A Spiritual Psychology – Overview

A Spiritual Psychology – Overview Posted on June 15th, 2012 by in General, Personal Development with [fetching…]

When the deepest part of you becomes engaged in what

You are doing…you are doing what you were meant to be doing.”

Gary Zukav

Man’s noblest quality is the will to discover an imperishable Reality beyond the changes and chances of this mortal world. This quality is what I mean by “spiritual.” Man’s spirit is his will. This is what Thomas Aquinas taught and it is the secret of understanding our human nature. The soul is an artifact, the result of our life experience. It may be temporary and it may be immortal, depending upon whether or not our will, that is, our spirit, has taken possession of it. Those who deny the will in man deny the spirit. Those who affirm the will affirm the spirit—whether they realize it or not.

Since will is commitment to action, it follows that a spiritual psychology must be a practical psychology. One can go further and say that it must be a “do it-yourself psychology,” by which I mean that we must find and live by our will and not look at anyone else to do the work for us. This is where a spiritual psychology differs from most clinical psychology.

If you have come to read these lines, probably you are in search of a satisfying answer to the question: “What is the sense and purpose of my life and how am I to achieve it?”  Now, let’s look at the course of events to get the picture become clearer.

In the past, mankind has been enticed or driven into this path by the hope of heaven and the fear of eternal punishment, but the reason for it has not been revealed. So when the promises and threats ceased to work, people saw no more reason for effort and sacrifice except for their own welfare and that of their nearest and dearest. For centuries, people almost universally accepted the injunction to be “content with that state of life to which it has pleased God to call us!”      But, today we hear this no longer.

A new source of confidence has arisen: the great human institutions. In its crudest form, this is the communist state. But we also have it in the belief that governments, churches, corporations, and well-organized pressure groups are able to guarantee stability at least “in our day.” Science, economics, computers, and the weapons of power have taken over from Jove and his thunderbolts. In these strange gods, the silent majority places its hesitant trust and looks with fear on those who want to do away with its institutions. For thousands of years, mankind has looked to institutions to solve its problems. It has been assumed that man himself is a known, fixed quantity whose life conditions depend upon the organization of society. In our day, this position has been openly adopted by the Behaviorists. They hold that man is entirely the product of his culture. He is a plastic, shapeless creature at birth and is formed completely by the society in which he grows up. This extreme view is recent, but it was implied in the older view that the social order is essentially good. Up to the seventeenth century, the only institutions that seemed important were those of church and state and, to a lesser extent, the guilds of merchants and craftsmen. This was true not only for Christian World, but also for the vast areas of Asia and Africa dominated by Islam. It was truest of all for China, where the search for the ideal form of government was the business of philosophers and rulers alike.

It is true that the sacredness of the individual and the rights of man were accepted as axiomatic, but only within an accepted social order. The Old and New Testament, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita and the Analects of Confucius all agree that Institutions are God-given and must be respected. New man-made institutions of various kinds appeared since the beginning of the nineteenth century. One was the joint stock company leading to the industrial and financial empires of our day. The other is the world organization starting with the International Postal Union in 1856 and leading to the United Nations with all its off- shoots.

Few question that institutions are needed for the orderly working of human society, but many have begun to doubt if they do or ever will promote human welfare. The loss of faith in institutions is accompanied by a fear of their power, not as formerly to dominate by military, political, and economic weapons, but by direct action on the human psyche. Skinner, in his Beyond Freedom and Dignity and in Power and Innocence, together with scores of other psychologists and sociologists, though holding very different views as to man’s nature and his prospects for the future, all agree that a new threat faces us: the use of power to deprive the individual of inner liberty. Behaviorism may have lost ground in recent years, but it still spells a threat that many regard as even more serious than the external hazards of war, pollution, exhaustion of resources and universal famine. Against behaviorism is set the human potential movement with its promise of unlimited growth both for the individual and for the human race.

This has been linked with the search for new forms of psychic and religious experience. Millions are experimenting with Pentecostal religion and various brands of eastern spirituality. Millions also have tried drugs and other hallucinogenic agents. None of these experiments have given convincing results. Ideas and methods, teachers and writers, have sprung into prominence and after a few years faded away. An interesting feature of all these movements is that they usually stabilize with a solid core of convinced believers and a flow of seekers who swell the numbers and give the illusion of growth, but sooner or later drift away.

We live in a society with deep contradictions and conflicts. Three main streams can be recognized. There are those who fear and oppose change, whose idea of progress is to have more and more of the same and to have it more and more securely. There are those who want change but see it in external achievements. They look to a new world created by science and technology and by the power of organization. This group ranges from behaviorists to science-fiction addicts. Most of them would echo Swinburne’s “Glory to Man in the Highest.” The third stream includes the human potential movement; but this can be interpreted in so many, and often contradictory, ways that all that can safely be said is that its followers believe that the solution of human problems must be sought in man himself and not in his institutions.

We can distinguish two branches. One can be called transformism: man as we know him is an incomplete being with limitless potential for development or transformation. Man’s destiny is altogether limited with his capacity for self-perfecting.

The second branch takes a more negative view of man. He is nothing who becomes something by the mere process of living. The current version of this second branch is Existentialism. There is only the “human condition” which is what happens to us and not what we are born with. For the existentialist, “essence” is a meaningless word. There is no human nature, no human instincts; man is what he makes of himself. Sartre, the apostle of Existentialism says: “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world and defines himself afterward. … To begin with, he is nothing. He will not be anything until later and then he will be what he makes himself.” Such a belief can lead to profound pessimism as it has done with Sartre and many others. This pessimism is one of the characteristics of our time; but until recently, it was not shared by those who looked outward at man’s achievements and ignored his inner emptiness.

Until the 1960s, there was widespread optimism as to man’s future. Those who belonged to each of the three mainstreams were confident that their way of life would prove successful and ultimately prove superior. There has been a dramatic change in the last few years. Only professional optimists can pretend to see the way clear ahead. The political, economical, and financial structure of the world no longer inspires any confidence. Formerly, there was always some enemy that we could blame. Now we see that all are equally helpless and equally alarmed about the future. No one seriously believes that we have seen the end of war and revolution. Social reform has failed to bring social well-being. Social engineering sprang up like a mushroom and its collapse has been one of the spectacular events of the last decade. Behavioral science, neighborhood studies, programmed learning, computerized welfare, compensatory social factoring—all these promising lines have proved to be dead ends. The young generation turned from drugs to political protest, from politics to pop, and from that to the spiritual quest. Nothing works and no one can see why. This is strange in an age that prides itself on its practical realism and can point to the achievements of science and technology to support the claim that man can achieve whatever he sets his hand to.

Evidently, the problem is much deeper and subtler than people suppose. Man’s outer world has changed beyond recognition in the past thousand years, but his nature has remained as enigmatic and rebellious as ever. While we in the West have been achieving mastery over inanimate objects, the East has kept its attention on the human predicament. As a result, they know far more about man and his nature than we do. We are an “undeveloped country” so far as man is concerned and we are trying to catch up by borrowing psychological methods from the East as they are borrowing technology from us. We are making the same mistake of trying to use unfamiliar techniques without acquiring the proficiency and skill.

We are attempting to establish large-scale human engineering operations without understanding man. We do not take account of the full range of human potential. It has been said that man is like an iceberg; only one eighth is visible above the surface. Even those who believe in human perfectibility do so in naive superficial terms. The unseen man is not only the source of his potential; it also acts constantly and unpredictably upon the visible man.

If we use the word “spiritual” to mean that part of man’s nature which is beyond the reach of ordinary observation and analysis, then by “Spiritual Psychology” we understand the study of man as a whole, the potential man and the actual man taken together. Using this concept, I would say that human engineering in the West has failed because it has neglected the spiritual man.

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