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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Comparative Psychology

East West Psychology

Two outstanding titles by a French psychiatrist and Indologist provides one of the most well informed and refreshing discussions of Indian spirituality. When we reviewed these two titles we were dismayed to discover they did not have ISBN which means they would not be listed with most on-line sellers of books. However South Asia Books has imported them and can supply them. They are definitely worth a read.

THE INDIAN TEACHING TRADITION: A Psychological and Spiritual Study by Jacques Vigne B.R. Publishing (South Asia Books, dist., P.O. Box 502, Columbia, MO 65205, orders: 573-474-0115, Fax: 573-474-8124, E-mail: sabooks@juno.com)

In THE INDIAN TEACHING TRADITION the author discusses in detail the Guru-disciple relationship in India, explaining its usefulness and pitfalls in the transmission of the spiritual experience. Through the example Hinduism, he presents the universals of the teaching relationship in spirituality. A psychologically astute description of the Guru traditions with its various forms of etiquette and various approaches are delineated. Then Vigne offers insight into psychological, social and familial context of India cultural and spiritual life. Vigne chose fourteen salient themes to describe different aspects of the Guru-disciple relationship. His example are chosen from his extensive fieldwork and of his meeting with a dozen significant contemporary Indian Gurus.

An actual comparison between guru and psychotherapist practice and theory is suggested along some surprising lines. Further he compares and differentiates the psychological transference theory and guru-bhakti devotionalism. He also offers some brief discussions of psychotherapy and meditation.

At the end of the volume there is a short anthology of texts about the Guru from such classic sources as the Upanishads to modern masters such as Shri Aurobindo and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Excerpts highlighting bhakti attitudes from Jnaneshwar to Kabir’s songs are also given. This study along with the author’s other volumes represent some of the best humane interpretations of the Indian religious tradition for Western consumption.

THE INDIAN TEACHING TRADITION may be useful for teachers, parents, general readers who want to understand the Indian Tradition and its mysterious capability through which a human being can help another in his inner life.


The Methods of Milton Erickson and the Indian Guru

I have, till now, evoked rather the psychotherapies of Psychoanalytic inspiration. I would like, at present, to specify some similarities between the Indian guru and a therapist who has been considered as an original thinking master by many American schools of psychotherapy: Milton Erickson. Among the many therapeutic recipes by Erickson, some are often found among the Indian gurus: the open suggestion, for instance, by which one bypasses the patient’s resistances by speaking about somebody else, or by telling a story which seems a free association of the therapist but which aims really at the patient. Through the method of sequences of acceptance (yes set) and truism, some evident affirmations (you are twenty-four years old, you are Mr. So and So … ) are associated to suggestions which are less so ( … and you are going to pass your upcoming examination without fright). This method consents to mix therapeutic influence in an average conversation; it is often used by the gurus as well. The ‘literalism’ consists in taking literally what the patient says in a status of deep relaxation, and in being aware that he could take equally literally the suggestions made to him in such a moment. This literalism is also found between guru and disciple: their relationship may likely take the aspect of children’s play, in which what is said has its actuality in full right. The imitation of the patient by the psychologist with a therapeutic aim may consist, for instance, (taking here an anecdote of Erickson himself), of walking up and down the consultation room with a patient who complains that he cannot stop moving and so doing for some time a "therapeutic march"; or it is to speak the incomprehensible jargon of a schizophrenic (schizophasy) during some hours in order to again establish contact with him." In a general way, the good therapist, like the good guru, learns quickly to speak the language of the patient and to act with what the latter brings him. Erickson gave a familial touch to his therapies. He could go walking with his patients, or introducing his relatives to them in the therapeutic process. He did not have any elaborate theory about personality, but a solid practical philosophy of life. He advised his patients to awaken the inner resources by self hypnosis, corresponding more or less to concentration (dharana) in Yoga, and he asked them to remember, in the deepest meaning of the word. "You know already," he said to them, "but you do not know that you know."" Such advice could be a good definition of meditation (dhyana).

An analogy between Erickson and the Indian yogi is worth pointing out: the nonidentification with the body; Erickson had two attacks of poliomyelitis. At the time of the first attack at the age of seventeen, he could move only his eyes, the rest of his body was paralyzed. He almost cured himself, but at the time of his second attack, at the age of fifty one years, he lost forever the use of his legs and practiced psychotherapy in a wheelchair for the last thirty years of his life. His energy, which could no longer be expressed in the usual activities of his body, had been transformed in an intense awareness. It is precisely such an activity of consciousness that is sought by the yogi through the immobility of meditation. Erickson’s habit of not identifying himself with his body, is surely to be related to the way by which he knew how to create his own path by not identifying himself with the therapeutic fashions of his period; most of the practitioners had the tendency to consider the latter as "the" reality.

Notwithstanding all these common elements, there are clear differences between the Indian Sadguru and Erickson: the latter made short therapies, did not insist on a long term personal practice for his patient and, regardless of what he says, he did not appear dissatisfied about his power to influence people, without their own awareness. His idea of "prescribing the symptom" (for instance, to tell a overeater to gulp down four boxes of chocolate in order to be disgusted once and for all) can work for some "small symptoms", in order to unlock a situation wedged in the frame of a short term therapy, but it could also act as a destructive suggestion if it is wrongly used, for instance systematically and for a long time.

Like Erickson, Carl Rogers has developed his ideas primarily with respect to short term therapies." Nevertheless, his central idea, "empathy" between therapist and patient, is also, it can be said, a central idea of the relationship between guru and disciple. The Master, by seeing the Absolute in all, knows how to give to all, and especially to those who ask him for advice, an "unconditionally positive gaze."

What Reflection about the Guru May Bring to the Psychotherapist

By studying what a Sadguru is, the therapist may learn how to improve his practice: he may better see how to avoid, for instance, flattering the client by approving, if by nothing else than through his silence in certain key moments, the blunders made by the latter. "Silence means consent"… It is, nevertheless, a delicate matter, because to tell a patient straight-away that one does not agree with him, risks the relationship stopping right there. The guru’s method is to freely give love from the beginning, and to increase little by little the level of requirements suggested by him. The psychotherapist could also better understand how to have a good therapeutic relationship without letting it be ‘eroticized’ .It could be said: "If eroticism helps the relationship, why not?" Maybe, but the only problem is that it does not help in the long term; behind an immediate interest, it leads to a reciprocal distrust, hindering a real therapeutic action.

The main elements in the guru disciple relationship that could interest the therapist may be concentrated in Seven points:

1. To clearly consider the fact that work on oneself is a lifelong labor. To do a short psychotherapy and then stop all inner work will not lead very far, whatever may be the qualities of the consulted therapist and of his method could be. To claim that one "meditates in action" is often to cheat oneself. It is true that one has this end in mind, but it is already difficult enough to realize it in practice; it is difficult to meditate correctly when one is properly seated and has nothing else to do. A comparison may help to grasp this first point: if one has had a rotten tooth cured by a dentist, this should not lead one to think that from that time on one’s teeth no longer need cleaning.

2. In the long run, it is better to be fixed on the mind’s potentialities than on its pathological aspects. Jalaluddin Rumi a Sufi master of Asia Minor in the Middle Ages, used to say: "If you pass your time looking at the floor, you will have no chance of catching sight of the ceiling." I have listened to a therapist who translated this idea in a manner that could not be more concrete: "You could start again to speak to me about your problems in this sitting, but you have to pay double. If you begin to talk about your potentialities, you shall pay halfrate."

It is better to devote the little free time one has mainly to developing the usual awareness of the actual instant through meditation practice, than to overcharge the mind with theoretical psychological elaborations, which in practice are as useful as sword strokes in water. This intellectual knowledge rather runs the risk of acting as a buffer between the actual patient and the actual therapist.

4. Acquiring the habit of finding in oneself one’s own therapeutic resources and, once one has secured a little professionality and maturity, stopping going from seminar to seminar and from one training to another. Therapists want to have more and more therapeutic recipes; but in the same way as the theoretical knowledge just mentioned above, such recipes, being sometimes contradictory to one another, risk acting as a buffer, hindering rather than helping in a direct relationship with a patient. Montaigne used to say: "All ages are good for learning, but all of them are not suitable for schoolish amusements."

5. A psychotherapist reflecting about the link between guru and renouncer perhaps should also rethink the received opinion according to which payment is an indispensable factor to the success of a counseling relationship. The disciple, normally, makes some donations to his guru, but it is not a fixed price meant to pay for a "consultation" .For Hindus, the Sadguru is entitled to spiritual power first of all because he is a renouncer, although there are some exceptions to the rule, where the renunciation is only on the mental level. In our Western context it is clear that a therapist needs a salary in order ‘to live. Certainly, if the patient pays, this means that he has at least a minimum of motivation; but he may also pay for as an act of "resistance", for convincing himself that the therapist is his employee, that he is financially interested and because of this the patient has no chances to be cured by him; or even, if he has a bad conscience, we have seen that he may pay in order to collect from the curer an approving silence when he can no longer manage alone with the reproaches of his own conscience. This question of payment is at least ambiguous and, in my opinion, there is no need to look for too many theoretical justifications for what is first of all a practical necessity for assuring the material life of the therapist.

6. The guru, by accepting disciples, takes upon himself their karma, the untoward consequences of their antecedent actions. He has prepared himself for this delicate task through a considerable meditation practice. This fact may give matter for reflection to those among the Western psychotherapists who are sufficiently sensible to perceive the risks of their job. It is perhaps because of this influence of such a "taking over of negative karma" that Buddhist or Tantric texts do not recommend to take a medical doctor as a guru. He does not have his mind free enough, because of his professional and human responsibilities, to be able to devote himself to an intensive spiritual practice and, additionally, to his possible disciples.

7. Psychotherapy has seen a certain number of links between libido and portions of psychical activity which looked very far from it; it talks a lot about repression and little about sublimation. For Indian psychology, sublimation (ojhas) is actually the means to avoid repression, at least for the minority who worry about internal evolution. It is the result of understanding the functioning of mind. If sublimation or transmutation of sexual energy is done even partially, repression of a second basic instinct is avoided: the instinct of awareness, the spiritual instinct. If this latter is kept under the bushel, many psychical troubles may occur, the most evident being existential depression, as well as its equivalents or consequences: toxicomania, alcoholism, hypochondria, and sometimes suicide.

May the Psychotherapist Benefit for himself from Meditation Practice?

The psychotherapist may benefit from it on many levels: to start with he may develop his therapist’s intuition, which is an essential factor of his efficacy. All agree in recognizing this, but it is not said how to refine this intuition: certainly a didactic psychotherapy may be made over time, or through reading literature, or going to the cinema to see "psychological dramas" or watching what happens around oneself, but the most direct way for developing one’s psychological intuition remains meditation; it favors a "habit of presence in the moment", a habit that is very quickly lost if one does not consciously keep it up.

Another benefit of doing meditation for the therapist between two working days is that one gets distance from the seen pathologies and so will not report or project them unknowingly on the patients he shall meet next day. It is said that the principal cause of bacteriological contamination among patients in a hospital is the medical doctors who examine them one after another without washing their hands in between; the same goes in psychotherapy; it is easy to "contaminate" a patient who is not so severe with the anguish of a desperate patient seen just before. An evident criterion for judging a good therapist is whether he actually makes his patients feel better. But I should say, to be more modest, that he, already a good therapist who does not involve one patient in the psychic suffering of the others, through excessive pathological labeling for instance. Jung seems to me being more realistic than Freud when he says: "The therapist is more the victim than the creator of the transference."

There is nothing better than a regular practice of meditation to give a therapist a real spiritual opening in his work. This goes further than a simple intellectual interest regarding spiritual paths, or than two or three inner experiences which came during a weekend workshop. If this practice is accompanied by an improvement in daily behavior, it will be an effective inner progress for therapists. Too often therapists, because they do not know how to meditate for the or imagine that they do not have time to do it, believe that the development of professional skill may replace a spiritual work on themselves. To my mind, this is an illusion. It is enough to see how many healers, notwithstanding their good knowledge of the strings of their job, have a rather dull personal life, with nothing special, if not disturbed.


B.R. Publishing (South Asia Books, dist., P.O. Box 502, Columbia, MO 65205, orders: 573-474-0115, Fax: 573-474-8124, E-mail: sabooks@juno.com)

$28.00, cloth, 229 pages, index

In INDIAN WISDOM, CHRISTIANITY AND MODERN PSYCHOLOGY Vigne shows how psychological and spiritual sufferings are interwoven, and how Hindu tradition with its answers can collaborate with psychology to alleviate them. He starts by questioning the Western notion of normality, saying it reduces us and our spiritual potentials for growth to kind of average neurosis. He speaks of expression or depression-like reactions as an opening door towards spirituality, if dealt with in the right way. He attempts to discriminate between pathology and mysticism in what is called by psychologists regression and dissociation, and can be in some cases the awakening of the spiritual childhood or liberation of the mind from social conditionings. Vigne, who has been familiar with Christian monasteries as well, tries to understand why the spiritual transmission in Christianity has been more institutional, while in Hinduism it has been more from Guru to disciple. He further develops the comparison between nondualism in India and among certain Christian mystics.

INDIAN WISDOM, CHRISTIANITY AND MODERN PSYCHOLOGY is written for the reader who is not resign to live within closed compartments, but whose mind and heart is searching for the unity beyond diversity.


Spiritual Psychology Extended Beyond Itself

I do not want to enclose spiritual psychology within a system; in fact, in my opinion, this psychology cannot hope to help us to go beyond ourselves, if, in itself, it is not capable of doing so. For this reason I do not define it. "Psychology" and "spiritual" are two common words. Everyone who comes across them can, therefore, give them some meaning. If, on the other hand, one wishes to know, more precisely, my interpretation of these words, it is enough to have the patience to read this book.

I will study some differences between the fields of psychotherapy and spirituality, where the subjects of Yoga and psychotherapy are dealt with. I can, however, give some points of reference immediately: psychotherapy is clearly indicated for obviously pathological cases, as well as for those people with an impulsive or inhibited personality, for whom verbalizing certain problems represents great progress, a first step towards overcoming that ignorance which is the root of all illness, It is also, naturally, indicated for those who are afraid of the spiritual, and who are happy in their "implicit atheism" .Psychotherapy will at least have the advantage of making them realize that the brain does not function like a calculator…

On the other and, for those with some spiritual aspirations, who are engaged in long-term work on themselves, taking the help of a psychotherapist could be risky. They could come across a psychotherapist who has less spiritual intuition than themselves, imprisoned as he is, behind the bars of his own knowledge and by the anguish of his patient’s anguish he cannot help but reflect. Spiritual aspiration is very fragile at the beginning. It is a small flame which is easily extinguished, especially by a therapist who does not know much about it, but who impresses the client with two or three common expressions borrowed from a course of the first year in psychology. If the healer himself is engaged upon the spiritual path, another kind of problem arises: the therapist will, most probably, be taken as a guru by the patient; it is not easy in practice, to disentangle oneself from this projection. Saint John of the Cross spoke out strongly against the harm done to the soul by incompetent spiritual leaders. He accused them of leading a mediocre religious life, and of having mainly an intellectual knowledge of the different stages of man’s inner life. What then, can be said of psychotherapists who do not have even this knowledge?

One can consider psychotherapy as a technique. As such reading books on psychotherapy, if associated with meditation, can be considered sufficient to understand many things, while waiting to find the guru. On the other hand, the patient may directly receive from the therapists the impulse to evolve by identifying himself with him. In this case, he has to be sure of the purity of the helper’s mind. In fact, this process of identification spontaneously affects the individual as a whole. To discriminate between the "good" elements which should enter the relationship, and the not so good ones which should not, is as delicate a matter for he who helps as it is for he who receives the help. Why should not a person interested in the spiritual path directly seek a spiritual teacher, even though this teacher has not attained perfection and is less available than the psychotherapist for discussing his personal problems? Why not include the dimensions of altruism, compassion and transcendence, which characterize the spiritual path as compared to a therapy, at the very outset" Whatever choice a person needing help makes, making it with discrimination is essential. The psychospiritual field is necessarily a vague, indeterminate one for the beginner, truth being blended with pious illusions, even unadulterated hypocrisy, the good grain being mixed with the bad, it is essential that the spiritual seeker be like "harnsa" (swan) of Indian tales, capable of separating, the milk from the water.’ The main method of evolution in psychotherapy is the ability to talk about one’s personal problems in detail, this is less important in a relationship based on spiritual help. There are many reasons for this : a disciple has a long-term relationship with his guru, who is endowed with a good memory, and who has no need to listen to the repeated explanations of the difficulties already mentioned by this disciple. To use language to bring about an evolution is a superficial approach: for those who have had the silent experience of meditation, language is only a small part of the communication, a sort of support, to help one get started. It can actually do great harm to that which arises spontaneously within oneself, it can strike a blow at the process of inner flowering. It is useful for patients with little or no ability of introspection, and for those who are undergoing a serious crisis. It is obviously difficult to avoid the use of language in psychotherapy, which is based on the model of medical consultation, where one tries to rapidly evaluate a case or a situation. For more mature persons who seeks help, however, silence, or words encouraging to enter a given practice, or even conversations about things other than psychological problems, are equally effective. This situation thus bypasses the framework of formal consultation and can include all kind of situations of everyday life, as is the case in the relationship between the guru and his disciple.

Someone used to the functions of psychotherapy will be amazed at the reticence of a spiritual aspirant to talk about his inner experiences: just as the privacy of a couple’s life lends its charm, so too, the charm of the inner life of a spiritual seeker springs from the fact that it remains within. Talking relieves, it is true, but is not this relief more or less a symptomatic one? The spiritual seeker is not necessarily looking for relief, he wants to go the root of his problem. This effort needs a great deal of energy and silence is one of the factors which gives him this energy. For someone who already has some knowledge of the state of his mind the more direct path is to avoid losing himself in the labyrinth of inner analysis, in order to entirely and repeatedly dissociate himself from his mind. Ramana Maharishi has said to this effect, "When you empty out a dustbin, you do not go into the details of all that it contains. You just empty it out, and that is all." This is the best method for those who have a certain maturity and enough motivation. Another difference can be mentioned here : the aim of psychology is to bandage wounds, to improve affective relationships and love; the spiritual path seeks, besides all this, to discover the essence of love.

I would like to state that I do not consider myself as a spiritual teacher. I am a seeker who treads his path, and wants to understand the basis of spiritual psychology, with all that he knows about the West in his capacity as a former practicing psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and with what he has sensed through the practice of Yoga and meditation during the five years that he has been in India. I just wanted to convey that which I know to be useful by experience. I do not feel as if I have been entrusted with a special mission to influence others, especially since I do not practice as a therapist any more. By repeating with conviction certain ideas of elementary psychology which were the Oriental spiritual paths are associated with bodily practices, like the attention to posture in meditation, New methods of psychotherapy are discovering this aspect in their own way. If I do not emphasize it in this book, it is only because I consider it a point already made. I am not an expert on ‘hathayoga’, but I have been practicing it daily for almost twenty years, and it has done my body and my mind a great deal of good, besides, teaching it to my patients has helped me to establish a better therapeutic relationship with them. I am supposed to have helped my patients. I felt the risk of believing them myself and of being reduced to a more and more automatic communication. I therefore decided to devote my energy, over a certain period, to more intensive inner work. Sometime during the course of evolution, the spirit of man obtains this unique faculty of being able to free itself. I chose to work towards making use of this faculty.

After having practiced for five years in a psychiatric hospital, where I was doing psychotherapy too, and having spent more than five years in a traditional milieu in India, I have some firm basis for establishing a comparison between the two helping systems. Having lived in the midst of a population of nine hundred million who develop their own minds quite well without any recourse to Western psychology, has naturally helped me to get rid of my intellectual ethnocentrism, and to widen my perspectives. Modem psychology can be compared to a building it is very difficult to see its overall proportions when one lives and works in one of its rooms. It is better to move out of it and look at it from a distance, in order to get a wider view. My spiritual practice is that of Vedanta, of meditation on nonduality. Although I continue to respect Western psychology for what it gave me in the beginning, and for what it continues to give to others, I do not use it myself for exploring my own mind. I now refer directly to the teachings of sages, who, having tread the path themselves, are able to provide all the necessary points of reference.

Given the modest dimensions of this book, I am far from being able to develop all my ideas. I have suggested more than I have explicitly expressed, but I have faith in reader, knowing that he will be able to explore more deeply on his own, whichever aspects appeal to him directly. This is not to say that for the rest of my life I will continue to write on psychology or comparative religions. Tradition brings forth the direct perception of the Absolute (aparokshanubhuti). There is a stage where only the ideas and concepts seem clear and real, and what is beyond seems a mere shadow; but the testimony of sages and mystics of the past assures us that there exists a following stage, where one directly experiences the reality of the Reality, and the ideas appear to be what they actually are shadows. It is perhaps this kind of realization that Thomas of Aquinas had, when he said, some weeks before his death, "At present, all that I have written seems like straw."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Jacques Vigne was born in Paris in 1956. He is a medical doctor, and psychiatrist and psychotherapist trained in France, he further has degrees in Indology, granted in India.

His works were first published in French and have been quite popular in France and in translation in Poland. There are three main approaches for Vigne to an understanding of the mind: the Eastern one, based on the Indian tradition, the traditional Western one, founded on Christianity and the modern Western one which corresponds to psychology. A comparison of the three approaches will be found in INDIAN WISDOM, CHRISTIANITY AND MODERN PSYCHOLOGY. In THE INDIAN TEACHING TRADITION Vigne offers an original interpretation of the Guru-disciple relationship that attempts to overcome the authoritarian abuses that have so mischaracterized it in the western liberal tradition. This is an ambitious program to which he brings an especially comprehensive intelligence and a recognition of the necessity of global understanding. Vigne’s Christian origin and training, his studies of psychiatry and his practice of Indian spirituality in its Vedantic form has made him uniquely qualified to comment upon this synthesis of cultures and sciences. Each of these three approaches to the mind has its own individuality and internal logic, but such uniqueness only shows how they have much in common at the core of human experience.

For the past twelve years Dr. Vigne has lived in India. He has entered into the experience the master-disciple relationship. Dr. Vigne may be considered as a second generation representative of the meeting of French people with Hindu spirituality. After traveling widely throughout India, he has written profusely on Hindu spiritual psychology and devotes much his time to spiritual practice. He has also written two short stories in French that evoke the relationship between spiritual master and disciple. His books represent shrewd and wise appreciation of the mystical life of Indian wisdom . They contribute to a better understanding of East and West, as well as between modern psychology and spirituality. From time to time, he conducts tours of lectures and workshops in Europe, but generally resides in India near Haridwar.

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