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The Sherpas of Nepal in the Tibetan Cultural Context

The Tibetan Symbolic World: A psychoanalytic Exploration

Paul Robert A.

Editeur - Casa editrice

University of Chicago Press


Anno - Date de Parution


Pagine - Pages


Titolo originale

The Sherpas of Nepal in the Tibetan Cultural Context: (The Tibetan Symbolic World: A psychoanalytic Exploration)

Lingua originale

Lingua - language - langue


Edizione - Collana

Motilal Banarsidass (ed. 1989)

The Sherpas of Nepal in the Tibetan Cultural Context  

Reviwed by LARRY G. PET€RS California Graduate Institute, Los Angeles
In this challenging text on Tibetan-Sherpa cultural symbolism, Paul analyzes the cultural products of art, dance, religion, kinship, and history from the perspective of psychoanalysis (specifically Freud‘s ideas of the Oedipal complex and the “primal horde” as developed in Totem and Taboo) and the theories of structuralism (predominantly Levi-Straws’s concepts of “bi-polarity” and resulting synthesis). In this marriage, which overcomes Spiro’s 1979 critique of structuralism for not taking into consideration id impulses (i.e., sex and aggression), four universal themes are proposed which are interpreted as part and parcel of the human dilemma dictated by phylogenetic inheritance and the necessities of social existence These “archetypes,” as Paul (pp. 8, 13) indicates, involve two sets of contradictory categorical imperatives: (la) senior males must kill junior males/(l b) senior males must not kill junior males; (2a) junior males must kill senior males/(2b) junior males must not kill senior males. While these sets are clearly reflections of Freud’s Oedipal hypothesis, they represent a core culture problem on a deeper level: the conflict between junior and senior generations of males. Paul, unlike Freud, does not embark on a voyage of hominid mythic prehistory. He does believe, however, that Freud “stumbled on the remains of a system of social organization which is typical not only of primates but of many other mammals whose life is social in nature” (p. 11). Social organization must deal with issues of sexual access to females for purposes of breeding as well as the exercise of political leadership and decision making processes of the group. In other words, the nuclear family is merely the minimal unit of the Oedipal complex; actually this complex “has its roots in the cybernetic control of the social system as a whole.. . and is the ’atomic structure’ of social systems” (p. 12).
After explaining his theoretical orientation in general terms, which is in substantial agreement with Robin Fox’s 1980 view of sociobiology and his defense of Freud, Paul delineates the intricacies of Tibetan-Sherpa culture in order to demonstrate how his theoretical paradigm is reflected and replicated in numerous social institutions In the area of religion. for example, numerous Tibetan deities possess benign and wrathful aspects; Paul believes these correspond to two aspects of the Oedipal complex the good, protecting, and loving father (Pawa Chenrezi) and the angry, phallic, castrating father who exhibits punitive wrath toward the upstart successor (the ”protective deities” and Chakra Dorje) The latter are worshiped in rituals involving symbolic ”bloody sacrifices” and “cannibalism” and reenact the “primordial scenario.” Guru Rinpoche, by contrast, is explained as a deity of resolution-a symbol of the successful overcoming of the Oedipal complex and a model for psychological integration (pp. 61-66)
In the numerous descriptions of conflict and ambivalence of deities and other father figures, as well as in the cosmological beliefs and kinship system. this reviewer is struck by the ”splitting” mechanisms inherent in such a system The mechanism of splitting objects into good and bad (“good breast” and ”bad breast”) is a major theme of the contemporary object-relation school of psychoanalysis and considered to be a symptom of severe psychopathology if it persists beyond infancy. Paul demonstrates the synthesizing themes in the pantheon, cosmology, and mythic history of famous Tibetans which serve as models for integration, thereby indicating (although not explicitly stating) that culture provides a path for the resolution of phylogenetic and ontogeneticict.
Thus, in this text, Freud‘s “just so” story of the primal horde is enhanced with observed empirical data that take one beyond Freud‘s theory (which is all too often summarily dismissed) into the realm of culture and its positive psychological aspects. Paul posits no equation between the lives of ”neurotics.” “savages,” and “children,” but highlights and merges Contemporary anthropological and psychological concepts in a creative and inspiring way.
One problem, however, is the basically insignificant role assigned to women or the function of women in the core conflicts of Tibetan culture. As in Freud‘s analysis in Totem and Taboo, women appear to have no role except to excite male sexual passions. Paul states that women occupy “an essentially passive role in the unfolding drama” (p. 14). Yet such is not the case in contemporary psychoanalytic theory, Tibetan cultural myths, or even Sophocles‘ Oedipus trilogy. The psychoanalyst Winnicott in 1968 discussed the importance of ”good enough mothering” in the psychological development of the individual. Further, the ”schizophrenogenic mother” is of paramount importance in establishing splitting and other pathologic defenses in borderline and schizophrenic disorders. In other words, women do seem to have a very important role, especially in the home and upbringing of children, and their reviews 619 passivity in the pre-Oedipal situation, the Oedipus complex of the male, and in Creek drama seems questionable. Willner’s 1982 work has reinterpreted the Oedipus trilogy and other Greek dramas from a feminist perspective. As she points out, Antigone as portrayed in Sophocles and other female “heroic” characters receive scant attention in Freud. In Tibetan society, the Taras and other females, who play no small role in the development and establishment of Buddhism in Tibetan mythos and history, are psychoanalyzed by Paul from an exclusively male perspective. One is left wondering about the significance of female heroes and the models of and for Tibetan culture played by these characters in the psychological development of Tibetan-Sherpa males and females.