The Psychology of Yoga

Written by kalabin. Posted in Articles

Sattva is a special ‘new’ power having a higher (relative to tamas and rajas) functional feature of successive ordering the original chaos. In other words, it is ‘a fixer’ of the polarized crystallization of the thing order. Approximately so, in a modern language, the notion can be explained about the dynamics of being for those who formulated the basics of practical Yoga which anticipated the modern physicists’ theories.

So, estrangement, up to the full self-perception independence on the triple nature of being, — that is the necessary ‘basis’. If the basis is stable enough, ‘the superstructure’ above it will naturally become controlling the mind’s behavior. Patandjali described the technique of achieving estrangement as follows: “The repetitive aspiration in combination with the long stress carried out regularly and persistently for a long time makes the estrangement stable (as the lack of craving for wanted objects perceived directly or known from description).

The stable estrangement turned into the normal state of mind and independent on any external circumstances becomes the basis of Yoga as the method of achieving the levels of self-perception and one’s own interrelations with the World. From the above, the sense of the following extract from the mentioned above “Katha-Upanishada”.

You should know that atman is a rider in a chariot,

The body is a chariot.

You should know that reason is a coachman,

The thought is really a bridle.

They say that feelings are the horses,

And what influences them — is their pasture.

Men of wisdom say that a team consisting of the body,

feelings and thoughts is just the one who enjoys (atman).

He, who lives unreasonably

Without exerting thoughts,

Cannot control feelings,

Like a coachman cannot control the horses.

But he, who lives reasonably

And always exerts his thoughts,

Is the master of his feelings,

Like the coachman is the master of his horses.

  1. Sansara (the wheel of regenerations), karma (the law of reasons and consequences) and dharma (predestination)

Modern psychology is a comparatively young science about the laws of developing and functioning psychics. Its main difference from all others consists in the following: on the one hand, the research object (i.e. human psychics) is close to everyone, but on the other hand, it is the only science where the object (psychics) can be neither examined or measured, nor got in a laboratory by synthesis, nor derived with the help of formulas. This object is ephemeral which makes its research extraordinarily hard.

Every person who has experienced some pain, grief or suffering strives subconsciously for the opposite states of happiness and harmony. It is obvious that in order to achieve them it is necessary to comprehend the mechanisms of happiness and unhappiness origins.

Unfortunately, psychologists haven’t come to the common opinion yet: where this mysterious psychics is situated and what it is. The ‘basic theories’ existing nowadays consider this question differently. Below there are some of them.

The advocates of the biological concept explain the behavior and psychic phenomena from the viewpoint of physiology and anatomy, and so they are mainly studying the human brain and nervous system.

The advocates of the psychic-analytical concept attach special importance to unconscious processes and problems of a child’s early development, particularly to the conflict between a child’s wishes and the outer prohibitions.

Cognitive psychologists research the mental structures controlling human behavior, i.e. such mechanisms as thinking, memory, perception, imagination, etc.

The supporters of the behaviorist conception consider the environment stimuli, including the behavior of the surrounding people, as one of the strongest stimuli forming the individual behavior. They believe that psychic phenomena are not subjected to objective researching, so the object of psychology is people’s behavior features.

There are also a great number of other concepts: social-cultural, humanistic, feministic, post-modernistic, psychodynamic, neuropsychological, gnoseological and others. All of them are quite different, but only one thing is alike – none of them lets fully and deeply research and understand human psychics. And it is not surprising, as how can you research the thing the structure of which you have no idea but base your researches just upon your suppositions?

From this viewpoint, the Yoga concept about human consciousness is much more perfect. It expounds the formation of all human structures, including human psychics.

Firstly, Yoga doesn’t consider a person as something limited by the scope of a physical body. From the Yoga viewpoint, human consciousness, or ‘Ego’, is the independent spiritual beginning liberated from the limitations of a body, feelings and mind. In Yoga, the research object is just the nature of ‘Ego’, as well as the interrelations of consciousness with mind and its functions.

So, ‘Ego’ is pure consciousness united with a physical body and closely connected with the thin body consisting of feelings, mind, ego and super-consciousness. The place of the consciousness location and its psychic mechanism is called chitta. Chitta consists of three main systems: mind (manas), ego (ahamkara) and super-consciousness (buddhi). In order to avoid confusion, it is necessary to state that in Yoga the terms ‘mind’ and ‘ego’ are somehow different from those accepted in psychology.

Let’s consider the essence and the functions of each system in detail.

Manas controls all the body actions (conscious and random) and all sensations (deliberate and unnoticed). This is the original power of the thinking principle. It embodies the subconscious, instinctive wishes of a personality. It aspirates for enjoyments, that is why it starts the main aspirations for food, sexual satisfaction, aggression, the whole sensor and motor activity and immediate try to achieve the emotional purposes.

The function of manas is the forming of memory, collecting thoughts, imagination and forming ideas and pictures to satisfy consciousness and to avoid unfavorable situations. That is, manas gets the sensations from all the sensor organs and, in correspondence with that, immediately directs the psychic energy to the inner and outer organs. As this takes place, if the wish is not satisfied or the expected effect is not achieved, manas starts forming the imaginary pictures of fulfilling the wishes (both asleep and alive). But this part of chitta doesn’t know the reality of the outer and inner world yet. It is incapable to present the subjective-objective differences, as well as to separate ‘ego’ from ‘non-ego’.

To know the reality, to present the real to consciousness and to strike everything unreal out of life – these are the exclusive functions of ‘ego’ (ahamkara). Ahamkara rejects all the wishes, sensations, imaginations and notions which are not real or can be harmful for the existence of ‘ego’. The purpose of ahamkara is to avoid the loss of psychic energy for wishes which are not real.

By means of rejecting the unfavorable wishes, ahamkara directs psychic energy through manas against hostile forces creating stress and dissatisfaction. In this way human thinking, willpower and chitta as a whole are developing. While manas offers the images of objects to satisfy feelings, ahamkara accepts only the pictures which are favorable for them.

Manas is the primary thinking process; ahamkara is the secondary one which cannot develop without achieving maternity by the primary process. Manas cannot distinguish the subjective world of mind from the objective world of physical reality. The analysis of the objective and subjective worlds is the operating ability of ahamkara. So, ahamkara exposes the world of relativity, stimulates the power of mind and develops perception, memory, thinking, activity and personality. A person begins perceiving the outer and inner surroundings rather thoroughly and precisely. The essence of ahamkara is in the effective thinking by means of which a person is capable to achieve verity.

The main purpose of buddhi – the third and main chitta’s component – is to find verity. Buddhi is chitta’s section which takes a decision about the conditioned and unconditioned verity, lower and Highest Verity, relative and outrageous reality. Buddhi finds out the unity of the inner and outer and achieves the unity of the Universe. Buddhi lets a person understand that it is necessary not only to obey the principles of realism (in order to acquire enjoyment, peace and to avoid sufferings) but to try to realize the karma laws of nature according to moral and ethical norms.

Among these three instruments, there are no sharp separating lines. Ahamkara is formed out of manas; buddhi is formed of ahamkara.

When chitta is linked with some object through manas, it takes the form of that object. ‘Ego’ is reflected in chitta like in a mirror and that is why it seems to him that all the changes are happening just with him. ‘Ego’ starts considering himself as the subject who is born and grows and later gets older and dies.

Below there are main delusions appearing when ‘ego’ starts identifying himself with chitta:

  • Avidya – false knowledge because of which a person perceives the non-eternal things as the eternal, ‘non-ego’ as ‘ego’, unpleasant as pleasant, non-pure as pure;
  • Asmita – identification of ‘ego’-reflection with chitta, though it is just an instrument for perceiving objects;
  • Raga – passionate love of pleasant things, the means of achieving sensual enjoyments;
  • Dvesha – hatred and disgust of pain and its reasons;
  • Abhinivesha – inherent in all creatures, instinctive aspiration for life and fear of physical death.

However, in fact, ‘ego’ is above all the phenomena relating to a body and mind, above all psychological changes like sleep and wakefulness, birth and death.

Chitta itself has the innumerous number of modifications which can be divided into five groups:

  • Pramana – the true cognition which is formed by perception, logical conclusion and oral statement of an autority;
  • Viparyaya – the false cognition of objects, seeing them as different from what they are in reality, as well as hesitation and uncertainty;
  • Vikalpa – purely verbal idea caused by words which don’t define real objects;
  • Nidra (sleep) – peculiar modification of chitta where the wakeful state of consciousness ceases because of tamas domination (see below). Nidra is divided into two classes: sleep with dreams and deep sleep.
  • Smriti (memory) – recall of experience and reproduction of the past events without any change or misrepresentation.

If this scheme is attached to the modern psychology, we will see that, for example, various phobias are formed under the influence of memory about some negative event or false conclusion from that event. While knowing this, it is much easier to help a person to reconsider one’s negative experience and overcome fear.

As long as there are changes in chitta, ‘ego’ identifies himself with it. As a result, ‘ego’ enjoys or suffers from the objects of the world and accordingly loves or hates them. For ‘ego’ it means dependence. Consequently, if we want to achieve liberation, we have to learn how to restrain the activity of the body, feelings and manas and finally to stop all the modifications of chitta.

When it happens and chitta comes to the state of complete calmness, ‘ego’ realizes himself being something different from the complex ‘mind-body’, being as a free, integral, deathless, self-shining consciousness. It is the achievement of this state, completely free from any sufferings, that is the purpose of Yoga.

Above we considered the structure of thinking; and now let’s try to understand how those psychological processes appear in chitta. For this, let’s accept three more necessary notions. According to yoga philosophy, everything existing in the Universe is composed by three beginnings: gunami – this is sattva (the genuine nature of intellect represented as light, joy, calmness, unity), radjas (the source of any activity, movement, changes, but as well as sufferings) and tamas (inertia, resistance, ignorance, sluggishness, lack of enthusiasm, as well as the source of blind passions). The sattva state is right and natural, that is why each component of chitta has to desire it, what is tracked by the higher component of chitta.

Enjoyment and suffering are nothing but the result of encouragement and suppression of these capabilities. This occurs automatically. For example, in the presence of ahamkara, the sattva manas is encouraged, whereas the radja and tamas manases are suppressed. In the same way, in the presence of buddhi, the sattva ahamkara is encouraged and the rest ones are suppressed. So, if a person is unhappy, feels anxiety and depression, he should understand that his state is wrong which can cause physical indispositions and accidents.

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