H.G. Matsyavatar Das

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Nature of the Mind in Indovedic Psychology

By Matsyavatara Dasa


Indovedic psychology does not reduce the science of psychology to neuro-physiology because it recognizes the existence of a reality beyond the body and the mind - the conscious subject - who experiences through the psychological and physical instruments. This deep and unchangeable self, situated beyond space and time, is the real reference point of cognitive experience. Perception, reflection and elaboration of data is enabled by the consciousness function of atman, which utilizes the mind as its organ of action. Mind, therefore, is not a reality having its own independent existence: it is not a subject but rather an object.

In order for the Western public to conduct a serious study on the nature and origin of the mind in Indovedic Psychology, they must first of all take into consideration the roots of this science, which go deep into the rich and vast philosophical universe of India, containing innumerable power-ideas and universal symbols that powerfully stimulate the imagination and creativity of human beings.

Generally lectures and texts meant to popularize the philosophical and psychological aspects of Indovedic civilization depict only the externals of phenomena, which are not observed, studied and described in great detail.

Because such cursory treatment is frequently misleading, we feel a strong duty to present the topic in depth. Also, due to such inaccurate and incomplete information this fascinating heritage hasn't been successfully integrated in the Western cultural, leaving the Western public mostly unaware of the immense heritage of Indian culture in the fields of psychology, philosophy, religion and sociology.

Prejudice, colonialist bias, outright falsification and the other Euro centric clichés from the 18th century which generated the vast majority of the Indology texts (even recent ones), are now crumbling under the blows of modern scientific research.

Several new findings combined with the diminished justifications for exploitative attitudes increasingly reveal the genuine culture of India; not only as one that hails from antiquity, but as great civilization in its own right in both substance and destination. Furthermore, it is revealed that this culture has developed with the aim of reactivating and cultivating within each individual the essential strength and introspective talents, and powers of self knowledge and self transformation that lay dormant within. Regrettably, because of successful affirmation of the manipulation and technological and financial control from the West, these powers and functions have been neglected and have long since been forgotten.

However, the same overpowering and subtle influence of man on things, and of man on man, is again opening, even tragically, the painful wound of insufficient answers to the existential needs. Having lost awareness of our own real self in the dense mists of ignorance, and neglected our duty to find the purpose of life, we are at risk of throwing our contemporary society in an ever-spreading neurosis.

The science of psychology in Vedic India, most probably the first of its kind in the history of humanity, offers knowledge and methods that: concretely and efficiently help the harmonious development of the personality, fully integrate all aspects of consciousness, reconcile opposites, and harmonize the subconscious elements of the self. Furthermore, the amalgamation of the elements of Indovedic psychological understanding leads to the creation of an integrated, fruitful, and totally satisfactory connection between: feelings and thoughts, intuition and reason, deep subconscious issues and operational rationality, leading to the solid and ultimately fulfilling experience of realizing one's relationship with the higher planes of existence.

We are not dealing here with some abstract descriptive formulation, independent from the people who express it and those who may eventually use it. On the contrary, it is a practical living philosophy, which is made all the more sensible if the recipient is able to receive it with the intention of broadening his own awareness.

In the ancient Indian tradition, each science is considered not a separate discipline, but rather as a part that is strictly interconnected with all the other parts, in a universal project, an organic and integrated program of learning and education, aimed at the development and growth of the human being on all anthropological levels. Therefore each science contributes the maximum benefits when it is studied and applied in synergy with the others. Traditionally, it is understood that only this type of knowledge can give that complete picture of man and the world necessary for a balanced and fully conscious life.

Generally the Westerner tends to focus his attention outside himself, and therefore, although he has become expert in analysing with precision and completeness the phenomena of the objective reality, still remains quite ignorant in the study of his own self and of his inner reality.

Experimental sciences offer an important contribution in the field of perception by providing sophisticated instruments for observation and research, enabling us to probe the phenomenal and trace out the laws governing it. However, modern scientific research (especially quantum physics) has already demonstrated how much the observation of reality and reality itself also depend on the consciousness of the observer, on the viewpoint he has developed.

In order to make our research more reliable, therefore, it is necessary to study not only the object, but the subject too - and even more carefully than the object. We need to analyse the subtle functions of his mind and body, and understand the nature of his deep and unchanging self.

In this regard, the Indovedic texts offer an inestimable heritage of knowledge that can integrate the acquisition of today's objective disciplines with a science that is extremely ancient and yet surprisingly modern. They explain in depth the dynamics of the inner world, of which external reality usually is a projection, by using an effective method, successfully tested for thousands of years, for the development of the perceptive instruments and the elevation of consciousness. In facts, the ancient Indian culture and specifically the tradition of Yoga offer the most ancient school of psychology, capably describing the nature and functions of the psyche with accuracy, using a scientific system and specific language, and in such detail that even modern psychology will be greatly benefitted.

According to the Vedas the mind is an object rather than a subject; it is the “filter” used by the conditioned being to see the world. Defined as “internal sense”, the mind has a key role in determining the quality of the existence of every individual, because it is the operative center which directs each action. The quality of mental health determines the quality of perception, and hence the quality of behaviour and life, too. Vedic literature explains that neither time nor space are absolute realities, since they are lived individually according to specific modalities. Phenomena like old age, death, relationships between persons, and between persons and things are therefore connected to subjective states of consciousness. The study of the object should therefore be conducted together with the study of the subject and instruments of perception, exactly because perception and representation of the world depend on the forma mentis of the observer.

Traditional Indian thought (except for the Advaita-vedanta system) does not raise doubts on the objectivity and reality of the world, but states that our mental images are one of its components, and quite real in themselves as well.

The objects and their corresponding images may not be identical, but are certainly very strictly related, since they are parts of the same process of structuring things.

Indovedic psychology does not reduce the science of psychology to neuro-physiology as is the tendency of some modern psychology schools. This they do generally by negating the specific reality of the psyche in relationship to the reality of the body, and equating the cognition product with a structure that can be reduced to the activity of the nervous system. This then is considered to correspond to physical and biological laws, which are constructible according to objective and experimental parameters. According to Indovedic psychology the psychic objects (ideas, thoughts, images, emotions, feelings, etc) are not less real and tangible than the physical ones. They are characterized by their own structure and function and can be studied through a methodology that is different from the methods used for tangible bodies and consists mainly in the epistemological method named pratyaksha and based on sense perception.

Modern schools of psychology do not interpret the individual psychic process in a theoretical environment based on the materialism-positivism duality, but Indovedic psychological science is different because it recognizes the existence of a reality beyond the body and the mind - the living force, or the conscious subject - who is experiencing the acts of seeing, thinking, feeling etc, through the psychological and physical instruments.

This deep and unchangeable me, situated beyond space and time, simply defined as the self by the ancient sages, is the real reference point of the cognitive experience. This self is described, in different contexts, with the definitions of atman, purusha or jiva; all these names indicate the living entity: the spiritual self, or the real subject of perception, who is capable to give light to the intellect, vitality and consciousness to the body.

In Indian psychology, the mind (just like the body) is constituted of material energy (prakriti), that has a particular and more subtle nature than the gross physical elements. Western psychology on the other hand identifies the mind (when its specific structure is recognized) as the subject of cognitive experience, and gives no consideration to the existence of an unchangeable self (spirit soul) as the place of consciousness and the “center of gravity” of the personality.

According to the Vaishnava Vedanta the consciousness, which is one of the three main attributes of the spiritual self or atman, can be altered by substances or psycho-physical forces (while the spiritual being cannot, as his intrinsic nature always remain unchangeable), but it cannot be explained in material terms as if it were a bio-chemical product. It is the consciousness that produces bio-chemicals, and not the other way around.

Thus perception, reflection and elaboration of data is enabled by this function of atman, whose main attributes include consciousness and which utilizes the mind as its organ of action. Mind, therefore, is not a reality having its own independent existence: it is not a subject but rather an object.

Together with the body, the mind is a very sophisticated and powerful instrument that a human being can utilize to know himself and evolve. However, as with all instruments, if not used in the correct way it can be badly damaged, with serious consequences to the individual personality.

The classic texts on Yoga, and in general on the Indovedictradition, emphatically state that a human being must learn to manage and utilize the psychic instrument, take full control of it and direct it in order to facilitate the acquisition of the deepest possible knowledge of oneself and the world.

In order to properly utilize and even to cure the mind, we must first of all know it deeply, understanding its structure, functioning, extraordinary faculties and limitations. To do that, the essential thing is not identifying with it. When the subject misidentifies his own psycho-physical instruments of thought and action as the self, he thus loses awareness of his own original individuality, who is spiritual in nature. As a consequence, the being becomes more and more alienated from his real self, and enters in a state of deep confusion and depression.

Indovedicliterature explains the psychological mechanism that misidentifies consciousness with the sum total of one's psychic contents and with the body, manifesting the ahamkara, the sense of ego or the reflected and conditioned consciousness.

The ahamkara constitutes the first stage of the personality splitting, and subsequently the field of consciousness becomes isolated and limited to the body and mind, thereby losing its original integrity1.

In the Indovedic  traditional understanding, the study of the mind cannot be separated from the study of the self2; in facts the psychic component and even the physical component can only be effectively and permanently healed in the context of the development of a deep awareness or spiritual consciousness.

The mental field is somewhat primary with respect to the physical body and works as kind of a map from where the body receives its structural references. The Indovedic psychology explains the dynamic connection between the mental images, the energetic field and the physical body. In the science of Yoga, rupa is the level (bhumi) of the form. This includes the mental form and also the psycological one3, on which the physical body depends. The rupa level itself depends on a superior reality level called vibhuti4.

Vedic literature and many experiences of life demonstrate that the discipline of Yoga not only stops the degenerative processes, but even begins the regeneration and the healing process. Yoga and Ayurveda teach that healing is started by the individual himself, therefore they encourage the active participation of the patient, whose willing cooperation, behaviour and positive attitude are essential. The pharmacologic treatment is used only in extreme cases, as it has frequent and unwanted collateral effects.

According to Indovedic psychology, real success does not mean producing “normal people”. It means helping people to free themselves from identifications and conditionings, even from those considered “normal ones”, which in reality constitute the worst among illusions and slavery. Often it has been demonstrated that the so-called “normality” is not a synonymous of health, but it is a precarious psychophysical equilibrium itself, often sustained by medication. Obsessions and phobias, depressions, mild and chronicle manias, learned incapability, selective blindness, search for frustrating and traumatic relationships are syndromes that we don’t notice simply because the majority of people are affected by them.

Treatment of the being on all anthropological levels, including the level of the spiritual self, rarely considered in therapies practiced by mainstream medicine, allows the individual to gradually recover awareness of his own deep individuality, which remains always unaltered even in case of serious pathologies of the body-mind system, as it is ontologically characterized by an intrinsic harmony and well being, transcending time and space.

Even in a case where the treatment wasn't completely successful due to the seriousness of the initial condition, it can continue to produce effects in the subsequent life or lives. In this sense the soul's immortality and transmigration constitute a concrete and satisfying answer to many existential questions. In the Indovedic  perspective indeed, not even death can compromise the continuity of experience and individual consciousness.

However, the author does not intend to diminish the value of Western psychology, but rather to present the opportunity and possibility to operate a new synthesis between knowledge and experiencs of East and West, to attain a dynamic integration that comprises the entire anthropological sphere and contributes to a higher harmony between man and man, and between man and Nature.

Our wish is to overcome the anachronistic oppositions as the East-West concept, precisely. Knowledge is an universal patrimony, and the more it becomes integrated, the more it will be capable to give man the answers he needs.


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1 In this case the individual, completely identified with a distorted and partial vision on himself, unable to perceive anything else, is not even capable of realizing his own conditioning and the fragmentation of his own awareness. This state of consciousness is typical in the most serious mental conditions, like psychosis.

2 It is interesting to note that in the Western tradition the term psychology originally meant ‘science of the soul’ (from the Greek psykhé ‘soul’, related to psykho ‘breathe, blow’).

3 By using the word mental, we refer to the superficial level of mind. By using the word psychic, we refer to the mental structure in its whole.

4 The third of the seven levels called bhumis, described in the science of Yoga. In the case of vibhuti the level is of energetic nature.

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