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Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  2,256 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
One of the most sophisticated integrations of therapeutic and spiritual disciplines. -Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence
ebook, 272 pages
Published March 22nd 2007 by Basic Books (first published 1995)
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Jul 24, 2012 Bobby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Flat out the most brilliant thing I have read in some time. I think it's a must-read for any serious meditator in the West. Whether or not you are interested in psychotherapy or not, Freud has left an indelible impression on our collective cultural consciousness, and no doubt most have some muddled sense of what the ego is, or what narcissism is , or even neurosis - and perhaps you have always had questions that point to your conceptual confusion like I did, such as - if one of the goals of psyc ...more
Steve Woods
While many years of therapy that involved delving back into a horrendous childhood and service in 3 wars helped me to identify the issues it did not help me to deal with them. The process of ego splitting that is the crucial point for both therapy and Buddhist practice just never happened for me. It would have been helpful if the therapists I had had contact with could have told me and shown me what we were aiming for.

A bit much to ask for, given the perceived wisdom prevailing during the 80's a
Jul 04, 2007 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just reread this impressive book upon receiving it as a gift. It is well-written, intelligent, rigorous, and mercifully low on jargon (a trait that is rarely shared by either books on Buddhism or on psychoanalytic or psychodynamic theory). Epstein also avoids the often breathless tone writers often seem to fall into when describing the nearly miraculous effects they inevitably find when they integrate Buddhist meditative techniques and approaches into the psychotherapeutic process. Epstein pre ...more
Jared Hempel
This was a remarkably perplexing read. Why? On one hand, Epstein navigates the history and ethos of Buddhist philosophy with a rich clarity and writing style that truly carried me, effortlessly, across the pages. On the other hand, and in deep contrast, interspersed throughout at least every other page is Epstein's immense effort to bind Buddhism to Freudian psychodynamic theory. In doing so, the enjoyment of his perspective on Buddhist philosophy is countered by his insistence on returning to h ...more
Aug 23, 2008 Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. It definitely is a scientific read, but that parallels between science and spirituality in this are astounding! So enlightening! From the details of observation, mindfulness, meditation, and simply breathing out and in, all the way through the significance -- religiously, personally, scientifically, mentally, and physically -- of confronting your past, your demons, your memories, your hatreds, your insecurities, and your hearts TRUE desires, I was blown away with mind-opening insights are s ...more
Francesca Marciano
Epstein makes a connection between Buddhist philosophy and psychotherapy, the Self versus the absence of the Self. The book shows how an ancient philosophy and the practice of meditation can fill the gaps that Freud and the western approach to therapy have failed to fill so far. or better even: how one discipline can actually help the other and create a seamless synergy. Recommended to thinkers and readers interested in this kind of practices.
Nov 28, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this years ago but now, upon re-reading, got a whole lot more out of it. Don't know if it's age or where I am in my practice at this point, but dang -- what a great synthesis of psychoanalytic and buddhistic thought. Especially drawn to the idea of "injured innocence" and my interest in victimhood v. vulnerability. On to re-read his next one.
Apr 27, 2015 Vishal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book to revisit every few months. It draws a lot of parallels between Buddhism and psychotherapy. Don't read it for quick fix techniques or immediate go-dos or even learn how to meditate. You won't find anything that you can directly consume. In a way the book almost discourages readers to start/continue a meditation practice. You learn a lot about the nature of meditation - what to expect and the right reasons to do it. It dawns on you slowly that more mainstream culture, by its very nat ...more
whereas i greatly appreciate the essential point of this book, i.e. show the connection points between western psychology and eastern zen buddhism, i think some of the points are forced and since epstein concentrates on freud's analytical nature, where people are "forced" into predetermined categories, much of the book does not ring true for this reader. however, let me quickly add that the points that do ring true are worth the reading of this book and i suspect i will read it a second time jus ...more
Rena Graham
Apr 20, 2015 Rena Graham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism, non-fiction
A friend gave me this book for my birthday last year after I threatened to borrow his dog-eared copy. I've read it once and have started it again. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in "deep Buddhism" or Buddhism that runs along the lines of the more transformative aspects available through advanced meditation. On a personal level, this book brought me great insight into experiences I've had on the cushion but had no "Western mind" correlation for. While I could acknowledge a change, a ...more
Jul 09, 2013 Rolfern rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kort sagt noe av det smarteste jeg har lest; briljant fusjonering av vestens psykologi og Buddahs lære, på en måte som forsterker begge perspektiver og viser hvordan de kan - og må - sameksistere om en skal oppnå vekst. Som mange vel har erfart er det ikke bare bare å absorbere 'Østens' meditasjonspraksis og knips så er man i vater. Det vestlige sinn er annerledes og vi trenger vår psykologiske forståelse på våre hindre. Denne boken viser hvordan man kan slippe meditasjonen som verktøy til i ens ...more
Feb 17, 2014 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book very interesting as it combines classical psychotherapy with Buddhism in interesting ways and did indeed leave me with at least some idea of what thoughts without a thinker feels like. The author is not dogmatic on either psychotherapy or Buddhism, though I always feel Buddhism and dogmatism should be an oxymoron, I keep meeting dogmatic Buddhists and am reminded of the Buddha's saying: if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. Anyone who tells you 'the path' is a phony...y ...more
Dec 13, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I expected this book to be an interpretation of the 'not-self' aspect of Buddhist philosophy in Western psychological terms, but instead it is about how psychotherapy 'works', its limitations, and how mindfulness techniques can fill in the gaps, and visa versa. Fascinating; the only problem is that now I want to read more about psychotherapy and Freud, and there just aren't enough hours in the day!
Jul 30, 2016 Living rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism-action
If you have any ties to public service, this is a must read! I would also consider this a positive read for those in caregiving roles for both children and other loved ones. A helpful and empathetic tool.
Jan 14, 2013 Allie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is great. Having been raised by buddhist leaning shrinks, it is in my language. It assumes a previous knowledge of psychotherapy, but I think it's half academic/ clinical text and half life advice for being a happier human. I recommend it to other thinkers.
Oct 19, 2014 Rana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Complex Ideas Well Elucidated

The complex ideas to which I'm referring are simply the roadblocks the Western mind faces in comprehending the point of Eastern philosophy. As usual, Epstein
Oct 10, 2016 Lynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book contains a great deal of information i.e. Buddhist theories and psychoanalytic theories, and it puts emphasis on the integration of the two. The author explains the entirely new concept of self: self as a fiction (there is no self as an entity) from Buddhism, the purpose to eradicate the illusion of self to get out of the vicious cycle, and the application of meditation in terms of "soothing and curing" mental illness & achieve higher awareness/enlightenment, though meditation prac ...more
Sep 29, 2015 Maggie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
chapter 10 of this book is the best one ... the chapter pulls together the perspective of two strong traditions -- freudian psychology and zen buddhism with a simple, instructive narrative

my world view is different from the freudian one so quite naturally i disagree with some of the points made in the first nine chapters ... just as mark epstein would no doubt disagree with me on points that i would make using my world view, cf. thomas keating's divine therapy ... thus showing that the twain sh
Patrick Barker
Aug 14, 2015 Patrick Barker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book tied up a lot of loose ends for me. I have read quite a bit on buddhist psychology and taken several classes in western psychology, and the two always seemed to clash in my mind. However, the author shows how they can in fact complement one another. Some of the revelations put forward in the text are really mind boggling. I think in a lot of ways I was compartmentalizing buddhism as an entirely separate system, when in reality it is just describing things you already know in a differen ...more
Richard Curry
Apr 28, 2015 Richard Curry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
VERY interesting book written primarily for psychiatrists and professional psychologists, but without too much jargon for the layperson. I found this very interesting, and a nice beginner's road map for both psychology and mediation. In another review someone commented that they could not understand the assertion that in mediation the goal was to find that there is no self (title: Thoughts without a Thinker). After having perused this book for the first time this week, I write my interpretation ...more
Jan 13, 2016 Aileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Thoughts without a Thinker" is an accessible, fascinating read, but not the best place to start for a complete novice in both psychoanalysis and Buddhism, which I was.

Epstein introduces the fundamentals of Buddhism, weaving the concepts with his own arguments and experiences, making this section accessible. By the end, I had a list of vocabulary for the main ideas in Buddhism and the inspiration to investigate them. But the book doesn't do the same for psychoanalysis. Full disclosure-- I picke
Jan 10, 2008 Gerbik rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a wonderful introduction to Buddhist thought from a Western angle. It announces itself as such, and throughout, there is a constant preoccupation with Freudian/psychoanalytic thought and avenues for psycho-therapy. While the book provided me with many insights and new perspectives, it seemed to falter in its implied insistence that, well, EVERYONE needs to be in therapy for their ENTIRE life. Still, this is not a flaw within the author's project: Buddhism seeks to eradicate sufferin ...more
Mar 18, 2010 Mandi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It took me awhile to read this book. I would read a section and then need to put the book down and process what I had read for awhile. It had the potential to get a little overwhelming for me, probably because I have never studied Buddhism before and a lot of the ideas were very new for me. This, I think, was a great way to get exposed to it though.

I really look forward to reading more books by Epstein as well. Sometimes I feel a bit cynical about psychology, but Epsteins awareness of its limit
Mar 20, 2016 Erica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, psychology
In Laurie Anderson's film "Heart of a Dog" she talks about the difficulty of practicing the Buddhist exercise of imagining everyone you meet at your mother; imagining being everyone's mother - because her relationship with her own mother was so fraught. According to Epstein, this is a common predicament in the West and one that illustrates how psychotherapy principals can bolster Buddhist practice. And vice versa, how mindfullness and other forms of meditation can cut through flimsy notions of t ...more
Mar 01, 2016 Lyla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I used to really enjoy reading about psychotherapy. I found the heavy dependence on therapy to be distracting. My experience with meditation did not bring me through the paths that Epstein describes.

Instead of a combination of meditation and therapy, my experience took me through self discovery and introspection before I found meditation and Buddhist teachings to support my efforts.

This is a well written book and if I had found it earlier in my life I believe it would have really been a great b
Dec 15, 2013 Norberto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Norberto by: Leopoldo Rama
Un libro muy interesante para aclarar la relación entre la psicoterapia "occidental" y la más genuina tradición budista.
Como ideas fundamentales destacaría:
1.- El auge de este entrelazado originado en la confluencia de ambas tradiciones y, muy probablemente, por el conocimiento del budismo entre los terapeutas actuales.
2.- Me ha gustado la identificación entre meditación y psicoterapia utilizando la extrapolación de intrapsíquico a interpersonal.
3.- Muy bien explicados los métodos de acercam
Aug 22, 2007 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book several times. Just recently re-read it. The first book that made Buddhism and psychotherapy easier for me to understand. (I even recommended this book to a few therapists I know.) Epstein is a practicing Buddhist psychotherapist. He does a great job of comparing and contrasting the two approaches.

Being in the present and being able to sit in the pain is the biggie for both Buddhism and psychotherapy. I have not reached that enlightenment yet. Reading the book will not get
Ruth Charchian
Nov 01, 2015 Ruth Charchian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I loved "Thoughts Without a Thinker." Mark Epstein has given us a brilliant account of how to "work through" issues that plague us and prevent us from living a good life. He integrates Eastern meditative practices with Western psychotherapy practices and leads us to dimensions of wisdom and wholeness when both practices are unified by the therapist. We can change ourselves when we look at the invalid emotions and yearnings we continue to repeat in our lives that derail our well being. He says th ...more
Jan 24, 2013 Anne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, felt that I would have gotten more out of it with a greater depth of knowledge of psychotherapy, Buddhism, or both. Epstein starts by lamenting the prominence of Freud in 20th century psychology and alludes to the idea that more/better progress would have been made if greater attention were paid to the intersections between psychology and Buddhism then seems to discuss Freud somewhat incessantly throughout which on some level diminished what he had to discuss about Buddhism and ...more
Shashank Amarnath
The book is well structured. It seems that different people will take different things from this book. As for me, I am grateful for the well thought out examples of the author's patients, how real he has portrayed them and the link to their recovery. This book is more on psychotherapy than on meditation. The author endorsed the idea, extolls the benefits but does not elucidate the process of mediating itself. I guess that is not something to be learnt from a book. My two cents, informative and d ...more
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“We reduce, concretize, or substantialize experiences or feelings, which are, in their very nature, fleeting or evanescent. In so doing, we define ourselves by our moods and by our thoughts. We do not just let ourselves be happy or sad, for instance; we must become a happy person or a sad one. This is the chronic tendency of the ignorant or deluded mind, to make “things” out of that which is no thing.” 4 likes
“the Buddha may well have been the original psychoanalyst, or, at least, the first to use the mode of analytic inquiry that Freud was later to codify and develop.” 3 likes
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