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Psychology in the Indian Tradition, expression of bhakti spanned across the entire

K Ramakrishna Rao, Anand C Paranjpe spectrum of lower as well as higher forms.

Tukārāma started looking back into his past, he
found a series of instances where he discarded his Various forms of role relationships between the
old self, embracing a new one. To borrow a phrase devotee and the deity are reverence for superiors
from Erikson, life may be viewed as a series of (dāsya), friendship among equals (sakhya), affection
transitions from an “abandoned self” to an for subordinates (vātsalya), and romantic love
“anticipated self.” Another way of saying the same (śṛṅgāra). Further, they rank these in an increasing
thing is that life is a continual process of Becoming order of intimacy between the devotee and the deity.
something different from what one has been. This Goswamis view romantic relationship with God as
means that throughout the unending process of the most intimate. Accordingly, in the bhakti
changes in life, one never is, but only was, and will literature, Rādhā, who was Kṛṣṇa’s paramour in the
be. In his process of looking back and looking ahead, Bhāgavata Purāṇa, as well as historical Saint
Tukārāma must have not only realized this truth, Meera, are considered as exemplars of the highest
but discovered the true Self, the Ātman, which he form of bhakti (called the madhurā bhakti).
always was, is, and would always be. What Tukārāma did not place himself in the role of God’s
Tukārāma said is no different from what is called lover. This may have partly to do with his role in
self-realization (ātmasākṣātkāra) arrived at through mundane life as a man—a husband and father.
the wise discrimination between what remains Being a man did not stop some devotees—
unchanged and what is open to change (nitya- Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and many Sufi saints,
anitya-viveka) in the Advaita system. for instance—from seeing themselves as God’s
female lovers. Sri Ramakrishna dressed like a
9.2.6 Theory and Practice of Bhakti Yoga woman during the period in which he played the role
of Rādhā in relation to Kṛṣṇa. Regardless of
In bhakti yoga there is special focus in the Tukārāma’s spending a lot of time in practicing a
transformation of the spiritual aspirant’s emotions, “lower” form of bhakti, and notwithstanding that a
as compared with jñāna- and karma yoga where the friendly relationship with God is placed lower in
emphasis is on respectively the thinking and comparison with a romantic relationship, he was at
volition. his best in totally surrendering his ego (ātma
nivedanam) which is the highest form of bhakti.
Tukārāma’s Gāthā makes it clear that its most
distinctive feature is the richness of his emotional 9.2.7 Bhakti in Relation to Other Major Paths
experience. The shear intensity with which he yearns to Spiritual Uplift
for a meeting with the Divine is most remarkable.
Although varied aspects of his emotional experience Q) Can Tukarama be taken as a case of pure bhakti
are reflected in the poems, the most important without elements of jnana, karma or dhyana yoga?
emotion is that of love, mainly love for God. Bhakti
is defined as the highest form of love (parama prema A) In one of Tukarama’s poems he mentioned
rūpā) (Narada Bhakti Sutra). ‘In 15 days I attained realization (sākṣātkāra jālā).
Aiming for nirvāṇa I sat in a posture (āsana ghātale),
Rūpa and Jīva Goswamī emphasize the and started contemplating the Divine. I was attacked
transformation of emotions (bhāvas) into by snakes, scorpions and tiger. But my body melted
corresponding aesthetic moods (rasas). From their away like camphor in a flame. My mind rested on
viewpoint, the ultimate aesthetic mood is an all- parabrahma. I met with God Viṭhobā in a formless
encompassing Kṛṣṇa-rasa, i.e.,all-pervasive Celestial state.’ These clearly suggest practice of dhyana-yoga
Love. Further, upon successfully traversing on the of Patanjali. Variations of practices suggested by
path of devotion, the devotee is said to be totally Patañjali’s dhyāna yoga as well as the multitudes of
immersed into the experience of Celestial Love. In postures and breathing exercises of haṭha yoga are
Tukārāma’s poetry we find the finest example of the common to spiritual practices of a wide array of
expression of bhakti rasa; he is so fully absorbed schools, including schools of Buddhism, Jainism
into this aesthetic mood that his ego dissolves in it. and Sikhism. Jñāneśvar, the founder of the Vārkarī
sampradaya had combined the legacy of the Nātha
As to the practice of bhakti (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) there sampradāya of yogis with mainstream of bhakti.
are 9 major forms in which bhakti is expressed
ranging from listening to the stories of God Jñāneśvar in Amṛtānubhava, tried to reconcile the
(śravaṇam), through singing songs and chanting dualism of the Sāṁkhya system with the strict non-
(kīrtanam), to ultimately offering one’s self to Him dualism of the Advaita. Tukārāma’s reference to
(ātmanivedanam). Tukārāma spent hours and days, parabrahma and the formless nature of the Divine
year after year, in singing and chanting the name(s) are unmistakable signs of an Advaitic approach. His
of God (kīrtanam). That was the main form of his characterization of his experience as transcending
“practice” of bhakti. Singing, worshipping and such trilogy of knower/knowledge/object of knowledge
“ritualistic” expressions are often considered “lower” shows beyond doubt that it was the same as the
forms as compared to “higher” forms such as Fourth State described in the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad.
cultivating friendship (sakhyam). Tukārāma’s The most crucial consequence of the revelation of the
true Self is the complete overcoming of the ego
leading to extremely selfless and compassionate Tukārāma would always give away his possessions,
behavior. Those consequences were reflected in money or food or whatever to the needy, keeping
Tukārāma’s behavior is obvious. nothing for himself. He once gave away even his
wife’s only dress, adding to her continuing agony
While Ramaṇa Maharshi overcame his ego through and frustration. He may be thought as a compulsive
intense critical inquiry into the nature of the self as giver, but it is clear that his giving away all
prescribed in the jñāna mārga, Tukārāma possessions was prompted by his boundless
accomplished the same through the complete compassion. Having shed his ego, his behavior was
surrender of his ego at the feet of the Lord. The not only selfless and altruistic, but also lacking
pursuit of bhakti mārga can take a devotee to the anger even for those who would annoy or hurt him.
same highly cherished goal as the jñāna mārga. He had many tormenters, and the worst among them
Tukārāma explicitly disapproves the latter path. He was Rameśvara Bhaṭṭa who forced Tukārāma to
clearly states that he is not satisfied with the throw his notebook of poems in the river.
Advaita. His rejection of the path of knowledge did Tukārāma’s big heart that would forgive a worst
not result from lack of ability for critical thinking, offender. It reminds us of Jesus who prayed God to
which is a requisite for its practice. Despite his deep forgive his killers “for they know not what they do”.
understanding of sophisticated philosophical text He stoically and silently suffered from the burns on
such as the Jñāneśvarī, he did not attach much his body caused by a woman who threw boiling water
value to the study of texts. It is not the study of the on him when angered by the fact that her husband
texts he would mind, but the tendency to engage is had lost interest in life after listening to his
empty verbiage that often results from the study of discourses. His love was boundless; there was no
texts that he is against. place for an iota of hatred, even for the worst
offenders, and beyond that it extended beyond
Devotion implies a fundamental duality between the humanity to all living beings.
devotee and the deity, which is in principle opposed
to non-dualism of the Advaita. Acolytes of bhakti Tukārāma had allowed the birds to eat away the crop
mārga reject the unitive experience of Samādhi, as which he was supposed to guard against their
well as the most vaunted goal of liberation (mokṣa) attack. He would keep mixture of flour and sugar for
from the cycle of birth and death. ants to eat. Once, while he was walking through a
Tukārāma clearly says that he does not want to stay forest, he was attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes,
in the experience of the real Self and he prays to God but he paid no attention to their stinging. He would
not to give him eternal liberation but repeated not ward off any of the mosquitoes to avoid giving
rebirth, so he can forever enjoy the company of them pain. During his pilgrimage to Āḷandī to pay
saints. How to reconcile dualism of bhakti with non- respect to the tomb of Saint Jñāneśvar, he saw some
dualistic principle of Advaita is an old and complex birds picking seeds under a tree. As soon as they saw
scholarly issue. But Tukārāma was first and Tukārāma walking toward them, the birds flew
foremost a practitioner with little interest in such away. He was distressed to find that he was not
theoretical discussions. Having reached the highest perceived by the birds as harmless and kind. So he
level of practice in the experience of self-realization appealed for God’s help, and would not eat or even
he could afford to assert that only those like him breathe till He restored total kindness in him so the
understood the true meaning of the Vedas [including birds would come back. The devotee’s prayers were
the Upaniṣads], others who carry the burden of answered; the birds, now fearless, came and sat on
scholarship cannot. his body. The ideal of love extended to all creatures,
human or otherwise, is not an empty concept; it is
9.2.8 Tukārāma’s Boundless Compassion known to manifest in the behavior of persons who
successfully traverse the path to self-realization,
The successful completion of a course of spiritual whether the path involves self-transformation
practices results into experience of incomparable through knowledge or emotion.
bliss. Tukārāma describes his experience as waves
after waves of bliss in a sea of bliss. In Ānandavalli 9.3 Ramaṇa Maharṣi: A Case of Self-realization
section of the Taittirīya Upaniṣad, bliss of the
Brahman experience is described as a zillion times The life of Sri Ramaṇa illustrates a different
greater than the pleasures attainable by a young and approach to self-realization. Whereas Tilak provides
healthy man endowed with all the imaginable means an example of a self-directed shaping of behavior
of pleasure seeking accessible to an emperor. Such aimed at the attainment of mokṣa, the life history of
an experience is as strictly private experience as a Sri Ramaṇa shows how a person could attain self-
tooth ache or the taste of salt; it is not accessible to realization through an intense search for the true
anybody other than the person having it for Self. Unlike both Gandhi and Tilak, Ramaṇa dropped
observation and verification. Nor is it of any direct out of family and social life and carried on a lonely
benefit to others. What is externally observable, pursuit facing intense privation and colossal neglect
however, is the kindness and compassionate of bodily well-being.
behavior of the person which results from the
dissolution of the ego in a sea of bliss. 9.3.1 Life Sketch of Sri Ramaṇa
Ramaṇa (1879–1950) was born in a small village such conditions, a few concerned worshippers at the
called Tirucculi some thirty miles south of Madurai, temple physically moved the young ascetic to a
the city known for its famous temples in South India. secluded spot in a garden. There he stayed within
His parents named him Venkataraman. Father the sanctuary of a gated compound. From there on
Sundram Aiyar was a noncertified lawyer, and he was shifted now and then to another garden or
mother’s name was Aḻagammāḻ. When grove or a shrine where someone or other voluntarily
Venkataraman was 12 years old his father died, and took care of him.
the family moved to his paternal uncle’s place in
Madurai. There he was sent to Scott’s Middle School After this time, the young mendicant moved to a cave
and the American Mission High School. in the Aruṇācala Hill in the outskirts of
Venkataraman was a strong healthy boy who did not Tiruvaṇṇāmalai, and subsequently moved to other
show much interest in studies. caves and shrines in the Hill’s vicinity. Gradually
people started to take notice of him and ask all sorts
When he was 17 years old, Venkataraman had a of questions, mostly about spiritual experience and
remarkable experience. Although he was in sound practices. He seldom spoke and often wrote down his
health as usual, while sitting up alone he was answers. Some visitors came with books and asked
overcome by a sudden fear of death. As he was not him to explain the parts of the book that they could
sick requiring medical attention, the boy did not not understand. Then the young man would study
think of going to a doctor. He did not know why such such books and answer the questions. One of the
a fear had aroused in him, nor did the feeling of self-appointed attendants named Palaniswami was
impending death unnerve him. He calmly thought of interested in reading books on spiritual matters. He
what he should do. He asked himself: What is it that borrowed many books from the local library, which
is dying? His clear answer to this question was that were in Tamil. Palaniswami had difficulty in
it was the body that would die. Suddenly he lay flat understanding them since he was a native speaker
on the floor holding himself stiff, as if rigor mortis of Malayalam. The young Swami took pity on this
had set in. He thought that if he were really dead, man, read the Tamil books, and explained the gist to
his relatives would take the body to the cremation Palaniswami. It is in this context that he came
ground and reduce it to ashes. But then what would across Vedāntic treatises such as Kaivalya
happen to his “I” and his spirit? He reasoned that his Navanītam, Vivekacūḍāmaṇi and Vāśiṣṭham. Over
spirit was not inert like the body; it transcends and the years he developed a good understanding of a
would survive the body’s death. Venkataraman number of sourcebooks on spirituality, including
concluded from all this that “I am the deathless several works of Śaṅkara on Advaita philosophy.
spirit.” Interestingly, the young lad overcame the fear Such reading provided an opportunity to corroborate
of death once and for all. Moreover, there was a his own experiences with authoritative writings of
profound change in his life. He was no longer the past.
interested in school, studies, friends, relatives, or
playing. He became indifferent to his surroundings, Gradually the reputation of this young ascetic began
and started spending time alone, lost in his to spread. Many persons, who found answers to their
thought—apparently in meditation. He also started questions or solace in his presence became his
to go often to the Meenakshi temple in the city, and devotees and started to spread his name and fame.
sat there for hours in deep absorption. One of the early disciples was an erudite pundit and
Sanskrit scholar named Ganapati Sastri. In an
One day Venkataraman took a few rupees from the initial meeting with the young Swami, Sastri
amount he was supposed to pay as his brother’s fees mentioned that he had read all the literature on
at school, left a note that he was leaving home and Vedānta, and had mastered it. Despite all the study
that nobody should look for him, and took a train to his knowledge remained bookish; he did not
go to Tiruvaṇṇāmalai, a temple town in Tamil Nadu. understand tapas, austerities and other practices
There he took refuge in the thousand-pillared that would lead to the direct experience of the Self.
building of the temple of God Aruṇācaleśwara, and The Swami replied, now speaking: “If one watches
sat there in deep meditation for hours after hours whence the notion “I” arises, the mind gets absorbed
and days after days. Kind worshippers coming to the there; that is tapas”. In 1931 Paul Brunton, a British
temple would take pity on him and give him some philosopher and traveler came to see Ramaṇa, and
food. Such strange behavior of a young lad caught there he had an extraordinary experience which
the attention of street urchins, who started to make convinced him about the greatness of this ascetic.
fun of him, occasionally pelting rocks at him. As the
boys threatened his well-being, some well-wishers 9.3.2 Teachings of Sri Ramaṇa
moved Venkataraman to an underground vault in
the precincts of the temple. It was a very small dark Ramaṇa observes: “Every living being longs always to
cell in which the boys dared not enter. There the be happy, untainted by sorrow; and everyone has the
young ascetic spent days and nights in the company greatest love for himself, which is solely due to the
of ants, vermin and pests, leading to sores with blood fact that happiness is his real nature”. As proof of
and puss all over his body. A senior ascetic called the intrinsically happy nature of human beings he
Śeṣādri took pity on the boy, and volunteered to cites that every day each one of us experiences an
bring him food and protect him from the nasty boys inner calm in deep sleep while the mind is subdued.
and other dangers. After a few months spent under In order to discover this inner source of happiness
within ourselves, it is argued, it is essential to layers of connotative and denotative meanings as
inquire into the true nature of the Self. Given that well as the perceptual and sensory foundations of
most people tend to identify their selves with their thoughts to ultimately focus onto the center of
bodies, arguments are suggested to dispel this awareness. Seen from the Advaitic perspective, the
notion. relentless critical examination of one’s self-
definitions involved in the process of contemplation
Ramana prompted everyone to inquire deeply into (manana) penetrates the veil of thought processes
nature of the “I” who observes, feels, acts and so on. that conceals the underlying pure consciousness
The “I” is not exactly or completely the same as one’s even as does the concentrative
thoughts, actions, dreams, wishes, and the like but meditation of Patañjali’s yoga. Ramaṇa’s idea of
something much deeper. Destroy the ego by seeking “abiding there” implies sustaining the focus of
its identity. The reference to identity here implies the attention at the center of awareness, which is
principle of unity and sameness underlying the consistent with Patañjali’s idea (1.2–3) that, when
multitude of experiences and actions of the the stream of thoughts is brought to a standstill, the
continually changing ego. The quest ‘Who am I?’ is true self stays in its pristine condition.
the axe with which to cut off the ego.
In practice individual seekers would be adopting
Seeker) How to eliminate this wrong ‘I’? specific combinations of elements belonging to
Ramana) How can the ‘I’ eliminate itself? All that you different “pure” forms of jñāna yoga, dhyāna yoga
need to do is to find out its origin and abide there. If and so on to suit their unique individual needs.
we incessantly ask the question “Who am I?” as Aurobindo was told by his guru Vishnu Bhaskar Lele
Ramaṇa suggests, should we not be able to arrive at ‘Sit down, look and you will see that your thoughts
a conclusive answer in the end? There is no answer come into you from outside. Before they enter, fling
to the Who-am-I question. There can be no answer, them back.’ Aurobindo said ‘I saw and felt concretely
for it is dissolving the I-thought, which is the parent the thought approaching through or above the head
of all other thoughts, and piercing beyond to the and was able to push it back concretely before it
stillness where thought is not. Ramaṇa was directing came inside’. While Sri Aurobindo thus thought that
the devotee to the “no-thought zone of the thoughts were coming from “outside,” Ramaṇa
consciousness”, meaning pure consciousness devoid spoke of thoughts emerging from a presumably
of content, which Patañjali’s Yoga aims at attaining “inner” source. Other than that, the strategy is
by bringing the stream of thoughts to a standstill. essentially the same.

9.3.3 Ramaṇa Viewed from Advaita Perspective A comparative study of the “methodology” of the
different schools of Indian thought and spiritual
In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka (2.4.5), the sage Yājñavalkya practice could help in understanding various
implores his wife Maitreyī to know the true nature of aspects of distinctly psychological techniques
the Self through study or “listening” (śravaṇa), embedded in classical accounts that prima facie
reflecting (manana) and meditating (nididyāsana). In appear different and compartmentalized but not so
his introduction to the translation of Śaṅkara’s separate in the workings of the human mind. It
Vivekacūḍāmaṇi Ramaṇa explicitly mentions would be useful to extend a comparative look beyond
hearing, reflecting and meditating as the three basic the confines of Indian thought to include some of the
steps to self-realization, and clearly explains self- Western perspectives, ancient as well as modern.
inquiry (ātma vicāra) as comprising of the same
three steps. Of these three steps he seemed to 9.3.4 Ramaṇa’s Perspective in Western Context
emphasize the second, namely reflection, the most.
His Talks provide numerous examples of how he The ancient Greek invocation “know thyself”
encouraged his followers to think critically and parallels the advice by the sage Yājñavalkya to his
incessantly about the various ideas they might have wife saying that the nature of Self (Ātman) is the
about who they are. most important issue for investigation. Keeping in
mind that parallel trends do not mean sameness,
Ramaṇa is not known to have had a guru. Ramaṇa and reminding ourselves of the need to be mindful of
clearly said that he only corroborated having the subtle differences, a few observations can be made
same experiences as described in the Advaita in the context of cross-cultural comparisons.
literature after he read Vivekacūḍāmaṇi and other
Advaitic texts. Is it is possible for persons to follow Ramaṇa himself was clear about the Biblical
the prescribed course toward self-actualization parallels to his teaching. ‘Be still and know that I am
naturally on one’s own without the need of any God” (Psalms, XLVI.10); “I am that I am.” (Exodus,
tutoring? III.14); “The Kingdom of God is within you” (St. Luke,
XII.21), “Before Abraham was I am” (St. John,
‘All that you need to do is to find out its origin and VIII.58); and “I and my Father are one” (St. John,
abide there.’ One should, first of all look “inward” X.30)’. Spiritual quest following Biblical and other
rather than objects in the world “out there”, which is religious lines has continued through the past
the same as what is called pratyāhāra by Patañjali. millennia in the West, even as the philosophical
Patañjali’s aphorisms suggest that, once a seeker inquiry into the nature of the self has continued in
turns her attention inward, it must penetrate the the tradition of Socrates.
origin of where thoughts come from, and staying
However spirituality and philosophy, which were there—a task he repeatedly enjoined many seekers
once inseparable, have been segregated and have to accomplish. It is only exceptional individuals like
continued to drift apart. Philosophy developed as a Sri Aurobindo, who can accomplish the feat of
theoretical enterprise divorced from the practice of stopping the thoughts. It is to the credit of the
philosophy and a personal quest for self-realization. tradition of Indian psychology to have developed
Spiritual quest focused on self-knowledge is pushed well-known techniques such as Patañjali’s yoga. The
into the background, surviving in the shadows of development of psychological technology along
organized religion and sequestered from intellectual similar lines has continued till this time as
ferment in the secular domain. Against this illustrated by the techniques of Transcendental
background, modern psychology as founded in Meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,
America in the late nineteenth century tilted toward and Isha Yoga (Shambhavi Mahamudra) by
the theoretical side. It left a deep impression on the Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and the Sudarshan Kriya
current trends that ignore deeply personal quest for by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
self-knowledge of the type that Sri Ramaṇa pursued
and taught. Nevertheless, there are some concepts Self-realized persons’ behavior would be like that of
initiated by William James’s famous chapter on the the sthitaprajña described in the Gītā. Self-realized
self that help make meaningful connections between people display a high degree of ethics and emotional
modern psychology and Ramaṇa’s approach to self- equanimity indicative of sthitaprajñatā. Genuine
knowledge. and unlimited compassion is a distinct mark of self-
realization. Feeling of deep peace they experienced in
William James makes a fundamental distinction his presence.
between self-as-subject (I) and self-as-object (Me).
This distinction is no different from the distinction Sri Ramaṇa’s spiritual progress closely followed
made between dṛk and dṛśya in the text called Dṛg- jñāna marga as prescribed by Śaṅkara and many (if
dṛśya Viveka, such that dṛk implies the Seer or not all) of his followers not only with regard to the
experiencing subject, while dṛśya means that which technique of contemplating the nature of selfhood,
is seen. True Self is the Seer, not the seen, and but also in regard to dropping out of family and
according to the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, the Seer is social life. This is true regardless of the fact that he
revealed in the Fourth State of consciousness. was not formally inducted into saṅnyāsa, or the life
Ramaṇa’s teaching, like Śaṅkara’s, is to reach into of a mendicant. It is the abjuring of one’s
the Seer at the center of awareness, and “stay there.” responsibilities for bringing about cohesion in
According to the Advaita perspective, the Seer is the society (lokasaṁgraha) involved in Śaṅkara’s jñāna
unchanging backdrop underlying the continually marga that Tilak had strongly criticized. In response
changing images of the ego, which is the self-as- to such criticisms it is often pointed out that
knower equipped with sensory and cognitive successful practitioners like Ramaṇa do tend to
apparatus. It is the Seer as unchanging center of remain in society and do a lot of good by advising
awareness that accounts for the unity and sameness countless people who seek their advice. Ramaṇa
as opposed to multiplicity and continually changing Maharṣi’s writings continue to inspire several people
nature of our self-definitions. In Indian thought, around the world till this date, and even a sort visit
there is a clear separation between the “thinker” of to his ashram in Tiruvaṇṇāmalai demonstrates that
thoughts and the “subject” who experiences them. a continuous stream of seekers keeps coming
As noted, in Indian thought thinker is the ego that is although well over half a century has passed since
equipped with the physical and metal infrastructure he left this world. Indeed, Śaṅkara, himself a
required in processes of cognition, while the Seer is saṅnyāsin and an unrelenting advocate of saṅnyāsa
distinct and beyond the pale of cognition. While the as a prerequisite for the pursuit of the jñāna marga,
ego identifies itself with the ongoing thought, the was not a recluse. He traveled widely and
Seer remains unchanged. relentlessly, debated with scholars with differing
opinions, and wrote volumes—volumes that
It is not a mere conceptual distinction that matters continue to guide and inspire scholars as well as
here; it is not a purely philosophical issue relevant spiritual seekers till this day. Such examples of
only to the ontological doctrines exclusively prominent followers of the jñāna marga call into
belonging to the philosophical realm. The issue is question Śaṅkara’s critics who hold him responsible
psychological in the sense of having to deal with for the disdain of Indian intelligentsia about social
mental processes such as thinking, and more, it affairs, and even for the contemporary malaise and
relates to a matter of psychological technology. The degradation of the Indian society.
spiritual traditions in India have developed several
alternative techniques for effectively dealing with the 10 Personal and Social Transformation:
ongoing flow of thoughts, which for many seems Gandhi’s Psychology of Nonviolence
unstoppable. Many persons who have tried to follow
Patañjali’s suggestion to bring the flow of thoughts The thought and practices of Mahatma Gandhi,
to stop have felt frustrated. constitute another important case study of Indian
psychology as reflective of the living tradition of India
It is conceivable that Ramaṇa Maharṣi may have with its unbroken chain of centuries of organic
spent a great deal of time and effort in reaching the growth. It illustrates the integrative role of Indian
psychology and how it finds its expression in the Gandhi concluded that these glaring inconsistencies
lives of men in vastly different circumstances and in were at the root of all social evils. Why these
diverse fields. inconsistencies? Why do people harbor such double
existences? Is it impossible for an individual to
A conceptual and theoretical framework within preach what he practices and practice what he
Indian psychology for a coherent understanding of believes? Gandhi himself did not think so. Such
Gandhian thought and social action will be inconsistencies can be remedied, he felt, and their
discussed along with theory and practice of contradiction resolved when men begin to relate
satyāgraha as a significant contribution of Indian thought and action to a common ideal. There should
psychology to social psychology in general and be no discrepancy between the goals of individual
conflict resolution in particular. and those of society. What is good for one must be
so for the other also.
10.1 The Background
10.2 Gandhi on Human Nature
The metamorphosis of Mohandas into a Mahatma is
a compelling story of how a mere mortal with no Gandhi was a visionary at heart and an empiricist
extraordinary gifts at birth could transform himself by instinct. His life is that of an explorer. Gandhi did
and others around him in unbelievable ways. It is a not claim any originality or finality to his thoughts.
chronicle of self-realization, the constant theme in He said repeatedly that he was learning from
the many facets of classical Indian thought and a experience and was constantly experimenting.
crucial concept in Indian psychology.
Erikson wrote: “There is nothing more consistent in
It was in the context of conflict between the ruling the views of Gandhi’s critics than the accusation of
authority and some of its constituent members the inconsistency: at one time he is accused of sounding
method of nonviolent direct action, satyāgraha, was like a socialist, and at another a dreamy
born. Here was an opportunity to test whether “what conservative; or, again, a pacifist and a frantic
is true of families and communities is true of militarist; a nationalist, and a “communalist”; an
nations,” since “there is no reason to believe there is anarchist and a devotee of tradition; a Western
one law for families and another for nations”. It was activist, and an Eastern mysticist; a total religionist
here Gandhi sought to transform nonviolence, a and yet so liberal that he could say he saw God even
cloistered virtue so far, into an active social in atheist’s atheism. Did this polymorphous man
instrument. The end of the struggle “drew nearer as have a firm center?”
distress of the fighters became more intense, and as
the innocence of the distressed grew clearer”. Again Misunderstandings of Gandhi arise from a failure to
in India Gandhi employed successfully his appreciate Gandhian hermeneutics and his
nonviolent satyāgraha technique to help farmers in dialectical methods which help to bring about what
Champaran, then in Khaira, and finally to achieve appears to be a magical synthesis of opposing
independence for India. perspectives, where contraries coexist without
conflict. This is implicit in the very nature of man’s
Gandhi proceeded to conduct one experiment after being. Further, Gandhi never sought consistency
another. He was guided by an idealism that gave a but truth. In his search for truth he did not hesitate
constructive forward look and a practicalism that to change his views. The problem is not with
kept his feet on the ground. He was always aware of inconsistencies in but with interpretation of Gandhi.
the problems confronting him. All through his quest, One would not be properly interpreting Gandhi, if he
Gandhi was not content in merely solving problems is simply looking for apparent consistencies. The
as they arose, but in solving them meaningfully so very ambiguity embedded in them is an indication
that he would gain an understanding into the nature that they are not mere copies of anything that went
of things. It is in this respect Gandhi differs from before him. In an important sense they are original
most other political leaders and social reformers. in that they do not fit into simple categorization as
this or that. Also, Gandhi’s ideas on machines,
What struck Gandhi most was the conflict between science and technology, women, environment, and
people’s professed beliefs and their actions. so on are variously interpreted. This, we believe, is
Individuals who believed in charity and good not due to inconsistencies in Gandhi’s extensive
neighborliness did not hesitate to exploit the weak writings. Rather they were the outcomes of the
and the helpless. People who abhored violence in dialectical method and the experimental approach
resolving conflicts in family situations were loath to that Gandhi took.
condemn and were even willing to cooperate in the
large-scale massacre of people in ruthlessly fought Gandhi’s views on human nature were undoubtedly
wars. Countries which practiced democracy at home influenced by his Hindu upbringing and familiarity
spread colonial rule abroad. Men had come to accept with classic Indian thought and also by his reading
one set of values for themselves and another for of Western transcendentalists like Thoreau and
others. They did not mind cooperating with the state Ruskin. However, we find in Gandhi a creative blend
even when its values differed from theirs. of the best in the East and the West, tradition and
modernity. His thoughts on all the issues he dealt
with in his lifelong experiments seem to flow
naturally from his conception of human nature and
man’s destiny, which are indeed The struggle to climb up the ladder of the divine is
inspired by his native ethos, especially his reading of no other than accessing consciousness as-such
the Bhagavad Gītā. Gandhi’s writings on the Gītā are seeking truth and realizing it in one’s being. It is
extensive and his conception of human nature is continuous and may not be stopped until man
derived from the Gītā. becomes God, which is an ideal and not something
that one achieves in life. The greatest obstacle to the
The Gītā emphatically asserts the Sāṁkhya dualism divine ascent is the ego. The ego is the attentional
of prakṛti and puruṣa, matter and consciousness. focus that renders the animal appetites attractive
The two are connected in the person with the and instinctual attachment necessarily desirable.
mediation of the mind—buddhi with its affinity to Therefore, the elimination of the ego is the key for
consciousness and the senses by their attraction to opening the doors of the divine. The sense of ‘I’ and
material things of the world. In the Gītā ‘mine’ are the hurdles that isolate the person from
consciousness is God, the divine in the form of others. Therefore, one must overcome them with
Kṛṣna. Each person is endowed with the divine. The determination and by cultivating a sense of
divine is part of the jīva and it attracts the mind and detachment. We need in this effort to expand the
the five senses from their place in the prakṛti. The center of focus from ‘I’ and ‘me’ to include all. The
connection between the divine and the natural divine is what binds one to others. It is what makes
objects of prakṛti is natural. It is, however, tainted one to see others in him and him in others. This
by the ego, which distorts the proper flow between becomes increasingly possible by taking away the
them. Human endeavor entails controlling the ego, focus from the ego, which is reducing oneself to a
which involves more than restraining the flow zero, to nothingness. Such a negation of the ego does
between the mind and the senses. An attitude of not, however, constitute denial of individuality. True
detachment is a necessary condition for controlling individuality consists in reducing oneself to a zero.
the ego. Therefore, Gandhi maintains that the Nonattached action is selfless action. Selfless action
“central thesis of the Gītā is detachment.” is action delinked from the ego. Delinking the ego
Detachment allows the natural flow between divine from action and deliberate refraining from enjoying
consciousness and the material world without the fruits of action lead one to reduce himself to a
distortion. zero or nothingness. The advocacy of nonattached
action, action performed without concern for its
The basic assumption of Gandhi is that man, though fruits, is Gandhi’s method for eliminating the ego. As
divine, has animal origin. He is instinctively a brute Erikson observed ‘nothing is more powerful in the
with natural attraction to sensory gratification and world than conscious nothingness if it is paired with
selfish desires and attachment. He strives for the gift of giving and accepting actuality’. Actuality
pleasure. Pleasure may be distinguished from bliss. refers to what feels effectively true in action as
Pleasure is sense related. It is evanescent and distinguished from what is demonstrably correct.
ephemeral. Bliss is more stable and spiritual,
because it is anchored in consciousness. One’s The 19 verses from Gita 2nd chapter describing
pleasure may lead to suffering of others. Bliss sthithaprajña, the self-realized person, contain the
spreads happiness all around. The person also has quintessence of human nature that Gandhi
a divine spark in him because of his accessibility to incorporated into his world view and practiced
consciousness through the buddhi. We are men throughout his mature life. Sthithaprajña is the
inasmuch as we are awakened by that spark to our person who has control over the mind and partakes
true nature as humans. To be divine is to be truly in its stability and tranquility. The mind’s tranquility
human. “We were, perhaps, all originally brutes,” and natural flow toward realization of truth and
wrote Gandhi. “I am prepared to believe that we have divinity are disturbed by the sensory attachment to
become men by a slow process of evolution from the worldly things. One’s focus on and indulgence in
brute”. sensory objects causes attachment to them.
Attachment leads to craving and craving to anger.
The person is therefore pulled in opposite Anger creates delusion and delusion causes loss of
directions—downward by the brutish impulses and memory. Memory loss results in the decrease of
upward by the divine urge to know truth and live one’s ability to discriminate and know the truth.
truthfully. Truth, for Gandhi, is God Himself. From such decay ensues the fall from the path of
Realization of truth in one’s being and experiencing self-realization.
bliss in one’s life is the goal of the upward movement.
Seeking pleasure, satisfying the instinctive Mind is both dharmakshetra and Kurukshetra. It is
appetites, is the downward slide prompted by our an abode of dharma, peace, tranquility, and truth
animal origin. Gandhi concedes that the downward (temple of God). It can also be the seat of conflict and
descent is the easy course and the upward climb is become a battlefield once one takes to self-
the more difficult one. Gandhi says, “man must indulgence. Those whose senses are under control
choose either of the two courses, the upward or the and cravings cease, have access to intuitive wisdom
downward, but as he has the brute in him, he will become sthithaprajña. A person realizes peace when
more easily choose the downward course than the he relinquishes his desires, extinguishes cravings,
upward, especially when the downward course is and dissociates himself with the ego and its sense of
presented to him in a beautiful garb”. mine.
in one’s perception. Morality takes the back seat as
Gandhi makes no distinction between secular and pleasure-seeking comes to the fore. The beast in him
the sacred. The very assertion that truth is God makes one a slave to habits whereas the divine
dismisses once and for all any segregation of the two. enables him to exercise his volition to cultivate
Gandhi did not write as a philosopher or a virtues. The beast in man makes him bound and
psychologist. However, his ideas make much conditioned; the divine sets him free. The beast
philosophical and psychological sense. struggles for existence. Man gets mired in
competition, exploitation, and consequent violence.
10.3 Gandhian Dialectic The divine seeks liberation, makes one altruist in
pursuit of serving others instead of self-seeking.
In political theory, ends and means are the two Man’s estate is one of probation. During that period
irreducible essentials. They refer to goals of political he is played upon by
action and ways of reaching them. In conflict theory evil forces as well as good. He is ever a prey to
there are two viewpoints in conflict. They may relate temptations. He has to prove his manliness by
to claims made, goals envisaged, interests or values resisting and fighting temptations. Here manliness
held. The ensuing action is an attempt to reconcile represents the human aspect as distinguished from
them resulting in a synthesis of the conflicting two. the brute in him. Each person has to choose for
Goals and means need not be in conflict. In fact, himself whether to follow the “law of jungle” or “law
Gandhi suggested that means are ends in the of humanity”. It is repugnant to invoke the beast in
making and therefore there need be no conflict any human being. Divinity in a person manifests in
between them. proportion to the realization of the true human
Human development itself, may be seen as a
dialectical process. The irreducible opposing The beast in man is instinctual, and the divine is to
structures that govern one’s behavior are the brute be sought and cultivated. Our pursuit is to cultivate
and the human in him—the devil and divine. Human human and control animal instincts. The goal is self-
development unfolds in the process of the continuing realization. The true self is one’s human side.
struggle between animal impulses and human Consequently distinctions/discriminations we make
aspirations. The brute and the human are the two among people on the basis of caste, color, creed, etc.
causal structures that underlie human are untenable in the final analysis. Equally
development. Humans have freedom to choose the unacceptable are any kind of exploitation of others
course of development because human volition can for personal benefit, violence as a means of conflict
profoundly impact on the emerging synthesis of the resolution, and claims of superiority of one kind or
animal urges and human aspirations. Development another. Altruism is the sine qua non of the spiritual
therefore can be creatively and constructively driven in humans.
for one to climb the ladder of self-realization or slip
into the abyss of instinctive animal urges. In Man is worse than the brute, so long as he is selfish
Gandhi’s discourse, the brute and the human, the and indifferent to the happiness of others. He rises
devil and the divine, signify the dialectic of the actual above the level of the brute, when he begins to work
and the ideal. for the welfare of his family. He rises higher in the
scale when he comes to look upon the whole
The human situation in the Indian tradition is seen community or race as his own family. He becomes
as one that engenders suffering. The goal therefore greater still when he begins to regard even the so-
is one of overcoming that situation and moving called barbarous races as the members of his own
forward toward achieving a blissful state of non- family. In other words, man becomes great exactly in
suffering. The conflict manifests in different forms in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his
different contexts. We therefore find antinomies like fellow-men.
good & evil, altruism & egotism, freedom & bondage,
truth & falsehood, and love & violence. The The ego creates artificial identity, which is among the
prominent among them as ideals are truth and prime sources of conflict. Altruism enables one to
nonviolence. Gandhi’s lifelong experiments were expand one’s identity beyond the ego-bound self to
attempts at studying ways of reaching the ideals of the common self that binds us all as humans. The
truth and nonviolence. life of Gandhi is but a series of experiments to perfect
instrumentalities that would enable one to expand
In Gandhi’s conception, man is both good and evil. his identity beyond the personal self to include
There is the divine and the beast in him. The divine others, whether they are friends or foes. Through
enables him to realize God, Truth in his being. these experiments Gandhi discovered several
Inasmuch as God is Truth, the struggle to realize principles and methods of actualizing those
God is embedded in his striving to realize truth. God- principles in life. Among these are Truth and
realization is Truth-realization; and Truth- Nonviolence.
realization is self-realization. The beast in man
drives him to indulge in sensory gratification. The 10.4 Truth
ego emerges as the mechanism to channel the
demands of sensory gratification in acceptable ways Truth (satya) is derived from the root sat, which
in the surrounding reality. Truth then gets distorted means that which is real. The aim of human
endeavor is to move toward truth and realize it in Truth is not to be found by anybody who has not got
one’s being. As Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad exhorts an abundant sense of humility. If you would swim
‘lead me from the unreal (asat) to the real (sat)’. on bosom of ocean of Truth you must reduce yourself
Gandhi is anekantavaadi, one who accepts multiple to a zero (elimination of ego).
points are view are each true from their own
perspectives. The seven blind men who gave seven Truth-realization is the goal of human quest. All our
different descriptions of the elephant were all right activities should be centred in Truth. Truth should
from their respective points of view, and wrong from be the very breath of our life. Truth-seeking is not
the point of view of one another, and right and wrong merely a cognitive exercise. It has a much wider
from the point of view of the man who knew the scope. Truth should manifest in thought as well as
elephant. Gandhi very much likes this doctrine of in speech and action. How may we realize Truth in
the manyness of reality. Thus while striving for truth the threefold sense? By single-minded devotion and
Gandhi recognizes that truth appears variously. practice (abhyāsa), and detachment from and
Here then is the crux of the problem. How can we indifference to all other interests in life while
search for and find Truth, which is considered pursuing truth (vairāgya). This becomes possible
absolute and unvarying, if truth appears differently only when one reduces himself to a zero and
to different people? How can we reconcile the nothingness, leading to a state of perfect purity. To
absolute and relative aspects of truth, especially if attain perfect purity one has to become absolutely
truth-seeking is the ultimate goal, indeed the passion-free in thought, speech and action; to rise
essence of all human endeavor? above the opposite currents of love and hate,
attachment and repulsion.
Gandhi did not claim that he found truth, only a way
to it. The search for truth had become for him a Gandhi shares the Advaita assumptions that the
search to find a method to seek truth. ‘I am but a goal of human endeavor is Self-realization and that
seeker after truth. I claim to have found a way to it. the Self in ultimate analysis is the one that binds us
I claim to be making a ceaseless effort to find it. But all. Self-realization in Gandhi is equated with truth-
I admit that I have not yet found it. To find Truth realization. Truth is also equated with Love and God.
completely is to realize oneself and one’s destiny, i.e., Truth in absolute sense is inconceivable; and yet it
to become perfect’. Truth with capital ‘T,’ then, is is undeniable. What is inconceivable is obviously
absolute Truth, the goal of human quest. The lower inaccessible. What is accessible, however, is relative
case ‘t’ represents what one encounters in life; it is truth. It is what the voice within tells you. But what
truth contextualized, i.e., truth in actuality. my inner voice tells may be different from what you
hear from your inner voice. This is the existential
I have solved it for myself by saying that it is what predicament. In order to overcome the predicament
the voice within tells you. How, then, you ask, one needs to do 3 things.
different people think of different and contrary (1) one should be open to the possibility that what
truths? The human mind works through one holds as truth may not be so. Therefore, he
innumerable media and that the evolution of the should be ready to correct himself.
human mind is not the same for all, it follows that (2) the person seeking truth must undergo self-
what may be truth for one may be untruth for discipline that eliminates biases, prejudices, and
another, and hence those who have made these other factors that distort truth and thus reduce the
experiments have come to the conclusion that there gap between the Truth and a truth, i.e., the real
are certain conditions to be observed in making truth and what appears to be true.
those experiments. Just as for conducting scientific (3) Reduce yourself to a zero. The self, the seat of
experiments there is an indispensable scientific awareness, is shared by us all at the primary level,
course of instruction, in the same way strict once all personal biases, dispositions, predilections
preliminary discipline is necessary to qualify a are removed, truth will appear alike to all.
person to make experiments in the spiritual realm.
Everyone should, therefore, realize his limitations While human existence is grounded in truth, which
before he speaks of his Inner Voice. manifests as love, we also find in the person an
opposing impulse that of the brute. This engenders
Those who would make individual search after Truth conflict and moves the person away from truth and
as God, must go through several vows as (1) vow of love toward hate and violence. This is the conflict or
truth (2) vow of brahmacharya (celibacy and life of the duel between the divine and the devil, between
self-restraint, purity) (3) vow of non-violence (4) vow consciousness of the spirit and the pull of sensory
of poverty (non-stealing) (5) vow of non-possession – appetites and selfishness of the body. Gandhi likens
for you cannot possibly divide your love for Truth the conflict to the Kurukṣetra where the battle of
and God with anything else. Unless you impose on good and evil was waged. It is a battle between
yourselves the five vows you may not embark on the altruism/self-sacrifice and selfishness and greed,
experiment at all. It is not proper for everyone to between loving others and self-love.
claim to hear the voice of conscience, and it is
because we have at the present moment everybody Body is indeed the prison house that locks up the
claiming the right of conscience without going genuine human spirit. At the same time, body can
through any discipline whatsoever and there is so also be used as a gateway to find freedom of the
much untruth being delivered to a bewildered world. spirit. If the body can be dissociated from its self-
centeredness and made to undertake selfless person as well as those around him. It may be called
service, one gets closer to finding the Truth and the ‘Yoga of Nonviolence’.
spiritual being in him. Selfless service promotes love
for others which enables one to endure suffering. Joy Like Patañjali, Gandhi considered vairāgya
comes not out of infliction of pain on others but out (nonattachment to ego) as an essential condition for
of pain voluntarily borne by oneself. practicing nonviolence. The greatest endeavor is
endeavor for moksha and moksha means
10.5 Nonviolence elimination of ego or reducing oneself to a zero or
nonexistence. This does not mean abstaining from
Gandhi wrote ‘Ahimsā and Truth are my two lungs. all action. On the contrary, it means active
I cannot live without them. Without ahimsā it is not participation in life. In Gandhi’s interpretation of the
possible to seek and find Truth. Ahimsā and Truth Gītā as Anāsakti Yoga, selfless action, i.e., action
are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to without ego-involvement, takes center-stage. As in
disentangle and separate them. They are like two Indian psychology, the goal of life is self-realization
sides of coin. Ahimsā is the means; Truth is the end. and not simple ego-adjustment. Self is different from
Means to be means must always be within our reach the ego in that self, unlike the ego, is not an isolated
and so ahimsā is our supreme duty. If we take care identity, but a shared identity with others. Gandhi
of the means, we are bound to reach the end sooner wrote ‘I believe in Advaita. I believe in the essential
or later. unity of man and, for that matter, of all that lives.
Therefore, I believe that if one man gains spiritually,
What does Gandhi mean when he says that whole world gains with him and if one man falls,
nonviolence is the means to reach the goal of truth? whole world falls to that extent’.
It is not obvious that by merely abstaining from
injuring others that one reaches truth. Nonviolence Selfless action is action without ego-involvement,
encompasses more than simply abstaining from action devoid of desires for personal gratification
injuring others. Ahimsa is not the crude thing it has (niṣkāma karma). It is action meant for common
been made to appear. Not to hurt any living thing is, good. It is in a word altruism. It is karma (action)
no doubt, a part of ahimsa. But it is its least that follows dharma (duty). Dharma is the moral
expression. The principle of ahimsa is hurt by every imperative. It is that which tells us what to do.
evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by Dharma is a quality of the soul and is present, visibly
wishing ill to anybody. It is also violated by our or invisibly, in every human being. Through it we
holding on to what the world needs. know our duty in human life and our true relation
with other souls.
Nonviolence involves resisting all kinds of injustice,
including social injustice. No man could be actively Entire enterprise of seeking dharma and serving
nonviolent and not rise against social injustice no common good may become too ambiguous and
matter where it occurred. It is no nonviolence if we impractical to guide us. There is then the need to
merely love those who love us. It is nonviolence only contextualize dharma. In this context Gandhi
when we love those that hate us. This is indeed introduces swadeshi and swadharma as collateral
difficult to do. Therefore, practice of nonviolence is principles for dharma per se.
not for the weak. It requires more courage than any ●Swadharma is implied in the ideal of niṣkāma
act of violence. Fleeing from aggression is not karma in the Gītā. It asserts one’s duty as a member
nonviolence. In fact fighting even when it involves of a community, group, and family, recognizing the
violence is preferable to fleeing in the face of injustice value of social loyalty over self-interest. It asserts
and violence. Nonviolence does not admit of running that one’s duties are not fixed but relative to the
away from danger. Between violence and cowardly person and her stage in life.
flight, I can only prefer violence. I can no more ●Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to
preach nonviolence to a coward than I can tempt a the use and service of our immediate surroundings
blind man to enjoy beautiful scenery. Nonviolence is to exclusion of the more remote. Man’s first duty is
the summit of bravery. to his neighbor. Gandhi’s emphasis on village
republics (gram panchāyats) is an extension of the
Gandhi’s concept of nonviolence has 2 dimensions. swadeshi principle.
(1) The usual sense of abstaining from violence. It
may also be seen in resisting violence passively by In summary, Gandhi’s conception of human nature
such acts as noncooperation. This is considered the is that man has both the brute and the divine in him.
nonviolence of the weak. The person is the battle field of good and evil; and
(2) The generation of active force by observance and because of this the integrity of the person is
practice of nonviolence. This is the nonviolence of compromised and he is alienated from truth. The
the strong generated by personal transformation brute manifests in the form of animal instinctive
achieved through suffering and love. Erikson called tendencies that lead one to indulge in sensory
it ‘militant nonviolence’. It involves unconditional pleasures and seek ego gratification, even at the cost
love for others and voluntary suffering in practicing of exploiting/hurting others. But then, there is also
truth and resisting what one considers to be a divine streak in man. In fact, it is man’s inner
injustice and falsehood. In this sense, nonviolence is nature. It leads him to reach out to others, love
more than a virtue; it is a force that transforms a them, and take pleasure in theirs. It makes people
pursue truth and realize it in their being. Truth is Satyāgraha in practice is nonviolent action to resolve
indeed God. This divine streak is what is truly social and political conflicts. It may take a number
human. Its realization in one’s life is the goal. Such of forms such as noncooperation, civil disobedience,
a realization may be called self-realization because and fasting depending upon the nature of the
the spark behind the divine streak is the true self, conflict situation. The basic assumption underlying
which is shared by all humans. Self-realization is satyāgraha is that it is possible to bring about
essentially truth-realization. It is achieved by personal transformation and to generate extensive
adherence to nonviolence. Truth is the social action through the practice of nonviolence.
goal and nonviolence is the means. Both “Truth” and Nonviolent action helps to transform the individual
“Nonviolence” are essentially ideals in the absolute as well as the society in the cause of truth.
sense. However, they become relative when Satyāgraha brings the one who practices it and those
contextualized. In contextualizing Truth and against whom it is waged closer to truth. The action
Nonviolence, Gandhi arrived at Gandhian practices engendered by nonviolent techniques is far superior
including swadeshi, swadharma, swaraj, and above to action involving violent means because in the
all, satyāgraha. latter case the solution is attended with undesirable
consequences that are often beyond the control of
The above conception of human nature is consistent the acting agent. Gandhi does not, however,
on the one hand with the basic postulates of Indian explicitly state how nonviolent action brings this
psychology and the model of the person, and on the miraculous transformation in the opponent. Actual
other hand it is at significant variance from the operation of satyāgraha, whatever may be its
Western model which conceptualizes person as a mysterious force, would involve delicate and
brain-driven machine. Indian psychology is a humane modes of communication and conversion.
derivative of classical Indian thought and Gandhi
himself was greatly influenced by the Bhagavad Gītā Gandhi believed that ‘there is something in man
and Yoga system which are also the springs that fill which is superior to the brute force in him, and that
the flowing stream of psychological thought in India. the latter always yields to it’. Consequently, social
Gandhi used the potent native concepts and and political conflicts can be resolved by appealing
contextualized to make them relevant to the to the good nature in people, and satyāgraha is the
contemporary conditions. technique which precisely serves this function.
When applied to politics, satyāgraha assumes that
Truth which is the basic postulate of Gandhi’s government of the people is possible only as they
thought refers to consciousness in the context of consent either consciously or unconsciously to be
psychology. Realization of Truth is the goal of human governed. Instead of rebelling violently against the
endeavor according to Gandhi. This is not different authorities, by suffering the penalties and with
from the goal of person in Indian psychology which patience and endurance, exhibit the force of soul
is realization of Consciousness. In both cases it is within us for a period long enough to appeal to the
called self-realization because it is the common Self sympathetic chord of the opponent. But how such
that binds all humans. Truth/Consciousness is the appeal translates itself in practical terms, Gandhi
essence of the Self. The goal of human endeavor is does not explicitly explain.
not power and dominance over others but love and
sharing. It is not the assertion but denial of the ego. Satyagraha is different from passive resistance.
Again, violence is a part of us; yet, it is not the Gandhi argues ‘It is not a passive state; it is an
human in us, which is nonviolence. Nonviolence is intensely active state, more active than physical
something we can cultivate to control violence. resistance or violence’. Passive resistance does not
Gandhi shared the assumption that people often act prohibit the use of arms on suitable occasions. It
like beasts and seek to satisfy their hedonistic also entails the idea of harassing the opponent, while
desires and sensory appetites. But what is truly in satyāgraha physical force is forbidden at all times,
human is not this, but altruism and pursuit of and injury to the adversary under any circumstance
common good. Human nature finds itself when it is regarded as a positive violation of its basic
fully realizes that to be human it has to cease to be principle. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the
beastly and brutal. There is the eternal duel between adversary by suffering in one’s own person. The
the animal and the human in us. basic intent of nonviolent action is conversion and
not coercion. For the satyāgrahi never attacks men
10.6 Satyāgraha: A Psycho-Spiritual Tool for but measures and systems. The method of the
Conflict Resolution satyāgrahi is therefore conversion by gentle
What is satyāgraha? How does it work? Satyāgraha,
as Gandhi designed it, involves total adherence to Operation of satyāgraha in the political field took 2
truth and nonviolence. Satyāgraha is literally important forms
holding on to Truth and it means, therefore, Truth- ●Noncooperation: It is refusal to cooperate with any
force. It excludes the use of violence because man is act believed to be unjust and untrue, and with those
not capable of knowing absolute truth and, who are responsible for it. It is the responsibility of
therefore, not competent to punish those holding the citizen to withdraw his support to the
contrary views. government if it pursues policies that hurt him and
his nation. Noncooperation is the method to refuse maintain that all violent revolutions yield good and
to be party to the wrong. desired results? Changes and solutions brought
●Civil Disobedience: It is is the direct and voluntary about by satyāgraha are necessarily good. For
contravention of such laws and regulations which satyāgraha involves the suffering not on the part of
one believes to be unjust and oppressive. It is a the adversary but on the part of the satyāgrahi. The
nonviolent rebellion and involves a positive violation extent of readiness and ability to suffer without
of the unjust law and the readiness to suffer the inflicting the same on his opponent is proportional
penalties imposed by the state for such violations. to the justice of the cause.
The satyāgrahi may court imprisonment by refusing
to pay taxes. Gandhi believes that when people thus Satyāgraha is the moral equivalent of war. James
begin to disown the state, the government begins to asked if war does serve some deep-seated human
wither away. needs such as pure pugnacity and love of glory, can
we channel them for more constructive and less
Noncooperation and civil disobedience come at a destructive purposes? Can martial virtues be turned
later stage in the satyāgraha process. Only when into enduring cement to build peaceful societies?
negotiation, arbitration, and constitutional and legal Satyāgraha addresses these issues in a positive and
agitation fail to resolve the conflict recourse to constructive manner. Cultivation of courage to suffer
satyāgraha may be taken. Before launching and endure hardships in defense of truth and
satyāgraha one must be sure that the problem calls righteous cause is a way of channeling the martial
for it and that the participants are ready to pursue virtues to operate in nonviolent action.
it. For a miscalculation on the part of the initiators
may lead to disastrous consequences. Since Satyāgraha, like war, presupposes a great deal of
satyagraha is one of the most powerful methods of hardiness and discipline on the part of those
direct action, a satyagrahi exhausts all other means engaged in it. It is not something to be used by those
before he resorts to it. He will therefore constantly who lack courage. Gandhi says ‘My creed of
and continually approach the constituted authority, nonviolence is an extremely active force. It has no
he will appeal to public opinion, educate public room for cowardice or weakness’. At times of war,
opinion, state his case calmly and coolly before men know what suffering is like and how to face it.
everybody, who wants to listen to him, and only after Satyāgraha presupposes one’s ability to suffer, and
he has exhausted all these avenues will he resort to suffering is indeed the central principle of
satyagraha. satyāgrahic action. Like war, satyāgraha also carries
a romantic appeal for heroism and provides an
Sometimes the conflicts may be accentuated by the opportunity to display courage and endure
refusal of an authority to communicate with the hardships. Thus, as a social tool to preserve martial
people or by a genuine conflict of values between the virtues without war, satyāgraha can be effectively
authority and the people. In such instances, it is employed. Satyāgraha is also an alternative to war
possible by pursuing the nonviolent technique, because, like war, it is a mode of social action
(1) to make authority realize need to communicate directed toward resolution of political and social
(2) to provide an objective basis to judge whether conflicts within and between communities. Just as
there is a genuine conflict of values. This is possible war serves as an instrument to stir into action those
because all values have their origin in the concept of forces that do not respond to reason, so is
common good, and because all men are essentially satyāgraha, a means of stimulating action when
good. The basic assumption here is that in the final reason fails to produce an impression. However, the
analysis there can be no genuine conflict of interests solution brought about by war is not based on the
or of conflict of values among enlightened parties. understanding and appreciation of truth, what is
Values in their absolute sense are universal. morally right and desirable. Further, solutions by
Inasmuch as humans by their very nature are war are temporary and will last only as long as force
altruist, there can be no conflict of interests between retains its hold. Nonviolent solutions, however, are
them. What is good for one is also good for the other. based on understanding truth; therefore, they
However, in the existential condition, when values endure without disruption by extraneous influences.
are contextualized and individual interests come to Even when the satyāgrahi’s appeal is directed at
the fore, there is scope for conflicts. These can be people’s emotions, action is always guided by
best solved by exploring the connection between the intelligence, reason, values and, above all, truth. For
ideal and the actual, whether the latter is genuinely the solution is based on persuasion and
or spuriously related to the ideal. communication of truth, not on compulsion and
The resolution of a problem may be brought about
through violent means. The adversary may be Granting that satyāgraha could be successfully
subjected to coercion so that he may yield to the employed in the resolution of conflicts, how can we
demands. But what guarantee is there that the meaningfully explain the magical transformation in
demands are morally right? Wars may solve conflicts the opponent from adamant indifference to ready
between nations, and bloody revolutions may put an acceptance of the satyāgrahi’s claims? Soul-force is
end to the friction between the rulers and the ruled. truth-force. This would seem to indicate nothing but
Is there an intrinsic guarantee that such fighting a simple faith that truth ultimately triumphs. But
results in the victory for the right cause? Can anyone how and why does truth triumph? Only when it is
made known. And so the whole process of conflicting parties and communicating truth, but
satyāgraha seems to be an attempt to expose the also to bridge the existential divide between knowing
opponent to the persistent demands of truth and and being.
thus try to communicate the validity of his claims.
The central postulate of the extended interpretation
Conflicts are often due to a lack of communication of satyāgraha is that it generates “soul-force,” which
precipitated by one’s biases and defenses. means that it is capable of not only informing people
Nonviolent direct action involved in satyāgraha is a what truth is but also transforming them to act
means of making the opponent aware of the truthfully. This would be possible only in an
satyāgrahi’s problems and claims. The initial stages environment of nonviolence. Nonviolent direct action
of satyāgraha, such as sending petitions and like satyāgraha not only disarms the defenses of the
conducting negotiations with the opponent, are adversary and opens him up to receive the message
precisely the attempts to communicate one’s claims of the opponent and its truthfulness but it also
and problems. Failing this, the satyāgrahi mobilizes impels him to act in consonance with truth.
public opinion which is again communication within
the group. He may call for a strike or refuse to pay The seeds of the above notion may be found in Yoga
taxes. Noncooperation presumably makes the and meditation. Meditation is not merely a technique
opponent aware of the need for cooperation with his of stress reduction in the practitioner, but it has
adversaries and he may be led to communicate with transformational consequences that are believed to
him so as to find a solution. If both the parties still go beyond the meditator. A consummate meditator
fail to come to an agreement, it can still be not only transforms himself but also others around
interpreted as a failure to properly communicate. them. People like Ramana Maharshi and
Ultimately the failure may be traced to a conflict of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa are known to have
interests and values between the two parties. What exerted such an influence on those who visited them.
one holds to be valuable may not seem to be so by
the other. It becomes therefore imperative for the one Gandhi makes a marked distinction between
who is at a disadvantage to do whatever he can to nonviolence of the weak and that of the strong and
communicate to his adversary the genuineness of also between suppression of violence and the
his claims and values. This he can do only by practice of nonviolence. Nonviolence of the weak is
suffering the consequences of his opponent’s acts limited to refraining from acts of violence, whereas
long enough for the opponent to realize the validity in the nonviolence of the strong, there is actual
of the claims being made. proactive practice of nonviolence born of self-
conviction. The latter is manifested, not only in the
The very process of satyāgraha is such that the outward practices, but also in inner transformation
satyāgrahi is from the start ready to communicate of the satyāgrahi. Nonviolence of the strong kind is
with the adversary and expects to suffer in the not merely a belief system and a set of prescribed
process. The suffering involved in the course of practices but an aspect of one’s being itself. Practice
satyāgraha makes him, on the one hand, to see the of nonviolence is more than suppression of violence
opponent’s point of view more fully and thoroughly in one’s behavior in that it is more than cognitively
than otherwise and on the other hand, helps the apprehended appreciation of virtues of nonviolence.
adversary understand the reason, genuineness, and It is nonviolence in thought and action incorporated
legitimacy of the satyāgrahi’s claims. One may doubt into the mindset of the person and therefore has
if a communication device such as satyāgraha would become a way of life for him. It seems to presuppose
persuade the opponent; but should satyāgraha the development of a certain level of spiritual
succeed it cannot be denied that the success is due maturity on the part of the person practicing
to this new communication device. nonviolence, as it appears to be the case with a
practicing yogin endowed with miraculous powers
It is questionable, however, that all conflicts can be (siddhis).
resolved by satyāgraha, if satyāgraha is no more
than a strategy to facilitate rational communication Humans function at different levels—biophysical,
between adversaries. We all know that there is an psychosocial, and spiritual. Consequently, the
existential divide between cognition and conduct, matter of controlling violence needs to be carried out
between knowing and behaving. Most people who at different levels.
smoke know that smoking is bad for their health. All (1) At the physical level, in addition to the security
of us subscribe to the ethic that lying is not right, yet networks such as the police, we need to ensure that
almost everyone lies, some less frequently perhaps the physical and biological factors contributing to
than others. It follows that communicating truth and violence are addressed. For example, deprivations
what is right does not always ensure that people and discriminations of all kinds are significant
behave truthfully and do what is right. Something contributory factors for the outburst of violence at
more may be required to bridge the gap between the level of the individual as well as the group.
knowing and behaving and close the divide between Taking care of them, however, though necessary, will
cognition and conduct. Gandhi believes that not be sufficient to stamp out violence.
satyāgraha and nonviolence practiced with utmost
sincerity and strict discipline could help not only in (2) At the psychological level, there are known
facilitating rational communication between the two principles that one could use to channel and check
violence. Those forms of violence that are learned awakes conscience. The way it works may be similar
and to which one is conditioned can be modified by to the “magical” manifestations following practice of
suitable deconditioning processes. One may learn to Yoga. In Yoga, ignorance (avidyā) and the ego are the
suppress violence in one self. This works only to a two mitigating factors that one needs to overcome in
degree. Continued or automatic suppression of his path of psycho-spiritual development. The same
violence becomes repressive. Repressed violence is appears to hold in Gandhi’s satyāgraha as well.
bound to explode sooner or later unless it is Truth is the insight into the nature of the conflict
sublimated in some ways. and nonviolence is the means to effect its resolution.

The most effective way to preempt violence by oneself 10.7 Psychoanalysis and Satyāgraha
is to cultivate its opposite, which is love. Patañjali in
his Yoga Sūtras specifically prescribes this mode to Differences between Freud’s psycho-analytic theory
overcome the hurdles in the way of reaching self- and Gandhian conception of human mind.
realization. Gandhi appears to have been influenced ●While Freud emphasizes sex drive in human
by Yoga in his uncompromising advocacy of behavior, Gandhi extols brahmacharya, celibacy,
love/nonviolence as an antidote to violence, which is self-control.
considered a vice and an impediment for self- ●Psychoanalysis deals with intra-psychic conflicts
realization and common good, which are the very and their resolution at personal level. Gandhi’s
goals of human endeavor. Gandhi strongly believed satyagraha is applied for resolving social and
that violence may be conquered by conscientious political conflicts between individuals and groups.
practice of love and compassion. Thus, cultivating Similarities are
an altruistic attitude through education and ● There is no fundamental contradiction between the
upbringing can be helpful in mitigating the psychoanalytical postulate that humans are driven
occurrence of violence at the psychological level. primarily by sex drive and the notion that self-
control and refraining from sex activity are a
(3) Violence can be eradicated at the spiritual level. precondition for one’s growth as an altruist being.
Spiritualization of the human condition is indeed a ● From Gandhian perspective, there is no sharp
sure-fire solution for containing violence. dichotomy between individual and group/society.
Spiritualization raises humans to a higher level of Indeed, they are considered to be reflexive of each
being. Spiritualization is feasible and practical even other.
in the contemporary world. Just as intellectual force
is superior to physical force, spiritual force is In Freud, the person has a three-tier structure in id,
superior to intellectual force. The way to realize the ego, and superego. Much of this structure is hidden
self is to practice nonviolence. in the unconscious layers of one’s personality. What
actually surfaces is like the tip of the iceberg.
In Gandhi’s writings spiritual stands for different (1) The id is the primary energy source. Closely
things at different levels of discourse. linked to biological processes, it constitutes the core
●At the ethical level, spiritual means for Gandhi of personality. Id is driven by the pleasure principle,
altruism. which seeks satisfaction of instinctual impulses and
●At epistemological level, spiritual refers to wishes. These impulses and wishes in Freud’s view
transcognitive knowing and being. His inner voice is emanate primarily by sex-related and aggressive
one of them. Gandhi tells us that when reason did dispositions inlaid in the person as instinctive
not give a convincing answer to the problem, he had tendencies. The behavior of the person at the level of
consulted his inner voice and benefitted much from the id is guided by what Freud calls “primary process
it. thinking,” which addresses the above instinctual
●At the ontological level, it is the unity of all. One’s urges independent of attendant reality.
identity goes beyond the individual self to embrace (2) The ego is a developed portion of the id. It results
all. It signifies the interconnectedness of all that from the manifest conflicts between instinctual
exists. urges and the reality constraints placed on them and
●At a theological level spiritual involves faith in God serves the survival need of the organism in their
and religion. resolution. The ego unlike the id is in direct contact
In Gandhi’s thought, these different senses pose no with reality outside. It is concerned with the safety
contradictions or inconsistencies. They are and survival of the person by reconciling the
interlinked in significant ways. What is interesting is instinctual urges with external constraints and
that Gandhi would have no problem if one restricts demands. The ego is governed by the reality
the spiritual to only one sense and ignores the rest. principle, which moderates and modulates the
For Gandhi, Truth is God; and therefore even instinctual wishes in the light of the demands of the
atheists could not object to that. As it happens, some actual world outside. Reality principle is steered by
people with strong atheistic persuasions are devoted what Freud calls “secondary process thinking,”
followers of Gandhi and strong adherents of his which involves such reality-oriented cognitive
ideas and practices. processes as logical thinking and rational planning.
(3) The third tier in a person’s psychic structure is
Violence is the instrument of the ego. Nonviolence is the superego, which again is a development of the id.
the attribute of human conscience. Suffering on The superego incorporates within it the moral
one’s own person, instead of inflicting on others, standards and cultural beliefs of the society.
According to Freud, it is the agency that internalizes
the parental influences on the child. “In so far as this
superego is differentiated from the ego or is opposed
to it, it constitutes a third power which the ego must
take into account”. The superego functions as a
source of self-control and leads the person to refrain
from doing “bad” and “evil” things. Whereas the id
constantly strives to seek pleasure by attempting to
satisfy the sexual and aggression urges, and the ego
does reality testing, the superego drives the person
toward shared values and social concerns. There is
a constant conflict and struggle between the
instinctual urges of the id and the norms set by the
super ego that creates tensions and anxieties. The
person at the level of the ego adopts a variety of
strategies to address them.
Thus, the interplay between the id, the ego, and the
superego determines the dynamics of human
behavior. While the ego functions pretty much at the
conscious level, the id is submerged in the
subconscious and can be inferred essentially from
its affects.

In Gandhi’s psychic architecture of the person we

find a similar three-way tie-up. Gandhi referred to
the divide in us
●animal/brute vs. id ●individual effort vs. ego
●human/divine vs. superego

●animal/brute does not consist entirely of sexual
and aggressive instincts. It is more inclusive and
involves all kinds of gratification. It is pleasure
seeking in a broader sense.
●The id in the form of libido is the only energy source
of the psyche. In Gandhi, there is also the spiritual
source of energy that can be cultivated and
channeled for human development.
●In Freud, the ego and the superego are outgrowths
of the id and the internalization of external
influences. They are developmental in their
formation. In Gandhi, the human/divine is a totally
independent and basic element inherent in human
nature itself. To be sure, it can be cultivated from
within, but not borrowed from outside or simply
internalized from parental and other influences.
●In addition to Freud’s pleasure principle and reality
principle we have in Gandhi the spiritual principle
guiding us to truth and nonviolence.

10.8 Gandhi’s Transformation

10.9 Gandhi: An Organizational Guru

10.10 Summary