"From silence springs the ego, from the ego, thought, and from thought, springs speech. This is the reason why silence is so much more powerful than speech". This reflection of Ramana Maharishi seems to cut short the very purpose of this study. Why talk about an experience which is essentially a silent one, untouched by words?
The field of spiritual psychology relates to different and varied stages and levels of consciousness and of inner evolution. In fact, unlike clinical psychology which aims to lead the individual to a normal state (the normal being defined according to a statistical mean), spiritual psychology seeks to illuminate the path taken by an individual moving towards a state of perfection. I begin this book by dedicating the first chapter to a critique of the Western notion of normality.
Religious traditions speak of salvation or liberation. They are not concerned with a vague ideal lost in the distant future. Liberation lies at the very heart of these traditions guiding the spiritual aspirant through the storms of inner evolution. In each generation there are individuals, very few in number, who reach that state in which the flowering of the human consciousness is complete.
I realize that this notion is foreign to classical Western psychology; even someone sufficiently open-minded about undertaking the spiritual path, has to have, if not faith, at least trust in order to accept the possibility of this state of Liberation. After some time, this trust gets stimulated by the experience of inner happiness that spiritual practice brings; then, when the spiritual seeker meets his guru, it is no longer a question of faith or belief, but just of experience.
The guru is the keystone of the edifice of spiritual psychology, which is why I preferred to begin writing with a work on "Guru and Psychotherapist" rather than on spiritual psychology. On studying the latter one is constantly confronted with paradoxes : meditation is necessary, but then, so is action; one must have an intense desire for progress, while being completely receptive, one must internalize one's consciousness while being united with others, etc. Like the beam of a balance in perfect equilibrium, the guru shows the middle path without resorting to lengthy discussions.
Spiritual psychology can provide the general guidelines for avoiding certain problems which one might encounter in the process of evolution, but it might convey too much about these problems to one person, and too little to another. If it analyses minutely all the possible problems that can arise in the course of a long-term practice of introspection, there is a grave risk of a negative effect being produced. This seems to me to be one of the main reasons why sages are relatively silent about the difficulties that are likely to be encountered along the way. It is enougt to discuss them as they arise, or better still, just before they arise. In this way the mind of the disciple is not burdened with problems which he might actually never encounter.
Of course, a minimum base of theory is necessary: being consious of the world view which underlies ones spiritual path, having a good idea of the goal towards which one is moving, etc. but a detailed analytical theory, of the kind that is found in Western psychology, will only be a poor substitute for a guru. I see three reasons for this, to put it briefly : firstly, such theories overburden the mind which has a long way to go, secondly, they create negative suggestions to add to those already produced by the "automatic mind" (or ‘manas’ a it is called in Sanskrit) of the spiritual seeker. Thirdly these theories, being necessarily analytical, draw the mind towards fragmentation rather than towards unity. It is the inclination towards unity, however, which is the driving force of the spiritual path, and the experience of this unity its ultimate goal.
What I say about depression, delirium and regression is not addressed to patients in the acute stages; they are not in a state in which they can be helped by the written word. This text, however, can benefit them either after their crisis, to help them understand what had happened to them, or before, so that they can try to prevent or attenuate the disturbance they feel within themselves. The ideas in this book will be of help to the people around the patients, or to the people who experience psycho-spiritual difficulties, as well as to the therapists of such patients.
It seems to go without saying, that among the schools of psychology with which I sympathize, are humanist psychology and transpersonal psychology, both in Europe and America. However, after having written a large part of this work, I realized that I had not referred particularly to Stanislav Grof, author of "Transpersonal Psychology". I had preferred to just talk of "spiritual psychology" in my texts. Besides, living in India for five years, and following the traditional path myself, I had no apprehensions about using the word "spiritual".
The Third Point of View
The studies on spiritual psychology which appear in France generally seen to vacillate between Christianity and psychology, often between the fairly rigid forms of them both, like Catholicism and Freudian psycho-analysis, for example. They try to work on this insoluble problem by attempting ot bring together two equally rigid systems which ultimately repulse each other like water and oil. Exhausting a great deal of intellectual energy, they succeed in finding some bridges between the two systems, bridges, which remain fragile, and, to my mind, unconvincing. Without disregarding the contributions of these two points of view, I try to introduce a third one, the Oriental point of view found in Hindu and Buddhist practices. This way of looking at things, backed by traditions that are two to three thousand years old, helps to clear Western minds of all the sterile and paralyzing notions that divide them into two factions, the psychological and the religious.
This book in made up of two main parts : The first five chapters deal with psychology. Beginning with a discussion on the notion of normalcy, as it exists in the East and in the West, I will then take a look at various clinical syndromes like depression and regression, and continue with a critical study of the rapport between certain new ideas in psychology and their sources or their equivalents in the East, I will end with some reflections on "crazy wisdom". These chapter were first published mainly in the form of articles; but they have a common thread running through them because, from the beginning, they were meant to be integrated into a book.
The second part of this work, "Spiritual transmission", deals with the question of spiritual psychology from a religious angle : how in Hinduism, as in Christianity, is the inner experience transmitted, that is the relationship between this transmission, and the institution in the larger sense?
In this second part, I will not discuss the educative and social role of churches or of Hinduism. I will concentrate instead, on the facility or difficulty which the mystic encounters in the process of spreading his experience and his knowledge. I refer the reader to the beginning of this part for a more detailed presentation.
Spiritual Psychology extended beyond itself
I do not want to enclose spiritual psychology within a system; in fact, in my opinion, this psychology cannot hope to help us to go beyond ourselves, if, in itself, it is not capable of doing so. For this reason I do not define it. "Psychology" and "spiritual" are two common words. Everyone who comes across them can, therefore, give them some meaning. If, on the other, one wishes to know, more precisely, my interpretation of these words, it is enough to have the patience to read this book.
I will study some differences between the fields of psychotherapy and spirituality in Part I Chapter IV-"To become or to be", where the subjects of Yoga and psychotherapy are dealt with. I can, however, give some points of reference immediately : psychotherapy is clearly indicated for obviously pathological cases, as well as for those people with an impulsive or inhibited personality, for whom verbalising certain problems represents great progress, a first step towards overcoming that ignorance which is the root of all illness. It is also, naturaly, indicated for those who are afraid of the spiritual, and who are happy in their "implicit atheism". Psychotherapy will at least have the advantage of making them realize that the brain does not function like a calculator...
On the other hand, for those with some spiritual aspirations, who are engaged in long-term work on themselves, taking the help of a psychotherapist could be risky. They could come across a psychotherapist who has less spiritual intuition than themselves, imprisoned as he is, behind the bars of his own knowledge and by the anguish of his patients - an anguish he cannot help but reflect. Spiritual aspiration is very fragile at the beginning. It is a small flame which is easily extinguished, especially by a therapist who does not know much about it, but who impresses the client with two or three common expression borrowed from a course of the first year in psychology. If the healer himself is engaged upon the spiritual path, another kind of problem arises : the therapist will, most probably, be taken as a guru by the patient; this is not easy in practice, to disentangle oneself from this projection. Saint John of the Cross spoke out strongly against the harm done to the soul by incompetent spiritual leaders. He accused them of leading a mediocre religious life, and of having mainly an intellectual knowledge of the different stages of man’s inner life. What then, can be said of psychotherapists who do not have even this knowledge?
One can consider psychotherapy as a technique. As such reading books on psychotherapy, if associated with meditation, can be considered sufficient to understand many things, while waiting to find the guru. On the other hand, the patient may directly receive from the therapist the impulse to evolve by identifying himself with him. In this case, he has to be sure of the purity of the helper’s spirit. In fact, this process of identification spontaneously affects the individual as a whole. To discriminate between the "good" elements which should enter the relationship, and the not so good ones which shoud not, is as delicate a matter for he who helps as it is for he who receives the help. Why should not a person interested in the spiritual path directly seek a spiritual teacher, even though this teacher has not attained perfection and is less available than the psychotherapist for discussing his personal problems? Why not include the dimensions of altruism, compassion and transcendence, which characterize the spiritual path a s compared to a therapy, at the very outset? Whatever choice a person needing help makes, making it with discrimination is essential. The psycho-spiritual field is necessarily a vague,indeterminate one for the beginner, truth being blended with pious illusions, even unadulterated hypocrisy, the good grain being mixed with the bad, it is essential that the spiritual seeker be like "hamsa" (swan) of Indian tales, capable of "separating the milk from the water’.
The main method of evolution in psychotherapy is the ability to talk about one’s personal problems in detail, this is less important in a relationship based on spiritual help. There are many reasons for this : a disciple has a long-term relationship with his guru, who is endowed with a good memory, and who has no need to listen to the repeated explanations of the difficulties already mentioned by the disciple. To use language to bring about an evolution is a superficial approach : for those who have had the silent experience of meditation, language is only a small part of the communication, a sort of support, to help one get started. It can actually do great harm to that which arises spontaneously within oneself; it can strike a blow at the process of inner flowering. It is useful for patients with little or no ability of introspection, and for those who are undergoing a serious crisis. It is obviously difficult to avoid the use of language in psychotherapy, which is based on the model of medical consultation, where one tries to rapidly evaluate a case or a situation. For more mature persons who seeks help, however, silence, or words encouraging to enter a given practice, or even conversations about things other than psychological problems, are equally effective. This situation thus by-passes the framework of formal consultation and can include all kind of situations of every-day life, as is the case in the relationship between the guru and his disciple.
Someone used to the functions of psychotherapy will be puzzled at the reticence of a spiritual aspirant to talk about his inner experiences; just as the privacy of a couple’s life lends it its charm, so too, the charm of the inner life of a spiritual seeker springs from the fact that it remains within. Talking relieves, it is true, but is not this relief more or less a symptomatic one? The spiritual seeker is not necessarily looking for relief, he wants to go the root of his problem. This effort needs a great deal of energy and silence is one of the factors which gives him this energy. For someone who already has some knowledge of the state of his mind, the more direct path is to avoid losing himself in the labyrinth of inner analysis, in order to entirely and repeatedly dissociate himself from his mind. Ramana Maharishi has said to this effect, "When you empty out a dust-bin, you do not go into the details of all that it contains. You just empty it out, and that is all." This is the best method for those who have a certain maturity and enough motivation. Another difference can be mentioned here : the aim of psychology is to bandage wounds, to improve affective relationships and love; the spiritual path seeks, besides all this, to discover the essence of love.
At the end of this introduction, I would like to state that I do not consider myself as a spiritual teacher. I am a seeker who treads his path, and wants to understand the basis of spiritual psychology, with all that he knows about the West in his capacity as a former practicing psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and with what he has sensed through the practice of Yoga and meditation during the twelve year that he has been in India (this book was written first in French after five years there). I just wanted to convey that which I know to be useful by experience. I do not feel as if I have been entrusted with a special mission to influence others, especially since I do not practice as a therapist any more. By repeating with conviction certain ideas of elementary psychology which were supposed to have helped my patients. I felt the risk of believing them myself and of being reduced to an automatic communication. I therefore decided to devote my energy, over a certain period, to more intensive inner work. Sometime during the course of evolution, the spirit of man obtained this unique faculty of being able to observe and liberate itself. I chose to work towards making use of this faculty.
After having worked for five years in a psychiatric hospital, where I was doing psychotherapy too, and having spent more than five years in a traditional milieu in India, I have some firm basis for establishing a comparison between the two helping systems. Having lived in the midst of a population of nine hundred million who develop their own minds quite well without any recourse to Western psychology, has naturally helped me to get rid of my intellectual ethnocentrism, and to widen my perspectives. Modern psychology can be compared to a building; it is very difficult to see its overall proportions when one lives and works in one of its rooms. It is better to move out of it and look at it from a distance, in order to get a wider view. My spiritual practice is that of Vedanta, of meditation on non-duality. Although I continue to respect Western psychology for what it gave me in the beginning, and for what it continues to give to others, I do not use it myself for exploring my my own mind. I now refer directly to the teachings of sages, who, having traversed the path themselves, are able to provide all the necessary points of reference.
Given the modest dimensions of this book, I am far from being able to develop all my ideas. I have suggested move than I have explicitly expressed, but I have faith in reader, knowing that he will be able to explore more deeply on his own, whichever aspects appeal to him directly. This is not to say that for the rest of my life I will continue to write on psychology or comparative religions. Tradition brings forth the direct perception of the Absolute (aparokshanubhuti). There is a stage where only the ideas and concepts seem clear and real, and what is beyond, only seems like a shadow; but the testimony of sages and mystics of the past assures us that there exists a following stage, where one directly experiences the reality of the Reality, and the ideas appear to be what they actually are- shadows. It is perhaps this kind of realisation that Thomas Aquinas had, when he said, some weeks before his death, "At present, all that I have written seems like straw."
I wish to express my gratitude to Martine Quentric-Seguy, Evelyne Radureau and Robert Dumel, all of whom practice or have practiced psychotherapy while following the spiritual path, and who have critically examined certain chapters of Part one. I also wish to thank Mme. Catherine Clementin-Ojha, teacher of Indology at the Catholic Institute of Paris, Mme. Yse Masquelier, lecturer of comparative religions at the Sorbonne, M. Michel Hulin, professor of Comparative Philosophy also at the Sorbonne, Father Gispert-Sauch, a Spanish Jesuit, living in living in India for many decades, and Father James Stuart of Delhi, a friend and biographer of Father Le Saux, for having shared with me their obsevations on the second part concerning Hinduism and Christianity. Nevertheless, I take the responsibility of the ideas that I express in that part. I finally wish to thank Vijayananda, a former French doctor, disciple of Ma Anandamayi, living the life of a "sannyasi" in India for about forty years, he has helped me for the last thirteen years with his direct knowledge of Yoga and his mystical experience which is beyond all religion.
I hope that this book may help many and that it will encourage people to venture onto the lesser-known paths of spiritual psychology. I dedicate this book to all those who intuitively believe in the existence of an eternal philosophy, and who feel, within themselves, the play of a psychology no less eternal.