February 21, 2006

Immense potential of Indian traditions

When two German magazines, Yoga Aktuell and Advaita Journal, expressed interest in a report on a conference on Indian psychology, I was convinced of the demand for the subject in the West. Off I went to Pondicherry, a state in southern India, to attend the conference on 'Yoga and Indian Approaches to Psychology' a month ago. Pondicherry was home to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who left behind a huge body of work on yoga and psychology. He had stated: "Yoga is nothing but practical psychology." Sri Aurobindo's vision of an impending change in the consciousness of humankind prompted the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology to ask Dr Matthijs Cornelissen from the Netherlands to organise this conference.
He has lived in the ashram for almost 30 years and values the Indian tradition. During his lectures on Sri Aurobindo's vision of psychology in America and Europe, he noticed that there is a big demand for teachers of Indian psychology in the West. The many conference sponsors included the Indian Council of Philosophical Research and the Infinity Foundation of USA. It drew 160 delegates from different universities and institutes from India and abroad, and over 80 papers were presented. In his keynote address, Prof Ramakrishna Rao, president of the Institute of Human Science in Vishakapatnam (India) and former vice-chancellor of Andhra University, said: "Isn't it ironical that there is no Indian psychology in any of our great universities?"
He pointed out that out of the 1,000 colleges in Andhra Pradesh (India), only 20 teach psychology. He asked why psychology was in such a pitiful state and answered the question himself: "Because psychology as it is taught now appears irrelevant in the Indian condition." It slowly dawned on me that Indian psychology is hardly taught in India, at least not at her colleges and universities. It amazed me. Psychology in India is completely ignoring the Indian tradition in spite of the great treasures hidden in its ancient scriptures. The textbooks here are written by western authors and many teachers are trained abroad. Prof Girishwar Misra from Delhi University put it bluntly: "If you mention Freud, nobody asks questions. If you mention samadhi, everyone does."
Prof Anand Paranjpe, who retired from Simon Frazer University in Vancouver, said he smuggled some Indian thought into his regular courses. This, he said, was tolerated and even appreciated in the West, but not in India. Thirty years ago, when he suggested including Indian thought into the curriculum, nobody supported his idea. For him, the conference in Pondicherry was like a dream come true. Finally, professors, lecturers and students from all over India appreciate the profundity of Indian tradition and realise that it is possible to develop a scientific psychology based on this tradition, which goes far beyond western psychology.
About time, because the West has already discovered the immense potential of Indian traditions and techniques like yoga. Yoga and pranayama which concern the well-being and growth of human beings, are no doubt aspects of psychology. Westerners have also taken concepts from India's ancient scriptures, and used them to go beyond behavioural and humanistic psychology to what is termed 'transpersonal' psychology and 'transpersonal' psychotherapy. Contact: Life Positive, November 2002

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