This paper was presented at the
National Seminar on
Indian Psychology: Theories and Models
December 26 - 28, 2007
The wave yearns to be water: cultural practices in the Indian tradition to invoke wholeness
Mrinalini Rao & Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati
The wellness industry is threatening to be the next big industry after entertainment. Spa holidays, wellness stores, herbal tea in tea temples, massages with scented lavender oils, personal meetings with gurus, chakra healing, reflexology are increasing in popularity. At the heart of the wellness industry promising nirvana of different kinds is the human search for the infallible and a desire to be happy.
Although religions across the world talk about God or the infallible and ways to be eternally happy, in the name of science and psychology we may think that is best to not examine religion, which is after all a matter of faith. The wounds left by religion due to wars, patriarchy etc is so intense that there is a risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Religion is not merely a set of beliefs but is embedded in the values, customs, rituals, ethics of a culture and society. However, there are growing indications of people seeking spiritual understanding from religions. Both the culture of a land and its religion feed into each other and if we really need to look at existing practices that promote wholeness and healing, understanding religion and how it permeates culture is an absolute sine qua non.
Although it has been said that God has made man in his image, depending on the stage of understanding a person is at, it is more likely that human beings personify different aspects of God. What we are most devoted to is that which we give most of our attention to. We develop in ourselves the qualities we most honor.
While the motivation for domination and subjugation of the Indian civilization by external forces such as the British as well as internal strife may be many, if we need to draw meaning and truth for healing the modern man, we really need to look at Hinduism deeply. All of philosophy and psychology to heal people has been a product and a sign of its times embedded in the culture and practices. Much of the isolation and desolation experienced by individuals experiencing sadness and depression is really due to the alienation from others and a sense of disconnectedness with everything. For the branch of Indian psychology to be a product of its time to truly be efficacious, we need to take a closer look at our own tradition and heritage of which we are bearers.
Being a student of the timeless tradition of Vedanta as well as being a clinical psychologist by training, below each theme, I have found it necessary to write a brief personal narrative without being self indulgent while drawing insight for healing in counselling and psychotherapy. After all, dharma can only be upheld by a ‘dharmi’, the one who upholds the values and walks the path with all effort.
Some of the themes in Hinduism that are relevant to the context of the paper are discussed below:
- Human pursuit – Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha
- Karma Yoga
- Form and substance – the reality behind it all
There is no sacred - secular divide in India. For Hindus all of creation is divine. A Hindu deity may be a rock in a cave, a plant in the courtyard, river flowing down the plains, or metal enshrined in a temple. Anything can be and is God and in that form can respond to the human condition when invoked.
Prayer and its benefits, Worship, Mantras, Bhajans, Power of stories and Hindu temples as an expression of the Hindu understanding of the world in the social fabric have been discussed in detail.
- Invocation of the divine: Since all existence is a manifestation of the divine, what is the self and what is not the self including traits we wished we had or not had is still a part of the whole that is God. Since each devata is an embodiment or personification of certain attributes and qualities, any of the devatas are invoked depending on whether they are ishta devatas (personal gods), family devatas (worshipped in the family across generations) or village gods - Goddess Lakshmi for prosperity, Goddess Saraswati for knowledge etc while recognizing that all these aspects are a part of one God.
- Symbolism and imagery of deities: The Hindu deities are not viewed as separate and rival powers, but as different functions, different aspects, different ways of understanding and approaching the one Reality.
To conclude, being the oldest civilisation and being its torch bearers we owe it to our land, our tradition and heritage to understand it if not completely accept it. As Carl Rogers father of modern psychotherapy eloquently puts it, To truly listen is to risk being changed.
Implications for psychotherapy and counselling are discussed following each theme. The paper makes an attempt to reconnect with the way of Life that is intrinsic in India for peace and happiness – Sanatana Dharma.
Growth of the wellness industry
The business of wellbeing is estimated to reach trillion dollars by 2010. Spa holidays, shopping for vitamin pills, herbal tea in tea temples, massages with scented lavender oils, personal meetings with gurus, chakra healing, reflexology, wellness stores, giving a new meaning to rainbows, crystals, pyramids and organic food are gaining ground. Ways of healing the mind, body and soul in the wellness industry abound. The same zeal with which materialism and materialistic gains were pursued which has led to material prosperity for some is being applied to being better, stronger, healthier, happier. Says Colin Hall, spa director, Ananda, Rishikesh, “Wellness means taking control of our lives. We need to balance our heart, body and mind.”
If we look closely at this growing phenomenon of wellness, it is tapping into the deepest desire of every human heart – ‘to be happy’ and the search for the infallible. The search for the infallible starts with the helpless child who depends on his parents for survival and then moves onto seeking security from significant others, objects, friendships, jobs, career, children etc. For some, the aching feeling of incompleteness continues. “ I have a job, a career, a partner who loves me, but there is still something missing”, may well be the common theme of most youth. The search for the infallible lies buried beneath the many desires and priorities that govern our lives. Throughout history, wise and discriminating people of all lands have sought a Truth which is Universal and Eternal and that which cannot be negated.
Religion vs. Spirituality – Discerning the baby from the bath water
Given the nature of what the common place understanding of religion is with its sin, guilt, fear, anger and even vengeance there appears to be very little reason why we should take much interest in it. In the name of science and psychology we may think that is best to not examine religion, which is after all a matter of faith. Let each person follow what he or she thinks best. Not surprisingly, many people today have a greater sense of loyalty to their football team or adulation for a movie star rather than a religious leader, should they have one. Business, sports, entertainment, politics and other outward aspects of life are the focus of our attention in the modern world and these are certainly less controversial and divisive than religion.
Says Joan Borysenko, a Jew who has studied the world’s religious and spiritual traditions: “What people often do is discount their own religion—they may still be angry with it... yet the prayers, the music and ritual are deeply embedded at the cellular level.
“So many people feel they have been personally wounded by religion, or they see the wounds that religion has dealt to other groups—everything from the Inquisition to patriarchy to the kind of opinion that says ‘my way is the only way’. Many people, particularly Baby Boomers who are interested in spirituality, have to heal their religious wounds and forgive the churches and synagogues of their childhood before they can be spiritually open.” In this regard, different forms of connecting to a higher power such as prayer, along with music, candles, incense and other rituals, “can be bridges to healing these wounds”.
Resistance to connection to a higher power – role of religion
For many people in our times, the roadblock to the search for a higher power/God is usually their strained relationship with the religion of their birth. They are prone to throwing the baby with the bathwater.
The increasing growth of the wellness industry can be attributed to an increasing seeking of ‘instant gratification’ as well as the difficult to resolve and long drawn out debate over spiritual and moral values. Since this debate is dominated by extremes, by dogmatic and fundamentalist religious views on one side and atheistic materialism and moral relativism on the other, most people who have been on either sides either strengthen their position by being more dogmatic or take the disillusioned route.
Religion is not merely a set of beliefs but is embedded in the values, customs, rituals, ethics of a culture and society. However, there are growing indications of people seeking spiritual understanding from religions. The increase in interest in Eastern religions of Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism as well as Western Occultism, Pagan practices, Shamanism are indications. Seeking of spirituality through modern psychology or science or even quantum physics is another strong indication. Both the culture of a land and its religion feed into each other and if we really need to look at existing practices that promote wholeness and healing, understanding religion and how it permeates culture is an absolute sine qua non.
Man in God ‘s image or God in man’s image:
Moses or Buddha or Jesus or Krishna – each presents a different view of reality of the world with a God that matches it. Although it has been said that God has made man in his image, depending on the stage of understanding a person is at, it is more likely that human beings personify different aspects of God. What we are most devoted to is that which we give most of our attention to. We develop in ourselves the qualities we most honor.
Depending on events that take place inside the brain which are more basic than our beliefs and which give rise to our beliefs, Deepak Chopra argues that our human responses are directly related to how God is perceived. He describes 7 stages:
- Fight or flight response: the response that enables us to survive in the face of danger. This is linked to a God that who like a parent looks out for the safety of a small child wants to protect us. We turn to this God because we need to survive.
- Reactive response: this is the brain ‘ s creation of a personal identity. Beyond mere survival, when everyone pursues the needs of ‘I, me and mine’, the response and seeking is that of a God who has power, might, laws and rules, We turn to this God because of our need to achieve, accomplish and compete.
- Restful awareness response: the brain can be active or at rest, and this is its response when it wants peace. This is linked to a God who brings peace, who enables us to find a calm centre in the midst of chaos. We turn to this God because we need to feel that we won’t be overwhelmed by the demands of the external world.
- Intuitive response: the brain looks for information both inside and out. Outer knowledge is objective but inner knowledge is intuitive, No one checks with an expert outside before saying, “ I am happy’ or ‘I am in love’. We rely on our ability to know ourselves. The God that matches this response is the God of understanding and helps us reach our full potential.
- Creative response: the human brain can invent new things and discover new facts. We turn to this God as Creator out of our wonder at the beauty and complexity of Nature.
- Visionary response: the brain that can directly contact the ‘light’ which comes as a vision. The God that matches it delivers healing and miracles.
- Sacred response: the brain was born from a single fertilized cell – life. People see themselves as one with God.
If we are locked to the image of a God in a culture where science determines our perceptions of reality, then the ultimate ground that heretics or shamans or sages spoke about will always be dismissed.
The writer Thomas Berry says that it ‘s all a question of story. The story is the plot we assign to life and the universe, our basic assumptions and fundamental beliefs about how things work. He says we are in trouble now “ because we are in between stories. The old story sustained us for a long time – it shaped our emotional attitudes, it provided us with life’s purpose, it energized our actions, it consecrated suffering, it guided education. We woke in the morning and knew who we were, we could answer the questions of our children. Everything was taken care of because the story was there. Now the old story is not functioning. And we have not yet learned a new.”
Besides making money, the increase in the wellness industry is a huge attempt to heal people of the disconnectedness, sense of isolation, helplessness, loneliness, and to seek a sense of purpose in life.
Indians not owning up Hinduism completely
In 1835 Lord Macaulay announced to the British Parliament - “I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such high caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer the country unless we break the very backbone of this nation which is her spiritual and cultural heritage…I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”.
Enough has been written and debated about our education system which was meant for a different purpose by the British. While the motivation for domination and subjugation of the Indian civilization by external forces as well as internal strife may be many, if we need to draw meaning and truth for healing the modern man, we really need to look at Hinduism deeply. All of philosophy and psychology to heal people has been a product and a sign of its times embedded in the culture and practices. For the branch of Indian psychology to be a product of its time to truly be efficacious, we need to take a closer look at our own tradition and heritage of which we are bearers.
Hinduism – Seeing what is
The name Hinduism is a misnomer and a foreign invention. It goes back to the ancient Persians who called the land of India, the land of the Hindus as they contacted India through the Indus river. The Sanskrit name of the Indus, Sindhu gave rise to both Indus (and India) and Hindu ( the Persians pronounced Sindhu as Hindu). Hinduism is thus a geographical term and does not define the Hindu religion but simply identifies the region from which Western cultures have contacted it. The term Hindu cannot be found in the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita or the classical books on Yoga.
Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma cannot be limited to belief in one God, but it acknowledges monotheism as an important approach to spiritual life. While accepting montheism as one major approach, Hindus do not always regard it as the highest. Hinduism recognises the divine in many names and forms, as possessing both unity and multiplicity, and as both personal and impersonal. It is not troubled by any contradiction between the one and the Many. It regards the Many as various appearances or manifestations of the One.
Hinduism is not an organized religion like others may be – there is no Hindu church, no Hindu Pope, no Hindu Rome or Mecca that all Hindus should go to, no Hindu messiah or Prophet that all Hindus must revere, no one Hindu Bible that all Hindus must read, no one prescribed day of the week for worship, no one prescribed mass, ritual or call to prayer that everyone must do. The different sects within Hinduism have different ashrams, temples, leaders, holy days and holy books but there is no one set of these for all Hindus. David Frawley goes on to say that therefore Hinduism is one of the greatest disorganized religion in the world. Hinduism as an open tradition appeals to all those who are looking for a religious tradition with a great diversity of teachings that des not require any exclusive loyalties. Hinduism however is organized in the sense that it contains systematic teachings for all manner of temperaments and all stages of life. As Sanatana Dharma/timeless tradition, it has teachings that encompass all of human life and culture from medicine and science, art and music, occultism, spirituality and yoga.
The sophistication of thought and understanding of divinity is evident even in a sign of simple greeting of Namaste with the palms placed together while bowing to the other person which says that the God that is in you recognises the God in others. The timeless tradition or Sanatana Dharma being a way of life in India, we will look into themes of social fabric and culture that promoted and invoked wholeness. Being a student of the timeless tradition of Vedanta as well as being a clinical psychologist by training, below each theme, I have found it necessary to write a brief personal narrative without being self indulgent while drawing insight for healing in counselling and psychotherapy. After all, dharma can only be upheld by a ‘dharmi’, the one who upholds the values and walks the path with all effort. Some of the themes in Hinduism that are relevant to the context of the paper are discussed below:
- Human pursuit – Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha
- Karma Yoga
- Form and substance – the Reality behind it
- Puja rituals
- Temple architecture
- Power of stories/myths/legends
- Invocation of the divine
- Symbolism and imagery of deities
1. Human pursuit – Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha:
A human being sees himself as a deficient person. Swami Dayanandaji echoing the Indian scriptures says that to escape from this deficiency he struggles for a large number of things in life which fall under four main headings –
- Dharma – Ethics,
- Artha – Security,
- Kama – Pleasures,
- Moksha – Liberation
Dharma occupies the first place in the four categories of human goals because the pursuit of security (Artha) and pleasures (Kama) needs to be governed by ethical standards. Artha striving for security comes second because it is the foremost desire of everyone. Given basic security, everyone wants to live happily and pursue what they think will give pleasure. The last category is that of liberation or Moksha as a direct pursuit only after one has realised the limitations inherent in the first three pursuits.
Vyasa in the Mahabharata declares, ‘With uplifted hands I declare, that all peace and prosperity comes from dharma only’.
Implications for counselling and psychotherapy: In counseling, the assessment stage really helps determine the intervention and subsequent recovery of the client. With the Indian framework of true understanding of human pursuit, it is helpful to determine the client’s priorities and where the blocks lie. Like many other Indians I have found that when one truly recognises the truth of these different pursuits with the ultimate aim of liberation one expects finite happiness from finite events and people. With an increase in discriminative ability, one does not expect Moksha or unconditional happiness from finite events or relationships. This is not disillusion but a realistic and objective appreciation and understanding of the reality as it is.
2. Karma Yoga:
In the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes to Arjuna the attitude called karma yoga that assists in defusing one’s strong likes and dislikes while performing action.
You have choice over your actions but not over the results at any time. Do not (take yourself to) be the author of the results of action; neither be attached to inaction.
The law of Karma is not a moral dynamic but an impersonal energy dynamic. Everything in the physical world even what our five sense based body cannot perceive is governed by laws or principles – the author of these laws is God or Isvara – the basis for everything. The relationship between an action and its results is governed by the laws of nature which we can attempt to understand but never change.
While one performs actions prompted by desire, one appreciates the fact that all results come from the Lord and one cultivates prasada buddhi - a sense of gracious acceptance. Prasada meaning absence of sorrow, once a situation is accepted as prasada, the mind enjoys cheerfulness and then one’s likes and dislikes do not create an unhealthy hold over you.
As devotees leave a shrine, they try to carry with them anything that has come in contact with a deity: dry flakes of sandal paste, ash, water, flowers, sweets with an attitude of reverence and gracious acceptance. This is Prasad understood to contain divine aura. It has the power to carry divine blessings wherever it goes – ability to transmit sacredness through contact. This ritual was meant to be a reminder to apply the same principle of gracious acceptance to life. It is unfortunate that such a dynamic and practical principle born out of reverence then became an aberration and came to be understood as helpless resignation to one’s fate.
Implications for counselling and psychotherapy: Much of the loneliness that clients experience is born out of alienation and isolation because one does not feel connected to nature and its laws. Even our education system has focused on learning about nature as something to be conquered and mastered rather than living in harmony. Following the path of karma yoga, I have found a deeper acceptance of results, a greater sense of proactivity in the context of my own swadharma of reaching out to people and less disturbances or worries about the possible results of actions. People whom I know who are karma yogis appear to be cheerful and face life with a lot of courage confident that they can face anything that comes in their way.
3. Form and substance – the reality behind it all
The two most salient features of Sanatana Dharma – its seeing of the divine in innumerable forms and its recognition of the Divine reality that transcends all forms – are not contradictory but the two sides of the same vision which not only recognise the Absolute truth but find it in all creations. There is no sacred - secular divide in India. For Hindus all of creation is divine. A Hindu deity may be a rock in a cave, a plant in the courtyard, river flowing down the plains, or metal enshrined in a temple. Anything can be and is God and in that form can respond to the human condition when invoked.
Prayer is the act of attempting to communicate, commonly with a sequence of words, with a deity, or spirit for the purpose of worshiping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins, or to express one ‘s thoughts and emotions. The words of the prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person’s words. Muslims pray to Allah, the transcendent God. Christians pray to Jesus, or to Mother Mary. Hindus worship their ishta devta (personal God). Vedantins, Brahman, the impersonal, absolute reality. New Agers can pray to their Higher Self. Those who favour inter-faith service or worship can pray to a divine power or law that governs the universe. Even though Buddism is not a theistic religion, Buddhists pray a lot. Twirling the prayer wheels is a common sight in Buddhist temples. Native Americans dance. Some Sufis whirl. Among these methodologies are a variety of beliefs that underlie prayer:
- The belief that the finite can actually communicate with the infinite
- The belief that the infinite is interested in communicating with the finite.
- The belief that the prayer is listened to and may or may not get a response.
- The belief that prayer is intended to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays.
- The belief that prayer is intended to train a person to focus on God through intellectual contemplation.
- The belief that prayer is intended to enable a person to gain a direct experience of God.
Implications for counselling and psychotherapy: In the assessment stage of counselling, I have found it to be helpful to determine the client ‘s relationship and understanding of God and the forms of prayer that he/she engages in. While trying to discern and assist in developing support structures and resources, an additional tool to further build upon has been encouraging the use of prayer by the client. This not only helps in articulating the power of intention which is desire but also builds upon the will power of the person.
Hinduism has incorporated many kinds of prayer (Sanskrit: prārthanā), from fire-based rituals to philosophical musings. While chanting involves 'by dictum' recitation of timeless verses, dhyanam involves deep meditation (however short or long) on the preferred deity/God. Ritual invocation was part and parcel of the Vedic religion and as such permeated our sacred texts. Indeed, the highest sacred texts of the Hindus, the Vedas, are a large collection of mantras and prayer rituals.
In many shrines, deities are given human form merely by placing a pair of eyes and a pair of hands on a rock. Eyes represent sense organs and hands represent action organs. This indicates that the deity is conscious, sensitive and responsive. Divine sensitivity and responsiveness vary from place to place. Whether it is a set of stones in a cave in Jammu symbolising Vaishnodevi as tangible manifestation of the Goddess or an ice formation in a remote difficult to reach Himalayan cave is identified with Shiva.
For Hindus looking at the image of God is important, the ritual act being known as darshan. During darshan, the deity looks at your condition and responds to it with the darshan drawing the transformative power of God into one’s life.
The belief in the efficacy of mantras and that they are real, palpable, mental artifacts to be revered and mastered is commonplace. The general repute in which mantras have been held is expressed with an uncanny power by as secular a text as Arthasastra (perhaps 3rd/4th century AD) which holds that a ‘mantra accomplishes the apprehension of what is not or cannot be seen, imparts the strength of a definite conclusion to what is apprehended, removes doubt when two courses are possible and leads to inference of an entire matter when only one is seen.
In the Indian context, the repeated chanting of mantras is an instrument of power. Vakyapadika makes clear that the repeated use of correct mantras removes all impurities, purifies all knowledge and leads to release. Mandana Mishra describes it as a series of progressively clearer impressions, until a clear and correct apprehension takes place in the end. This is also echoed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra – As a result of concentrated study (svadhyaya), of mantras (including bija symbols like Om) the desired deity becomes visible and the person is purified of karmic obstructions. The rishis see the Vedas as the unitary truth but for the purpose of manifesting that truth to others allow the word to assume the different forms of mantras. When the meanings of the absolute are manifested through words, the knowledge and power that is intertwined with consciousness can be clearly perceived and known. On a simple level, this is experienced when at the moment of having an insight we feel ourselves impelled to express it, to share it by putting it in words.
Bhajans are simple songs in soulful language expressing the many splendored emotions of love for God, a complete submission or self surrender to him. The different types of Bhajans help:
- To reduce stress
- To promote acceptance of situations
- Validate the sense of isolation and helplessness of human beings
- Promote a sense of connectedness with God
- Invoke a sense of surrender and
- Help to raise self esteem
3e. Puja rituals
Puja consists of meditation (dhyana), austerity (tapas), chanting (mantra), scripture reading (svadhyaya), offering food (thaal) and prostrations (ashtanga pranama). The individual also applies a tilaka mark on the forehead with sandalwood paste and then a vermilion dot in its centre signifying submission to the Almighty and also his omnipresence. Puja may be performed as an individual worshipper or in gatherings and observed in silence or accompanied by prayers. A Hindu priest will chant prayers in Sanskrit or some other language while performing puja.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says “When any devotee seeks to worship any aspect with faith, and when by worshipping any aspect he wins what he desires, it is none other than Myself that grants his prayers. Howsoever men approach Me, so do I welcome them, for the path men take from every side is Mine.”
3f. Temple architecture
For Hindus, the temple is as important as the deity within. The deity gives meaning to the temple, if the deity did not exist, the devotees would not go to the temple. If the temple did not exist, if there were no magnificent doorways, embellished walls, devotees would not know where to look for the deity. The temple and the deity within validate each other.
Hindu temple walls are covered with all kinds of images, both real and imagined. There are scenes from everyday life, priests performing yagna, kings fighting battles, warriors hunting, courtesans dancing, couples making love, children playing and safes giving discourse. The sacred and the profane, the sexual and the violent, the factual and the fictional, the desired and the disgusting merge and mingle with each other. Hindu temple art informs the viewer that everything can and does exist in the world. There can be no limits to God. Hindu temples in many ways are the architecture of the expressions of the Hindu understanding of the world.
Implications for counselling and psychotherapy: The client ‘s forms of prayer and worship after understanding it are built upon to assist a greater sense of security and wholeness. Care is exercised to not use prayer/worship as a substitute for action but understood to only enhance action.
At a personal level, I have found chanting to be immensely powerful to invoke divinity, aid contemplation and meditate on the true meaning of the scriptures. Although my approach to chanting started through just liking the sound and the intonation of the words and a skepticism of the power that is understood to be inherent, my belief in the efficacy of mantras has increased.
4. Power of history/stories/mythology/legends
The Mahabharata and the Ramayana or even Jataka tales or Panchatantra or the millions of folk tales that abound in the oldest civilization of India passed on traditionally from older people in the family to the children had significant psychological benefits:
- Stories served as a means to help people confront their own experiences in an indirect way and gave them time to assimilate them in their own experiences.
- To some people, stories pointed out ways out of their problems.
- To some, stories acted as a simple reaffirmation of the power of the human will.
- For some, they offered guidance in moments of indecisiveness and the comfort of knowing that someone has walked the path before you.
- Stories generally put people at ease and offer room for expanded thought.
- Stories have served as a means to teach the values of self-sacrifice, honesty and other values.
Stories have formed a strong psychosocial fabric of our culture and every single person is a powerful testimony to stories that have informed, inspired and guided them through their lives. Joseph Campbell while talking about the importance of stories for the human race, says that stories represent what might be called an archetypal adventure – the story of a child that is becoming a youth, or the awakening to the new world that opens at adolescence – which would help to provide a model for handling this development.
Implications for counseling and psychotherapy: Over innumerable occasions, while teaching students as well as counselling, due to narration of stories, I have found the glimmer in a person’s eye following an insight, a spring in the step, the will to live, inspiration to achieve and a sense of purpose.
5. Invocation of the divine
The origin of the word invocation goes back to its Latin verb roots – invocare – ‘to call on’. Here the being or deity is literally called upon from within oneself tapping into the notion of archetypes or into oneself as an external force depending on the personal beliefs of the invoker. The fundamental premise of archetypes or elementary ideas or ground ideas is that the human psyche is essentially the same all over the world. The psyche is the inward experience of the human body, which is essentially the same in all human beings with the same organs, instincts, the same impulses, the same conflicts, the same fears. Out of this common ground have come what Jung called the archetypes, which are the common ideas of myths.
Since all existence is a manifestation of the divine, what is the self and what is not the self including traits we wished we had or not had is still a part of the whole that is God. Since each devata is an embodiment or personification of certain attributes and qualities, any of the devatas are invoked depending on whether they are ishta devatas (personal gods), family devatas (worshipped in the family across generations) or village gods.
An intrinsic part of Hindu tradition, Indian philosophy and a way of life is to pray to these embodiments or devatas: Lord Ganesha for removal of obstacles before embarking on any new venture, Goddess Lakshmi for prosperity, Goddess Saraswati for knowledge etc while recognizing that all these aspects are a part of one God.
To worship something in the Hindu sense is to recognise the divine presence within it and seek its grace. We need the grace, favour, communication and understanding of all that we are connected with in life, and nothing is really apart from the divine.
Implications for counseling and psychotherapy: That we are able to seek and invoke and honor certain qualities in all their glory through praying to several devatas I have found to be the greatest strength in my personal pursuit. While I have not yet used it with clients, I have certainly seen the benefits with people I know who are able to relate to God in their own personal way. In a similar vein, if we pursue the theory of archetypes, then I have applied Angeles Arien’s ‘The Four fold way – Walking the paths of Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary’ to help invoke these personalities through reflective questioning and experiential learning.
5. Symbolism and imagery of deities
The idea of 330 million Hindu deities is a metaphor for the countless forms by which the divine makes itself accessible to the human mind. “The one God wears many masks,” wrote mythologist Joseph Campbell. In no other religion does the Supreme Being wear so many masks and invite worship in so many different forms as the eternal religion of Hinduism.
Idol or image is a kind of yantra or a device for harnessing the eye and mind on God. As the Vishnu Samhita (ch 29, v 55-7) an ancient ritual text, persuasively endorses the use of imagery and puts it:
Without a form how can God be mediated upon? If (He is) without any form, where will the mind fix itself? When there is nothing for the mind to attach itself to, it will slip away from meditation or will glide into a state of slumber. Therefore the wise will meditate on some form, remembering, however, that the form is a superimposition and not a reality.
Symbolism, for two reasons, plays a greater role in the religion and art of India than in those of other nations. For one thing, India's is the oldest continuous civilization in the world. Its traditions extend back long before recorded history. For another, the Indian mind, having established itself firmly in the belief in a transcendental reality, is completely comfortable with an exuberance in its expression of images and allegories that comes from knowing and accepting that everything is illusory anyway.
"Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman/the spirit or essence of everything)," "Tat twam asi (Thou art that/Brahman alone exists and is the essence of everything), since the unenlightened mind hasn't the capacity to perceive these statements as proceeding from the ultimate refinement of consciousness. These lofty teachings of the Vedas and Upanishads had to be clothed in symbolism, and presented in allegories. The purpose of concealing them in part to protect the truth from profanation, and in part also to ensure their endurance during centuries of spiritual darkness. The hope was to suggest to deep truth seekers, at least, that there are levels of truth beyond any of those suggested by orthodox religions.
A painting of Lord Krishna playing his flute awakens devotion in the hearts of Hindu devotees, because it reminds them of God calling the soul to eternal wakefulness in Him.
The Hindu deities are not viewed as separate and rival powers, but as different functions, different aspects, different ways of understanding and approaching the one Reality.
Perhaps the first thing to strike a Western observer about Hindu deities is the multiplicity of limbs they display. Nineteenth century writers, brought up on Greek sculpture, found this grotesque and inexplicable. Yet the reason why the Hindu deities are represented in this way is very simple: it is to show that they are gods, that they differ from human beings and have more and greater powers than we do. Thus, Vishnu is usually shown with four arms, but his avataars or incarnations, Rama and Krishna, who have human forms, are invariably represented with two.
To better illustrate the use of symbolism and meaning, Lord Ganesha has been considered.
Lord Ganesha, popularly known and easily recognized as the Elephant-God, is one of the most important deities of the Hindu pantheon. Before every undertaking, be it laying of the foundation of a house, or opening of a store or beginning any other work, Lord Ganesha is first worshipped so at to invoke his blessings. Ganesha has many names. The main ones are Ganapati (lord of the ganas, or attendants), Vighneshwara (controller of all obstacles), Vinayaka (the prominent leader), Gajaanana (elephant-faced), Lambodara (pendant-bellied), and Ekdanta (having one tusk).
Lord Ganesha, also called Ganapati or Vinayaka, is presented in the form of a human body with the head of an elephant. This blend of human and animal parts is a symbolic representation of a perfect human being, as conceived by Hindu sages. His head symbolizes wisdom, understanding, and a discriminating intellect that one must possess to attain perfection in life. By worshipping Ganesha, a Hindu seeks God's blessings for achieving success in one's endeavors in the physical world and for attaining perfection thereafter.
The ancient sages, in their infinite wisdom, have designed Hindu deities with specific Vedantic attributes in mind.
To conclude, the only way in which we can discern practices of healing in the Indian tradition is to see how these were embedded in Sanatana Dharma or the timeless tradition. Being the oldest civilisation and being its torch bearers we owe it to our land, our tradition and heritage to understand it if not completely accept it. As Carl Rogers father of modern psychotherapy eloquently puts it, To truly listen is to risk being changed.
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Swami Dayananda Saraswati – Introduction to Vedanta, Understanding the Human Problem. Vision Books, New Delhi 1998