CENTRAL THEMES IN YOGIC & HINDU PSYCHOLOGY & PHILOSOPHY

This is a brief summary for psychology students of some central psychological and philosophical ideas of Yogic and Hindu teachings. It does not deal explicitly with the various forms of yoga and their methods and objectives because that's in another summary also at this website. Bulleted items in italics are my phrasing of the ancient teachings. Non-italic items in parentheses are my commentaries on them. I present these ideas not with the idea that they are "right" and others "wrong," or vice-versa. They emphasize some ideas and teaching that are different from some of those emphasized in the West, and we can learn what we can for them.

Please note that I am not among those who romanticize the East and contrast it with the "jaded West." In my observation most people in India follow these principles to about the same degree that most people in the Christian west follow the teaching that Jesus taught&emdash;much lip service but not much beyond that. For every real yogi and spiritual aspirant in India there are a thousand others living their ordinary lives, placing flowers at altars, and grasping very little of the real teachings. --Victor.
 
DESIRE FOR THAT WHICH WE'RE UNLIKELY TO GET OR ATTAIN LEADS TO UNHAPPINESS. Psychological development involves learning to let go of such desires.
(Some desires are innate, such as those things that fulfill our basic needs. Those become a problem only when they're not met, or when we come to believe that we need much more than we really do.)
 
ATTACHMENT IS A PRINCIPAL CAUSE OF SUFFERING. We are attached to many things. Some cause us grief when they're torn from our grasp, while others cause us grief through the process of attachment itself. Learning to let go&emdash;letting go; letting go; letting go&emdash;is the way to deal with attachments that cause us trouble.
(Note 1: Some attachments are natural, such as those to family, and places where we've lived for a long time. Some help us survive, such as attachments to traffic safety rules. But most of us cause ourselves needless suffering through attachment to things, people, and ideas that we have no choice to let go of, or would be better off letting go of. Note 2: I have also noticed that some followers of Eastern philosophy are so attached to the idea of nonattachment that they neglect to note their attachment to it.)
 
CHAKRAS "are psychic centers that cannot be described fully from a materialistic or physiological standpoint." They are centers of "subtle, vital force. Chakra is a Sanskrit word that denotes circle and movement. Chakras can be thought of as wheels of the mind that dwell in the forest of desires." And desires, like wheels themselves, are great motivating forces, Each chakra is a stage-by-stage playground of desires. Throughout life one dwells in this forest of desires, and one thinks and understands life's situations from the standpoint of the chakra in which he normally feels most comfortable." (Johari, 1987, Destiny Books.)
 
DETACHMENT FROM THE FRUITS OF OUR ACTIONS. The Bhagavad-Gita beautifully and poetically emphasizes the importance of doing the very best we can to achieve what we set out to, and realizing that then the hand of God or Fate will do as it does, so that our efforts may or may not succeed, and we need not cause ourselves great grief about it as long as did what we could. (This seems to me related to the existentialist Sartre's characterization of our responsibility for creating our lives, within the context of our "thrown" condition.)
 
KARMA is the law of life which states that everything I do has effects, on me, on others, and on other living beings and other beings and things around me. It refers especially to the ways in which sooner or later many of my own actions react back on me, since life is a complex set of interwoven loops of causes and effects.
 
AHIMSA is the principle of nonviolence. It refers not only to nonviolent action but also to the cultivation of a nonviolent attitude of mind and emotion which goes along with that action.
 
DHARMA. 1. "Duty." 2. "Being sensitive to what the situation requires and doing it." 3. "A statement of principles for living an aware and benificent life."
 
LETTING GO OF EGO-ATTACHMENT receives great emphasis. If I'm going yoga, to simply do it, and not add the thought, "Look at how well I'm doing this," etc. Rather I'm breathing, and feeling the life force flowing through me, and be at one with the divine. Instead of "trying," I'm just "doing," whatever that doing may involve. This has sometimes been called "merging with the infinite," feeling at-one with the river of life that fows into the ocean of spirit. (Or, as Obi-Wan-Kenobi would have it, "the Force." All this is easier said than done. It includes not looking down on others whom I consider "spiritually inferior" to myself because of their lesser attainments or different beliefs. It also includes awareness of, rather than denial of, those aspects of myself that I consider less than admirable.)
 
SELFLESS SERVICE. Acting in ways that benefit other people or beings for the simple sake of doing so, out of a sense of connection and dharma, without self-congratulation for doing such good things.
 
PURIFICATION. This is a path of attempting to let go of attachments that make spiritual realization difficult or impossible, including delusion, ignorance, violance, greed and averice, sensuality, egotism, and conceit. (Some of the yogic and Hindu teachers appear to me to overdo their rebellion against sensuality, which can be a delightful part of life. I'm guessing that this is because they live and taught before birth control became widely available, and having too many children could mean suffering for all.)
 
SIMPLICITY is a yogic principle which holds that much of the trouble we get ourselves into occurs because of unnecessary ENTANGLEMENTS and complexities that we introduce into our lives, and that living simply makes it easier to find peace of mind.
 
PRACTICES THAT LEAD TOWARD SPIRITUAL REALIZATION include devotion, austerity, purification, and the development of awareness, balance, and selfless service. These steps can lead us through the development of a state of consciousness that includes a sense of security, being in good communication with our bodies, finding the strength to accomplish our goals, openheartedness, speaking in a way that touches others deeply and makes it easy for them to listen, developing our intuition, and attaining cosmic consciousness (living in a characteristic state of bliss and joy in which we perceive truth or untruth directly with no intervening screen of delusion, and feel at one with others, other living beings, and the divine spirit.)
 
PUJA is performing a devotional practice, some ritual of gratitude to our personal spiritual guide, prophet, teacher, or guru of whatever faith. It involves, for at least a moment, giving up my sense of self-importance to give thanks for all that the world, or if you prefer, the Lord, or the Divine Spirit, has given me, and for the guidance that my teacher offers.
(There is formal and informal puja. Informal puja involves trying to make a sense of spirtual awareness part of daily life, rather than something apart from it once a week, and doing each of the things I do with an attitude of respect and reverence, whether it's cooking a meal, cleaning a toilet, or doing something for or with another person or receiving something from them.)
 
THE THREE GUNAS receive considerable attention in Hindu teaching. They are Tamas, which means roughly the force of torpor or inertia; Rajas, which means the force of doing and activity'; and Sattwas, the force of thinking and enlightenment. (I have yet to grasp the value of this categorization.)
 
A FEW WORDS ABOUT HINDU THEOLOGY. Religious philosophers of the subcontinent refer to God as transcendent (the great being beyond the sky who is above and beyond everything);
God as immanent (the divine spirit is present in every living being, and therefore if we are sensitive we see and hear and feel God everywhere); and God as simultaneously transcendent and immanent. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam the emphasis is on God as transcendent. In Native American teachings the emphasis is on God as immanent. Hindus view divinity as simultaneously transcendent and immanent. They view it as naive to regard divinity as just one or the other.
Actually, it is even more complex than that. There is a whole pantheon of gods and goddesses roughly analogous to those of Greece but also quite different. These are viewed as a living presence in India, and the ordinary people feel themselves to be surrounded by them everywhere. A very talented Dutch artist was painting a picture of Krishna with a little artistic embroidery and people passing by said, "No, it has to be done just so!" He found that he had more artistic license when he returned to Holland.
 
THE BASIC HINDU TRILOGY is Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, the Destroyer. This reflects the Hindu view that all things are created, exist for a time, and are destroyed and pass away. This cyclical view of life is very different from the Western linear view that we are always moving forward in "progress." The Atman, or Self, is not the little ego-centered self, but the recognize around us and in all other beings, and also find within us.
Many of the other gods and goddesses are incarnations of one of these three. Krishna, for instance, is an incarnation of Vishnu. People have favorite gods and goddesses who model certain qualities for us to realize. The goddess Radha represents loving devotion, and the monkey-God Hanuman represents selfless service (sometimes in a fierce sort of way.) Durga is the close Hindu equivalent of the Greek Artemis and the Roman Diana&emdash;a strong goddess often depicted riding on a lion.