Building tall on solid foundations: Directions for indigenous personality research in India
Anand C. Paranjpe
Having spent a lot of time looking back into the history of psychology in India and the West, I wish to now take a look at what lies ahead for us in India in the field of personality research. In classical Indian music highly qualified teachers say that practicing on lower octave notes early in the morning helps in reaching higher pitches. Hopefully, by analogy, earlier exploration of history might help in thinking about the future of psychology!
Whether we like it or not, European thought and system of education has come to stay in India. It is not possible to turn the clock back; we cannot simply erase the western style of thinking in psychology from our minds and universities. Nor is it wise to ignore meaningful insights and useful methods simply because they are of western origin. Knowledge is a universal legacy of humankind; there should be no problem learning concepts and methods in any field from anywhere in the world. Our forebearers have built a strong foundation for a distinctive psychology. We can construct a rich structure on this base. We can develop an effective psychology that continues to pursue the goals and cherish the values that our tradition has for ages, yet finds solutions to the problems of our day. At the outset, I would like to suggest some principles and policies that might be useful to follow during the course of this endeavor.
We may begin by identifying the most fundamental concepts and insights from the Indian tradition in the field of personality and the self. We can then identify convergent trends from western (and if and where possible from other Asian) traditions. We would then be ready to cross-fertilize mutually consistent ideas and assimilate them in a gradually expanding sphere of an increasingly insightful and useful psychology.
As Piaget put it, it is by assimilation of useful things from the environment and by accommodating to the changes in the environment that organisms as well as conceptual systems grow. As is well known, the system of Advaita developed by assimilating the best ideas from the Buddhist tradition, and most traditional systems survived for centuries by continual interpretation of older ideas by successive generations in changing environments. Ayurveda initially assimilated many ideas from Unani, that is Greek, tradition, but stopped growing this way after some time. Now Ayurveda is in danger of being assimilated by allopathy or biomedicine.
It is important to remember not to sell our soul in the encounters with the novel and the alien. Let us not forget that the core, but not all, of Indian psychology is adhyatma, which means that it is about the Self, or more particularly aimed at spiritual self-development. An old adage in Sanskrit is: sa vidya, ya vimuktaye. In other words, the primary goal for theacquisition of knowledge is the liberation of the individual from the burden of past karma. This is almost opposite to modern psychology's primary goal, namely prediction and control of behavior.
Notwithstanding this opposition, we need not discard a psychology aimed at controlling behavior, for after all, every society needs to control the behavior of the young and the wayward. Diversity need not always imply opposition and conflict; it can also mean complementarity and mutual enrichment. The Indian tradition has not only permitted but also thrived on controversy, on the dialectics of thesis and antithesis, khandana and mandana. So let us begin to think about, and debate, the future of psychology in India.
A few words on “research” and “methodology”
Research is a buzzword, especially in psychology today. It conjures ideas of observation, data collection, and analysis. The foundation of this approach to search for knowledge is in the epistemology of empiricism, which considers experience as the source of all knowledge and as the only sure criterion validation of truth claims. Although developed famously by the British empiricists Bacon, Locke, and Hume, the basic principle of empiricism is not inconsistent with the Indian tradition. Indeed, pratyaksha or direct experienceis one of the most fundamental and valued pramanas in almost all the schools of Indian thought. Against this background, we should have no problem in adopting empirical research. Let us remember particularly the spirit of observation manifest in our traditions of the Vaisesika and Ayurveda. Basic statistical ideas such as the Chi-square are not alien to Indian ways of thinking; it is implicit in the basic logical guideline of anvaya-vyatireka, or the method of agreement and difference. Besides, it is great modern Indian scholars like Mahalanobis and Rao who have made great contributions to statistics; so let us move ahead with more sophisticated and meaningful statistics and stringent methodology wherever appropriate.
In Constructing the Subject, Kurt Danziger (1990) has criticized (rightly, in my opinion) the excessive worship of methodology in contemporary psychology. He has dubbed this tendency “methodolatry,” reminding us of idolatry or idol worship, which is a mortal sin when seen from the Christian viewpoint. It is my impression that personality research today relies too heavily on the use of self-report questionnaires, as illustrated in the popularity of the Eysenckian and “Big Five” models. I do not see anything wrong with the use of questionnaires as such; it is the excessive or almost exclusive reliance on them that seems problematic to me. In empirically exploring in the field of personality research following traditional Indian concepts and insights, it will be useful, in my opinion, to be flexible in methodology, adapting method to the problem rather than vice-versa.
Some basic concepts
In the remainder of this presentation, I will consider a series of concepts that I see as being central to the traditional Indian thinking about person, personality, self or the ego, and the Self (meaning the principle of unity underlying selfhood). This set of traditional concepts I shall briefly explain includes the jiva, svabhava and prakrti, atman and purusha. I will then consider Yoga and Advaita as ways of personality development and self-realization, and finally comment on possible types of research concerning traditional Indian forms of counseling.
The concept of Jiva
The term jiva literally means a living being. However, for a long time it has been used as a technical term to refer to a human individual. Alternately, the human individual is also called a purusha, literally meaning man. Since the time of the Upanishads, the jiva has been characterized as a jnata, bhokta, and karta, i.e., as one who knows, feels pleasure and pain, and acts. It is exactly in this sense that the concept of person has been used in western thought since ancient Greece. In eighteenth century England, John Locke clarified that a person, to be a member of a civic society and be expected to follow its rules, requires three essential mental capacities, namely cognition (so he/she can understand the difference between what is appropriate and what is not), affect or capacity to feel pleasure and pain (or else she/he cannot be rewarded or punished), and conation meaning freedom to act one way or another (or else he/she cannot be held responsible). Such an idea is implicit in the Indian concepts of dharma and karma, since dharma concerns right conduct and karma as defined by Shankara (1978; 1.1.2) is action that person can choose to do, not to do or to do otherwise (kartum akartum, anyatha va kartum). This clearly implies free will whereby one can choose to behave in good or bad ways and could thereby be held responsible for one's behavior. Against this background, the mental processes of cognition, affect, and conation (or will) are considered the most fundamental processes that merit psychological study. This “trilogy of mind” (Hilgard, 1949) thus provides the common ground to bridge Indian and western psychologies. A host of western concepts in these three fields of study are therefore legitimate basis for an active give-and take between India and the west.
This rationale opens up a huge field of research for the cross-fertilization of ideas and mutual enrichment. Some directions of research suggest themselves following this logic. These three mental processes of thinking, feeling, and willing must work together and be treated holistically. As I have shown elsewhere (Paranjpe, 1998a), their separate treatment as is common in contemporary psychology leads to the fractionation and trivialization of personhood (Paranjpe, 1998b)
East-West convergence in the trilogy of mind
It is first necessary to distinguish between two contrasting approaches to cognition in contemporary psychology, reductionist versus constructivist. The former is popular in “cognitive science” and in computer models of the mind where all knowing is reduced to bits of information or to computer bytes. By contrast, the constructivist approach to cognition is holistic in orientation; it assumes that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts as the Gestalt psychologists did; and it also recognizes the common human need to go beyond the information given in experience. Constructivist views of cognition have been adopted by psychologists like Bartlett (1932), Piaget (1954), George Kelly (1955), Bruner (1973) and many others.
A basic assumption of cognitive constructivism is that individuals continually construct and re-construct their views of the world. This idea is, in my view, at the heart of Vedanta. For instance, in the Vedanta literature we come across the expressions like “ajnana kalpitah prpancah” (Abhyankar, 1928/1968, p. 48) or “prapancah avidyaya parikalpitah” (Sayana Madhava, 1978, p. 92)which may be translated to mean that the world as we know it is constructed on the basis of imperfect knowledge. This idea is basically consistent with what Piaget (1954) suggests in his book The construction of reality in the child. There is need to critically compare their viewpoints. Such a study would involve a major theoretical project deserving the collaboration between a Sanskritist specialized in Vedanta and a Piagetian psychologist
In Vivekacudamani (verse # 139) Adya Shankaracarya (Shankara, 1921) metaphorically compares a person as wrapped inside a world in his own making -- like a moth in its cocoon. He also speaks of this self-constructed world as contracting with self-denigration and expanding with egotism. This idea is worth empirically exploring with the use of techniques recently used in studying self-concept by Susan Harter (1988) following Piagetian views of cognitive construction.
An important issue in the Advaitic view of the self is the wise discrimination between what is permanent compared to the changeable aspects of the self. A similar issue is empirically studied by Michael Chandler and his associates (1987) within a Piagetian framework while exploring children's perception of changes in cartoon characters. It will be useful to do an exploratory study to see how children as well as adults view the dilemma of continuing to think of being one and the same person despite various changes in the self from time to time and place to place. In this context, one may ask interesting questions like: “what makes the issue of sameness important for some and insignificant to others?” Erikson (1974) suggests that we become aware of the dreadful implications of the nagging doubt about not having discovered the real self (for if we have not, it implies that we lived a wrong life) when we are either “deeply young”, or “very old” (p. 41). Perhaps we could try find seriously inquisitive youth who, like Naciketas of the Katha Upanishads, turn to spiritual quest about the true nature of the self in their early age, while a vast majority of people seem to be quite unconcerned about such existential issues.
The traditional Indian perspective on emotional life is holistic, in contrast with the focus on individual emotions that prevails in contemporary psychology. A central concern of the Indian tradition is the problem of suffering. One of the central assumptions in the history of Indian culture is that suffering outweighs happiness in life as a whole. How common is this belief among people today? How does a person's global estimation of happiness/unhappiness in life as a whole relate to her/his socio-economic status? Is it equally common or uncommon among the Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists within India and/or elsewhere? In this context, mere surveys will not do; there is need to study common man's views in light of the influence of classical perspectives, such as current state of health, happiness or misery as a result of one's own past karma. I suggest a separate research project concerned with such issues about emotional life of persons.
In the Indian tradition, individual emotions have been conceptualized and interpreted in the context of the study of drama, dance (natya- sastra), and poetics (rasa-sastra). This contrasts with the predominantly experimental and bio-psychological perspectives in contemporary psychology, and the religious/philosophical perspectives common in western thought for centuries. The scientific and literary approaches to emotional experience and expression need to be viewed as complementary rather than separate or conflicting. Given a rich history of scholarship in dramaturgical studies (natya-sastra), we in India are in a good position to develop a psychology of emotion in the context of dramaturgical studies, aesthetics, and poetics (rasa-sastra). There is a need to develop qualitative methodology in this context. Psychologists in India can take initiative to work in collaboration with experts in natya- and rasa-sastra in studies of emotion.
Conation: Will and action
With the dominance and lingering influence of behaviorism, the study of will and intentional action has been mostly ignored in contemporary psychology. The behaviorists generally adopted a mechanistic view of the world, taking human behavior as being energized by physical force obeying deterministic laws of inertia and conservation of energy. Study of will or volition was banished from mainstream psychology as a misfit in the science of psychology. In the Indian tradition, however, the overall emphasis is on karma, which has almost always - if not exclusively - meant intentional action or pro-action rather than re-action. Shankaracarya, for instance, defines karma as action that one can choose to engage in, not to engage in, or do it differently, thus affirming free will. In keeping with this perspective, it will be highly appropriate to study human action with a focus on the underlying intentions, and the attendant moral implications. Moral implications of action indicate the inalienable relation between karma and dharma, and future research should not lose sight of this connection. Such a perspective on action will complement the rapidly developing field of law and psychology, as well as studies focusing on attribution in the field of social cognition in the west.
In this context, it may be noted that the work of Piaget and Kohlberg in the development of moral reasoning is consistent with the traditional Indian viewpoint. Remembering that Kohlberg uses philosopher Rawls's (1971) interpretation of Immanuel Kant's ethical theory as guide to his work, we need to make it a point to use an Indian framework instead. Two sources for such framework may be suggested: first, the Bhagavad-Gita, and second, P. V. Kane's (1930-1977) monumental work, the History of Dharmashastra.
The Gita, in particular, is a valuable source of psychological theories fit for empirical testing. Few specific views of the Gita may be mentioned as highly relevant in this context: First, the five factors or determinants of the fruits of human action (namely the context of action, agent, means, specific actions and daiva or “luck”: adhisthanam tatha karta, karanam ca prthagvidham, vividahasca pçthakceshtah, daivam caivatra pancamam: (Bhagavd-Gita, 18.14). And second, the common tendency to take credit for him/herself to the neglect of the role of other factors. Gita's idea of the beneficial nature of a focus on action itself as opposed to focus on the fruits of action, or action without attachment to results (anasakti), is empirically testable. Such an idea was tested by Dr. Namita Pande at Allahabad. There is a need for concerted effort to find testable theories and put them to empirical test; Drs. Pande and Radha Krishna Naidu's work should be a trendsetter. Issues such as the human tendency to take credit for the success, and not failure, of own efforts is an issue researched in contemporary research in attribution theory. Correspondingly, the various research techniques developed in this field may be legitimately and fruitfully used in testing theories of traditional Indian origin.
The concepts of Svabhava/prakrti
The terms svabhava and prakrti are the closest equivalents of the concept of personality as used in contemporary psychology, meaning enduring patterns of a individual behavior. A major part of current personality research is based on conceiving of types, dimensions and/or traits of personality, measuring individual standing on such dimensions with self-report questionnaires, and using such measures in correlational studies. This methodology may be followed in regard to a typologies derived from Indian thought, watching out for poor validity of the tests that widely afflicts contemporary personality research.
The Bhagavad-Gita repeatedly mentions the concept of svabhava, and suggests a personality typology based on the trilogy of sattva, rajas and tamas. Various tests based on this trilogical conceptualization have been constructed and used (Uma, Lakshmi & Parameswaran, 1971; Mohan & Sandhu, 1986; Sitamma, Sridevi & Krishna Rao, 1995; Wolf, 1998). In any case, I consider this a welcome trend. This trilogy is the product of the Samkhya system, and the logic of the constantly mutually interacting and ever overlapping gunas is radically different from the conceptualization of bipolar dimensions common in western thinking in general and in contemporary psychology in particular. Although the gunas are said to manifest in enduring qualities in an individual, they are supposed to constantly influence each other in such a way that when one dominates the others proportionally recede. One implication of such characterization is that the sattva/rajas/tamas characterization implies relatively enduring traits but not fixed features, and the continually changing character of the gunas are partly like states and also partly like traits. The implication of such conceptualization for statistical treatment based on bipolar variables is a highly complex issue that needs in-depth examination.
A parallel trilogical conceptualization of individual differences is extensively developed in Ayurveda. Caraka (in Sutrasthana, 1.57) indicates that kapha, pitta and vata are bodily counterparts of the sattva, rajas, tamas trilogy that operates at the mental level. The bodily trilogy (called the three doshas) is described in detail in terms of the physical properties in the classical literature of Ayurveda. I remember seeing a questionnaire designed to assess kapha, pitta, vàta in one of Deepak Chopra's books, but I do not know if such a test is developed with attempts for stringent assessment of its reliability and validity. A detailed study of the three types conceptualized at the mental level in the Samkhya system and at the physical level in Ayurveda would be an excellent topic for an interdisciplinary research project for a team of specialists in philosophy, psychology, psychometrics and statistics, and Ayurveda.
Ahamkara is a concept closest to that of ego in modern psychology. It is used to indicate the possessive tendencies of the individual, and the proclivity to delineate one's own sphere of influence as separate from that of the others and the rest of the world. It would be useful to distinguish the specific connotations of the term ahamkara in theclassical Indian systems such as the Advaita from the usage of the term ego in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytical ego psychology. It also needs to be clearly distinguished from the concept of Atman/Purusha in Advaita & Yoga.
Despite the irreconcilable differences between Advaita versus Samkhya-Yoga systems about there being a single Atman as opposed to innumerable Purushas, there is little, if any, difference between these concepts from a psychological point of view. Both terms refer to the self as drashta, meaning the experiencer, or the self-as-subject to put it in William James's language. The Yoga system claims that this self-as-subject is directly experienced when attention is withdrawn from all objects of thought and the stream of thoughts (citta nadi) is brought to a stand still. Advaita proposes a different system of meditation to arrive at the same sort of experience in a higher state of consciousness called the Nirvikalpa Samadhi or the Fourth State of consciousness (turiya) that is devoid of the subject/object split. This most distinctive insight of the Indian tradition is beyond the scope of empirical methods used in Western psychology. As suggested in the yoga system, it is possible to experientially verify the nature of the purushaby doing yoga (yogo yogena jnatavyo). Such ways of verification are out of the scope of the mainstream of psychology as developed within the empiricist tradition of the West.
The experience of the self-as-subject helps realize that something within oneself which one always was, is, and ever will be. Its discovery would make it unnecessary to search after a different, more promising self-image. It is claimed that this is the way to avoid dissatisfaction with existing situation of self in the world, and the highest level of satisfaction is thereby attained. Such an ideal condition is believed to be attainable through a variety of paths to self-realization.
Most of contemporary research (Wylie, 1974/1979; Greenwald, 1980) is focused on self-concept, i.e., self as perceived/defined by the individual, or in James's terms self-as-object. This kind of research is generally complementary to the Indian approach with a focus on the self-as-subject. Especially research that characterizes the self as a set of cognitive processes and structures, as feelings with which one identifies, and as initiator of action, or agent, implies the identification of the subject with various aspects of personhood. By contrast, self conceived as atman/purushaoffers a trans-personal view of the self.
Yoga: Variety of pathways to self-realization
As is well known, Yoga is a generic term collectively referring to a variety of pathways to self-realization. The Bhagavad-Gita is a compendium of brief descriptions of some of the many such pathways. The more commonly known form of yoga is the one described by Patanjali, it is variously called ashtanga, raja or dhyana yoga. The other most popular form of yoga is hatha yoga that deals primarily with the physical aspects of ashtanga yoga, mainly asana and pranayama. Following the trilogical conception of the jiva as jnata, bhokta, karta, three main forms of yoga are suggested: the Jnana, Bhakti, and Karma yoga.
Of the many forms of Yoga, physical aspects of ashtanga yoga as described by Patanjali and in hatha yoga are the ones that have been put to extensive empirical tests. Starting with the early work of Swami Kuvalayananda at the Kaivalyadham at Lonavala, the various physiological aspects accompanying yogic practices were studied by Therese Brosse (1946), the German cardiologist in the forties, by the UCLA physiologist Wenger and associates (1961/1971) in the fifties, and by many more in recent years. Most recently, extensive empirical research is continuing at the Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (VYASA) near Bangalore (Research Team VYASA, 2002). Their studies are focused primarily on demonstrating how a variety of yogic practices, especially asanas, hatha yoga techniques, pranayama and some varieties of meditation. These studies have followed the stringent methodology required in contemporary medical research that included randomized clinical trials with double blind design and placebo control. In meeting the highest standards in this respect, the VYASA group should be a model to follow. This trend in research indicates an open field for psychologists with wide scope for collaborative work with researchers in the areas of physiology, psychiatry, and medicine.
A challenge for the psychologists
The research in this field is largely restricted to the physical dimensions of Yogic techniques, mainly asanas, hatha yoga techniques, and pranayama and in some instances pratytyahara, which means the withdrawal of senses into the mind.This is the realm of ashtanga yoga that Patanjali considers external aspects (bahiranga) in contrast to the last three rungs, namely dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, which are considered the inner core of yoga.This inner core involves the mental operations of binding down mental processes to specific objects of consciousness (dharana), and slowing down the rate of flow of ideas in the mind till it becomes totally single pointed (ekagra). Research in this area is extremely difficult. Basic difficulties include the extreme rapidity of mental processes, problems in splitting the mind into thinking and observing parts, problem in quantification of units of thought, and rarity of highly competent practitioners of dhyana. Research in this area would demand the development of techniques of introspection somewhat similar to those used by the classical introspectionists from Cornell and Wurzberg (Boring, 1953), by the pioneering phenomenologist Husserl (1931/1962), and by the navigators of the stream of consciousness (Pope and Singer, 1978). We may hope that somebody in the near future will take up this challenge.
The siddhis, or extra-ordinary powers attained by successful practitioners of yoga, are an important and interesting aspect of ashtanga yoga. Patanjali devotes one of the four chapters of his aphorisms to this topic. Contemporary psychology assigns such powers to the field of the paranormal, which is even more of a taboo topic than religion. Attitudes toward claims to extra-ordinary powers range from extreme credulity on part of many in the public at large at one end of the spectrum, and at the opposite end complete disbelief and even hostility among some people who call themselves rationalists or scientifically minded. Healthy skepticism is not very easy to find.
The Bhagavad-Gita considers Karma yoga as a matter of skill in performing action yogah karmasu kausalam. The skill seems to lie primarily in keeping engaged in right action with a dispassionate attitude toward the fruits or rewards of action. As mentioned earlier, Dr. Namita Pande conducted a research project in which Gita’s views of Karma yoga, more specifically about the beneficial nature of action without emotional attachment to the results (anàsakti), were tested. Her research and that of her guide Dr. R. K. Naidu has demonstrated that traditional Indian conceptual frameworks and modern empirical research methods can be successfully integrated without compromising indigenous insights and purpose. This line of research is eminently worth pursuing further.
Jñana yoga implies knowledge as means to self-realization. Its origins may be traced to the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad’s guideline of studying, critical thinking, and absorption (sravana, manana, nididhyasana) as steps to self-realization. This general outline has been developed into a technique of meditation sometimes called the prasamkhyana in the system of Advaita Vedanta. It mainly involves a critical examination of all our beliefs and assumptions about the self in the light of the principle that the true self is unchanging; every self-definition that indicates openness to change is ultimately false. Although the successful completion of such a task of critical self-examination is by no means an easy task, it involves a logical exercise fit to be part of a curriculum in higher education. Against this background, a possible research project can be suggested. Such a project would examine the changes in self-perception and indices of positive mental health in subjects practicing critical self-examination prescribed in Jnana yoga.
Such a project may not be easy to conduct in the common university atmosphere, where subjects willing to volunteer in such a project would be difficult to find. It may, however, be possible to undertake such a project in proper institutional settings devoted to spiritual goals, such as the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Mahavidyapitham (VYOMA) near Bangalore, where both aspirants willing to volunteer as well as teachers capable conducting training may be available. Alternatively, the deemed university at Kanchi, with its close association with the Advaita tradition might be an appropriate venue for pursuing such a research project.
Bhakti is surely and integral and pervasive part of the cultural fabric of the Hindu society. This aspect of behavior would be part of what in the West they call religious behavior. Although the psychology of religion was very much a part of William James's vision of psychology, it has been marginalized in academic psychology in India following the Western model, although it is major part of parochial schools and pastoral psychology. In my view, mainstream psychology's disdain for religion, may be traced to Galileo's persecution by the Church. There is no reason why Indians who did not witness a conflict between science and religion should share such a bias -- except by way of blind imitation of Westerners and perpetuation of a colonial mentality.
To help understand the nature of Bhakti it is necessary to examine the traditional perspectives, such as those of the Bhagavata Purana, Narada Bhakti Sutra, and Jiva Goswamã's Bhaktirasamrtasindhu. Nevertheless, certain insights and approaches developed in the psychology of religion in the West may also be relevant, albeit after their critical examination in the Indian context. Even perspectives obtained in the Journal of Scientific Study of Religion could be found to be relevant upon critical examination, and may be adapted to the Indian context.
Bhakti literature recognizes that the more common forms of ritual worship are less essential (gauni bhakti); thus it would be ideal to focus more on the deeper forms of devotion based on intense love of the deity. Finding genuine subjects for a study of bhakti would be quite a challenge, which must be faced if one aims at empirical research in this field. There is no shortage of self-proclaimed bhaktas who can lead masses to believe in the depth of their devotion. However, it should still be desirable to explore the nature of the commonly found manifestations of bhakti. It may not be difficult, for instance, to survey a random sample and compare subjects in terms of the comparative extent of their self-reported involvement in prayer or other devotional behaviors for what worth it might be.
Further research on bhakti
Various forms of bhakti may indeed be a gold mine for research; various themes may be suggested. We could explore, for instance, the relationship between degrees of involvement in bhakti and various personality characteristics: mental health, life satisfaction, and intensity of emotional experience in general. A conceptual delineation may be made between religiosity (dharmikata) and spirituality (adhyatmikata), and we may try to develop ways to identify their behavioral manifestations. The correlates of religiosity and spirituality in terms of personality characteristics, mental health and wellness could then be empirically investigated.
Traditional forms of psychotherapy and counseling
There is a great need to identify and critically study various traditional forms of psychotherapy and counseling that continue to be practiced all over India. There are all sorts of gurus, sadhus, fakirs, tantriks, mantriks, and even jyotishis who advice and provide counseling to their disciples or clients in their own respective ways. I have come across some anthropological research for the University of Chicago that focuses on the kind of psychological counseling that happens when people consult astrologers in India. Sudhir Kakar's well known book Shamans, mystics & doctors provides us with a quasi ethnographic (and sometime tongue-in-cheek) account of what goes on in encounters with characters whom Kakar calls shamans or mystics. There is something that Kakar has not done that, I think, is worth doing.
It may be useful to start by selecting a number of interesting traditional “counselors”: gurus, sadhus and fakirs, tantriks, mantriks, and jyotishis. I hope that we will be able to find reliable ways of distinguishing between the most genuine ones from the fakes and moneymaking charlatans. It will be useful to conduct systematic ethnographic studies of traditional forms of helping behavior with the standard techniques of participant observation that anthropologists use. This should be followed by a systematic observation by a group of psychotherapists and social psychologists trained in small group behavior about the nature role-relationship and interpersonal influence processes in the counselor/client encounter. An in-depth inquiry into the theoretical framework used by the counselor, their diagnostic categories and procedures, and therapeutic strategies used by the counselor either formally or informally, may follow. It will be useful to know about the type of training received in this kind of work, and as far as possible an assessment of the effectiveness of the counseling.
There is no shortage of ways to develop a strong and complete psychology based on sound traditional principles. As I have indicated, there are many promising directions in which to develop a rich repertoire of research projects focused on principles expounded in the classical schools of Indian thought, in philosophy, psychology, and art.
We need to focus on phenomena of psychological significance in the life as lived by people of this region in their daily lives in society, religion, fine and performing arts, in seeking and providing traditional forms of counseling.
We need to develop confidence in our own tradition, and the courage to develop in novel directions without looking for approval from the West and the Westernized mainstream.
A practical suggestion
It will be very helpful if senior, established scholars in the field travel from campus to campus across the country, and speak to interested young researchers about the directions they might wish to take, and stimulate thinking on indigenous lines. Senior scholars may be invited to speak individually or in small groups, to give lectures to undergraduate and post-graduate students of psychology, and to engage in one-on-one discussions with young scholars.
Such activity, combined with organized series of topical workshops, small and large conferences, workshops and refreshers courses for young scholars, and organized efforts to help find resources and support will change the face of psychology in India in a healthier, self-confident and prosperous Indian psychology.
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