What if We Took Indian Psychology Seriously?
by Don Salmon, PhD
The significance of the lotus is not to be found by analyzing the secrets of the mud from which it grows here; its secret is to be found in the heavenly archetype of the lotus that blooms for ever in the Light above…. The superconscient, not the subconscient, is the true foundation of things…. You must know the whole before you can know the part and the highest before you can truly understand the lowest. That is the promise of the greater psychology awaiting its hour.”
Contemporary exploration of traditional Indian psychology1 generally proceeds by viewing it from the perspective of modern psychology. What might it be like to reverse this stance – i.e., to look at modern psychology – both experimental psychology and psychotherapy – through the lens of Indian psychology? Is it even possible to understand Indian psychology on its own terms; in other words, to take it seriously?2
I am currently working on a book which explores the psychological understanding and vision expressed in the writings of the Indian philosopher-yogi Sri Aurobindo3. During a recent trip to India, I spoke with several students of his writings who are engaged in scholarly work. Upon revealing that one of my major aims is to look at modern psychology from Sri Aurobindo’s point of view, they warned me that nobody in academia would take such a work seriously. Though previously aware of the controversy involved in such an endeavor, I had perhaps unwisely chosen to minimize my concerns. When confronted with this warning, I realized I needed to rethink the potential difficulties and objections to my approach. This article is the result of my efforts to understand how Indian thought has come to be considered acceptable only when filtered through a modernist lens. I attempt here to set forth some suggestions as to how it might become more acceptable to speak of things like “Truth” and “the Divine” (“Sat” and “Brahman”) without using psychoanalytic, relativistic or reductionistic lenses; in other words, to take Indian psychology seriously.4
In an essay describing his teaching, Sri Aurobindo begins:
“The teaching of [Integral Yoga] starts from that of the ancient sages of India that behind the appearances of the universe there is the Reality of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal. All beings are united in that One Self and Spirit but divided by a certain separativity of consciousness, an ignorance of their true Self and Reality in the mind, life and body. It is possible by a certain psychological discipline to remove this veil of separative consciousness and become aware of the true Self, the Divinity within us and all.5
Here are some examples of the way various lenses have been used to interpret a passage like this:
1. Phenomenological: Look at Sri Aurobindo’s description of his teaching simply as an attempt to describe an experience he has had, clothing it in language which is natural to him based on his familiarity with Indian culture. In viewing the passage this way, set aside consideration as to the “Truth” of what Sri Aurobindo is saying. In other words, leave aside concern as to whether or not he is describing “Reality”. This approach is especially common amongst writers belonging to the psychological sub-discipline of transpersonal psychology, that branch of modern psychology which is most directly engaged with the experiential aspects of Indian psychology.
2. Historical: Approach this passage historically, examining it in light of Sri Aurobindo’s social and educational background. For example, it might be asserted that as a politician working for Indian independence, Sri Aurobindo’s perspective was partially determined by a desire to present the Indian people with a philosophy which could serve them in their fight for liberation.
3. Psychoanalytic: Examine Sri Aurobindo’s belief that he is describing Reality with a capital “R2“. A psychoanalyst might consider what instinctive or emotional need Sri Aurobindo was fulfilling through his belief in the “One Self”. Considering that his mother may have suffered from bipolar disorder (manic-depressive psychosis) the analyst might, for example, assume that Sri Aurobindo needed a comforting mythology to compensate for a lack of sufficient parenting in his early childhood.
4. Neuroscientific View Sri Aurobindo’s experiences and ideas as by-products of the stimulation of various parts of the brain. According to the book, “Brain Science and the Biology of Belief”, mystical states such as “Void Consciousness, Nirvana, Brahman-Atman, the Tao”, can be explained “on the neurological level… as a sequence of neural processes set in motion by the willful intention to quiet the conscious mind”.6
5. Postmodernist: Understand Sri Aurobindo’s philosophic and psychological outlook as nothing more than a particular limited and conditioned mental framework. A postmodernist might also consider Sri Aurobindo’s attempt to present an all-encompassing worldview as evidence of a naivete which leads him to believe he can understand the world beyond the limits of his biological, cultural and social conditioning.
In recent years, many have attempted to build a bridge between Indian and modern (i.e. “Western”7) psychology. Like others who are sympathetic to both the Indian tradition and modern science, I was delighted when Herbert Benson, for example, presented meditation as an empirically verifiable “relaxation response”. When University of Chicago psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi likened the experimentally validated experience of “flow” to mystical states of consciousness attained by yogis throughout the ages, I took this to be a great step forward in bridging the gap between Indian and scientific psychology. I rejoiced at Stephen LaBerge’s determination in looking for empirical evidence of lucid dreams, in spite of persistent and abject denial amongst mainstream dream researchers of the possibility of conscious dreaming. When he developed a technique using a combination of physiological evidence and self-report to prove the presence of self-awareness in the dream state, I believed a new interest in and acceptance of non-ordinary states of consciousness was just around the corner.
In most if not all cases, psychologists engaged in such bridge-building have the best of intentions. They recognize that presenting the bases of Indian thought (the existence of One Conscious Being, reincarnation, etc.) as a Reality to be taken seriously would not be well-received in academic circles, to say the least. Therefore, they have attempted to find acceptable means by which these “dubious” ideas might be embraced and understood. What seems to have happened over the course of time, however, is that the various lenses and frameworks they’ve used to explain these truths have come to be taken for the Thing itself. As a result, though meditation can now legitimately be taught in introductory psychology classes, it is often taken to be nothing more than a relaxation response. While it is acceptable to publish research on the flow experience in reputable psychology journals, it is unacceptable to make ontological claims regarding the nature of that experience. Research on lucid dreaming – a state explored by Indian contemplatives for the purpose of understanding the nature of Reality – is often presented as revealing little more than interesting neurological and phenomenological facts.
What underlies this need to translate and, from the Indian perspective, dilute the findings of Indian psychology? How did this state of affairs come about? Why is it so difficult to even consider Sri Aurobindo’s words in the sense he meant them – not merely as descriptions of purely subjective experiences or particular brain states – but as a report of the way things really are… as expressions of Truth with a capital “T”?
In order to answer these questions, I would like to request that the reader acquiesce to a reversal of the customary academic approach. Rather than discussing these issues using the customary scholarly approach, I would like to examine them in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s own perspective – assuming, for the sake of this article, the validity of his assumptions and outlook. Perhaps the most challenging request I would like to make of the reader is that she accept the possibility of a way of knowing superior to that of the mind (herein referred to as “intuition”) – a way which gives the individual unmediated access to universal laws of nature, and allows for direct knowledge of Reality. One might say I’m simply asking the reader to extend the same courtesy to Indian psychology that she would wish be given to Western thought – namely, to be taken seriously, on its own terms.
Following a brief historical overview, I’m going to explore, in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s writings, what I believe are some of the misunderstandings and misrepresentations which have resulted from the attempt to filter Indian psychology through partial and sometimes distorted lenses. I then offer some suggestions for the understanding of psychological research and psychotherapy in the light of the intuitive methodology of Indian psychology. Finally, a few practical methods are given for the development of intuitive awareness.
Given the prevailing climate of skepticism regarding spiritual and occult matters, it is for good reason that scholars have attempted to present Indian psychology in comfortable (though at times ill-fitting) clothing. Some of what you encounter here may seem at best an intriguing fairy tale; at worst, perhaps some kind of pseudo or anti-scientific nonsense. I hope to show, however, that there is nothing in Indian psychology – or at least in Sri Aurobindo’s presentation of it – that is contradictory or opposed to scientific findings – findings which in themselves neither support nor refute any particular metaphysical outlook. Having explored the nature of modern skepticism, and examined some underlying assumptions of modernity, it is hoped that the reader may discover that nothing in modern science or philosophy need present any impediment to taking Indian psychology seriously.
Part I: History from the Inside Out
“The teaching of [Integral Yoga] starts from that of the ancient sages of India that behind the appearances of the universe there is the Reality of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal.8“
Looking at history from within, it can be understood as the expression of the evolving consciousness of the “one and eternal Self” . This consciousness, according to Sri Aurobindo, is hidden in Matter, and slowly unfolds, or evolves. The whole story of human history, understood in this light, is the unfolding of the mental consciousness of that Self. The events of each civilization and each period of history can be seen as the outer expression of this unfolding consciousness. That is to say, the outer expression and the inner consciousness, are not separate; rather, they are two aspects of one process of evolution. The period of human history discussed here reflects an interplay between the intuitive and intellectual aspects of the mental consciousness, and a struggle for the emergence of a consciousness beyond that of the mind.
The Emergence of the Intellectual Mind
The beginnings of the present phase of Western civilization were marked by the emergence, particularly in ancient Greece, of a new intellectual mode of thought. A similar emergence appeared in the teachings of thinkers in other parts of the ancient world – Confucius in China and the Buddha in India, to name a few. However, according to Sri Aurobindo, by the beginning of the modern age, Western thinkers had come to see the intellect as the only, or at least the highest means of gaining knowledge. Intuition came to be seen as merely subjective, something to be submitted to the judgment of the analytic mind. In the West, “even spiritual experience has been summoned to pass the tests of the intellect, if it is to be held valid – just the reverse of the Indian position”9. In India the intellect has always been understood to be secondary to spiritual intuition as a means of discovering Truth. Faith – understood in Indian psychology to be a reflection in the outer consciousness of the spiritual knowledge possessed by the innermost soul – has become merely a creed of the ordinary heart and mind.
The beginning of the modern age represents another turning point in the evolution of human consciousness. Sri Aurobindo, in his book, “The Psychology of Social Development”, describes the change of consciousness occurring at the end of the middle ages in Europe as an emergence of the individual out of what he calls the “conventional” mode of consciousness10. At the height of the middle ages, it was considered the duty of each person to follow without question the dictates of the ecclesiastical authorities. The church at that time had proclaimed the earthly realm a burden to be endured until the spirit was released into heaven. Seeking to escape the stranglehold of dogma and blind belief, the initiators of the Age of Reason declared the freedom of the individual to discover truth for himself. Initially taking the form of a new more positive embrace of the material world, this movement ended in a complete rejection of the Spirit.
While fully acknowledging the danger inherent in society’s prolonged exile from a spiritually-based way of life, Sri Aurobindo admits the value which the present focus on material development has had for the spiritual evolution of humanity: “An age which puts Matter and the physical life in the forefront and devotes itself to the effort of the intellect to discover the truth of material existence, had perhaps to come… it has given the life in Matter an importance which the spirituality of the past was inclined to deny to it. In a way it has made the spiritualization of it a necessity of spiritual seeking and so aided the… movement of the evolving spiritual consciousness in the earth-nature.”11
From the perspective that sees an unfoldment of consciousness as primary to all outer change, the revolt of the Protestants against the Catholic Church, the emergence of materialistic science and the commercialism of the modern age can all be seen as reflections of an inner change of consciousness. Looked at from within, the emergence in Europe at the end of the middle ages of a more fully individualized consciousness is seen as the underlying cause of the outer cultural and societal changes. As part of the attempt to free himself from the bonds of an unquestioning obedience to the church, the individual also loosened the connections between himself and others, himself and nature – even between his own mind and body. The experience of separation and limitation caused by these divisions is, according to Sri Aurobindo, the source of some, if not much of the modern drive toward the control and conquest of nature.
The Alienated Self
With the development of the sense of the self as separate from both the natural world and the cultural milieu, a chasm began to open in the human heart, a chasm which gave rise to the experience of alienation of the self from the universe. This alienated sense of self which characterizes the modern human being is that of being a bystander, an onlooker, someone who has been mysteriously placed into this world without a sense of direct connection to it, without a sense of meaning or purpose. As this new sense of individuality developed further, Sri Aurobindo explains, it was accompanied by a heightened sense of separateness along with an associated quickening of desire, analogous to the intensification of desire which occurs as a child grows into a self-conscious adolescent. Both the industrial and scientific revolutions were characterized by the desire to gain increased control – control over other (non-European) peoples, and control over nature itself. Thinking came to be seen as the servant of desire – the exact opposite of the Indian understanding which sees thought as a means of expressing spiritual intuition. Hume expresses this new understanding thus: “Reason is… the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them”12.
As the mind became handmaiden to desire, a defensive stance emerged which sought to avoid or attack anything which might bring intimations of a reality greater than the mind – a reality which might demand a posture of humility and obeisance. A rabbi, asked why it is people no longer hear the Word of God, replied, “Man can no longer bend low enough to hear what God says”.13 Goethe observed the increasing hubris of the modern age, illustrating it with chilling effect in the character of Faust. Physicist Freeman Dyson spoke of his fellow scientists at the Manhattan Project as making a “Faustian bargain”, selling their souls in order to do physics “on a grand scale”.14 Sri Aurobindo, examining the kind of thinking characteristic of the modern age, noted something Promethean in the modern desire to wrest forth the secrets of nature by use of the rational mind. While contemplation of a superior Reality naturally tends to evoke feelings of reverence, awe and wonder, contemplation of the modern image of reality tends to evoke either neutrality or alienation. It was perhaps from within this alienated consciousness that Francis Bacon could advise his fellow scientists “nature should be put ‘on the rack’ and her.. secrets forced out of her by torture”.15
Scientists’ original intention in separating the sphere of mind from that of matter was to create an arena within which to pursue their studies of the natural world free of the influence of the church. The church hierarchy did not initially object to this, as they understood the boundaries of the scientific exploration of nature did not conflict with the essential Truths of spirituality. The wisest amongst the priesthood cautioned the scientists not to present their findings as metaphysical truths, but merely as theories, abstract formulas for organizing certain aspects of sensory experience. Had this course been followed, the modern conflict between science and religion might never have taken shape.
However, two cultural shifts occurred which served to create and then intensify this conflict. First, scientific knowledge gradually brought about an increased technical mastery of the material world, a mastery so impressive that the knowledge which led to it became vested with great power. Second, the fruits of scientific knowledge were increasingly being used to advantage by individuals with political, business and military ambitions, further imbuing this knowledge with a sense of control over others and control of the world. Since subjective knowledge – as it is understood in modern times – does not seem to offer such control, objective knowledge has come to be prized to the point where subjective knowledge has been devalued as a valid form of knowing. While this objectivist attitude is not the only possible means by which science could have developed, it did help scientists to accomplish their initial goal, namely, creating a sphere of investigation free from ecclesiastical interference.
Unfortunately, the creation of separate spheres for science and religion has led to a dissociation between the disciplines of theology, philosophy and science, those which seek knowledge of the spirit, the mind and the material world. Feeling and personal experience are considered to have little or no relationship to knowledge. As Jorge Ferrer has written, when spirituality is understood primarily in terms of subjective, individual experience, it comes to be seen as “epistemically empty, or not providing any form of valid knowledge”.16 Finally, spiritual experience is relegated to the private sphere, and science – materialistic, naturalistic science – is seen as sole means for the attainment of valid, objective knowledge. Sri Krishna Prem, a frequent correspondent of Sri Aurobindo, describes here the result of isolating the subjective and objective spheres of existence:
“Religious apologists made a great mistake in abandoning their defense and retreating to a supposedly impregnable ‘Hindenburg Line’ of subjective experience… There is a saying in the Vishva-Sara Tantra: “What is there is here, what is not here is nowhere”: yadihasti tadamutra yannehasti na tat kvachit – If God exists in the subjective world then he exists equally in the objective world… There is a universal tendency to think that when the process by which a thing happens has been explained, then the reason for which it happens has also been explained. The real subject (and object, too) is the jivatma (soul or Self) and that is for ever beyond the ken of mechanistic science because it is in a different dimension…. The modifications of nature form a closed circle… Science moves in the sphere of phenomena, and there will always be an apparent causal sequence among all phenomena in the plane of phenomena… In time, science will no doubt come to admit certain apparently marvelous phenomena now denied, but they will be found also to be explicable along similar lines to all other natural phenomena. All phenomena can be explained in two ways: one in their own plane, and the other at right angles to it as it were, that is, in a different dimension. In their own plane all phenomena follow mechanical laws. This is the mechanism by which they take place… and this mechanism is in the realm of science. The other explains the reason for which they happen and this is the sphere of the mystic or yogi.17 This possibility of two-fold explanation applies, I believe, to all phenomena whether ‘physical’ or ‘mental’ or ‘psychic’ [paranormal]. But when an explanation has been given along the lines of the first method there is an almost universal tendency to think that the phenomena in question have been completely explained – not to say explained away…. It is the second method alone which brings the seeker through other planes into the region of real causation and of the Ultimate Reality. And this method requires an act of faith at the outset and an attitude of mind throughout that is quite different from that of most scientists.18
The “mistake” of which Sri Krishna Prem warned remains in force today. Spiritual intuition, considered primarily a matter of individual subjectivity, is believed to yield no valid knowledge of Reality. Spiritual experience is variously explained away as the result of electro-chemical events in the brain, and genetic and/or environmental conditioning. This way of thinking is the result of the mistaken belief that science has somehow shown the Divine to be absent from the “objective” sphere of Nature, leaving spiritual experience and intuition relegated to the domain of the “merely” subjective. The belief that an individual could somehow directly enter into an awareness of Universal Truth beyond his merely subjective consciousness is considered the relic of a pre-scientific age.
It is this division of subjective and objective truth which, in one form or another, underlies the misunderstandings which psychological researchers and psychotherapists bring to the exploration of Indian psychology. The primary methodology of the Indian psychologist is introspection, the direct observation of inner experience. Because this introspective methodology is not taken seriously by contemporary scholars, Indian psychology tends to be understood in light of modern assumptions regarding the limitations of subjective knowledge. This presents an interesting conundrum which is rarely addressed. As Sri Aurobindo points out, “we have no means of knowing the objective universe except by our subjective consciousness of which the physical senses themselves are instruments; as the world appears not only to that but in that, so it is to us. If we deny reality to the evidence of this universal witness for subjective or for supraphysical objectivities, there is no sufficient reason to concede reality to its evidence for physical objectivities; if the inner or the supraphysical objects of consciousness are unreal, the objective physical universe has also every chance of being unreal.”19
In a certain sense, all of the misunderstandings of Indian psychology described in the next section derive from the contemporary refusal to grant equal validity to the subjective and objective aspects of the world. In the course of exploring these misunderstandings, perhaps some of the barriers to taking Indian psychology seriously might be removed.
Part II: Misunderstandings in the Modern Interpretation of Indian Psychology
Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Perhaps the most overarching source of misunderstanding of Indian psychology relates to the use of language. Many in the West are drawn to Indian traditions which emphasize a negative approach to understanding reality through the deconstruction of mental concepts. This attraction derives in part from the modernist reaction to the perceived dogmatism characterizing the use of language in conventional religions. Terms like “Self”, “Divine” and “Spirit” are sometimes seen as suspect because they are incorrectly understood to represent a naively objectivist view of what are essentially subjective phenomena.
Language is in fact used in many different ways by Indian psychologists, some stressing the objective, others emphasizing the subjective. No doubt, some of the wisest of them, wary of the tendency of the human mind to attribute reality to abstract ideas, tend toward a critical, deconstructionist approach rather than a positive one which asserts the reality of the Divine. However, knowing also that the intellectual in his zeal for deconstruction may unwittingly harbor a subliminal notion of the Divine as a kind of pure abstraction, they employ metaphors and symbols to convey positive experiences which are beyond the mind. Taking the ‘symbol’ to be the thing itself is the mistake of the modern individual attempting to understand spiritual writings, rather than the fault of the Indian psychologist.
Still, words like “Divine” refer to something which is neither purely objective nor purely subjective, but which most definitely – according to Indian psychology – is Real. What may make this difficult to understand is that the modern concept of “Reality” tends to have a one-sided objectivist connotation. According to contemporary philosopher Hilary Putnam, metaphysical realism is the view that “(1) the world consists of mind-independent objects; (2) there is exactly one true and complete description of the way the world is; and (3) truth involves some sort of correspondence between an independently existing world and a description of it”.20 In reading the following section about misunderstandings related to spiritual experience and intuition, it will be helpful to keep in mind that the idea of the “Real” in Indian psychology has none of the characteristics described by Putnam.
General Misunderstandings and Omissions
Americans to a Zen Master: “The old [Zen] Masters burned
and spit on Buddhist statues, why do you bow down before them?’
Zen Master: “If you want to spit you spit, I prefer to bow.”21
There are a few broad categories of misunderstanding which warrant consideration before examining the particular lenses – phenomenology, psychoanalysis, etc.- described earlier. One of the more common types results from a process of picking and choosing. Amongst Western practitioners, it generally proceeds something like this: (1) An individual goes to India to study meditation; (2) he ignores all aspects of the tradition except those which appeal and make sense to him; (3) he comes back to the West, becomes a psychologist, and begins to adapt selective aspects of the spiritual tradition to what he considers to be modern needs. (4) After some years, he comes to see that the meditation practice has not accomplished what he had hoped, and describes in great detail the limitations of the practice… not realizing that he has excluded the very aspects of the tradition which might have addressed his expectations.22
By contrast, consider the Buddhist tradition, which is sometimes divided into three aspects – ethics, meditation and wisdom. Years of ethical development may be required before a traditional teacher would even be willing to offer meditation instruction to a seeker. This process of ethical development is based on a subtle, profound and complex understanding of both inner and outer dynamics, all understood in the context of spiritual awareness – a context entirely lacking in modern developmental theories. It also takes place in a socio-cultural context involving the sangha, the community of like-minded practitioners, as well as the general culture within which the individual lives. The meditative training includes an extensive and difficult practice aimed at the attainment of extraordinary states of concentration.23 Such meditative states, or “absorptions”, provide the means by which it is possible to come into contact with other worlds, with beings of other realms, and to perceive directly the subtle energies which are manifest in the natural world as well as the human body. The concurrent development of wisdom involves a complex intellectual and intuitive understanding of the teaching of the Buddha. Practice of these three disciplines in concert is what leads to the unfolding of what eventually becomes a living, dynamic and all-pervading spiritual awareness – an awareness which makes it possible for the seeker to gain direct access to knowledge of universal laws.
Typically (though by no means in all cases), the Western practitioner has ignored the ethical teachings, abandoned the training for the attainment of meditative absorptions24, and minimized the value of intellectual understanding, delving directly into a selective mix of meditation techniques.. There are a number of reasons for this. A common one is that the practitioner either chooses to overlook or positively reject those aspects of the spiritual tradition, often devotional in nature, which seem, in any way, to resemble Western religion. A graphic example is embodied in the negative reaction of American meditators observing a Japanese Zen priest “lighting incense and fervently prostrating himself before a weird statue of [Zen Master] Hakuin.” When the priest invited them to “light incense and pay your respect to Hakuin”, they objected, “‘The old Chinese [Zen] Masters burned and spit on Buddhist statues, why do you bow down before them?’ The Roshi replied, ‘If you want to spit you spit, I prefer to bow.'”25
Another basis for omitting integral aspects of the tradition is the modern intellectual conditioning which makes it difficult if not it impossible to ascribe at least as much reality-status to gods and devas as to rocks and chairs, without rethinking one’s basic assumptions about oneself and the world. Given the parameters of a modern Western education, certain aspects of the Indian spiritual tradition may simply be incomprehensible or unfathomable.
Perhaps the greatest blindspot in appreciating the psychological knowledge inherent in Indian spiritual tradition derives from the assumption that the totality of that knowledge is contained within its writings. This assumption fails to take into account the significant oral component of the Indian tradition, in which a massive amount of knowledge has been passed down from teacher to student without ever taking written form. Given instructions for the development of Jnana (direct spiritual awareness of the supreme Being) and Vijnana (knowledge of the Many in light of the One) the teacher believed the seeker then held the key to an infinite body of knowledge, thus obviating the need for everything to be written. So the Western practitioner either picks and chooses according to his own predilections and biases, or he ignores the non-verbal nature of the subtlest and most profound aspects of Indian psychology. As a result of overlooking much, if not most of the traditional teaching, a vast body of psychological knowledge and experience inherent in the teaching is missed altogether.26
Over the course of the thirty year history of transpersonal psychology, its proponents have compiled a growing list of important elements of psychological knowledge they believe to be lacking in Indian psychology. This list has become so large, one might wonder why it’s even worth bothering to explore Indian psychology. Psychologist Daniel Goleman writes, “Psychoanalytic thought… has charted aspects of what would be called ‘karma’ in the East in far greater detail and complexity than any Eastern school of psychology”.27 Among other things, Indian psychology is said to have no equivalent of the Freudian unconscious, to be deficient in the understanding of the development of the ego, lacking in understanding of interpersonal relationships, and without a sophisticated awareness of social and cultural structures of consciousness. Charles Tart observes, “We [in the West] have studied some aspects of samsara (illusion, maya) in far more detail than the Eastern traditions that originated the concept of samsara.”28 As sources of this detailed psychological knowledge, he recommends textbooks in abnormal and developmental psychology, as well as introductory psychology texts written for college freshmen.29 In each of these instances, the authors have overlooked data presented in a symbolic format (i.e., Vedic astrology) not easily accessible to the modern mindset. In addition, they have not considered the possibility that the knowledge they believe lacking in Indian psychology may not have been available in written form, but could have been accessible to the yogi through direct experience.
Something perhaps more subtle needs also to be considered as a general source of misunderstanding – what Sri Aurobindo has called a fear of the infinite. In a recent letter to the Journal of Consciousness Studies forum, philosopher Jonathan Shear noted that the world-view reflected by classical physics conforms to the modern child’s conception of the world, a conception carefully constructed in the early years of childhood. This world-construction is quite different, however, in cultures separated either spatially or temporally. Thus, in a very concrete sense, the “world” experienced by an Egyptian living in 1000 BC is not the same world experienced by an Englishman living in 1859. Much of what Egyptian took for granted – communication with gods and spirits, telepathic communication amongst humans, and between humans and animals – would have seemed absurd to the 19th century Englishman. But beyond a superficial and dismissive amusement, such phenomena may well have significantly threatened his solid world view, thus presenting a frightening and even terrifying possibility.30 We are not generally aware that our experienced “world” is a constructed one, and there are many defenses in the psyche poised to attack anything which might bring the tenuous reality of one’s constructed world to awareness. As Sri Aurobindo writes, “If mankind could but see though in a glimpse of fleeting experience what infinite enjoyments, what perfect forces, what luminous reaches of spontaneous knowledge, what wide calms of our being lie waiting for us in the tracts which our animal evolution has not yet conquered, they would leave all and never rest till they had gained these treasures. But the way is narrow, the doors hard to force, and fear, distrust and scepticism are there, sentinels of Nature to forbid the turning away of our feet from her ordinary pastures.”31
As a result of these biases, only a very small aspect of Indian psychology has been admitted for consideration by modern psychology and psychotherapy. And, even that portion which has been used is rarely taken on its own terms. Rather, it is filtered through a variety of conceptual lenses. These lenses will now be explored in more detail.
Misunderstandings resulting from the use of various “lenses” in the modern exploration of Indian psychology
It is important to stress that nothing said here should be construed as advocating an abandonment of frameworks. Quite to the contrary, phenomenology, neuroscience, etc. have been indispensable aids in making Indian psychology accessible to an initially disinterested and often skeptical academic and lay community, and will no doubt continue to have an important role to play. What is being suggested here is a careful examination of how these lenses may have unwittingly contributed to the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Indian psychology.
In examining the various frameworks described below, the reader should keep in mind that the Indian tradition has always known Truth cannot be fully captured or limited by words, and that it therefore can be expressed in an infinite variety of forms. Sri Aurobindo describes this vision of unity-in-multiplicity in reference to the apparently conflicting Indian philosophies of dualism, qualified non-dualism and non-dualism, saying, “The Divine is not bound by human philosophies-it is free in its play and free in its essence”.32 It might be useful to consider the following frameworks as more or less opaque or transparent windows through which glimmers of the One Truth can be discerned, while at the same time making note of the distortions resulting from the ways in which they have been used.
The stance of those who use neuroscience as a bridge between Indian and Western psychology might be characterized as ranging from sympathetic to the reality of the Spirit to wholly materialist. On the sympathetic end of the spectrum, Alan Wallace and Greg Simpson, a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and a neuropsychologist respectively, have regularly brought EEG equipment to Tibetan Buddhist communities in Northern India to measure the brain waves of highly accomplished contemplatives. They are careful in their reports to describe their findings solely in terms of correlation, avoiding the assertion that contemplative experience is caused by certain conditions of the brain. Dr. Newberg, the neurologist cited earlier, is another example of a sympathetic, non-reductionist researcher.
The dream researcher Stephen LaBerge represents an interesting case midway between sympathetic and reductionist stances. Speculating on the relationship of mental and physical events, he admits, “At this point, I can only give a partial answer: our research indicates that dream events are closely paralleled by brain events”. He doesn’t state with assurance, as Alan Wallace does, that consciousness survives the death of the physical body. He remains agnostic, in contrast to this note of striking assurance from J. Allan Hobson: “The brain-mind question and the problem of consciousness are already solved… What we call ‘subjectivity’ is.. an emergent property that inevitably arises in any sufficiently complex sensory system composed of sensory neurons… We are ourselves, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing but the integrated neuronal activity representing our sensations of the world and our bodies – including our emotions and all the other modalities that make up our conscious and unconscious minds… How can we any longer doubt that our brains… are ourselves?”33 It is perhaps interesting to contrast this to one of Sri Aurobindo’s statements about the nature of consciousness: “Consciousness is the fundamental thing in existence – it is the… movement of consciousness that creates the universe and all that is in it… Of course, this is not what is spoken of in modern materialistic thought as consciousness, because that thought is governed by science and sees consciousness only as a phenomenon that emerges out of inconscient Matter and consists of certain reactions of the system to outward things. But that is a phenomenon of consciousness, it is not consciousness itself, it is even only a very small part of the possible phenomenon of consciousness and can give no clue to Consciousness the Reality which is of the very essence of existence.”34
Perhaps a further distortion of the straightforward materialist attitude is the pathologizing characterizations of those whom William James called the “medical materialists” – those who saw the visions of St. Teresa as resulting from epileptic seizures, and the experiences of William Blake as the products of a diseased brain.
This approach involves interpreting Indian psychology and spiritual experience primarily in terms of the socio-cultural environment and historical tradition in which the writer lives. While common in the field of Indology, this approach in its pure form is rare in psychology, which tends to be an ahistorical discipline. Historical analysis is sometimes incorporated in both the phenomenological and psychoanalytic approaches, and will be discussed in conjunction with them. One point bears mention here. Ferrer, in an essay on the limitations of phenomenology, notes that the construal of spiritual experience as limited to the inner individual consciousness leads to the question: how is it possible for an individual to know Truth apart from his social, cultural and historical conditioning? While Indian psychology celebrates individuality, it does not view the individual person as a something separate from the universe. Rather, the individual is seen as “a point of view through which the Eternal One as subject looks out upon itself as object… a focus through which can shine the light of the One Consciousness illumining the objective world which is the other aspect of the Mahat Atman [Vijnanamaya Purusha, or “Vast Self”]. This Light, differing in no way from that which shines through the innumerable other foci which constitute the world of beings, is the real Self”.35
Psychoanalytic theory has been used to understand Indian psychology ever since Freud admitted to Romain Rolland that he could find nothing equivalent in himself to the “oceanic consciousness” which Rolland attributed to the 19th century Indian saint Ramakrishna in his states of profound silent contemplation. Freud interpreted these states as a form of regression to an infantile condition, rather than as providing access to a consciousness superior to that of the mind. It is remarkable how resilient this understanding of spirituality as a regressive phenomenon has been over more than 100 years. Edgar Levinson and Hans Loewald are two of the few psychoanalytic theorists who are sympathetic to a psychoanalytic understanding of spirituality which is non-regressive, and both have occasionally referred, in positive terms, to Indian psychology.
Psychoanalytic theory in general – from classical analytic approaches through object relations, interpersonal, Self psychology and other more modern schools – has in one way or another seen the “True Self” of the individual as characterized by some sort of biological determinism. Whereas classical psychoanalysis tended to view the patient as a “beast-baby” (a colorful phrase used by some interpersonalists) the contemporary schools of psychodynamic thought – the object relations and interpersonal schools, for example – see the suffering individual as being in a state of developmental arrest. In either case, the truth of the individual, one’s authentic psychological functioning, is understood to be grounded in emotions which have their roots in pre-human stages of evolution. Thus, when somebody asks, “Yes, when you may say you enjoy X or Y, what do you really feel?” they are engaging in what Ricoeur calls the “hermeneutic of suspicion” characteristic of psychoanalysis which results in the reduction of conscious experience to unconscious – i.e. more primitive – determinants. Sri Aurobindo refers to this as “vital subjectivism” – taking one’s vital or biological inheritance to represent one’s “True Self”. While anger, lust, greed, and aggression are the primary determinants of the personality in classical psychoanalysis, they are replaced by love, hate, attachment, sadness and joy in the “kinder and gentler” contemporary schools of psychodynamic thought.
In a striking application of this way of thinking to Buddhist psychology, Jeff Rubin writes, “”In psychological and spiritual matters, like in real estate, practically no one voluntarily trades down. The vast majority of meditators would not meditate if they believed they would lose more than they would gain. Since practically no one – save the Huck Finns of the world – enjoys his or her own funeral one wonders what are the unconscious attractions, what is the desire, underlying the Buddhist doctrine? Psychoanalytic understanding of self-protective strategies such as defensive processes can illuminate some aspects of this process and increase Buddhist understanding of some of the consequences and dangers of the self-deceptions endemic to Buddhism’s stance of self-nullification.” Without attempting to refute Rubin’s point of view, it will suffice here to note that in several ways, he is presenting a version of Buddhism which bears little resemblance to the Indian version. This seems to be an example of an individual finding certain foundational aspects of Buddhist psychology to be either irrelevant or inaccurate, presenting a picture of Buddhism based on this incomplete and distorted understanding, and then criticizing what is actually his own creation.
There is another way in which the process of picking and choosing described leads to the misunderstanding of Indian Psychology. A common notion among transpersonal psychotherapists is that Indian psychology has no knowledge of anything akin to the Freudian concept of the unconscious — and it is true that an exact equivalent does not exist in Indian psychology. However, one reason for what I’m calling a misunderstanding is that Indian thought sees no room for unconsciousness of any kind: “The existence we really are, the eternal ‘I am’, of which it can never be true to say ‘It was’, is nowhere and at no time unconscious. What we call unconsciousness is simply other?consciousness; it is the going in of this surface wave of our mental awareness of outer objects into our subliminal self?awareness and into our awareness too of other planes of existence. We are really no more unconscious when we are asleep or stunned or drugged or ‘dead’ or in any other state, than when we are plunged in inner thought oblivious of our physical selves and our surroundings. For anyone who has advanced even a little way in Yoga, this is a most elementary proposition.”36
According to Stephen Mitchell, widely recognized within the psychoanalytic community as an expert on Freud’s writings, the dynamic unconscious involves “inaccessible, repressed wishes, impulses and memories”37 as well as defenses which are also inaccessible to the conscious mind. Is it conceivable that in more than three thousand years of rigorous inner exploration phenomena like these were never observed by the Indian yogis? In fact, a more complex knowledge of various levels of consciousness and their dynamics exists in Indian psychology than in modern psychology. However, the yogic understanding of the phenomenon which psychoanalysts term “the dynamic unconscious” is quite different.38 In addition, that understanding of inner dynamics in traditional Indian literature has often been couched in difficult-to-decipher symbolic language. Or, it has been expressed in an aphoristic form from which the yogi is expected to derive an understanding based on his own experience. Some of the insights of the ancient Upanishadic sages regarding the subtle workings of human consciousness are here described in modern language by Sri Aurobindo:
On the surface we know only so much of our self as is formulated there and of even this only a portion… even what we discover by a mental introspection is only a sum of sections; the entire figure and sense of our personal formation escapes our notice. But there is also a distorting action which obscures and disfigures even this limited self?knowledge; our self?view is vitiated by the constant impact and intrusion of our outer life?self, our vital being, which seeks always to make the thinking mind its tool and servant: for our vital being is not concerned with self?knowledge but with self?affirmation, desire, ego. It is therefore constantly acting on mind to build for it a mental structure of apparent self that will serve these purposes; our mind is persuaded to present to us and to others a partly fictitious representative figure of ourselves which supports our self?affirmation, justifies our desires and actions, nourishes our ego. This vital intervention is not indeed always in the direction of self?justification and assertion; it turns sometimes towards self?depreciation and a morbid and exaggerated self?criticism: but this too is an ego?structure, a reverse or negative egoism, a poise or pose of the vital ego. For in this vital ego there is frequently a mixture of the charlatan and mountebank, the poser and actor; it is constantly taking up a role and playing it to itself and to others as its public. An organized self?deception is thus added to an organized self?ignorance; it is only by going within and seeing these things at their source that we can get out of this obscurity and tangle.”39 …..
We have within us and discover when we go deep enough inwards a mind?self, a life?self, a physical self… Each has its own distinct nature, its influence, its action on the whole of us; but on our surface all these influences and all this action, as they come up, mingle and create an aggregate surface being which is a composite, an amalgam of them all, an outer persistent and yet shifting and mobile formation for the purposes of this life and its limited experience. Man is in his self a unique Person, but he is also in his manifestation of self a multiperson; he will never succeed in being master of himself until the Person imposes itself on his multipersonality and governs it: but this can only be imperfectly done by the surface mental will and reason; it can be perfectly done only if he goes within and finds whatever central being is by its predominant influence at the head of all his expression and action. In inmost truth it is his soul that is this central being.”40
From the perspective of Indian psychology, the psychoanalysts’ view is limited by its Ignorance [Avidya] of the true nature of Consciousness. How can a non-existent ego (sometimes referred to in psychoanalytic literature as “the self-image”) act at all, much less defend against anything? And what is the motivation for its defensive maneuvers? Looking at this process of defense from a spiritual perspective, a completely different picture of the human being emerges from that of the psychoanalysts. Using Sri Aurobindo’s terminology, the soul, through Avidya (Ignorance of Truth or Reality) mistakenly identifies itself with a complex of mental, emotional, and physical phenomena (i.e., the surface consciousness). Yet, the surface consciousness is always aware, albeit subliminally, of the fundamental non-existence of a self separate from the Self. Thus, the raison d’etre for any defense from this perspective is to maintain an essentially false separativity – a “rock of safety against the cosmic and the infinite”41
Seen in this light, the various frameworks used to understand Indian psychology may themselves be understood as defenses against the profound implications of spiritual knowledge. Taking Indian psychology seriously ultimately requires some kind of personal transformation, an idea that seems utterly foreign to the objectivist mentality of modern thought. Addressing this issue, Evans characterizes modern thought as committed to the “dogmatic rejection of any truth claim that requires personal transformation to be adequately understood and appraised”.42
If the Indian psychological tradition is correct in asserting that a higher knowledge is required before the various dualities – higher and lower, subjective and objective, etc – can be resolved, then the psychoanalytic understanding of the so-called “unconscious” is of necessity a partial and distorted one. According to Sri Aurobindo, “[The psychoanalysts] look from down up and explain the higher lights by the lower obscurities; but the foundation of these things is above and not below… The superconscient, not the subconscient, is the true foundation of things. The significance of the lotus is not to be found by analyzing the secrets of the mud from which it grows here; its secret is to be found in the heavenly archetype of the lotus that blooms for ever in the Light above…. you must know the whole before you can know the part and the highest before you can truly understand the lowest. That is the promise of the greater psychology awaiting its hour.”43
This is an elegant description of a truly integral approach to understanding psychology – an approach which has not yet been articulated in contemporary psychology. The part can only be understood once the whole is known and the lowest only once the highest is known. Most attempts at integration leave the lower levels more or less as they are and add on the higher levels. This additive approach to the integration of psychoanalytic and spiritual models, for the most part, leaves untouched the psychoanalytic theories of defense mechanisms, object relations, etc. which are wholly derived from and based on reductionistic assumptions. This approach is in striking contrast to the intuitive and integrative methodology found in Indian psychology. Suggestions for the application of this integrative, intuitive vision to psychological research and psychotherapy are offered in the section which follows.
Within the field of transpersonal psychology, the phenomenological approach is probably the most pervasive of the frameworks discussed here. It has provided an enormous contribution, making reports of spiritual experience accessible to many who would otherwise have rejected them outright. By setting aside concerns regarding ontological claims, the investigators became free to explore inner experiences in a way which did not seem to conflict with modern objectivist prejudices. However, at this point in time, the limitations of the phenomenological approach may function more as impediment than as aid to the understanding of Indian psychology. I would suggest the very attempt to avoid conflict with a materialist bias has ultimately served to strengthen the Cartesian separation of subjective and objective phenomena – the very separation phenomenologists initially set out to overcome.
One reason for this is that despite the emphasis on experience, phenomenology has remained predominantly theoretical. According to investigators who are sympathetic to both the phenomenological approach and Indian psychology, “Precisely by being a theoretical act, [phenomenology] could not recapture the richness of experience; it could be only a discourse about that experience. We need to enlarge our horizon to encompass non-Western traditions of reflection upon experience. In [these traditions], philosophy never became a purely abstract occupation. It was tied… to specific disciplined methods for knowing.”44 It is possible that the emphasis on theory is due to the lack of a powerful and reliable mode of experiential investigation.
Phenomenological psychologists, perhaps lacking access to higher levels of spiritual experience, distinguish two primary levels of experience: pre-reflective, meaning human experience which has not been subjected to complex cognitive interpretation, and experience which has been subjected to intellectual and imaginative reflection. This perspective is reflected in the distinction commonly made by contemporary religious scholars between mystic “experience” and the interpretation of that experience. “Experience” seems to be understood as involving unmediated sensory and affective phenomena, which are interpreted in light of the mystic’s social and cultural conditioning. The problem with this is that it creates a number of divisions – between experience and knowledge, between individual and collective experience, and between subjective and objective reality.
Regarding the split between experience and knowledge, Indian meditation practices are often presented (in India as well as the West) as a means of achieving a particular experience or state of mind. However, in virtually all Indian spiritual traditions, the highest aim of practice is often spoken of in terms of wisdom – prajna, or jnana; a direct knowledge of reality. Such spiritual knowledge is rarely accorded the respect it deserves, at least in part because of the confusion caused by the apparent experience/knowledge dichotomy. Experiences of equanimity, peace, vastness, infinity, etc are seen as “merely” subjective, inner, individual phenomena, subject to the interpretation of the individual, conditioned by his socio-cultural background, remaining devoid of epistemic value. The possibility of a direct unmediated knowledge of Reality is not even considered in most phenomenological literature. Even when it is touched upon, it is not seen as having relevance for mundane phenomena. This is in striking contrast to the view embodied in Sri Aurobindo’s statement, quoted above, that “you must know the whole before you can know the part and the highest before you can truly understand the lowest“.
The phenomenologists’ idea that spiritual experience lies entirely within the consciousness of the individual experiencer has led to a common misunderstanding amongst transpersonal psychologists that Sri Aurobindo and other spiritual explorers are primarily interested in individual growth – to the exclusion of societal development and the understanding of socio-cultural structures. However, as Ferrer points out, “virtually all mystical traditions maintain [that] spiritual phenomena are not to be understood merely in phenomenological terms, but rather as stemming from human participation in spheres of being and awareness that transcend the merely human.”45 Ferrer goes on to describe the shared communal experience of a sacred atmosphere in various holy places. Along these lines, a number of psychologists are attempting to gather data on the ability of individual dreamers to enter each others’ dream space and return to the waking state with information which could not have been obtained in any other way. Such research could provide evidence for ‘inner’ experiences that extend beyond the sphere of separate individual consciousness.
The idea of spiritual experience as primarily subjective also robs non-sensory experience of any reality-value. Even Asian teachers, attempting to appeal to Western sensibilities, have presented the experiences of gods and non-physical realms as metaphors for individual states of mind. This has no doubt been a practical approach, as there are many who would be put off by meditation were it to be seen as associated with the beliefs of ancient, primitive and – most important – non-scientific peoples. But, as Robert Thurman writes, this approach is not necessary. To say that gods and other planes of existence are nothing more than states of mind is a partial truth: “the whole universe… consists of states of mind… All the world is in some sense created by the mind [though not the individual mind!]… If you step out in front of a freight train, its painful crushing of you is all in the mind as well. A liberated person, viscerally aware of the precise sense of ‘just being in the mind,’, would have no problem standing in front of such a train if there were any benefit for beings from doing so… The encouragement provided by the ‘it’s all in your mind’ approach can be useful. But we should remember that it cannot be applied selectively to those aspects of reality we do not like [or do not believe in].. All of reality is in the mind [though not the individual ego-mind] and the mind has us experience it as ‘out there’.46
The view that takes spiritual experience to be merely private and subjective is in direct contrast with that of Indian psychology which sees spiritual wisdom as having direct relevance and application to an understanding of the natural world and the socio-cultural structures of humanity. From the yogis’ point of view, they have discovered universal truths, and an understanding of the world which is not shaped by nor limited to their personal conditioning.
Sri Aurobindo tells us that at the highest levels of knowledge (what he calls “Vijnana”), knowing and being are realized to be One. Subject and object are not separate, yet neither are they reduced to each other. In a poetic aphorism describing the inseparability of knowing and known, being and knowing, Sri Aurobindo writes, “The half-enlightened say, ‘Whatever form is built, the Lord enters to inhabit’; but the Seer knows that whatever the Lord sees in His own being, becomes idea and seeks a form and a habitation.’ In other words, at the level of Vijnana, ‘seeing’, ‘being’, ‘acting’ and ‘knowing’ are realized to be One inseparable process. It is at this level that the seer can gain unmediated, unconditioned knowledge of universal truths.47
What is the root of these dualistic ways of knowing – mind and body, individual and collective, subjective and objective, experience and knowledge? According to Indian psychology, as long as the analytic mind is considered to be the primary, if not sole source of knowledge, these dualities remain inescapable because the means of integrating them has not been recognized:
“Mind in its essence is a consciousness which measures, limits, cuts out forms of things from the indivisible whole and contains them as if each were a separate integer. Even with what exists only as obvious parts and fractions, Mind establishes this fiction of its ordinary commerce that they are things with which it can deal separately and not merely as aspects of a whole. For, even when it knows that they are not things in themselves, it is obliged to deal with them as if they were things in themselves; otherwise it could not subject them to its own characteristic activity. It is this essential characteristic of Mind which conditions the workings of all its operative powers, whether conception, perception, sensation or the dealings of creative thought. It conceives, perceives, senses things as if rigidly cut out from a background or a mass and employs them as fixed units of the material given to it for creation or possession. All its action and enjoyment deal thus with wholes that form part of a greater whole, and these subordinate wholes again are broken up into parts which are also treated as wholes for the particular purposes they serve. Mind may divide, multiply, add, subtract, but it cannot get beyond the limits of this mathematics. If it goes beyond and tries to conceive a real whole, it loses itself in a foreign element; it falls from its own firm ground into the ocean of the intangible, into the abysms of the infinite where it can neither perceive, conceive, sense nor deal with its subject for creation and enjoyment…”48
Once the experienced world comes to be characterized by an apparent separation between subject and object, a separate identity or ‘self’ is formed which relies wholly on the continuation of this way of being-in-the-world. This apparent self, feeling itself to be separate from all that it surveys, comes to believe that ‘knowledge’ means knowledge of what is external to it; thus, the only way to gain access to universal knowledge is to collect the observations and ideas of many similarly separate selves. Any information or experience which reveals the non-separateness of the individual is seen not only as frightening, but as carrying the threat of his very extinction.
According to Charles Tart, one reason why parapsychology may arouse greater resistance than abstract presentations of spiritual philosophy is that it presents a more immediate threat to the carefully bounded experience of the modern individual. Taking the world to be the “Self” may be seen as a lovely idea requiring no more than a slight modification of one’s attitudes. However, the possible reality of unseen forces – thoughts and feelings passing from one person to another; subtle energies of plants and animals affecting the body and mind of a human being – is not something which can be entertained quite so lightly. For protection of the separate self, these things are put into a phenomenological box. They are dubbed ‘merely subjective’, carrying no implications for the “real” world, and – most important – no possibility of destabilizing the comfortable sense one has of being a solid, separate and well-defined individual.
In regard to the field of psychology, postmodernism may be described more as an attitude than a particular lens. In a way, all of the lenses so far described share in common an implicit anti-metaphysical stance which has simply become explicit in various postmodern writings. The various reasons that have been given for believing direct knowledge of reality to be impossible – social and historical conditioning, individual subjectivity, the nature of human reason, etc. – seem to culminate in postmodern thought in a kind of absolute relativism. In its most extreme form, postmodernism posits absurd limits to the possibility of objective knowledge, and it is these extreme views that scientists rightly reject. This extremity is unfortunate, as its critique of the limits of scientific knowledge, stated in less absolute terms, could potentially provide an opening for consideration of alternative, if not superior, ways of knowing.
It is commonly believed that the postmodernist view is necessarily incompatible with the claim to a direct, unmediated knowledge of Reality made by spiritual traditions. Consider, however, what might playfully be referred to as an Indian “postmodern” tradition reaching back at least 3000 years. In the Katha Upanishad (circa 800 BC) it is stated, “This wisdom which thou has attained is not to be gained by any process of logical thought, nor is it to be destroyed by such either”.49 Yet, the Upanisad holds, as do all other great spiritual writings, that there is a way of knowing which involves direct entry into the heart of Reality. Were the present crisis of knowledge to be faced without fear, perhaps the possibility of an alternative way of knowing might be seriously considered. There seems to be no other way out: “The deepest reason for the current crisis in philosophy is its realization that autonomous reason – reason without infusions that both power and vector it – is helpless. By itself, reason can deliver nothing apodictic. Working (as it necessarily must) with variables, variables are all it can come up with. The Enlightenment’s ‘natural light of reason’ turns out to have been a myth. Reason is not itself a light. It is more like a transformer that does useful things but on condition that it is hitched to a generator.”50
“There is nothing the mind can do that cannot be better done in the mind’s immobility and thought-free stillness. When mind is still, then Truth gets her chance to be heard in the purity of the silence. Truth cannot be attained by the mind’s thought but only by identity and silent vision. Truth lives in the calm wordless Light of the eternal spaces; she does not intervene in the noise and cackle of logical debate. Thought in the mind can at most be Truth’s brilliant and transparent garment; it is not even her body. Look through the robe, not at it, and you may see some hint of her form. There can be a thought?body of Truth, but that is the spontaneous supramental Thought and Word that leap fully formed out of the Light, not any difficult mental counterfeit and patchwork… Cease inwardly from thought and word, be motionless within you, look upward into the light and outward into the vast cosmic consciousness that is around you. Be more and more one with the brightness and the vastness. Then will Truth dawn on you from above and flow in on you from all around you.”51
Part III: Taking Indian Psychology Seriously: Implications for Psychological Research and Psychotherapy
Perhaps the foremost effect of bringing a truly spiritual perspective to bear on research and psychotherapy will be the introduction of the Divine, the One, the Supreme Consciousness as the new principle of integration which is the foundation of Indian psychology. As Sri Aurobindo says,
“Behind the appearances of the universe there is the Reality of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal. All beings are united in that One Self and Spirit but divided by a certain separativity of consciousness an ignorance of their true Self and Reality in the mind, life and body. It is possible by a certain psychological discipline to remove this veil of separative consciousness and become aware of the true Self, the Divinity within us and all.”52
From the perspective of Indian psychology, the knowledge that integrates is that which is aware of the true Self in all – in all beings, in all things, in the entire universe and beyond. In the growth of the individual, the integrating principle is the soul – the spark of the One Consciousness at the heart of the being, around which the various mental, emotional and physical phenomena find their true center.
Among transpersonal psychologists, there is a common idea that spiritual knowledge and understanding is not relevant for people at “lower” stages of development. Thus, in the field of psychotherapy for example, integration is often conceived of as an admixture of different kinds of therapies, each of which addresses a particular stage of development or aspect of consciousness. The problem here is that the theories underlying the various therapies are based on different and often conflicting assumptions and worldviews. From the perspective of Indian psychology, full integration can only be achieved by seeing all theories and practices in the light of the One.
A postmodern objection may be raised here – doesn’t the “One” mentioned above represent the kind of totalizing world-view which has been shown to be not only indefensible but incoherent?. Indian psychology does in fact agree that it is impossible for the mind to gain access to an all-encompassing worldview because the mind, by its very nature, selects out certain aspects of the world and ignores others. However, Indian psychology does not take the mind to be the highest instrument of knowledge – it recognizes intuition as a faculty, different and superior to the mind, through which it is possible to gain direct access to knowledge of the Many in light of the One. And the “One” referred to in Indian psychology is neither a subjective point of view nor an objective “thing” – it is an Infinite One, an Infinite Truth which not only accommodates but celebrates an infinite multiplicity of perspectives.
The analytic mind arrives at universal laws by consideration and comparison of many individual instances from which it then formulates a generalization. By contrast, the intuition functions by entering more deeply into the phenomenon being studied and sees (not thinks) the One out of and within which the phenomenon arises. It is through this intuitive contact with the One that true integration becomes possible – an integration which is not merely a mental summation of disparate parts.
What follows are some suggestions for moving from our present mode, as psychologists and therapists, of acting on the basis of mental knowledge toward an increasing reliance on deeper and higher intuitive modes of knowing.
A. Psychological Research
Several psychologists have proposed a method of integrative research which involves combining what are known as first, second and third person research perspectives. The “third person” perspective refers to the customary objective approach in which the object of research (whether a material object, animal or human being) is investigated independent of the scientist’s subjective experience. The “second person” perspective involves a dialogue between two human subjects, taking into account the inner experience of both. The “first person” perspective involves a researcher examining directly his or her own inner experience. Another aspect of such integration involves the adding together of different ways of knowing, to enhance the understanding of particular kinds of phenomena. Thus, sensory awareness and intellectual analysis are used for investigation of the material world, while mystic contemplation is used for investigation of the Spirit. Combining the first, second and third person perspectives, making use of the appropriate form of knowing, and utilizing the proper research procedure is suggested as a framework for an integral research methodology. From the Indian psychological perspective, this approach is problematic.
Whatever we study (be it human or material, subjective or objective), our knowledge of it is a function of the faculty by which we know it. And if we want to know it integrally, we need to employ a way of knowing superior to the mind. Indian psychology tells us that the true nature of Reality will be progressively revealed as the knower becomes more fully identified with the essence of what he seeks to know. Thus, rather than assuming different ways of knowing to be appropriate for different objects of study, Indian psychology affirms that the true nature of any object of study is increasingly revealed to us as we investigate it with progressively higher and deeper ways of knowing. According to Sri Aurobindo, the highest principle of knowledge is that which gives us access to what he calls “knowledge by identity” (“Vijnana”), a process of knowing through which we become that which we seek to know.
As an example, say we are investigating the function of the nervous system. Conventional neuroscience essentially involves the conceptual analysis of a set of perceptions associated with the neurological activity. Certain aspects of these perceptions are abstracted, perhaps quantified, and a theory is developed by which the structure and functioning of those experiences can be explained. A set of generalizations regarding neurological functioning may be obtained, but its application in new experiments must always remain provisional, because this method of study is incapable of deriving universal laws with any certitude.
By contrast, according to Sri Aurobindo, the intuitive mode of investigating a material object such as the nervous system sees the object directly, without mental interpretation or analysis, as “the whole universe presenting a certain front or outward appearance of its movement”.53 He goes on to note that to this way of knowing, the microcosm is one with the macrocosm. This Oneness, and the direct intuitive knowledge of it, is what makes it possible for intuition to accomplish what the mind cannot – the discernment of universal truths and principles. In this way of seeing, the brain as examined by the scientist, is the whole infinite Divine, manifesting an aspect of its mental, vital and physical consciousness. The “brain” appears to the separative human consciousness of the scientist (who is also in himself the whole infinite Divine and at the same time a manifestation of an aspect of the infinite Divine) as a physical object external to him.
Thus, this highest intuitive knowing sees every object, every person, in the light of the (infinitely) One Self and (infinitely) One Being. This form of knowing may appear to some to be nothing more than pure abstract speculation. Even conceding to it some partial validity, it may seem implausible if not impossible that it would ever lead to anything practical, such as the development of a technology powered by inner knowledge. I would suggest that it is the intensity of the conditioning to which we have been subject in the form of the frameworks described earlier which makes it difficult to imagine such things.
Despite a widespread attitude of incredulity, an increasing number of courageous academic researchers are proposing that scientists begin to apply the contemplative methods of Indian psychology to their investigation of various phenomena There is a panoply of rigorous concentrative, meditative and contemplative techniques which serve to develop the intuitive faculties discussed here. With consistent use of these techniques, the surface mental consciousness becomes gradually more tranquil, and as it does, a capacity develops for the repeatable and verifiable perception of non-sensory phenomena.
It may require decades of deconditioning before the skeptical attitudes described above will yield sufficiently for reliable intuitive methods of investigation to be developed. However, if enough researchers come to acknowledge the value and necessity of such methods for the development of a truly integral form of research, the time required should present no obstacle. The issue becomes simply to embark and see how best to proceed.
One such pioneer is Greg Kramer, a long-time teacher of Buddhist meditation who, in collaboration with Terri O’Fallon, has developed a meditative practice he calls “Insight Dialogue”. In its simplest terms, the practice involves meditating while engaged in interpersonal interaction; in other words, speaking while meditating. While working on his doctoral dissertation, Kramer developed a research methodology which applies this practice to scientific research. The methodology has each individual, on their own, attempt first to enter into a meditative state of deep tranquillity and equanimity. From this state, they each engage in a process of intellectual and intuitive exploration regarding an inner object of study such as a particular mind state, feeling, pattern of sensations, sequence of ideas, memory, worldview, etc. After a period of individual investigation, they would come together. Engaging in an insight dialogue session, they would communicate – while remaining in a state of tranquillity and equanimity, always mindful of and receptive to flashes of intuitive knowing – the results of their respective investigations, inquiring more deeply of each other, checking for biases, unquestioned assumptions, etc. Perhaps other such approaches will evolve in coming years.
Indian Psychology and Psychotherapy Integration
Over the past 20 years, there has been a growing movement toward psychotherapy integration. One of the difficulties is that new “integral” theories keep emerging, each claiming to have the best method of integration, thus serving only to deepen the very division they set out to resolve. In addition, as noted earlier, some of these approaches mix together a variety of theories without recognizing the incompatibility of their underlying assumptions.
The challenge of integration is more complex with psychotherapy than with science because first, second and third person methods have always been employed in the development of psychotherapeutic theories, and the use of analysis has always been supplemented by a wide variety of aesthetic, imaginative and intuitive approaches to understanding.54 With psychotherapy, as with scientific research, a great deal of clarity may be gained by considering the means of knowing being employed to develop the various theories. In regard to integral psychological development, it may not be necessary first to create a new theory or specific technique, or combine a multitude of theories and techniques. According to Indian psychology, an integral inner developmental process may be found by listening for and responding to an intuitive source of knowing. With regard to psychotherapy, there is a source of intuitive knowing not yet addressed, and that is the soul.
A soul-centered psychotherapy
To convey a sense of the nature of the soul, Sri Aurobindo cites numerous Indian texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, which describes it as “an eternal portion of the Divine” (Chapter 15, verse 7), and the Katha Upanishad: “a conscious being at the center of the self, who rules past and future… (Chapter IV, verses 12 and 13). According to Indian psychology, the individual – who is not separate from the Universal Divine – remains individualized even after full realization. That is to say, the soul does not become swallowed up in some kind of primordial unity at some future moment of enlightenment.
The soul is not something which exists only at a particular stage of development, nor is it something the individual discovers… the individual IS a soul. This reality of the soul should not be mistaken for any aspect of the mental-emotional personality. Even less is it merely some kind of occult phenomenon. As the Mother (a close collaborator of Sri Aurobindo) describes it:
“To find the soul you must withdraw from the surface, withdraw deep inside, enter far within… and there you see something warm, quiet, of a rich substance, very still and very full, and exceedingly soft – that is the soul. And if you continue… there comes a feeling of plenitude, something full, with unfathomable depths. You feel that if you entered there, many secrets would be revealed; it’s like the reflection of something eternal on a calm, peaceful surface of water. Time doesn’t exist anymore. You have the impression of having always been and of being for eternity”.55
Whether or not the individual patient is aware of himself as a soul, or even believes in such a thing, the therapist who has felt the slightest glimmer of the Divine Presence within, may learn to “see” the patient primarily as a Divine Being, rather than a small and limited person who is victim to certain dysfunctional ways of thinking, feeling and acting. But how is it possible for the ordinary therapist to see in this way? Fortunately, for the therapist, the soul is far more accessible to the non-meditator than are the higher levels of intuitive knowing referred to previously.
Most spiritual writings across traditions affirm the presence in all human beings of the conscience – by which they mean the vehicle for establishing a link with the consciousness of the soul. Sri Aurobindo describes the conscience as a reflection in the ordinary surface consciousness of the soul’s knowledge arising from the depths within. It is this in us which responds to and is moved by beauty and nobility, and actions borne of true goodness and compassion.
By contrast, psychoanalytic theory describes the conscience as a kind of “superego”, formed in early childhood, and made up predominantly of directives regarding acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Assuming for the moment the existence of the soul, we can assert a potential source of knowledge with roots deeper than and prior to early childhood experience. If true conscience is the reflected knowledge of the soul, and the soul is an eternal portion of the Divine, then every human being has access to the guidance of an infinite and profound source of knowledge. In listening for and following the intimations of the conscience, gradually one’s thoughts, feelings and actions come to be shaped in relationship to one’s Divine source, leading to a true integration. This inner knowledge is not only received as if from a distant source but, when responded to with utmost sincerity, it is gradually felt as the gentle guidance of a Presence which accompanies the individual everywhere in whatever he or she is doing.
“When the [surface consciousness] thinks of the [soul], the latter’s knowledge shines upon the former and is manifest in the form of what Plotinus, following Plato, termed ‘memories’ [‘memories’ of what the soul knows on its own level, not memories of previous life experience], but what is perhaps more clearly described as perception of value – truth, beauty, or goodness. This is the root of what is usually termed conscience, though it must be carefully distinguished from the voices of social, family and racial prejudices which are often dignified by that name”.56
According to Indian psychology, it is possible to become receptive to these soul-memories, and to receive the guidance inherent therein, at any point in one’s development, without need for long years of meditation and contemplation. Thus, this guidance provides a potent and readily available means for integration in the process of psychological growth. If the individual outside of a therapeutic context wishes to avail herself of this means of growth, she need only be willing to listen to a voice other than the customary one of desire and ambition. Because by its nature, desire is always divisive – setting up what is good against what is bad – following the siren voice of desire leads ultimately to increasing fragmentation. However, in any given situation, there is always the possibility of accessing what may be called an intuitive feeling regarding the best course of action. The true inner voice – when not a desire in disguise – has the soul as its source and is rooted in the knowledge of the One, the Infinite and Eternal. Thus is this practice of following the promptings of conscience such a powerful means for integration of the personality, an integration that remains ever elusive to the separate ego enslaved by desire and fear.
Consider for a moment the relationship of this form of intuition to that mentioned in the previous section on scientific research. A true connoisseur of art, appreciating a striking mural or musical opus, is, according to the view presented here, accessing an intuition of Divine Beauty. The scientist, who in a sudden glimpse of knowledge constructs the hypothesis which revolutionizes his field of study, is receiving an intuition of Divine Truth. And the individual struggling with an ethical dilemma, who receives and acts upon intimations from within, has allowed himself to be guided by an intuition of Divine Goodness. As attested to by many artists, scientists and great leaders, such intuitive guidance, or soul-intuition, is available to all who sincerely aspire to and avail themselves of it.
Contact with the inner source can be cultivated by a simple process of daily reflection. Sri Aurobindo often notes that the way of growth most suited to each individual appears in the outer consciousness in the form of a deep aspiration, an intuition of what Indian psychology calls one’s “swadharma”, the law or true process of one’s growth. By inner reflection along the lines of the analytic meditation to be described later, or through the help of another (therapist, friend, or teacher) who has learned to contact her own conscience, the individual can learn to gradually harmonize all aspects of his life and organize all one’s thoughts, feelings and actions in relationship to one’s highest aspiration.
As with the suggestions for scientific research, not all of what is written here is intended to be a prescription for immediate implementation. An individual or therapist attempting to follow course suggested here is faced with an entire culture based on value and assumptions which are in many ways directly opposed to the relinquishment of desire as a legitimate compass and guide. Given this fact, it could be difficult without a widespread cultural change for techniques of inner development along the lines suggested here to be incorporated into the general practice of psychotherapy.
The relationship of individual to societal change raises a potentially serious defect in the conception of psychotherapy as an interaction limited to two individuals, or between an individual therapist and a group or family.
Whatever sense of spiritual reality may emerge to inform or shape the therapy session may well be undone when the patient comes again into contact with what is, for the most part, a relentlessly secular society. This conflict between the needs of individual growth and the fragmenting influence of a secular and commercial culture is recognized to some extent within conventional writings on psychotherapy. Developmental psychologist Robert Kegan, for example, writes eloquently of the need for what he calls the “natural supports” of family and peer groups in the fostering of integral psychological growth.57
I would suggest that the insufficient attention to socio-cultural context in regard to psychological development stems from the modern view of the individual as a Cartesian self enclosed in a body (the body itself also being largely ignored in many forms of psychotherapy). Even the many psychotherapeutic theories which seek to incorporate a more participatory and relational framework for the client-therapist relationship still see that relationship as occurring between two essentially separate selves. In the Indian psychological outlook, the inseparability of the individual consciousness, the social or universal consciousness and the transcendent consciousness – all manifestations of One Divine Consciousness and Being – has always been foundational. Thus, if new spiritually-informed approaches to psychotherapy and psychological research are to be developed, an increased receptivity and willingness to take Indian psychology seriously may be an important place to start. Intuitive training may be one of the more important means of both developing this receptivity and deriving the benefits thereof.
Part IV: Intuition and the Road Ahead
Mind cannot possess the infinite, it can only suffer it or be possessed by it; it can only lie blissfully helpless under the luminous shadow of the Real cast down on it from planes of existence beyond its reach. The possession of the infinite cannot come except by an ascent to those supramental planes, nor the knowledge of it except by an inert submission of Mind to the descending messages of the Truth?Conscious Reality.58
If the path delineated thus far were taken to have some validity, and were there a sufficiently large community of psychologists willing to take Indian psychology seriously, then clearly some means for developing the intuition would need to be explored. A number of concerns related to this potential eventuality that have been touched upon in previous sections will now be looked at in greater depth.
Working through skepticism: Looking through Galileo’s telescope
While reading through this section, I’d like to invite the reader to be quietly mindful of any assumptions and biases he or she may hold regarding the development of intuition: to be aware of any doubts that may arise as to the value of letting go of discursive thought; of any skepticism as to the existence of a form of knowledge superior to the mind.
In order for contemporary psychologists to seriously consider the value of developing an intuitive way of knowing, it may be helpful to come to a detailed understanding of the limitations of reason. The potential contribution of postmodernism to understanding the limitations of reason has already been alluded to. Perhaps the greatest contribution the postmodernists have made is to express in contemporary language that which Indian psychology has known throughout the millennia – that the mind, by its very nature, is incapable of knowing Absolute Truth. From Kant’s denial of direct access to the noumenal realm, to the postmodernists’ assertion of the impossibility of a total worldview which conforms in all respects to the way the world is, the mind has been found wanting as a means of gaining access to Truth.
If it is true that Reality is One, then direct knowledge of that Reality is impossible to attain by means of the mind. Mind seeks knowledge by cutting the seamless fabric of reality into pieces and then attempting to stitch those pieces back together. Because of this inescapable aspect of mental thought, it is incapable of resolving the essential dualities which confront it at every turn: mind vs matter, good vs evil, subject vs object, etc. As it is in the nature of mind that these dualities arise to begin with, so is it impossible for the mind to be the instrument that would resolve them. Mental knowledge in its essence is separate from that which it seeks to know, and is thus incapable of knowing the whole which must invariably include both the knower and the known. Eminent scientist Werner Heisenberg expresses this incapacity of the mind to go beyond its own limits in his statement that “What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning”.59
Where the postmodernists go astray is in the declaration that the mind’s limitations represent insuperable limitations of the human consciousness itself. It is true that proof of the existence of a superior mode of knowing, one which is not subject to the limitations described above, is impossible. However, an honest, thoroughgoing agnosticism is an option that would at least acknowledge the impossibility of proving the non-existence of such a mode of knowledge. Perhaps the effort involved in taking an unflinching look at the limitations of the analytic mind might itself begin to clear away some of the conditioning of our materialistic age. If combined with a sincere receptivity to the possibility that Indian psychology might have something to offer, a small opening may be forged through which an experience of the intuitive might emerge.
Intuition is not simply an ability which can be added to one’s repertoire of skills, leaving the personality untouched or unchanged. Rather, the student of intuitive development will slowly come to realize – perhaps not without some fear – that this learning process involves a relinquishment of much that has hitherto been taken to be the bedrock of his personal identity. The very lenses through which the modern mind constructs reality will be altered, and perhaps at times need to be set aside altogether, in the quest for an intuitive knowledge of Reality. Several hundred years ago, a few Christian priests refused even to look through Galileo’s telescope, reticent to risk challenging the foundational belief that church knowledge was sacrosanct, In a contemporary example, Jeremy Hayward describes speaking with a nuclear physicist who was interested in meditation because of its resemblance to the experimental methods of science. However, when Hayward asked him to consider research on precognition demonstrating positive results, his response was, “There are some things we know are not true, and precognition is one of them. Therefore, in this case, experimental data is irrelevant.”60
What can be done to help provide support in dealing with the fear that is likely to arise as old lenses are being shed? Earlier in this essay, faith was discussed as an aid in gaining access to a deeper and higher form of understanding. The subject of faith is usually avoided in discussions of Indian psychology and spirituality, out of deference to the modern distaste for mixing religion and science. But the faith spoken of here – a translation of the Sanskrit word “sraddha” – is quite substantially different from what is generally understood by the word “faith”. “Sraddha”, as noted previously, refers to a reflection in the mind or surface consciousness of knowledge which is possessed by the soul. The loosening of one’s familiar moorings may perhaps be faced with greater courage when one has faith that what lies in wait through an intuitive knowing is a living universe, characterized in its essence by qualities which call forth in us reverence, awe and wonder. If Indian psychology is to be presented in its entirety, this aspect of its understanding and perception of Reality needs to be taken into account.
Faith is not so foreign to the secular mentality as may at first seem. As Alan Wallace points out, faith is, in a variety of ways, an integral aspect of scientific research. Scientists, for example, do not retest every experiment, but rely on their faith in the sincerity and truthfulness of other researchers. They also have faith in the orderly nature of the universe, a faith that can sustain a 30 year search for a scientific solution that may not yield definitive results in the lifetime of the scientist. Research on curative factors in psychotherapy cite patient confidence in the therapist (i.e., faith) as perhaps the single most powerful factor in healing. For many years, no runner was able to break the world record of the four minute mile. Yet, within one year after the British runner Roger Bannister ran the mile in under four minutes, several hundred runners joined him in surpassing the former time limit. Most likely, it was doubt in the possibility of success that prevented previous runners from breaking the record, and faith in the possibility of doing so that enabled subsequent runners to surpass it.
This faith, so as not to degenerate into dogmatic belief, needs to be combined with a spirit of ongoing questioning, never taking any verbal formulation or mental idea as final. Ralph Metzner offers a way of thinking about combining this spirit of intellectual inquiry with an openness to knowledge beyond the mind. He suggests that one never approach a mental description of Reality as representing a model of the universe, but rather, view it as a metaphorical and symbolic map, a pointer to a Truth which can only be directly known by entering into communion with it.61
Something along similar lines was suggested by the Buddhist Yogachara philosophers of India. The second century philosopher Nagarjuna was one of India’s “post-modernist” thinkers who brilliantly demonstrated the limits of virtually all conceptual descriptions of Reality. The Yogacharins agreed with Nagarjuna’s essential insights regarding the limitations of the mind. However, they were alarmed at the fact that among his followers, some understood his teaching to mean a denial of the reality of the world. To counter this, they suggested the use of symbol, analogy and metaphor to awaken the faculty of intuition – which they understood as facilitating access to direct, unmediated knowledge of both the One and the Many.
What is intuition?
The simplest description of intuition is the direct knowledge of Reality, a knowledge in which the knower is not separate from either the process of knowing or the object which is known. However, as Sri Aurobindo writes, “I use the word ‘intuition’ for want of a better. In truth, it is a makeshift and inadequate to the connotation demanded of it. The same has to be said of the word ‘consciousness’ and many others which our poverty compels us to extend illegitimately in their significance.”62 It will be helpful at the outset to point out the ultimate futility of describing in mental language something which is beyond the mind. But, taking note of these considerations, perhaps one way to present the meaning of “intuition” as Sri Aurobindo intends it is to present several contexts in which he uses it rather than a precise definition:
“It is when the consciousness of the subject meets with the consciousness in the object, penetrates it and sees, feels or vibrates with the truth of what it contacts, that the intuition leaps out like a spark or lightning-flash from the shock of the meeting; or when the consciousness, even without any such meeting, looks into itself and feels directly and intimately the truth or the truths that are there or so contacts the hidden forces behind the appearances.”63
“What is meant by… intuition is the self-consciousness, feeling, perceiving, grasping in its substance and aspects rather than analyzing in its mechanism its own truth and nature and powers.”64
“Intuition is born of a direct awareness while intellect is an indirect action of a knowledge which constructs itself with difficulty out of the unknown from signs and indications and gathered data.”65
In his book The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes that the faculty of intuition is not only not foreign to us, but is actually at the root of our perception of the external world. Though we are not aware of it, the most mundane act of perception involves various forms of intuition which serve to link up the external physical environment with the image constructed by the brain. As noted above, it is the consciousness of the subject (the percipient for which the brain constructs the image) meeting up with the consciousness in the object (the apparently separate perceived object – a chair, tree, rock, etc.) that is united by means of an intuition which is rooted in the same Self common to both.
Intuitive knowing, when consciously employed, is completely different from intellectual understanding as commonly construed (i.e., without the foundation of intuition). For example, when analyzing, the analyzer is separate from what is analyzed. By contrast, in using intuition one has to become involved in what one knows, but without getting lost in it. Swami Vivekananda, in his instructions on yoga practice, distinguished between a state of consciousness which is beyond reason and a state of consciousness which is inferior to reason. What they have in common is an absence of the feeling of a separate “I”. Because of this apparent similarity, many individuals fear intuition, confusing it with a regression to some primitive state in which one’s identity is lost entirely.66
There are several other mental processes which are sometimes mistaken for intuition. One is a rapid process of reasoning which takes place predominantly outside of awareness. When the results emerge into consciousness, one may feel as though an illumination has arrived. The difference between intuition and this impressive but essentially mental process is that it lacks direct and intimate contact with the innermost self of that which is known. In artists, a similar rapid process often takes place with regard to a quality of emotional knowing rather than logical apprehension. This too can be distinguished from intuition by the persistence of the sense of the knower as separate from that which is known. There are also processes of knowledge which might be said to lie “below” the faculty of reason, an instinctive and seemingly intuitive process which in its own way involves some participation of the subject in that which he knows. While the lower form of knowledge is not capable of making use of reason and logical thought, true intuition has the capacity of resolving the dualistic limitations of the reasoning mind.
One more clarification needs to be made regarding the meaning of “intuition” Throughout this essay, the term “intuition” has been used interchangeably with the phrase “intuitive mind”. While Sri Aurobindo makes numerous distinctions regarding psychology of states of consciousness beyond the ordinary, to dwell on them here would cause needless confusion. Suffice it to say that “intuition”, as used here, always refers ultimately to a faculty that Sri Aurobindo describes as utterly beyond any kind of mental consciousness, a faculty which he calls the “supramental consciousness”, the equivalent of the Sanskrit “Vijnana”.67
A first step toward developing intuition is a recognition that its workings are not foreign to our experience. According to Sri Aurobindo, intuition underlies virtually all forms of knowing, whether instinctive, aesthetic, imaginative or intellectual. For example, as noted earlier, faith is a reflection of soul-intuition in our ordinary consciousness. Faith, as understood by Indian psychology, is a form of intuitional knowledge which feels its way toward the reality of the Spirit by means which the ordinary mind finds difficult if not impossible to understand. And it is available to us to the extent we make ourselves receptive to it. Though this faith may, if we are not mindful, harden into dogmatic belief, yet, Indian psychology declares the necessity of reliance on “sraddha” until the eye of intuition has fully opened.
At night, our dreams speak to us in a symbolic, intuitional language. As written earlier, symbolism and metaphor are an immensely helpful means of developing intuitive awareness. According to Sufi teacher Llewelyn Vaughn-Lee, “symbolic consciousness opens the door for a symbolic relationship to life and to our deeper nature… [it] makes all of life holy; all of life becomes an interaction with the Divine.”68 To bring an intuitive understanding to the dream, we need to develop an attitude of non-judgmental receptivity, an opening to a subtle feeling which brings with it a sense of each dream-object carrying within it a world of profundity, richness and mystery. We may bring a similar symbolic attitude even to the stuff of our everyday life, thus imbuing it with the soul-qualities of wonder, awe and delight.69
That intuition in one form or another underlies our experience of the external, physical world has been alluded to in an earlier section of the essay. “In reality, all experience is in its secret nature knowledge by identity [i.e. intuition]; but its true character is hidden from us because we have separated ourselves from the rest of the world by exclusion, by the distinction of our self as subject and everything else as object, and we are compelled to develop processes and organs by which we may again enter into communion with all that we have excluded.70 K.D.Sethna, a student of Sri Aurobindo, describes here the role of intuition in our experience of the external world: “[In our knowledge of external things] an intuitive activity of several kinds intervenes and establishes an immediate intimacy with the external object to be perceived. There is a sense-mind intuition which seizes the suggestion of the image or vibration touching off the nerve-message. There is a life-force intuition which seizes the object’s energy or figure of power through another sort of vibration created by the sense-contact. And there is an intuition of the correlating mind which at once forms a right idea of the object from this double testimony. But… all here is an action through a dense medium, as it were, and the image thus constructed is somewhat deficient. What is deficient is filled up, as far as the field or the scale of experience concerned permits, by the intervention of the reason to the total understanding intelligence. Nothing except such a direct perception, an extra-sensory perception, can disclose the manifold world of objects to us and enable us to judge the correspondence of that world with our experience of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.”71
The conscience, providing us with what might be called “ethical intuition”, has also been referred to. As mentioned earlier, whenever we make a moral or ethical choice, despite the overlay of familial and societal conditioning, we may pause, quiet the chatter of the surface mind and listen for the voice of conscience, within which the knowledge of the soul is reflected. Such quieting of the mind is usually considered the fruit of long years of meditative practice. However, every human being who has attained some level of maturity is capable of at least some degree of detachment from the ordinary workings of the mind, a detachment leading to a temporary and relative inner stillness which allows greater receptivity to intimations of knowledge from within or from above. If in a given moment this detachment seems unattainable, the solution may be to consider with unflinching honesty what it is that the heart desires. According to the Indian perspective, when such detachment is truly sought, the means to attain it will be found. The intuitive answer is always there within – the problem is that much of the time we don’t really want it.
Having considered some ways we might recognize the workings of intuition that are already present in us despite our ignorance of them, a specific discipline for developing a deeper and fuller intuitive awareness will now be explored.
Practicing analytic meditation for the development of intuition
The Indian tradition has produced many forms of practice designed to foster an intuitive way of knowing. Some of these have been preserved and further developed by the Tibetan Buddhists. According to Kathleen McDonald, a Western Buddhist nun, the process of analytic meditation, as taught in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, involves an alternation between purely discursive reasoning and stable, one-pointed concentration on intuitive realizations as they arise. One takes an idea or theme, such as the impermanence of all things that can be perceived or conceived. One then engages in careful intellectual reasoning, and calls up images and memories from personal experience, bringing the central theme to mind with great vividness, clarity and aliveness. When this process is pursued with sufficient concentration, there will come moments in which a sudden inspiration flashes into the mind. It is essential to remain attuned to the possibility of the emergence of these intuitive moments, as they may easily pass unrecognized. When such a moment arises, active thought should be temporarily suspended, and all one’s concentration focused with great energy on the intuition – not manipulating it, simply just focusing on it – no matter how vague it may at first appear. Over the course of time, if this practice is followed with diligence, a change may gradually occur in which the discursive reasoning takes on a more intuitive and global quality, while the intuitions that emerge gain in acuteness of perception and discernment.
The descriptions of the various lenses given in this essay may be a useful subject for intuitive reflection as they represent some of the basic foundations of the modern mind-set. If the presence of these lenses is not recognized, they will continue to create misunderstandings as to the nature of Indian psychology, potentially blocking entry to a body of psychological knowledge which is based on a direct intuitive awareness of Reality. Given the weight of the conditioning that has led us to believe this is impossible, it may well require tremendous faith, self-confidence and unbending commitment to the practice of analytic meditation in order to rise above this prejudicial outlook.
According to the Dalai Lama, this two-fold process of reasoning and concentration on intuitive flashes may be especially suited to Westerners who have received advanced educational training. In the course of making an appeal to such individuals, however, it is especially important not to slight the intuitive element of the practice. Speaking to this concern, Sri Aurobindo writes “The remedy [for dealing with intellectual interference in the reception of intuitive knowledge] is to train first the intellect to recognize the true intuition, to distinguish it from the false and then to accustom it, when it arrives at an intellectual perception or conclusion, to attach no final value to it, but rather look upward, refer all to the divine principle and wait in as complete a silence as it can command for the light from above. In this way it is possible to transmute a great part of our intellectual thinking into the luminous truth?conscious vision, or at least to increase greatly the frequency, purity and conscious force of the ideal knowledge working behind the intellect. The latter must learn to be subject and passive to the ideal faculty.”72
This intuitive training has potential applications for both scientific research and psychotherapy. When two individuals have reached a sufficient level of inner and intuitive awareness, what is conventionally taken to be the purely private and subjective sphere can become a shared reality. For example, research is being done on the little-known phenomenon of shared dreaming, wherein two individuals communicate within a dream and return to the waking state to compare observations. These observations may lead to a new understanding of the relationship between subjective awareness and the objective, external world.
On the subjective side, with the growth of intuition, a new understanding of the nature of individual consciousness emerges. On the objective side, intuitive development often leads to increased access to supraphysical phenomena, sometimes referred to as subtle energies. In the subtle realm (the realm in which dreams occur) the contemplative learns to contact directly the subtle energies which, according to Indian psychology, underlie the physical world. As the understanding of both subjective and objective aspects of experience grows, the aforementioned distinctions of first, second and third-person research begin to break down. What emerges is a clear awareness of the inseparability of the subjective and objective poles of reality. As Sri Aurobindo has written: “True knowledge is not attained by thinking. It is what you are; it is what you become; that is to say, you have the knowledge because you are That.”73
If this process of integral intuitive development is guided by the soul-intuition spoken of previously, the discipline of psychology may yet become an embodiment of that which its name implies – the study of the soul. When a sufficient core of contemplative researchers have developed and stabilized the faculty of intuition, this soul-study may lead to a re-evaluation of much present-day knowledge of the physical world in the light of a new experientially-based understanding of the interdependence of consciousness and matter. It may also lead to a re-evaluation of the nature of the human mind in light of its Source in the Divine Reality within which subject and object are One. And, guided by the promptings of his or her soul, in harmony with the soul of the world, the psychotherapist may discover an integral transformational process which confirms Sri Aurobindo’s maxim, “All Life is Yoga”.74
In the passage which follows, Sri Aurobindo invites us to still for a moment the voices of doubt and fear, to take a leap of faith across the threshold of the mind, and have a glimpse of “what infinite enjoyments…. what luminous reaches of spontaneous knowledge, what wide calms of our being” may lie in wait if we would dare to take Indian psychology seriously:
“Lift your eyes towards the Sun; He is there in that wonderful heart of life and light and splendor. Watch at night the innumerable constellations glittering like so many solemn watchfires of the Eternal in the limitless silence which is no void but throbs with the presence of a single calm and tremendous existence; see there Orion with his sword and belt shining…Sirius in his splendor, Lyra sailing billions of miles away in the ocean of space. Remember that these innumerable worlds, most of them mightier than our own, are whirling with indescribable speed at the beck of that Ancient of Days whither none but He knoweth, and yet that they are a million times more ancient than your Himalaya, more steady than the roots of your hills and shall so remain until He at his will shakes them off like withered leaves from the eternal tree of the Universe. Imagine the endlessness of Time, realize the boundlessness of Space; and then remember that when these worlds were not, He was, the Same as now, and when these are not, He shall be, still the Same; perceive that beyond Lyra He is and far away in Space where the stars of the Southern Cross cannot be seen, still He is there. And then come back to the Earth and realize who this He is. He is quite near to you. See yonder old man who passes near you crouching and bent, with his stick. Do you realize that it is God who is passing? There a child runs laughing in the sunlight. Can you hear Him in that laughter? Nay, He is nearer still to you. He is in you, He is you. It is yourself that burns yonder millions of miles away in the infinite reaches of Space, that walks with confident steps on the tumbling billows of the ethereal sea; it is you who have set the stars in their places and woven the necklace of the suns not with hands but by that Yoga, that silent actionless impersonal Will which has set you here today listening to yourself in me. Look up, O child of the ancient Yoga, and be no longer a trembler and a doubter; fear not, doubt not, grieve not; for in your apparent body is One who can create and destroy worlds with a breath.”
1. Sri Aurobindo (1972). Letters on Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 23, Part 2, p. 1608. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
2. I’m aware that the term “Indian psychology” is not used in traditional Indian thought. I’m following in this essay the lead of Sri Aurobindo, who speaks both of “Indian psychology” and “Yoga psychology” to refer to the essential psycho-spiritual knowledge found in Indian spiritual literature, including Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh writings. Sri Aurobindo also approved of the term “Integral Psychology” when it was proposed to him in the mid-1940s by a disciple to refer to the spiritual psychology contained within his writings. It may also be helpful to add, since I refer to Buddhist philosophy in this essay, a word about my frequent use of the term “Self”. It is commonly believed that the Buddha absolutely denied the existence of the Self, the Atman. However, as Robert Thurman, one of today’s leading Buddhist scholars, points out, “[The Buddha Nature] is very similar to the Hindu notion of the Self (atman) or Supreme Self (paramatman)… The Buddha was never dogmatic about formulae, even about his most powerful formula known as ‘selflessness.’ He emphasized selflessness when talking with absolutists, and he emphasized self when talking with nihilists… [The Buddha Nature] is, in the words of the author Maitreyanatha, a Supreme Self of Selflessness.” (From “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”, p. 41, New York: Bantam Books, 1993.)
In spite of this apparent harmony between different traditions, it must be acknowledged that there is by no means complete unanimity amongst the vast multiplicity of psychological perspectives existing throughout the history of Indian thought. Sri Aurobindo’s psychology has simply been taken here to represent one of the main streams of Indian psychology. Also, in support of the idea of an essential unanimity within the Indian tradition, Sri Krishna Prem notes that the various systems of Indian philosophy have been recognized by many as varying expressions – suited to different temperaments – of one Truth. “India has, no doubt, always had its sectarians… But besides these there have always been others… who have most typified the genius of India, men who have realized the interdependence of all the systems and who, though they may have made special use of one, were always ready to restate their position in terms of any of the others: “That which is known by Shaivas as Shiva, as Brahman by the Vedantins, as Buddha by the Buddhists, as Arhat by the Jainas, and as all-ruling Karma by the Mimamsakas; may that Hari, Lord of the Triple-world grant us the Fruit we desire.” Such expressions as this can be found throughout the Indian tradition, which from the far away Vedik times, has ever proclaimed that ‘the Real is One; [though] the learned call It by many names.'” (Sri Krishna Prem, The Yoga of the Kathopanishad, p. 64-65. Ahmedabad, India: The New Order Book Company.)
3. In academic writings, “Aurobindo” is usually presented without the title “Sri”. This honorific is added in this essay in order to stress the theme of taking Indian psychology on its own terms.
4. Strictly speaking, there is no single tradition of psychological thought which can be accurately described as the official version of Indian psychology. Since it is not possible in an essay like this to encompass all the variations in Indian psychological thought, I am taking one author – Sri Aurobindo – as representative of the tradition. There is a fairly wide range of scholars who have assessed Sri Aurobindo’s writings as representing an excellent synthesis of much of the Indian psychological tradition, though, it should be noted, this assessment is by no means universal.
5. Sri Aurobindo, (1993). “The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo”, p. 3, in The Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publications.
6. Newberg, A., D’Aquili, E. & Rause, V., (2001). Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, p. 120. New York: Ballantine. To be fair, it must be added that the authors acknowledge that “by explaining mystical experience as a neurological function, we do not intent to suggest that it can’t be something more”. However, this stands as an example of presenting mysticism in an acceptably naturalistic fashion, while at most, hinting at the “something more”.
7. In the course of discussions over the past year with a number of Indian friends involved in the study of psychology, I at first objected to the label “Western” being used to describe modern psychology, as it is essentially the same psychology which is taught in universities in Calcutta and Tokyo as in London and Chicago. However, in reflecting this issue, I have been increasingly struck by what appears to be fundamental differences in underlying assumptions between psychological knowledge given in the Indian tradition and those which provide the foundation for modern psychology. Seen in this light, almost all of modern scientific psychology and psychotherapy seems to be based on a set of ontological and epistemological assumptions which can probably be best characterized as Western or European.
8. Sri Aurobindo, (1993). “The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo”, p. 3, in The Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publications. .
9. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). Letters on Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 22, Part 1, p. 159. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
10. Sri Aurobindo is speaking here of the wide-spread emergence of a new aspect of individuality, one marked by a sense of increased rationality as well as alienation from the natural world. His observations should not be understood as affirming the common notion that individuality was not considered important in ancient or medieval Indian culture. On the contrary, the need to discover the truth of one’s own nature, “swabhava”, the law of one’s being, “swadharma”, was always considered essential in Indian psychology and spirituality.
11. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). Letters on Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 22, Part I, p. 4. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
12. Hume, D. “Treatise of Human Nature”, II, iii, 3; cited in Smith, H. (1996). Beyond the Post-Modern Mind. p. 246. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House.
13. Bedi, A., (2000). Path to the Soul. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser Inc. Excerpted on the world wide web, at http://www.innerself.com/Spirituality/accidents.htm.
14. Freeman Dyson, from an interview in the film “The Day After Trinity: The Making of the Atomic Bomb”.
15. Hayward, J. (1997). Letters to Vanessa, p. 32. Boston: Shambhala. Hayward notes that Bacon wrote this during the time of the witch-hunts.
16. Ferrer, Jorge N., (2000). “Transpersonal Knowledge: A Participatory Approach to Transpersonal Phenomena”, p. 215, in Hart, Nelson and Puhakka, Transpersonal Knowing: Exploring the Horizon of Consciousness. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
17. The Persian Sufi-poet Rumi has written, “The entire Koran is teaching nothing from beginning to end but the abandonment of belief in phenomenal causation” (Mathnawi, III. 2525-26) – or, as my meditation teacher once said in simpler religious language, “not even a leaf shakes but for the Will of God”. Sri Aurobindo expresses something along the same lines when he says, “The whole universe is an act of God, mere living even is His movement.” (Essays on the Gita, Centenary Library, Volume 13, p. 107. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram).
18. Sri Krishna Prem, in Roy, D.K., (1992). Yogi Sri Krishnaprem, pp. 148, 149. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
19. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Book 2, p. 648. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
20. Wallace, A. (2000). The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science of Consciousness, p. 66. New York: Oxford University Press.
21. Kapleau, P., (2000). The Three Pillars of Zen, pp. 236-237. NY: Random House.
22. “The attempt to abstract out the primary characteristics of meditation from a grab bag of traditions in order to come to some purified essence or generic definition is a uniquely Western and relatively recent phenomenon. This tendency should be considered, however powerful and convincing its claim as an objective, universal, and value-free method, to be an artifact of one culture attempting to comprehend another that is completely different.” From Eugene Taylor’s introduction to Murphy, M. & Donovan, S., (1997). Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, p. 2. Sausalito, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences.
23. “It is essential not to fall into the error of believing that practicing tranquillity is unnecessary because insight is the goal. This, too, is a widespread and erroneous belief, and is not based on the Buddha’s actual instructions… the meditative absorptions… are a necessary means… because through them the mind acquires the ability to be one-pointed, to have enough strength to stay quietly in one spot. Without that mental power the mind cannot penetrate the depth and profundity of the Buddha’s teaching, where ultimate, absolute truth can be found.” Khema, A., (2000). When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West, pp. 129-130. Boston: Wisdom Publications. It may be this error which has led Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield to speculate – on the basis of American Buddhists’ experience – that perhaps no Buddhist practitioner has ever attained a sustained, unbroken awareness of spiritual reality. In fact, Kornfield has been one of the most popular vocal exponents of the idea that insight can be attained without developing meditative absorption. Fortunately, American Buddhist teacher and scholar Alan Wallace has done a great deal to make the practice of quiescence – another term for meditative absorption – accessible.
24. For many years, American Buddhist teachers have proclaimed the superiority of the here-and-now focus of Buddhist insight meditation over the supposedly other-worldly focus of meditation practices – both Buddhist and non-Buddhist – which focus on the attainment of deep states of concentration. This aversion to states of meditative absorption is completely lacking in the Buddhist tradition, and most likely stems from the modern mind’s fear of abandoning the seemingly safe ground of physical experience. The world which the modern individual feels to be real is the world of physical experience – it is in part this feeling of the unreality (i.e. the mere subjectivity) of non-physical states of consciousness which makes it so difficult to take Indian psychology on its own terms.
25. Kapleau, P., (2000). The Three Pillars of Zen, pp. 236-237. NY: Random House.
26. See also Note 56 regarding the difference between models and maps. Indian psychologists often presented a map of experience as a guide to the Yogi, who then was able to discover in his own experience the nature of development, the ego, the so-called “unconscious” etc. If modern psychologists consider only the written texts of Indian psychology, they may miss much of the knowledge inherent in the tradition. In order to test this proposition – that knowledge was available to Indian psychologists that was not written down – what might be necessary is a concerted effort on the part of modern psychologists to duplicate the experiences of the Indian psychologists and discover for themselves whether entry into the inner realms of the psyche provides such knowledge.
27. Goleman, D., “Psychology, Reality and Consciousness”, in Walsh, R. and Vaughan, F., (1993). Paths Beyond Ego, p. 20 Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
28. Charles Tart, personal communication.
29. Tart is referring here to his idea of the mind as “world simulator”. He describes modern psychology as recognizing that the mind constructs its experience of the world. To make this process more accessible, he describes the training a neophyte airline pilot receives through practice in a flight simulator, an environment designed to give the pilot an experience resembling that of an airplane in flight. Just as the pilot may come to feel he is actually flying, so the mind takes its “world simulation” to be the same as the “real world”. The problem with this explanation is that it only bares the slightest family resemblance to the infinitely more complex idea of samsara in Indian psychology. While Tart doesn’t claim it’s the same, his readership – and this is borne out by numerous authors who have quoted him and misused his analogy – comes to think that the Indian concept of samsara refers to nor more than a set of perceptual and cognitive distortions of the surface consciousness for which modern psychology is busy developing empirical proof – the implication being that pre-scientific (and pre-Kantian, thus pre-modern and naively metaphysical) Indian thought had only a vague understanding of samsara, now fortunately filled in by modern science.
30. In the eleventh chapter of the Indian scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, there is a description of the state of terror that overwhelms the contemplative soul to whom the Divinity of the universe is suddenly revealed. What previously appeared to be a universe of independently existing objects – the solidity of provides an anchor for the separate ego – is realized to be the infinitely varied manifestation of the one Divine Being. In the text, Arjuna (symbolizing the human soul), speaking as the disciple of the Lord Krishna (symbolizing the Supreme Divinity), cries out as he realizes that all he took to be real is dissolving in the unimaginable vastness of the Divine Being: “Oh Sri Krishna, seeing your terrible flames burning the entire universe, my heart shakes in terror and gone is my peace. Tell me who you are in this form so terrible.” Sri Krishna replies, “I am Time, the destroyer of worlds.” Time appears as death to the limited, separate ego, while to the Spirit, it is transformed into the great liberator. The soul who lives in the Eternal, even while active in the world of change, fears no ultimate dissolution, for he is rooted in that which has neither beginning nor ending; time then becomes, in the words of Shelley, “the moving face of Eternity”.
31. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). “Thoughts and Aphorisms”, in The Hour of God and other writings, Centenary Library, Volume 17, Aphorism number 79. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
32. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). Letters on Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 22, Part I, p. 315.
33. Hobson, J. Allan, 1999). Consciousness, pp. 230-231. New York: Scientific American Library.
34. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). Letters on Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 22, Part 1, p. 238. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
35. Sri Krishna Prem, (1988). The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, p. 41. Longmead, England: Element Books.
36. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Synthesis of Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 20, Part 1, p. 386. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
37. Mitchell, S. & Black, M., (1995). Freud and Beyond, p. 19. New York: Basic Books.
38. Charles Tart says that he has spoken to many Buddhist and Hindu teachers and that none of them were able to point to anything in their literature resembling the Freudian dynamic unconscious (personal communication). However, it is possible that the Indian psychologists and Freudian analysts were observing similar inner dynamics but employing quite different theories to understand these phenomena. If this is the case, then it is conceivable that the teachers Tart spoke with simply weren’t familiar enough with the assumptions underlying psychoanalytic theories to discern parallels with their own writings.
39. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 18, Book 1, p. 532. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram. A symbolic example of the same knowledge can be found in the character of the 10-headed, 10-armed Ravana, from the Indian epic The Ramayana. Ravana, representing the shape-shifting character of the human ego, was considered to be undefeatable in combat because whenever one of his heads is chopped off, another grows back in its place. It was only when the hero, Rama, used his secret weapon, the “Brahma-missile”, and aimed it directly at Ravana’s heart – the symbolic source of the false-ego – that Ravana was finally killed. To give a very simple and mundane example of this phenomenon, imagine a meditator observing the workings of his mind. He discovers to his surprise a deeply entrenched complex of arrogant pride of which he had not been previously aware. In the course of observing this set of emotions, he does not realize that, although this complex appears to have started to dissolve, he is now feeling a great deal of pride in having discerned this subtle working in himself. It is not by intellectual introspection that emotions such as arrogant pride can be uprooted, but by tracing them back to their source – the Ignorance of one’s True Self – and, more important, by centering oneself in the consciousness of that Self, and calling on the energy of the Divine (Rama, in the Ramayana) to transform the emotion.
40. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 19, Book 2, p. 897. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
41. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 18, Book 1, p. 229. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
42. Evans, D. (1993). Spirituality and Human Nature, p. 101. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
43. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). Letters on Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 24, Part 4, p. 1608. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
44. Varela, F., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. 1991. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, p. 57. Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
45. Ferrer, J, “Transpersonal Knowledge: A Participatory Approach to Transpersonal Phenomena”, in Hart, T., Nelson, P. & Puhakka, K. (2000). Transpersonal Knowing: Exploring the Horizon of Consciousness, p. 224. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
46. Thurman, R., (1994). The Tibetan book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding in the Between, pp. 32-33. New York: Bantam Books. Samuel Coleridge Taylor provokes the reader to question the relative reality of the dream and waking states in the following passage:
“What if you slept?
And what if, in your sleep you dreamed?
And what if in your dream, you went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower?
And what if, when you awoke,
You had the flower in your hand?
Ah, what then?”
47. Sri Krishna Prem gives here what seems to be a description of this kind of intuitive knowing based on his direct experience: “The duality between self and matter is resolved by showing how both poles of being – the conscious experiencer and the objects experienced- arise from a single source. The universe as we know it has thus the same origin as have we who experience it. We and the universe are interdependent elements of psychic process in consciousness. Looking outwards we fill the universe with values taken from within ourselves. Looking inwards we find that the patterns of the psyche correspond to the patterns of the outer world, Through the understanding of these symbolic correspondences we are enabled to reach a deeper understanding both of ourselves and of the universe, of the relationship between the two, and of our common source.” Sri Krishna Prem, (1969). Man, The Measure of All Things, p. 19. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, IL.
48. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 18, Book 1, p. 162. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
49. Sri Krishna Prem, (1982). The Yoga of the Kathopanishad, p. 62. Ahmedabad, India: The New Order Book Co.
50. Smith, H. (1996). Beyond the Post-Modern Mind, p. 137. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House.
51. Sri Aurobindo, (1997). Essays Divine and Human, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 12, p. 255. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department.
52. Sri Aurobindo, (1993). “The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo”, p. 3, in The Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publications.
53. Sri Aurobindo, (1985). The Upanishads, p. 73. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
54. It is in part because of the use of first person methods as well as imaginative and intuitive approaches that psychiatry and clinical psychology are held in relatively low estate in the modern academy, which tends to value rational and objective thought over and above such seemingly “subjective” ways of knowing.
55. The Mother, a.k.a. Mirra Richard [no source given] in Sat Prem, (1984). The Adventure of Consciousness, p. 93. New York: The Institute for Evolutionary Research.
56. Sri Krishna Prem, (1988). The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, p. xxvi. Longmeade, England: Element Books.
57. Kegan, R., (1982). The Evolving Self, p. 255, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Kegan writes beautifully of what he calls “natural therapy”, citing nature as the best source of wisdom for the psychotherapist, with psychotherapy substituting for nature only when natural supports – as is so often the case in the modern world – have broken down. This outlook bears some resemblance, though on a different plane of thought, to Sri Aurobindo’s notion that the entire creation is engaged in a process of evolution. Looked at from this standpoint, the voice of conscience, the reflection of the soul, is itself a movement which is inseparable from the larger, universal movement of evolution. All of nature, according to Sri Aurobindo, is engaged in a Yoga, an attempt to become reunited with its Divine source. The individual is a particular focus of this all-encompassing universal movement. It is this universal process of evolution which Sri Aurobindo refers to in his phrase, “All Life is Yoga”.
58. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 18, Book 1, p. 163. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
59. Heisenberg, Werner, cited in Alan Wallace, (1993). Tibetan Buddhist From the Ground Up, p. 180. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
60. Hayward, J. (1984). Perceiving Ordinary Magic: Science and Intuitive Wisdom, p. 73. Boulder, CO: Shambhala.
61. According to Stanton Marlan, transpersonal psychologist Ralph Metzner has “separated the notion of a map [which is intended as an aid to experiential exploration] from a model or theory which attempts simply to say how man ‘is.’ Although theories and models are typical of Western psychology, much of Oriental and esoteric systems are maps in [Metzner’s] sense.” Marlan, S., “Depth Consciousness”, in Valle, R. & von Eckartsberg, R., (1981). The Metaphors of Consciousness, p. 229. New York: Plenum.
62. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 18, Book 1, p. 62. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
63. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 19, Book 2, p. 946. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
64. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). “The Human Cycle”, in Social and Political Thought, Centenary Library, Volume 15, p. 52. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
65. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 19, Book 1, p. 330. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
66. It is also because of this confusion that Indian psychology has been taken to be primitive in comparison with modern psychology, whereas it is actually dealing with a realm of consciousness which is beyond any recognized by any but a few modern psychologists.
67. “Vijnana” is used here as an equivalent of Sri Aurobindo’s term “Supermind”, referring to what he describes as a perfect knowledge by identity. “Vijnana” as used by other Vedantic philosophers as well as by Buddhists has a different meaning.
68. Llewelyn Vaughn Lee, (2001). Searching For the Signs of God, p. 100. Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.
69. Symbolism has been understood in many ways in contemporary culture. Sri Aurobindo defines a symbol in accordance with its general significance in Indian psychology: “A symbol, as I understand it, is the form on one plane that represents a truth of another. For instance, a flag is the symbol of a nation…. But generally all forms are symbols. This body of ours is a symbol of our real being and everything is a symbol of some higher reality.” (1972, Letters on Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 24, Part 4, p. 954. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.). Sri Krishna Prem states that “all perception is symbolic through and through. When we see a wooden door we see a symbol of a moment of the Brahman” ((1988), The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, p. 103. Longmeade, England: Element Books). It is possible to make use of this fact by constant meditation on the fact that each point in the universe reflects all others. As Sri Krishna Prem explains, “Intuition is a power which depends upon the unity of the whole cosmos, upon the fact that any portion of the universe, even the smallest, reflects in its structure the pattern of the whole.” (“Symbolism and Knowledge”, in Initiation Into Yoga: An Introduction to the Spiritual Life, p. 67, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House). As one continues the practice of meditative reflection, the essence of the things meditated upon, the “Ideas” out of which the various things of the world manifest become visible to the eye of the Soul. These “Ideas” are not intellectual abstractions. Rather, they are “living Spiritual Powers which… stand in their own nature eternally and are reflected in the flux of beings, giving to each its form and its essential nature, not abstracted from beings but formative of beings”. Sri Krishna Prem, (1988). The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, p. 96. Longmeade, England: Element Books.
70. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Life Divine, Centenary Library, Volume 18, Book 1, p. 62. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
71. Sethna, K.D., (1995). “New Trends in Biological Theory and Psycho-physiology”; in Science, Materialism, Mysticism, p. 335. Waterford, CT: The Integral Life Foundation.
72. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). The Synthesis of Yoga, Centenary Library, Volume 20, Part 2, p. 301. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
73. Purani, A., ed. (1982). Evening Talks, p. 149. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
74. This phrase, “All Life is Yoga”, appears on the frontispiece of Sri Aurobindo’s book, “The Synthesis of Yoga”. It refers to his vision of the universe as an evolutionary process in which the hidden or involved Divine consciousness in matter is seeking to reunite with its source, the Divine Spirit. “Yoga” refers to any process by which an apparently separate or finite consciousness attains (or regains) union with the Infinite Divine Reality. In Sri Aurobindo’s vision, the consciousness of all individuals and all beings is seeking this reunion; hence the phrase, “All Life is Yoga”.
According to Sri Aurobindo, we have – in the depths of our heart – a means for direct, experiential access to the universal force of evolution, the force which is leading the world toward rejoining (i.e. yoking) with its Divine Source. Focusing on the center of the chest, concentrating on the feeling of aspiration in the center of our being, we come into contact with the energy (“shakti”) which moves the universe. Eventually, we learn to connect with the same energy in all parts of our being – physical, vital, mental and spiritual. By consciously connecting with this energy, we become integrated individually – within ourselves; universally – with the All, the Divine in everything and the Divine as everything – and with the transcendent – the Absolute which is beyond all human imagining. This is the source and the means of a truly integral transformative practice.
75. Sri Aurobindo, (1972). “Thoughts and Aphorisms”, in The Hour of God and other writings, Centenary Library, Volume 17, Aphorism number 79. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
76. Sri Aurobindo, (1985). The Ishavasyopanishad (commentary on the Isha Upanishad), The Upanishads, pp.475-476. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.