The field of modern psychology is a rather new and arguably culturally biased scientific field that has been primarily developed within the last hundred years, largely within the cultural confines of Europe and America, its founders coming from mainly a Judeo-Christian background, which has been passed down through a Greco-Roman thought tradition (Ajaya, 1983; Allwood & Berry, 2006; Berry, 2013). In this short time it has dominated the global arena of the science of the mind, largely eclipsing profoundly different methods that had been developed over many thousands of years in other countries such as China, India, and Africa even within those countries (Ajaya, 1983; Berry, 2013). One could view this as the large-scale exportation of an indigenous psychology that has been either forced upon the rest of the world or gladly adopted and assimilated by the rest of the world, depending on which viewpoint one takes (Allwood & Berry, 2006).
In an attempt to free itself from the mire of metaphysics, religion, spirituality, and other seemingly unprovable and untenable cultural constructs that yet may very much have to do with the mind, modern psychology originally separated itself from what it considered more philosophical matters and moved towards the approach of a strict scientific method. Early psychologists such as Freud, Skinner, Ellis, and Yalom all chose to form a negative view of religion as it concerns psychology. Aside from some foundational names such as Jung and James, it wasn’t until the general paradigm shift of the 60’s before psychology again began to explore and incorporate spirituality and religion by allowing the training of psychologists in religious schools (Hoffman, 2008).
But according to Elkins (1995), the roots of the word psychology point us towards an impossible separation of the mind from the soul, a matter that has herein been relegated to the world of religion and out of the world of science. If we were to look at the etymology of the word psychology, we’d find the original Greek psyche and logos: psyche meaning soul, and logos meaning study. Continuing with etymology, we will see that therapist originally meant attendant — psychotherapist thereby meaning attendant of the soul — and finally psychopathology as a combination of psyche and pathos, which literally means “the suffering of the soul” (p. 78).
Since this is the case, then we have moved quite far from the origins of modern psychological practice by removing religion, and spirituality from the exploration of the workings of the mind in the West and limiting ourselves to the provable and material world of the scientific method alone. By not taking into consideration cultural context, we also are in denial of just how much environment, sociality, and experience shape the minds of human beings. While most modern psychologists would agree that culture deeply shapes and affects human behavior (Allwood & Berry, 2006), there is a strange duality in modern psychology caused by recognizing culture as a foundational motivation for human behavior while at the same time removing religion and spirituality from culture, which is quite impossible.
One of the ramifications for removing religion and spirituality from modern psychology in the West is that we currently have a disjointed system that has separated the mind from the body and then removed both of those from the realm of the spirit or soul, tearing the human being into distinct pieces instead of a whole person where the health of the body is directly linked to the health of the mind which is directly affected by one’s beliefs about reality. Consider that in the United States alone, roughly 75 percent of people consider some form of religion or spirituality to be at the core of their worldview (Pew Research Center, 2015). This means that psychology has placed itself somehow outside of one of the most foundational cultural standards that is affecting the average American citizen, and yet is still claiming to be a holistic science of the mind. Now consider that modern psychology, somewhat removed from its own culture, is being applied to pretty much every other culture in the world as the gold standard. Consider now how culturally inappropriate and inapplicable modern psychology may be in places like India where religion, culture, and spirituality cannot be removed at all from the workings of the average Indian mind and daily life. Applying a Western social and cultural psychological paradigm in rural India will mostly not be in alignment and may actually be harmful if not only ineffective (Berry, 2013).
This paper isn’t meant only to go into the details of how the separation of religion, spirituality, and culture (to a lesser extent) is lacking in modern psychology, but to show how when implanted in the context of a completely different society it is quite foreign. One might even go so far as to say that allowing the dominance of Western models as the standard for a universal psychology is another type of colonialism.
What Berry (2013) proposes is that we encourage countries, such as India, to form their own indigenous psychologies quite apart from Western standards and methods that allow for whatever is of concern and applicable to the society of that particular culture to develop naturally. Then once we have pure and holistic indigenous psychological methods from all over the world, we can come together as a global community and share our unique perspectives in the hope of finding a Universal Psychology of Man that is inclusive of all humankind.
Cultural psychology, cross-cultural psychology, and indigenous psychology are very closely linked. Belzen (2010) defines cultural psychology as “a radically empirical psychology [that] strives to investigate human beings in the world in which they live…to listen to and observe human beings as they function in their respective worlds” (p.330). Cross-cultural psychology is normally comparative in nature (Allwood & Berry, 2006). Indigenous psychologies, defined as psychologies that have been developed and employed by local people, have historically been relegated to the world of cultural psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology (Allwood & Berry, 2006; Ratner, 2008). When considering a comparison with modern Western psychotherapy, indigenous psychology has only been growing for the last 30 years or so and is therefore quite a young field. According to Kuo-Shu Yang (Allwood & Berry, 2006), “The most recent wave began as local academic movements, mainly in India, the Philippines, Mexico, and Taiwan in the early 1970s.”
In regards to India, psychology is a veritable mixture between philosophy, religion, culture, and Western methods. At the moment, Western methods appear to dominate in academia. However, “the origins of indigenous psychology in India [are] in Hindu philosophy. Because Hinduism is a way of life, these ideas have permeated the daily life of the population through beliefs, practices, and ethnotheories that continue to influence behavior” (Saraswathi, in Allwood & Berry, 2006, p. 255). According to Sinha (Allwood & Berry, 2006), Indigenous psychology in most countries where it has grown has been reactive in nature. In India specifically the reasons are fourfold and as follows:
- Indian Psychologists have begun to see inconsistencies in Western findings when compared against their own. “Shortcomings in the positivist, experimental method, and advances in crosscultural research over the past couple of decades, have encouraged a rethink of the traditional view in the West that research findings are universally applicable” (Adair, Puhan & Vohra, 1993, p.150).
- Nationalism has sparked a trend towards “decolonialization,” a retreat from complete acceptance of the Western belief systems. Indian psychologists have called for “social research that emanates from, adequately represents, and reflects back on the culture in which behavior is studied rather than a discipline that is imported from, and primarily addresses Developed World models” (Adair, Puhan & Vohra, 1993, p.150).
- Western psychology does not offer solutions to Indian social and health problems. “Culturally inappropriate social science disciplines distort interpretations of behavior, divert attention from key social variables, and result in research that does not match national social priorities” (Adair, Puhan & Vohra, 1993, p. 150).
- The formation of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology encouraged countries to explore their own indigenous psychologies, leading India to collaborate with Western psychologists to form an integrative Indian psychology.
Through cross-cultural psychology, many similarities have been found in the psychological framework of both Indigenous Indian psychology and Western psychology, especially concerning the states of consciousness, the unconscious mind and how it affects behavior, instinct, emotions, intellect, and the self (Ajaya, 1983; Saraswathi, in Allwood & Berry, 2006). Carl Jung in particular traveled very deep into Indian indigenous and traditional psychology and developed many of his insights from the wealth of information he found there (Vasavada, 1968). If such a great mind as Jung saw the quality and necessity of the contribution to the world of psychology in Indian traditional belief systems, then it is obviously warranted that a serious effort be made to delve more deeply into presenting a truly Indigenous Indian Psychology for humanity to explore together in creating a possible universal understanding of human thought and behavior and not let it get subjugated to a foreign way of thinking of the mind. As the country was made independent from its European oppressors, so must its psychology and philosophy be liberated.
Western Psychology in India
Similar to many countries still considered to be in the “developing world,” the first lines of treatment for mental illness in India remain within the traditional methods that incorporate religious and spiritual healers and alternative medicines. Most patients in India would primarily choose to seek counseling from a priest or holy person, would choose an ayurvedic treatment or some other type of complimentary medicine, and would only consider seeing a psychiatrist or a mental health professional as a last resort. This is mainly due to what could be considered an extreme lack of clinical mental health services in India at the moment, and due to the social stigma surrounding mental illness (Ramakrishnan et al., 2014).
This being said, there are some staggering statistics surrounding mental illness in India at the moment as cited in Virudhagirinathan & Karunanidhi (2014):
The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) reported that 12.8% of children suffer from mental health problems (ICMR, 2009). Various screening surveys report that 1 – 20% of the children in India were found to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with a vast increase over the last few years (Mukhopadhyay et al., 2003). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bangalore, India, schizophrenia is prevalent among 1.1% of the total population, while the overall lifetime prevalence rate of mental disorders is 10 – 12% (NIMHANS, 2003). Epidemiological studies carried out in India report that 2 – 30% of adolescents have psychological problems, of whom 8% have psychological distress, and 6% of adolescent boys and 12% of girls have emotional disturbances (Bhola & Kapur, 2003; Bhola, 2010). In general, 7.5% of Indians face some sort of emotional disorder (p.566).
Compare that with the statistics of mental illness in America where “one in four adults — approximately 61.5 million Americans — experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17 — about 13.6 million — live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder” (NAMI, n.d.). “According to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 552,000 mental health professionals practicing in the U.S. today [in a population of roughly 320,091,000 – making it about one mental health professional for every 600 people] whose main focus is the treatment (and/or diagnosis) of mental health or substance abuse concerns,” (Grohol, 2015) which still leaves about 60 percent of patients with mental illness with insufficient or non-existent mental health services (NIMH, n.d.). While in India, the WHO estimates only 0.003 mental health professionals per 100,000 people, about 28 percent of whom are practicing in urban areas, while 72 percent of the population lives in rural areas with little nor no access (Virudhagirinathan & Karunanidhi, 2014). Using these statistics we can see that there is a terrible shortage of mental health professionals serving in the country of India at this point.
The study of Western psychology is relatively new in the country of India. It was only in 1915 that Girindra Shekar Bose brought psychology out of the umbrella of philosophy by establishing the first Indian psychological laboratory at the University of Calcutta and continued by establishing the first psychoanalytic society in India in 1922. Mysore University established their first psychology department in 1924, Lucknow University theirs in 1929, and The University of Madras in Tamil Nadu began theirs in 1943. Now in India, psychological studies have become more important with 12 major universities offering degrees and many colleges and independent institutions offering professional certifications (Virudhagirinathan & Karunanidhi, 2014).
These establishments, for the most part, are teaching what would be considered APA style clinical psychological methods, and not an indigenous Indian psychology, with the first clinical psychology postgraduate course established by the government of India in 1955 (NIMHANS, 2000, 2010, as cited in Virudhagirinathan & Karunanidhi, 2014). At the moment in India, there has been no centralized or regulated body like the APA formed to certify/accredit psychologists as professionals. Therefore, regulation is difficult (Virudhagirinathan & Karunanidhi, 2014).
In addition, there are still many institutions that teach what is considered to be traditional Indian psychology, based on Hindi philosophy and Yogic methods, alongside clinical Western methods. This is important in the reduction of stigma associated with mental healthcare in a society where hospital-based spiritual care and continuing care that is inclusive of family and community is a need due to the embedded religious and communal nature of the culture. As Western clinical psychology and indigenous Indian psychology find a balance, it seems there will be more of a mixture of the two treatments in the hospital environment and in community health clinics (Ramakrishnan et al., (2014).
Traditional Indian Psychology in Yoga
At best, modern psychology talks about liberating the individual from undesirable character traits or neuroses. In Yoga psychology…the liberative process does not concern merely an aspect of the human personality but the human being as a whole…The self-transformation aimed at in Yoga is Radical rather than merely partial; it seeks to expose the core of the human being behind all conditional facets of personality (Feuerstein, 2013, p.27).
Traditional Indian psychology first grew its roots firmly in the Yogic lineage of Patanjali (c.200-300 BCE), the Kapila Samkhya philosophy of the pre-Buddhist era prior to 500 BCE (Coward, 2013), and also the Tantric and Vedanta lineages. Earliest physical evidence of a “Yoga” system dates back to roughly 4000 years ago to the time of the early Vedas (Vivekananda, 2005). There was no separation at that time between what we call psychology now, religion/spirituality, and the traditional wisdom traditions, as they weren’t viewed as separate topics (Feuerstein, 2013). “From the perspective of traditional Yoga, there is only Yoga, which includes many psychological and philosophical as well as practice-related concepts” (Feuerstein, 2013, p.6). Carl Jung, as was mentioned earlier, was a keen student of Indian traditional philosophical systems, especially Kundalini Yoga, and considered psychoanalysis itself and psychology in general to be a “beginner’s attempt to what is an immemorial art in the East” (Jung, 1933, p.216).
Because there are so many lineages and philosophical systems within Indian traditional wisdom systems, allow us to remain within the boundaries of the Yogic lineage, which is complex enough on its own. Yoga is divided into several different schools that are formulated around the character or nature of the seeker and are meant to most efficiently bring the seeker to alignment with his or her self-awareness and spiritual/personal maturity. The main lineages are as follows:
- Bhavanayoga; this is Yoga of cultivating proper attitude of mind towards objects of the world and their relationship with oneself. The main schools of Yoga under this division are (1) Jñanayoga, (2) Bhaktiyoga, and (3) Karmayoga.
- Pana Samyama Yoga: This consists of controlling the breath and the mind. The main schools under this vision are (1) Mantrayoga, (2) Hathayoga, (3) Layayoga, and (4) Rajayoga (Sahay, 2013, pp. iii-vii).
Patanjali’s Ashtanga system is considered the most inclusive of the Yogic paths. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us that “the sources of all our troubles are the karmic seeds (memory traces) of past actions or thoughts heaped up in the unconscious…and tainted by ignorance, materialistic or sensuous desire, as well as the clinging to one’s own ego” (Coward, 2013, p.49). Patanjali begins his teachings with this sutra: Atha Yoganusasanam – with prayers for divine blessings, now begins the exposition of the sacred art of yoga. According to Patanjali, first and foremost, Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness: Yogah Cittavritti Nirodhah (Iyengar, 1993, pp. 44-45). His meaning was that the climaxes and vicissitudes of human emotions, pushed this way and that by desires, aversions, and ignorance, are the root of our suffering. Therefore, the seeker of self-knowledge should strive through Yogic discipline to attain a state of mental, emotional, and physical balance so that he or she can clearly and objectively see reality as it is. He then proceeds through almost 200 verses to lay out the path of the Yogi.
According to Vivekananda (2005), the Ashtanga (eight-limbed) system of Patanjali as detailed in the Yoga Sutras attempts to give structure, understanding, and meaning to the seeker’s life. The eight limbs of Yoga provide “meaning to our beliefs about such fundamentals as ourselves,” (p. 12) purpose to our lives through discipline and personal inquiry, a healthy body, general wellbeing, understanding about illness and pain, and finally answers to the great mystery surrounding death. He goes on to state that Yoga also provides such necessary meaning to our lifestyle principals in areas such as “personal health, hygiene, and wellbeing; our own personal environment; how we interact with other people; how we work and behave in general; our life as a learning process,” (p. 13) and our relationship to God if that is of ultimate importance to us. The essential goal of life, according to Vivekananda (2005) is personal and spiritual evolution. It is in our essential nature to evolve and move forward, to progress in our ways of thinking and behaving, and to become more authentic, healthy, vibrant, and creative human beings. Yoga in this sense, is a positivist method of psychological progress and personal/spiritual evolution that seeks to unite one with one’s true identity, bring equanimity of mind, uplift the consciousness, purify the mind and body, guide decision-making, and infuse the seeker’s life with positivity and encouragement even in the darkest of times (Pradhan, 2013).
Patanjali’s eightfold path consists of the following limbs. (1) The Yamas or Moral Conduct: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not-stealing), brahmacharya (sexual continence), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness, non-attachment, or non-greed). In the Upanishads (Aiyar, 1914), ten yamas were listed adding ksama (forgiveness), dhrti (fortitude), daya, (compassion), arjava (sincerity), mitahara (diet), and saucha (purity). The Yamas are a behavioral discipline meant to limit conflict with the outside world, thus contributing to the stilling of the mind. (2) The Niyamas or Moral Observances: saucha (purity of body and mind), santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity or burning motivation), svadhyaya (study of the self), and ishvara pranidhana (contemplation of Brahman or True Self or God). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, another ancient yogic text, also lists ten niyamas. These are meant to limit conflict within the person, also contributing to the stillness of the mind. (3) Asana – Postures that open the energetic channels allowing flow of prana or life energy. These are meant to make the body flexible, strong, balanced, and fully healthy. (4) Pranayama – Breathing exercises that control prana or lifeforce energy. This is used to raise the energy levels, bring vigor to the mind and body, and expand the lung capacity allowing more oxygen to flow through the body. (5) Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses. This begins the practice of introspection and interoception. (6) Dharana – Concentration. This practice trains the mind to focus on only one thing, stops the inner dialogue, and ceases all mental and emotional fluctuations. (7) Dhyana – Meditation. This practice channels the energy of the consciousness in one direction. (8) Samadhi – Absorption of the individualized soul with Brahman. Once the energy of the consciousness is fixed through concentration and is channeled in one direction through meditation, the seeker will become one with the object of meditation, which should ultimately be God, the Highest Consciousness, or the Self. Once one holds meditation, total absorption happens, and in this state complete health, complete knowledge, eternal consciousness, and infinite bliss are experienced. Even within Samadhi there are several stages, the final stage of which ultimately takes one outside of the physical experience completely into Mahasamadhi, when one can consciously leave the body.
It is impossible to go into the intricacies of Yogic psychology in these few pages, but even with this short description of the eight limbs, it is possible to see that traditional Indian knowledge was highly psychological, dealt in depth with human consciousness and the mind, and along with the Ayurvedic system of medicine — which is closely aligned with Yoga — provided a completely integrative mental, spiritual, and physical wellness discipline for holistic health. The depths to which Yoga has explored the human consciousness outweighs that of modern psychology today (Vasavada, 1968), and Yoga is only one of the Wisdom lineages of India that delve into the study of the soul.
In my opinion, the main reasons that traditional Indian wisdom systems such as Patanjali’s Yoga are not taken more seriously in the modern psychological world is simply because much of what exists in the Yogic philosophy and practice was passed down orally through an initiatory lineage system, its knowledge was collected through subjective experience and an intuitive understanding of metaphysics, and is considered unscientific and therefore unprovable. But according to Renner & Ramalingam (2016), “Yogic experiments are similar to that of the experiments that scientists perform in laboratory. They both are subjective in nature and proceed with an assumption, carried out in steps, proceed with trial and error and sometimes bring out startling discoveries” (p.35). Yoga is explicit in its direction to not take anything for granted. In the process of the Niyama svadhyaya, a seeker is taught to study the scriptures of all faiths, find out what resonates, practice, and see for him or herself what is true and what is not. This is in itself a method of trial and error that has shown what Patanjali taught to be true in Yogi after Yogi for thousands of years. It is strange that psychology has thus far turned its back on Yogic experience and wisdom as it concerns the human mind, considering that other self-evident phenomenon — emotions like anger, depression, anxiety, grief, stress, or things like morality and empathy — are often studied empirically. Why not look with a more open mind to the lessons that Yoga teaches us? Patanjali laid out the steps. They are testable, and provable, as more and more research has been showing.
What would be an ideal situation is if India continues the honorable and difficult work of bringing together the Western and Eastern methods within her own people and country and forms an integrative Indian Indigenous Psychology that incorporates modern clinical psychology and Yogic psychology/traditional systems so that the world may be presented with an Indian inclusive system that looks after the whole human being, the environment within which he or she exists, the family he or she has made, the community, and all of the belief systems therein so that we can realign body, mind, and spirit within the individual and the individual within the community. This is, in effect, what India has been doing for the last 30 years. We must be careful that Western influence doesn’t drown out the incredible insights of Yogic and Ayurvedic wisdom, and that the metaphysical nature of the latter doesn’t overpower it’s application in the Western healthcare setting. This would be a great contribution to the movement towards finding a universal psychology.
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