D. T.

Suzuki and Zen Buddhism
One of the most exciting weeks in the history of the Mexican Psychoanalytic Society occurred in August 1957, when the prominent Japanese scholar, historian, and master of Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism, the eighty-sixyear-old Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, accepted Fromm’s invitation to be featured in a week-long seminar on psychoanalysis and Zen. Since the 1930s, Suzuki had compellingly conveyed Zen’s essential perspectives to Western philosophers, theologians, artists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, and general readers. While teaching primarily at Japanese universities, he assumed a variety of exchange professorships of Buddhist philosophy in the United States and Europe. Fluent in English and several continental European languages and having a solid understanding of Western intellectual


and philosophic traditions, Suzuki effectively promoted East-West dialogue and understanding. After World War II, Suzuki was especially influential in the United States, where he helped establish Zen training centers and taught for several years at Columbia University.16 With a special talent in explaining to Westerners how Zen Buddhism contrasted with their tradition of dualistic and dichotomous thinking, Suzuki pointed out that Zen philosophy had been introduced to Europe and America at the same time that psychoanalysis had arrived. He suggested that like psychoanalysis, Zen sought to explicate the depths of the human psyche. The practitioner of Zen sought to penetrate deep down into the very center of his being—into a special space of “nothingness” that shared similarities with the psychoanalytic concept of an unconscious. In this space, the Zen practitioner “viewed” his own thoughts and feelings and, indeed, the spirit of everyone’s essential being. Thus, “nothingness” was a space within the self filled also by all other selves and the world, representing the essential “oneness” of existence. When a person penetrated inwardly, therefore, he perceived not his separateness as a person but the edgeless space of awareness that underlay all states of mind of all animate and inanimate objects. At that point, Suzuki maintained that one’s “individuality, which [he] found rigidly held together and definitely kept separate from other individual existences, becomes loosened somehow from its tightening grip and melts away into something indescribable. . . . The feeling that follows is that of complete release or a complete rest—the feeling that one has arrived finally at the destination.” Once a person was able to feel this “oneness” and glimpse his true nature, he needed to stabilize the vision (i.e., to continue to see who he really was). As this realization stabilized, he moved beyond his self-image, which was not his fundamental nature, and recognized that there was nothing to achieve, nowhere to go, nothing to be. There was an imageless, still, and quiet core present in the midst of his busy life. Paradoxically, abundant energy for life’s tasks emanated from this essential stillness of “oneness.”17 Fromm became familiar with Suzuki’s work on Zen in the 1940s and felt that it seemed to approximate his own humanistic revisions of psychoanalysis. After reading Escape from Freedom and Man for Himself, Suzuki agreed that he and Fromm were pursuing similar paths. A modest correspondence followed. When Erich and his third wife, Annis, were in New York in the fall of 1956, Suzuki invited them to his house for a dinner and a lengthy conversation on Zen. Fromm characterized it as “one of the most


wonderful meals we ever had in our lives,” with conversation that was even better. Indeed, he wrote to Suzuki that “something had clicked” that evening; he sensed that he finally understood the essence of Zen. The feeling was “quite exhilarating,” and he needed to talk to Suzuki about potential applications of Zen principles to psychoanalysis. Eagerly anticipating the scheduled two weeks with Suzuki over Christmas in Mexico, Fromm asked that he consider staying “more permanently.” He would organize an international conference in Cuernavaca in Suzuki’s honor, hoping it would be one of the few forums to address systematically the relationship between Zen and psychoanalysis.18 Specifically, Fromm began to work actively with his Mexican Psychoanalytic Society colleagues and students to make the conference a historic intellectual meeting of East and West. Suzuki agreed to participate in the weeklong event, which was scheduled for August 1957, in Cuernavaca. He also promised to visit with the Fromms afterward.19 Fromm and the MPS issued invitations through the National University of Mexico to psychoanalysts of various perspectives and “schools” in the United States and Mexico. Jungians, orthodox Freudians, and other analysts of the already fragmented profession were invited in the hope that they might discover some common ground in their work. Fromm asked Suzuki to offer four lectures and to participate in follow-up discussions. He also planned to invite several prominent psychoanalysts to lecture on topics related to Zen. In an effort to provide cohesion to the conference, Fromm proposed to be a bridge between Suzuki’s presentation of Zen and the presentations of the analysts. Ultimately, he planned to publish the conference proceedings as a book on Zen and psychoanalysis.20 Roughly fifty psychoanalysts from Mexico and the United States participated in the Cuernavaca conference—double the number anticipated when invitations were issued. A substantial number in the American contingent were from the White Institute. Although Suzuki’s four lectures and his response to questions formed the keynote to the conference, his very presence and manner were also crucial. Fromm recalled after the event that what had begun as a traditional conference of articulate professionals, with a predictable “over-emphasis on thoughts and words,” changed within two days, as “a change of mood began to be apparent. Everyone became more concentrated and more quiet.” Suzuki’s deep inner spirituality and the quiet introspection inherent in Zen were provoking “a visible change [that] occurred in many of the participants.” To some degree,


Fromm felt, they were embracing their inner psychic depths. Suzuki’s thoughts were always “firmly rooted in his being.” He never belabored a point or engaged in verbal gymnastics but presented himself and Zen philosophy with kindness, with deep inner calm, and expressing a love of life. For Fromm, Suzuki’s “humanity shone through the particularity of his national and cultural background.” He also seemed to permeate beyond the “artificial” divisions within professional psychoanalysis. Everyone at the conference, Fromm noted, was impressed by “the light, which radiates from him.”21 If Suzuki’s presence represented the spiritual core of the conference, Fromm’s paper, “Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism,” was the signal intellectual contribution. The paper was probably his most coherent and probing reflection on the unconscious in psychoanalytic thought; Zen aided him in addressing the topic with freshness and understanding. Unlike Freud, most psychoanalysts, and many intellectuals generally, Fromm had long tempered his embrace of modernity with mystical religious traditions focusing on a place deep within the self that connected spiritually to all other selves beyond the boundaries of space or time. He had been especially fascinated by the self’s sense of “oneness” with the object of its perception. Indeed, Fromm found this mystical “oneness” in the Kabala of medieval Jewry and perhaps most compellingly in Hasidism. He had also found it in Meister Eckhart, Jakob Böhme, and a few other Christian mystics, and in the mysticism found in the Sufi Islam of Rumi. And Jung, usually left unmentioned by Fromm, also influenced him. But since the late 1940s, Fromm felt that the sense of “oneness” was advanced most compellingly in Suzuki’s explications of Zen, and Fromm habitually read either a passage from Meister Eckhart or a portion of a Zen text.22 In Suzuki’s presence, Fromm opened his conference with uncharacteristic humility, acknowledging that he had yet to experience fully the satori (enlightenment) that was a central component of Zen: “I can talk about Zen only in a tangential way, and not as it ought to be talked about—out of the fullness of experience.” Nonetheless, he felt that he had “at least an approximate idea of what constitutes Zen” which “I hope enables me to make a tentative comparison between Zen Buddhism and psychoanalysis.” Fromm described the essence of Zen elaborated by Suzuki in psychological terms: “a state in which the person is completely tuned to the reality outside and inside of him; that he is fully aware of it and fully grasps it.” To cultivate this “awakened” state and reach satori, one became “empty and


ready to receive” the full reality within and without himself. In Suzuki’s words, one reached “the full awakeness of the total personality to reality.” Once a person arrived at this state of “awakening” and openness, Fromm asserted that life would become peaceful, joyous, and rejuvenating— indeed, ebullient. Fromm equated Zen’s “awakened” state with the “productive orientation” (his psychoanalytic construct for optimal mental health). Both were antithetical to the greed and exploitation that set the self against the other—“me” against “not me.” That external object or person (the “not me”) ceased to be, becoming part of “me” and thereby promoting a sense of “oneness.” This incorporation of the “not me” with the “me” into “oneness” eliminated any sense of alienation and produced a state of maximum energy and productivity: “I experience intensely—yet the object is left to be what it is. I bring it to life—and it brings me to life.” To live in Zen was therefore “to treat yourself and the world in the most appreciative and reverential frame of mind.”23 Perhaps because Suzuki’s characterization of Zen was more a matter of one’s spiritual disposition than of intellect or conceptual consistency, Fromm’s portrayal of Zen Buddhism was redundant and imprecise. Of course, Fromm’s knowledge of psychoanalysis far outdistanced Suzuki’s, and as he compared it to Zen, his paper became clearer. Both Zen and psychoanalysis sought to achieve the same ends: insight into one’s nature, freedom, happiness, love, sanity, and the liberation of thwarted energy. Both required the overcoming of greed and the coveting of possessions and notoriety, instead valuing love, compassion, and ethical conduct. Neither the Zen master nor the psychoanalyst forced one to suppress the “evil” desire of greed but expected it to “melt away and disappear under the light and warmth of enlarged consciousness.” In Zen, satori was never achieved without humility, love, and compassion. Similarly, Fromm insisted that psychoanalysis required the evolution from an exploitive or hoarding social character into a productive character, where one grew more humble and compassionate and acquired self-understanding, an echo of what Fromm characterized in the 1940s as humanism.24 For Fromm, both Zen and psychoanalysis required independence from any authority external to the self. In developing psychoanalysis, Freud criticized Western religion for replacing the infantile dependence on a helping and punishing father with a dependence on God. Analysis intended to dissolve this “unfreedom.” Correspondingly, Fromm noted that Zen Buddhism made no room for a powerful external God or any sort of


irrational authority and sought to liberate man from all dependencies so that he might become the architect of his own fate. Although both the psychoanalyst and the Zen master initially guided the analysand or Zen student, the goal was the same: to encourage self-reliance, which could be achieved by moving beyond formal thought and rationalization and embracing one’s own unique feelings and perceptions.25 Most importantly, Fromm equated the central psychoanalytic quest— helping the patient overcome repression by making the unconscious conscious—with Zen’s primary aim of gaining enlightenment. Both psychoanalysis and Zen involved “the inner revolution of man,” of becoming increasingly aware intellectually and intuitively of what one was not aware of. Indeed, Fromm noted that if one replaced the psychoanalytic terms “conscious” and “unconscious” with “greater or lesser awareness of experience in the total man,” it was easier to understand that Zen and psychoanalysis shared identical goals. Both sought to overcome artificial dichotomies within the self—the distinction between subject and object, the split “within myself between the universal man and the social man,” and the polarity between conscious and unconscious. Both required overcoming estrangement from others and from the wider world, abandoning the illusion of “an indestructible separate ego, which is to be preserved.” Basically, Zen and psychoanalysis required one to be entirely open and responsive, internally and externally, in order to put an end to vanity and greed, “to have nothing and to be.” This ultimate embrace of “oneness” was the goal of both psychoanalysis and Zen.26 Still, Fromm cautioned, the technique of the two differed in one respect. Psychoanalysis focused on uncovering the patient’s illusions about the world on a step-by-step basis of lifting repressions so that distortions and intellectualizations diminished over time. In contrast, Zen represented a far more direct or frontal attack on alienation and distorted perception. Through the direction of the master within the monastery, Zen required of the student “the immediate, unreflected grasp of reality without affective contamination and intellectualization, the realization of the relation of self to the Universe.” Zen’s enlightenment resembled the child’s sense of immediacy and oneness with the world. But unlike childhood, it occurred after the adult transcended both the subject-object split and the experience of estrangement.27 Fromm concluded his paper by insisting that since the goals of Zen and psychoanalysis were identical, the techniques, if different, were nonethe-


less complementary. The directness and no-nonsense bluntness of Zen technique and vision could sharpen the focus of psychoanalytic insight— “to overcome the affective contaminations and false intellectualizations” of the Western subject/object split. Similarly, the cautious penetrations of psychoanalysis into the repressed unconscious might help the Zen master guide his student against “false enlightenment” through self-induced trances, psychoses, or hysterias.28 At several points in his conference paper, Fromm acknowledged that his formulations were only preliminary; he had yet to enhance his knowledge of Zen Buddhism and Eastern culture. Yet this paucity of knowledge did not seem to restrain him. Just as Suzuki spent much of his life translating Eastern foundational premises into Western thinking, Fromm expressed a willingness to partake in the converse. Through Suzuki’s efforts, complimented by his own, universal human experiences crossing the East/West divide could be better understood.29 Coming one year after the Mexican Psychoanalytic Society was recognized as an official entity, the Cuernavaca conference had a defining influence on it. Mexican psychoanalysis would pursue a broad ecumenical vision that went far beyond more orthodox Freudian and primarily Western constructs. In an attempt to “preserve” this defining week in its history, Fromm and his initial students sought to publish Suzuki’s four lectures and Fromm’s lengthy presentation as a book. To achieve this task, Fromm turned again to Harper, which published Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis early in 1960. Even though Fromm and Suzuki were very prominent writers—and there was a paucity of books on the topic—sales were modest. As of June 30, fewer than 4,800 copies were sold, and Fromm had come across only one book review. Still, the conceptual highlights, if not the full spirit of the conference, had been preserved in a durable form. Although initial sales were slow, the book eventually sold a million copies and was translated into sixteen languages.30 Until his death in 1967, Suzuki continued to travel to Mexico, where he was usually hosted by Fromm and eagerly pursued by members of the Mexican Psychoanalytic Society. Along with New York City and Kamakura (near Tokyo), Suzuki began regarding the Cuernavaca–Mexico City area as his home base. When they were not together, Fromm and Suzuki wrote long, spirited letters to each other on new writing projects, important texts each had read, and especially on new ideas. Through this correspondence, they mutually supported each other and built a solid intellectual and


personal relationship. In a very real sense, Fromm trusted Suzuki, his manner, and his wisdom with an ardor comparable to his earlier mentor and friend Rabinkow.31

Annis Freeman and The Art of Loving
By December 1952, Fromm had begun to court Annis Freeman. He first met Annis and her third husband, David Freeman, a wealthy lawyer who coordinated news for American newspapers from India, at meetings held in New York in 1948 to deliberate a UNESCO project on ameliorating international political tensions. David died soon after, leaving Annis, whose two prior husbands had also passed on, childless but with considerable wealth. Like many women of her generation, she had little sense of herself without the intimate presence of a man. Annis and Fromm did not begin writing to each other until after Henny’s suicide, but the correspondence quickly turned into a courtship. Two years younger than Fromm, Annis had been born into a Protestant Pittsburgh household but had grown up in Alabama and spoke with a distinctly Southern accent. During her period in India, she had developed a strong interest in Eastern spiritual traditions. She practiced astrology and had a reputation for accurate forecasts, meditated, practiced tai chi, and appreciated Fromm’s deepening interest in Buddhism. A tall, sensuous, and beautiful woman, Annis adored Erich from the beginning of their courtship. Running her late husband’s business in New York, she planned eventually to make a home with him in Mexico. She was extraordinarily intelligent and shared his interest in international politics and diverse cultures. He proposed to her in the fall of 1953, though he had talked of marriage only a few months into the courtship. They married in December.32 Because Erich lived in Mexico City and Annis in New York, their courtship involved an extensive correspondence, which underscored his deep attachment to her. He opened himself to Annis as he had never revealed himself to anybody. Love had free flow. Even after their marriage, he wrote to her several times a day, whether at home or away, declaring his affection, often citing his schedule for the day as a reason to write: “It is 10 now—I go to the office. Maybe you call me up after [the] first cup of tea. Shall be back at the latest at 2. I am all yours totally. E.” In many ways, these were mundane epistles about everyday life, detailing work commit-

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