a thinker


Psychotherapy from a
Buddhist Perspective

Foreword by the Dalai Lama

Thoughts without a Thinker is a major contribution to the exploration of discussion about how Eastern spirituality can enhance Western psychology. 

As patients and therapists find themselves reaching for new solutions to their problems, the traditional distinctions between matters of the mind and matters of the spirit are increasingly being questioned. Here is the first book on the subject by a classically trained psychiatrist who has immersed himself in the Buddhist tradition.

Drawing on his own experiences as patient, meditator, and therapist, Mark Epstein argues that the contemplative traditions of the East help patients go beyond merely recognizing their problems to healing them. Far from being at odds with the psychodynamic method, such an approach is in fact just what the doctor might order.

Epstein explains the unique psychological contributions of the teachings of Buddhism, describes the path of meditation in contemporary psychological language, and lays the groundwork for a meditation-inspired psychotherapy. Part I of the book is an orientation to the Buddhist perspective. Dispelling misconceptions common even among those already practicing meditative techniques, this section presents the Buddha's psychological teachings in the language of Western psychodynamics. Part II explains the meditative practices of bare attention, concentration, mindfulness, and analytic inquiry, and shows how they speak to issues at the forefront of psychological concern.

Part III uses Freud's treatise on the practice of psychotherapy, "Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through," as a template to show how the Buddha's teachings can complement, inform, and energize the practice of psychotherapy. Indeed, Epstein reveals that many of today's important clinical psychotherapists have been, often unknowingly, "knocking on Buddha's door."

[from the front and back flap of the hardbound edition]

Mark Epstein, Thoughts Without a Thinker

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About the Author

Mark Epstein, M.D., has a private practice in New York City and has been an instructor at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.  A graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Medical School, he is a consulting editor to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.

[from the back flap of the hardbound edition]

Table of Contents


Foreword by the Dalai Lama    ix
Acknowledgments    xi
Introduction: Knocking on Buddha's Door      1


Chapter 1 The Wheel of Life: A Buddhist 
Model of the Neurotic Mind   15
Chapter 2 Humiliation: The Buddha's First
Truth   43
Chapter 3 Thirst: The Buddha's Second Truth   59
Chapter 4 Release: The Buddha's Third Truth   75
Chapter 5 Nowhere Standing: The Buddha's
Fourth Truth   89


Chapter 6 Bare Attention 109
Chapter 7 The Psychodynamics of Meditation 129


Chapter 8 Remembering 163
Chapter 9 Repeating 181
Chapter 10 Working Through  203
Notes 223
Index 235

[from the hardbound edition]

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"A groundbreaking work.... The book will take its place among the classics of the literature of meditation, a bridge between Eastern and Western thought that leads us beyond thought altogether while honoring its extraordinary double-edged role in our lives."

--Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of
Wherever You Go, There You Are

and Full Catastrophe Living

"Mark Epstein's book is inspired in its lucidity.... After Thoughts without a Thinker, psychotherapy without a Buddhist perspective looks like a diminished thing."

--Adam Phillips, author of
On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored

"A marvelous book that is at once scholarly and fresh, informative and personal. It is a thought-provoking read for those interested in psychotherapy or Buddhism, and especially for those interested in both."

--Stephen A Mitchell, editor of
Psychoanalytic Dialogues

"A most lucid and expert account of the wedding of psychotherapy and meditation. An Eastern-Western psychology that truly speaks from the inside of both worlds."

--Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart

"I loved Thoughts without a Thinker. Mark Epstein has given us a brilliant account of how an ancient science of mind, based on a rich meditative tradition, can complement therapy and lead to new dimensions of wisdom and wholeness."

--Joan Borysenko, author of
Minding the Body, Mending the Mind

and The Power of the Mind to Heal

[from the back cover of the hardbound edition]

Read more reviews of this book on the website:
Thoughts without a Thinker:
Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective

Thoughts without a Thinker on

Buy Mark Epstein's Book


"If aspects of the person remain undigested--cut off, denied, projected, rejected, indulged, or otherwise unassimilated--they become the points around which the core forces of greed, hatred, and delusion attach themselves. They are black holes that absorb fear and create the defensive posture of the isolated self, unable to make satisfying contact with others or with the world. As Wilhelm Reich demonstrated in his groundbreaking work on the formation of character, the personality is built on these points of self-estrangement; the paradox is that what we take to be so real, our selves, is constructed out of a reaction against just what we do not wish to acknowledge. We tense up around that which we are denying, and we experience ourselves through our tensions..."

Thoughts without a Thinker
page 19

"Because of our craving, the Buddha is saying, we want things to be understandable. 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. Seeing craving shatters this predisposition; it becomes preposterous to try to see substance where there is none. The materials out of which we construct our identities become useless and broken when the ridgepole of ignorance is shattered..."

Thoughts without a Thinker
page 77

"A fourth common misconception, popular in what has become known as transpersonal psychology, is the belief that egolessness is a developmental stage beyond the ego--that the ego must first exist and then be abandoned. This is the flip side of the belief that egolessness precedes the development of the ego; instead, egolessness supposedly succeeds the ego. The coping strategy that best defines this misunderstanding is one of disavowal, where troubling emotions are pushed aside or disowned as if they are no longer relevant. They are treated as if they were just a stage that the person had to go through.

"This approach implies that the ego, while important developmentally, can in some sense be transcended or left behind. Here we run into an unfortunate mix of vocabulary. Yet listen to the Dalai Lama on this point: 'Selflessness is not a case of something that existed in the past becoming nonexistent. Rather, this sort of "self" is something that never did exist. What is needed is to identify as nonexistent something that always was nonexistent.' It is not ego, in the Freudian sense, that is the actual target of the Buddhist insight, it is, rather, the self-concept, the representational component of the ego, the actual internal experience of one's self that is targeted..." 

Thoughts without a Thinker
page 98
[from the hardbound edition]

Read more about this book on the website:
Thoughts without a Thinker:
Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective

Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart on

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Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective

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Other Books by Mark Epstein

Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart:
A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness
Lessons from Meditation and Psychotherapy

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written by Mark Epstein.


Brian Bruya interviews Mark Epstein
Read "Going to Pieces with Mark Epstein"

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