Encounters with Western Psychology

This blog summarizes forum discussions on the digestion of dharmic concepts and the stealth-appropriation of Hindu-Buddhist methods into western psychology - something that has been going on for a long time. Then the discussion also talks about practical ways and examples in which this digestion can be stopped. 

This post is divided into three parts below.

1. Rajiv Malhotra's lecture at SRCC on 'U-turn theory' provides a detailed description with evidence, on how the aforementioned digestion and appropriation has taken place. This gives the serious reader a background. For example, most in the world are unaware about the appropriation of dharmic ideas by Carl Jung.

2. In a March 2013 thread, Tripathi shared an interesting paper that Rajiv Malhotra introduced as follows:
"... A great bit of research that illustrates how Western Universalism (in this case in the field of psychology and ethics) has been wrongfully imposed upon other cultures. It is amazing how many "eminent" Indian psychologists have adopted such WU ideas."

".... interesting paper which states that broad claims about human psychology and behaviour based on narrow samples from Western societies are regularly published and questions the practise. It makes a very interesting read. Specially the term WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) used for the folks of the west. Below is a part of the paper which you might like: 
Research in moral psychology also indicates that non‐Western adults and Western religious conservatives rely on a wider range of moral principles than amorality of justice (Baek 2002, Haidt & Graham 2007, Haidt et al. 1993, e.g., Miller & Bersoff 1992). Shweder, Much, Mahapatra, and Park (1997) proposed that in addition to a dominant justice‐based morality, which they termed an ethic of autonomy,there are two other ethics that are commonly found outside the West: an ethic of communion, in which morality derives from the fulfilment of
interpersonal obligations, and an ethic of divinity in which moral decisions are based on the fit with a perceived natural order (for a further elaboration of moral foundations see Haidt & Graham 2007). In sum,the high‐SES, secular Western populations that have been the primary 27 Weird People 5-Mar-09 target of study thus far appear unusual in a global context, based on their peculiar reliance on a single foundation for moral reasoning (based on justice and individual rights).
The paper also describes the commonalities and the nuances of American from the rest of the west. 

3. The summary was initiated by Dr. AB in a December 2013 thread in a discussion that spanned 3 months:
"I am a psychologist by profession and a Practicing Hindu...we everyday encounter 'digested' knowledge systems thrown at us in our professional life . Living in the west and practicing western psychology is different from how in India , these same concepts are adapted by and for Indians.

For example, ... in the field of psychosocial rehabilitation [PSR] for people with mental illness , [] has had the experience of applying the same constructs in India in a more holistic way than how it is practiced here in the west. This reality has made us discuss at length about the dharmic context in India, where we are able to influence better outcomes for PSR ,the reason being the context and not the PSR principles alone. We are now thinking of reframing this whole approach to PSR (psycho social rehabilitation) in India .
Like these , I can cite many instances where I come across appropriation of our own tantra and vipassana practices being called as mindfulness based stress reduction [programs] etc which is now becoming a core curriculum in school districts , both in Canada and in the US. We all know this.
The new form of therapy which is being researched with the intention of making it 'global' is called "Avataar therapy" ! Yes - this is already being rolled out in academia and therapy clinics to bring about behavior modification for people with psychosis, obsessive compulsive disorders, generalized anxiety disorders etc by using the virtual world media.

The Avataars are designed to help people suffering auditory hallucinations to engage with their own persecutory voices in a more comfortable way , than trying to make them go away . I would like to bring your attention that this is an ancient tantric practice of Kashmir shaivism (vijnana bhairava tantra) , where the mental formations of the mind is witnessed through 'saakshi bhaava' rather than controlling or trying to make them go away. ....at a conference recently....psychiatrist who is based in London dismissed what I was saying with the argument that the new therapy is a logical evolution of psycho drama etc. It was very evident to everyone that he was shutting me down, and I offered him the option to be intellectually honest to engage in a debate rather than shutting me down.

... what lens are we wearing when we are thinking of developing knowledge base and skill sets to understand different cultures? By generalizing cultural mores and traditions, we might miss the contexts of cultural development as a complex fluid process etc..."

Rajiv comment: "...  It is an area of my active research, both on how the west has adopted these techniques and how we can revive them within the dharma context.

I dont like the term "avatara" in the above context as it distorts.

I prefer the term "sakshi therapy" which is also something my guru taught and its a term we can use in this way without distortion. In fact, much of so-called western therapy today is drifting towards the sakshi method. I hope it is possible for Dr. AB.. to use "sakshi".

I am presenting at a workshop in UK in April on this matter, to scholars specializing in the interface between psychology and religion/dharma. Most of the people I will need to argue against happen to be Hindus, who are propagating "mithya = illusion", world negation, otherworld-liness, etc. -- westerners love them as they can easily supersede such nonsense, and quietly digest Hindu-Buddhist ideas into western frameworks. My job in this Western+Indian select group is largely to point flaws in the Indians who will be present."

Dr. KM responds:
"..I have been in private practice as a psychotherapist in [the US] for the last 20 years and now in the prosess of moving back to India for retirement. My experience resonates with that of [Dr.AB]. I felt at times uncomfortable, at times crossed the speaker, couple of times gave talk at our local counselor's association about eastern spirituality and it's usefulness in psychotherapy, and often used it in my practice without clearly naming so!

Rajivji's identifying, understanding, and naming this whole process as "digestion" is unique and brilliant. This has given me deeper and clear understanding to what was I experiencing. It has also given boost to my desire to spend some time and energy of my retirement years towards reading/writing/collaborating towards the psychotherapy clearly rooted in our dharmic belief system. .."

Venkat shares an article:
The Americanization of Mental Illness

Dr. R (behavioral scientist) responds:
"I am one [of] a group of behavioural scientists working with the laboratory learning method. Our work is deep and transformative, but we are not therapists. I work with the yoga Sutras as the basis of my work, however, even among my colleagues the ideas from yoga are not as internalized as the western theories. The learning of our scripture from an authentic source is rare. The ideas that are internalized from their own families is not well founded. Books in English then form the source of their learning. The average translation even by the various Anandas is poor.

Not all of my colleagues have read read BD [Being Different book]. And the idea of India is often held in deep self hate. All of this makes the going very difficult when one is training the new generation. It will be a great to work on a theory that is based entirely on our scriptures and our practice....How can we share notes and develop a coherent theory and practice?"

Rajiv comment: Start with your OWN institution. Why is a western style degree required to be considered a legitimate scholar? Why is the Indian notion of an accomplished practicing yogi or someone with knowledge but not western-style certified insufficient? This fetish for western style certification even in Indian matters is a deep rooted form of colonization." 

Dr. CRS shares his experience:
"I work in the research field of Post traumatic stress disorder & Systems Biology.... The Systems Biology concept is more-so similar to Ayurveda in the context that both preaches holistic health. Difference is that the combination of Yoga and Ayurveda has higher success rate in preventing/curing diseases than the Molecular biology/Translational systems biology approach. Over these years, I have increasingly realized that Yoga and Ayurveda are the best cure available for Psychological disorders.

This research frontier is going to boom in the next 10 years especially because of the funding given by US government for the BRAIN initiative Such perks are going to pressurize researchers to look into alternative medicine and facilitate accelerated digestion of Indian concepts practiced by Gurus.

I believe that one way to retain our Native Apps in the Dharmic OS framework, is to perform scientific research (by setting up dedicated research institutes/departments) on these concepts and publish extensively. People like Benson & Denninger have to be beaten in their game by playing our strengths by engaging the best philosophers like Rajivji, the best Indian Gurus, best Indian doctors across the globe (with unique characteristics not seen in US /Europeans), best Indian IT people, botanist (studying herbs). The collaboration of such interdisciplinary team will produce significant results.

Another simple way is prevention of diseases and this frontier is effectively being led by Baba Ramdev at the grassroots level by encouraging people towards Yoga & Ayurveda."

Dr. AB follows up:
"In my therapy work, I use the core tenets of Advaita like "Tat team Asi","Sat chid Ananda " "mitya" etc as frameworks to experience self. Some of my clients have found this framework significantly different from the so called evidence based practices like cognitive behavioural therapy , dialectical behaviour therapy (by the way, this particular mode of therapy uses mindfulness as its core tenet for borderline personality disorders) etc.
Today I came to know that an organization in California has customized a training program for mindfulness for all schools in North America. This is now a sought after training program which is offered online for school districts, mental health professionals etc. 
I have already started reading IN (Indra's Net). The poison pill and porcupine strategy has to be applied creatively in this field too.

Rajiv responds:.. I am doing a book on how Hindu-Buddhist ideas are getting digested/distorted."

Dr. J adds:
"I have also been trained and engaged in psychotherapy, and had similar observations. I keep looking for ways to channelize it. [], where I am teaching a course 'Mind, Life and Consciousness'...: The course content is heavily dependent on Indian systems of psychological knowledge. I am having my observations and learning in the process. I would be happy to collaborate and share notes with anyone interested in this field."

NS adds:
"I .. have read 9 chapters [of Indra's Net] till 'Traditional foundations of social consciousness'  and I find it such an admirable companion of BI (Breaking India) and BD. Having tread BI and BD , I feel one may read IN first and thereafter go to BD. From, my point of view In is an extraordinary review of BD and BI and its most admirable feature is its its beautiful narration that does not take away its scholarly content. " 

Dr. AB shares important feedback:
"..a heart rending story of a woman who was murdered because she tried to write a thesis on the dispossession of Indigenous women in Canada. It strikes parallel to what's going on for Hindus , the motive to eliminate us and our symbols methodically.

I feel for the indigenous people in North America. Their story resonates so deeply with ours. .. a theme in their stories- they see  all their mental health issues  stemming from loss of their indigenous culture and world views.  They do not connect to the western interpretation of their problems. They are quite vocal and articulate about the superficiality or even the credibility of western solutions to their problems. 

It's interesting that this is where we differ in India. Our deeply entrenched colonized mindsets do not get the layers and nuances of colonization and its impact on our mental health. Here, I see an opportunity to do some Conscious raising programs in the field.."

Ananth asks Dr. AB:
"You have mentioned that you use Indic concepts in your work, e.g., vijnana sakshi tantra, sat chit ananda, etc.  Have you used these concepts on your Indigenous clients?  If so, did the clients relate well to them? Or did Indic concepts help you to get a good command of your clients' problems?"

Dr. AB provides a detailed response and provides some amazing feedback on the practical use of non-translatables, poison-pill strategy (in Indra's Net), and other ideas introduced by Rajiv Malhotra in 'Being Different'.

"I have used the concepts of Atma, Sakshi bhaava, understanding the different mental states as vritti and the nature of vritti etc, which my clients can apply in the moment as opposed to a cognitive exercise.
I go back and forth to explore various concepts depending on what my clients are ready for. Some of them are ready for doing some advanced vijnana Bharirva tantra practices like Dharana on negative states of mind. They discover that through dharana, the sakshi bhava gets strengthened and there by they can see the mental states as dynamically changing. Some of them cannot move being Shavasana!
For those who are ready and willing,I sometimes even go further, to use a mantra of their choice while they are doing dharana. ...They begin to understand the 'mithya' nature of these inner experiences and are then able to see the one who labels each experience negatively or positively.
These concepts are well taken both by Indians and also westerners. I have seen that the westerners have a hard time to see the experience as different from themselves. This is where I introduce our terminologies and not use English. The minute you give them English translation, they objectify the knowledge, rather than go into the experience. I have also noted that some of these practices creates resistance for them. They still want to hold on to their core beliefs.
I had an [middle east] client, who was very open and articulate about her inner experiences through the Indic practices. At some time, she brought up great resistance, when we were exploring the concepts of Advaita....She could not bring herself to consider that that at some level all beings are interconnected,... That's when she began to distance herself from the process and terminated the sessions with me. ... I fully accepted her limitations and had a closure with her.  Now, I appreciate the poison pill strategy. She could not be part of the open architecture. She excluded herself out!
I also want to highlight the importance of using non-translatables. Recently I had a client who had suicidal ideation. This person is an Indian and we started exploring the meaning of the word "atma hatya'. I allowed this person to first understand what Atma means and then went on to further inquire whether it is then possible that atma and hatya could go together. This was such a revelation to this person about the paradox in the term itself. It is a myth going on in western academia that certain cultures are intolerant and have a big taboo around suicide. However, the reality is , on inquiring honestly about self (through our worldview not the western worldview) , killing oneself is a fallacy. This is the power of using our own non-translatables in this work. I will stop here. I am fascinated by what we can achieve to re-create a Grand Narrative through different streams of knowledge."

Recommended reading related to this topic at the forum:

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing post, I liked how the acronym for WEIRD is defined :) sometimes it scares when I read Rajiv ji's articles & watch his videos coz you realize how much of our culture is already digested. We should be grateful to Rajiv ji for enlightening us to the dire consequences awaiting our culture if we are not careful.