The Science Of Mind Or Psychology: The Western Perspective

Compared to Eastern thinking, psychology in the West is more physiological, and so different schools of psychology do encompass elements related to the physiological aspect of the mind, particularly in the context of psychiatry.

March 16, 2022, 9:26 a.m.

Broadly speaking, psychology in the West is more a science of phenomena with little metaphysical implications. Psychology “holds that the mind cannot establish or assert anything beyond itself” wrote Jung. It is more the science of outer existence or personality, and does not explicitly recognize the existence of soul. So personality does not represent the nature of the inner man. From the Eastern point of view, psychology is less concerned with personality and more concerned with soul. As noted by Zukav: “Just as medicine seeks to heal the body without recognizing the energy of the Soul that lies behind the health and or illness of the body, and, therefore, cannot heal the Soul, psychology seeks to heal the personality without recognizing the force of the Soul that lies behind the configuration and experience of the personality, and, therefore, cannot heal at the level of the Soul”. So the two schools of thought represent opposite views related to psychology because while the Eastern thinking is more inward looking, contemplative and religious, the West is more rationalistic, deductive and inferential. While the higher is deduced from the lower in the West, the higher has its base in the lower, but the higher is not necessarily limited by the lower. The values emerge from within in the East, while from without in the West. This is why we find some fundamental differences in their statements about the science of mind.

Compared to the Eastern thinking, psychology in the West is more physiological, and so different schools of psychology do encompass elements related the physiological aspect of mind, particularly in the context of psychiatry. Fear, depression and anxiety and related psychological effects mainly expressed as negative mental energy, constituted the major aspect of psychiatry. Recently, some of them have tried to explore new fields for psychical research such as parapsychology, hypnotism, occultism etc. Although they do not assure the firmly grounded positive conclusions as may be expected from physical methods, these researches seem to produce definitive results which show that the resulting experiences are deeper and more powerful than those related to waking mind. In fact, a number of prominent Western psychologists have successfully treated their patients by correctly relating human psychology to the physiological disorders of their patients. From among the Western psychologist/psychiatrists Jung made a significant contribution in the field of psychiatry and psychological understanding of different levels of mind by introducing elements of philosophy into the domain of psychology. It was a significant improvement over and above that of Fried. As Jung himself acknowledged his treatment of his patients is mental, it is the treatment from some form of fear or weakness. It is more a treatment of a derailed personality through the discovery and proper utilization of some deeper unconscious levels of mind. He started with the notion that “a strong mind can control a weak mind” which is a significant psychological/positivistic contribution, which has produced positive results. One of the positive interpretations of his suggestion is “a strong mind can control a weak mind.” In fact, the psychological superiority of the strong mind has been used to remove the fear associated with weak mind. This created room for overriding the perennial conflict between personal intension and social restrictions which for Freud remained a never-ending conflict. Jung’s approach goes beyond Friedian psychology which consists of treating the patients through positive/constructive suggestions which are supposed to replace the past negative experiences, but this does not necessarily eliminate them completely. D. Chopra cites examples which showed positive, one can even say, miraculous results obtained through constructive psychological suggestions. But there are cases where this approach did not work. This technique seems to work well if the suggestion comes from within the patients. This approach of psychological treatment has been used by some more recent psychologists such as Murphy J., Freitag E. F. and others, but the success depends on whether you are in control of the psychological disorders associated with negative emotions and negative mental energy or their victims.

It is not too difficult to see that the Eastern and the Western psyche have different background in terms of religion and philosophy, and to some extent in terms of culture, and our understanding of metaphysics. While it is more contemplative, religious and spiritual in the East, it is more philosophic and intellectual in the West. But the heights some individuals have reached in their moments of creativity seem to be almost the same in both the hemispheres but with a difference that while mystical revelation is more pronounced in the West, intellectual illumination is stressed on in the East. The two schools of thought meet at the level of God whether they reach there through revelation or through intellectual illumination, but here we are talking not about the common man, but about the sages, the mystics and the intellectual seekers. It is interesting to note that Meister Eckehart even distinguishes between God and Godhead or between God with form and formless God which is the highest conception of God as understood in the East.

Talking about God as the vast self-awareness comprehending and apprehending every possibility. Meister Eckehart says: “God and Godhead are as different as heaven from earth….God becomes and unbecomes. All in Godhead is one, and of this naught can be said… When I come into the ground, into the depths, into the flow and fount of Godhead none will ask me whence I have come or whither I go. None will have missed me”: Here quoted from “The Principal Upanisads”, Radhakrishnan. F.H. Bradley and Ruysbroeck have also made similar observations.

Bradley writes: God is not God till he has become all in all, and that a God which is all in all is not the God of religion. God is but an aspect, and that must mean but an appearance of the Absolute (A Reappraiasal of Yogza- G. F. Feurstein and Jeanine). According to Ruysbroeck “the Godhead is absolute stillness… is free of all activity and inaccessible to human thought, yet alive through and through, a tremendous Energy pouring itself out into the created world and drawing that world back into Itself - (Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology- Happold F.C.).

The two hemispheres meet at the level of God, but part with one another when we come down from God to humans or from religion to philosophy. It, is therefore, appropriate to deal with the philosophy represented by some of the prominent Western philosophers.

Kant

Kant talks about an existence which is quite close to the Eastern views of the Absolute Reality, and calls it the thing-in-itself. But it is an extrapolation, an intellectual category, not actually lived experience. It would therefore seem that the thing-in-itself is empty of content, and all positive views about it are his derivations from it, and end up being limited by a high level of abstraction. According to him the thing-in-itself is unknown and unknowable; it can only be conceived or thought. This is so philosophically speaking as thoughts cannot go beyond themselves. Any search for reality has to combine the vision of philosophy and the art of living into life which we learn from religion. This is the only way of being at one with the reality, but seems to be lacking in most of the Western philosophers including Kant. The main problem related not only to Kant but also to a number of other Western philosophers is that they do not seem to accept the fact that there is a subjective knower in each of us, and that it can transcend the limits of a logical mind, and that it does not have to take recourse to a-priori condition.

Berkley

While Kant was one of the leading philosophers who introduced Eastern thought into Western philosophy, Berkley was perhaps the first Western philosopher who introduced Eastern spiritualism into Western philosophy. He declared that matter does not exist except for the mind which is almost what the Vedic view asserts i.e. life is matter for the mind, but form for the physical material. Similarly, intellect is the matter for the spirit but form for the mind.

Bergson

Bergson can be considered as one of the leading Western philosophers who seem to have come out of the intellect as well as mental phenomena. “The new psychology is revealing in us a mental region incomparably wider than the intellect. To explore the most sacred depths of the unconscious, to labor in the sub-soil of consciousness: that will be the principal task of psychology in the centuries which is opening. I do not doubt that wonderful discoveries await it there,-Durant Will.

Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer differs from all the above philosophers in the sense that he seems to have grown beyond the age of logical reason. He developed intuition to the heights deeper than that suggested by Bergson. He was very much influenced by Eastern philosophy, and is credited with introducing Eastern spiritual thinking into the Western philosophical thinking.

The psychologists-psychiatrists

These are the people who tried to venture into the inner domain of mind particularly into unconscious and subconscious levels in order to treat their patients from the negative residues stored in the mind of their patients. Perhaps Freud and Jung are from among the most commonly cited psychologists cum psychotherapists in the West. Compared to the seers and philosophers mentioned above, these two represent the practicing psychiatrists. As such it is quite understandable that the object and the scope of their study were necessarily different and much restricted. Analysis of mind was their profession which thrived more on personal performance and competition.

S. Freud was basically a psycho-analyst. His objective was to analyze the unconscious and subconscious contents of the mental conditions of his patients and treat them by suggesting mental techniques that eliminate and/or abate mental disorders. He has suggested to assess the psychic conditions of a person through the integration of three states the id, the ego and the super ego. For further details one must refer to his work: The Interpretation of Dreams. The id represents the unconscious reservoir of instinctual urges, which operates on the pleasure principle. The ego is represented by a group of tendencies which are individual in the case of conscious part. It is the one that manages our thoughts, executive functions and their relationship in the world. It is oriented always outwards. The super ego is the seat of moral values, a sense of higher purpose of spirituality and conscience. It is controlled or affected by social, particularly ethical and moral indoctrinations. It is related to what is right and what is wrong.

Freud’s contribution in relation to different levels of mind particularly to its unconscious level should be acknowledged. But this unconscious level of mind is basically egoistic, individualistic which he too has acknowledged, and which is the source of ever-wanting-more desires. If we assume that we cannot transcend the ego, we put a limit to our spiritual progress making us ever unhappy. It is his major drawback. One cannot come out of the never-ending conflict between the individual freedom and the demands of the society or a never ending conflict between the individual and humanity.

C. G. Jung, a pupil of Freud, deviated qualitatively from him. He postulated that, besides sexuality, a sum total of various impulses or forces (denoted by the word energy by Jung) governs the behavior of mental conditions of patients. Besides, he tried to introduce philosophy into the domain of psychiatry. This was a positive step in the field of psychoanalysis and a significant improvement on Freud, but the scope of psychology was thus limited still to the study of mental phenomena in both cases. Both of them tried to help people to grow to their fullest height, but Freud’s ego becomes the stumbling block in making the man grow to his fullest height, because of his egoistic nature, man tends to be selfish as stressed also by Maslow. Jung was more successful in this regard.

Recent studies carried out by Murphy J., Freitag E. F. and others have revealed deeper levels of subconscious mind which were not studied to this depth. Although the existence of these levels were well known in the East, they revealed some important psychological aspects of these levels which were not studied from this angle even in the East. But their conclusions are based on the reactions of their patients to those levels of consciousness of which they were made conscious but in the end they stressed on the positivistic approach to solving the psychological problems. This may lead to the change or modification of the mind but not to the transformation of the mind. Their findings are related to how different aspects of our psychological structure i.e. thoughts, emotions, reactions, fear etc. can affect our physical and psychological wellbeing, but do not really deal with how these structural components can be transcended except psychologically or though auto-suggestion. For example, emotions could be harmful when they represent body’s reaction to negative aspects of the compulsive mind. They originate from our identification with external factors i.e. addictive clinging to praise. These are ego-generated emotions and necessarily contain their opposite i.e. hate in this case. Praise may make you happy one day and let you down another day. But emotions can also be utilized positively when the subject can swim clear of negative emotions. We have examples of people who, through intense negative emotions, created intense depression, but we also have examples of people who, through intense positive emotions, created very deep blissful states of existence. In fact, these deeper blissful states of existence represent the inner states of Being. They are not really the ego-oriented emotions. They emanate from within, and have their origin in love, joy and peace and constitute our true nature. They are qualitatively different from the ego-generated ever-changing emotions. In the first case, we identify with negative emotions which often turn out to be psychological barrier in our spiritual journey when we are overtaken by emotions. In the second case, we realize that emotions like thought, feelings etc., constitute only the limitations of our psychological structure and so can not only be transcended, but can also be the inner State of our Being. Auto-suggestion is still the major instrument for psychological treatment in this case. It could bring some change in the attitude of their patients but not transformation of their patients’ mind. Change here contains some elements of the past; it is related to the residue of the past, but transformation has no relation with the past; it has no residue of the past; it is completely new. It is not that the East did not realize these deeper levels of the mind, but the fact is that it emphasized more on the transformation of the mind rather than stressing on the hypnotic or psychological treatment of the patients, which is never a complete or permanent treatment. It is said that Freud himself succumbed to mental disorder.

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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