There’s a koan about a monk who is busy sweeping the garden. And one of his fellow monks wandered by and saw him busy at work and commented, “Very busy,” and the first monk who had been doing the sweeping, looked up and said, “You should know there is one who is not busy.” The second monk said, “Well, in that case, there are two moons in the sky.” The first monk took his broom, held it up, and said, “Which moon is this?” I don’t remember their names but if you want you can find the story in the “Book of Serenity.”
So what is it that the men are talking about with two moons? Very basically we’re asked whether we have the equivalent of two minds, of two selves, a self that is caught up in the affairs of the world who’s busy sweeping, and the self or ego that is full of thought and activity and representation, attachment and desire, and all those bad things that Buddhism associates with the ego. And whether we contrast that with a true self that is not busy, a true self that is silent and serene and unchanging, immobile in some sense compared with the business of sweeping the room. And this in a certain sense is a very common understanding of the ordinary self versus the true self. Ordinary self is the superficial worldly self. A true practice will penetrate to our true self, which is to some sense at a deeper level or a higher level, or whatever metaphor you like, is it deeper or is it higher. Some way or another it’s behind the scenes.
So the monk who has started this challenge says there is something wrong with that picture of separating out your ordinary self from your true self. That’s like saying there are two moons in the sky. The first monk just holds up the broom, and says, Which self is that? I’m not going to be trapped into that dichotomy. Just this. Even in the midst of activity is the true self. Now my point here is that our practice is not about uncovering a hidden true self, so much as it is about discovering the truth about the self that we already have, and that self is impermanent, or empty, and interconnected. And that self, which is our true self, is in plain sight if we know how to look.
I wanted to use that koan as a way to introduce something about what we will be talking about in the next few weeks when we discuss my paper on relational self psychology, because it naturally starts by asking the question, What does that psychoanalytic paper have to do with Zen? And for a long time, or at least when I started out in practice a generation ago, the answer would have been, Nothing! These are two separate worlds and they should be kept apart. But I think that in the end it’s like having the theory of two moons, a theory that says the psychological represents a distinct and separate realm from the spiritual, and that it’s fine to go to therapy to work out your personal psychological problems, but when we come to the zendo, we’re not dealing with any of that! We’re here to penetrate a whole different dimension of reality. We’re here to do Mu until we have a breakthrough and discover the true self, which in that kind of way of talking is somehow separate from that merely psychological self that we’re going to leave at the door or take to our therapist.
So a lot of what I’ve been doing these last forty years of practice is to try to get over that two-moon theory, that theory of the separation of the psychological and the spiritual, figure out how to have a common language of these two practices, and see how these practices dovetail with one another. Now I want to say a little about what I think is distinctive about Heinz Kohut’s self psychology. I'll give you a little background of that before we have our discussion.
Kohut was originally trained as a classical analyst in the style of Freud, but he came to make what was a radical break with the Freudian model, and that break was characterized by many things, but in the foreground was an emphasis on empathy as a primary analytic mode. Now in some ways it may seem peculiar that he put any special emphasis on empathy. You might think that that’s a natural part of what any kind of therapy does. But Kohut’s use of empathy was very particular when he said, Empathy is our way of seeing the world through another person’s eyes. He called it vicarious introspection. And he characterized it one way when he used the metaphor of the astronauts on the moon reporting back from this strange landscape, and through their reports we can see what it’s like even though we ourselves are never going to be on the moon, we will never be inside somebody else’s moon landscape. But they can tell us, they can give us a report. What does it look like up there? What does it look like to a person who’s actually standing on the moon? And the idea really is to treat as valid this person’s subjective report of how things look to them.
Often we think about empathy in our ordinary use of the word, as meaning something like “feeling like the other person is feeling,” so we use it sometimes to make it sound like we’re feeling the same thing as the other person. But Kohut’s use of it was actually very different. Kohut’s use was all about difference, not about sameness. It was about the capacity to really see things from a different point of view, a different vantage point, and accept that other vantage point as subjectively valid in the other person and not subject to the analyst’s objectivity. And that was the real radical break with Freud and what Freud thought of as the scientific method.
See, in the original Freudian model, we operated from what’s been called a hermeneutics of suspicion. This was a phrase that’s used to describe a number of philosophical positions. It can describe Marx as well as it can describe Freud, because what it basically says is that we’re trying to get an understanding of things that are hidden behind or underneath the surface of appearances. Marx would say that our ordinary understanding of how the economy works obscured and deliberately covered up the role of labor in value. What we had to do was uncover something that was hidden for particular reasons to see what was really going on behind the scenes.
When we see what’s really going on, we see that there is exploitation and class warfare and a whole power structure that is denied in the name of something like a free market, where everything is worked out in the best of all possible ways, where the perfect price for everything, from commodities to labor, is naturally sorted out by the market. So Marx would say that that picture of things tries to normalize or neutralize something that is in fact hidden and exploited, and hidden for a reason. And Freud’s model of the mind simply said we’re not aware of our true motives, or motives are hidden from us, are unconscious, and what our business as analysts is going to do is reveal hidden dimensions of sexuality and aggression that we disguise and cover up one way or another. So the analyst in that kind of model is presumed to have a different perspective on reality than the patient can have. The patient is by definition someone who doesn’t see what’s going on. The analyst, by knowing something about the nature of the mind, has a pretty good idea what kinds of things are being hidden and why, but is going to have a long process of helping the patient uncover what’s really going on.
This again, you see, is a kind of model of a false self and a true self, but in the Freudian model, the true self is one of unconscious drives, it’s not a true self of Buddhanature, but it’s still something that is hidden and only someone with special knowledge and privileged access can know about, so there’s a certain way in which there’s an analogy in the role of the Zen teacher as the one who sees through appearances, the one who really knows what reality is all about and the student, like the patient in classical analysis, is caught up in a false set of defenses or delusions or appearances.
Now, Kohut’s whole stance shifted the role of the analyst away from the person who saw objective reality to someone who endeavors to share her reality with the patient. They enter into their world and create a sense of that world being understood perhaps for the first time. And his model for what happened with that and why that’s of value, was one that was fundamentally developmental. His original picture was basically one in which it said that we all have stunted developmental needs for attention, and when unmet, we get locked into these kinds of neurotic or narcissistic configurations that we don’t know how to get out of. And Kohut thought that through empathy, through understanding, a kind of arrested development could be set back in motion, and something healthy and positive will start to unfold in the analytic relationship, in the transference.
In Freud’s original formulation, the transference was essentially a distortion. It was a patient’s misunderstanding of who you were and how the world was that had to be explored and understood and ultimately dispelled. In Kohut’s model, the transference is much more like a healthy need that’s been stymied and needs to start up again so that one can get what one needs in a new relationship. Kohut put the emphasis on three particular configurations which he called mirroring, twinship and idealization. We can go into those in more detail later. But in particular relevance it might be the one for idealization, where he said it’s a normal human need to be able to idealize the parents, see them as guardians, protectors, emotional containers, someone that provides an initial sense of safety as well as the sense of being a role model or ideal. And this was in contrast to many psychoanalytic theories including Freud’s, which tended to see idealization as a defense. If you think that the mind is basically organized around sex and aggression, then idealization is the way you avoid conflict. You don’t see the other person so much as a rival as someone you’re going to be in competition with, as someone who is standing outside of that.
So in any case I think the basic premise that I want to leave you with, seeing that we’re getting to the end of the time here and we could talk about self psychology to a great length I’m afraid, is that Kohut saw the analytic process as basically restarting arrested developmental needs, and put the analyst back in the role of a parent who is actually going to provide something that was missing. And that role of the provider changed how analysts thought of themselves in many important ways, and many of them didn’t like it at all. But it opens up this comparison with questions like, What is the role of the Zen teacher? Is the Zen teacher there simply to smash through your delusions? A person who wields the sword and cuts through delusions and kills the ego? Or is something else being provided? How do you think of it in positive terms, not just these terms of wiping out something that is a delusional misrepresentation of reality? What does the teacher model? What does it mean to idealize the teacher and how does that change if you think of idealization in Kohutian terms?
All right. So that will be our self psychology in a nutshell introduction and we will go into this in more detail in our discussion group later.