Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 9: Psychology and Psychoanalysis

The systems of thought that have studied the workings of the psyche or the mind-stuff are the psychologies, the researches conducted into the process of thinking, feeling, willing and understanding. In the Eastern circles of such studies, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are foremost as highly advanced analyses of the structure and function of the human psyche. Eastern thought has always superseded even the modern Gestalt theory of psychology, concluding that the mind always acts as a whole and not in bits or fractions. As a matter of fact, the apparently fractional thinking that is observed in people when they lay special emphasis on certain aspects of their psyche to the exclusion of others under certain given conditions does not sever the mind into parts capable of making any of its functions independent of others. The fractional emphasis is superficial in the sense that ignored aspects of psychic function are not actually standing there isolated literally, but only the emphasised function attracts the attention of consciousness more than the other functions. To give an example, when we take a meal and are concerned only with a few limited functions of the body, the other functions remain nevertheless connected though unattended by direct awareness due to its preoccupation with some particular function.

The Upanishads hold that the waking consciousness is a whole by itself and constitutes a transparent activity of the mind, as contrasted with the states of dream and sleep. To the Upanishads, the mind by itself is not self-conscious and it is illumined by the true self within, the Atman, which is the only thing that is finally conscious; verily, the Atman is consciousness itself. Its consciousness permeates the entire physical system in the waking condition and even the body then appears to be conscious, as we can feel a sensation of awareness, in waking, when we touch the body, or when we experience ourselves as a whole body in that state. The waking state of consciousness is occupied with perception of objects and storing within itself impressions of the forms of perception. These impressions remain, like the repeated impressions created on the same receiving film of a photographic camera, as impressions piled one over the other as a large mass of chaotic accumulation of potentialities of perception which are driven into the subconscious level when active perception takes place through waking consciousness. In dream, into which the mind enters due to various reasons, direct perception as in waking ceases and the potentials remaining as impressions of earlier perceptions begin to act as the media of the perception of objects in dream. In the state of deep sleep even the subconscious operations cease on account of consciousness getting dissociated entirely from the body and the mind, and the individual then resting not vitally connected to either the body or the mind. But the large accumulated potential of psychic impressions created earlier acts like a thick cloud which prevents the consciousness in sleep from being self-conscious. Thus, in sleep there is no consciousness of its dissociation from body and mind or of the fact of consciousness alone being there in that state. The thickened potentials causing unconsciousness in sleep are the larger storehouse created, something like a sea of latent impressions, from which impressions capable of being projected out alone rise into action in dream and waking. The waking, dreaming and deep sleep states are herein explained as conditions of the mind-stuff, the psyche proper beyond which is the transcendental Atman-consciousness though this transcendental becomes immanently pervasive in terms of the three states mentioned, to give them a meaning for purpose of experience.

The psychic potentials can be classified into two groups: those which are studied in general psychology and the ones that are the subject of abnormal psychology, the former remaining as the general media of common perception, such as just being aware of the fact that certain things are there out in the world of space, and the latter causing emotional disturbance with joy and sorrow attending, such as when the perception is of something which is either loved or hated. The former are called Aklishta-Vrittis (non-painful psychoses), and the latter Klishta-Vrittis (painful psychoses): Direct perception of things through the sense-organs and inferences drawn from perceived hypotheses, as well as knowledge gained through instruction and information gathered from external sources, constitute, broadly, the field of normal psychological operations. But, seeing things topsy-turvy with a prejudiced camouflage projected on objects, which happens in loves and hatreds, comes under abnormal conditions of the pain-giving type. These painful psychoses or Vrittis have a damaging effect on the individual right from the beginning in that they create the erroneous impression that objects are galvanized by one's own feelings and are really there as so presented to one's emotions. Egotism, which is the self-assertive tendency in the individual, causes this bifurcated way of thinking and feeling, as likes and dislikes, dividing the world into two camps, namely, the desirable and the undesirable. Apart from this psychological travesty into which the individual is dragged by the painful Vrittis, they also have the power to cause a metaphysical distortion in their perception of things, as for instance, when one persistently feels that the world and its objects are a permanent stuff standing out there, though it is well known that the world is transient and is in the process of evolution; that the body which is just a conglomeration of skin and flesh, bone and marrow and blood, is seen as an attractive source of beauty; that the nervous titillations caused by the sense-organs when they come in contact with their respective objects are real forms of happiness; or that the world is a totally external something, though in fact it is involved in the very structure of the individual who perceives it.

Western theories of psychology, while studying the operations of the individual in perception, inference and in its various other activities, have latterly developed a form of study known as psychoanalysis, which does not merely make a bare observation of mind's functions but goes into the very depths of the evaluation of life itself. The impulses of the appetites such as hunger, self-regard and sex condition the individual's outlook of life to such an extent that one would very much doubt if there is such a thing as right perception at all. One can assess the values of things either in terms of one's material needs or in terms of the self-regard that one attaches to oneself, or the various forms of sexual pressure exerted on oneself, whether in natural forms of expression or in their repressed or retrograde movements caused by frustration. These impulses can blind the eye of the person so intensely that one would be able to see the world of persons and things only as one would like to see them, with a preconceived notion, since objective evaluations would become impossible as the mind works only in terms of subjective conditionings. It is clear that this is an unhealthy state of affairs supervening in the human psyche, from which one can free oneself through philosophical analysis, self-study or by a gradual weaning of the mind from such obsessions by an educative method adopted through fulfilment and sublimation as if one is undergoing a medical treatment. Psychology and psychoanalysis are complementary to each other, that is, the one concerning itself with what generally goes by the name of normalcy in life, and the other concentrating itself on the deviations from the normal, as illness is a departure in an important sense from the health of the organism.