Lacan’s encounter with a Buddhist statue and the gaze as objet

The article examines Lacan’s use of a personal experience recollected from his recent vacation in Japan, recorded in Seminar X (1962-1963) Anxiety. This experience occurred in connection with a Japanese Buddhist statue, and the contemplative relation Lacan observed with respect to it. Lacan utilises his recollection of this experience in his teaching activity, specifically to introduce the question of the objet a in the scopic field. In order to use this experience Lacan was led in the seminar to comment on the relation between psychoanalysis and Buddhism, specifically on the statement that “desire is illusion” and on the central Buddhist teaching of “non-duality” and the article revisits Lacan’s discussion. Lacan also gave the iconographic references which he understood to characterise the statue in question. Some research work reveals the possible identity of this Buddhist statue, both in terms of its actual location and its iconography and identifies it as the “Pensive Prince” or the Bodhisattva Maitreya, situated in Chūgūji monastery at Nara. The article then offers a commentary and analysis of Lacan’s theory of the relation between the eye and the emerging concept of the gaze, in order to illustrate the operation of desire in the field of vision. It shows how Lacan has utilised an example of sublimation in the scopic field in order to communicate to his listeners a development in his theory concerning the gaze as partial object of the scopic drive as well as an historical-cultural sublimation, as exemplified in the Buddhist statue.

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