1st Edition

The Zen Impulse and the Psychoanalytic Encounter

By Seiso Paul Cooper Copyright 2010

    Although psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism derive from theoretical and philosophical assumptions worlds apart, both experientially-based traditions share at their heart a desire for the understanding, development, and growth of the human experience. Paul Cooper utilizes detailed clinical vignettes to contextualize the implications of Zen Buddhism in the therapeutic setting to demonstrate how its practices and beliefs inform, relate to, and enhance transformative psychoanalytic practice.

    The basic concepts of Zen, such as the identity of the relative and the absolute and the foundational principles of emptiness and dependent-arising, are given special attention as they relate to the psychoanalytic concepts of the unconscious and its processes, transference and countertransference, formulations of self, and more. In addition, through an analysis of apophasis, a unique style of discourse that serves as a basic structure for mystical languages, he provides insight into the structure of the seemingly irrational Zen koan in order to demonstrate its function as a pedagogical and psychological tool.

    Though mindful of their differences, Cooper’s intent throughout is to illustrate how the practices of both Zen and psychoanalysis become internalized by the individual who engages in them and can, in turn, inform one another in mutually beneficial ways in an effort to comprehend the ramifications of an individual or collective expanding vision.

    Introduction: The Zen Impulse and the Psychoanalytic Encounter. Riding the Elusive Ox of Zen: Problems of Definition. First Encounters of a Distant Kind.The Zen Koan: Speaking the Unspeakable. "Does a Dog Have Buddha Nature or Not?" Nihilism, Absolutism, and "Joshu's Mu." Sand in Rice: One Koan, Infinite Possibilities. Unconscious and Conscious in Zen and Psychoanalysis. The Crazy Cloud of Attention and Inattention: Meditation Review. Sense and Non-sense. The Gap Between: Being, Knowing, and the Liminal In-between. Unitive Experience and the Pervasive Object. 


    Paul C. Cooper, Ph.D., serves as Dean of Training at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis and on the board of directors for the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education. He is an award-winning author and poet, edited Into the Mountain Stream: Psychotherapy and the Buddhist Experience (2007) and co-edited Psychotherapy and Religion: Many Paths, One Journey (2005). He is a long-time Zen practitioner and is currently a student of Enkyo O'Hara, Abbot of the Village Zendo in Manhattan. He practices psychotherapy in Manhattan and Westchester, NY.

    "Paul Cooper, both a psychoanalyst and a Zen scholar, illuminates the many connections that exist between the two fields, ably explicating the 'Zen impulse' and its relationship to religious experience and emphasizing its connection with awe and the necessary contrast between relativism and the absolute. He shows the differences as well as the common ground that exists between psychoanalysis and Zen; ultimately, what they have in common is the respect for Man's being able to experience his being, his I-ness. One of the impediments standing in the way of this lies in the problem of language: Man must transcend his endeaded language, a language that has been captured by the need to own the experience, as opposed to the more fluid language of experience which must always be set free - in other words, remain a living language of being. For me, reading this book was like being pulled into a Zen reverie and being able not only to experience the awe of it, but also to experience a new existential camera angle on psychoanalysis. This is a wonderful book about a wondrous subject." - James S. Grotstein, Training and Supervising Analyst, Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute, USA

    "Scholarly, clinical, personal - a profound blend and probe of the inner workings of Zen and psychoanalysis by an experienced practitioner of both. Not just differences and similarities, but deep ways these two practices need and nourish each other, bring each other out in their own rights and as an ongoing interweaving that opens the human spirit in ways neither could do alone. An important contribution to the interaction of Buddhism and psychoanalysis, with many threads to pull on and doors to open." - Michael Eigen, author, Feeling Matters and Flames From the Unconscious: Trauma, Madness and Faith

    "Paul Cooper has written a book that very much needed to be written: He has gifted us with a straightforward critique and corrective of cultural transmission problems that have plagued the coming of Buddhism to the West for the past 100 years. Furthermore, he has brought the astonishing similarities of insight and practice existing between Buddhism and psychoanalysis firmly into view. As a result, we find ourselves standing in these shares structures of humanness not with discrimination but through the ways of vitality and feeling. Providing welcome clarity where confusion once reigned, this book creates the open space necessary for us to more fully commit to the work of human liberation and flowering. And, with less entanglement, we can more skillfully appreciate the deep connections that have always been there, thereby initiating a free, unitive experience." - Sojun Diane Martin, Roshi, Guiding Teacher for Udumbara Zen Center, Udumbara Order of Buddhist Chaplains, Illinois, USA

    "In this book Paul Cooper brings a lifetime of experience as psychoanalyst and Zen practitioner to trumpet with Bion a clarion call for a psychoanalysis that puts being before knowing. He refuses to let mindfulness be reduced to an adjunctive technique. He argues that its capacity to open to the unknowable is a necessary saving grace. Needed more than ever are the radical transformations both Zen and psychoanalysis can engender to affect profoundly for the better how people live their lives. Cooper advocates the disciplines' shared attention to attention, and further, an attention to inattention better able to foster unconscious communication. This is a book that dares to turn up the heat under a vitalizing controversy in the field." - Robert Langan, Supervising Analyst, William Alanson White Institute, USA

    "Paul Cooper’s The Zen Impulse and the Psychoanalytic Encounter is a psychological and spiritual tour de force, rendered by a man who knows from personal and professional experience whereof he speaks. A psychoanalyst, a practicing Zen Buddhist and a prolific writer, Cooper reverses Freud’s negative valuation of religion and demonstrates the parallel and potentially mutually enhancing processes of psychoanalytic and Zen Buddhist soteriologies. Even more importantly, whereas many books have been written regarding the relationship between psychoanalysis and Buddhism, this book excels in its articulation of the degree to which both practices have an essentially common core. It is a gift freely given by one who has himself made the inward journey of which he writes." - Robert Gunn, Lecturer in Psychiatry and Religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York, USA

    "Paul Cooper has written a book full of insight and caring. Scholarly yet accessible to laypersons and practitioners alike, it is essential reading for those interested in the encounter between Zen and psychoanalysis." - William Parsons, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Rice University, USA

    "...a nuanced expression of the integration of Buddhist practice that is taking place in psychoanalytic circles...Cooper’s discussion of the Zen koan is original in the Buddhist/psychoanalytic genre and welcome in the way he reveals the deeper truths of both practices...Cooper's articulate effort to show Zen as a living and deeply transformative spiritual tradition will interest most clinicians and is essential to any exploration of Buddhism's contribution to psychotherapy." - Roger Thomson, PsycCRITIQUES

    "Amidst an abundance of books available relating Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, there is one book that stands above them all. Paul Cooper’s The Zen Impulse and the Psychoanalytic Encounter is extraordinary in its ability to reflect upon and integrate essential themes and impulses shared by these two disciplines. Zen Impulse is a book so rich and comprehensive in scope that writing a review honoring its complexity is an exceedingly daunting project…. It is boldly ambitious in scope, while simultaneously being a deeply personal revelation reflecting his [Paul Cooper’s] years of experience as both a psychoanalyst and Zen practitioner…. Briefly put, this book mirrors the ideas of so many exquisite thinkers and theoreticians who have influenced Paul Cooper over the years. On the analytic side, in addition to the frequent references to Bion, are obvious signs of influence by Michael Eigen, Thomas Ogden, and D.W. Winnicott, to name but a few. From the Zen perspective, we see evidence of the profound insights of D.T. Suzuki, C. Trungpa, J.Loori and others."Melvin E. Miller, Journal of Religion and Health