Psychodynamic Zen Resources
Listed in order of relevance:
Henrich, J. (2021). WEIRDEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD: How the West Became
Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly…Prosperous. Penguin Books.
Henrich’s book is the most influential book I’ve read in decades. It looks at the ways that the kinship system was uprooted, and in doing so, traces the evolution of Western consciousness from the 3rd and 4th centuries CE. This work lays the foundation for a deeper understanding of the formation of the Western unconscious. It gives voice to some of the underlying issues that bring many of us to psychotherapy and meditation, and clarifies driving forces that have fueled so much of the destruction of other cultures and the desecration of the planet.
Nisbett, R. E. (2011). The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners think
differently — and Why. Nicholas Brealey.
Nisbett’s book offers a window into many of the assumptions we’ve made about the nature of consciousness itself. Based on a wealth of research, this work shows striking differences between Asian and Western forms of cognition, our sense of self, and our views of spirituality.
Miller, A., Hannum, H., & Hannum, H. (2002). For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-
Rearing and the Roots of Violence. Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
Here, Alice Miller explores the impact of Western spirituality on child-rearing practices. Her findings have clear implications for the intergenerational transmission of so much of the guilt and dysfunction that bring people to psychotherapy.
Luhrmann, T. M. (2012). When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical
Relationship with God. Vintage Books.
This book, especially the last third of it or so, offers powerful insights into the Evangelical Movement and its relationship to Western spirituality. As an example: “The evangelical Christianity that emerged out of the 1960s is fundamentally psychotherapeutic. God is about relationship, not explanation, and the goal of the relationship is to convince congregants that their lives have a purpose and that they are loved” (296).
Lasch, C. (2018). The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing
Expectations. W. W. Norton & Company.
Originally written in 1979, … “Christopher Lasch was hailed as a ‘biblical prophet’ (Time). Lasch’s identification of narcissism as not only an individual ailment but also a burgeoning social epidemic was groundbreaking. His diagnosis of American culture is even more relevant today, predicting the limitless expansion of the anxious and grasping narcissistic self into every part of American life. The Culture of Narcissism offers an astute and urgent analysis of what we need to know in these troubled times” (Dionne Jr., E.J).
Hazel, M., & Shinobu, K. (1991). “Culture and the Self: Implications for Cognition, Emotion,
and Motivation.” Psychological Review, 98(2), 224–253.
This article, one of many by these Stanford researchers, is particularly eye-opening in the ways that it gives substance and background to specific elements of the cultural differences cited by both Nisbett and Henrich.
Miller, W. R., & Janet C’de Baca. (2001). Quantum Change: When Epiphanies and Sudden
Insights Transform Ordinary Lives. Guilford Press.
This is largely a book of personal accounts of unlockings and kensho-type openings. It explores the differences between various types of sudden shifts in consciousness—unexpected, breakthrough types of experiences with psychodynamic and/or spiritual qualities.
Victor Sogen, H. (1998). “Japanese Zen in America.” In C. Prebish & K. Tanaka (Eds.), The
Faces of American Buddhism. University of California Press.
In this writing, Hori— a former Zen Buddhist monk and retired Canadian Associate Professor in Japanese religion at McGill University—looks at monastic forms of Zen training in Japan and explores misunderstandings prevalent in our Westernized view of Zen practice.