Psychology as a discipline is now more than 100 years old in India, still the term ‘Indian Psychology’ is new to us and is interpreted differently by different people; some believe it to be limited to the natives of the country while others take it as something psychologists in India do. In actuality, ‘Indian Psychology’ talks about the universal psychological processes that the ancient seers in India discovered through meditation, deep contemplation and by studying themselves. It does not talk about any one particular practice (religious) or anything that is external or that pertains only to a particular set of people. It speaks about systematic ways to observe oneself and be more aware of our own psychological processes that subsequently assist us in living a better life. Here in this blog, I have attempted to answer a few common concerns one encounters when one thinks of Indian Psychology.
That brings us to the very first question that I often face whenever I speak about the subject, “how can you prove Indian psychology is more effective than Western psychology?”
To start with, everything that exists has a purpose of its own and the right way to look at things is not from the perspective of comparison but to see them in their relevant context and through their effectiveness. Understanding the importance and relevance of one thing does not preclude or make the other thing in question less or more, rather it helps us to apply that understanding to the other aspects as well. The paradigm of western psychology includes a wide range of processes and is mainly behaviour-centric. It talks about observing the ‘external’, the one that is seen, which in certain situations is the requirement (the effects of advertisement on consumer behaviour, for example, or sports psychology) but psychology does not limit itself to the external. In our everyday life, the source of action lies in the intention and to study the intention one needs to explore the deeper aspects of self. Indian psychology tools like self-inquiry and self-observation help in looking beyond behaviour to understand the source of who we are and what we do. It is worthwhile to spend some time on self-inquiry to try and understand ourselves based on not only our thoughts, but explore and unravel various other motivations that guide and direct our actions. We feel we know ourselves the best, but in actuality we are often not aware of the real and often hidden sources of our actions. So, the more we work on our self and unravel the hidden layers of our personality, the more we will be able to help the world. To understand the importance of this self-work, one must realize that the more efficient our tool, the better will be the results that will accrue, and in the end, our own human nature is our most important tool. Indian psychology practices and methods help us to become more aware, and once we have a heightened sense of self-awareness, we will not only see the world in a different light, but also develop more mastery over ourselves.
Another thing that’s often asked is how one can offer counselling to people who do not follow a spiritual path, and address their common concerns.
Here I would like to bring forth the importance of our perception and how we see the world. The common misconception is that the ‘spiritual path’ is something different from our everyday living and that one needs to give up certain things to walk on that path. But if you really understand the essence, there is no special path known as the spiritual path where you do different kind of things; it is simply doing the same things differently by being more self aware, seeing things in a more conscious light, and being able to trace the psychological processes that happen inside in a particular situation. Indian psychology talks about a life-affirming spirituality, where you continue to live the life you have chosen to live; there is no diversion of route, but there is more care in the way you drive. For example, people face a lot of problems in relationships, be it with a partner, parent or child. Being more aware of the inner process in a particular situation will help you to see the situation independent of the persons involved because of your understanding of the ‘self’ and you will be less caught in the momentary surface level reactions as you will be able to step back from the situation and take more effective decisions. Constant awareness and practice helps you evolve and for that you don’t have to stop following your routine, rather you should follow your routine less mechanically and with more awareness of the processes and their implications.
Next question in line is “do you need to turn to a Guru to solve all psychological problems?”
While answering this question, it is essential to understand the literal translation of the word ‘guru’, which is described as someone who takes us away from darkness and leads us towards light. In the light of Indian Psychology, it is not a physical body in the form of a guru but your belief in those thoughts and ideas that take you away from darkness. It can be in any form and if you really are a self-aware individual then you will find the guiding light within you which will help you solve all your problems. As they say all knowledge is an unfolding, so the essence of the ‘guru’ is present in each one of us. If we operate from that state of awareness, our life will be full of light and we will be able to walk on the sunlit path with our guru forever in our hearts. It’s not an external phenomenon, it’s internal. Tuning into our inner guiding light is being constantly in touch with the guru within.
And the last is a very interesting question which I attempt to answer below. It is the question, how would you counsel an atheist?
As per my understanding of the word atheist – he is somebody who does not believe in the existence of God. Here it is important to understand the concept/interpretation of the word ‘God’. Indian psychology talks about consciousness as the source of existence which has no one form in particular and so it is not something external. It is who you are in your essence. It’s crucial to understand the other person’s understanding and then work around that. Inquire more in terms of their idea about the source of their being. If they have a problem with form, talk about the energy aspect.
Every individual is unique and has a particular set of ideas and beliefs. If each one of us takes up the task of self-inquiry and presents to the world a more aware version of ourselves, it will not only help us live a better and content life, it will also make the world a better place to live.