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Lack & Transcendence

The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism

Loy draws from giants of psychotherapy and existentialism, from Nietzsche to Kierkegaard to Sartre, to explore the fundamental issues of life, death, and what motivates us.

Whatever the differences in their methods and goals, psychotherapy, existentialism, and Buddhism are all concerned with the same fundamental issues of life and death—and death-in-life. In Lack and Transcendence (originally published by Humanities Press in 1996), David R. Loy brings all three traditions together, casting new light on each. Written in clear, jargon-free style that does not assume prior familiarity, this book will appeal to a wide variety of readers including psychotherapists and psychoanalysts, scholars of religion, Continental philosophers, and readers seeking clarity on the Great Matter itself. Loy draws from giants of psychotherapy, particularly Freud, Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, and Otto Rank; great existentialist thinkers, particularly Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre; and the teachings Buddhism, particularly as interpreted by Nagarjuna, Huineng and Dogen. This is the definitive edition of Loy’s seminal classic.

“A philosophical masterpiece! David R. Loy is one of the most important thinkers of our time. Even after 15 years this groundbreaking book keeps sharpening my mind and opening me up to the great mystery.  A treasure to revisit again and again—highly recommended.”

– Nikolaj Rotne, cofounder of The Stillness Revolution and coauthor of Everybody Present

“A profound book that shows how the root of human suffering is a state of groundlessness that either gives rise to anxiety and despair, or, when fully met, becomes a stepping-stone on the path of spiritual awakening.”

– John Welwood, author of Toward a Psychology of Awakening

“From an important Buddhist thinker, this pioneering treatment of psychotherapy and existentialism in relation to Buddhism offers rich rewards to its readers.”

– Christopher Ives, author of Zen on the Trail

“Western Buddhists and other psychologists were treated to a major flash of insight when David Loy first published this groundbreaking and often breathtaking book on how the divergence between humanity’s greatest professors of desire, Freud and the Buddha, sheds a new and liberating light on the human quest for inner freedom. Brilliantly employing the concept of ‘lack,’ Loy plumbs the deepest and widest implications of the Buddha’s ‘no-self’ doctrine as far as, and sometimes farther than, words can convey.”

– Philip Novak, author of The World’s Wisdom

"A major contribution on one of the core issues of religious studies. Lack is a concept which not only appears in numerous religions, but also bridges the social sciences and religious studies. With his usual clarity and elegance, David Loy has covered the full range of the topic, including its social, psychological, technological, economic and political aspects. In a truly exceptional manner, it illuminates central facets of modernity, through assembling and incisively analyzing central texts from both Western philosophy and Far Eastern tradition. There are few scholars in today’s world capable of this feat."  

– Jonathan Garb, Gershom Scholem chair in Kabbalah, Hebrew University

Among the many books in recent years on the integration of Buddhist teachings with psychotherapy, David Loy's book Lack and Transcendence stands out as perhaps the most transcendent. Its integration of insights from Existentialism, Psychotherapy, and Buddhism revolves around the singular and almost universally human suspicion that "I" am not real. Using this insight as a frame of reference, Loy translates the core teaching of the Buddha anatta as "lack" rather than the conventional "not-self." By doing so, he creates a nuance that takes the reader into the core of his or her lived life without creating metaphysical confusion around the notion of self or no-self. Loy brings together a wide range of scholarship and cross-disciplinary readings to challenge our conventional narrative about the "problem" of life and death, and of "the self." Read properly, it is a vibrant and inspirational book and should be on the desk of every Buddhist scholar and practitioner

– Mu Soeng, Resident Scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies

More books from this author: David R. Loy