August 03, 2009

Blasphemous reading material

Upon finishing a recent retreat overseas, I found myself with a day to kill in London. After attending the requisite West End theater production and wandering along the Thames, the thought of a six-hour flight prompted me to pick up a book. Stepping into an overpriced Borders lookalike, I walked straight to the psychology section and picked up The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay.

Whether ironically or expectedly, the retreat itself motivated this purchase (which I had already been planning covertly for several days). Sitting with a large group of my fellow sufferers for a week affirmed more than anything the futility of efforts to escape reality with pious discipline, though I think that's what we were all secretly hoping for. I began to wonder what brought everyone to such an obscure, rainy locale to sit in silence for days on end. Alongside retreatants' earnest questions about the five skandhas and the nature of reality, the occasional inquiry about body image or a failed relationship seemed refreshingly honest. Suffering, attachment, aversion, delusion—Buddhism wins the prize for comprehensiveness, but against my best instincts, I can't help feeling that its super-scheme is a bit of a cop-out for contemporary meditators.

Freudian thinkers certainly don't have all the answers either, and perhaps psychoanalysis looks for too many answers in the first place. But I am enjoying my new book. And, of course, I'm still sitting each morning.

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Liz Raymer, Berkeley's picture

I think if one approaches Buddhism from the neck up, one can spend a lifetime questioning it as a spiritual practice. When the heart and mind approach the practice together, one just does it and reaps the benefits