The notion of ãnormalä in the East and West

Can one be normally ill, or normal while being ill? What is normal neurosis, or ãnormosisä? Do there exist some beings who have approached some kind of psychological perfection? If so, wishing to evaluate them according to an average reference, is like wishing to judge them according to the ãsanityä of the most insane. Does acknowledging the existence of such liberated beings, not mean succumbing to compensatory delirium? On the other hand, denying their existence would mean being carried away by the depression of a society tired of its own consumerism, would it not? In the supposedly exhaustive American classification of mental illnesses (DSM III), all psychic ailments except ãnormosisä have been enumerated. This, however, seems to me to be most prevalent ailment, which it would be useful to discuss; I would in fact, be inclined to give it first place in the classification. The fundamental difference between the traditional psychology so deep-rooted in the east, and modern psychology, is that the latter is based on pathology, and has the fixed goal of a return to normalcy, that is, in practice, a return to the average; traditional psychology is founded on the idea of the evolution of the human being, leading to the perfect being, known by different names according to the different traditions : ÎA1 insan al kamilâ in Sufism, Îjivan miktaâ (free being) in Hinduism, Îpratyeka-buddha, Îarhatâ, Îbodhisattvaâ in Buddhism, Îthe saintâ in Christianity, the Îtsaddikâ.in Judaism. This difference between psychology and traditional thinking is not just in principle; it has important practical consequences as well, some of which we shall see in course of this book.

My starting hypothesis is, that there is at least as much difference between a normal subject and ãthe perfect humanä (as defined in different traditions), as there is between a pathological subject and a normal one. The idea is not new; the adage of Saint Paul, ãThe wisdom of this world is but foolishness before Godä, (ICor. 3-19) had inspired generations of Christians, and helped them to liberate themselves from the excessively constricting norms of the society in which they lived, whether Jewish, Roman, medieval or modern.

Some psychotherapists have the tendency to consider the diverse spiritual paths as a kind of cultural frenzy of under-developed countries which cannot resist the progress of heavy industry, electrification of villages, television, automatic weapons etc. and which will subside gradually... Recent events like the liberalisation of the countries of the East, the flowering of new religions in North America, the resurgence of Islam, Hinduisation of Indian politics, do not seem to point in this direction, however. If one is willing to rid oneself of the ethnocentrism of Western psychology, one realizes that according to traditional psychology, everyone is in a state of suffering, a little more or a little less, depending on the circumstances. Only the ãfree beingä(jivan-mukta) is exempt from this suffering.

Looked at from this angle, one can thus speak of the ãpsycho-pathology of daily lifeä of the supposedly normal subjects. But it is not just a question of interpreting (as Freud did) some small signs, whether lapses or miscarried acts, as being indicative of underlying conflicts. I want to show that, from the point of view of an advanced Yogi, for example, the usual life-style is considered globally pathological. The question then arises, whether such Yogis exist outside the realm of the imagination of idealists and the mythical descriptions of ancient texts. After twelve years of work in this field, my answer is ãYesä. I have met some of these yogis; of course, one must seek them, there are few chances to meet them at street-corners or at the Tourist Lodge. Everything leads me to believe that there are many others, working quietly with their disciples, who will doubtless remain unknown. Such beings also probably also exist in the West, but they are more hidden because the circumstances are not as favorable: the materialistic society and outlook, the psychotherapeutic institutions with their clients which impose their views of normality, the churches with their followers, all this does not create a climate of tolerance and encouragement for those whom one could call ãindependent mysticsä. Besides, the absence of a tradition transmitted from teacher to disciple means that these Western mystics have less self-confidence than they would have had in the East.

Schizophrenia in daily life

One of the characteristics of schizophrenia is a disturbance in the flow of thought, which one calls ãdiffluenceä. Instead of following an idea, thought moves by a process of association, as in the state of dreaming, with blockages called ãBarragesä occurring from time to time. According to Yoga, this forms part of the functioning of the mind of even an ordinary person; the aim of the practice of Yoga is to develop a capacity for concentration that is more and more complete (Îekagrataâ, Îdharanaâ and Îdhyanaâ), in order to counter-balance this dispersion. This tendency of the mind to make associations which are, for the greater part, none too interesting, is due to a state of permanent subexcitation which evokes hypomania, of which we will speak later.

In the beginning of schizophrenia, patients sleep little, and spend hours with troubled dreams (clinophilia). They are in a state of day-dreaming. Compared to the Yogi, the ordinary person is also in a similar state. Like the dreamer, the latter by instinctive and affective conditioning than by a controlled and consciously chosen path. There is as much distance between the state of dreaming and the state of waking as there is between the later and the absolute state, the state of Awakening. It may be mentioned, that there lies the difficulty of real Awakening, and of the methods of preparing for it. While dreaming that he is awake,can one really come out of his dream?

In order to organize these ideas, one can distinguish five levels, five different ways of thinking that are less and less diffluent. This classification corresponds to that of psychiatric ailments according to levels of destructuration of consciousness proposed by the French psychiatrist Henri Ey, but is also includes therapeutic methods and meditation :

1) The state of dreaming, with associations which are completely free fo conscious interference, that is, completely dependent on unconscious mechanisms.

2) The state of clinophilia as in the case of the schizoid on his bed, sometimes for ten hours a day, which progressively slides towards a state of delirium.

3) The state of the ordinary subject, concentrated when he is in front of his computer or when he is counting his money, but diffluent when he is not focused on a specific task.

4) The state of therapy, as in relaxation, psychoanalysis or day-dreaming which are practiced with the subject in a lying position, where the diffluence is, in a way, re-centred around the presence of the therapist himself, and around his words.

5) The state of meditation, where one takes hold of a leading thread : simple repetitive formula, observation of breathing, of the right posture etc; one ãwatches this thread with a focused vision, and, at the same time, one ãseesä the mind with a peripheral vision. The great advantage of this method is, that the mental phenomena are observed in their natural state, and do not assume greater importance than they actually have, unlike therapy, wherein one focuses on the problems as such. The mind is, in fact, a very peculiar substance, which automatically ãinflates itselfä if it is watched for a little while.

Another characteristic of the schizophrenic is that he does not inhabit his body, and he sometimes goes to the extent of feeling that it is dead, anaesthesized, petrified. At his level, whenever the ordinary subject undertakes any bodily work, he notices that he has a number of zones that are dead, numb and unconscious, and that his physical body is far from being fully inhabited. The Hatha-Yoga and meditation represent a constant return to the body. Like a child, the sage is very close to his body.

The feelings of the schizophrenic are governed by ambivalence, rapidly going from one extreme to the other, from love to hate, from fusion to anger. His emotions change as quickly as those of a child, but, unfortunately, with added bitterness and marked destructively at the core.

If, in daily life, one observes oneâs own mind, even for a short while, one notices the same sudden variations of affects, the same sudden, continuous changes. Educational conditioning and life in society, only lead us to soften the ãsharp anglesä and to cover everything with a veneer of equanimity which is more or less depressive. The outward evolution of emotions is like a sinusoid, close to the mean, but the interior is quite different, resembling, rather, a jagged line. Here too, meditation acts on the elementary variations of mood : first one becomes conscious of them, then one dissociates oneself from them, and finally, one calms them completely; all of this, however, does not prevent the play of emotions necessary to current relationships, just as a marble made of transparent glass momentarily takes on the colours of the surfaces over which it rolls.

The hypomania of the consumer-protection against existential depression.

The frustrations of life, which end in that great frustration, death, which deprives us of life itself, lead to depression if one is incapable of ãwork of mourningä, if one cannot let go of oneâs hold. In order to undertake this ãwork of mourningä, however, one must face oneâs frustrations directly, a task which no one finds very pleasurable. One usually prefers to cover up this sorrow with a permanent subexcitation (hypomania), an avidity of consumption whether material, affective, or even intellectual or cultural. This kind of activism is as ineffective in relieving suffering, as the sounds of a drum are in covering-up the cries of patients who are having their teeth pulled out....

From a medical point of view, it has been proven, that people who lived with their radio or television sets constantly switched on, got used to a high level of adrenalin (hormone of stress), and that they became depressed when they found themselves surrounded by silence. Generally speaking, man has need of the noise of hypomanic excitation to cover up his existential depression. Since in the current Western psychological system there is hardly any method to ward off existential depression, one merely pampers reality, and calls chronic hypomania, ãnormal lifeä. The first truth enumerated by the Buddha is, ãThere is sufferingä,it is also the starting point of most Indian philosophies. In the beginning, I thought that it was a truism; then I realized that it was, in fact, important to begin from this point : the mind has so many methods and ruses to avoid looking at suffering, to escape from that which frightens it, that it is necessary to lead it back to the suffering. Both Eastern and Western psychologists agree on this point. To have a chance of curing suffering, it has first to be looked at. To bury ones head in the sand like an ostrich surely will not help.

India is sometimes reproached with being a depressive culture because of the importance it attaches to renunciation. But for a Yogi, it is the Western culture, with its psychology, which has a depressive core, Freud compares the self to the ring of Magdeburg, with an empty center around which are balanced the forces of the unconscious, just like the horses which try to pull the ring, each in its own direction. Janov says that the core of Being is suffering.......not a particularly joyful vision! Although the Buddhists speak of vacuity, this vacuity is not a void, because it is closely associated with Pure Light, Bliss and Compassion. In Hinduism, the substance of the universe and of the individual is ãsatchitanandaä, being - consciousness - blissä. As a beginner it does not make much of a difference, but as someone undertakes some practice over a long period, he perceives a widening gap between the two orientations as he progresses; the disappointment at the base of one and the happiness at the base of the other become more and more palpable.

A Zen story, relating to this difference of perspective, seems significant - A monk saw a famous teacher coming and said to him, ãI am subject to anger. How can I avoid it?ä The teacher replied, ãShow me the anger, immediately.ä

The monk was silent. ãYou cannot show me your anger immediately because that isn't your real natureä, remarked the teacher. To a beginner, this story does not mean much, but to someone who meditates in a sustained manner, moving form an obsession with anger, to a meditation on his real nature, represents a fundamental change in orientation.

What is the real ãworking of mourningä? It is a clear understanding that the frustration felt on the loss of an external object, does not have to be. Happiness is felt internally each time, it is only by habit that it is falsely associated with external objects, an association which leads to innumerable complications. Once this is understood, one lets go, often without effort; of course, sometimes there is a habit to overcome, as in the case of smoking, for example. One can be intellectually conscious that something does not do one any good, yet, it needs some effort to let it go. The crucial point, however, is to have a clear understanding.

Yoga seeks to silence the mind. If one can really calm and ãswitch offä the mind at will, one solves the very notion of sorrow, because the past does not try to return again. Some may think that the process of silencing the mind is boring and useless. The notion of ãmental silenceä could evoke fear of death or madness like catatonia (a type of schizophrenia in which the mind is ãfrozenä, the body, petrified, and nothing moves for weeks). However, even people who have never heard of Yoga can immediately gras the utility of this silence, as, for example, the Western lady who saw a Yogi, whom I knew, for the first time, and who asked him, ãWhat do you keep thinking of, the whole day?ä The Yogi answered, ãGood question! I just try not to thinkä. The lady immediately exclaimed, ÎIf only I had known how to do that when I lost my husband!ä

Western rationalism rests on the postulate of Descartes: ãI think, therefore, I am.ä For a Yogi, however, this does not hold true, it is contradictory from the outset. He realizes very well that he experiences a fuller, more pure sense of being, without any adding, when he does not think. He is what he is, and nothing more. It was in this sense that Ramana Maharishi must have said, ãTo think is not the true nature of man.ä It is a function, like the natural functions of the body which has its utility at its own level. Besides, when one observes oneself closely, one realizes that thought is often automatic, that it functions for itself, without any precise objective, that one ãthinks without thinking about itä, if it can be put that way.

Paranoia-animaland human

For a long time there has been discussion, especially in the Lacan School, about the boundaries between paranoid personality and delirium; but to me, every personality is paranoid, even the animal, which does not seem to have a personality, is paranoid in-as-much as he quickly feels persecuted. The basis of paranoia is biological : it is the instinct of self-preservation. The outside world is a priori perceived as being hostile; the isolated animal in nature, reacts to the slightest unusual sound. One has to be a sage like Ramana Maharishi to completely master this animal paranoia : one day when he was resting in his cave, one of his companions entered and saw a snake lying on his chest. when the snake had gone away, he asked the Maharishi, ãDidnât you feel the snake?ä What did it feel like?ä ãIt was coldä, was his only response.

In present-day Western societies, people have greatly exaggerated this projection of fear of the external. The culture of the Bible, it must be said, encourages this paranoid tendency. Ever since Abraham, the Jews formed a small group which fought to survive amidst powerful neighbors. The Psalms, the prophets, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, are all pervaded with either a diffused or an explicit sentiment of persecution. This sentiment was passed into the Church; Christ and the apostles were killed, and their successors persecuted; and the institution, when it came to power, began to persecute the heretics, following the sad psychological logic of the persecuted who becomes the persecutor. The Koran, faithful to Biblical tradition, abounds with ideas of persecution, curiously mixed with sublime, mystical truths. All religions have their weak point; the paranoid tendency is one of them in the religions of the Book.

All this seems quite strange to Hindus, who have always been in majority in their country. Here, one often encounters people who are capable of talking about their spiritual experiences directly, without projecting their inner tensions in a paranoid manner on the religious system at large. Whenever I return to France, I find that the discussions of people who call themselves religious, are rather political in the broader sense of the term. They obliterate their inner experience, in order to exist mainly for the collective and to recount what they would have done if they had been the Pope, something that obviously does not change much of the reality of the world. This curious malady which consists of a constant projection of intimate fears and desires to the exterior, is supported and in fact augmented, by the media. The people excuse themselves saying that they wish to be answerable to each other, but when one watches them closely, one notices that they not move from their armchairs, that they do nothing, often not even donating a penny. At the most, they speak about it, and as a concrete result they have escaped once more from their inner reality.

Hysteria and the need for attention

Anaclitism is a basic symptom of hysteria; it is the irrepressible desire to be with someone, whatever the complications involved. This attachment, this need for attention is natural in children; it facilitates a balanced development. In adults, it leads them astray taking varied and multiple forms. In India, demanding attention carries less culpability than in the West. For those who follow the spiritual path this demand is concentrated on the Guru, instead of being dispersed on various persons at one time. If the different attachments are like a hard drug, the attachment to the guru is like a medication which resembles the drug without having its side-effects and without giving rise to a dependence on it : one can thus be de-toxified. From the beginning, the disciple considers the guru, not as a person, but as a Îpowerful impersonalityâ, to take the title of an English book on Ramana Maharishi.

Another characteristic sign of hysteria is 'theatricality'. The subject plays a part and believes in it; he is not a liar, rather, he has been overtaken by his own play-acting. Viewed from this angle as well, ordinary man is hysterical in the eyes of the Yogi, who insists that the world is a stage, and that we must not identify ourselves with the roles that society or family have us play. We have to take heed of the fact that we are only actors, whether dressed as a king or a pauper. Internally, someone who follows the spiritual path, does not have to worry about being like others, or about remaining within statistical and spychological norms. He is completely cured of this hysterical suggestibility which afflicts ordinary man and which pushes him to behave and be like everyone else. In support of this in an answer from a Sufi in the Middle East :

Worldly people saw a Sufi saint, and asked him, ãWhy arenât you like us?ä to which the Sufi replied. ãI am quite happy not to be like you, and I pray more and more to God so that I become less and less like you !ä

The hysterical person has a strong tendency to manipulate others; among normal people too, as soon as an affective relationship is established, there is a tendency towards reciprocal manipulation. Only the sage having attained the supreme state, called ãkaivalyaä (solitude) in certain schools of Hinduism, can claim to be beyond all affective manipulation. The oral tendency is also present in everyone, but in a more marked manner among hysterical persons. The usual traditional disciplines lead to a reduction of this tendency, and thus to ãburningä of the germs of hysteria within ordinary man, so that they cannot develop.

In hysteria there is often mention of the body being experienced as more erotic to explain the theatrical fits and the somatic conversions. In fact, everyone has an eroticised body, the difference between people only being a question of degree. As long as this body finds what it is looking for, there is hardly any problem. When suffering or frustration set in, however, there is a state of utter confusion and the malady occupies the entire field of one's consciousness. If Yoga advises 'disidentification' from the body, it is to avoid problems of this nature, so that the mind is not trapped by suffering whether great or little. A Yogi told me, how, at one time, he had had de-mineralised teeth. He had to have twenty-four of them extracted, one after another, with a gap of a few days in between, without anaesthesia. At the beginning he was in great pain, but afterwards he was able to regard his pain as something outside hinmself. By creating a void in his mind, and by avoiding making elaborations of his physical pain, mentally the latter remained minimal.

Obssessive rigidity and ego-consciousness

Indian tradition questions the reality of the small self : this is the gist of the practices of Buddhism and of the Yoga of Knowledge (Jnana); as long as there is an identification of consciousness with ego, there remains a rigidity, a resistance to the experience of the absolute. If the majority of people, including and especially Western psychotherapists, resist this notion of disidentification from the ego, of the possibility of an existence without ego, it is in order to attempt to stem the tide of schizophrenic anguish, and, in a more fundamental manner, the fear of death. Traditional practice leads one to confront these fears and to go beyond them.

Ordinary therapists can think only of the pathological case of the dissolution of ego, in patients who have hardly any knowledge of, or control over, their minds. For a sage, ãputting onä his ego when circumstances of daily life so demand, and then abandoning it soon afterwards, ãputting it away on a hangerä as it were, like a garment which is only used when going out, is not a problem. Moreover, the tendency towards obsessive rigidity is more pronounced in the people of the West today. Among the causes responsible for this can be mentioned early anal education, competitiveness right from the kindergarten level, emphasis on analytical thinking, which is classificatory and rigid as opposed to imaginary thinking, the value attached to the assertion of self in a group etc. In this context, psychoanalysis or meditation, i.e. observing internal phenomena, can bring about a much-needed relaxation. In the life of a person with Înormosisâ, the series of identical behaviors are repeated although the circumstances change. This is what is called a repetition compulsion which is at its height in obsessive neurosis. The name is recent, but the phenomenon has been known for a long time; the psalmist refers to it, when he says. ãIn circuitu impii ambulanä, 'the impious keep turning round and round '(Ps. 11-9 version of the Vulgate).

A Yogi will consider as pathological the very situation seen to be not only normal, but also curative in the West : the psychotherapeutic relationship often deviates into a kind of voyeuristic relationship: the patient does his ãpsychological striptease,ä the therapist watches and listens with pleasure, both are satisfied and in addition, money changes hands; each one finds his interest in it, and so the system continues; but that does not mean that is this healthy or evolutive or liberating. There are of course some healthy reasons for undertaking psychotherapy, and others that are less so. Amongst the latter, the deviation of the voyeuristic kind seems to be more widespread than usually thought. It took me several years in India, with Yogis, to realize this fact, and to see that the psychological reserve they had towards their disciples, in no way detracted their efficacy in the long-run. Of course I know that the Western therapeutic relationship was born as a reaction to the puritanical milieu of family and society, in which it was held as essential, above all, that no one talked about many things which everyone thought about. Some therapists, however, go to the extreme. The level of the patient should be considered. Quite often the patient needs to be helped step by step, like the victim of an accident who needs to be taught to walk again. But I only want to suggest that the therapeutic relationship is sometimes not as normal or helping as it appears.

To end for good with the idea of ãnormalityä

The real disease of someone with ãnormosisä is the absence of a desire for evolution. The first task of the guru is to awaken and reinforce this desire; in this context, Jesus said, ãI have a food to eat you do not knowä. (Jn. IV, 32). If one seeks perfect normality according to purely psychological criteria, one runs the risk of entering into an indefinite game of vacillating between opposing tendencies : one is labeled too expansive and hysterical, then one becomes reserved and obsessive. If one is not an aggressive paranoid, one finds oneself to be a distant schizoid, and so on. One finds it difficult to move away from these pairs of opposites. Which is why there is wisdom in the Oriental methods which aim at directly calming the mind in order to end this incessant swinging so that one goes ãbeyond these pairs of oppositesä (dvandatita).

Even in the short term there are instances where the psychotherapist does not serve much of a purpose, as for example, when an individual is suddenly confronted with his destiny : there is the case of a 50 year-old lady, living all alone, whose eldest son suffered from delirium and finally hung himself. She turned towards religion and service of others, and this helped her more than psychotherapy which would most probably have stirred an enormous feeling of guilt without being able to solve it deeply. I remember another instance. A nurse at the psychiatric clinic where I worked had to have a heart-lung transplant (a very riky operation) done after a serious illness. At the hospital, before the operation, she was visited by various psychiatrists, including myself. She confessed to me later, after having come through the operation, that the person who had helped her the most had been the priest of the hospital who had said a few words to her. Curiously, she did not believe in religion; perhaps there are moments when one is faced with a wall, when one has no time for psychological trivialities, and when one has to move on to another dimension.

It would be good if, from time to time, the therapists questioned themselves. I do not mean the kind of meeting held between group of therapists with their supervisors, where the main aim is the discussion of technical details between people who have the same kind of work and who basically agree from the beginning. I am referring to a more fundamental questioning, face to face with oneself : what is this normality that I propose as ideal for my patients, and which, perhaps, I propose for myself? Am I, on my part, doing anything towards my own evolution? Is it good to employ the same methods of evolution for myself and for my patients, who are quite disturbed to begin with? The therapist will, in this way, be able to measure the distance between the average and ideal norms better and, with practice on himself, he can go from the average norm which he is supposed to conform to, being a therapist, to the ideal norm towards which everyone is supposed to be directed according to traditional psychology. Even if such reflection does not fundamentally change his therapeutic techniques, it will improve their clarity and change their perpective by giving them an opening, which in itself is quite valuable.

The idea of death, which is destructive for the depressive, is liberating for the philosopher or the mystic. ãTo philosophize is to learn how to dieä, said Socrates. Zen recommends ãviewing life from the bottom of ones coffin.ä When Nisargadatta Maharaj was asked about his death some months before the actual event, he replied, ãI would not be speaking to you like this, if I were not already dead.ä This death of the ego is what is frightening. On another occasion, when Maharaj had evoked the idea of liberation from this life, a visitor exclaimed, ãBut is is like death !ä ãIs is deathä, answered Maharaj. When one is really free from the anguish. When there is nothing more to lose, one can only be a winner.

Meditation represents a prevention, a prophylaxis for depression: returning each day to the source of happiness that lies within, one avoids that accumulation of inner frustration which leads to bitterness and depression, even in those people who have everything they materially need for their happiness. The child has strong and rapid variations of emotion. Internally we remain childlike, although we have covered this ãinfantile cyclothymyä with a veneer of dullness, which enables us to function in society to some extent. We have already seen that meditation enables the recognition of the rapid variations (desire-distaste, pleasure-pain etc.) and helps us to go beyond these pairs of opposites (ãdvandv titamä). In the Bible, God is sometimes clearly presented as being beyond contradictions: ãThere is no one but me.... I create the light and the darkness, I make happiness and unhappiness, it is I, Jehovah, who create all this.ä (Isaie 45, 6-7). (The literal translation from Hebrew is,ä ãI make peace and evilä).