A Participant's view of the IPI introductory course in Indian psychology

Meenakshi Krishnan

The Chhandogya Upanishad describes the story of Indra, king of the gods, and Virochan, king of the demons, who both went to the great teacher, Prajapati, to learn the truth about the atman or self. They had heard that one who realises the self obtains all the worlds and all desires.
For 32 years they lived as pupils, practising austerities. Then, Prajapati told them, "That which is seen in the eye is the self. It is fearless and immortal. Look at yourselves in the water and whatever you do not understand, come and ask."
Both Indra and Virochan donned their finest clothes, looked in the water and reported, "We have seen the self, exactly like ourselves, well adorned." With this they departed, but Prajapati lamented at their non-comprehension, "Whosoever follows a false doctrine of the self will perish." Virochan returned to the demons and taught them that the body itself is to be served and worshipped.
Meanwhile, Indra, on his way back, thought to himself, "This self seems to be well dressed when the body is well dressed. So, will it be blind when the body is blind, lame when the body is lame, deformed when the body is deformed? And when the body dies, this same self will also die? Such knowledge is no good." He returned to Prajapati for further instruction and 32 years more of celibacy.
Then Prajapati said, "The self is that which moves about in dreams." But, again, before arriving home, Indra realised the futility of this knowledge, “… even in dreams one is conscious of much suffering."
After another 32 years, Prajapati taught him, "The self is that when a man is sound asleep, free from dreams and at perfect rest." Indra departed with this knowledge, but before he reached home he realised, "When asleep, one is not conscious of any existence. So, this knowledge is of no use either."
This time Prajapati asked him to stay for five years then said, "This body is mortal, always gripped by death. But within it, dwells the immortal self. This self, when associated with the consciousness of the body, is subject to pleasure and pain; and as long as this association continues, no man can find freedom. Rising above physical consciousness and knowing the self or atman to be distinct from the senses and the mind makes one free." Armed with this Atmagyan, Indra returned to the gods and taught them the secret of how to obtain all the worlds and all desires.

The Indian paradigm of psychology

The above story succinctly brings out the essence of the profound psychological insights embedded in the psycho-spiritual traditions of India. The notable emphasis is two fold – on the nature of the Self and on the method of enquiry.

  • Nature of the Self - As we find from Indra’s exploration, the self is the core of our being that is beyond and untouched by the body, mind, senses, or personality. It is the fundamental underlying unity which holds all manifestation, in their multitudinous forms, together. It is Pure Consciousness, referred to as Satchidananda – Consciousness, Existence, Bliss.

Socrates, one afternoon, walking the streets of Athens asked all passers-by, "Who are you?" People replied saying they were doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen and so on. When asked what he hoped to gain by this strange manner of questioning, Socrates explained, "People have described themselves in various ways, but no one has described himself as a man. I am in search of a man." Socrates was after a deeper answer, a search for the real man behind the persona and yet later Western philosophies and psychological enquires have gone in a superficial direction, yielding an understanding of man’s outer personality only – his mode of cognition, emotion, motivation and behaviour in the external world. It is in this depth of search that the Western and Eastern knowledge traditions differ. The very orientation to what they hold as the fundamental nature of reality and hence the lens, through which they look at the study of man, i.e. psychology, is diametrically different.

While modern academic psychology from its inception in the late 1800s, has uncovered much about the mechanisms of our outer nature and personalities (drawing from its close allies, physiology and philosophy), the Indian paradigm completes the picture of man by studying extensively the inner layers of existence. “I think therefore I am”, the statement of famous French philosopher Rene Descartes has influenced mankind into equating their existence and being with their thoughts. And yet Yogis and Rishis of yore have shown that even our mind is simply an instrument of perception at the service of an ever-still and ever-silent Purusha, the consciousnesswithin, that merely stands back and watches all that unfolds before it. Thus, the true nature of man is not limited to our conception of an Ego, well-adapted in the material world, but goes far beyond into subtler realms of Consciousness and total awareness. The Ego is not the end of our psychological analysis and complementing the Western paradigms of psychology with the Eastern and more specifically, Indian thought, can help create a new understanding of the scope and subject matter of modern academic psychology.

  • Method of enquiry – Having placed Consciousness at the heart of our self-enquiry, the Indian traditions have over thousands of years, since the times of the Vedas, developed precise methods to learn about and realise this source. The Yogis and Rishis (who we may call the earliest Indian psychologists) mastered the study of subjective phenomenon through techniques such as silencing the mind, turning inwards, withdrawing from the senses, and thus touching the true self, the Purusha within.

Indra demonstrates in the story above an unquenchable thirst for the real Truth, a questioning mind that expands in ever-widening circles of understanding, and a dedicated swadhyaya. Swadhyaya means actively meditating upon or studying the nature of the Self. It is a practice of self-observation, giving us a pause between stimulus and response. It is preceded by a necessary discipline and self-regulation to prepare the body and mind to move beyond the material world. Attitudes of faith, humility and surrender to the Divine, finally result in Yoga (from the root word, yuj, which means to join).

A defining characteristic of the Indian method of acquiring knowledge is an inside-out rather than outside-in approach. An inside-out approach confirms true knowledge as that which emerges from within and hence the nature of study is not acquisitive but self-reflective. The Indian Rishis are clear that they do not construct their knowledge but receive it directly through revelation, inspiration, intuition, and intuitive discrimination (dristhi, sruti, smriti, and ketu). According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas are apaurusheya, "not of human agency". They are supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called shruti ("what is heard"). Scientific knowledge is something external and constructed, it is something you have; Vedic knowledge is transformative, it changes who you are.

In Prajapati’s layered teaching we see still another facet of the Indian method, viz. the teaching of the highest truth is revealed only to a worthy student, one who has readied his mind and body to hold that spiritual knowledge (known as paraa vidya versus the knowledge about the world and matter, known as aparaa vidya). Committed self-enquiry and a direct perception of the truth by oneself alone are taken as proof of real knowledge. All forms of knowledge, through senses (pratyaksha), through inference (anumaana), through analogy (upamaana), through words of a trustworthy person (aaptavachana), or through spiritual literature (aagama) etc, are all provisional till one experiences self-revelation. Inner realisation, intuitive guidance and personal practice (sadhana) are the key.

Thus, we find that the Indian tradition has provided all the methodological tools that are required for true psychological knowledge and subsequent self-development. Yoga is an inner technology focused on changing one’s internal psychological reality, and self-observation is the first step of the ladder. The journey might seem arduous and protracted to the average person, but it should not deter us from undertaking this course of investigation that is crucial to attain a more complete picture of the human being. It is in the pursuit of Yoga that we find a sturdy foundation for psychological health.

The IPI endeavour

“Psychology without spirituality is arid and ultimately meaningless, while spirituality without grounding in psychological work leads to vanity and illusion.”

- Understanding the Enneagram, p. 366

The Indian Psychology Institute (IPI), a unit of the Sri Mira Trust, Pondicherry, was set up in 2006 with the aim of developing new approaches to psychology based on Indian philosophy, yoga and a life-affirming spirituality. It seeks to explore and develop what the Indian traditions can contribute to modern psychology in terms of theoretical models, specific insights, reliable methods, practical applications and avenues for future research.

A vast majority of Indian thinkers take consciousness, rather than matter as the basis of reality. Across the spectrum, philosophical schools describe the nature of ultimate reality as Satchidananda, an indissoluble unity of absolute existence, consciousness, and joy. It is out of this absolute consciousness, existence, and joy that the physical world comes into manifestation as just one type of world among many others. The Indian tradition, from the ancient Vedas to more recently Sri Aurobindo, provides a vast and comprehensive scheme that encompasses both materialism and spirituality. According to IPI, Yoga indicates all systematic efforts to become consciously one with the Divine, not only in its passive, transcendent aspect, but also in its manifest, dynamic presence. A life-affirming spirituality is a spirituality that accepts the world and human nature as a field for the Divine to manifest, as a "work in progress", as a reality that needs to be transcended in order to be transformed.

Psychology is one of the few disciplines that cuts across several spheres of our daily life, influencing our understanding and response to managing ourselves, our families, our colleagues, our customers, our time, our money, indeed even our politics and our environment. Only a change in our very conception of the essence of human nature can set right the violence, malaise, and fragmentation that we as a human race are experiencing today. The vision of the IPI is to impact and expand the domain of modern academic psychology that in so many ways contributes to the current world view of man. True to its aims, IPI has designed a foundational course in Indian Psychology that brings to light the wealth of psychological knowledge embedded in the wisdom teachings of Indian yogis and mystics. The course incorporates elements from the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagvad Gita, Patanjali’s Yogaustras and several other Indian schools of thought while primarily anchoring itself in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga. This enables participants to develop a comprehensive view of the scope of psychology in its real depth and breadth and encourages them to apply their learnings to personal and professional spheres. The discipline of psychology has a crucial role to play in how we live and operate in our world and what next level of evolution we take it to. The students of IPI learn how they can impact the discipline right from the philosophical and academic foundations to its applications.

Who is this course meant for?

“...All teaching is a revealing, all becoming is an unfolding. Self-attainment is the secret; self-knowledge and an increasing consciousness are the means and the process.”

- Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 54

It is this secret of self-attainment through the processes and tools of acquiring self-knowledge that this course is meant for. The motivations are many for which people pursue knowledge. Some to broaden their mental horizons, some to expand or change their line of work, some to feel more equipped in dealing with others/ the world and some for mere qualifications. The one key motivation needed to do this course is a will for Progress! The course offers a very high and wide perspective of the human journey, covering not just the ground neither just the sky that fashions the scope of Indian psychological thought. It encompasses a very broad scope that can contain every person at whatever level they are and help them travel to their own next level of personal and professional development. Thus, it is up to the individual, how far, how fast, how wide, and how tall they want to or can walk, using the insights gleaned during the six months of the course.

The course draws people who are genuinely seeking to understand human psychology and apply it in their professional work be it academics, management, counselling, human resources, health or personal life. Participants come from all walks and stages of life with an underlying common thread – seeking a path for greater self-realization and wishing to feed this self-understanding back into their academic or professional spheres. So, one maybe an Ayurvedic doctor, one a Yoga teacher, one a special needs educator, another a psychotherapist, another a counsellor, another a finance writer, one an organizational consultant and trainer, or even an IT professional and mechanical engineer; some are Masters and PhD students of psychology, some already professors, and some are from Auroville, already engaged in a spiritual search.

The expectations from the course too range widely, from wanting an introduction to Indian paradigms and their difference from prevailing academic psychology to applying it in clinical settings to focusing on one’s personal growth. Participants come in wishing to learn about broader theoretical frameworks that are more in tune with their inner and outer realities/ context; about various Indian schools of thoughts that have been largely been ignored in mainstream psychology; about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s philosophy and work; or to simply understand themselves better, experience themselves in a deeper way and gain practical and application-oriented methods for use in their personal and professional lives. Thus, the group composition and eclectic mix of foci indicate the universal and all-embracing nature of the program about to unfold.

Course format

“I felt ‘psychology’ as a subject became clear to me for the first time as an attempt to ‘understand/know myself’— till before this, one never focused on trying to understand the machinations of oneself — the focus was always outside — on trying to know and understand others — but today all that seems so inappropriate — because I hardly understand my own working and still stupidly try to judge others from that level of ‘no understanding’ about myself.”

- IPI Course Participant

The design offers participants a new worldview with regard to our make-up as human beings and the design and purpose of the human journey. It also helps participants cultivate themselves into fitting instruments for this journey and effect change in the human condition. It is not a textbook-led format, meant to merely supplement academic knowledge of modern psychology with Indian paradigms or help practitioners of human processes and social sciences to expand their skill sets with meditative and inward-turning tools. The course sets an intense pace of conceptual study, personal reflection and practical application spread over 6 months, by using multiple modes of learning: lectures, group sessions, individual sessions, and research projects. All these create an environment conducive for self-exploration and increased self-awareness, keeping in line with the Indian methodology of self-enquiry (swadhyaya)and disciplined practice (sadhana), in search of the Inner Self.

The course begins with an 8-day intensive that lays the groundwork for covering key questions that concern the current field of study in psychology, but all viewed through the lens of Indian psychological thought. Some keys questioned addressed are -

  • What is the Indian paradigm of knowledge?
  • How do I arrive at reliable psychological knowledge?
  • Who am I?
  • How do I know?
  • How do I enjoy, work, love?
  • How do I help others heal?
  • How do I help myself and others to learn and grow?
  • How do I help make society a better place to live and work in?
  • How do I find direction & my highest purpose in life?
  • How do I live and work under the guidance of my Highest Self?
  • How do I ensure my work is in alignment with my deepest inner harmony and contributes to society by furthering the evolution of Consciousness?

Through these questions the course covers topics concerning the philosophical basis and evolutionary perspective of the self; nature of self and personality; cognition and modes of knowing; yoga-based research methodologies; motivation and the aim of life; concepts of gunas, swabhava, swadharma, karmayoga; emotions and attitudes; individual change and development; personal relationships; professional applications of psychology in education, therapy, organisational psychology, and management. Subsequent sessions, conducted one weekend each month, pick up key themes and explore in greater detail the core theoretical and experiential constructs. This is done through pertinent concept sessions, lectures, handouts, small group discussions, meditative practices, individual research projects, and last but not least one-to-one sessions with the facilitators. These help establish a multi-dimensional perspective of man, helping unpeel layer after layer of our being and delving deeper and deeper into the essential nature of the Self.

Content coverage

“I had joined this course expecting that I would be oriented to some theoretical orientations in Indian Psychology, but it has helped me in understanding my phenomenological reality better. I have developed a better insight into my different ‘selves’ and understand the way I work better. At the same time it has made me aware of some of my limitations and given me the openness to work on these. I used to be afraid of changing myself— I find I am open to it now and would like to work on the different aspects.”

- IPI Course Participant

The conceptual underpinnings of the course are rooted in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga and his synthesis of the various Indian traditions. This provides a comprehensive psychological system that encompasses all elements of the human psyche, be it the conscious, the sub-conscious, the unconscious, or the super-conscious. Some of the program’s cornerstones are highlighted below –

A. The evolutionary scheme

The most significant contribution of Sri Aurobindo’s work to the pre-existing psychological Yogic insights is the articulation of the process of involution of Spirit into matter –where it all began, and to outline the several stages of evolution beyond man – where it is all headed. He offers a clear vision of man as a transitional being and the advent of a Superman or Supramental Consciousness as he and the Mother called it.

“The animal is the living laboratory in which Nature has, it is said, worked out man. Man himself may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom and with whose conscious co-operation she wills to work out the superman, the god…the realisation of God within and without are the highest and most legitimate aim possible to man upon earth.”

- Sri Aurobindo, the Life Divine, p. 3

B. Planes & parts of being

“Men do not know themselves and have not learned to distinguish the different parts of their being; for these are usually lumped together by them as mind…We are composed of many parts each of which contributes something to the total movement of our consciousness, our thought, will, sensation, feeling, action, but we do not see the origination or the course of these impulsions; we are aware only of their confused and pell-mell results on the surface…”

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 237

Amongst the several theories of personality and ways of understanding the self, the centrality of the individuated ego as an organizing principle is well accepted and even celebrated. However, the course helps to make a distinction between our outer self where the surface personality and ego sit and the inner being where the psychic entity and soul, our element of the Divine, are. In this light, Ego becomes to the Soul and the Psychic, what a scaffolding is to a building; a necessary supporting mechanism in the formative years, but important to be discarded or gone beyond for the real self to surface and take charge.

Sri Aurobindo says that we are composed of not one but of many personalities, each with its own demands and differing nature. He proposes two systems: one concentric, centered around the psychic being; and one vertical, reaching up from matter to the Supramental. This comprehensive view of man is captured in the succinct map of the Self given below:

Source: Indian Psychology Institute, 2008

C. Self-observation & stepping back

Observing oneself in every thought, word, and deed is a critical step in developing a deeper understanding of the various planes one operates from. One needs to disentangle oneself from involvement and attachment to the immediate circumstances, step back and take a larger view of oneself and the situation. Just as we hold a tapestry at arm’s length or further in order to truly appreciate the beauty of the design, similarly, we are able to better appreciate the circumstances of our life and why they are occurring, only when we view them from a detached and objective standpoint. If we were to hold the tapestry right in front of our nose we would see nothing. Similarly, if we are too engrossed and involved in a situation we are unable to truly act. Stepping back is the process of taking distance from the immediate environment/ situation/context/or action impulses. In this process, new insights into one’s motivations, actions and choices emerge. By observing oneself in this manner it is possible to unlock various aspects of oneself, move beyond the ego and attachments, and grow into a vaster and calmer sense of self. One acts as a witness, an observer, someone who looks on and does not act himself.

Often there is confusion between the mental activity of introspection and being a witness unto oneself. Most times when we try to be an observer, we end up becoming a judge and criticizing ourselves for making mistakes. J Krishnamurti clarifies, “…The man who wants to improve can never be aware, because with introspection goes self-criticism and condemnation…Self knowing is the silent observation of the I, Self. Self knowing is to be aware without any choice of the “me”…Awareness is not self-improvement. On the contrary, it is the ending of the ‘self’, the ‘I’.”

D. Processes of change & inner gestures

The course highlights the inner attitudes that are necessary for the movement within to start and grow. The “Good Five” are - aspiration/faith; sincerity/honesty; courage/perseverance; plasticity/ receptivity; and cheerfulness/compassion. Along with these, in times of difficulties, an attitude of surrender, remembering the Divine and offering the difficulty up to the light, is very helpful for receiving guidance. The Indian scriptures differentiate between dhyanajam karma, actions born out of meditation, deep self-enquiry and reflection versus karmajam karma, actions born out of desire for certain consequences. It is dhyanajam karma that helps us stay in the true nature of self without distractions. Thus, change can come about only when one wants to change from within. The Will for progress is a ‘must’. Equanimity or equality in the face of changing circumstances and experiences indicate that a certain measure of self-mastery has been attained.

E. Applications – growing from within

The problem of pain and suffering, an inseparable shadow of human existence; the yearning for love, that we constantly seek for in relationships; desire to help others and improve the world that we carry in our heart; all find their rightful meaning and place in our life, once we realise the inner truth. Acting under a Higher guidance, life manifests and flows out in harmony and joy that touches all fields of our endeavour be it psychology, management, psychotherapy, education, or social work.

“…the movements of consciousness were found by Vedic psychologists to be in their process and activity as regular, manageable and utilisable as the movements of physical forces. The powers of the soul can be as perfectly handled and as safely, methodically and puissantly directed to practical life-purposes of joy, power and light as the modern power of electricity can be used for human comfort,…”

-  Sri Aurobindo, Essays Divine and Human, p. 315

Course methodology

“…It’s like asking for a glass of water but getting a whole jug instead — which will no doubt quench my thirst, but there will also be a lot left after I have drunk from it — so that I can keep drinking it whenever I want – how much ever is needed for me and not wonder about losing or spilling the rest of it.”

- IPI Course Participant

Just as a building’s height is determined by the depth of its foundations, so is the impact and success of our external life in the world determined by the inner depth that we are able to reach. The central focus in the course is on increasing one’s self-awareness, and developing consciousness-based psychological skills and ­attitudes that then inform one’s worldview and action. The coherence of the content and the process toward creating an environment conducive for such learning and contemplation is crucial.

Concept sessions are substantiated by experiential activities like a quote walk, snowballing of discussions around questions like ‘What is Right action’, mind-mapping the universe of one’s relationships, conducting topical mini-projects, etc. Participants ponder over questions and concepts drawing personal meaning for oneself and then broaden their perspectives through small and large group discussions. Group members act as mirrors, reflecting back unique aspects of the same reality, thereby enlarging one’s field of vision. Resonances with colleagues, apparently different from oneself on the surface, make visible the underlying oneness and universality of human nature. As one participant voiced on behalf of many, “We all have similar battles and similar dilemmas to fight. The strength in numbers helps one review one’s problems from a wider perspective.” Thus, each person has their own unique “aha” moment of what it means to be truly human and what is means to be truly divine.

“The handouts, which we were given during this course were really precious pearls searched out and collected for us from the ocean of literature written by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They help me whenever, I read them on different occasions and for different purposes.”

- IPI Course Participant

Individual research projects play a crucial role in bringing alive for participants the meaning and applications of what they are studying. The projects are chosen around topics of personal interest in the domain of psychology. The structure combines literature review with first person accounts of the individuals’ own exploration and discovery. Progress is reviewed periodically and the modalities of subjective research examined. Final project submissions are intended to be a synthesis of personal and intellectual findings into a cogent and academically oriented paper that can add to the existing body of research in psychology.

Self-observation and stepping back are at the core of creating personal awareness. Maintaining a journal becomes an indispensable part of this process. Many of us have lost the patience to sit down and write out our thoughts and feelings. We find it easier to get busy with the next activity in order to distract our minds and emotions. Yet the wealth of insights that emerge when one takes a few moments to pen down even turbulent and muddled thoughts cannot be overestimated. The monthly reports act like notes on the way, marking milestones one has crossed. They become the basis for discussion and guidance during the personal one-to-one sessions with the facilitators during each weekend. Weekends conclude with ‘quiet time’ for each one to map where they experience themselves in the various planes and parts of being, and how they can practise and apply the concepts over the coming weeks.

Thus, the course through various means endeavours to create a context for change, without imposing any demands or restrictions, leaving each individual free to choose from a vast array of possibilities, to engage with one’s psychological knots. When one is willing to work on oneself and with oneself, in this guided process of self-exploration, one finds oneself gaining manifold what one had joined the course for.

“The model which was given was not something imposed on us but it was there within us which we had to access and understand. At the spiritual level it made us understand that spirituality is not something which comes from outside by theory but when you experience and learn you find it is in and around you. A bigger perspective emerges and one can begin to experience oneness.”

-IPI course participant

Program delivery

“The Teacher of Integral Yoga …will lead the disciple through the nature of the disciple…His whole business is to awaken the divine light and set working the divine force of which he himself is only a means and an aid, a body or a channel.”

- Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, pp. 60-61

Prajapati, in our story above, epitomizes the skills of a teacher of such veiled and concealed knowledge, as knowledge of the Self and the Divine. He supports his students’ quest throughout, demands rigour and discipline necessary to prepare the mind for such a profound enquiry, and reveals the nectar of Truth only to the deserving pupil when he is ready. He does not impose his knowledge or debate the concepts or force the learning. Similarly, the IPI course facilitators walk a tightrope between giving too much, too soon, too easily and encouraging the modern scientifically educated mind to suspend judgement in favour of experiencing oneself fully. They provide enough food for thought to stimulate the mind and curiosity and yet do not lose focus of the need to open the heart and develop a connection with self and others.

Just as the course participants draw from all walks of life, so do the course facilitators. They are medical doctors, teachers, researchers, management consultants. They follow varied paths – Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali, Bhakti Yoga from Bhagvad Gita, Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga – and converge at the same aim of helping raise individual and group consciousness. They present a view of man that is essentially Divine and exemplify the attributes of a seeker on the path, committed to personal practice. Like the ‘maun-munis’ of ancient times, sages who kept silent on all other topics except the one which they had direct experience of, the facilitators here speak from personal knowledge and experience rather than only from academic scholarship. They are able to articulate and readily empathize with the difficulties and challenges of this journey as well as share personal revelations and insights to help resolve the knots one might face. Living with integrity to their teaching, they are able to set an example that students greatly appreciate and try to emulate.

Program facilitation

Each group is unique, each individual is unique, and each session is unique. The facilitators work hard to stay centred in their deepest, truest selves in order to pick up the articulated and unarticulated needs of members, weaving them into the workshop. Sensing and shaping the process in the ‘here and now’ based on group energy is a constant labour of love. Managing a group of such diverse backgrounds, mental states, life stages, emotional make-ups, and personal quests is no small order requiring utmost alertness and dedication on part of the faculty to ensure a coherent atmosphere of growth for all. One may expect to see intellectual debates, arguments, unresolved issues and inter-personal tensions in a group so large (30-40 participants across the Pondicherry and Delhi batches). Instead one finds harmony, mutual affection and support flowering among the group members. Each individual is honoured and accepted for his/ her self and the diversity only underscores the common universality and oneness of the Consciousness.

As one says about the Yogasutras that each sutra is a thread around which the bead has to be woven by each individual sadhak based on his or her own needs, temperament, and goals; similarly the course and facilitators provide the basic thread that holds the group together, allowing each participant to explore his/ her individuality in a unique, deeply personal and meaningful way. Students become active and equal teachers for themselves (through self-study, journaling, personal research) and for others (through small group discussions, personal sharing, project reporting). Every session has an inherent structure and curriculum and yet the flow is so natural and engaging that participants rarely feel stifled or distracted. It is this exceptional blend of facilitator inputs and student enquiry that distinguish the course from other instructor-led learning events. The facilitators act more like gardeners watering the seed that is already within each one, nurturing the new blooms of personal insights, shining the light of new perspectives and providing shade and support through the difficult moments, angst, predicaments one encounters through one-to-one sessions. Never do they allow the discussions to become a therapy session of processing past wounds and hurts. Nor are they content to let participants stay at the level of mental truths. The important thing is for all to maintain the deepest possible consciousness of being throughout. The facilitators adroitly influence, nudge, cajole, and guide participants to offer their best energy for everyone to grow.

Program atmosphere

Creating the favourable environment is both a skill and an art. If one were to pick a few attributes to describe the Divine (though He is called Anantaguna, of countless attributes), the words readily that spring to mind are Sacred, Harmonious, Accepting and Unconditional Love. These very qualities are what one finds imbued in the atmosphere of the course. Whether it is asking participants to sit in a circle to create a flow of energy or arranging fresh flowers each day around the room, or commencing each session with an invocation to the Divine or closing each session to the lilt of temple bells, each movement adds a quality of Grace that subliminally permeates the being, and creates the right ambience and mindset for self-study and reflection. The unconditional love, warmth, and care of the organizers touches each heart in the room and opens a space within that few courses can hope to achieve even after years of instruction.

Shifting the frame of reference from an outward knowing inquisitiveness to an inner reflection and self-observation orientation is no mean feat, which this course successfully achieves. Meditative practices, seamlessly woven into the structure of the theoretical sessions, enable one to create an inner and outer atmosphere of deep peace and calm. The group shares  mindfulness exercises by observing a minute of silence at the start and close of each session; listening to the Mother’s music; reading words from Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem, Savitri;  sitting in meditation to watch one’s thoughts pass by like one watches clouds in the sky; or simply concentrating in the heart. Each of these simple techniques is practical and deeply intuitive. When done with sincerity they have the effect of gradually calming and quietening down the various parts of oneself and opening up the self to greater insights.

“What was amazing was the absolute “harmony” I felt with the facilitators and the rest of the group. We were there with a common aspiration. I have never felt any judgement but an atmosphere of openness and oneness.”

- IPI Course Participant

Course outcomes

“It was more than an academic workshop. This course not only provided information about the different philosophical trends of Indian approach but also gave a way to use those philosophical approaches in day-to-day life activities. So it was just more than I expected.”

- IPI course participant

The course is not just an inspiring, intellectually stimulating, and conceptually grounding experience, but also a personally enlightening and transformative experience for the participants. The new consciousness based paradigms, encompassing pertinent questions of psychology, are a revealing and instructive journey. The unanimous verdict of all students who do the course each year has consistently been – “more than expected.” Each one receives a wisdom that best suits his/ her needs, goals, and temperament. The course ensures that Universal Truths are made accessible to people in exactly the right measure and the right way for their individual progress.

“Everything is perfect. Everything can be improved.”

- Nithyashanthi

Changes in oneself

“I have been encouraged to take up all aspects of my surface instrument and purify them integrally toward a higher purpose. Keeping the goal of the Divine Life on earth had broadened my horizons incredibly. Seeing the ego as the helper and as the bar has been a key turning point in managing and changing myself. The triple movement of widening, heightening and deepening have led to a much more expanded awareness and sense of Self. The journey on many fronts has begun.”

- IPI Course Participant

What are the reasons people pursue psychology? - To deepen their understanding of themselves and others. The most significant outcome for every single participant of this course is a higher self-awareness of manifold aspects of themselves.

Participants report becoming more aware:

  • Of the functioning of the different parts and planes of my nature
  • Of my deeply embedded habits, behaviours, thoughts and feelings
  • Of my psychological and social self
  • Of what and how I am
  • Of my source of turmoil
  • Of my limitations and strengths
  • Of what I want from life and how to live it
  • Of my reactions in midst of various circumstances
  • Of the chattering of my mind
  • Of my life goals
  • Of problems and difficulties and new ways of solving these
  • Of the process of evolution
  • Of a higher presence

The result of this profound self-awareness can be felt rippling out in various aspects of one’s behaviour and interactions. More calmness, patience, equanimity in the face of trying circumstances, gratitude, sense of acceptance, and lesser worries and anxieties are of few of the concrete shifts one experiences in handling one’s relationships, one’s work and one’s life more effectively. One’s attitude towards others undergoes a sea change as one looks upon them with more openness, understanding and detachment. One can better appreciate others’ perspectives and thereby become more accepting and forgiving.

A large reason for this kind of a movement is first and foremost the acceptance of oneself that comes from self-observation. When the internal judge and commentator is quietened and a wider perspective of our purpose on Earth examined, one finds oneself to be part of a whole that is seeking to manifest and experience itself in multi-faceted ways. When one understands that at the centre of our being we are perfection, then beating ourselves up for mistakes becomes pointless. In that moment of self-acceptance, one can accept others too, step away from being judgemental of others, and deal with life situations with greater capacity and courage. The most crucial ingredient in this shift is taking responsibility for oneself and one’s circumstances completely, without excuses, alibi, or blame. One experiences first hand the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

The rate and pace of change or personal movement is varied for participants. For some it is an immense movement, for others slow, for some internal but not visible to others, and for others too difficult to put into words. One tries to live more and more from within, from a firm ground of truth and knowing which then exudes harmony, love and peace that ripple out in ever-widening circles of influence of the immediate environment.

“I am also feeling more centred, balanced and unified in my being.”

-IPI Course Participant

Changes in worldview

“There is a perfection in the now and yet, the possibility of a ‘higher’ equilibrium. So I can enjoy ‘today’ with as much love and yet aspire for something higher, wider and deeper.”

- IPI Course Participant

The course offers many novel paradigms and insights with which participants start looking at the world through fresh eyes. The most important of these is to understand the tenet of Sri Aurobindo that says, “Man is a transitional being.” This totally changes the view of the world and the purpose of our life in the world. We are not the top of the pyramid as the older worldviews of man’s power and conquest of nature would have us believe. We are but a stepping stone to a higher consciousness and force emerging upon earth and each of us must play our part in this scheme. Thus one examines one’s commitment to the call of the Divine by asking the existential question of our purpose on Earth – Do I seek the Divine to make my life a little more happy and comfortable or do I seek to be of genuine service in the evolutionary journey of mankind?

The other important shift in consciousness is an acceptance of life in general as one realises that it is not a set of random events or chance occurrences, but all is the play of the Divine. This brings compassion and tolerance for what on the surface seems to us as senseless or unjustified. Evolution takes a long time and one must not be in a hurry to see the results. “Everyone has the aspiration to change; is growing; making mistakes,” as one of the participants put it.

A toolbox for life

The ideas, techniques, practices, and frameworks presented in the course add up to a very comprehensive toolkit that one can dip into at every occasion to help one grow and make further progress. An academic adventure ends up for many as a spiritual sadhana. The group becomes a place of satsang, where people can live and talk about eternal principles and conscious truths. All the learnings are practical and applicable to the world and daily life. Nothing remains at an esoteric, conceptual level. The deceptively simple techniques of silencing the mind, self-observation, and going within can be depended upon anytime, anywhere. Participants move to a higher level of efficacy and functioning in their lives as they are able to view themselves through myriad lenses and organize their self-knowledge into newer and finer insights. Unconditional love, a questioning mindset, new belief systems and an inner silence are just a few intangibles one gains along the way. Thus, psychology moves out of the theoretical domain and takes on a purposive and practical aspect.

“Going on an inner journey or quest, penetrating through the different layers of the being and observing certain gross changes in myself were definitely one of the perks of the course. Moving towards spirituality is not the matter of loss and gain, getting more or less, success and failure but the ultimate [aim] of our human life.”

- IPI Course Participant

Conclusion – An integrated psychology, the need of the hour

“I felt ‘psychology’ as a subject became clear to me for the first time as an attempt to ‘understand/ know myself’ – focus on understanding myself and the stupidity of trying to understand others before changing oneself.”

- IPI Course Participant

Every sphere of human affairs today is marked by an acute crisis. The economic crisis of 2008 that almost brought the world economy to its knees was as much about complex derivative instruments gone wrong, as it was about human greed, risk taking gone too far and basic fear. The environmental disaster that unfolded in the Gulf of Mexico was as much about a technical snag as about a lack of conscience and concern for the environment. The impending food and water crisis are as much about overpopulation and scarcity of resources (on an abundant planet) as about issues around power and competition among peoples, communities and nations. The increase in stress and consequent manifold health problems are as much a result of a consumerist lifestyle as about a feeling of inner lack and emptiness that drives external acquisition. The frequent ongoing wars, violence, and terrorism are as much about territorial integrity and nationhood as about a search for real anchors, personal meaning, and an inner moral and spiritual compass.

The aim is not to lament about the state of current affairs, but to draw a link between these crises and a crisis in modern psychology. Our view of man, his motive forces, his strivings, his potentials and his place in the Universe are governed in large part by the philosophical, conceptual frameworks and practical tools provided by modern academic psychology. These worldviews inform decisions in politics, business, finance, environment, education, and healthcare almost on a daily basis. Be it the mind-body connection that has created interest in psycho-neuro-immunology or the impact of behaviour on stock markets studied by behavioural finance, or artificial intelligence and modern computing or even the search for a single theory about the origins of the Universe, all fields of science, natural or social, are impacted by the developments in psychology. Unfortunately the psycho-social maturity of mankind has not kept up with the techno-economic progress of our times.

Psychology derives from the ancient Greek words “psych”, meaning "breath", "spirit", or "soul"; and “-logia ”, translated as "study of". It was meant to be a "study of the soul". However, efforts to make it a truly scientific discipline using the methods of systematic observation, experimentation, and measurement curtailed the scope of the subject matter of psychology. Methodological constraints led to many research questions being rejected or not being framed at all. Behaviorism held sway for most part of the 20th C and still continues to influence the common man’s perception and application of psychological principles in daily life. Limiting the view of man to a material and reductionist principle has not served humanity. Later day developments in cognitive psychology and social constructivism have tried somewhat to expand the variables under study. Transpersonal psychology still remains at the periphery. Traditional academic psychology has become the ‘science of behaviour’, relying primarily on a physicalist view of reality while the original assignment of psychology, its svadharma one could say, was to be the science of the soul, the science of our inner being, the science of consciousness.

The goal of Indian psychology is not just to develop a culturally appropriate psychology that better suits the Indian people but to offer a worldview that contributes to the total understanding of man in his self, social and psychological ramifications. It is a call to take a more ‘whole’ view rather than ‘partial’ view of man. Turning around the mindset of people acquainted with the discipline of psychology from a focus only on externally observed behaviour to attention to Consciousness is a major contribution to the understanding of man in particular and humanity in general. Just as the part depends upon the whole, the whole too emerges as a result of its interacting and conscious parts. Inner processes of transformation and expansion of consciousness have to be triggered within each person who in turn can imbibe and embody wholesome living.

The IPI course is a significant step in grooming and shaping the new generation of psychologists who can set the agenda for a greater psychology of the future. As a new crop of psychologists, be it in academia or in applied fields, venture forth into the world, a domino effect can be set in motion where a new worldview of spiritually embodied, evolving human beings cascade across all endeavours of mankind thereby bringing about our ideal of progress and oneness into a concreter reality.  Physics as a discipline, on which Psychology has sought to fashion itself, has today moved toward a more systemic and quantum view of the Universe. Intangible and unseen entities are no longer considered non-existent or beyond the scope of science. Psychology too, must make this quantum leap of allowing for first and second person subjective accounts as equally valid data as third person analysis. Integrating techniques from the Indian psycho-spiritual traditions of the Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Yogasutras, and modern day philosophers like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda can help revive and revitalise psychology to its original mandate and truly make it a science contributing to human progress.

“As the Consciousness is, so will the Force be.”

- Sri Aurobind, Life Divine, p. 210




Introducing Indian Psychology: the Basics, paper presented on 22nd  October 2001 at Kollam, Kerala, at the National Seminar on Psychology in India: Past Present and Future by Dr. Matthijs Cornelissen, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry

J Krishnamurti, in Disintegrity of Self-Centeredness, Integrity in Self Knowing: A Perspective of J Krishnamurti by G Aruna Mohan, in Towards a Spiritual Psychology, Essays on Indian Psychology, 2005

Patanjali Yogasutras, Kaivalya Pada, Sutra no. 6: tatra dhy?najam an??aya? talks of the dhyanajam aspect and the Bhagvad Gita, Chapter 2, Sloka 51 mentions Karma Jam as fruitive actions.

Ashok Malhotra, Child Man: The Selfless Narcissist, Routledge India, 2010