By Parveen Chopra August 2004 With consciousness coming within the purview of modern psychology, yoga and buddhist psychology are getting more than a look in. getting rid of psychological problems and blocks is not enough here, growing into perfection and self-realisation is Mindfulness is a major technique in Buddhism—being mindful of even mundane activitiesIn Jainism, bondage is due to the inflow of karmic matter. The process of emancipation too will start with stoppage of this inflow In the 1970s, many psychotherapists started reporting a new kind of client: one who has no apparent problem, is well-to-do, well-adjusted, and successful in the worldly sense. Yet, he reports an inner emptiness, a lack of meaning or purpose in life. Conventional psychotherapy had very little to offer him. It is this kind of person who turned to eastern spiritual practices and systems, which could address his concerns because they have a map of perpetual growth. Well, of late, psychology and psychotherapy in the West have been growing too, fertilised by contact with eastern spiritual traditions. But is there something called Indian psychology? How does yoga psychology differ from the one in Buddhism or Jainism? Can the age-old Indian psychology help in the modern context? Indian psychology encompasses the vast body of India’s wisdom that concerns the human being—the sources could be Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga, Bhagavad Gita, Buddhism and its various schools. Indian philosophy and Indian psychology share a framework and believe the human has enormous potential hidden in its being. Indian psychology also has an endless array of techniques to raise human consciousness. Mrinalini Rao, who teaches psychology at SNDT University in Mumbai and has written couple of papers on the subject, however, warns that Indian psychology remains a nebulous body of psychological principles inherent in the different philosophies; it is not really a single body of knowledge. Adds G. Rajamohan, head of the department of psychotherapy and counselling at the Institute for Psychotherapy and Management Sciences, Mumbai: “Indian psychology does not include modern developments in psychology in India, except a few personality inventories developed based on Vedic and yogic principles. Jadunath Sinha wrote books on Indian theories of perception, on cognition and on Emotions and the Will (all published by Motilal Banarsidass) following the day’s trend in the West. Across the oceans, studies in the West on psychology of consciousness, parapsychology, psychology of religion and transpersonal psychology in the last few decades borrow from the ideas of Indian psychology. The terms Oriental Psychology, Buddhist Psychology, Yoga Psychology, Jaina Psychology are found in modern psychological literature. The gulf between the two, however is not easy to bridge. In Western psychology, the reference point was the average person. The normal was the average. The psychotherpist’s role was seen as changing the consciousness of peculiarly disturbed individuals and help them integrate back in society. But then therapists themselves started realising that the normal state of consciousness in modern culture is both the context and the breeding ground of mental illness. So, gradually a shift is occurring from the notion of mental disease and healing to personal growth. Alan Watts, in his Psychotherapy: East and West, professed that eastern mystical traditions were psychotherapies in disguise. Some Indians also found parallels between the two: that Gita’s nishkama karma echoes Abraham Maslow’s metamotivation; the four motives of kama, artha, dharma and moksha are like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, etc. Indian experts we spoke to, however, don’t agree. Indian psychology and praxis, they argue, are holistic while its western counterpart is quite diagnostic and fragmentary. Indian psychology goes to the very root of existence to the point where you lose your identity—whereas in the western psychology, the I is always present. Besides, in India, the normal is the ideal, the perfect. The Vedantic model of mindYoga and Psychotherapy co-authored by Swami Rama, the founder of the Himalayan International Institute in the USA, details how the ancient thought of Vedanta and the techniques of yoga can be used clinically to supplement or replace some of the less complete western theories and techniques. Swami Rama says that in Jnana yoga, which has the most elaborate conceptualisation of psychological processes, the workings of the normal conscious mind involves three main functions (see sketch on page 48). The ‘lower mind’ or manas is in direct contact with the incoming data from the five senses and coordinates them with motor responses. It takes the form of perceptions which shift from moment to moment. The second is I-ness (ahankara), which transforms sense impressions into personal experience by relating them to individual identity. It provides a sense of separateness from the rest of the world. Once an incoming impression has been flashed onto the screen of manas, and related to I-ness, some decision must be taken, some judgement made, and a response selected. This discrimination or judgement is called buddhi, a special kind of intelligence or wisdom. These three function as a whole. Then there is chitta, which lies outside awareness. It is the storehouse of past impressions and experience. It is from here that memories bubble up. On the other side of the mental complex lies the innermost or highest field of human consciousness, called the Self, Brahman or Atman. Yoga discipline is organised to attain this level of consciousness, which will result in a serene, encompassing awareness. Patanjali in his practical yoga system, has no time for the above distinction and focuses on the thought forms or modifications of the mind (vrittis) which are compared to waves on the surface of a lake and have to be quietened. Swami Brahmavidananda, who teaches Vedanta in Mumbai, says that in the Indian approach the process of managing the mind has a spiritual base to it that changes the way you perceive the world. You can view it as chaotic or as the Lord’s order. In Vedanta, Ishvara is the cosmic order, which includes the physical order, therefore you see harmony, patterns and connections in the movement of your life. You can live in total harmony and peace, says the Swami, by discovering the ‘I’ who uses the mind. The two are different, and mind here is a mere instrument. There, says Arun Wakhlu, of Pragati Learning Systems in Pune, lies the difference between western psychology and Indian. “In the West, the sense of self is rooted in the mind. The entire drama of western psychology revolves around looking at the mind from the mind. However, one cannot change a system from within the system. In India we know that we are not the mind, we are the sky of awareness—nitya, beyond change—and the mind’s contents—reactions, emotions, beliefs and thoughts—are like passing clouds with no real awareness, or permanence.” For mind management, yoga prescribes specific techniques and approaches to handle klesha, the emotions that trouble us. One is the practice of pratipaksha bhavna—to take the opposite view. If you dislike a person, look at his positive qualities, and you will feel friendlier. These six values are also prescribed: Dama: You may not be able to control your emotions, but try not letting them affect your behaviour. Sama: After doing dama, process the emotions towards mastering the mind. Uparathi: Cultivating a sense of inner tranquillity and poise through the practice of karma yoga or sanyasa. Titiksha: The ability to bear with the pinpricks of life like a traffic jam or the electricity failing. The ability to bear with the small hurdles of life prepares you to cope with larger problems. Shraddha: Acceptance of God’s existence is necessary for mental health. Samadanam: The cultivation of forbearance with respect to people. Dharma is another potent concept that facilitates mental health, asserts Swami Brahmavidananda. “The aim of dharma is freedom from conflict. When your desires are in opposition to the universal law, there is conflict. Unless you are completely insensitive, you will be torn between the two. Following dharma means doing what is right consciously, even when it goes against your likes and dislikes. After a while right action becomes spontaneous.” The swami says he uses all these concepts in the corporate and public workshops he holds. And they work. Take the case of Kamini Asrani, a costume designer. She had gone through childhood traumas which she worked her way through with the help of Vedanta learnt from Swami Brahmavidananda. She says: “I was the last of six children and very unhappy as a child. My parents never got along with each other. I have seen my father beat my mother. Today I am coming out of my comfort zone and am taking decisions I never thought I would be able to. For instance, I had an intense but destructive relationship with one family member and I was finally able to drop it. When I realised that the inner me was more important than the outer need to please and appease, I could let go. I did a lot of meditation with Swamiji. Today, I am a much more confident woman. I do evaluate myself but I no longer pull myself down.” The karma theory, so peculiar to Indian thought, is about acceptance, gracious acceptance, of every turn of event as prasad from God. The progressives can reject it as fatalism or escapism, but think of the countless people going through difficult times in life who would have been helped by their belief in karma. Mrinalini relates the case of a woman who grew up in a negative environment. Looking at these messages through sakshi bhav (witnessing) meditation, sh
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