The Science Of Mind Of Psychology: The Eastern Perspective

Psychological transformation is transcending the psychological structure consisting of our mental attributes i.e. mind, body, feelings, emotion etc, as these are ever changing and have no permanent existence, and arise because of our lack of understanding the psychological processes which is a never ending thought process.

March 4, 2022, 10:56 a.m.

In broad terms, psychology can be defined as the science of mind and the study of consciousness. Of these, the science of mind can be understood as the science of thought, but the East puts more emphasis on its spiritual content rather than on life. Therefore, a distinction is sometimes made between pure psychology as understood in the East, and psychology as a study of mental phenomena as understood in the West. Psychology which encompasses all the deepest levels of our mind, fits with the Eastern concept of psychology where psychology is considered as a means for the perception of truth related to all aspects of life. It starts from the premise that “there are no ranges of life or mind which cannot be reached by a methodical training of will and knowledge, - Radhakrishnan. It tacitly recognizes the connection between body, mind and spirit, and establishes that connection through different levels of consciousness. However, psychology, as commonly understood, does not and cannot cover the whole course of psychological journey from body to the spirit unless we undergo qualitative transformation of the mind. The first of these is psychological transformation which is often followed by spiritual transformation.

As some well known Western philosophers have noted, the contribution of the East has been more in the field of philosophy and metaphysics rather than in psychology because, in the East, philosophy and metaphysics together encompass the whole range of psychological studies, but psychology as understood in the West is not free from mental attributes or from our psychological structure which depends on the combinations and permutations of our mental attributes i.e. feelings, emotions, opinions, reactions, prejudices etc. It is when the mental phenomena are described mainly in terms of physiological and/or psycho-physiological experiences which are ever fleeting. The underlying assumption is that the body cannot be made open to higher reality because we often get stuck at the level of psycho-physical experience, and cannot transcend it because the psycho-mental patterns obstruct our inner growth. But it is so only because we are not yet able to link psychology to our inner being. This link is established through psychological transformation.

Psychological transformation is transcending the psychological structure consisting of our mental attributes i.e. mind, body, feelings, emotion etc, as these are ever changing and have no permanent existence, and arise because of our lack of understanding the psychological processes which is a never ending thought process. So long as we do not realize this, we cannot will them out, and cannot free ourselves from the limitations of psychological structure and mental attributes. But once we realize that these mental attributes have no permanent existence, we can free ourselves from them. For example, anger is not permanent, and exists only in our compulsive mind. So instead of being angry we can be the awareness that is prior to and deeper than any thought about anger, and thus anger can be controlled. It can be transcended through psychological experience that accrues when we transcend the limitations of anger. One may even feel positive biological responses indicating that there is a connection between the divine and the human. This psychological experience comes first as a psychological solace or psychological peace of mind which is still of psycho-physical nature, and so isnot yet final, because we cannot know ourselves through psychological analysis which is a process. But this psychological experience orients our mind towards the higher mind and ultimately leads to the psychological transformation of the mind when one becomes able to go beyond temporary psychological solace. Psychological solace is not yet free from mental phenomena, but is not without some positive effects. It has been found useful in psychiatry but psychology understood from this angle is different from its Eastern interpretation. One of the indications that one has undergone psychic transformation is that he has risen above the bodily experience or above the pain body as termed by E. Tolle, and feels a certain degree of peace within which St. Paul calls “the peace of God.” This felt peace within which is deeper than any psychological solace constitutes the first building block for spiritual transformation as the mind then abides in “peace that passeth all understanding”. It is beyond all thinking, beyond all mental combinations and permutations of mental attributes. Accepting a level of psychological mind that is superior to the rational mind does not mean that we are free of all kinds of psychological drama that we create in our life when we fall prey to the compulsive mind. Spiritual transformation is also needed in order to have the direct experience of Truth through Consciousness where Consciousness also means pure consciousness or ultimate truth.

Consciousness can be understood as a profound transformation of ordinary human consciousness into the timeless state of intense conscious presence or a state of spiritual enlightenment. It is sometimes understood as the fundamental state of our joy or the radiant joy of Being or a natural state of felt oneness with the Being which is endowed with spiritual power. But since the state of spiritual enlightenment arises from beyond the mind, the first condition for entering into this enlightened state or a state of enlightened awareness is to free ourselves from the enslavement of mind or from incessant thinking through psychological transformation, but this transformation is not a simple evolutionary progression but an evolutionary leap, because firstly it is a transformation of the mind into what is beyond it, and secondly it is not just going beyond the mind but also growing up with the mind/spirit. In the East, this enlightened awareness is called Consciousness or pure consciousness or an equilibrium state of the three qualities sattwa, rajas and tamas, but then it also involves spiritual transformation. We then become the awareness itself, sometimes called the conscious Presence, - the witness of all these states or “the awareness that is prior to and deeper than any thoughts and emotions”- E. Tolle.

Thoughts, feelings and emotions, reactions, anger etc., are usually of dualistic nature, and may become the cause of unhappiness particularly when we identify with them. Identification with emotions makes us egoistic, and the experience becomes personalized and limited, but it is also possible to disengage ourselves from them, and know that emotions could also be impersonal. Emotions can then be understood as depersonalized attributes that exist separately from our individual self not related to you or to me or to any particular self. Anger is usually personalized. Anger, for example, is always personalized psychological form of negative energy which is temporary but if we continue to identify with it, anger becomes personalized me; it cannot exist apart from me, then I have no control over anger. It is because I have not yet gone beyond anger. So it is destructive, but once we disidentify ourselves from anger there is no angry me here, and anger becomes harmless. Emotions could be positive and depersonalized, and be the medium for our internal journey but the change from personal to depersonalized/impersonal states of emotions occurs through awareness i.e. when we become the true arbitrator of our emotions. The negative aspects of other mental attributes can be overcome in similar way by disidentifying ourselves from them, but this is possible only when we become aware of our true nature that guides our thoughts, actions and behavior. That true guide is Consciousness.

Psychological transformation occurs from within i.e. we consciously take part in the process of psychological transformation. We do this when we realize that we are not our mind, not our feelings and emotions and other mental attributes but their controller meaning that our life is not limited by our mind and its attributes. Being psychologically aware of the limitations of our mental attributes is the first and the far reaching step of psychological transformation. Although most of us are immersed in our thoughts, feelings etc., the reality is that they have no existential reality as they consist of shifting patterns of thoughts, feelings etc., which come and go without touching the “I” because the “I” knows that these shifting patterns can change only the outer world and cannot touch the “I”. From this point of view, our life is only a psychological reality that looks real. We then end up mistaking our life for this psychological drama or mistaking the inner man for his psychological structure constituted by his mental attributes, but a time does come when the thinking man comes out of his thought structure, and opens to his inner mind. The internal journey moves on by growing into the inner mind leaving behind all the attributes of the compulsive mind. Moving inward is not yet revelation; it is just the beginning of the spiritual quest, but it can change our psychological structure, and lead to psychological transformation. The psychological structure can indeed be outgrown by going beyond body, mind and its attributes. It is now an accepted fact that, through yogic training, body can be made an access point to higher reality, that the outward directed mind can be made inward directed. The ordinary mind is then raised above the limits of the compulsive mind and its attributes, and undergoes psychological transformation, and becomes the vehicle for spiritual transformation when one not only grows into the inner world but also grows up with the inner world.

Psychological experiences have different grades, and include those experiences that are above direct mental apprehension, and psychological transformation is the first necessity for our spiritual transformation as it is the psychological transformation of the mind that can make our body an access point to higher reality, and free us from bodily limitations. It is said that initially psychological experiences come in the form of psychological afterglows that are often persistent. The mind sees something beyond itself, through itself, and finds itself at peace, and feels that it is looking inwards or “is coming home”. It opens itself to the inner mind; goes behind the surface mind and turns towards the Divine or towards the Spirit. The mind is then ready for psychological transformation which begins when we open ourselves to the Divine through devotion/bhakti, love, compassion, self-surrender etc., and which results in psychic change of our nature. The psyche (meaning “soul” as different from mind and vital) comes in front from behind and guides the mind, -Sri Aurobindo. This is the major or perhaps the single most important achievement of psychological transformation which consists of transcending the psychological structure by opening ourselves to the higher mind. It is something the rational mind cannot quite grasp, but is something that is experienceable. It is the transformation of the ordinary mind under the supervision of the inner/higher mind. Therefore, the experience of this psychological transformation is related not to the ordinary mind but to the higher mind which helps us in transcending the limitations of our psychological structure.

Peace, love, compassion etc., are important mediums both for psychological as well as for spiritual transformation, but they do not bring permanent qualitative change or qualitative transformation of our nature unless peace, love, compassion etc., descend on us as grace from above, but they do not descend on us unless we make efforts from below. So they are not sufficient in themselves. For example, compassion is extremely necessary for achieving Nirbana, but it is not yet Nirbana. Compassion constitutes the fundamental requirement for achieving Nirbana, but it is not the highest goal. Similar comments can be made about peace and love. Persons who consciously take part in their psychological transformation also do so in their spiritual transformation, and the first condition is that they have to open themselves to the Spirit so that the power of the spirit governs their mind, life and body. The basic difference between the two types of transformation is that while psychological transformation occurs “when all is in contact with the Divine through individual psychic consciousness, spiritual transformation occurs “when all is merged in the Divine in cosmic consciousness- Sri Aurobindo. Spiritual transformation accrues when one has raised himself to the level of experiencing Peace, Ananda, unity of heart, an experience of Illuminated mind. While one goes inwards and tries to establish the relation between the psychic being and the outer nature in the first case, he goes upward to the Divine and tries to bring down the Divine into his own nature in the second case. In fact, this double movement, an ascent from below and descent from above constitutes the essence of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga. But neither of them is complete in isolation. Both of these movements must work in tandem, but the effort from below is considered more important.

Psychology or pure psychology as understood in the East has its roots in Consciousness which is the objective of the science of mind, but differs qualitatively from its Western interpretation. The basic difference between the two schools of thought is that while psychology in the East is inward looking, contemplative and synthetic, it is more rationalistic, deductive and discursive in the West. It tends to focus more on small particulars of the world, and misses the sense of the wholeness. For example, while God is imminent, immanent and transcendent in the East, philosophy in the West has to work hard to prove God’s existence. Many Western philosophers conceived God as unknowable and unthinkable and beyond reason but easily reachable through faith and faith alone. It is perhaps from this point of view that Jung wrote: “Psychology therefore holds that the mind cannot establish or assert anything beyond itself. This has created a gap between man and God. The stories of Prometheus and Hercules seem to put man against God. The basic difference in interpreting psychology in the two hemispheres is that while psychology in the West is essentially the study of our outer personality and emphasizes on five-sensory perceptions of the human values and behaviors, psychology in the East accepts that mind cannot be limited to five-sensory perceptions and that higher realms of understanding that transcend intuitions, insights should also be taken into consideration.

Pure psychology is first of all detaching ourselves from thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions and entering into the state of revelation through the opening of the heart and the illumination of the mind. It is the science of soul-discovery but what we normally know about ourselves is only a small fraction of what we must know, and what we know is related to our superficial activities which are concerned only with our external being. Pure psychology deals with the techniques as to how to go behind, below and above the external being, but it is not complete unless it also deals with other levels of mind the details of which are given in The Synthesis of Yoga by Sri Aurobindo, chapter VI.

AB Singh Photo.jpg

Prof. Dr. Akal Bahadur Singh

Prof. Dr. Singh was one of the founding Pragya in the old pre-1990 RONAST. Recently he has been spending much of his time thinking about the relationship between science and spirituality.

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