Spiritual Experience and Psychoanalysis

Humanity has a tendency to try to judge everything by its existing level of perception and knowledge. Thus, for most of human existence, people ‘knew’ that the sun rotated around the earth and that the earth was the center of the universe around which everything else moved and upon which everything else depended. As humanity developed a greater knowledge, including enhanced powers of perception, and more effective use of the powers of the mind, this misconception was eventually cleared up and a totally new basis of knowledge about the earth and the sun and their relations was able to replace the old model.

Similarly, as new powers begin to develop and manifest themselves under the impulsion of the evolutionary growth of consciousness, humanity tries to interpret and judge these new ways of seeing, thinking and acting according to the framework of its existing understanding. This means that in many cases, powers of intuition, insight and psychological development are seen as something abnormal, and in many cases, people who experience these new powers are branded as psychologically defective or imbalanced and are certainly considered to be outside what can be considered the normal human consciousness. It is true that in some cases they are recognised as geniuses, particularly when they lead an advance that transforms some aspect of life in the world, but in most cases, this designation of ‘genius’ comes only after much pain and suffering, frequently posthumously, and until that time they are considered ‘mad’ and ostracized from the norm of social intercourse.

The ancient sages had a different perspective. They recognised that not only could higher powers exist and manifest, but that the limitations of the human mind would make it impossible for the mind to truly understand and judge these newly developing powers. They also expressed the understanding that nothing can evolve from Matter that is not already involved in Matter, and used the image of the eternal Ashwattha tree, with its roots above and branches downwards to signify that these developments took place first in a higher sphere before taking form in the material world.

Western psychologists at some point recognised that there were forces at work that affected human behavior that could not be explained through normal, logical processes of mind, emotions or nervous perceptions. They discovered that there is a subconscious, and eventually posited a ‘collective unconscious’ that was the repository of numerous drives that took over and acted on the human individual without his conscious decision or knowledge. They then began to try to analyse these hidden forces, but without recognising that just as there are forces ‘below’ our perception, there are also forces ‘above’ and that it is the higher forces that are, in the end, determinative.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “I find it difficult to take these psycho-analysts at all seriously when they try to scrutinise spiritual experience by the flicker of their torch-lights, — yet perhaps one ought to, for half-knowledge is a powerful thing and can be a great obstacle to the coming in front of the true Truth. This new psychology looks to me very much like children learning some summary and not very adequate alphabet, exulting in putting their a-b-c-d of the subconscient and the mysterious underground super-ego together and imagining that their first book of obscure beginnings (c-a-t cat, t-r-e-e tree) is the very heart of the real knowledge. They look from down up and explain the higher lights by the lower obscurities; but the foundation of these things is above and not below, … . The superconscient, not the subconscient, is the true foundation of things. The significance of the lotus is not to be found by analysing the secrets of the mud from which it grows here; its secret is to be found in the heavenly archetype of the lotus that blooms for ever in the Light above. The self-chosen field of these psychologists is besides poor, dark and limited; you must know the whole before you can know the part and the highest before you can truly understand the lowest. That is the promise of the greater psychology awaiting its hour before which these poor gropings will disappear and come to nothing.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Subconscient, pp. 262-267

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