Yoga, Psychology and the Indian Genius – M.S. Srinivasan

flower_yellow_garden[On the occasion of International day of Yoga on 21st June 2015. On yoga as the pragmatic and the scientific core of Indian Spirituality.]

India is well-known as the land of religion and philosophy. The spiritual masters of modern India like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda have repeatedly emphasised that spirituality is the essence of Indian genius. But this word “spirituality” is used — or rather abused — indiscriminately to denote anything and everything which is beyond or even below the ordinary or average mentality from the highest mysticism, moralism and religiosity to dubious forms of psychism of all kinds. So for a better understanding of the Indian genius, we need a clear and precise perception of the meaning of spirituality.

Yoga as Applied Psychology

It is undoubtedly true that spirituality is the essence of Indian genius. But what is the living core of spirituality? Is it not Yoga? But what is Yoga? The standard definition of Yoga is union with the Divine or to use the vedantic terminology, union with our own highest universal Self. But this is rather the aim of Yoga. What is the process by which this aim of Yoga is realised? If we can answer this question with a scientific exactness we may possibly arrive at a more precise and clear perception of the Indian genius than the one conveyed by a rather vague and much misunderstood word like “spirituality”.

Here comes the importance of Sri Aurobindo’s unique contribution to the understanding of the science of Yoga. “Yoga” says Sri Aurobindo “is nothing but practical psychology”. But practical for what? For the psychological and spiritual evolution of the individual. Yoga is[1] the scientific and systematic psychological process or discipline by which the psychological and spiritual evolution of the individual can be accelerated. According to Sri Aurobindo, entire life is a yoga of Nature. There is a slow evolutionary process of Nature which works in the mass of humanity through the normal experiences of life, mental education, thought, culture and other methods. But Yoga speeds up this ordinary process of Nature in the individual through an intensive concentration of his psychological energies. This is the process of Yoga and the discovery of this psychological process of yoga is the essence of the Indian spiritual genius.

So, though, it may sound a little odd, the essence of Indian genius, to be scientific and precise, is Applied Psychology.

Indian Yogic Psychology

There is at present a growing interest among scholars, in India and in the West, on the achievements of ancient Indian sciences. But whatever may be the position of ancient India in physical sciences, her unparalleled pre-eminence in the field of psychological sciences as revealed in Indian Yoga is an irrefutable fact recognized by all those who have made a deep study of Indian culture, especially her yogic tradition. This unsurpassed excellence of ancient India in psychology was repeatedly pointed out by great savants of Indian culture like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda. And it is now slowly getting recognized in the West. For example a Belgian scholar writing on the ancient India’s achievements in science, says:

“In order to instill a proper and well-rounded pride in the Hindu, it is (once more) most important to restore the truth about Hindu history, especially about Hindu society’s glorious achievements. In technology it cannot match China which was the world leader until a mere three, four centuries ago. But in abstract sciences like linguistics, logic, mathematics, Hindu culture has been the chief pioneer. In psychology it is still unsurpassed though this is not yet fully recognised in the West, the part of the world that still arbitrates on what can count as rational and scientific”.[2]

But the problem here in the study of ancient Indian yogic psychology is that the psychological insights are either indistinguishably mixed with metaphysical concepts or hidden behind the forms of practice. The yogic texts of ancient India focus most of their attention on the practical discipline and not much effort is made to bring out clearly and precisely the psychological principles and insights behind the discipline. For each yogic system of practice evolved in ancient India is based on a system of psychological and spiritual insights, intuitions and experiences and designed to achieve a clearly defined spiritual aim. But the same system of insights can be applied or put into practice in many different ways to achieve the same aim. For example Raja Yoga of Patanjali is based on certain verifiable psychological and spiritual experiences and insights. But the method of discipline evolved by Patanjali is not the only way these insights can be put into practice. As Sri Aurobindo has pointed out, the system of Rajayoga can be practised in a very different way than the one developed by Patanjali. This fact applies to every system of Yoga. If we are able to disengage the essential psychological and spiritual insights behind the various systems and practices of Yoga, then we acquire a certain freedom and flexibility in its application. This will also help in eliminating the rigidity and religious formalism which has crept into many of the ancient yogic disciplines and will bring the much needed plasticity to yogic sciences. For more than any other science, it is in the field of applied psychology and yoga we need the capacity for infinite flexibility in the application of universal psychological principles, truths and laws to the needs of an infinite variety of individual temperaments, capacities, conditions, difficulties, situations and aims.

A Research Project on Yogic Psychology

This is the objective of one of the research projects undertaken by Sri Aurobindo Society. The aim of the project is twofold: firstly, to disengage the essential psychological insights of Indian Yoga; and secondly, trace the history and evolution of this important aspect of Indian cultural genius. Those who are interested in this study may see the blog: gnosticpsychology. in Sri Auorbindo Society website: www.aurosociety.otg

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