Three Psychoanalytic Readings of the Buddhist Emptiness

Both Buddhism and psychoanalysis show us alternative ways to bear human suffering. Buddhism teaches us the path of emptiness (śūnyatā), psychoanalysis that of sublimation. In this comparative literature study we explore how we can conceptualize the realization (jñāna) of emptiness based on the psychoanalytic conceptual framework. For this comparison we respectively use Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and Lacan’s seventh seminar, supplemented with secondary literature. In the process of sublimation an object is elevated to the dignity of the Thing. In order to understand the buddhistic emptiness we make a distinction between the metaphysics of emptiness, indicating an intellectual understanding of emptiness, and the realization (jñāna) of emptiness, which refers to the meditative penetration of emptiness. When one realizes emptiness and one sees reality like it is, one is free of attachment (taṇhā) or fixation. We offer three psychoanalytic readings of the buddhistic emptiness. In a first reading we follow Lacan’s definition of sublimation and as such consider the Thing as a source of evil. This reading is compatible with the metaphysics of emptiness. In a second and third reading we adapt Lacans definition of sublimation by restricting the Thing to an empty and unknowable space. This is compatible with Lacan’s conceptualization of the Thing based on his reading of Kant’s Critique of the Practical Reason. This redefinition of the Thing in Lacan’s conceptualization of sublimation we conceive as the alternative sublimation. This adaption is necessary to understand what Buddhism means by the realization of emptiness.