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Psychological Integration and The Religious Outlook

Ockham' s nominalism, Rene Descartes. weltenshaung,

Tematyka poniższego artykułu ----->

Soul of the soul, Plato's 'Inner Man', scholastic 'Synteresis,'

Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Hume,Atman, Ruh, Philo's

Rev. Rama Coomaraswamy

(part 1)

By philosophical background and training, the majority of health care professionals are prone to view religion and/or spirituality through the eyes of psychiatry. The question of whether or not a given religious value is 'true' is not an issue - our concern tends to center on the issue of whether or not such a value has a positive or negative role in the psychological life of our patient.

If one accepts the philosophical premises of the Freudian corpus - Darwinism, materialism and atheism - such an attitude becomes not only logical, but obligatory. Within the framework of such a weltenshaung, religious beliefs are bound to be seen as delusional - but do not all of us have our pet delusions, and what harm if such delusions help us to navigate the rough seas of life?

There is of course another view - that of looking at psychiatry through religious eyes. Immediately you will raise the issue of which religious eyes - those of Jews or Christians - those of Hindus and Muslims to say nothing of the different sects within these categories? With so many competing religious viewpoints, the health care worker is left in a state of bewilderment. But before we abandon the struggle, let us consider the reverse. The host of different psychological theories can be just as bewildering for the theologian. For example, almost all of us agree that man has a 'self,' but virtually no two therapists can come to any agreement about the real nature of this 'self,' to say nothing of what can be considered 'normal' behavior for it. Despite this, I believe there is a sufficient consensus in both areas - a consensus that allows us to communicate with each other and provide real help for our patients.

When one reads texts on the history of psychiatry, one gets the impression that our field of endeavor only got started about 250 years ago. While the psychological ills of man have obviously existed since the stone age, and while theologians in all the great religions have written treatises on psychology and the nature of the self - or should I say, man's many different selves, most of us are unaware or unfamiliar with this material, and what is greater importance is, that despite the many differences in religious outlook, there is a surprising consistency among the great religious traditions about the nature of man and his various selves. I would like to examine some of these theological concepts and show how, in selected patients, they can be put to therapeutic use. Before considering these theological applications however, I would like to raise one or two other issues for our consideration.

In order to have an effective therapeutic relationship with a patient, I think it important that there exist a certain commonality in outlook between the therapist and the client. This is well illustrated by a very successful Indian Psychiatric colleague of mine who studied for many years in England and Austria, and then returned to India as a fully qualified psychoanalyst. I asked him if he used psychoanalysis in treating Indian patients. He laughed and said it would be impossible as the average Indian patient he saw didn't believe in psychoanalysis and would think him crazy to engage in such an endeavor. Now it is important for us to recognize that we all have belief systems. I mentioned above that Freud was a Darwinian, a materialist and an atheist. While this may be an oversimplification, it does point to the fact that he had a 'belief system,' which was no more rational or cogent than the belief systems of some of his patients. For years physician colleagues used to refer to me as a 'believer,' and to themselves as 'non-believers.' The more I have thought about this the more I have became convinced that such a dichotomy is false. We are all believers, it's just that we believe in different things.

Until fairly recent times, the majority of patients seen by psychologists and psychiatrists in this country could be classified into those that were grossly psychotic and required institutionalization, and those that came from a background quite similar to that of the therapists themselves - middle class Americans who shared the same beliefs and outlooks. Patients with strong religious affiliations - be they orthodox Jews or Catholics, tended to keep away from psychiatrists. This is no longer the case. The psychotics of course still exist, but the break down of social and religious structures and the tremendous influx of individuals from cultures foreign to our own has led to our treating many Axis II problems in individuals with whom we have much less in common. It is of course not necessary for us to share the beliefs of our patients and it is inappropriate for us to impose our personal beliefs on them. What is however incumbent upon us is to understand their beliefs and to realize that they can play an important role in our patient's lives. With these brief comments behind us, let us begin to look at psychology, or more specifically, at the nature of man, from the viewpoint of the some of the great religions and see whether some of their concepts can be integrated into our therapeutic armamentarium.

Traditional psychologies can be said to base their view of man - however expressed on the principle that there are two selves in man - an inner Self or 'sacred' core related to his very 'being,' and an outer psycho-physical 'personality' - the Islamic nafs consisting of the body and soul, and which, because of its constantly changing character is often described as multiple. Still other texts speak of man's nature as tripartite because they separate the body from the psyche. Let us start by clarifying this issue:

[ Schema which should be published here was already presented in the article 'The problems that result from locating spirituality in the psyche' ]

While the traditional psychologies often speak of a tripartite anthropology, the Psyche and the Body are often classified together as the lesser 'self' or 'ego.' Thus it is that we have St. Thomas Aquinas teaching 'duo sunt in homine,' (There are two in man) and St. Paul speaking about the Law of his members being opposed to the law of his mind (Rom. 7:23). The body and the psyche are conceptually merged for two reasons.
1) the Body in se has no directive force. It needs some higher 'power' like the psyche to tell it what to do, or at least to go along with it;
2) both the body and the psyche lack permanence or consistency in so far as they are always in flux, or in a state of what the theologians call 'becoming.'

Note that I, or rather, traditional psychologies, have equated the lesser self with the ego. Theologians use the term ego in a different sense than Freudian psychologists do. They see self-centeredness - what, when excessive we call malignant narcisism - as egoity or pride and thus are prone to speak of such individuals as being 'self-ish.' Be this as it may, this lesser self or what the traditional theologians call the ego is never stable. To quote Albert Ellis, this ''I' is an ongoing, everchanging process.' It is its very potential for change which makes this lesser self the subject of our endeavors.

Now as opposed to this lesser and inconstant 'self' - the self we as psychiatrists and psychologists deal with and attempt to help our clients modify, the religious psychologies hold that Man also has a higher or inner Self. This inner Self, often distinguished by the use of a capital S, goes by many names. It is seen as 'divine,' is often described as the 'indwelling of the Holy Spirit,' the scholastic 'Synteresis,' the Hindu 'source of the breaths' or Atman, the Arabic 'il Ruh,' Philo's 'Soul of the soul,' and Plato's 'Inner Man' etc. etc. Such a metaphysical outlook further presumes that the average person is 'at war with himself' precisely because these two selves are in conflict and that true sanity or wholeness is ultimately to be found only in the saint whose two selves are at one - the essential nature of 'at-onement' or 'atonement,' a state in which the 'lamb and the lion' can be said to lie down together. It is in this sense that we speak of someone being in control of him-self and admonish the distraught to 'get hold of your self' or 'pull yourself together.'

Allow me to illustrate this weltanschauung from the Bhagavad Gita, a text with which many of you are familiar. The 'myth' - I use the word, not as is current, but rather in the sense of revelation of truth in the form of a story, opens on the battlefield of Dharma or 'right action.' Arjuna asks Krishna, his charioteer, to drive his chariot between the two opposing armies representing the forces of good and evil where they start their discussion. Arjuna gives many arguments against fighting, and incidentally couches them in pious religious phrases - finishing up by throwing his weapons - the faculties of the soul - to the ground. He leaves the field of endeavor in tears. Now it goes without saying that everyone of us gets up each day and must face the battle - live our outer lives with courage and hopefully also resolve that inner war in which everyone is engaged whether we like it or not. This is the essential nature of the Islamic Jihad or what Father Scapoli calls 'spiritual warfare.'2

Arjuna eventually returns to the fray, for he is a warrior and his duty is to fight against evil, both externally and internally. But the symbolism goes even farther, for the chariot is the psycho-physical vehicle as which or in which - according to our knowledge of 'who we are' we live and move. The horses are the senses, the reins their controls. If the horses are allowed to run away with the mind, the vehicle will go astray. If however the horses are curbed and guided by the mind in accordance with its knowledge of the Self, the Atman represented by the God Krishna, then and only then can it travel along its proper course. One cannot fight the enemy when the chariot is out of control. Such concepts are amazingly universal. I would recall for you a famous poem of St. Patrick of Ireland entitled 'Christ in the Chariot seat,' and a passage from the Canticle of Habacuc in the Old Testament praying: 'That you [might] drive the steeds of your victorious chariot.' Even more remarkable is a passage from an exorcism described by the Rabbi Chaim Vital, where the dubbuk confesses that 'the soul is like the driver while body is like the wagon, horses, wheels and reins... Most of my life my body commanded my soul, and my emotions guided by my intellect. And so when my body was lowered into my grave, I found that my soul had become so enslaved by my body that I could not ascent to heaven.'

In our mythical allegory Krishna - the inner and higher Self instructs Arjuna - the identified personality - that it is not the mere living and dying of the individual that is important, but rather there is in each individual an inner core, the Atman, which must be 'known.' He tells Ariuna that until this Atman is known, the two selves 'will continue to be at war with one another.' The Buddhist scriptures speaks to the same issue, teaching us of the 'rabble that imagines that all possessions - what some psychiatrists call a person's baggage - are its own... those who talk of an 'I and mine,' the untaught many folk,' who take their own 'inconsistent and composite personality to be an essence.' It follows that one of the most explicit injunctions of the Buddha was to 'Make the Self thy refuge or resort... Make the Self thy lamp, the Self thy refuge.' Mystical writers in every tradition speak both of the annihilation and of the transformation of the lesser self or nafs interchangeably - for in fact by these two terms they mean essentially the same process - a situation well described in the Hindu text A itareya Aranyaka: 'This Self gives itself to that self, and that self to this Self: they become one another.' Only one who has achieved this 'supreme identity' can say with Al- Hallaj, 'anal Haqq,' 'I am the Truth.' In passing, it should be clear that when traditional psychologies speak of the immanence of the Divine in all creation, they by no means deny God's transcendence. Traditional texts abound with the statement that 'He is both within and without.' He is both 'Creator' and 'Preservor.' We 'are' because we participate in His 'Being.'

Given the universality of this traditional concept of the two selves, and given the fact that almost every psychoanalytic writer has written about the nature of the self - no two of them defining it in the same terms - one must raise the question as to why modern psychologies say little if anything about the Inner or Higher Self. I think the answer lies in the historical fact that:
1) all of them are fearful of departing from the strictures established by Freud;
2) Freud and his followers were limited by theirs Descartian view of reality and conceived of the human psyche, if not the totality of man, in terms drawn from the discipline of 18th century physics.3


1Presented by rev. Rama Coomaraswamy, Assistant Prof., Psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NYC, N.Y. At (Presented at the 73rd Annual Meeting of The American Orthopsychiatric Association, May 1-4, 1996 Boston, Mass.)

2 Islamic theology often speaks of the outer battles as the 'lesser jihad,' and the inner struggles as the 'greater jihad.'

3 Historians of science are prone to see this as the culmination of a long process dating back at least to Kepler and Galileo. It was Kepler (1571-1630) who declared that 'just as the eye as made to see colors and the ear to hear sounds, so the human mind was made to understand, not whatever you please, but quantity.' Galileo in turn (1564-1642) inveighed against the illusory nature of sense knowledge and instead insisted on the use of mathematical explanations of such mundane things as falling stones. It was Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who gave firm structure to the new vision of reality in his attempt to lay the theoretical foundations of a mechanical science based on mathematical principles. Recognizing that qualities inherent in things could not be measured, he attempted to eliminate them through what is now referred to as the Cartesian mind-body dualism. He achieved this by splitting the mechanical world - res extensa, what can be measured - the later Newtonian 'matter' - from the res cogitans or thinking substance. It is his view which becomes pertinent with regard to the psychoanalytic concept of the self. Descartes was sure of his existence precisely because he could think. This appeared to him as the one and only immediate certainty whereas the res extensa was a logical consequence of his existence. As he said, 'when I am thinking, I know for certain that I exist; for the act of denying it would be its own refutation.' Marcia Cavell has called this 'reflexive self-awareness.' What follows from this is 'the notion of a unified subjectivity, an inside kernel of self.' It was Newton (1642-1724) following upon Descartes, who in essence rejected or ignored this res cogitans (it was reduced to the Newtonian sensorium and imprisoned within the ventricle of the brain before being totally lost sight of) and conceptualized the res extensa as the totality of reality. Newtonian physics led to the establishment of a whole series of so-called sciences of man which to this day emulate an already long outmoded physics. He however was not concerned with the self as such and we must turn to Hume (1711-1779) as exemplifying the logical consequence of reducing all reality to res extensa or what can be measured. Hume carried Ockham' s nominalism to a point of absurdity for the Decartian position has its roots in nominalism.

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