Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Psychologies - East and West


There is a growing realization that contemporary Western education and culture leave "something out" of our science, medicine, psychology and our concept of human development.

That we have left undeveloped an holistic consciousness has influenced our conception of our capacities, our approach to health and disease and our understanding of the nature of education.

Sensing this lack, many people have initially turned their interest to the esoteric traditions of the East, often without understanding the bases and the relevance of many of these traditions. Although the interest may be genuine, many of the doctrines and the practitioners are suited only for the static societies of the East, or are suited for an earlier cultural era, and are not fully relevant to the current cultural situation.

... [we] attempt to peel away some of the irrelevance of local coloration and obsolete doctrine from these traditions. We will present both appropriate historical information and contemporary examples of formulations of eastern spiritual thought suited to current needs in several fields.


Western psychology has emphasized an impersonal "objective" approach to the understanding of the mind, often limited to observable phenomena such as language, behavior, and physiology. Its strengths are well known, yet its limitations are apparent in the understanding of the esoteric traditions of the East. This lack of a solid base in our culture has caused many to confuse contemporary "awareness trainings," packagings of exercises, etc. with the developed esoteric traditions. 


We imagine that we know very well what the word "Guru" means; however... we can only know what we mean by it. For us the appeal of the Guru lies partly in exoticism, which represents an almost insuperable barrier which we ignore. Westerners are ignorant of the roots of the Guru tradition and see him as guardian of a technique for what we imprecisely call "enlightenment". There is very little in our traditions which enables us to understand this concept. It is important that we understand the phenomena of religious Asia in the terms in which they were founded.


A close and careful study of Sufi writers within Islam such as Saadi, Ghazzali, Rumi, Hafiz and Khayyam show that the Islamic coloration of their writings is adaptive to their cultural surround, not essential. Sufism is an ageless science of integration, involved in brotherhood and understanding, not necessarily a specific doctrine.


Many of the present criticisms leveled at Western medicine are answered by Indian theory, however inadequate their actual practice sometimes is. Like other ancient systems of medical care, they are concerned with an inner balance in the patient and the promotion of health and "normality" rather than only the removal of specific diseases. These healers demonstrate an awareness of factors, interpersonal and personal, which western doctors do not consider of much significance, such as their approach to mental stability and, at one remove, the faith healers who are often much respected by those following a stricter discipline.


Every action and thought we have rests upon assumptions. While contemporary psychologists are familiar with evidence on the role of our assumptions they rarely apply it to their own scientific analysis of the mind. Yet if we begin to apply these considerations to psychological research, perhaps much of what we consider our "basic data" may be only relatively true, in that it applies only within the shared context of our culture's assumptions. These assumptions on the nature of man, of the physical world, and man's place in it, and on the structure of consciousness will be considered.


As Western thinkers begin to consider the traditions of the East we find that they demand the addition of a dimension to our assumptions and our conceptions. As examples: Two different modes of consciousness exist in man and function in a complementary manner; our personal and scientific attention is being shifted inward to the mastery of mental and physical states; man is not so closed a system as we had thought—we are permeable to subtle sources of energy from biospheric and human forces which often lie unnoted; the concepts of what is "normal" for man are undergoing a revision.


As Western psychologists begin to study the functions of the mind, they may find that many of their problems have been met and answered by those of the East. Although the findings of these Eastern psychologists are not published in academic journals, they nonetheless have anticipated, and in many cases still guide, the interested student of the mind.


There is a continuous "stream" of esoteric knowledge which has run through the major religions and philosophical traditions of both the East and the West. It exists today in a new form, in a fresh adaptation to contemporary life. 

-- The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge

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