In the Light of ...|Apr 6, 2013 4:06 AM| by:

A New Paradigm of Man

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‘Yoga is nothing else but practical psychology.’— Sri Aurobindo

Introduction and Scope

Psychology is often defined as the science of human behaviour. Yet such a definition is very limited. For the experiences of a human being continue to take place (through thoughts, feelings and other subjective states of awareness) even when there is no discernible behaviour as in sleep (dream), trance and unconsciousness. Besides, as simple experience of human dealings teaches us, the same outer behaviour can result from a variety of inner reasons, some even totally contradictory in nature. The behavioural approach, in its search for objectivity, discredits the subjective dimension by subordinating it to external observable behaviour. Thus it loses immensely valuable data from man’s inner life, so indispensable to understanding human nature in its totality. Some of the highest states of subjective awareness cannot necessarily be reproduced in outer action. The dreamer is not unique but exists in all. For example a man barely able to earn two square meals through hard physical labour, may dream of an ideal world. So if we merely observe and infer data from his daily life, subject to the routine of external compulsions and outer necessities, we will remain unaware of his inner world. Much human effort is needed to bridge the gulf between fact (outer) and fantasy, between fiction and reality. The common labourer may conceal a rare and noble aspiration behind his daily routine, not easily visible in his outer actions. Equally, a ‘recognised nobleman’ may shield vile and ugly thoughts behind a facade of charity and goodness.

Psychology, to be truly useful, must expand itself to include not only the study of outer behaviour but the whole inner life and existence of man. This is not easy though. The difficulty is present because in the inner world we find ourselves on unsteady and unsure ground. There are no simple markers, no predictable signs, no readily repeated states and no measurable variables. But this is precisely what makes psychology so fascinating and interesting. Even animals observe external behaviour and derive fairly reasonable inferences at their own level. But man has something more. He not only observes and infers, he studies and understands. And for this, his own mind is a field of experience. He can observe, experiment, combine, dissolve and re-combine a number of psycho-logical states and forces inside himself that otherwise escape the scrutiny of the eye and statistical analysis of behaviour. The study of psychology has to move from the laboratory outside to the one within. A power and gift of introspection has been given to mankind. As experience accumulates, psychologists can record and share their observations with others. And, we are free to accept, reject or even research their findings within the scope of our own life and its practical necessities.

Lessons of the Recent Past

Decades of dedicated research in psychology have discovered some interesting insights:

1. A large range of external behaviour is learnt phenomena, something we pick up through imitation and continue by habit and positive (and sometimes negative) reinforcements.
2. External behaviour can be changed. This is one of the most useful observations. So what is learnt can be unlearnt, even re-learnt.
3. A host of factors, environmental, parental, social, cultural and other significant influences, go into the moulding of our psychological lives. Even genetics, heredity and the biological basis of the brain, provide a nurturing ground for our patterns of thought, feelings and actions. Yet they do not explain many things.
4. Our conscious thoughts and impulses are often controlled and regulated by unconscious forces and motives.

There is a need, however, to expand the scope of these discoveries to take the frontiers of psychology beyond a mere extrapolation from animal experiments to future possibilities. Thus, with regard to learning and conditioning, we have to question whether learning is the process of an individual’s lifetime or extends beyond it. Is the mind of a newborn truly a blank page or is it a ground with already sown seeds of consciousness? So too with regard to behavioural change. We have to discover whether behaviour can be manipulated exclusively through external methods or are there more powerful ways and means inside us to change ourselves? Do we have untapped faculties and resources that can radically change us in a deep and lasting way? We also have to question the bias towards genetics and biology in interpreting our behaviour. Are they a cause or merely an effect of deeper patterns, a means chosen and used by a deeper consciousness within us for certain immediate purposes? Finally, are these unconscious forces only a repository of our animal instincts or the luminous visitations of a growing god?

Man is covertly linked to the whole creation. Hiding behind his facade, as base and support, is the body of the entire earth. What is however not yet recognised and understood by psychologists is that man’s unconscious holds in itself not only the atavism of the past, the influences of his physical and psychological environment, but also his future, that enters from the open doors of the Beyond. His thoughts, feelings and actions are not only pushed by the lingering beasts and phantom ghosts of his earthly subconscient past, but also inspired and initiated by an emerging evolutionary future. Man is not just a humanised beast but also a chained god. The supreme and most significant contribution of a Future Psychology would be to teach man the means and methods not only to master the beast in him but also free the imprisoned god. The old psychology served as a bridge between man’s past and present. The new psychology will serve as a bridge between man’s actual present and his future potential.

Aim and Methods

To speak of an aim in the study of science may appear unscientific for science entails a quest and search for a principle of knowledge and truth. But there are truths and half-truths. There are several dimensions of reality, not mutually exclusive, that often complement each other. Even truths, appearing to be parallel lines that never meet, still serve a purpose in the total harmony of things. Today, we see fragments of truth, but miss the whole. Each proclaims itself the sole approach, and so paralyses man’s onward march. An eclectic combination adds to the confusion, if done with a mathematical scale, without the wizardry of an artist who knows the right balance of colours. And doesn’t the right balance depend upon the image one wants to create?

It is here that the aim becomes important. Let us take the example of an exclusively chemical model of man. It would insist that our psychological life and experience is nothing more than a play of neuro-transmitting chemicals within the brain. These in turn are a question of genes and their regulatory genes. Such a doctrine obviously heads towards the worst form of material determinism, as it unwittingly leads us to a form of genetic and chemical fatalism which absolves man of all personal responsibility, all need for growth and development, all true perfection in his psychological being. Such an approach in its exclusiveness aims at a mechanistic approach to life. On the other hand, any approach that totally denies this important material basis becomes ineffective in everyday life. Philosophical speculation must combine with material realism. That would bring us a step closer to the truth of psychological science.

Psychology of Humanity

In essence, all human psychological effort has three major directions. These are like three steps, each bringing us closer to our psychological being.

1. Self-awareness and Self-knowledge
2. Self-development and Self-mastery
3. Self-integration and Self-perfection

Present-day psychology is still very far from understanding humanity fully. All we do in the name of self-development is a manipulation of external behaviour and study of the chemical control of impulses. The inner consciousness still remains unchanged. A true psychology cannot accept these limits and ought to move on till it discovers the truth that sets man free as master and not merely as a glorified beast.

The method therefore has to be in accordance with the whole truth. It cannot afford to exclusively deal with animal behaviour transplanted onto man. Nor can it afford to linger long in the dubious tracts of the brain where a change in chemicals alters the experience or perhaps vice versa. It should rather try to discover all possible truths in their essence, so as to integrate man as a whole and link him to the entire creation. For this, it cannot depend upon statistical methods alone which conveniently leave out the most valuable data of psychological experience. The unseen often holds the key to the seen. The immeasurable is the secret origin and birthplace of the measured and quantifiable.

A new psychology would benefit from the ex-perience gathered in works of insight, disco-vered by intuition and introspection. As we have said earlier, the study of psychology can-not be confined to a controlled laboratory — the whole of life is a laboratory. Especially valuable are the works of yogic psychology. Above all, the psychologist should be an experimenter, researching and discovering these truths in himself by laying his own life
bare to the scrutiny and understanding of his intuitive wisdom and discriminating intelligence. Thus the psychologist himself has to constantly work towards self-development and self-integration. All knowledge is an extension of self-knowledge. He becomes the reader of the book of life and studies the secret script of wisdom engraved in the heart of human nature. His eyes open wide to his own nature and indeed the soul of others who are equally himself. His degree becomes the level of his own self-development. His qualification is the quality of his own psychological being.

An Exercise in Self-awareness

There has been an increasing interest in the art of self-awareness in psychology today. Several studies, cutting across cultural barriers, have established beyond doubt the efficacy of different techniques of self-awareness. The words ‘self-awareness’ represent not only an awareness of one’s surface sensations, feelings, thoughts and reactions but also a soul awareness; an awareness of the spiritual self, as Peace, Light, Beauty and Truth. The methods vary on how to contact this spiritual self depending upon individual need and capacity.

“Meditation is the easiest process for the human mind, but the narrowest in its results; contemplation more difficult, but greater; self-observation and liberation from the chains of Thought the most difficult of all, but the widest and greatest in its fruits. One can choose any of them according to one’s bent and capacity. The perfect method is to use them all, each in its own place and for its own
object.”(1)

The Problem of Consciousness: A New Paradigm

There are two cardinal errors of present-day psychology, which cripple our understanding of human nature.

The first error is to regard all psychological experiences as ‘mental’. The second is to ‘believe’ that all psychological experiences are an epiphenomenon of the neuronal activity in the brain. The brain may be the highest seat of mental activity in man, but a mentalised intelligence pervades the entire body, coordinating the process of each tissue and cell. Indian psychology regards the body and mind as an instrument, an action and result of consciousness. The body is a phenomenon of which consciousness is the primary cause. The body and brain only manifest this consciousness. Consciousness is primary. By a special process of concentration and self-limitation, the One consciousness throws out countless phenomena of which our materialised human existence is but one. It also extends beyond and below the material world, creating typal worlds with a different form and combination of substance-energy-force, with other properties different from matter. Interestingly, progressive evolution of the material world is the consequence of an increasing pressure from these ‘other worlds’ according to the rishis. Their energy, sub-stance and force progressively prepare, mould and knead matter till it is ready. This evolution goes on till a still greater being, with a form more capable of expressing the perfect Consciousness, Truth, Light, Beauty, Harmony, Peace, Delight and Love emerges.

What is Consciousness?

“Consciousness is not, to my experience, a phenomenon dependent on the reactions of personality to the forces of Nature and amounting to no more than a seeing or interpretation of these reactions. If that were so, then when the personality becomes silent and immobile and gives no reactions, as there would be no seeing or interpretative action, there would therefore be no consciousness. That contradicts some of the fundamental experiences of yoga, e.g., a silent and immobile consciousness infinitely spread out, not dependent on the personality but impersonal and universal,… persistent in itself even when no reactions take place…

“Consciousness is a reality inherent in existence. It is there even when it is not active on the surface, but silent and immobile; it is there even when it is invisible on the surface…it is there even when it seems to us to be quite absent and the being to our view unconscious and inanimate.

“Consciousness is not only power of aware-ness of self and things, it is or has also a dynamic and creative energy. It can deter-mine its own reactions or abstain from reactions; it can not only answer to forces, but create or put out from itself forces. Conscious-ness is Chit but also Chit Shakti.

“Consciousness is usually identified with mind, but mental consciousness is only the human range which no more exhausts all the possible ranges of consciousness than human sight exhausts all the gradations of colour or human hearing all the gradations of sound — for there is much above or below that is to man invisible and inaudible. So there are ranges of consciousness above and below the human range, with which the normal human has no contact and they seem to it unconscious, — supramental or overmental and submental ranges.”(2)

The Problem of Consciousness

It is important to grasp this truth about ‘Consciousness’ for otherwise one would have to believe in the sudden appearance of matter, its chance evolution from dust to man, its accidental transmutation into conscious intelligence with well-governed laws and processes, which sounds like magic! Consciousness, however, cannot be quantified and measured, as it is not a fixed mass subject to gravity. Yet mass and gravity are qualities that derive from it. Neither is it limited to time and space. Yet they are born of it. The extension of consciousness becomes space. The mobility of consciousness becomes time which relates one phenomenon with another, creating laws and processes, cause and effect. Yet consciousness is not unknowable. It is possible to infer it from the phenomenon itself. But more importantly, it is possible to know about it fully and directly by self-knowledge. And so Yoga and its various methods were created to help man become capable of this knowledge by identification.

Consciousness is not only awareness but also dynamic force, which can change and alter the fixed foundations and habitual workings of body and mind. Our habits, reflexes etc. are nothing but a repetitive movement of consciousness in a fixed pattern and groove that persist.

This persistence gives stability, but also creates a rigidity which is the real difficulty in radically changing anything. A greater consciousness can however intervene and alter the fixed patterns, it can change an old process, even break a persistent ‘law’. Not only is it conceptually possible, but it also happens much more commonly than we believe. But we either turn a blind eye to it or acknowledge the anomaly, but justify it by chance or try to explain it away by a high-sounding ‘multifactorial’ theory.

“Science started on the assumption that the ultimate truth must be physical and objective — and the objective Ultimate (or even less than that) would explain all subjective phenomena. Yoga proceeds on the opposite view that the ultimate Truth is spiritual and subjective and it is in that ultimate Light that we must view objective phenomena. It is the two opposite poles and the gulf is as wide as it can be.

“Yoga, however, is scientific to this extent that it proceeds by subjective experiment and bases all its findings on experience; mental intuitions are admitted only as a first step and are not considered as realisation — they must be confirmed by being translated into and justified by experience. As to the value of the experience itself, it is doubted by the physical mind because it is subjective, not objective. But has the distinction much value? Is not all knowledge and experience subjective at bottom? Objective external physical things are seen very much in the same way by human beings because of the construction of the mind and senses; with another construction of mind and sense quite another account of the physical world would be given — Science itself has made that very clear….”(3)

“Another point. It does not follow that a spiritual force must either succeed in all cases or, if it does not, that proves its non-existence. Of no force can that be said. The force of fire is to burn, but there are things it does not burn; under certain circumstances it does not burn even the feet of the man who walks barefoot on red-hot coals. That does not prove that fire cannot burn or that there is no such thing as force of fire, Agni Shakti.”(4)

“The fact that you don’t feel a force does not prove that it is not there. The steam-engine does not feel a force moving it, but the force is there.”(5)

“Spiritual force has its own concreteness; it can take a form (like a stream, for instance) of which one is aware and can send it quite concretely on whatever object one chooses…
“But there is also such a thing as a willed use of any subtle force — it may be spiritual, mental or vital — to secure a particular result at some point in the world. Just as there are waves of unseen physical forces (cosmic waves etc.) or currents of electricity, so there are mind-waves, thought currents, waves of emotion, — for example, anger, sorrow, etc. — which go out and affect others without their knowing whence they come or that they come at all, they only feel the result… Influences good or bad can propagate themselves in that way; that can happen without intention and naturally, but also a deliberate use can be made of them…These things are not imagi-nations or delusions or humbug, but true phenomena.”(6)

The future psychology would acknowledge and take into account all these various modes of being with consciousness as its base.
References:

1. Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, Part II. SABCL, Vol. 23. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, pp. 721-2.
2. Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, Part I. SABCL, Vol. 22. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, pp. 233-4.
3. Ibid. p. 189.
4. Ibid. pp. 217-8.
5. Ibid. p. 220.
6. Ibid.