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Your true self, Vedanta and modern psychology

Modern psychology suffers from gaps, which the teachings of Vedanta address at a fundamental level.

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Updated: Mar 18, 2019, 17:00 PM IST

We live in an age of psychoanalysis. Since Freud a century ago, we have been taught the importance of examining our personal psychology, emotions and memories for understanding ourselves and finding happiness in life. A variety of authorities in modern psychology today evaluate not just individuals but cultures, even religions by their proposed psychological understanding of the human mind. 

Yet, in spite of the proliferation of psychological treatment, we find more people taking pharmaceutical drugs and epidemics of depression occurring in the affluent Western world. Are we missing something about understanding ourselves - and can the ancient Vedic teachings provide us a deeper insight?

Modern psychology reflects a view of the self that is based upon the physical body and outer social interactions. It seeks happiness at a physical level in the material world. Its view of the mind is limited to the brain and our biological compulsions, starting with sexuality. When it asks us to develop ourselves it is a seeking of outer power and prestige, not inner awareness. Its idea of self reflects external factors only, not any consciousness that endures beyond death.

Here, let us remember the profound teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads. Our true Self, called Atman or Purusha, consists of the boundless light of consciousness. It has no birth or death, no pleasure or pain, no past or future. It has no qualities as defined by the five elements. Fire cannot burn it. Water cannot make it wet. It does not perish along with the body. It does not change along with the fluctuations of the mind. It is permanent, immutable and beyond sorrow. Abiding in it is ultimate peace, bliss and fulfilment. Yet, we find that modern psychology doesn't recognize such a higher Self, much less teach us how to connect to it.

Our inner identity cannot be reduced to a name, job, title or circumstance. No one and nothing can own, define, limit, or control the deeper reality within us. We are not simply a physical organism or a complex set of chemical reactions in the brain, but the inner consciousness through which these operate and which transcends their fluctuations. We contain the potentials and formations of all existence, extending beyond time and space to the infinite and eternal.

The importance of Vedanta
Vedantic philosophy contains a profound psychology of Self-realization, not merely a psychology of physical or social identity. Vedanta teaches that you are the entire universe. You are not limited to the body. You have many bodies in many incarnations in different worlds or lokas. Your nature is cosmic. 

Similarly, you need not seek happiness or fulfilment outside your true Self. On the contrary, your inner Self is full of light and your role in the world should be to bring light, compassion and wisdom to all. Everything you see in the world of nature represents some portion of your true Self, some aspect of your cosmic identity. All creatures are different expressions of your deeper Self that pervades the entire existence.

Only such a deeper vision of Self can bring us true happiness. Otherwise, we remain trapped in outer ego identities, in how we appear or what we do, rather than who we truly are. This means that the best practices for psychological wellbeing are mantra and meditation based upon an inner search for our true nature in consciousness. The mind easily falls into dependence, compulsion or addiction if we do not have an enduring connection with our inner being.

If you aspire to enduring mental peace and emotional wellbeing start by taking a course in Vedanta and learn how the human being and the universe, the Divine and our inner essence are one. Step out of the isolation of the ego and mere outer social definitions to your ultimate identity as the Self of all. Open your awareness to infinite space, not just to outer forms.

Naturally, this greater Self-realization cannot be accomplished quickly and requires a lifelong sadhana, but if we sincerely pursue it we can progress every day in consciousness and deathless awareness, not merely in outer achievements and acquisitions.

The sages of India have preserved the legacy of Self-knowledge for all humanity, but it must be shared and practiced, and honored in our educational systems as well. Without knowing ourselves, all other knowledge is limited and cannot take us beyond sorrow. Let us not forget this simple eternal wisdom of Self-awareness that easily gets lost in all the information that we are deluged with every day.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)