Review of Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis by Erich Fromm

Zen Buddhism and PsychoanalysisZen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis by Erich Fromm

If you can guess that what Zen and Psychoanalysis have in common is their aspiration towards fuller awareness, you might as well pick a more thorough book. However, if all you need is a straightforward introduction to philosophy, or more specifically, a simple sketch of Western and Eastern forms of humanism, this paper can aid you in this task. With slow, undemanding progression that underlines the crucial aspects repeatedly, it tells us the familiar story about why all modes of being, without proper guidance of trained healers, are left in a state of lower consciousness or if one is particularly unlucky, in madness.

Though I think the focus on the differences rather than the similarities between these distant forms of thought would make the book much more substantial, the author doesn’t want to enlarge the gap between them even further and contrasts them only with the aim of moving them closer. In the more rewarding end, the asymmetry finally outshines his aim – what psychoanalysis or Western thought lacks is awareness that in order to become a united, fulfilled person doesn’t simply mean to dig for one’s faults and traumas and make them productive, but a deeper, positive change of personality, where these faults don’t need a special treatment, but a general one with the rest of one’s traits. Fromm’s vision of psychoanalysis being the basis for further Zen trainings seems a bit far-fetched in this regard, since Zen’s interpretations of human’s shortcomings are entirely different.


27 thoughts on “Review of Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis by Erich Fromm

  1. have not read this piece, but have read Fromm and know psychoanalysis quite well. I think your observations are quite perceptive – the similarities between these schools of thought are quite interesting, but the differences are very large and equally enlightening.


  2. I agree that similarities are equally interesting, but I think I just felt his portrayal of that was not that convicing..
    Oh and thank you, I’ve seen from your page that you really are quite familiar with psychoanalysis:) Love your blog, by the way.


  3. Thanks a lot! I thought I misread it at first.. At so early a stage, it means even more. I’m very grateful and I hope I’ll find the time to properly respond to it. Thank you again, really.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Not at all, I should have known better:) Would be very exciting though! Nice to know you’re his fan also:) He really is like an old relative, his soothing style and meanings do make you enjoy his company very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s quite a specific topic, I agree.. I still hope I didn’t deprive you of a nice reading experience:) If you ever get into these waters, I recommend “Zen mind, beginner’s mind” by Suzuki, this book is just for everyone!


  6. I agree with your summing up, Frona. The two modes of thinking are too wide apart, but I feel they are both equally useful. I’ve studied some pyschoanalyisis as part of a counselling course and came to Zen independently, but now prefer Taoism, where again its not about sorting out all of one’s past. But I have read an amazing Jungian psychologist’s book to do with learning to change in midlife, and becoming more ‘conscious’ – James Hollis, ‘Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life’ (I’m nearly 55 -ouch!) and I don’t find that too far from the thinking of Eckhart Tolle. I’m just starting to realise through this reply just how much of this kind of reading I’ve been doing!

    Thanks for following my blog, I’m happy to follow back :>)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was unaware Fromm wrote about Zen Buddhism. Interesting similarity in that they both call for a healer–a teacher and an analyst. An interesting book on the two topics is Thoughts Without a Thinker by Mark Epstein.


  8. They certainly are, each individual needs something else. Thanks for all the recommendations. They are very useful, since I read books on these subjects only occasionally and pick them up randomly. Such tips always help! And by the way, 55 is nothing at all, all the free time is only just coming!
    You’re welcome and thank you for following back, it’s much appreciated:)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fraoness,
    Your review of Eric Fromm’s paper is quite interesting. I have never heard of using Zen Buddhism in this way, though I would certainly like to explore it further. My only concern is about the nature of the two different elements. For example, if a suicidal person found this method and used it as a replacement for traditional therapy doesn’t that present a danger to them? I might be misinterpreting this, as I havn’t read his full essay yet. Regardless, it is still and interesting idea with lots of potential. Thank you!


  10. Thank you very much:)
    Well, speaking only from my limited experiences, maybe it can help a suicidal person to not see his thoughts only as a fault that needs to be corrected (since almost every treatment implies that), but more as a part of life or whole, where life and death are connected and such a state is not so strange. Since pshychotherapy often gives dubious results, I think there’s still space for experimenting. If that was even what you were asking (not sure that I understood you correctly)?:)


  11. I haven’t read this book , but I’ve read Fromm (you can see my interpretation of The Art of Love on my blog) and I would say I actually love that style in which he leaves me to look inside myself without any literal guidance. He just offers his objective story which can be pretty much offendive, but makes you (or not) interested in topic and encouraged to explore further. I would also agree with you that conservative aspects of Psychoanalysis, sometimes strictly based on traumas, faults, agressive or sexual impulses, often slow the progress of its great ideas. I admire the shortness and quality of your posts and I’m your costant reader from now on.


  12. Thanks for this essay. I read “Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis” some years ago, and it remains one of my favorite reads. I think you will find one of my WordPress blog postings, entitled “On Zen and Psychotherapy”: to be highly relevant to your interest in Zen and psychoanalysis. You may find it at


  13. Thank you very much for your kind and thoughtful comment.:) It really means a lot. I will check out your interpretation for sure, as I haven’t read that book yet and would love to hear another point of view on a similar topic.
    I also like that he writes in such a gentle way, without trying to force you into accepting his ideas. And he knows how to make any subject interesting and easy to comprehend. Not like some other philosophers…:)
    Thank you again for stopping by, you’re welcome to return anytime!

    Liked by 1 person

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