ancestors of the Mahayana who were inspired by magnificent Mahayana sutras (Heart sutra, Lankavatara sutra, Surangama sutra, Vimalakirti sutra, and others).

The element of tradition is important because it constitutes the reference for considerations of legitimacy and authenticity in both psychoanalysis and Buddhism. New generations imbue the tradition with new meaning and develop criteria by which to transform the tradition over time.

Here there is a difference between Kohut and Lacan, for example. Kohut was against Freud and Oedipal theory. Lacan was not against Freud, he studied him closely, and then proceeded to place Freudian theory in a new framework that to a large degree preserves Freud’s insights and logic while amplifying the range and meaning of the theory. The Other has to be carefully used in order to realise the self or the subject and generate enduring permutations/corrections within the theory/teaching.

The first chapter of this book reviews the literature on the psychology of religion as well as the literature on religion and psychoanalysis.

The more specific literature on Zen and psychoanalysis will be considered throughout the book. Although the foreground focus of the book is the relationship between Zen Buddhism and Lacanian psychoanalysis, its content matter will be examined and elucidated against the cultural background of the relationships among tradition, modernity, and postmodernity, and within the larger context of the psychology of religion (which Freud considered an important sister science of psychoanalysis), and the similarities and differences among various psychoanalytic schools. Finally, differences among different forms of Buddhism will also be considered wherever relevant.



The dialogue between psychoanalysis and Buddhism, which begun with Erich Fromm, has become quite popular within English-American culture. It is important to remember that Fromm was a member of the Frankfurt School of critical theory which itself was a basis for the later development of postmodernism and poststructuralism in France.

Fromm had a background in Marxism, social theory, and Talmudic studies, in addition to being a psychoanalyst and having a keen interest in Zen Buddhism. Unfortunately, his humanistic tendencies, and his successful attempt to reach larger audiences (for example, with his book on the art of love), resulted in an unintended watering down of psychoanalysis that may have affected the fate of his work in one or two generations.

Much has been written about the relationship between psychoanalysis and Judaism, and some even criticise psychoanalysis for being a Jewish science. On the other hand, many of the greatest modern scientists and secular intellectuals have been Jewish in the likes of Freud, Marx, and Einstein. In addition, many of the Western teachers of Buddhism are Jewish, and much has also been said about the relationship between Judaism and Buddhism. There is even a term for Jewish Buddhists: “Jew-Bus”. “Jew-Bu” or “Ju-Bu” can be thought of as a neologism or a hermeneutical device built on the homophony between Judah and Buddha (JHBH). Lacan himself was interested in Judaism and Talmudic studies which influenced his work on the Name of the Father despite the Christian history of the concept (as one of the terms of the Trinity). Lacan had a daughter with Sylvia Bataille whose family was Jewish. Roudinesco (1986, p. 147) writes how Lacan went to the police headquarters in occupied Paris and demanded his mistress’s family papers. Once he had them in his hands, he quickly ripped them, although he had promised to bring them back. I myself studied Judaism for a period of ten years, and the products of these studies are reflected in Chapters Five and Six as well as throughout the book.

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