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Indian Psychology




Indian Psychology






Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi





24th DECEMBER 2003

Indian Psychology

Indian Psychology


If there is one science which has been developing in India uninterruptedly from the Vedic times to the present day, and if this development has been both comprehensive and subtle in heights and profundities and if because of its ever-progressiveness, it is far more advanced than the advances made in that field in any part of the world, then that science is the science of psychology. Already in the Veda we find the record of the discovery of the loftiest states of consciousness and also of the surface levels and deeper levels of human consciousness along with unmistakable awareness of what we call today Depth Psychology or the Psychology of the Subconscious and Unconscious. Subtle distinction of different constituents of consciousness are clearly discernible in the Veda and we have distinctions between citta, medhā, manas, mati, and dhī as also the distinctions of higher faculties of knowledge, ‒ mahi, Ila, Saraswati, Sarama, and Dakshinā (faculties of vastness, revelation, inspiration, intuition, and discrimination). And what is most important is that there is in this system cogent and detailed exposition of the processes by which one can rise from ordinary states of consciousness to the highest levels of consciousness such as those of rita-chit, truth-consciousness, supported and guarded by the powers of wideness, friendliness, austere will and joy that springs from universality (powers of Varuņa, Mitra, Āryaman and Bhaga). And in this process of ascent, we have detailed description of the role played by the powers of illumined will, illumined intelligence, and the powers of subtleties of the physical, vital and mental consciousness. Veritably, the Veda is the earliest existing book of a comprehensive and profound system of psychology of the world. And, fortunately, Indian history of psychology shows how the truths of psychology were continuously developed, and from the Veda to Sri Aurobindo, we have a record both of confirmation and constant development of the psychological knowledge of human aspiration and means of fulfilment of that aspiration. It is noteworthy that Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo is today being studied in different parts of the world with increasing

Indian Psychology

Indian Psychology

receptivity, and one or two psychological systems of the West today have clearly acknowledged the debt they owe to Sri Aurobindo.

It is against this background that it is appropriate that we raise today three important questions: firstly, what is Indian psychology or rather what is the universal psychological knowledge that has developed in India and what are its contents? Secondly, the question is what is the importance of the study of this psychology as a part of the total scheme of knowledge in India into which we need to initiate our students in the country? And thirdly, what are those elements of this psychological knowledge that we can fruitfully incorporate in our school curriculum?

I must congratulate Professor Rajput for creating the occasion for raising these three questions and for having invited psychologists and educationists of the country in a major national effort to seek answers to these questions. Although this is for the first time that the effort has been attempted, we find that this effort has been quite fruitful, and if it will be supplemented by subsequent seminars and workshops, we shall arrive at positive contributions on the basis of which a new curriculum can emerge, ‒ a curriculum that would reflect not only the genius of India more adequately but which would also aid our students in their personal growth and in shaping their own personalities more integrally and more luminously.

Very often, courses in psychology devote a good deal of time to the relationship between physiology and psychology and to the systems of structuralism and functionalism. A large space is devoted behaviouristic psychology, the premises of which are confined to the processes of stimuli and responses. In recent times, Gestalt psychology with its emphasis upon unifying consciousness and operation of intuition is being proposed. But since the time when Freud and subsequently Jung made an impact on the psychological field, much attention is being paid to the subconscious and the unconscious, individual and collective, and the study of Eros and Thanatos have gained importance and are being shown as fundamental drives that shape human personality. Lately, personalistic psychology has emerged and wider horizons are being explored.

Indian Psychology

Indian Psychology

But in these courses of psychological studies the truths of psychology discovered by the long Indian tradition hardly figure, and we do not have as yet adequate teaching-learning material that incorporates insights and lessons of Indian psychology.

This situation must change.

One of the most important lessons of Indian psychology is that what goes in the name of psychoanalysis or psychiatry is a mere abc of psychology, and more importantly, that it is dangerous to deal with the inconscient and the subconscient without attaining a good deal of mastery and harmony in the waking consciousness and in the super-consciousness. It is clear in the light of Indian psychology that the roots of human personality are not in the subconscient or inconscient but in what may be called the subliminal, psychic and spiritual levels of consciousness. Hence, to teach students to be confined to the subconscient and the inconscient is to give them a wrong clue and to limit the possibilities of development to a very narrow and distorted process.

The most and interesting part of Indian psychology is related to the analysis of personality and the concept of perfection of personality. To state it briefly, Indian psychology presents us three concepts which are relevant to the development of personality, ‒ the concept of sattwa, rajas and tamas in the context of the construction of personality which can be largely effected through the development of prakriti, the power of executive energy as ordinarily explained in the psychology of the Sankhya. The second is the concept of five levels of personality, the personality fixed in the physicality of the human composition, annamaya, personality fixed in the vital sheath of human composition, prāņamaya, thirdly, the personality fixed in the mental energy of rationality, ethicality and aesthesis, manomaya, fourthly, the personality that blossoms in the fullness of comprehensive supramental consciousness, vijñānamaya, and the personality that enters into the supreme regions of consciousness, the key of which is in the spontaneous  ocean of delight, ānandamaya.

Indian Psychology

Indian Psychology

These five levels of personality have each behind them the status of consciousness that originates them and sustains them, the status of what has been called the status of purusha, known not only in the Samkhya but in the more ancient system of Taittiriya Upanishad and even in the still more ancient system of Rigveda. The third analysis of personality is at a much deeper and profounder level, and it is related to the concept of what Sri Aurobindo has called chaitya purusha. This chaitya purusha is described in the Kathopanishad as the being that is no bigger than a thumb (angushthamatram) or what is described symbolically as madhvadah, the eater of honey. It is not the static purusha of the Sankhya, but a portion of the kshara purusha, the nature of which is triguņātita, that which transcends the limitation of aparā prakriti of tamas, rajas and sattwa, but which partakes of the Parā Prakriti. The real maker of personality is this chaitya purusha; when it interacts with the prakriti, the prakriti of sattwa, rajas and tamas or the aparā prakriti, it puts forth in a progressive manner what may be called four soul-forces, the soul-force derived from parā prakriti manifesting the personality of knowledge, the soul-force manifesting the personality of heroism, and the soul-force manifesting the personality of harmony and the soul-force manifesting skill, dexterity and perfection.

We all consider the development of personality or integral personality to be one of the highest aims of education. Educationists, teachers and students are constantly in search of the knowledge by which personality can be rightly developed and integrated. We need to have, first, the psychological knowledge of the various intricacies of the notion of personality, different kinds of personality, and various levels of personality, as also of conflicts of personalities within oneself and which need to have proper remedies through the processes of harmonisation of personality. Where shall we find this knowledge?

Fortunately, the Indian tradition of psychology has developed this knowledge, knowledge which is repeatable and verifiable, and a knowledge which can be practised, knowledge on the basis of which true guidance can emerge.

Indian Psychology

Indian Psychology

If, therefore, a curriculum of Indian psychology has to be developed, my own suggestion would be to focus on the psychology of development of personality and to relate other elements of psychology around this basic issue. This is not a place for giving a blueprint of the curriculum. But it would be instructive to observe that the latest Report of UNESCO speaks of learning and emphasises on the utilisation of the treasure that is within us. Interestingly, again, it speaks of four pillars of learning, the pillar of knowledge, the pillar of living together or the pillar of harmony, the pillar of doing and working or the pillar of skill and dexterity, and the pillar of being, that which endows the individual with a true self-possession and self-mastery. These four pillars are not entirely different from the four soul-forces to which we made reference earlier. The only pillar that is missing in the analysis of the UNESCO’s Report is the pillar of heroism. In any case, it is instructive that when we come to analyse the inmost process of learning and development of personality, we seem to come nearer to the Indian insights. Swami Vivekananda speaks of man-making education, and what is that education if not the education that develops personality, a complete personality and personality of perfection? He also spoke of every individual as potentially divine, and what is that potentially divine if not the dynamic soul and its soul-force?

One of the most important questions is to conceive of an ideal of perfection or a perfect personality. I can only refer to the concept of sthithaprajña in the Bhagavadgita or we have the luminous example of the Buddha who was seated in utter calm in his inner consciousness and yet dynamically engaged in the works of verity and producing results so extraordinary that we speak of him as the greatest personality that ever walked on the earth. And if we want a fuller elucidation of the concept of perfect personality, I can do no more than presenting the following from Sri Aurobindo:

When the heart of Love is tranquillised by knowledge into a clam ecstasy and vibrates with strength, when the strong hands of Power labour for the world in a radiant fullness of joy and light, when the luminous brain of knowledge accepts and transforms the heart’s obscure inspirations and lends itself to the workings of the high-seated Will, when all these gods are founded together on a soul of sacrifice that lives in unity with all the world and accepts all things to transmute them, then is the condition of man’s integral self-transcendence. This and not a haughty, strong and brilliant egoistic self-culture enthroning itself upon an enslaved humanity is the divine way of super-manhood.[1]


[1] Sri Aurobindo: The Supramental Manifestation, Centenary Edition, Vol. 16, p. 281

Indian Psychology

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