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Yogic Philosophy

YOGA AND WESTERN PSYCHOLOGY

A Comparison.


Part One: Modifications of the thinking process: Confused Thought.

Since our object is to examine into possible resemblances between analytical therapy and yoga and not to write a treatise on the yoga sutras, I propose to select from the vast mass of material a few outstanding points for comparison with western psychological ideas. Whenever possible, reference will be made to specific sutras or groups of sutras.

In his ordinary state, says Patanjali, man is not self-aware, but is lost in his own confused picture of life, He has three possible ways of gaining right knowledge of the phenomenal world, namely:

  1. By direct observation
  2. By the use of reliable information
  3. By inference from either of these two sources

But in actual fact his direct observation is faulty, his sources of information are unreliable, and his inference inaccurate. Hence his mind is usually occupied in confused thinking or in fancy, and his own past experience (i.e. memory) is not to be relied upon. The habit of confused thinking may be overcome by determined one-pointed effort to recover accurate memory of past experience and to acquire discrimination.

Many are desirous of acquiring these gifts but are hindered by ill health, or become bored and lack energy to persist, or are by nature incapable of perceiving what is required of them. People who desire to clarify their mental confusion but are unable to overcome difficulties become depressed or are subject to other nervous disorders.

The above represents approximately what Patanjali has to say about the state of mind of ordinary man who is immersed in life at the mento-emotional level (thinking and feeling) and whose thought is mainly concrete and repetitive. Few people realize how repetitive and hence automatic the vast majority of everyday thinking is. Every morning we have to 'think' what clothes we will put on, and what breakfast we will eat; but our thoughts on these subjects are likely to follow one of two or three well-worn tracks. And so throughout the day follow hundreds of decisions based on habits of thought, and not on any immediate consideration of facts.

This automatism of thought extends far beyond the everyday needs of the body. The whole of human life at its present stage is confused and shadowed by a mass of so-called thought which is the outcome of false observation, unreliable information, and faulty inference. This fact most serious-minded people of our own day realize quite fully. Let us consider what has given rise to it.

In the long evolutionary history of man, his body, his emotions, and his mind have been successively trained, with great effort, to a certain state of efficiency, to a certain degree of perfection. There was a time when the gradual development of an adequate and hence relatively perfect physical body was the most serious work of the race. At the epoch the development of the body was man's legitimate goal, and he had, as it were, a right to be absorbed in the physical world. At a later stage came the unfolding of the emotions and the concrete mind.

In a sense, emotion and mind developed simultaneously, but in another sense the emotional growth preceded the mental. It is generally accepted that a young child recapitulates in a short time the evolutionary stages of the race, first bringing its physical body to a certain degree of efficiency, and then beginning consciously to exercise its emotions of love, hatred, attraction, repulsion, anger, jealousy, etc., before it can deliberately reason. All through the childhood years it is normal that the emotional nature should be more developed than the mentality.

We accept the fact that a child can experience extremes of joy and sorrow long before it can do much in the way of thought and reasoning, but we accept it without considering the importance of that fact of human evolution. Why is it that so large a proportion of childhood's sorrow and joy make the adult smile? Is it because emotional capacity of a child is full-grown while its mentality is still embryonic and incapable of seeing things is proportion? May it also be that many 'adults' are emotional repressed and concern themselves too much with logic and dry, intellectual pursuits?

 


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