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Mixing MindsReview - Mixing Minds
The Power of Relationship in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism
by Pilar Jennings
Wisdom Publications, 2010
Review by Sreekumar Jayadevan
Jan 24th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 4)


Mixing Minds is a striking text consisting of impressive personal narratives as well as lucid explication of theoretical environments both in psychoanalysis and Mahayana Buddhism. With this work, Pilar Jennings has been able to locate herself in a relatively young genre of cross cultural understanding within the milieu containing the two. The structure of the book is shaped such that the reader can comprehend her thoughts without difficulty within the interrelated field of both traditions. She cites thinkers in both traditions and explains their stances wherever required. What makes this book appealing is the ease with which Jennings handled the theoretical backgrounds. Often we can see elaborations of positions with simple and loose language. All the chapters are packed with several theoretical remains of both traditions where the reader can take adequate glimpse and compare them. Chapters are organized in such a way that there is a peak at the right time in terms of addressing the causes of suffering. The last four chapters address various issues that are at stake when one takes up the journey towards annihilation of suffering. The first four makes the interdisciplinary landscape of these two vast traditions and its literature clear. Jennings moves to and fro across concepts in the two traditions as if we are in a matrix of interrelated understanding. This style of writing brings in an uncomplicated explanation of the constitutive features of both traditions and the resulting matrix. Mixing Minds is a fitting title for such a work. It captures the very spirit of an environment of cross cultural understanding.

It is virtually impossible to touch upon all the details of such a rich work. What follows is the main theme and some important notions discussed in it. The book steadily marks the peculiarity of the notion of bodhisattva (seeker of spiritual end) in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, within which the individual strikes progress towards spiritual maturity by striking relations to others in the society. The picture of a lone and introverted monk who is disinterested in matters of society is replaced by a person who 'involves', 'cares' and more importantly 'guides' others. It is not just the quality of 'relations' or the 'relata' (the individuals in relation) which plays a role in the subtle progress towards spiritual maturity. It is the relation-relata nexus that function as a platform in Buddhist methods to spiritual well being.  Here we can see a crucial shift in the approach, from an individual-centered stage to that of a relation-centered stage. It was believed in most theoretical backgrounds of psychoanalysis that an intrinsic change within the individual is what is required in improving the state of mind. However, Buddhism shows us another lead, even though intrinsic change in the state of mind is the goal, it is triggered by constructing a relation and addressing a relational-change within the practicing dyad consisting of the teacher and the student. Therefore, the first task at hand for psychoanalytic practitioners in the West is to understand the subtleties of the notion of 'relation' in Buddhism involving the two. A disciplined effort to move from an ego-centered approach to an interpersonal approach is what she proposes. The subtleties in the anayst-analysand dyad (the pair of analyst and the person undergoing analysis) in psychoanalytic practicing and the teacher-student dyad in Buddhism are elaborated throughout the matrix containing the two disciplines. Suggestions and proposals to model the latter dyad to improve psychoanalytic practice have been made in due course throughout the length of the book. Subsequently, Jennings touches upon certain confusions in the Western mind about the seemingly utopian perception of Buddhist conceptions. According to her, the Western mind stumbles often in understanding ideas in Buddhism. She believes that concepts like nirvana are understood with ease by the Eastern Buddhist practitioners, whereas it takes a lot of time and effort for the Western mind to comprehend it. Jennings uses her own interesting experiences with Buddhist teachers to clear the road ahead. The crux of her discussion in the work can be coined that- the causes of suffering are to be realized and obliterated by engaging in an environment of interpersonal contact.

Rather than contrasting too much and loosing the intent of the book, she is able to blend and find affinities within the nuances of the two traditions.  The book does provide contrast but it has a heuristic purpose, the intent is to bring psychoanalysis and Buddhism closer and learn from each other, both in praxis and theory. This would be of immense help to people cutting across a large chunk of disciplines, starting from psychologists to philosophers and from teachers and students of Buddhism to ordinary people. The chapters are organized in such a way that one can peep into any individual chapters and comprehend its content without compromising on continuity. The reason for this is that the common thread running in all chapters is constituted by the affinities she finds in both traditions and the narratives devised to recognize these affinities. These narratives occur fairly frequently in all chapters. However, reading from chapter one through to eight will yield an insight into where improvement can be brought in, in psychoanalytic practices. She leaves open the specific details about praxis but gives us abundant theoretical resources as to how to proceed. The continuity in the chapters is represented in this common goal, that is, the specific tools for improvement in psychoanalytic practice.


© 2012 Sreekumar Jayadevan


Sreekumar Jayadevan., (Ph.D. student), Department of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India



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