Modern Psychology
and the Question of Soul

by Robert E. Wilkinson ©

'Real freedom comes when we can take our stand on the Self, the Archimedian station of
leverage whence one can sovereignly move the world of his being.'
"Sri Aurobindo's Concept of the Superman" Chitta Goswami

One of the most significant evolutionary symbols of the last hundred years is the emergence of a body of knowledge which has come to be known as "psychology". Theterm literally means "knowledge of the psyche" and refers to a complex set of laws and principles used to describe the dynamics of human behavior, modes of social interaction and the landscape of the individual unconscious. From its meager beginnings with Dr. Freud in Vienna, psychology has developed into one of the most explosive growth industries of the twentieth century. People in increasing numbers are beginning to embrace this body of knowledge as the ultimate vehicle for our collective salvation believing that it holds the promise of wellness, wholeness and the ideal of human harmony.

The intention of this study is to examine the foundations of modern "psychology" and the dimensions of its efficacy in relationship to the human Soul. In order to develop a legitimate perspective by which we might accomplish this formidable goal, we must look deeply into the nature of Man and the goal, if any, of human evolution.

The field of human potential is populated by a galaxy of brilliant theorists but for this writer there are two individuals which stand head and shoulders above the rest. The Jesuit philosopher-palentologist, Teilhard de Chardin and the enlightened sage and yogi from Pondicherry, India, Sri Aurobindo. Their contributions to human thought appear to have been unequaled by any other know thinkers. Both of these men developed the foundation of their philosophy upon a profound understanding of the nature and goal of the evolutionary process. In his book, "The Phenomenon of Man", Teilhard de Chardin describes the nature of the evolution as a progressive movement of all humanity toward an advanced collective experience which he termed "Point Omega". He foresaw the spirit in man overtaking the physical evolution and ascending above its material limitations, moving beyond and abandoning the physical altogether to form the spiritual superman.

Sri Aurobindo's thought, which foresees a slightly different spiritual imperative, evolved from the lived experience of his "Supramental Yoga". It envisions a descent of the Divine into matter extending its dominion downward to transform the human infrastructure into a fit instrument for its own purposes. In his opus work, "The Life Divine" Sri Aurobindo goes far beyond all ancient spiritual traditions which sought in their entirety, an escape from birth and death into the comforting transcendence of an after-death heaven or nirvanic liberation. The new evolutionary force which he named the "Supramental" is an irresistible movement beyond our present mental species into the luminous self-knowledge of a collective enlightenment. It introduces an entirely new spiritual possibility for humanity, one in which mankind shall find its own self- exceeding and fulfillment by the revelation of the Divinity striving for birth within it.

Their differences notwithstanding, each of these great thinkers see the salvation of the human race resting upon the premise that within each, at the core of his being is an emergent divinity which, when recognized, will transform his ordinary humanity into an enlightened supermanhood. This, then, becomes the operative premise for our critique of modern psychology and the question of its ability to recognize and liberate the human soul.

Psychology and its derivative therapeutic process is founded upon a principle of uniformity. It dissects and dismembers the dimensions of consciousness to analyze their function and reorganize them into a more harmonious mode of expression. It seeks to adjust the human creature to the limitations of his "instrument" and the society in which he functions. It achieves this goal by a series of elaborate mental theories which provide continuous experiences of emotional release by shifting the responsibility for one's actions outside oneself. It simultaneously moves the individual out of the present moment and away from what is, into a preoccupation with what ought to be or what should have been. It has developed over time, a rigid dogma which seeks to explain and order all aspects of human behavior from the poise of the reflective intellect. However, this limited mental perspective mistakes appearance for reality and fails to appreciate the profound spiritual symbols which lie behind and give rise to all mundane experience. In other words, it has no connection with the real because it is constantly dismembering and analyzing apparent experience to fit into its subject object paradigm. As Sri Aurobindo writes:

“Modern psychology is an infant science, at once rash, fumbling and crude. As in all infant sciences, there is the universal habit of the human mind to take partial or local truths, generalize them unduly and try to explain the whole field of human nature in its narrow terms.”

Spiritual development takes quite a different approach because it regards the individual as inherently whole within a greater system of wholeness. Enlightened sages of all times concur in the view that an exquisite correspondence exists between the harmony of the heavens and the life of man on Earth; "That which is above is like that which is below, the Macrocosm is equal to the Microcosm". This observation led them to describe man as "Microcosmos", a harmony unto himself, a center around which orbit the manifestations or outpicturings of his inner landscape. Unlike psychology, the spiritual perspective holds that the events of a man's life proceed from a convergence of heredity, environment, the whole past action of his nature which determines will and character as well as the complex mechanism of destiny referred to in the eastern vernacular as "Karma". Given these set of determinates, the details of one's life experience appear to have been chosen at a much higher level in order to insure a specific quality of consciousness which would encourage the development of Soul. The ancient science of Astrology, based upon a knowledge of these "sets of determinates", concurs in this view and affirms that all that happens to a person occurs within a higher harmony, willing and accomplishing the highest good of all beings. That all things are the workings of the Supreme Being and nothing which happens in or around us is in vain or without its appointed place and just significance.

Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga incorporates this view and teaches the initiate to surrender to life's experience, to become a "sieve" allowing the flow of experience to pass through, unresisting, yet totally conscious. What then flows through oneself acquires a superordinate meaning and one's individual struggles and choices become revealed as part of this supreme harmony. Surrender sets aside the egoic presumption and discloses our participation in a universal process which has as its singular goal, the unveiling of the Divinity within.

As we proceed in this study certain shortcomings of psychology become obvious. Most significant is the fact that it operates from the perspective of the "Ego", an illusory yet necessary part of man's evolution toward supermanhood. Its theories and methodologies are principally concerned with personal problems and ones unhappiness in response to the travails of life. Its goal is to bring relief and well-being and to help one adjust and become a more effective member of the society in which he lives. If one were to follow its methods completely, it can bring about a uniformity of experience which on the surface might
appear to be harmonious but in reality would inhibit ones growth and imprison the Soul in a cage of reasoned conformity.

The renown Dr. Carl Jung, father of analytical psychology represents a unique departure from the dogmatic style of behavioral theory. His appreciation of the deeper aspects of human development are most evident in his writings on the ancient "Gnostics" who had extensive knowledge of the Soul. He described them as knowers of a secret so deadly and terrible that the secular and religious rulers of this world who always profited from the established systems of society, could not afford to have this secret known, and even less to have it publicly proclaimed in their domain. Indeed the Gnostics knew something and it was this:

'Human life does not fulfill its promise within the structures and establishments of society. for all of these are at best but shadowy projections of another and more fundamental reality. No one comes to his true selfhood by being what society wants him to be nor by doing what it wants him to do. Family, society, church, and professional allegiances, as well as moral and ethical rules and commandments are, in reality, not in the least conducive to the true spiritual welfare of the human soul. On the contrary, they are more often than not the very shackles that keep us from our true spiritual destiny.' - The Gnostic Jung

Dr. Jung's psychology comes as close as possible to preparing the ground for the experience of enlightenment. In fact it has been said that the Jungian Individuation is a pointer, a stepping stone to the Aurobindonian transformation. The principal difference between the two is that Jung and his clients seek their truth by going downward, just below the threshold of consciousness, while Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga encourages one to move simultaneously in three directions, Inward, Upward and Downward. "Self" in Jungian terms is merely an idea, an archetypal hypothetical center of the inner being but for Aurobindo, "Self" is the individualized Absolute giving to the being, Vision, Energy and Stability of Purpose. Thus we come to the essence of the difference between psychology and the more recondite processes which treat the human Soul.

In the Integral Yoga it is the Divine which stands at the center of ones being. And it is the discovery of this "Axis" which shifts the locus of one's being from the ego to the Self. Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet, who has carried Sri Aurobindo's work forward, describes the unveiling of this hidden pivot as an act of "Centering", one of the most crucial and difficult
requirements of the yoga. An achievement which cannot be accomplished through the ordinary psycho-mental process because it is the Life, not the mind, which man must use to overcome the seemingness of the world. It is a knowledge born of an experience of Oneness, forged in the fires of a personal struggle which alone can reveal to the individual the illusions of the egoic life. In this poise, there are no others to blame for ones problems, there is only the Divine and its imperative for one's spiritual development. When this truth is "seen", one has no option but to surrender to the dictates of this inner imperative and follow its lead. By doing so it places the individual in a higher dimension of consciousness which by-passes the powers operating in the lower sphere. One is surrounded by a protection, a grace which denies the imposition of all external power. It places one at his true center which alone has the ability to create order out of chaos.

It is toward this attainment that the evolution moves - the creation of an individual who is truly centered in, and become one with the Divine. To the uninitiated he may appear quite eccentric for he has become established in a higher dimension of reality where he lives in a higher light and is endowed with a higher force. His knowledge ensues from realms of pure significance which flow into him through the eye of the soul. His actions reflect a conscious participation with the great cosmic harmonies which stand behind the universal manifestation. His resonance brings into attunement all those within the orbit of his influence for he has become an instrument of that 'Immanent Divine' which guides and directs all of his actions.

Compared to these exalted levels of being, the layers of consciousness addressed by modern therapeutic practice are surface at best. Psychology presumes to make whole something which is, in its very essence, fragmented. It attempts to confer upon a peripheral function of the personality, the rulership of the entire being. Where it hopes to build a foundation of strength and wholeness, it imposes artificial limits on the sovereignty of Spirit and imprisons the unsuspecting individual in an impotent ego.

We must finally conclude that modern psychology is merely a stage of development in the evolution of Self. When it moves beyond the role of a stepping stone and imputes to the ego, the prerogatives of Self, it oversteps the bounds of its competency. But when it's preliminary role is rightly understood, it can contribute to the evolutionary process in a number of constructive ways. Psychotherapy can encourage the individual to become objective to his behavior and personality. It can help loosen the unconscious knots in the psyche which enslave the neurotic personality and most importantly, it can realign the individual from an exclusively outer orientation toward a purposeful harmony of the inner and outer experience. If it can discover in this supportive process a role which augments and encourages the Supramental transformation, theoretical psychology will finally achieve completion and discover its proper place in the evolutionary spectrum.

June 23, 1993
Charlotte, North Carolina

 

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