Empathy and Compassion as Experiential Praxis. Confronting Phenomenological Analysis and Buddhist Teachings

  • Natalie Depraz
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 51)


It is well-known that Husserl’s analysis of intersubjectivity is primarily based on empathy. Now, such an experience of empathy is described in Husserl as involving the peculiar spatiality of our lived body, a temporal pairing of both lived bodies and a specific imaginative transfer of one’s psychic states into those of the other. I would like to confront such a multilayered experience of the other with the way some Buddhist teachings (which first appeared in India and were then transmitted to Tibet) present the experience of compassion within what is called the Mahayana tradition. Indeed, the “tonglen” praxis (as Tibetans call it), which is described very concretely in such a framework, echoes in many ways the Husserlian empathetic experience as far as the bodily rooting, the synchronizing timing are concerned and above all as far as the way imagination is taken into account. By comparing both praxis and analysis with regard to lived space, time and imagination, we will be able to evaluate their affinities, their differences and finally how they may enlight and even generate each other. 1


Phenomenological Analysis Physical Body French Translation Buddhist Teaching Psychic State 
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  1. 1.
    I am fully endebted and extremely grateful to Francisco Varela for having oriented me into these practices and the relevant literature. For a first study on the relation betwen tonglen and cognitive phenomenology the reader should consult: Fr. J. Varela and N. Depraz, “Imagining: Embodiment, Phenomenology, Transformation,” in Breaking New Ground: Essays on Buddhism and Modern Science, ed. A. Wallace (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001). Concerning the practice itself it was transmitted to me through formal instructions within the framework of the Shambala center (Paris) in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa. For a more general account of samatha/vipashyana practices in relation with the contemporary background in the cognitive sciences, let me recommend Fr. Varela’s work (with E. Thompson and E.D. Carr and C.-F. Cheung (eds.), Space, Time, and Culture, 189-200. © 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Rosch), The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience ( Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991 ).Google Scholar
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    M. Henry, Phénoménologie matérielle (Paris: P.U.F., 1990), third part. It is important to notice that M. Henry uses as his exemplary model for pathic co-empathy the mother-child relationship, as an originally non-intentional and so fusional empathy.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natalie Depraz
    • 1
  1. 1.Collège International de PhilosophieUniversity of Sorbonne (Paris IV)France

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