V. George Mathew, Ph.D


Indian Psychology



Yoga Psychology

Karma Yoga

Bhakthi Yoga

Raja Yoga

Kundalini Yoga

Mantra Yoga

Tanthra Yoga


Jnana Yoga

Buddhist Psychology

The Psychology Of Zen






Oriental Psychology consists of the psychologically relevant materials taken from ancient writings in the orient. During the early part of the present century, modern psychology emphasized sensation and perception and Indian Psychology consisted of largely Indian theories of perception. Later on when modern psychology started studying cognition, materials relevant to that also were taken from ancient scriptures and other documents. Still later theories of emotion also were included.

Climate perhaps has an influence on the goals and values of people. In the West people have an external orientation, their temperament being characterized by practical aggressive traits. In the East people are philosophically inclined. There is an internal orientation and the main concern of life is with the ultimates. Consequently ancient oriental writings are largely concerning religious and philosophical issues. Self-enquiry using holistic intuitive methods did not fall within the traditional framework of empirical psychology and so most of oriental material was supposed to be irrelevant for Psychology. But with the development of humanistic approach and the psychology of consciousness, almost the whole of oriental writings has become very relevant.

In Western psychology, the reference point was the average person. The normal was the average. But in the orient the normal was the ideal, the perfect. Cultivation of the quality of subjective experience was the main concern. The aim of life was considered to be self-realization.



The four asramas are BrahmacharyaGarhasthyaVanaprastha and Sanyasa, the last one aiming at self-realization. The four motives are KamaArthaDharma and Moksha, showing a rough correspondence to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The concept of Nishkama Karma (action with detachment) shows a similarity to Maslow's concept of metamotivation.



The three components of temperament are Thamasik (characterised by lethargy), Rajasik (characterised by high drive) and Sathwik characterized by balance and stability. There is also a transcendental qualityless (gunatheetha) state conducive to self-realisation.

Six personality types are recognised in BuddhismRagacharith (attached), Doshacharith (envy, aggression), Mohacharith (dull, idle), Buddhicharith (rational), Vithakkacharith (imaginative), and Sadvacharith (disciplined).

Jain typology called Laisya or colour type theory grades people according to the colouration of soul by karmic passions: Black, Blue, Grey, Pink, Red and White. All these theories recognise a gradation with respect to the state of self-realisation.


Personality development consists of growth toward unity. The Indian view is similar to the views of Rogers and Maslow which hypothesise spontaneous growth given right conditions. Guru occupies a very important place and parallels have been drawn between the guru-sishya relationship and counsellor- counsellee relationship. The main difference is that the Guru is a person with a high degree of self-awareness instead of any factual knowledge or skill of a counsellor and in the Indian system total personality change is emphasized more than specific behaviour change. The guru is a person with steady awareness. Many modern therapies like the Gestalt therapy emphasise Nowness, Actuality, Awareness and Wholeness and emphasise the personality of the counsellor and these therapies come close to the Indian model.



Yoga means union. It is customarily used to denote methods used to attain superconsciousness. Several qualities like ability to discriminate the real from the unreal (viveka), disinterest and desire to know the truth (mumukshathava) are required in order to become a sadhaka (practitioner). The methods have been grouped into four.

  1. Karma yoga

Every action has a reaction on the doer and the effect of actions remain in the person as his samskara. Good karma purifies the mind. Adler's method of developing social interest as a technique for personality development and personality development through improving social interactions (including counselling) can be related to karma yoga.


Actions can be classified into Nitya (daily routines), Kamya (desire-driven), Nishidha (sinful), Naimithika (occasional duties) and prayaschitha (compensatory). Another classification is into Sakama karma (desire driven) and Nishkama karma (action motivated only by a sense of duty, without any concern for the results. The concept of Nishkama Karma is close to Maslow's notion of Meta motivation (action stemming from fullness) as against deficiency motivation.


 2. Bhakthi yoga

Bhakthi yoga is the yoga of emotions. It is controlled cultivation of higher emotions. It involves the awakening, actualising and controlling of libidinal forces. It draws out latent emotional potentiality, arouses experiencial capacities and merges suppressions, repressions and inhibitions.


Gods represent psychic forces. God is the symbol of one's own evolved self. It is Brahman (the absolute) relfected in Maya (the percieved reality). Through Bhakthi yoga you seek your own true identity. Each person is advised to select or conceive of a God suited to his personality requirements.


Bhakthas are of different types: The Artha prays to escape from suffering. The Jignasu does so out of curiosity. The Artharthi seeks material gain. The Jnani seeks deliverance. This classification is based on the aim of the Bhaktha.

Bhakthi or devotion has been broadly classified into Saguna Bhakthi (God with name & form) and Nirguna Bhakthi (God as the absolute consciousness). There is some agreement that Nirguna Bhakthi represents a higher type of Bhakthi than Saguna Bhakthi. In Dasya Bakthi, the bhaktha considers himself to be the servant of God. In Sakhya Bhakthi God is approached in a friendly manner. This has been further subdivided into relationships in which God is considered as a friend, a child or lover. In bridal mysticism, the sadhaka (regardless of whether he is male or female) considers himself a female and God as his lover. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin and there is Vaira Bhakthi in which God is contemplated as an enemy. Some sadhakas have mixed emotions; they shower praise as well as abuse on the chosen god.

The instruments of worship are the body (for pujaarchanavandana), word (for parayanasravanakeerthana and japa) and mind (smarana). To a sadhaka following Bhakthi yogaBhakthi is a pleasurable experience and an end in itself. To him God is not just a device, but more real than any object of the senses.

The goal of Bhakthi is to replace fear by love.


3.Raja Yoga

This is the yoga of exercises and mind control. The term yoga is most often used to refer to Raja Yoga. This is also the type of yoga where a formal guru is considered essential. Usually there are initiation ceremonies to initiate a person into Raja yogaPathanjali's Yogasutra (1st century A.D.) is considered to be the best known treatise on yoga. It is also known as Astanga yoga or yoga with eight limbs as follows:

1. Yama (ethical condcut) - AhimsaSathya, Astheya (non-stealing), brahmacharya and aparigraha (non-acceptance of gifts)

2. Niyama (practices and observances) - Soucha (cleanliness), Santhosha, Thapa (austerity), Swadhyaya (study) and Iswara Pranidhana (surrender to God)

3. Asana - yogic postures. Asanas, kriyas (stomach wash, etc.) and pranayama together are called Hata yoga.

4. Pranayama - breath control. This is supposed to purify the mind. This involves paying attention to breathing and regulating the duration of inhalation (Puraka), holding breath (Kumbhaka) and exhalation (Rechaka).

5. Prathyahara - Withdrawal of the mind from the objects of the senses.

6. Dharana - Concentration. Achieving one pointedness.

7. Dhyanam - meditation - achieving stillness of mind.

8. Samadhi - superconscious state. The person enjoysbliss, peace and freedom. There is lack of body consciousness and concern.

The different states of mind are Kshiptha (scattered), Moodha (slovenly and sleepy), Vikshiptha (oscillating), Ekagra (one pointed) and Nirudha (controlled). The different states of consciousness are Jagrath (waking), Swapna (dream), Sushupthi (deep sleep), Thuriam (superconscious) and Thuriatheetham (absolute). Samadhi itself is of three grades - Savikalpa samadhi involves retention of personal identity while in Nirvikalpa samadhi, there is the experience of pure consciousness, beyond time and space.


Sahaja samadhi is experience of samadhi within, all the time, even when the person interacts and behaves like an ordinary person. Ishta samadhi is samadhi at will. Bhavasamadhi is experienced by artists. Karma samadhi is experienced by karmayogis. Jada samadhi is not real samadhi; it is a state of numbness experienced by pranayama or meditation and often mistaken for real samadhi.

Kundalini Yoga:

It is supposed that consciousness has three sheaths - Physical body, astral body and causal body. There are seven psychic centres in the astral body along the spine. They are Muladhara (root of spine), Swadhistana (corresponding to sex organs, in spine), Manipuraka (corresponding to navel), Anahatha (corresponding to heart), Visudhi (corresponding to throat), Ajna (corresponding to pineal gland, at the base of the brain) and Sahasrara (slightly above the head). It is supposed that in ordinary persons, pschic energy lies dormant in the form of a coiled serpent in Muladhara chakra. By intense visualisation, the yogi attempts to arouse the kundalini sakthi and make it move along the spine upwards passing through the other chakras. Various siddhis are obtained when the kundalini reaches the different centres. The major siddhis are eight in number. Samadhi is experienced when the energy reaches sahasrara chakra. Many techniques of kundalini yoga involve pranayama. Kundalini is often visualised as moving up along with inhalation and it is visualised as coming down (in two different paths crossing each other at the chakras during exhalation.

Mantra Yoga:

In Mantra yoga, the yogi repeatedly utters a word or a few words constituting the mantra. The word may or may not have a meaning. It is supposed that thoughts have power and that the principle of autosuggestion makes for changes in the person who repeatedly utters a mantra with meaning. The mantra is a means to bring back the wandering mind and make it one-pointed. In yoga, the mantra is used to evoke higher states of consciousness by association, while in black magic the mantra is used to evoke psychic power. The commonly used mantras include Om, yogic aphorisms like Aham Brahamasmi and names of gods and goddesses. It is believed that silent utterance in the mind has more effect than loud utterance.

Tanthra Yoga:

This type of yoga flourished in north eastern India. Elements of manthra yoga and Kundalini yoga are included in Tanthra yoga. Some tanthric sects think that controlled indulgence of sense pleasures is a means to arouse Kundalini and that indulgence with awareness and with the aim of self-realisation enables the yogi to gradually transecend desires. Partial indulgence without full satisfaction is seen as a method of arousing and sublimating libidinal forces.


Meditation is the most important technique of Raja yoga. It is functioning in the passive, receptive mode, as against the active mode. It increases awareness and control and has some similarities with bio-feed back. It gradually reduces restlessness and reduces instinctual disturbances. Instincts cause mechanical, uncontrolled behaviour and meditating makes for more conscious behaviour.


A lot of modern scientific research has gone into the effects of meditation. Japanese scientists found that monks in meditation show alpha brain wave by reduction in heart rate, BP, respiratory rate, rate of oxygen consumption, muscular tension, electrical skin conductivity of the skin, lactate content in blood, etc. Meditators show increased perceptual ability, higher gains in IQ, creativity, academic achievement, adjustment, stress tolerance, work output and athletic performance. Meditating prisoners show better rehabilitation. A significant reduction in crime rate was observed in cities where a significant percentage of the people were meditating (Maharishi effect). Meditating drug addicts showed more improvement than control groups. Meditation techniques have been incorporated into many modern psychotherapeutic systems (like Autogenic Training of Schultz, Morita Therapy of Japan, and Zen Integration therapy).


4.Jnana Yoga

This is the yoga of the intellect. Some people think that each type of yoga is meant for people with a certain type of temperament while some others like Aurobindo speak of an integral yoga which combines all the four yogas as best. Still others think that there is a gradation. Initial preparation and readiness are required for the practice of any yoga, without which imbalances may develop. Karma yoga is for beginners and after achieving a degree of purity one becomes ripe for Bhakthi yoga when devotion spontanesously appears in the heart. Bhakthi yoga prepares one for practice of Raja yoga and mind control. Finally the person reaches the stage where the existential questions arise with force in his mind and he becomes a Jnana yogi. All intellectual effort, in a broad sense is Jnana yoga. Broadly conceived, all scientists and philosophers are Jnana yogis. Low living and high thinking go together and an austere life is part of Jnana yoga. It is said that if a person is genuinely curious about anything, that will in due course lead him to the same ultimate questions of existence the final answer to which lies in a transformation of personality leading to an alteration in consciousness. You can't know reality without becoming part of it.


The four stages of acquiring knowledge are sensory perception, testimony by somebody, reasoning and the last is insight. Sensory and intellectual knowledge is supposed to be indirect (Paroksha Jnana) while direct knowledge (Aparaoksha Jnana) is intuitive. Apara Vidya is wordly knowledge while truth is apprehended through Para vidya.


The first step in Jana yoga is developing a real urge to ralise the truth, or asking the one ultimate question: what is reality ? One has to discard wrong answers by reasoning - Neti, Neti (not this, not this). Intellectual blocks have to be surmounted. In the language of Advaitha, one has to experience Paramarthika reality, discarding Vyavaharika (empirical) and Prathibhasika (illusory). Dwaitha is unreal and the result of Maya. Truth is unitary; it is the Advaithic experience. The method is SravanaManana and Nididhyasa i.e., hearing, thinking and fitting what one has understood to one's actual experience. Finally one realises one's indentity with pure consciousness and the perceiver, perception and object of perception merge into one supreme experience.



Buddhism is said to be the most 'scientific' religion. It does not speak of a God. There is no soul, but only the continuation of experiences or karma or personality through different incarnations. The ultimate reality is described as vacuum or 'Sunyata'. The four noble truths are

  1. Pain,
  2. Cause of pain (passion and lust),
  3. Annihilation of Pain (i.e., the possibility of ending pain or suffering),
  4. The eight fold path leading to cessation of pain.

The eight fold path consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort (mental exercises), right mindfulness (of body, mind and actions) and right meditation. The capacity for moral sense is inherited but it has to be developed by pracitce.

Desirelessness is the key to nirvana and the path is moderation, not total indulgence or complete self-denial. One has to become indifferent to pain and pleasure.

Buddhism does not emphasise the guru-sishya system. It encourages free enquiry. Buddha told his disciples not to accept anything because he said it, but only if it appeared rational. His last words were, "Do not seek refuge in anything external, be a refuge unto yourself". One should not have any belief or preconception. But one should pierce all preconceptions like a diamond needle (Vajracheda) to experience truth.

Theravada (thera=elders) follows the orignal teachings of Buddha, while Mahayana sects admit innovations.

The Psychology of Zen

Zen is a variety of Buddhism which evolved in Japan from 6 th century A.D. The word Zen is derived from Dhyan meaning meditation. A novice has to take a vow to save all beings which induces the right motivation to realise truth. Zen practice involves different elements.


1. Zazen:

This is sitting zen. One has to sit in the cross-legged posture and take a few deep breaths. One may sway from side to side two or three times to become flexible and not rigid. Then there are several options. Just sitting (which is a very difficult, but highly valued practice), observing the body (cultivation body awareness by observing the sensations from different parts of the body), Watching the mind (feelings and thoughts which arise), watching the breath, counting the breath, etc.

2. Mobile Zen:

This is cultivating mindfulness. Learn to enter fully into every action, with maximum awareness, and presence.

3. Koan Zen:

A koan is a riddle with no clear answer. No answer is expected. The attempt is to break the tyranny of the intellect and the ego. Absorption and penetration into the koan leads to a change in consciousness. Most koans are in the form of a question, some are in action form. Some koans were asked by a Zen master at a certain point during a conversation which helped the disciple who was ready for enlightenment, but was having some block to get over the block and experience sudden enlightenment. Many koans clear the egoistic feeling resulting from bookish erudition. When a certain disciple was asking hair-splitting questions endlessly, a Zen master said, "Have you taken your breakfast? ... Then wash you bowl." In a similar context another Zen master went on pouring tea into a cup even after tea was overflowing. Some other well-known koans are, "Use the spade in your empty hand", "Talk without using your tongue", "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Every block is considered to be an opportunity for learning (gateless gate).

Other Zen practices include Concentration or contemplation (on various shapes, qualities, chakras in the body,mandalas symmetric geometric forms), manthras, etc. For tension release and getting rid of inhibitions, disciples are made to utter a calm cry followed by vigorous shouting.

The results of Zen are flexibility, clarity, serenity, peace of mind, work-efficiency, personality integration, self-control and self-realisation. Kensho is experiencing self-transparency and the final enlightenment (satori) may come all on a sudden on gradually. In the final stage the realised person sees perfection and significance in every thing (suchness) and everything is seen as beautiful. He is self-sufficient and the only thing which motivates him to act is compassion.


Jain philosophy also differentiates cognitive knowledge and intuitive understanding. The path to realisation of the Jain system has three main steps: right faith, right knowledge and right conduct (consisting of satyaastheyaahimsaaparigraha and brahmacharya. While Buddhism emphasises moderation, Jainism emphasises meditation. Buddhism advocates partial non-violence in the sense that even eating meat is permitted under special circumstances.



Taoism is a religion which flourished in China. Tao means "Way" or" How". Tao cannot be defined, because there is nothing to compare it with. It can be known by becoming aware of what is happening through meditation. Tao does not behave, does nothing at all, yet everything gets done. Tao applies to everything. All things and events are vibratory, but Tao is not a vibratory event. Tao can be realised by becoming aware of what is happening with an open mind. Tao has no opposites and polarities, Tao is One. Tao is unity. Nothing comes before Tao, Nothing made Tao. Tao is the law of all things, the common ground of all creation. Knowing Tao is not a learning process, but a process of subtraction. The yin-yang figure illustrates the principle of oneness which contains apparent dichotomies (ex. like & dislike, gain & loss).

Taoism is considered as one of the oldest religions of the world. Lao Tsu who lived in 6th century B.C. codified Taoism. The main guideline for living is to actualise the principle of Wei Wu-Wei (Action Non-action) which means cultivating an attitude of deterministic acceptance, detachment and transcendence.

Taoism considers intellect as a block and the path to enlightenment is a process of subtraction and not learning. The Taoist way of life involves living in harmony with nature.



Sufism is the mystic sect of Islam. It origninated in Persia and spread to all countries having Muslims, including India. Mysticism in all religions share the same basic features and Sufism is no exception. At the philosophical level, the dictum "Anal Haq" (meaning the same as Aham Brahmasmi) expresses identification with pure consciousness. At the emotional level Sufi mystics symbolise themselves as the bride and God as the lover and dance and sing in ecstasy. In India some Sufis even wear female costumes on ceremonial occasions. Sufi contribution to devotional poetry and music has been considerable. Many Hindustani ragas and the Quawali type of singing originated in Sufism. A large collection of Sufi teaching stories are available. The Sufi dance involves very fast whirling movements. Like in many other religions, Sufi mystics were considered heretics and subjected to persecution by orthodox Muslims. Many Sufi mystics are credited with paranormal powers. One power sometimes supposedly demonstrated is making wounds on one's own body which spontaneously heal quickly.