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How Can Bhagavad Gita Enrich Modern Psychology?


As one of the signatories to the manifesto of Indian Psychology in 2002 in Puducherry (Pondicherry, then), it has been of great interest to this author to see how the theoretical framework and practice of Indian psychology has evolved. A few institutions came forward to help evolve an Indic perspective on cognition, emotions and behavior largely drawing from Yoga and Vedanta and also produced textbooks. Courses were designed and are being offered by Delhi University, Aurobindo institute, MIT School of Vedic Sciences to name a few. These efforts are indeed laudable and signify an important but long overdue journey of turning the gaze inwards, as it were, into the traditions that have long sustained an ancient, living civilization.

Having the advantage of being both a clinical psychologist and researcher as well as a traditional Vedanta Acharya now, some of the limitations of these efforts are:

  • (a). A hastiness in trying to map many Western concepts to some equivalents in Vedanta and Yoga. e.g. panchakoshaprakriya (which is a methodology of enquiry into the mistakes made at five levels of understanding the Atma) being presented as a theory of personality.
  • (b). An over reliance on primarily English translations of Sanskrit texts which had the above errors and hence a perpetuation of error of misunderstood topics.
  • (c). Bypassing of practical tools for effective living, for consciousness and para-normal phenomena.

Purser[2] in his critique of the commodification of mindfulness offers us a grim reminder of how the learning from Hinduism should not fall prey to oversimplification or a disdain for tradition. Although he speaks about the connection between Mindfulness and Buddhism, these lessons apply to Modern psychology that may be gleaned from Hinduism too. He says,  …Mindfulness has been oversold and commodified, reduced to a technique for just about any instrumental purpose. It can give inner city kids a calming time-out or hedge fund traders a mental edge or reduce the stress of military drone pilots. Void of a moral compass or ethical commitments, unmoored from a vision of the social good, the commodification of mindfulness keeps it anchored in the ethos of the market.’

Modern Psychology is understood to include theoretical frameworks of cognition, emotion and behaviour and its applications. It originated in parts of Europe and the US as a response to provide people with relief from psychological issues and hence the evolution of the theoretical frameworks is as much a product of its times as much as an influence on its times. The US and Europe in the last century particularly were faced with a huge demand for treatment of war veterans post World Wars. Further, the rise of individuality coupled with science almost becoming the new religion, a greater separation between church and state, and break down of family structures are some of the major factors that have influenced the growth of Modern Psychology.  Despite therapy and psychopharmacology the rates of clinical depression and psychological disorders have only increased. Globally 264 million people suffer from depression. [1]In recent times though, yoga has become a global movement and a billiondollar industry and the burgeoning interest in eastern spirituality has led to adopting some methods and enriching the field of Modern psychology. In their modern versions, Vipassana became mindfulness, Yoga nidra became Mindfulness based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Japa became Transcendental Meditation, Yoga got reduced to only Asana and Pranayama and so on. The ethical frameworks and the depth of these practices have been ignored.

Modern psychology and its application through Client Centred therapy, Cognitive Behavioural therapy, Gestalt therapy, Reality therapy and other treatment modalities rest on a common foundation of promoting a well-adjusted individual to society. What is common to the diagnosis of different clinical disorders (Depressive disorders, Anxiety disorders, Stress disorders, Trauma related disorders etc) is the presence of symptoms for a certain length of time which cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Through the different treatment modalities based on different theoretical frameworks of viewing the person:

  • (a). Cognitive distortions can be corrected and made rational, aligned to functional reality;
  • (b). Fragmentations in personality can be integrated by the aware ego through Gestalt therapy;
  • (c). Unconditional positive regard and a warm therapeutic relationship may be offered through Client centred therapy;
  • (d). One’s choices and acceptance of choices along with an understanding of fulfilling one’s needs relationally can be achieved through Reality therapy.

Whatever be the treatment modality one realises that lasting happiness does not come from fiddling with our internal processes. The assumption of being an individual overwhelmed with the total and hence a need to connect and deal with the total is the implicit assumption in Modern psychology.

Since time immemorial, the lasting problem for the experience of human limitation and sorrow has been the subject matter for all disciplines from Philosophy to Science to Psychology. The timeless and tried-and-tested teachings of the Bhagavad Gita offer a lot of breadth and depth to the growth of Modern Psychology. A word of caution is merited here. Bhagavad Gita is understood to be a yoga śāstra in that it has teachings of values, attitudes and orientations for living a life of harmony and a mokśaśāstra in that it has teachings to reveal the limitless self. Although a dialogue between Arjuna, the accomplished warrior and Kṛṣṇa, it is really a dialogue between jiva, individual and Īśvara covering themes of self-mastery and self-discovery. One must be cautious to not psychologize the Bhagavad Gita as it goes beyond psychology and addresses the reality of the individual, the world and God. Yet, since the scope of modern psychology has been to offer healing and a flourishing of human potential, there are enough teachings within the Bhagavad Gita that aid self-mastery and effectiveness. Brahmavidya, the other aspect of Bhagavad Gita is not within the scope of modern psychology because of the subject matter as well as the methodologies involved and hence it is wise to keep this aspect out of modern psychology and explore it within the context of traditional learning of Vedanta.

This paper seeks to point out the problems of modern psychology and also solutions through the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita thereby offering concrete areas to enrich Modern Psychology. These are:

  1. The problem of individuality in Modern Psychology and the solution of totality as Bhagavān presented by the Bhagavad Gita
  2. The absence of ‘Dharma’ in Modern Psychology and the solution of Dharma as a universal framework for harmony
  3. The problem of ‘dealing with emotions and the solution of emotions as a manifestation of Bhagavān
  4. The problem of psychologising all issues and the solution of ethical living as the solution
  5. The problem of self-mastery with an over reliance on self effort and the solution of self-mastery through the disposition of Karma Yoga
  6. The problem of the mind trying to fix itself and the solution of the mind as antahkarana, inner instrument
  1. The problem of individuality in Modern Psychology and the solution of totality as Bhagavān presented by the Bhagavad Gita

What is helpful about the sense of individuality promoted by modern psychology is the growing independence, both physical and emotional which contributes to the person’s maturity. In time the individual learns to be both independent and interdependent leading to collaboration with others at home and at work. Inherent in the experience of individuality is the experience of isolation, alienation from the total and seeking to understand what the totality is. However psychologically healthy, all we are doing is living out our individuality still living in our own subjective worlds without any connection to the total that is God.

Modern psychology is grounded in notions of separation and difference and draws much of its influence from the mind/body dualism first formulated by Descartes according to which the body operates on material laws, whereas the soul and the mind are entirely different substances which operate as per the Church doctrines. Descartes – consistently using the term ’laws of nature’, successfully limited the need for God in understanding the world. Newton mechanised the cosmos as a creation of God but then made God unnecessary for its sustenance. Galileo, Kepler etc. had the effect of reducing the divine presence within the world almost to the point of nothingness.

Psychological frameworks perpetuate the idea that the individual is separate and isolated from the whole. While we can create more models which reduce the subjectivity of the individual but the existential alienation of the individual from the whole remains. Manipulating psychological processes does not diminish the sense of individuality. The isolation remains because it is determined by and is a function of the isolation itself.

Understanding this historical perspective helps us see the earlier compulsions which we no longer are under and invites us to see how else modern psychology can be enhanced. Many developments in quantum physics, astronomy and biology point to the interconnectedness of forms pervaded by intelligence. Hinduism has no sacred-secular divide which is evident in a reverential attitude towards all forms – be it a pipal tree, the sacred rivers, mountains, books, instruments of use and of course deities in temples. Different festivals have aspects of worship to all these forms as these are sacred. The Bhagavad Gita are the teachings of Bhagavān as Kṛṣṇaavatāra. Through the understanding of Bhagavān as the source of all forms, God is rescued from the many ideas about him located in a particular place such as heaven and being judgmental. From seeing the world as overwhelming and often opposed to oneself, the individual ‘s resistance to the world and oneself starts to reduce.

Kṛṣṇa reveals two aspects of Bhagavānparāprakiti (higher nature) and aparāprakiti (lower nature). Aparāprakiti is divided in an eight-fold manner – five subtle elements, cosmic ahankara, cosmic intellect and the unmanifest. Parāprakiti  is the essential nature by which this world is sustained. (7.4-5).  Aparāprakiti is called lower because it is changing, finite, inert and has a status of dependent reality whereas parāprakiti is unchanging, infinite, consciousness and has independent reality. Bhagavān as jagatkāranam, the cause of the world is revealed –

एतद्योनीनिभूतानिसर्वाणीत्युपधारय।

अहंकृत्स्नस्यजगतःप्रभवःप्रलयस्तथा।।7.6।।

Understand that all beings and elements have their cause in this two-fold prakṛti. (Therefore), I am the one from whom this entire world comes; so too, I am the one into whom everything resolves.

This is repeated in many other places one of which is this.

अहमात्मागुडाकेशसर्वभूताशयस्थितः।
अहमादिश्चमध्यं च भूतानामन्तएव च।।10.20।।
Guakeśa (Arjuna)! I am the self who resides in the hearts of all beings, and I am the cause of the creation, sustenance and resolution of all beings/things.

From 7.8 – 7.11, he gives examples of how Bhagavān pervades the jagat, world. He is the strength in human beings (pauruanru– 7.8), the very life in human beings (jīvana sarvabhūteu-7.9), the intellect of the discriminative (buddhirbuddhimatām -7.10), the desire that is not opposed to dharma (dharmāviruddho kāmo’smi-7.11). BhagavānKṛṣṇa gives other examples of how he is the basis of all the five great elements – I am the taste in water (raso’psu – 7.8), the light in the moon and sun (prabhāśaśisuryayo), sweet fragrance in the earth (puṇyo gandḥa7.9) and sound in the space (kheśabda).

Thus, being the intelligent and material cause of everything includes the intelligence and the material of the jiva’s body-mind-sense-complex and the jagat that the jiva interacts with, through its many laws. The isolated, struggling individual who needs ‘to deal’ effectively with the world can learn to see that one’s body-mind-sense-complex and one’s entire life is pervaded by Bhagavān. The basis of much reaction is the non-acceptance of facts. In seeing that the laws governing the world – physical laws, biological laws, psychological laws etc. the resistance reduces and there is a greater acceptance. The appreciation of the intelligence and the material that makes up the world naturally glides into an appreciation for Bhagavān who is the source of both leading to greater connectedness and hence harmony with the world.

  1. The absence of ‘Dharma’ in Modern Psychology and the solution of Dharma as a universal framework for harmony

In the Western world God was abandoned because religious living was deeply connected with the church. But along with that, values also got abandoned. The abandonment of God’s presence in the world became an abandonment of values, because the cosmos was seen to be governed by value free mechanical laws.  In 1880s, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche secularized the word – values and delinked it from religion. He used it in a pluralistic sense of moral beliefs and social attitudes. While the rigidity associated with the practice of morality freed the people of self-condemnation, there was no articulated ethical framework for daily living besides the criminal justice system as well as the norms of a given culture.

Hinduism which is really Sanatana Dharma points to a universal framework of ethical living to engage with the world and is a guide for behaviour irrespective of gender, creed, nationality or religion. It is instinctively understood and upheld by everyone. There is no English equivalent for the word ‘dharma’ and hence it is a non translatable. Dharma is not religion.  Etymologically Dharma means principles that support and sustain (“Dharayateiti dharma”).  That order which protects us if we protect it. (‘Dharmorakshatirakshitah’).

Depending upon the context, dharma can mean anyone or more or all of these,

  • (a). universal principles and ethics,
  • (b). duty in the form of responsibilities towards one another and hence meeting the rights of the others,
  • (c). natural, innate behaviour of things, (e.g. dharma of water is to flow) and
  • (d). the principle of cause and effect here and in the hereafter (karma and karmaphala in the form of punya and papa).

This paper focuses on Dharma as a universal framework of ethics.

Since life involves relating, some norms of relating are required that are universal and acceptable. Pointing to how Dharma only confirms common-sense ethics, Swami Dayananda Saraswati[2] writes, ‘The norms or standards of relating cannot be arbitrary or man-made or even given by religion. The dharmic mandates for behavior and attitude, though commonly found in religious scriptures, in fact, trace their source to pragmatic common sense ethics, which religious ethics confirm.’

Dharma is a standard or norm of conduct derived from the principle of reciprocity – way in which I wish others to view or treat me. Dharma is not absolute but universal in content; relative and situational in application. There is a similarity in everyone’s reaction to being hurt, cheated, lied to and bullied.

The human need for dharma is missing in the hierarchy of needs as presented by Maslow and built upon by other psychologists. The need for the practice of universal values such as truth, justice, compassion, kindness, contribution i.e.need for dharma cannot be dismissed by anyone let alone a person given to adharma. Even a thief wants to be told the truth and justice to be done. The innate understanding of Dharma lives in everyone’s hearts and comes alive in our actions and sought to be met by all human beings. Hence the Vedic vision lists Dharma as the first of all human pursuits followed by Artha, Kama and Moksha.

Human beings don’t just have a value for dharma, they have a need for dharma, a need to be in touch with the reality of the situation. What is indeed our ‘need’ is to come into contact with reality in the form that it is in at any one moment and live in harmony with it. What indeed is our ‘need’ is to be in harmony with ourselves and the world by stepping out of our subjectivity by doing actions that are in line with dharma.

When we abide in an acceptance of reality in whatever form it is in, we find ourselves being acceptable. SanatanaDharma as a vision and a way of life is born of the vision of the interconnectedness of all forms.

Dharma is not a matter of living by an external code but rather a full expression of what we are – caring and contributing. It is not following iron-clad rules but is freedom from being enclosed in egocentricity by relating to the world. All therapeutic processes include psychoeducation and hence the implications of inclusion of dharma as the guiding framework of Modern psychology are:

  • (a). Most conflicts are dharma related and people aligning their thoughts and actions to dharma will help to resolve conflicts.
  • (b). There will be a balanced view of person’s rights and responsibilities in society with equal importance to both.
  • (c). When dharma is at the centre of our lives, all the values such as acceptance, appreciation, justice, cooperation flow from the inside out, into all areas of our lives.
  • (d). Relative happiness and stability of society is possible, which becomes the basis for discovery of absolute happiness i.e. moksa.
  • (e). Resolution of psychological issues involves an alignment with dharma.

If people merely conform to dharma we are ethical people at best. However, Dharma is dynamic and the laws of karma reveal deep intelligence. Upholding dharma by practicing it, upholds the laws and principles that sustain and enrich a society. A life of dharma sustains the deep intelligence that is inherent through the order that is Bhagavān. Dharma as principles and laws, in and of themselves do not produce anything. The intelligence or the author of these laws and principles, a conscious being makes the results possible. Alignment to Dharma is easier when seen as a manifestation of Bhagavān himself.

  1. The problem of ‘dealing with emotions and the solution of emotions as a manifestation of Bhagavān:

To its credit, modern psychology has normalised all emotions and promoted the idea of all emotions being valid and not deserving of condemnation. Still, the individual experiences a resistance to the frequency and intensity of emotions particularly anger, sadness and fear. While these can be managed to a great extent through different therapeutic techniques, the individual is still positioned as the subject dealing with the object i.e. the undesirable emotional states, the cognitive distortions or the fragmentation of personalities. This further leads to self-judgment and inadequacy. The Bhagavad Gita reveals that the source of the different psychological dispositions of cognition, emotion and behaviour is Bhagavān.

बुद्धिर्ज्ञानमसंमोहःक्षमासत्यंदमःशमः।सुखंदुःखंभवोऽभावोभयंचाभयमेव च।।10.4।।

अहिंसासमतातुष्टिस्तपोदानंयशोऽयशः।भवन्तिभावाभूतानांमत्तएवपृथग्विधाः।।10.5।।
The capacity to understand, knowledge, freedom from delusion, accommodation, truthfulness, restraint in behaviour, mastery over the ways of thinking, pleasure, pain, creation, destruction, fear and fearlessness and further..

….harmlessness, equanimity, satisfaction, religious discipline, charity, fame, ill fame – these different dispositions (and things) of living beings – are all from Me alone.[3]

The emotional build up of thoughts of sadness or anxiety are often due to a non-acceptance of facts or a non-acceptance of one’s powers in a given situation. The position of oneself pitted against one’s own undesirable emotional state or an antagonistic person or a hostile situation is now seen from a larger perspective –all situations are governed by laws that are in the form of Bhagavān. The implications of seeing that one’s psychological state is pervaded thus, is as follows:

  • (a).The sense of being dealt unfair cards of life fades away and one can proactively and dynamically deal with the situation at hand.
  • (b). The self-judgments of oneself reduce and no longer result in the gnawing sense of inadequacy and ‘not-good-enough’ cognitions.
  • (c). There is greater acceptance of oneself and others and a resulting harmony in relationships.
  • (d). Seeing oneself related to total in the form of Bhagavān results in greater connectedness with others and also a desire to contribute to their welfare and growth. 
  1. The problem of psychologising all issues and the solution of ethical living as the solution.

The overemphasis on psychological interventions of ‘thinking oneself out of all problems’ is an oversimplification of our multi-layered lives and almost ignores the systemic, institutional and structural frameworks of ethics. One may argue that enquiry into and addressing systemic ethical issues are outside the scope of psychology. Yet the solution of presenting a technique, a method or a psychological tool to bring about complete relief and comfort is a form of magical thinking. For example, the working culture that corporate capitalism fosters, of 12-14 hour work days is not attempted to be modified but a response to the stressful conditions through mindfulness and yoga are attempted. This is an example of psychologising the issue without attempting to address ethics of respect for employees and sustaining productivity.

In the view of Hinduism many of the psychological issues faced by human beings are not merely psychological but ethical. A reaction to a situation is often experienced as a rāga (binding like or a craving) or a dveśa (a binding dislike or an aversion). Much of the psychology related to self-mastery in the Gita is presented as a mastery over rāga and dveśas by aligning oneself with Dharma.

इन्द्रियस्येन्द्रियस्यार्थेरागद्वेषौव्यवस्थितौ।
तयोर्नवशमागच्छेत्तौह्यस्यपरिपन्थिनौ।।3.34।।

There are longing and aversion in every sense object. May one not come under the spell of these two because they are one’s enemies.

Having a rāga, a strong like is different from the rāga casting a spell on the person. When the rāga has possessed the person, strong emotions generally of anger, helplessness or sadness are stirred up. The person becomes the emotion and acts out helplessly in the throes of the emotion and its intensity. Modern psychology will try to manage the emotion but the rāga is still there, waiting to manifest.

The Bhagavad Gita cuts through all of the management and brilliantly highlights that the root cause of strong emotions like anger, hatred, jealousy is really the binding nature of our rāga and dveśas. Pointing out the cause and effect chain of how a binding rāga or dveśa can destroy a person and indeed take to crime, BhagavānKṛṣṇa says,

ध्यायतोविषयान्पुंसःसङ्गस्तेषूपजायते।
सङ्गात्संजायतेकामःकामात्क्रोधोऽभिजायते।।2.62।।
क्रोधाद्भवतिसंमोहःसंमोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः।
स्मृतिभ्रंशाद्बुद्धिनाशोबुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति।।2.63।।

In the person who dwells upon objects, an attachment is born with reference to them. From attachment is born desire and from desire, anger is born.

From anger comes delusion and from delusion comes the loss of memory. Because of the loss of memory, the mind becomes incapacitated and when the mind is incapacitated, the person is destroyed.

The framework of dharma encourages us to treat the other like we would want to be treated.

रागद्वेषवियुक्तैस्तुविषयानिन्द्रियैश्चरन्।
आत्मवश्यैर्विधेयात्माप्रसादमधिगच्छति।।2.64।।

One whose mind is mastered, moving in the world of objects with the sense organs that are under his or her control, free from rāga and dveśas (likes and dislikes), attains tranquility. (2.64)

Prasādam or Tranquility is freedom from reaction because there is freedom from the binding nature of the rāga and dveśas. People no longer are a cause of disturbance because one allows them to be. Just as one does not resist the water because it flows, one sees oneself in harmony with the nature of people. The raga-s and dveśa-s may still be there but they are managed well. Their spell is broken. Rāgas and dveśas are not a matter of self-condemnation but seen as a part of the emotional order of Bhagavān. Bhagavān also says that I am in the form of the desire in your heart which is not opposed to dharma. To desire is a privilege, given to all and is regarded as an iccha-śakti in Sanatana dharma and not the root cause of suffering. If we continue to align with dharma to deal with our rāgas and dveśas in a meaningful way, and receive with grace what comes our way, there will be self-mastery. How does one perform karma and how can one receives the results of the karma?

  1. The problem of self-mastery with an over reliance on self effort and the solution of self-mastery through the disposition of Karma Yoga

Modern psychology with its overemphasis on individuality relies heavily on self-effort leading the individual to further heap self-judgment on oneself if the desired change in oneself is not forthcoming enough. The growth of the maximizing human potential movement and emphasis on productivity is good but it’s indiscriminate use has led to burnout. No matter how much one does to maximise productivity and effectiveness when things don’t go one’s way, how is one meant to deal with life? The Bhagavad Gita presents a sustainable road map to self-mastery through the disposition of Karma Yoga. Modern commentators wrongly present Karma Yoga as ‘work without expectations’ and ‘skill in action’. In the famous verse about one’s actions, BhagavānKṛṣṇa says,

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्तेमाफलेषुकदाचन।
माकर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मातेसङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।।2.47।।

‘Your choice is only in action, never in the results thereof. Do not think you are the author of the results of action. Let your attachment not be to inaction.’ (2.47)

The relationship between actions and their results are governed by the laws of karma which are a part of the laws of Dharma. These cannot be modified but can be understood. The expectation of result of any karma based on rāga is natural. From the person’s stand point, there could be four types of results – a. Equal to expectation, b. More than expectation, c. Less than expectation and d. Different from expectation. For example one expected a certain profit margin in the business. The results can be more profit, less profit, profit as projected or a total loss. If the results of an action are equal to expectation or more than expectation, the person is likely to be happy and not complain. But when the results of the action are less than expectation or unfavourably different from expectation, then there is frustration and helplessness.  The problem of reaction and resulting self-judgement of failure etc. can be avoided if there is an understanding of the nature of actions and results. Any action produces a result inherent in the action itself shaped by the laws of karma which are in turn the intelligence of Bhagavān. This can make one a contributor at best, but never the complete controller of any action and its result. Understanding this fact and doing one’s best aligned with dharma enhances one’s self-mastery.

If this is not how karma is to be performed (with ownership to results), then how else?

योगस्थःकुरुकर्माणिसङ्गंत्यक्त्वाधनञ्जय।
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्योःसमोभूत्वासमत्वंयोगउच्यते।।2.48।।
Remaining steadfast in yoga, Dhananjaya! Perform actions abandoning attachment and remaining the same to success and failure. This evenness of mind is called yoga.

The disposition of samatvam is better understood by the cultural practice of accepting prasāda in a temple born of prasādabuddhi, a graceful and cheerful acceptance. An object be it marigold flower, vibhuti (sacred ash), tirtha (sanctified water) or a sweet, after being offered at the altar, acquires the status of prasāda. Because it has been offered at the altar of Īśvara it is now considered a blessing and not a mere object and hence whatever be the object it is now received with an attitude of reverence. What has changed is the vision of the one receiving the object because the object has been transformed into prasāda, coming from the altar. This cultural practice and attitude seen in temples, during pujas and homa-s is extended to the results of all actions because results are shaped by the law of karma which come from the altar of Īśvara. Hence any of the four types of results are recognised to be shaped by Īśvara. Samatvam is the graceful acceptance of all results and is the cultivating of the attitude of prasādabuddhi towards the results of actions making it karma yoga. This psychoeducation if included in modern psychology can pave the way for a life of harmony.

  1. The problem of the mind trying to fix itself and the solution of the mind as antahkaraa, inner instrument :

With the growth of the knowledge economy there has been an overidentification with the mind. Books, courses and apps promising control of the mind are very popular because one finds oneself unable to manage the mind. The growth of mindfulness attributed to Buddhism drawn from Sanatana Dharma is based on this verse of the Gita and similar verses revealing the witness of all thoughts, emotions, sensations as distinct from them.

इन्द्रियाणिपराण्याहुरिन्द्रियेभ्यःपरंमनः।
मनसस्तुपराबुद्धिर्योबुद्धेःपरतस्तुसः।।3.42।।
They say that the sense organs are superior (to the body); the mind is superior to the sense organs, the intellect is superior to the mind. Whereas the one who is superior to the intellect is he, (the Atma).

An impeccable, unnegatable logic is presented: The individual i.e. the Witness-Consciousness is different from what is perceived. The witness is free from the modifications of thoughts, emotions, sensations and so on. Even if the Atma is not enquired into in Modern psychology, just recognizing the witness of all, which is not subject to changes, is freeing.

Bhagavad Gita and in fact Sanatana Dharma offers a refreshing reality check starting with the word for the mind and its very meaning – antahkaraa. The Vedic tradition calls the mind antahkaraa – an inner instrument. The body is bāhyakarana, an external instrument. Karana means an instrument to get some things done. Naturally it presupposes that there is a karta, doer who uses both the instruments antahkaraa and bāhyakaraa to get things done.

This antahkarana, inner instrument is four-fold. Born of the sāttvika aspect of the five great elements, the mind is actually looked at as a fourfold faculty because it has four functions –

  1. Manas, loosely translated as the mind – When there is desire or doubt or emotion in the inner instrument, we call it manas or mind. (Sankalpavikalpātmakammanah)
  2. Buddhi loosely translated as the intellect: When there is distinct knowledge or a decision taken, a resolve or will, then we call it determinate knowledge or buddhi. (Nischayaatmika buddhi)
  3. Cittam loosely translated as memory – When there is recollection of any incident along with the data then that function is called chittam. (Cintankartra karma)
  4. Ahankara loosely translated as the ego, or self concept- And the one who holds it all together, the one who identifies with the manas, buddhi, cittam – is I, ahankara, Really speaking, I is the limitless Atma but identified with these is a limited individual, ahankara. Ahankartaahankritih

Each of these four words is used to indicate a different function of the same inner instrument or mind. This recognition paves the way for the use of the mind, antahkarana, as it was truly intended for all pursuits.

To conclude, modern psychology can be enriched by the sacred and valid teachings of Bhagavad Gita. All the therapeutic frameworks include psychoeducation, a process of educating the client about a helpful framework from which emerge tools, techniques and perspectives that greatly enhance one’s life. Including some of the curated teachings for self-mastery primarily from the treasure of Bhagavad Gita will improve the quality of people’s psychological lives globally which was the purported aim of Modern psychology.

[1]Swamini Brahmaprajnananda is a traditional teacher of Advaita Vedanta and has studied from Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati ji. She qualified as a Clinical Psychologist and taught the Masters students at SNDT University, the paper on Counselling for more than a decade.

[1]https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

[2]Saraswati, Dayananda Swami – Vedic view and way of life, Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust, Chennai, 2009

[3]Saraswati Dayananda Swami, The Bhagavad Gita (Text with Roman Transliteration and English Translation), Arsha Vidya Centre, Chennai, First edition:2007

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