Towards a spiritual maturity in the field of psychotherapy.*

The starting point of psychological and spiritual thought in India, is the existence of suffering. In fact, very few people like to face up to their own suffering. This is why there are methods, in Western psychology as well as in Yoga, to discover one’s suffering and to descend into the infrapersonal, as it were. As far as Yoga is concerned, it is difficult to call this descent into the infrapersonal (or into the non-verbal), a regression. It is, rather, the first step in the re-ascension to the source from which we come. In India, the earth corresponds to a descent from the level of the Absolute to the level of the manifest; that is, the world as we see it, through several intermediate levels. There are thirty-four such levels in the Shaivism of Kashmir, for example. The spiritual work or the ‘Sadhana" of the Yogi consists of re-ascending to the level of the Absolute. This work could be called retrocession rather than regression: individual consciousness is surrendered back to its rightful owner, absolute consciousness.

Western psychology has specialized in the first stage of the work, that is, the descent into the infrapersonal. It does this work well ...maybe too well, in the sense that there are times when it loses itself in the maze it has created, in the details that confuse the mind without enlightening it or making it more ‘sattvik’ (pure) as the Hindus would say. Yoga ensures a descent into the infrapersonal, and a re-ascent into the transpersonal, the two movements being intimately linked in the daily practice of meditation. This work corresponds to what Dogen says. "To meditate is to study the ego; to study the ego is to abandon it." The second phase would be more accepted in Western psychology, if it was understood, that abandoning the ego actually signifies disidentifying oneself from it, in much the same way as, when in India they say abandoning the body, they mean disidentifying oneself from it. Yoga teaches us that, just as one uses a car but does not begin to confuse oneself with the car itself, so to with the body. It is not a question of being disembodied, but of being disidentified. Psychotherapy acknowledges that disidentification is an essential aspect of consiousness, but it does not go as far towards it, as does the spiritual path.

The Yoga of knowledge (Jnana-Yoga) :a self-dissolving system

The ‘Sadhana’ in the Yoga of knowledge consists in asking oneself, "Who am I ?", and then instantly repelling all the answers that may arise from the body-mind. This is the method of "neti, neti", "neither this nor that", which is depicted in the Upanishads (from the 5th century B.C. onwards). The idea that "I am someone who practises the Yoga of Knowledge", should especially be dissolved, as should the idea of the Yoga of Knowledge itself. This system dissolves by itself as does an autolytical system, so to speak. Except for apophatic theology, which is also called ‘negative theology’, there is hardly any system of this kind in Western thought.

Is there any need to depend on a detailed system of psychology? To clarify this question, it seems important to me to know first of all which part of psychology springs from science and which falls in the field of art. Roughly speaking it could be said that psychotherapy belongs to the field of art, while the diagnostics (psychopathology, the descriptions of symptoms of illnesses and their supposed causes), and experimental and social psychology form a science. To my mind, the centre of psychology is the art of therapy, and the rest is adventice and could be termed, "peripsychology", Psychology suffered from such an inferiority complex vis-a-vis science, that it tried to improve its image by clumsily imitating, or pretending to imitate, the methods of science.

The creation of a new vocabulary, in particular, was seen to be a decisive step towards more effective therapy. I contest this postulate. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, the use of a technical language in human sciences is being seriously questioned. A "commonsense language" is being re-discovered. For instance J. Siegfried, teacher of psychology at the faculty in Zurich, and specialist in Tibetan psychology, is in the process of publishing in English a collective work on this subject. Introspective psychology is a very specific field, where the notion of object considered evident by the exact sciences, is difficult to grasp. The creation of a new vocabulary often resembles intellectual jugglery. Notions are created, then the articulation of the notions poses a problem, scholarly discussions are held to arrive at a solution to these problems, and then one returns triumplhntly to square one.... that is, to the fact that there was no problem! Ramana Maharishi compared this kind of compartmentalisation of the mind created by the various psychologies to mobile screens in a big room. Whether the screens are pushed a little more to one side, or a little less to the other, the volume in the room does not change in any way. True, at the beginning, being able to name and precisely label certain mental phenomena, is reassuring not just to the patient, but to the therapist as well. What is useful in the beginning, however, becomes cumbersome afterwards; the labels stick; Sometimes the usage of pseudo-technical terms is more useful as a password between members of a particular intellectual subschool, by which they can recognize each other, than to the field as a whole....

The great risk of a system is that it has the irrepressible tendency to close in on itself. The most typical case is that of conscientious psychoanalysts, who when their ideas are questioned, cannot help but think "My interlocutor does not agree with me because he has a resistance." I am surprised that otherwise intelligent people allow themselves to be enclosed -without resistance- in this kind of paralogism, and try to enclose others in it as well. More deeply, a system which is founded on transcendance should be distinguished from one which is devoid of any transcendental reference.

I feel that what weakens the validity of the systems of interpretation of the mind, is that they all hold true. "Everything is in everything". The brain has a holographic structure, as was shown by Karl Pribram, for example. There is a reflection of any given part in each of the other parts of the whole. Traces of will-power, the universal archetype, sexuality, psychosomatic disturbances, blockages of energy etc., will be clearly revealed in each psychic movement. This is a fact which can be experienced by a refined mind observing itself.

The pairs of opposites and their resolution in unity.

The solution of Hindu spiritual psychology seems to me to be more holistic than that of Western psychology. The former teaches us to look at the absolute, that is the Whole, also called the divine or the Self, in each of the different parts of the universe, objects or animated beings. It is no longer only one element of the psychic system which is reflected. This unitary vision seems to me to be the nearest to the holographic conception of the brain as it has been developed recently.

Western psychology, in our century, prided itself in unmasking social and religious hypocrisy, by bringing to light the interlacing less virtuous impulses which were beneath virtuous behaviour, by highlighting the "darkness". This idea is also very much present in the Indian tradition, although obviously expressed in different terms. This tradition deals with ‘dvandas’, or the pairs of opposites. He who attaches himself to the good, not wanting to see evil any more, is only fixed upon one extreme of the pendulum’s swing between good and evil, the sage is ‘dvandatitam’, beyond the pairs of opposites.

There are complex psychological systems in India too, like the psychology of Theravada Buddhism, and the Tantric psychology for instance : they have their value, but they are not necessarily superior to other, more simple psychologies. To take a comparison from the field of art-it cannot be said whether the complexity of the flamboyant or baroque style is better or worse than the relative sobriety of the neoclassic or renaissance style. Similarly, in music, the most complex composition will not necessarily be the most beautiful.

It seems clear to me that an authentic mystic has more psychic power than a professional psychotherapist practising his art, even though he uses an extremely simple technique like the ‘mantra’ throughout his life, and even though he does not have a very developed technical vocabulary. In this context, the visit of Ma Amritanandamayi to the chapel of La Salpetriere in Paris in 1989, seems to me, to be an event which is a landmark. Here was an Indian mystic, who had not received an intellectual education, and who had been considered ‘mad’ by her family during certain phases of her sadhana. Yet she was transmitting there a quantity of love that I had never seen manifested by even the most gifted psychotherapist. Perhaps it is not his role. However, the love given by someone truly spiritual is the root of healing, is it not ? This is what, without doubt, led some five hundred or a thousand people to go and meet Ma Amritanandamayi, at the very place where Charcot and Freud, in the enthusiasm of their discoveries, had believed that most explanations of religious phenomena lay in hysteria. It would be naive to think that the evolution of things is univocal, especially when it involves a field as subtle as the development of the mind.

Objections will be raised that rejecting the heavy, explanatory systems of psychology is the easy way out taken by someone who is lazy, and who does not want to tire himself. I think, on the contrary, that the dynamism needed for going beyond these systems is much greater than that needed for falling into the beaten tracks of one or the other of them. The external tranquillity of someone who does not have a system, is similar to that of a spinning top, which, while spinning very fast, appears immobile.

The ultimate objectivity beyond the dizzying proliferation of words

Perfect objectivity or neutrality does not exit in psychotherapy. Some authors like Milton Erickson, and those that he influenced, were honest enough to acknowledge this fact and to make peace with it. Many people think that the more they multiply the instruments of psychic analysis, the closer they will be to objectivity. This pre supposition according to which, "the more one knows intellctually, the better it is", seems questionable to me. At Benaras, for example, I met a visiting professor who was a doctor three times over: doctor of psychology, doctor of Indian philosophy and doctor of theology. I thought it would be interesting to have a discussion with him : within an hour or two of meeting him, however, I realized that instead of looking at things through one pair of psychic spectacles as most people do, he looked at them through three pairs piled one on top of the other, which did not make his vision any clearer...

If a psychotherapist wishes to become more transpersonal, he should above all, beware of the intoxication of words. Words are an organ of thought, and they serve their function well as long as they do not overstep the limits of their role. Sometimes, however, the cells of words begin to proliferate uncontrollably, totally invading the psychic organism : some therapists reach the terminal state of this cancer of words: recovery then becomes very difficult.

Authors writing on psychology are so concerned with the distinction and fragmentation of thought that they sometimes make certain significant omissions: Pieron in his "Vocabulary of Psychology", has omitted to mention "psyche"; in the "Vocabulary of Psychoanalysis" by Laplanche and Pontalis, the word "happiness" has not been examined. Forgetfulness or suppression? The attitude of the guru in India, is a clear departure from the fragmented concept of Western psychology. I noticed that, quite often, his function was not to indicate to the disciple that which he had to learn, but rather to point out that which he had no need to learn, or which he could forget in his journey towards spiritual realisation. Westerners may sometimes think that, to the extent that his disciples endow him with omniscience, the guru is guilty of megalomania. When asked whether he knew, directly, everything that happened, Ramana Maharishi replied, smilingly "I know all that I need to know."

The idea of unity attracts everyone; lovers dream of a physical and affective union, and intellectuals, of a great unitary system which would be able to include everything within a holistic vision of the world. Should such a system be discovered, it would be necessary to ask in what this system itself would be included. If this question turns into a practice of meditation, it will represent the Yoga of knowledge, and will lead to a direct perception of the spiritual unity. At that moment, there will be less need to limit oneself to the intellectual level in order to compensate for the loss of a real sense of unity on the spiritual level.

The need for unity is a force which is neither good nor bad in itself. It needs to be sublimated though, or it could give rise to psychotic regression. We have seen that the painful pathological aspect of psychosis comes from the rapid alternation between the need to unite and the need to reject : it is this constant ambivalence which causes the suffering. In order to be spiritual, the search for unity has to be sublimated, and this demands a lot of consciousness of unity; the gurus do not often raise the questions of the untoward side-effects of the practice; this would create a negative suggestion, and a mind engaged in self-observation is very vulnerable to suggestion. The real guru solves the problems as they arise and does not tax the intellect of the disciple with a whole series of problems which perhaps, would never arise in practice.

Therapeutic aspects of the trance and of hyperventilation in Indian tradition.

A valid parallel can be drawn between emotional therapies and the trance. What is the place of the latter among practices proposed by the Indian tradition? The therapeutic trance, a kind of transitory or historical psychotic reaction, has proved its usefulness as technique of "un-blocking", and as an instrument of action in some difficult psychiatric cases; but can it be used as a universal panacea? More particularly, does its short-range efficiency indicate that it can replace different types of meditation in the long term?

The trance has always been a widespread popular treatment in India. At the Balaji temple near Delhi and Agra, everyday there are cures accompanied by convulsions and intensely emotional states of mind Every year, during a night in October or November thousands of people gather near Benaras, and individually enter into a trance by invoking the therapeutic powers of the goddess. In religion the trance has its place at the heart of the devotional path (bhakti). The trance thus becomes a moment of specific intensification of the concentration on then mantra. It reaches its peak in the ‘Mahabhava’, or ‘the great emotion’, in which the faithful exhibits various symptoms which may seem pathological to those around him, but which are recognized as positive by those who have studied the texts. It was because he demonstrated all the signs of ‘Mahabhava’ that Ramakrishna was first recognized by the Bhairavi Brahmini, and later by an assembly of ‘pundit’s (religious specialists) as a great being.

The study of certain hymns sung to Kali reveals how much the evolution of the Yogi is interspersed with fundamental perinatal themes, as described by Stanislas Grof: the alternating of anguished oppression and serene liberty, of being crushed and ground, and then being delivered from this ordeal.18 This study also evokes the ideas of Melanie Klein on the splitting between good mother and bad mother. . In the Vedas, the guru is considerd as a mother who during the initiation, takes the disciple to his womb for three days. Generally speaking due to the widespread devotion to the Mother Goddess, themes of birth, re-experienced emotionally, dominate Indian tradition. Quite often, a terrible aspect is associated with the Mother Goddess along with her protective aspect, perhaps keeping in mind the difficult stages of birth and transformation.

Inspite of these elements, it must be recognized that the trance remains quite clearly different from the process of Yoga and classical ‘sadhana' . It seems that those who resort to the former either do not have exposure to, or faith in the latter. I think there are several factors which explain the cautious attitude of the classical gurus towards the trance: the first is a clear understanding that the most spectacular, or emotionally the most intense experiences are not necessarily the most liberating in the long term. If one has reached a trance by, so to say, tearing oneself up there is a geat risk of it being followed by a reaction of inhibition, of aversive conditioning in a particular zone of the psyche. This inhibition has a positive aspect in the sense that certain symptoms will not actually recur. The negative aspect is that this zone of the psyche will remain paralyzed in the long term, being associated as it is with extreme and unpleasant sensations like vomiting, convulsions, suffocation etc. Herein lies the ambivalence of the violent cathartic process.

Farid-ud-Din Attar could have been alluding to these violent reactions in the following story: ‘An ascetic went into the desert, and sat down to meditate under one of the few trees in the region. He meditated for ten years without any result; one day, a dove flew down to a branch of the tree and said to him, "I know why you are not succeeding... It is because one day when you had picked up a mirror from the ground and had seen a man with a beard, you had said to yourself, "Oh ! How beautiful this beard is!" It is because of your beard that you are not succeeding!" Hearing this, the ascetic exploded. He started tearing out his beard in tufts, shouting at it all the while, "I have had enough of you, this is all you deserve!" The dove burst into laughter and flew away, saying, "Now you will think of your beard ten times more than before!"

The ‘Sahaja-Samadhi’, state of realisation in ordinary life.

Besides the therapy of ‘un-blocking’, is there is any utility of going to the extremes of suffering? Is there not, behind this, an element of masochism, of auto-punishment, the kind reflected in the American saying, "No pain, no gain"? In Yogic language it could be said that the trance brings about a forced awakening of the ‘Kundalini’: no other ‘sadhana’ apart from Tantrism (which is known to be a hazardous ‘Sadhana’), really advises it. Ma Anandamayi said", The body is like the wrapping paper around a gift. It has to be unfolded delicately to avoid tearing it." In my opinion, the same can be said about emotions, particularly when dealing with them in the long run. I find that studies on emotional therapies are too elusive about the possible side effects of their methods: there is, however, no need to feel a sense of shame in mentioning them; in medicine, for example, when one mentions a powerful medication, there is always a fairly long list of its side-effects. Perhaps many patients themselves sense spontaneously that the techniques in question are not to be practised over a long period, and give them up after a little while. The only one who follow them in the long run seem to be the therapists or the founders of these methods who do so with the idea of research...

The question could also be raised, whether, in therapy, the method of violent abreactions has not been favoured by a society which is itself violent. In order to clarify the debate on the trance, it would be useful to distinguish between a painful trance and a gentle one; the former would correspond to the spectacular "dispossession" of those people who are otherwise unable to involve themselves in a deep spiritual practice, and the later, to the ‘samadhi of Yogis, which is a state of complete inwardness, generally unattended by spectacular manifestations.

In India, ‘pranayama’ which includes techniques of hyperventilation, is utilised in yoga therapy. But those who practice long-term ‘sadhana’ use it very little; they prefer to practice the observation of breathing,with no action being taken thereon; this technique, and there is hardly a simpler one, is equally widespread in Buddhism where it is called "satipatthana". I practised ‘pranayama’ for several years, now I practise the observation of breathing. In my experience, ‘pranayama’ is more spectacular in the beginning : it undoubtedly gives one the experience of modifying his mental state, which is a essential step when he wishes to begin work on himself; but later, this ‘pranayama’, which is only the third of the eight levels of the Yoga of Patañjali, becomes too rigid a habit of action on oneself; and when one practises the pure observation of breathing over a long period, one notices that what acts repeatedly on this, preventing it from being free, from being itself, is the ego. In order to discuss the effects of a long-term hyperventilation, it must be recalled that Yoga and authentic meditation do not consist of rushing into the experience in the most difficult, most extreme and fastest manner possible. Moreover it is necessary to learn to discriminate between spiritual experience, and a subtle level of orgasm : this takes time. The state which the Yogi seeks, is the ‘sahaja-samadhi’, or the state of realization in ordinary life.

Ramana Maharishi was doubting this "Light brighter than a thousand suns" that is supposed to shine in the course of spiritual realisation, according to some sacred Hindu scriptures. In ‘sahaja-samadhi’ the altered state of consciousness can hardly be talked about. This ‘samadhi’ remains a subjective state,difficult to trace on an EEG. In making these remarks I do not wish to minimize the role of the experience in Yogic ‘sadhana’; in fact, the latter is based on inner experience, but I would like to say that one does not necessarily have the experiences that one anticipates. Moreover it is only when subject and object are one, in Realisation, that the notion of experience, and the duality that it implies, simultaneously disappear.

Yoga, Psychotherapy and inner conflicts as consumer goods.

Mention has been made of spiritual materialism. There also exists, in my opinion, psychotherapeutic materialism; the use of new techniques does not necessarily lead to happiness. There is a tale from southern India which expresses this idea beautifully-‘Once upon a time there was a man who had three sons; he wished to know who, amongst them was the most intelligent, so that he could bequeath his business to him. He gave each of them a hundred rupes and told them to buy something that could fill up a room completely. The first son bought cotton, and the second straw but the father was not satisfied; the third son spent half-a-rupee on a small cup, another half-a-rupee on some oil, and then procured a small piece of thread. Having thus made a little lamp, he lit it. When the father opened the door of the room, he saw the light from the lamp fill up the whole space. "You will be the one to succeed me", he immediately said. Consciousness depends on quality and not on the quantity of techniques that one knows.

In India, private psychotherapy exists very little, and humanistic therapies are, to be frank, unknown. In order to briefly examine the reasons for this, it must be understood, first of all, that the religion here is much less rigid than in the West. Practically speaking, a guru has every liberty to meet his visitors’ needs and demands for psychological help. He is much less attached to dogma, or to a centralized system of thought than priest. Besides, according to the Indian way of thinking, one cannot take charge of someone for life without being a renunciate, with some exceptions. The psychoteraphist is experienced by the patient as less powerful than is a guru by a disciple. The disciples have a technique of meditation, and they know that the guru is within them, they do not feel the strong urge (as Westerners do), to go to someone for a few hours to talk about their inner conflicts. The assistance from the guru comes to the disciple in a more direct manner, through having been close to the guru for some length of time,or through some advice received from the guru. Indians know, through tradition, that the path of insight leads somewhere, and that is has to be essentially followed alone.

After these nine years spent in India, if I were asked about the principal differences between psychotherapy and the spiritual path, I would underline the following points: first of all, the notion of time; there is a very real difference of scale between a psychotherapist who has worked on himself for some hundred of hours, even if he continues his auto-analysis between two consultations, and a Yogi who has practised sustained ‘sadhana’ his entire life. This difference could be illustrated by what Guy Claxton, psychotherapist and practising Buddhist, has said, "The therapist sees the problems, the guru sees through them."19

A second difference lies in the altruistic and transcendental aspects of the spiritual path. The third difference is to be found in the starting points of the two: psychopathology for therapy, and the wish for perfection of Self, of one’s own nature, for the spiritual path. The difference in the results of the two orientations can mainly be felt over a long period. Having been a therapist myself, I know that after a day’s consultation, it is not easy to remember clearly what constitutes a normal mind. In psychology, the therapeutic power is the maximum power, in spirituality it is liberation and complete peace of mind; this is what changes the prevailing atmosphere from the very beginning.

There is another, more subtle difference.One of the notable features of psychotherapy, which was also to be found in Vedic India, is the usual idea about progress and result: the more one undertakes therapy, or makes sacrifices, the better it is. The spiritual path carries with it the notion of the immediacy of grace, or of the realisation of Self; this opening towards the instant, awakens psychic energies whose existence psychotherapy cannot even imagine. Psychotherapy is useful for the job of clearing the ground.

A profound transformation of the human mind is not a simple task, even if time is spent over it. Lowen, the founder of Bioenergetics, acknowledged this with a humility which will have to be appreciated, "Thinking back about those years of enthusiasm and excitement, I realize that it was naive to expect to solve the complex problems of modern man easily, whatever the techniques."20

To sum up, I think that it is necessary to be prudent, and not to mistake the analogies of form and expression between psychotherapy and the spiritual path for their identities: a spiral at the base can resemble a spiral at the top but nonetheless, the two are at different levels.

The practice of meditation: the discovery of one’s own spiritual psychology

In conducting a small enquiry among therapists who were interested in India, I was surprised to note that very few of them took the time to meditate everyday. Obviously there are problems of time, when one has a clientele to look after, a family, meetings of professional societies to attend etc. I feel, however, that one can devote some time each day to meditation and then carry on the other work; the practice of meditation is not reserved for monks in their caves.

A therapist has a special need for meditation, because he is exposed to suffering, and to the mental complications of people, every day. He meditates not just for himself, but also for his patients and the people around him. Besides, he needs to discover his own "secret garden" to find an approach to the mind which is his very own, and which could be different from that which he advises to his patients. A good meditation is perfectly adapted to ones needs, which are not necessarily the same as those of others.

To my mind, therapists expect too much from the new recipes of therapy: for how long will they continue to live with the illusion that something of importance will emerge from outside themselves? Someone with spiritual maturity can grasp the meaning of what the Fathers of the Desert said, "Sit down in your room, and it will teach you whatever you need." But perhaps this simple precept only becomes effective when one hears it from the spiritual master....

I feel it is important that, each day, the therapist have a period of vacuity, during which he can let drop his mask of therapist; I know from experience that this is a mask that sticks far too well. Of course, it is embarrassing to find oneself confronted, on some days, with problems which one had pretended, in front of patients, to have been long-resolved; besides, everyone has a need for recognition; in India the practice of meditation raises the value of the disciple in the eyes of the guru; as therapists often do not acknowledge gurus, or have only a distant rapport with some, their need for professional recognition will only be satisfied by attending meetings of therapists. It is true that the group represents support, but it also leads to a dependency and to a levelling of ideas.

The great difficulty in meditation, is the absence of points of reference: one has to undertake a deep work in an internal milieu which is vague. Compared to this vagueness, action in all its forms, especially its quantitative side, the number of clients seen per week, the number of books read, the number of pages written is ressuring. Some people say that meditation obstructs spontaneity, and that it is enough to be conscious in all the acts of life; but it is precisely the difficulty of being conscious, that gives meditation its value. It is also said that Life is a guru: this is true, but is is through meditation that one can become a disciple of this life in a manner that is truly befitting. Certainly, those who are actually in the company of a spiritual master can do without meditation for sometime and still make great progess. But if one does not have a guru, or the guru is far away, then meditation is the best method to be used to link oneself to the inner master. In insisting on meditation, I do not wish to say that everyone be capable of practising it intensively, nor that it is bed roses. Roses have their thorns, and the path is, as an Upanishad says, "narrow as a razor’s edge." It is when one follows a given spiritual path seriously, that is practically, that the difficulties peculiar to meditation are brought to light. It is nonetheless true that meditation is a path towards inner maturity, towards an inner presence that includes the universe.

The necessity of a return to the centre is well-expressed by this famous Nasrudin's story :

"A slightly simple-minded man was on all fours in front of his house, looking for the key he had lost. A neighbour, passing by, offered to help him. After a long search in the mid-day sun, the neighbour asked him, "Haven’t you any idea at all where you might have lost your key?"

"Of course, I lost it inside the house!" "Why didn’t you say so earlier and why are you looking for it outside?" "Because it’s so dark inside, and so much brighter outside!"