Foundations and Applications of Indian Psychology explores the social, educational, physical and emotional dimensions of Psychology, and contains selected chapters from Pearson’s earlier two-volumes set, entitled foundations of Indian Psychology. This combined edition firmly positions ancient practices and ideas from the Indian tradition within the contours of mainstream psychology. It highlights the linkages between modern psychology and ancient India ideas emerging from Vedic, Yogic, Buddhist, and Sufi symbolisms.
With twenty –six essays covering how Indian ideas about mind and body, spirituality, education and healing relate to some of the most important interest areas of modern psychology, this volume enhances the very scope of psychology. As such, it makes essential reading for students and scholars alike.
R. M. Matthijs Cornelissen teaches integral psychology at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry.
Girishwar Misra is Professor, and former Head of Department of Psychology, and Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Delhi.
Suneet Verma is Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, and University of Delhi.
Apart from its other achievements, the ancient Indian civilization undertook the most profound examination of the human mind that has ever been attempted anywhere. The entire process of yoga, particularly the system based on Patanjali's Yogasutras, developed a methodology for 'stilling the modifications of the mind'. The Bhagavad Gita also contains specific instructions for stilling the mind, and thereby accessing the deeper reaches of our psyche. Indian psychology therefore has a firm base and a profound underlying philosophy.
Due largely to centuries of Western domination, we have tended to be unduly influenced by the West, even in the area of psychology. This is not in any way to denigrate the great breakthroughs of Western psychology, particularly those of Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung. Indeed, post-Jungian psychology, especially Transpersonal Psychology, which has developed in recent years in California and around the world, are welcome efforts to delve deeper into the mysteries of the mind. What is really needed is a creative fusion between the Indian psychological traditions and the newer Western methodologies.
As they do in so many other areas, Sri Aurobindo's writings throw a flood of light upon various elements connected with the quest for the inner light. He has used Vedic symbolism to postulate a highly original interpretation, which places Indian psychology at the heart of the entire study. It is important that Indian insights become part of mainstream psychology around the world, and not be treated merely as an esoteric phenomenon.
The editors of Foundations of Indian Psychology deserve warm commendations for having brought together a broad and rich spectrum of articles dealing with various aspects of psychology, including social, psychological, educational, health and emotional dimensions. This book represents a valuable contribution to world psychological studies and will be of great value to students of psychology around the world. Recent research on the brain and the mind-brain relationship has thrown fascinating light upon how the human mind functions. Indian psychology, of course, goes beyond the mind into what we would call the spiritual centre of our being. The co-relation of these various elements and dimensions represent a fascinating field for study.
Living as we are in an age of great stress and tension, the psychological aspects of human welfare and individual happiness can no longer be neglected. I take great pleasure in recommending this book not only to professional psychologists, but also to the general reader interested in delving deeper into the marvels and mysteries of the human mind.
What do we mean by Indian psychology?
By Indian psychology we mean an approach to psychology that is based on ideas and practices that developed over thousands of years within the Indian sub-continent. In other words, we use the word 'Indian' to indicate and honour the origin of this approach to psychology-the origin of the underlying philosophy, the conceptual framework, the methods of enquiry, and the technology of consciousness that it uses to bring about psychological change and transformation. It may be useful to make explicit that we do not use the word 'Indian' to localize or limit the scope of this approach to psychology; we do not mean, for example, 'the psychology of the Indian people', or 'psychology as taught at Indian universities'. We hold that Indian psychology as a meta-theory and as an extensive body of related theories and practices has something essential and unique to contribute to the global civilization as a whole.
It may also be useful to make explicit that this volume is not about the past, but about the present and the future. You will look in vain for chapters about the history of Indian philosophy or religion as they developed over the ages. Many such texts are already available, but this is not one of them. This volume has contributions that demonstrate how ideas and practices from the Indian tradition can be used to tackle issues in contemporary psychology and constructively inform its disciplinary practice by helping theory building and application.
Psychology as taught at present, all over the world, is still amazingly unicultural. This is rather remarkable if we consider the intensity and ease of international communications, and the fact that it is almost half a century since the political decolonization of Asia and Africa was completed. Though the large component of European and American thought in psychology is understandable historically, it is not any longer excusable. For it is not that the rest of the world has not thought about human nature, and it is definitely not that contemporary psychology has found the one and only correct way of doing so. In this context, one could argue that Indian psychology will be relevant particularly to Asian, African, or Latin-American countries which share alternative non-Western world views about mind, psyche and various psychological phenomena such as healing, health, self, or personality ; but we strongly believe that in spite of all cultural differences, there is a large common core to human nature, and that, to the extent that Indian psychology deals with that common core, it should be of interest to all members of the human family.
In short, we do not look at Indian psychology as something that belongs only to India or the past, but as a rich source of psychological insight and know-how that can be utilised to create a better future for the whole of humanity.
What the Indian civilization can contribute to psychology
The unique contribution which the Indian civilization can make to modern psychology can be looked at as consisting of three distinct elements-a sophisticated and well-worked out, psychology-based meta-theoretical framework, a wide repertoire of psychological practices, and a rich treasury of psychological theories. These three are, obviously, closely interconnected, and it may be clear that none of them can be fully understood without a fairly complete understanding of the other two. Yet, as language is inevitably linear, we will give here a separate short introduction to each of them?
A psychology-friendly meta-theoretical framework
The first major contribution the Indian civilization can make to psychology is a psychology-friendly meta-theoretical framework. To delineate the underlying theory, the basic 'paradigm' of the Indian tradition is, of course, a pretentious undertaking fraught with possibilities of error. The Indian civilization is immensely complex, and, given the abundance of different-often contrary-voices it harbours within itself, it is hard to state anything about it that cannot be contradicted with a striking counter-example. And yet, it is useful to give it a try, for the simple reason that without this background it is impossible to fully understand its psychological practices and its theories.
When one looks at the Indian civilization as it developed over the ages, it becomes quickly clear that within it there exists such a huge variety of distinct cultural traditions, that one may doubt whether it actually makes sense to I speak of a single Indian tradition and whether it would not be more accurate to speak of Indian traditions in the plural. The doubt is understandable, but we would contend that in case of the Indian tradition, singularity and multiformity are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A rich variety of expressions does not preclude the possibility of a common thread, a single foundation supporting the variety, and we are inclined to think that especially in India such a common core indeed does exist.
In fact, the idea of a single truth supportinga variety of manifestations is itself one of the core-characteristics of the deep view of reality that underlies the whole wide gamut of Indian traditions. One of the most-often-quoted aphorisms expressing this acknowledgment of divergent views in spite of a single underlying reality is probably: ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti, which means, 'the truth is One, but the wise call it by different names'. An interesting aspect of this saying is that the differences are not described as errors: it is the wise that give different names to the one truth. Moreover, one would miss the point if one were to take this saying as no more than a polite exhortation for religious tolerance. It rests on a deep, psychological understanding of the human condition, which says that reality as it really is, will always remain beyond our limited mental capacity to grasp, and that each individual can perceive of that reality only as much as their individual capacity and inclination will allow.
There is another ancient saying which goes a step further. It deals with the different perceptions that arise from affirmative and agnostic approaches to reality. It says-and one can immediately see how close some ancient Indian thinkers came to postmodern constructivism-that not only the name we give to an experience, but even the experience itself is determined by our 'set'. The Taittirtya Upanisad (2.6.1), for instance, says, asann eva sa bhavati, asad brahmeti veda cet, asti brahmeti ced veda, san tam enam tato viduh, meaning, 'whoever envisages it as existence becomes (or realizes) it as existence, and whoever envisages it as non-being becomes (or realizes) that non-existence'. It may be noted that in the Indian tradition such differences are not attributed only to the different cultural priming; they are attributed primarily to the different type, level and quality of the internal state of the observer. And this brings us to what might well be described as the most important difference between the Indian and the Western paradigm.
The differences. Western psychology is largely confined to two dimensions which are both fully accessible to the ordinary waking consciousness-the physical and the social.
Genetics, neurophysiology and the cognitive sciences are typical for sub-disciplines with a focus on the physical dimension, and the various offshoots of psychoanalysis, social constructivism and cross-cultural psychology could be considered typical for those who focus on social factors. Between the two, there is still, in spite of many attempts at 'softening' psychology, a widespread tendency to take the physical dimension more seriously than the social. Even in the field of consciousness studies, the existence of physical reality tends to be taken for granted, while the ontological 'reality' of consciousness and subjective experience is open for discussion. Their apparent existence needs some kind of justification, and both are commonly considered epiphenomenal products of material processes. Related to this, in terms of epistemology, the ordinary waking consciousness is considered the only acceptable state for the researcher to be in, and a clear rational mind is taken as the ultimate arbiter of truth. In fact, non-ordinary states of awareness are primarily associated with drugs and somewhat frivolous new-age activities. Finally, in terms of practical methodology, objectivity is taken as the ultimate ideal, and first-person, subjective observations are taken seriously only if they are embedded in statistics and third-person objective measures to counteract their inherent weaknesses. Obviously all this is a simplification and there are exceptions to this pattern-one could, for example, think of phenomenology-but still, a strong physicalist bias, an absolute faith in the ordinary waking consciousness and a total reliance on objective methods are so much part of mainstream psychology that amongst psychologists, they are commonly considered indispensable elements of the scientific method.
The intellectual tradition of India starts from radically different assumptions. Ontologically, the most fundamental reality is not matter, but spirit; or more precisely, the indivisible unity of saccidananda, of absolute existence, consciousness and delight. In other words, the Indian tradition includes psychological phenomena like consciousness and joy as core-elements of reality, and in fact it takes not physics, but 'knowledge of the self' (adhyatma-vidya) as the fundamental science.
Accordingly, the possibility and cosmic importance of an absolutely silent, transcendent consciousness are hardly ever doubted, while there are major schools of thought that do doubt the importance and even the reality of the material pole of existence. While Western science has come to terms with the fact that there are many different types of physical energies and substances, of which some are not directly perceptible by the human senses, the Indian tradition takes it for granted that there are also various types and levels of non-physical existence-entire inner 'worlds' which are not directly perceptible to the ordinary waking consciousness, but that are ontologically as real, or even more real than the ordinary physical world. These non-physical realities are considered to be intermediate planes of conscious existence between the absolute, silent consciousness of the transcendent and the apparent unconsciousness of matter. As a result, physical and social factors are accepted as part of causal networks, but not as the full story-events are thought to be influenced by a wide variety of forces that include factors belonging to non-physical realities. Similarly, epistemologically, a rational mind is appreciated and cultivated, but it is understood that there are higher sources of knowledge and the possibility of a direct, intuitive apprehension of truth. Finally, objective, sense-based knowledge is considered a minor form of knowledge (or even ignorance, avidya) and an immense collective effort has gone into the development of processes that can make us more open to the subtle worlds, and especially to the preexisting inner knowledge, vidya.
It may be clear that these two basic views of reality lead to a very different sense of what psychology is about, how it is to be conducted, and what can be expected from it. For those under the influence of the physicalist worldview, psychology deals either with outer behaviour or with mental processes that happen within the neuro-physiological apparatus of individual human beings; even those who stress social influences, tacitly assume that such influences are transferred by physical means. It is taken for granted that consciousness, whether individually or socially determined, depends on working neural systems.
Non-physical realities are illusionary and para-psychological phenomena are 'anomalous'.For an eternal soul there is no place (except as a belief of others, not as an 'objective' reality that exists in itself). Methodologically, one has to rely on statistics and sophisticated third-person methods of research. In terms of application, one aims at (behaviourally verifiable) changes in others.
For those under the influence of the Indian system, consciousness is primary. It is taken to be all-pervasive, and as existing within space and time, as well as beyond both. The borders of the individual are porous, and the individual consciousness is found to extend through space and time, to others, to all kinds of inner worlds, and even to what is beyond all manifestation. As a result, non-physical realities and parapsychological phenomena fit perfectly within this explanatory framework, and there is no difficulty accepting an eternal soul as our real self. For research in Indian psychology, sophisticated first person methods are the natural first choice. In terms of application, Indian psychology aims primarily at the mastery and transformation of oneself. When one lists these differences in this manner, the two systems seem to belong to different worlds, and not only serious misunderstandings, but even a certain mutual distrust appears almost inevitable. Historically this has indeed been the case. In the Indian tradition, right from the Upanisads and the stories of the Puranas, the basic ontological and epistemological assumptions of modern psychology are looked at as beginners' errors, remnants of an ordinary, naive way of looking at the world that stand in the way of a deeper understanding of how the human mind, consciousness in general, and even the physical, reality actually work. Seen from the other side, from the perspective of mainstream psychology, giving up its positivist, constructivist, or agnostic assumptions looks like a return to a superstitious past, a giving up of the most valuable accomplishments of the European Enlightenment, a recipe for disaster.
Roads to reconciliation. There are several factors that may, however, help to overcome these difficulties. The first is that the inability of modern science to deal effectively with non-physical realities and 'the divine’ may not be intrinsic to science as such. Future generations, who are likely to have a more globally informed cultural background, may ascribe this inability largely to the vagaries of European history. It might well be found that in the early years of modern science, Europe left these inner realms aside, not because it is intrinsically too difficult to research them in an intelligent and open-minded manner, but simply because they were too encrusted in the religious environment of the time. It is true that neither alchemy, nor the later efforts of parapsychology have led to sufficiently concrete results to convince the sceptics; but that might well be because their studies were hampered on the one side by the lack of a sufficiently supportive philosophical framework, and on the other by their failure to develop effective powers within the inner realms they purported to study.
As we will try to present in this volume, the Indian tradition might be able to provide both. Though the Indian civilization has had its own difficulties-800 years of foreign interference not the least of them-such a dramatic split between the physical and the inner domains is not part of the Indian story. In fact, the social structures and mental attitudes supporting spiritual pursuits in India are much closer to those of European science than to those of European religion. Even Sankara who arguably comes closest to what in the Christian tradition would have been called a church-father, given his role in founding centres of religious authority and power-in the end puts personal experience (anubhava) above tradition. In his Bhagavad Gtta Bhasya he says, for example (18, 66), 'Even a hundred scriptural passages will not become authoritative when they, for instance, announce that fire is cool or dark' (Rao, 1979, p. 65). The methods of yoga and meditation are nowadays primarily looked at soteriologically, that is, as a means for salvation, as a means to arrive at samadhi or nirvana-at least if they are not seen as a means to arrive at physical health and the survival of a corporate lifestyle. In the culture of origin, however, they are part of a coherent knowledge system and they are clearly looked at as a way to arrive at reliable knowledge. This is most clear in the case of jnanayoga (the yoga of knowledge); but one can easily discern elements of the pursuit of truth even in karma- and bhaktiyoga (the paths of works and devotion), which also, in their own way, have methods to reduce the distortions of perception and affect that are part of the ordinary human consciousness.
The good news then is that modern scientific and ancient Indian approaches to psychology may not be so much contradictory as complementary. It is true that they are based on different ontological and epistemological assumptions, that they use different methods, and to some extent, that they look at different sides of the human enterprise, but in the end, they are based on the same human urge for true knowledge, pure love, effective power and happiness. It may not be easy to come to mutual respect and understanding, but the effort will be worth it, for our preoccupation with knowledge and power in the physical domain has not solved humanity's problems. On a global scale, suffering due to poverty, violence and disease is still rampant, and we have added a considerable risk of sudden environmental self-destruction. One could well argue that the one thing we need most at present is a more comprehensive understanding of our own nature. As editors of this volume, we would like to argue that Indian psychology can make a valuable contribution to that endeavour.
According to a survey commissioned by the Yoga Journal, there were in February 2008, some 15.8 million practitioners of (hatha) yoga in the USA alone, and amongst the rest of the adult population, another 8 per cent, or eighteen million people, were 'very or extremely interested in yoga'. Over the years, thousands of researches on yoga and meditation have been conducted (Murphy & Donovan, 1997; Walsh & Shapiro, 2006), but according to the latter, this research is as yet rather imbalanced. Most research is conducted with beginning practitioners, and the vast majority of researches have been carried out with not more than three basic techniques-hathayoga, vipassana and Transcendental Meditation (TM). Almost all research is, moreover, in a mode that cultural anthropologists would call etic, rather than emic. In other words, the research is done from an outsider's, rather than from an insider's perspective; the techniques are decontextualized, and their effectiveness is measured in terms that belong to the theoretical framework of mainstream psychology. This is in itself not surprising, for measurement involves the use of standards, and in science these standards have to come from previously conducted research. But the result is that the effects of yoga and meditation have been measured almost exclusively on variables like blood pressure, anxiety, depression and extroversion, which have little to do with what would have been considered relevant in the culture of origin, such as equanimity, compassion, wisdom and detachment.
While reflecting on the scope of existing research on yoga and meditation, there is another issue that warrants careful consideration. It is true that India has developed an astounding variety of structured methods to 'do' yoga and meditation. There can also be no doubt that it is worth studying these techniques, and that one should not do this only by etic, but also, or even especially, by emic approaches. The methods of yoga should be understood on their own terms, and ideally not only in their gross 'effectiveness' but in terms of the underlying spiritual and psychological processes. But even a sympathetic, insider's look at these techniques will not give us the whole story. Amongst the Indian psychological practices that could benefit humanity, there are not only such formalised methods and techniques, but there is also an implicit, informal know-how that is orally transmitted from teacher to student within the guru-sisya parampara (the master-disciple relationship), or passed down from generation to generation in the form of social institutions, customs, and culturally prescribed-but individually adopted and adapted-attitudes and inner gestures. When we look at yoga not only as a way to find the Divine but also as a way to bring our entire life more in harmony with the highest we can conceive and experientially 'realize', then it becomes clear why these informal, implicit aspects of yoga play such a big role inthe Indian civilization, and why they are so interesting for modern psychology. An anecdote from E. Richard Sorenson (2008) may illustrate the point. Sorensen relates an experience he had in a Tibetan monastery where most of the monks were young, and where he had noticed earlier that the novices were always 'eagerly rushing to share whatever special tidbit [sic] might have come their way (whether material or ideational)' (p. 46). As he relates:
One day, while having lunch with a group of novices, a burst of mirth snaredmy attention. An adolescent novice had just selected, as if solely for himself, the largest apple off a plate. Bursts of laugh- ter from the others, no verbal comment, just hilarity, as several then did much the same, usually with some special fillip or perspective of their own. There was no obligation to be either different or the same ... they were just nuzzling at a trait all had seen outside.
The interesting part is that amongst these youngsters, there were no pejorative remarks or outbursts of self-righteous indignation. Egoism was for them not something natural and tempting, yet socially unacceptable, but an utterly hilarious trait they had so far noticed only in the behaviour of people outside their own community. Presuming there is no major genetic difference in such matters, it is clearly worthwhile to study what it is exactly that made sharing the natural baseline for these children. It seems extremely unlikely that such a fundamental difference can be brought about by formal exercises or explicit instructions.
Regarding the spiritual core of the Indian psychological tradition, there is amongst professional psychologists a similar tendency to focus on formal practices and specialised techniques. Yet, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the undisputed authority on raiayoga, only one of its many slokas deals with asanas (yogic postures), and the Bhagavad cua hardly mentions strongly structured practices at all. Even in our times, some of the greatest sages of modern India, like Ramakrishna Pararnahansa, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo, did not advocate the use of highly structured and formalized techniques at all. They worked instead through a focussed, specialized application of-in itself quite simple-psychological processes and powers. There is an enormous variety of those, and even though all the great gurus had their own favourites-for example, Ramakrishna's absolute devotion to the Divine Mother, or Ramana's sustained and unremitting focus on the question, 'Who am I?'-they typically adjusted their method of teaching to the needs of each disciple at any given moment.
The literature contains many different lists of desirable inner attitudes and gestures. Typical examples might be: a silent, non-judgemental self-observation; a growing surrender to the highest one can conceive; a sustained aspiration towards the Divine (whether in terms of knowledge, work, love, or oneness); a systematic development of traits like equanimity, calm, patience, vigilance, kindness, compassion, love, joy, harmony, oneness, wideness; small inner gestures of self-giving, consecration, openness, silence, surrender; the relocation of the centre of one's consciousness inwards and upwards. As yet, it is hard to say with certainty, whether such non-sectarian, informal 'paths' will dominate the future of Indian psychology, or the more formalized 'techniques' that have played such a big role in the preservation of the tradition into the present. What seems clear to us is that there is an urgent need for research in both.
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