Swami Akhilananda shows us how to reach mental health by applying the classic techniques of his ancient tradition. The author explains how a stable and healthy mind is the starting point for our spiritual quest. He thus brings together psychology and religion in a most universal manner, showing that personality development and the search for ultimate values are one and the same discipline.
The book's approach is hard-hitting and practical, using case histories from the Swami's thirty-five years' counseling experience in the United States. The reader, whatever his own beliefs, will be enriched by this new perspective on solving the concrete problems of daily life.
Psychologist O. Hobart Mower writes in the introduction: "The author is an accomplished scholar, not only in the field of classical religion (see his Hindu view of Christ), but also in respect to the theories and theoretical dilemmas of contemporary psychiatry, psychology, and sociology (cf., Hindu Psychology)
.Most of all, Swami Akhilananda is a refined, sensitive, tolerant human being whose wisdom and kindliness have already touched the lives of innumerable persons and will, in the present volume, brings new understanding and a super perspective to many more."
THE thesis of this book is at once new and very old. In prehis- toric and even early historic times, problems both of the body and of the soul, or psyche, were ministered to by the same per- sons: priests, shamans, medicine men. Medicine, in the modem sense of the term, is often dated from developments in fifth century (B.C.) Greece which were associated with the name of Hippocrates but which dipped back into the earlier civilizations of Egypt, Babylonia, India, and China. By the end of the second century, A.D., the spotlight in medicine had shifted to Rome, where its brightest star was Galen. During the Dark Ages in Europe, interest in research and medical inquiry was kept alive in Alexandria and a few other spots east and south of the Mediterranean. But at no time was medicine a serious rival of established religion, for its rationale was feeble and its practical results problematic.
However, with the Renaissance, such men as Vesalius, Harvey, Lister and Leeuwenhoek appeared and then, in the middle of the nineteenth century came Pasteur and the germ theory of disease and the development of anesthesia and surgery. Since that time progress in medicine has been little short of miraculous. In 1850 the average life span in New England was 40 years. By 1900 it had risen to 47 years for the United States as a whole, and at the present time it is 67 years. What more eloquent tribute to medical progress!
It is not surprising, then; that within the past century or two we have turned increasingly to medicine for treatment in the realm of physical disease; and it is understandable that we should also have looked hopefully to it for aid in dealing with "mental disease." Here, however, the results have been disappointing.
Nothing comparable to the miracles of physical medicine has happened in psychological medicine, as is attested by the mental hospital population of this country (about 800,000) and the high incidence of ambulatory psychotic and severely neurotic persons.
To date, we can justly say that the medical approach to "men-tal disease" has failed. This approach was at first explicitly organic, as such terms as "neurosis" (an "osis" of the nerves), "neurasthenia" (nerve weakness), and "nervous-ness" imply. The causes of all such disorders were sought in terms of constitutionaltaint, degeneration, atrophy, tumors, genns, toxins, and so forth. In some types of disturbances, e.g. general paresis and pellagra psychosis, this approach succeeded brilliantly, but it left untouched the source of difficulty in the overwhelming majority of cases.
At this stage, in the last decade of the nineteenth century, Sigmund Freud put" forward a somewhat different theory that aroused new hope. He, too, had been trained as a physician, but he transcended his training to the extent of positing that most personality disturbances are in no way connected with organic factors. However much he thus departed from established medical tradition, Freud did not entirely escape the influence of his-professional background; for the new theory of mental disorder which he advanced likewise had a strong biological bias. It assumed, as is now well known, that personality problems arise when and only when the "natural expression" of such impulses as lust and hostility is blocked, inhibited, frustrated. This impairment of biologically normal functioning comes about most typically when the efforts of parents and other socializes of the young succeed, Freud believed, only too well in their purposes and thereby produce adults who are psychologically stunted, crippled in respect to their capacity to satisfy these inherent needs and thus be healthy and happy.
This type of thinking has enjoyed and still enjoys an enormous vogue. However, it has not given us either an efficient method for treating personality disorders or a new philosophy of life or theory of education which enables us to prevent them. What it has given us is a powerful research tool which continues to provide new information and understanding, Use of the psycho- analytic method in treatment has abundantly demonstrated the soundness of Freud's position with respect to the futility of symptom therapy. Symptoms, Freud held and many others have now confirmed, are but the habits which neurotically anxious persons develop as means of dealing with their otherwise intractable suffering. Freud rightly insisted that attention be turned from the symptom to the sufferer, to the person as such.
Freud's next assumption, with which today there is also general agreement, was that neurotic suffering always involves a mystery; there is, he maintained, always something unintelligible.: unknown, something unconscious about it. Neurotic anxiety, he said, comes about because something has been put "out of mind" (dissociated, repressed), and it is the periodic attempt of this something to return to consciousness that produces the mystifying, terrifying experience of neurotic anxiety.
But what is this something? Freud, as we know, maintained that it was either sexuality or aggression. Here, it seems, Freud was in error. He did not see what now is unmistakable, namely, that the something which falls under repression in the neurotic is his conscience, his moral and ethical strivings, rather than his biologically given needs of sex and aggression. Neurosis, it now appears, is not the result of biological frustration but of moral frustration. Freud correctly saw that the prelude to neurosis is a conflict between biologically given impulses (immaturities) and social pressures which are internalized in the form of conscience; but because of his training as a physician, we conjecture, Freud mistakenly assumed that the pathogenic resolution of this conflict involved renunciation of impulse rather than of conscience. The correction of this error bids fair to bring a long overdue revitalization of psychotherapy and of the theory underlying it.
But this development does something else. With it history comes full circle, and we see again the legitimacy of the concern of religious leaders in such matters. Traditionally, they, more than any other group, have been concerned with the problem of man's relation to others and to himself, with man's goodness and his happiness. They, especially, have been interested in questions of conscience, guilt, temptation, conflict, and anxiety. But for complex historical reasons, most religious leaders had, until recently, abandoned their position as psychic physicians and retired to the remoter realms of theology and metaphysics. Today, however, a vigorous new movement looms on the horizon. Recent books by Fosdick, Hiltner, May, Liebman, Sheen, and others tell the story of this re-awakening and point to momentous potential developments.
Let us be more concrete. Imagine a small American town with a population of 2000 or 3000. Typically such a town will have five or six physicians and about the same number of churches. The physicians are likely to be busy, harassed men who are over- worked and whose waiting rooms are overcrowded because of patients whose problems are primarily psychological but who know nowhere else to go. By contrast the churches in that town are likely to be empty six days of the week and only half filled on Sunday surely the moral is obvious. Here lies a golden opportunity for the churches to revitalize themselves and, at the same time, to render a significant social service.
At the present time the relatively new and still small profes- sions of psychiatry, social work, and clinical psychology are attempting to meet the needs of persons with emotional and personality problems. But thus far their services are mainly limited to larger cities, and even here there is a great discrepancy between services available and the need for them. Thousands of churches the country over, by contrast, offer potential facilities of great scope. Churches, unlike schools, are legitimately con- corned not just with children but with the "whole family." Every- one, regardless of age, may "go to church." Moreover, the church, at least in principle, is prepared to operate at both the broadly educational and the more specifically therapeutic levels, to deal, that is, with both groups and individuals. Given a new type of leadership which now seems, in fact, to be emerging and a some- what altered conception of the place of religion in the life of modern' men and women, the churches are in a position to do more than any other agency or institution within our entire society to influence our common culture along lines of mental hygiene and social reconstruction.
But the realization of this objective will not be easy. The mod- ern mind is in no mood for metaphysical makeshift; its problems must be met scientifically, rationally, honestly. And it will take time before religious leadership can make the internal accommodations and reorientation which are necessary if present opportunities are to be seized and effectively utilized.
The present volume by Swami Akhilananda presents what will be for most Americans new and certainly important facts and perceptions in this field of endeavor. To Swami Akhilananda the separation of religion and clinical psychology in this country must, in the beginning of his long sojourn here. have been an arresting spectacle; for in Hinduism, psychology and religion are one and inseparable. Certainly this old and great system of thought has valuable insights and suggestions to contribute to the resolution of our particular problems in a creative and constructive way.
More than this, the author is an accomplished scholar. not only in the field of classical religion (see his Hindu View of Christ), but also in respect to the theories and theoretical di- lemmas of contemporary psychiatry, psychology, and sociology (d. Hindu Psychology). He knows the meaning of anxiety in both its normal and neurotic sense, and he sees clearly the paradoxes and inadequacies of Freudian psychoanalysis. But, most of all. Swami Akhilananda is a refined, sensitive, tolerant human being whose wisdom and kindliness have already touched the lives of innumerable persons and will, in the present volume, bring new understanding and a surer perspective to many more.
IN A casual way one day, our good friend Dr. Gordon W. All- port noted the subjects of our lectures in Boston and said: "Swami, these should form a book." Until that day, we had no notion of writing a book on mental health and integration of personality. So it was he who was really responsible for stimulat- ing the idea of getting together a number of lectures and putting them into book form. Again, we hold him responsible because of his interest in the progress of this humble contribution to the field of mental health.
Pioneering work in .mental health was started towards the end of the eighteenth century by a great French physician, Dr. Pinel, whose departure from the old inhuman treatment of mental patients was inspired by his sympathy for them. A number of English, French, and German physicians followed the lead of Pinel in dealing with the insane. More systematic study of psycho- therapy was started gradually in the West by such thinkers as Charcot, Janet, Kraepelin, Bleuler, and Freud during the eighties of the last century. Many outstanding individuals in the West have become interested in mental health. Since the first World War, serious consideration has been given to methods of psycho- therapy. It seems that the mental health of a majority of the people is seriously affected; consequently, they are developing what are known as psychosomatic. diseases and neurotic and psychotic behavior. It has been established by general physicians, psychiatrists, and clinical psychologists that a majority of physical disturbances are psychogenic. So not only medical specialists but also philosophers, scientists, and rationalistic thinkers of all types are deeply interested in methods for stabilizing the mind.
The Hindus started their psychological research on the basis of their spiritual experiences. Certain methods are necessary for the attainment of what they call samadhi (superconsciousness). We have already discussed the various aspects of the psychology of the Hindus in another book, Hindu Psychology, Even though their primary interest is in religious development, they fully realize that until and unless the mind is wholly unified and in- tegrated there is no possibility of spiritual realization or mystical experiences. Herein lies the utility of the contributions of the Hindus to the field of mental health. The technique of their spiritual realization is based on what they term paramartha or the supreme goal of life, which is the fundamental principle in stabilizing the mind. Mental health is the prerequisite 'of spir- itual discipline. So long as the mind is disturbed and agitated by conflicting emotions and consequent tension, there is no peace of mind; and when there is no peace of mind there is no joy in life. Neither can a restless mind have the possibility for realizing the ultimate truth. The mind is the instrument of perception. So long as it is unsteady and unstable, we cannot correctly per- ceive a thing. When we think of the ultimate truth which is beyond the pale of ordinary experiences, we require mental de- velopment which is stronger than ordinary mental health. So it is worth while for modern Western scholars of psychotherapy to consider the contribution of Hindu psychology in the field of mental health at this critical juncture of Western civilization. Western psychotherapists of various schools have, of course, been trying to solve the mental problems of the people. Yet in spite of their attempts and noble contributions they lack some- thing which can be given by the religious psychology of India for the understanding of the total personality and the goal of life. So we feel that understanding between Western psycho- therapy of various types and the Indian system of mental train- ing can become a great strength for the solution of mental prob- lems and psychosomatic diseases.
Hindu psychology includes Buddhistic and Jaina systems of thought. These two schools are offshoots of Hindu thought. As they have functioned in India along with Hindu ideas, the three schools have commingled to such an extent that it is now difficult to separate their contributions. For the sake of convenience we are here calling the three systems of thought by the term Hindu psychology.
Hindu religion, philosophy, and psychology are inseparably connected. Consequently, when we discuss the religious outlook and religious values we necessarily mean the philosophical back- ground of religion and also mental training. By religion we mean neither sectarianism nor a dogmatic conception of any type of religious thought or method. We want to make it clear that the religious goal can be achieved by different persons of different mental aptitudes in different ways, without any particularization and overemphasis on one method or one doctrine. Nevertheless, we emphasize that religious values cannot be achieved without mental integration.
The technique of mental training suggested by Hindu thinkers is of vital importance for the integration of the mind and for proper mental health. So we humbly offer to the Western psycho- therapists and the general public the contributions of Hindu psychologists to consider and absorb into their own systems of thought.
We beg to differ with those psychiatrists who have certain definite ideas of the predominant urge in man. Hindu psycholo- gists take a broad viewpoint of the human mental states. Al- though they feel that the master urge or sentiment is the desire for abiding joy, they do not condemn or negate the biological urges of man. Rather, they try to subordinate them to this master urge. It will be worth while for Western psychiatrists and Eastern psychiatrists who are trained in the Western system to consider the contribution of Hindu psychologists in the field of technical training of the mind and in the development of the philosophy of life. With this view we present this little book.
Because these were originally extemporaneous lectures deliv- ered and recorded in Boston and Providence they may have a tendency toward repetition. Again, we have had to make this book comparatively free from many technicalities knowing that it will also be read by the general public. For this reason it may seem like preaching in some places. We hope that the readers will forgive these defects. As we feel it is worth while for the psychiatrists and religious counselors to see if they can be mutu- ally benefited by the system of Hindu psychology, we are pre- senting this book in this form. They can further study the original systems of Hindu thought. This is only meant for the stimulation of their research in the therapeutic contribution of Hindu psychology.
What little we have learned to be of service to disturbed per- sons and to our own students and devotees is entirely to the credit of our beloved Master, Swami Brahmananda. We often noticed him and other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna showing sympathy and love to their disciples, devotees, and others, re- gardless of religious or racial affiliations. Their unbounded love has lifted many persons from their distressed and disturbed states. From our boyhood, we noticed the tremendous spiritual power of our beloved Master in lifting different persons to a higher plane of consciousness. It is he who really inspired us to devote our life to the service of the seekers of truth. The influ- ence of Swami Premananda, another disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. in our life has contributed immensely to our understanding of the human mind. The teachings of Swami Vivekananda are indeed the guiding force in our thinking of mental and spiritual problems of modem man. So if any credit is given to anyone for this humble contribution, it goes to these three great per- sonalities and to other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna who unceasingly loved and blessed us.
We are grateful to Professor o. Hobart Mowrer of the Uni- versity of Illinois for writing the Introduction. He and Professor Gordon W. Allport and Professor Edgar S. Brightman have stimulated us in psychological and spiritual discussions for several years.
Our thanks go to some of the Swamis of the Ramakrishna Order of India who kindly read the manuscript. Our affectionate gratitude goes especially to Professor Edgar S. Brightman of Boston University; Professor Gordon W. Allport of Harvard University; Dr. Dana L. Farnsworth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dean Walter G. Muelder, Professor Paul E. Johnson, Professor Peter A. Bertocci, Mr. John D. Copp, and Dr. Robert P. Benedict of Boston University; Dr. David Wright, Superintendent of Butler Hospital; and Dr. Allen E. Claxton of New York City; for their reading of the manuscript and for their valuable suggestions. Dr. Ordway Tead, Chairman of the Board of Higher Education in New York City, and Editor of Social and Economic Books of Harper & Brothers, personally read the manuscript and gave valuable suggestions. We are greatly indebted to him for his genuine contributions to this book. We are indeed indebted to some of our students and friends who recorded our lectures, typed the manuscript, and helped in various ways. We also thankfully acknowledge the authors and publishers who very kindly permitted us to quote from their books.
The result of this humble offering goes to the all-loving Being.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend