Indian Science of the Mind

- By Aryaki Sethi

Have you ever given it a thought about how the western world is different from the eastern world? Besides, skin colour, eye colour, food habits and weather, there is a difference in culture as well. The western world focuses on “Me” whereas the eastern world focuses on “We”. The failure to associate the ancient beliefs and teachings with the eastern mindset and behaviour pushes us to look up to psychology as perceived by the west. While reading the stages of Cognitive development by Jean Piaget, the four Ashramas defined in Hinduism come to mind. Each of the four ashramas are defined with respect to the personal, social environment and adhere to the five stages of brain development. The emphasis is on “We” hence, ethical guidelines are laid in terms of duties and responsibilities for the individual and for the society.

As early as 1915 Narendra Nath Sen Gupta laid the foundation stones for the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Calcutta. The father of Indian psychology, Sen Gupta, contributed to research about depth perception, psychophysics and attention. He went on to play an integral role in founding the Indian Psychological Association and a year later, the Indian Journal of Psychology. Sen Gupta’s successor, Dr Girindrasekhar Bose established the Indian Psychoanalytic Society and his work has received the praise of the creator of the notion of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

Over the years, many academics contributed to the philosophical view of psychology but Sinha in 1993 was the first scholar who saw the scope of psychology beyond philosophy and spoke of perception and emotion. He viewed Indian Psychology based on introspection and observation in light of various schools of thought like Buddhism, Jainism, Nyaya, Mimamsa, Samkhya and Vedanta. He successfully bridged the gap between Indian thoughts and western psychology. It is disheartening that these unsung heroes do not find space even in the textbooks for Indian students.

Of all the research in India, the most monumental has been the study of self. The Indian view understands personal self as the atman, this is seen as the true or real self in the Bhagavad-Gita and arises out of past karma or deeds. Such understanding of self is usually not found in western researches. Apart from the personal identity, there exists the social self that has a collectivistic orientation in Indian context while the Western module proposed an individualistic view. In India, self and others maintain harmonious coexistence rather than existing as separate identities. All these themes of self together constitute the psychological self.

Time and again, research has proved that in the study of human behaviour it is vital to understand the importance of culture. It has been found that the intelligence tests developed by American and European researchers are culturally biased and urban middle-class white subjects tend to perform well on these tests. This necessitates the need to protect and promote the representation of Asian and African subjects in deriving empirical conclusions. Our country, the land of innovation has also given the world crucial concepts of integral intelligence, popularly known as Buddhi by J.P.Das, goes way beyond the occidental themes of technological intelligence to include cognitive capacity, social, emotional and entrepreneurial competence.

One of the greatest contributions of India to psychotherapy is the alternative therapy in the form of yoga and meditation. This gift of our Vedic texts has been shown to reduce stress and is used for the treatment and rehabilitation of patients. For instance, vipassana meditation has helped prevent repeated episodes of depression and Kundalini Yoga has been found effective in treating OCD. The most revolutionary of all, Sudarshana Kriya Yoga (SKY) has helped patients of PTSD, depression and alcoholics.

While understanding Indian psychology, we must keep in mind that the differences in culture are bound to result in different hypotheses than that of western research. However, different does not imply the superiority of one over the other. The contributions of our forefathers are undeniable and undiscovered. I urge you to approach this theme with curiosity rather than stigma and I’m sure your heart will be filled with pride with what you then discover.


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About the Author

Aryaki Sethi is a content writer and mental health advocate. She is currently pursuing Bachelor of Applied Science , Psychology and Health Sciences from the University of Toronto Scarborough.