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"The Human Person in the Mirror of Transpersonal Psychology"

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The Human Person in the Mirror of Transpersonal Psychology

Name of the Author : John Alexander

Name of the Journal: Journal of Dharma: Dharmaram Journal of Religions

and Philosophies

Volume Number : 21

Issue Number : 1

Period of Publication : January‐March1996

Pages : 104‐130

Dharmaram Journals

Dharmaram Journals , a group of scientific periodical publications, is an integral part of Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram , Pontifical Athenaeum of Theology, Philosophy and Canon Law. We publish five academic and research journals, namely, Journal of Dharma, Asian Horizons, Vinayasadhana, Iustitia and Herald of the East in the fields of religions and philosophies, theology, formative spirituality and counselling, canon law and Chavara studies, respectively. Through these scientific publications, DVK accomplishes its mission by bringing to the erudite public the highest quality research.

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John Alexander

Kristu Jyoti College, Bangalore


1.0 Introduction

Our world today is in the midst of a deep crisis. Mass starvation, nuclear annihilation, ethnic conflicts and ecological destruction are some of the most glaring symptoms of such a crisis. Who is responsible for this? We wrongly look at economics, politics, religion and other external structures to find out the villain. Actually, we are the villains; we, the human persons who have understood very little of who and what we are, and what we can become.

What is a human person? is the most crucial question confronting anyone who wishes to save the world from the present crisis. Different philosophies, psychologies and other disciplines assume different perspectives and emphasize different dimensions of the human person. Gathering insights from perennial philosophy 1 and synthesizing them with the modern Western psychologies, the emerging transpersonal psychology attempts to understand the human person in a larger context that includes states of consciousness and levels of well-being ignored by the previous psychological models.

In this paper, we shall mainly focus on the philosophical underpinnings of transpersonal psychology concerning the human

1. ′Perennial philosophy′ is a term used by A. Huxley and others to refer to a universal doctrine concerning the nature of the human person and reality lying at the heart of every metaphysical tradition and religion. Ken Wilber and others belonging to the transpersonal movement propose a corresponding ′perennial psychology′ - a universal view concerning the nature of human con-sciousness which expresses the very same insights as that of perennial philosophy but in a more decidedly psychological language. See Wilber. Ken. ″Psychologia Perennis: The Spectrum of Consciousness″, in Beyond Ego. Edited by Walsh, Roger and Vaughan, Frances (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1980), pp. 74-86.

person. For this, we shall first briefly look at the emergence of the transpersonal movement in the history of psychology. Then, we shall expound some of the key concepts of the human person-human knowing, human consciousness and human growth - in the transpersonal perspective. Finally, we shall discuss some of the philosophical issues that transpersonal psychology raises with regard to our understanding of the human person.

2.0 The Emergence of Transpersonal Movement

Psychology is relatively young compared to other scientific disciplines. Within the short span of its existence and especially in the recent years, several branches, schools and theories of psychology have mushroomed. But even in the maze of its complexity that we find today, we can still discern three important movements in the evolution of the history of psychology - Behaviourism, psychoanalysis and Humanistic psychology. 2

Behaviourism approaches the human person by looking at the different behaviours of an individual. American psychologist John B. Watson (1878-1958), a pioneer in this school, maintained that if psychology were to be an objective science it must concern itself with what the person does. 3 Stimulus-response psychology, advanced by B.

F. Skinner (1904-1990), is an outgrowth of this behaviourism. The psychoanalytic conception of the human person was developed by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). The basic assumption of Freud s theory is that much of human person s behaviour is determined by innate instincts that are largely unconscious. By unconscious processes Freud meant thoughts,

2. For the purpose of clarity I have chosen the most influential approaches in the history of psychology. By this I am not denying the existence of various other approaches to the psychological study of the human person. In fact, most of the other theories or approaches could be considered as pad of or at least variations that arose in reaction to these three influential movements of psychology.

3. See Weber, Ann L. Introduction to Psychology (New York: Harper Collins, 1991). pp. 7-9.

fears, and wishes of which the person is unaware but which influence the person s behaviour. 4

A growing number of mental health professionals, especially in the early 1960s, felt that both behaviourism and psychoanalysis were limited in focussing on simple, measurable human behaviour and pathology. 5 In adopting a reductionistic approach to the human person they ignored or often

pathologized certain areas, concerns and data relevant to a full study of the human person: spirituality, consciousness, self- actualization and self-transcendence. Motivations and behaviours aimed towards self-actualization and self-transcendence, and even the possibility of attaining such goals, were dispensed with as neurotic immaturities, even though non-Western psychologies and consciousness disciplines 6 contained detailed description of them. 7

Humanistic psychology, inspired by existentialism (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre), emerged in response to these concerns. It took as its major focus, aspects connected with health rather than pathology. If Freud supplied to us the sick half of psychology.... we must now fill it out with the healthy half . 8 It emphasized positive human qualities of free will and self-actualization, and initiated studies and researches of individuals who seemed to have matured in these dimensions. Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), a pioneer in humanistic psychology, was particularly interested in fully developed or

4. See Kagan, Jerome and Segal, Julius. Psychology. Sixth ed. (San Diego ; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1988), pp. 352-355.

5. Speaking of behaviourism and psychoanalysis Gordon Allport notes: ″We have on the psychology of liberation - nothing. ″And in fact, Freud′s collected works contain over four hundred references to neurosis and none directly to health. See Roger and Vaughan, Beyond Ego, p. 19.

6. The term ′consciousness disciplines′ and other terms such as ′spiritual disciplines′, ′Eastern traditions′ and ′mysticism′ are used interchangeably. They can be defined as doctrines and practics that assert the possibility of obtaining, through mental training, the most profound insights into mental processes, consciousness and reality.

7. See Walsh, Roger. ″The Transpersonal Movement: A History and State of the Art″, JTP (The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology), 1993, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 123-125′.

8. Maslow, Abraham. Toward a Psychology of Being. Second Ed. (Princeton: Van Nostrand. 1968), p. 5.

self-actualized people who frequently undergo changes in consciousness that he called peak experiences . 9

But towards the end of his life Maslow realized the limitations of even humanistic psychology for encompassing the continuously evolving span of human experience and potential. He therefore called attention to possibilities beyond self-actualization in which the human person transcends the usual limits of identity and experience.

I consider Humanistic, Third Force Psychology, to be transitional, a preparation for a still higher Fourth psychology transpersonal, transhuman, centered in the cosmos rather than in human needs and interests, going beyond humanness identity, self-actualization, and the like. 10

Today, Transpersonal psychology is the title given to this emerging fourth force 11 in psychology that is

concerned with expanding the field of psychological inquiry to include the study of optimal psychological health and wellbeing. It recognizes the potential for experiencing a broad range of states of consciousness, in some of which identity may extend beyond the usual limits of the ego and personality. 12

As such it draws on both Western and Eastern wisdom in an attempt to integrate knowledge from traditions concerned with the fulfillment of human potentials.

9. Peak Experiences are spontaneous, ecstatic, unitive states of consciousness akin to those mystical experiences that have been widely reported and highly valued across centuries and cultures. See Maslow Toward a Psychology of Being, pp. 71-102. In addition to this, various Eastern philosophies. psychologies.....and.....religions... described not just peak experiences but whole families of peak experiences. Contrary to Maslow′s opinion that peak experiences were usually spontaneous, these Eastern consciousness disciplines claimed the possibility of inducing these experiences through training. See Tart, Charles T. Transpersonal Psychologies (New York: Harper and Row, 1977).

10. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, pp. iii-iv.

11. The first three ′forces′ of psychology are Behaviourism (first force). Psychoanalytic movement (second force) and Humanistic psychology (third force).

12. Roger and Vaughan. (eds). Beyond Ego, p. 18.

In addition to the desire to complement and expand existing psychological models, several other factors have also paved the way for the emergence of transpersonal psychology. Among them, the following two could be highlighted.

First and foremost is the growing discontentment with consu- meristic culture and the accompanying interest in and use of psychedelics and consciousness-altering techniques such as meditation. Yoga and Zen for a meaningful life- These techniques for the first time 13 showed specially the West the possibility of having extraordinarily powerful experiences of a range of states of consciousness quite outside the realm of daily living or of anything previously recognized by Western psychology. This attracted a large following. But alongside these areas of popular interest, empirical research has also gradually provided support and legitimization for certain claims about altered states of consciousness. Studies and researches of meditation, although still in an early stage, lend preliminary support to ancient claims that meditation can enhance psychological development, modify physiological processes, and induce a range of altered states. 14

Another supportive research area is modern physics and its affinity with mysticism 15 . In recent years the physicists picture of the universe has undergone a radical re-visioning. The traditional understanding of the universe as atomistic, divisible, static and nonre-lativistic has given way to models of the universe that acknowledge a holistic, indivisible, interconnected, relativistic reality inseparable from the consciousness of the observer. Such

13. Although William James laid the groundwork in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) for the psychology consciousness at the turn of the century′ there followed a period of some fifty years during which Western psychology shunned anything suggestive of introspection in an effort to secure psychology as one of the objective sciences.

14. See Roger and Vaughan Beyond Ego pp. 20-22.

15. A Detailed analysis of the parallels between the principal theories of modern physics and mystical traditions of the East can be found in Capra, Fritj of. The Tao of Physics (London: Bantam Books, 1983). Also Ken Wilber′s Quantum Questions (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1984) is an excellent anthology of mystical writings of the world′s great physicists. Finally, a comprehensive overview of scientific theories, specially in their understanding of human person is presented in Casti, John L. Paradigms Lost (London: Abacus Books, 1989).

pictures of the universe seem to parallel in certain ways the reality experienced by mystics and people interested in consciousness disciplines.

3. 0 Defining Transpersonal Psychology

The term transpersonal was adopted after considerable deliberation in 1968 by the founding editors of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology Anthony Sutich, Abraham Maslow and others. 16 Their choice expressed a philosophical position about the human person and a new vision of psychological inquiry that is concerned with what his beyond individuality, beyond development of the individual person into something which is more inclusive than the individual person.... 17

In the recent years there has been renewed interest in defining the field of Transpersonal Psychology. 18 It is impossible to present here all the different definitions that have been attempted so far. We can delineate the most frequently occurring themes in these definitions which in fact provide a comprehensive overview of the field of transpersonal psychology. They are: (1) States of Consciousness (2) Highest ultimate potential, (3) Beyond ego or personal self, (4) Transcendence and (5) Spiritual. 19 Based on all the original existing transpersonal literature and the compilation and analysis of the corpus of previous definitions of transpersonal psychology Denise H. Lajoie and S.I. Shapiro provide a succinct and yet a synthetic definition:

16. Though there are no records of ′transpersonal psychology′ as a name or title being used before 1967-69, there are uses of the single term ′transpersonal, by William James in 1905-1906 and Carl Jung in 1917. See Vich Miles A| ″Some Historical Sources of the Term ′transpersonal″ JTP, 1988, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 107-110.

17. Sutich, A. J. ″The Emergence of the Transpersonal Orientation: A Persona. Account″ JTP, 1976 , Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 5-19.

18. A systematic survey of all the definitions (forty in all) of transpersonal psychology attempted so far is presented in Lajoie, Densie H. ″Definitions of Transpersonal Psychology: The First Twenty-three Years,″ JTP, 1992, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 80-89.

19. See Walsh, Roger and Vaughan, Frances. ″On Transpersonal Definitions″, JTP, 1993, Vol. 25, No. 2. pp. 199-202.

Transpersonal psychology is concerned with the study of humanity s highest potential, and the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent state of consciousness. 20

4. 0 Human Knowing

An analysis of our experience in the world reveals that there are two basic modes of knowing: one, the dualistic or symbolic mode of knowing and the other, the non-dualistic or intimate mode of knowing. These two modes of knowing are recognized universally but articulated differently by various traditions. In the Hindu world view, we have aparavidya and paravidya. The Mahayana Buddhism speaks of vijnana and prajna Taoism recognizes two forms of knowing as conventional knowledge as opposed to a knowledge of the Way ( tao ) . Christian theology - Meister Eckhart for example-distinguishes between twilight

knowledge and daybreak knowledge They all correspond to dualistic and non-dualistic modes of knowing respectively. 21

In our dualistic mode of knowing, knowing consists in establishing an outer chain of physical or mental intermediaries connecting the subject and the object. The two important characteristics of this dualistic form of knowing are abstraction and bifurcation. The process of abstraction, useful as it may be in every day discourse, is ultimately false, in the sense that it operates by noting the salient feature of an object and ignoring all else. Abstraction , according to Whitehead, is nothing else than omission of part of the truth. 22 The dualistic mode of knowing also operates by bifurcation. In the very act of knowing,

it divides the subject and object into a seer and seen , thus creating two irreconcilable realities out of the one seamless coat of the universe .

Today more than ever before, this dualistic mode of knowing has ingeniously extended itself in technological progress. While it has earned us comfort and convenience, it has to a large extent been responsible for all kinds of diseases: physical, psychological, moral,

20. Lajoie and Shapiro, JTP, 1992. Vol. 24, No. 1. p. 91.

21. See Wilber, Ken. The Spectrum of Consciousness (Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1977), pp. 29-45.

22. Quoted in Ibid., p. 45.

social and ecological. Is not techno-logic a natural, disastrous extension of duo-logic, subject as object? 23

An authentic apprehension of reality is possible only through the non-dual mode of knowing. For, in the non-dual mode of knowing, the act of knowing does not operate by separating the knower and the known. Instead, reality is apprehended in its fullness and wholeness and we come to feel that we are one with the universe. There is no one thing as reality separated from a subject who knows this reality. We directly experience the undifferentiated, undivided, indeterminate suchness or Supreme Identity or Cosmic Awareness or Unity Consciousness. 24

Two fundamental tenets of Transpersonal psychology concerning the human person are derived from the above epistemological insight. The first one is concerned with human person s identity. 25 The two modes of human knowing correspond to the levels of consciousness. For, the identity of the human person is intimately related to the level of consciousness from and on which we operate. A shift in the mode of knowing results in the shift in our sense of identity. Thus, in the dualistic mode of knowing we feel alien and distinct from the very reality which we seek to know. Whereas in the non-dualist mode of knowing, we are on the level of awareness where we feel one with the reality. Reality is Consciousness. 26

The second one is concerned with the human evolution or, in the words of Ken Wilber, with the Atman project. The basic nature of the human person is Unity Consciousness or Ultimate Wholeness or Atman. But through the interplay of maya , 27 this Unity consciousness is split into different

23. See Wilber, Ken. ″Two Modes of Knowing″, in Beyond Ego, pp. 234-239.

24. See ′death′ Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness, pp. 43-45.

25. For transpersonal psychology, ′identity′ is a central concept in the understanding of the human person. Traditional Western psychologies have understood identity as a process of identification with external objects and have defined it as an unconscious process in which the individual becomes like or feels the same as something or someone. Transpersonal psychology, while recognizing the external identification, emphasizes the significance of identification with internal phenomena and processes. Identity, therefore, is defined as the process by which something is experienced as self. See Roger and Vaughan, ″What is a Person?″ in Beyond Ego. p. 56.

26. Wilber. ″Two Modes of Knowing″, in Beyond Ego, pp. 237-239.

27. For transpersonal psychology, maya is any experience constituted by or stemming from dualism (specifically, the primary dualism of subject vs.

levels. Rediscovery of this Unity consciousness is the human person s single greatest need and want. For, not only is Atman the basic nature of all souls; each person knows or intuits that this is so. At the same time, since this realization entails of our separate-self sense we constantly seek transcendence in ways or structures, that actually prevent it and force symbolic substitutes. These substitutes of transcendence come in a variety of ways: sex, food, money, fame, knowledge, etc. Human history is a narrative of this attempt to re-gain and re-discover unity consciousness (Atman Consciousness) in ways or under conditions - that prevent it and force symbolic substitutes -this is the Atman project. 28

5.0 Human Consciousness

The perennial question Who am I? has probably tormented mankind since the dawn of civilization, and remains today one of the most unanswerable of all human questions. Instead of looking at the multitude of answers that have been offered so far to this question, let us examine the very specific process which occurs when a person asks, and answers, the question who am I?

When we are describing (1 am so and so....) or explaining or even just inwardly feeling our self, what we are actually

object).Transpersonal psychology also holds all dualism to be not so much unreal but illusory.

28. Drawing on anthropology, psychology, sociology and the history of religions Ken Wilber portrays human evolution in the following major stages : (i) Archaic world - characterized by primitive notions in tis beliefs and practices (ii) Magical world - characterized by rituals, totems, and struggle for life and death in a world of participation mystique, (iii) Mythic world - characterized by the world′s enduring mythologies but hiding a dark side of human sacrifice, (iv) Rational World - characterized by rationality and logic but alienated from past organic roots and scarred by a repression of the body by the mind. But the story continues: based on the past evidence Wilber suggests higher stages towards which future evolution might now be moving. See Wilber, Ken. Up From Eden. (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1986), pp. 12-13. Synthesizing the developmental studies of Piaget, Lovinger and Kohlberg, Ken Wilber also proposes a developmental model of consciousness. He begins with infantile (Lower realms) and progresses through to the adult levels (Intermediary realms). What is unique, however, is that he then continues this developmental sequence through the unfolding of the successive structures of consciousness Ultimate realms) that Eastern psychologies describe in the most psychologically developed and spiritually enlightened persons. See Wilber Ken, Atman Project (Wheaton: Quest Books, 1980).

doing is drawing a mental line or boundary across the whole field of our experience. Everything inside the boundary we feel to be our self while everything outside the boundary we feel to be not-self. Human consciousness, therefore, depends entirely upon where we draw the boundary line between self and not- self. 29

It is because we construct such innumerable boundaries and o at different levels that human consciousness could be conceived as a spectrum, a rainbow-like appearance composed of numerous bands or levels of self-identity. Every level of the spectrum can be understood as a progressive bounding or limiting of one s real self, of unity consciousness and non-dual existence. This boundary line that we draw can and does frequently shift. There are as many different types of boundary lines as there are individuals who draw them. For our convenience, these different boundaries could be categorized into a handful of easily recognized groups of existential, ego and shadow levels. 30

29. Robert Ornestein considered consciousness to be the main object of inquiry for psychology. ″Psychology is, primarily, the science of consciousness. Its researchers deal with consciousness directly when possible, and indirectly, through the study of physiology and behaviour when necessary″. Quoted in Tart,

p. 1 There is also a lot of current research being pursued in the realm of consciousness. Some of the most accepted scientific theories with regard to consciousness are in consonance with what we propose here: ″Consciousness,

″says Antonio Damasio ″is concept of your own self, something that you reconstruct moment by moment on the basis of the image of your own body, your own autobiography and a sense of your intended future″.

For Francis Crick and Christ of Koch ″consciousness is somehow a by-product of the simultaneous, high-frequency firing of neurons in different parts of the brain. It is the meshing of these frequencies that generate consciousness, just as the tones of different individual instruments produce the rich, complex and seamless sound of a symphony orchestra. ″See Time Magazine, July 31. 1995, p. 42.

30. This presentation of different levels of consciousness is a synthesis from the works of Ken Wilber Spectrum of Consciousness (1977). Atman Project (1978), No Boundary (1985) Up from Eden (1986) A Sociable God (1983) one of the leading thinkers in the transpersonal movement: But there are also other accounts of levels of consciousness that more or loss share a similar view. See, for instanc. Smith, Huston. The Forgotten truth. (New York: Harper and Row, 1976). Here Huston Smith proposes a four-fold distinction of ontological levels of consciousness: 1) the body 2) the mind 3) the soul 4) the spirit, the atman that is Brahman. Also See Grof, Stanislav. ″Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research″, in Beyond Ego. pp. 87-

99. From his research Grof reports that the use of psychedelics under clinical

5.1 Existential Level

The most common and fundamental boundary line that individuals draw up or accept as valid is that of the boundary line between the total organism and the environment. This seems to be a universally accepted self/not-self boundary line. It is in fact the primary boundary. When this primary_ boundary occurs then the person is no longer identified with the total reality; identity is narrowed down to one s organism alone. The organism