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Yoga and Western Psychology: a Comparison.

Coster, G.

London, 1945. [CoG]

[CoG 26] The majority of people who apply to an analyst for help are ill ill in body or ill at ease with life. ... the general run of patients are suffering from functional nervous disorders of a not very striking nature, such as inhibit efficiency without endangering life, or from various anti-social habits that are distressing to themselves and to their neighbours. Among the former might be instanced hysterical affections, nervous disorders connected with se+ and excretory functions (such as irregular menstruation, constipation, enuresis), chronic indigestion, certain skin-diseases of an irritative nature; while as examples of psychological maladjustment one may cite kleptomania, over-timidity, fits of violent temper, inability to pass examinations or to settle to regular employment, unsatisfactory marriage relations, shyness and nervousness in business or social encounters, indolence, depression, drunkenness, hallucinatory delusions and so forth.
[CoG 27] ... people differ greatly in what they expect or demand from analytical therapy. Probably for the majority physical health is the goal, and by health they mean the absence of certain symptoms.
[CoG 30] ... there is much resemblance as well as a profound difference [between the student of yoga and the analysand]. The student of yoga is necessarily one who is dissatisfied with his own adaptation to life and to the external world; for no other reason would be sufficient to induce a man to engage in an exacting course of training which he knows from the outset will strain all his powers to the uttermost. Moreover, since such deep dissatisfaction brings conflict and tension, he is likely to be one who suffers from the nervous fatigue ill-health and ill-success in ordinary life that characterize the candidate for analysis. But there are two very important points of difference. In the first place the student of yoga is a student and not a patient; he approaches the question from the active and not the passive standpoint. [CoG 31] The candidate for analysis, on the other hand, goes to the analyst as to any other doctor, expecting him to take the whole responsibility of the treatment and to bring about a cure. [] If the mental state of a person is such that he cannot give any co-operation as in certain though not by any means all types of insanity then he cannot be analyzed.

[CoG 32] The eastern student of yoga ... is taught by specific exercises to attain relaxation [and much more] of body and mind as a condition preliminary to ant advanced training.
[CoG 33] The need for relaxation in analysis as in yoga arises from the fact that in both methods the first step consists in the letting go of old automatisms of thought and feeling.
[CoG 39] Most of the fears and uncertainties by which human beings are beset can be grouped under one of two headings fear of change, and fear of doing wrong. Fear of change may be said to include fear of discomfort and privation, of disease, of death; of loss of friends, social status, enjoyment; and, generally speaking, fear of what the next day will bring. Fear of doing wrong is closely connected with self-esteem, and is an unwillingness to fall short of accepted standards, a dread of ridicule, of making a wrong choice, of incurring the wrath of God or man, and of being punished therefor.
To calm and assuage those fears we have from infancy instinctively looked for an external source of aid [our parents, god-like beings], and from this external source we have expected protection that we may be guarded against all the instabilities of life, and guidance to prevent us from making mistakes.
[CoG 41] ... when [after childhood] individual character begins to develop, there is a natural divergence according to type. The desire for security is universal, and the realization that parents cannot satisfy it is inevitable; but a relatively small number of people deliberately face up to these facts and try to discover a solution. The majority are content to find some means of evading and forgetting the issue.
[CoG 41] Of the section who prefer to treat life more directly and seriously it is perhaps true to say that the majority pass through a phase of accepting or [CoG 42] trying to accept the conventional orthodoxy of their environment. [] Such standards may be religious in the ordinary sense of the word, or they may be social cults derived from family tradition. [] ... an enthusiasm for a cause of for a new idea takes hold of the individual and absorbs him to the exclusion of all else. [] Usually these causes or movements [CoG 42] which absorb so many of the choice spirits of the day are progressive, altruistic, and social in their aims, and therefore provide an excellent form of what the analyst calls sublimation, that is, the transmutation of personal conflict into useful activity. These are, nevertheless, in the nature of solutions from without, and the man who becomes possessed by a cause or a movement, as so many do, tends to crystallize, or, to use another figure, ceases to travel in a spiral and begins to gyrate in a circle.
The true adventurer in the world of the spirit, the man who has the courage to insist that there is something behind the painted drop-scene, has to learn the invalidity of every form of exterior support, to achieve security by finding a centre of gravity within himself.
[CoG 42] This search within as contrasted with the search without [good works, karma yoga] marks the basic distinction between two methods of attempting to deal with man’s sense of insecurity, and both are as old as philosophy itself.
[CoG 44] ... the religious mystic, the candidate for analysis, and the student of yoga all belong to the group of those who seek the interior solution, although each of the three has a different method of approach and a different working hypothesis.
The mystic [CoG 45] presupposes the existence of a deity, an immanent or interior God, and his entire energies are devoted to achieving conscious union with or experience of that divine being.
The person who undertakes analysis presupposes nothing in the nature of a dogma or belief, his sole hypothesis being that self-knowledge is worth attainment. [] Hence the mystic is in the position of an explorer looking for something he knows to exist such as the North Pole, or the source of a river; while the analysand is, as it were, merely exploring an unknown country with no preconceived notions of its physical features. Both these methods of approach have their advantages and drawbacks. A definite preconceived goal makes for speed and enthusiasm, but also tends to self-deception. To set out on a voyage of discovery without any definite goal makes an unbiased explorer; but the weak point of analytical therapy at its present stage is precisely its lack of a clear objective. The journey is apt to come to an inconclusive end because the traveller gets tired and thinks he has gone far enough.
The method of yoga is again quite different, though approximating both to the analytical and to the mystical. In yoga as in the mystic experience there is a definite goal, which the [CoG 46] the yogi calls kaivalya or liberation. ... the teacher of yoga has a far better idea of what constitutes the attainment of kaivalya than has the average analyst of what constitutes an adequate analysis.
[CoG 47] [The] method [of yoga] is to train the whole nature to respond to conscious control and self-direction, and it claims that when self-awareness and the capacity for spiritual insight are achieved, perception of real values can be sustained, and this brings with it a sense of complete security.
[CoG 69] Analysis may ... be defined as a process the object of which is to bring into consciousness those unconscious elements in the id and super-ego which are in conflict with or untrue to reality.

[CoG 78] Certain habits are inimical to the state of consciousness which is being sought, just as certain habits are inconsistent with physical fitness. [The] non-moral attitude of yoga...
[CoG 78] ... the abstinence from flesh food and from all forms of alcoholic drink [and se+] is assumed as a sine qua non.
[CoG 106] I-30. The obstacles in the way of the man who sets out to attain yoga are ill health, boredom, doubt, carelessness, laziness, worldly-mindedness, incapacity to perceive what is required, the tendency to be let off into side issues after a certain measure of success has been attained, and inability to stay the course.
I-31. Pain, mental distress, nervous disorders, and irregular breathing accompany these obstacles or causes of distraction.
[CoG 107] I-32. Those may be prevented by steady and intense concentration on some subject.
I-33. Also by the deliberate practice of such attitudes of mind as sympathy, compassion, cheerfulness.
I-34. Or by the practice of pranayama, the science of breath.
I-35-9. Or by meditation upon any engrossing sensory experience, or upon an impersonal subject such as the quality of peace, or upon some divinely perfected being, or upon the experience obtained in dream and in sleep, or upon any deeply congenial subject.
[CoG 112] II-1-2. The preliminary exercises for those who wish to practise yoga include discipline or relaxation of tension, study or aspiration, and resignation to God.

[CoG 113] II-3. Five obstacles stand in the way of attainment, viz. ignorance, sense of being or self-esteem, desire, aversion, and the will to live.
II-4. Ignorance is the cause of the other four.
II-5. Ignorance is a mental state in which the illusory is mistaken for reality, that which is apparent for the real.

[CoG 116] II-29. The preliminary exercises are: (1) The practice of harmlessness, i.e. obedience to the moral law. (2) Discipline, i.e. obedience to the spiritual law. (3) Posture. (4) The regulation of breath. (5) Withdrawal or abstraction. (6) Concentration. (7) Deliberation. (8) Contemplation.
II-30. The moral law includes abstention from killing, lying, stealing, incontinence, and covetousness or greed.
II-32. The spiritual discipline consists of purification, contentment, mortification or discipline, study and resignation to God.

[CoG 119] II-46. An easy and steady body position is necessary for prolonged meditation.
II-48. The fruit of right poise is the capacity to remain balanced between the pairs of opposites.
II-49. When this is gained there follows the right guidance of the life currents, the control of incoming and outgoing breath.

[CoG 121] III-1. Concentration is holding the attention fixed upon an object.
III-2. Sustained concentration upon one object is deliberation.
III-3. When all consciousness is lost save that of the shape on which the mind is fixed, this state is contemplation.
III-4. These three stages taken sequentially on one object are called samyama.
III-5. Samyama results in lucid knowledge.
III-6. It is progressive and can be applied at various levels.
III-7. Samyama is the first step in true yoga, the five preliminary exercises merely leading up to this.
III-8. But samyama is still not the goal.

[CoG 129] IV-18. The seer (purusha) is constant and not subject to modifications and is therefore able to observe the modifications of the mind.
IV-19. It is possible for the seer to know or cognize the mind as a thing apart.
IV-20. The seer is necessary, since the mind cannot be aware of itself as an object.
IV-21. The multiplicity of minds cognizing each other would result in confusion.
IV-22. The identification of consciousness with the self or seer brings awareness of the mind as an object.
IV-23. The mind reacts both to the seer and the seen.
[CoG 130] IV-24. Though the mind has its automatic reactions, directed thinking is the result of its association with purusha.
IV-25. Desire for knowledge as to the nature of the self is extinguished when the distinction between the self and the mind has been experienced.
IV-26. Then the mind turns from attachment to the external world and is bent toward liberation (kaivalya).
IV-27. The state of kaivalya is necessarily intermittent at first as distractions recur.
IV-29. If to full discriminative knowledge is added supreme non-attachment, then the yogi achieves a state called the ‘cloud of virtue’ which is the true spiritual consciousness.

[CoG 149] The admitted purpose of bodily austerities is to break the fixity and automation of habit at the physical level, and to make the body more amenable to the dictates of the will. [] To ‘mortify the flesh’ is to treat the body in such a way as to overcome its demands, to induce a relaxation to the grip of bodily desires, so that mind and spirit are no longer hampered by them. Preliminary yoga demands a much more extensive loosening of grip or tension than this, a relaxation not only of physical habits but of mental and emotional automatisms; and this latter is a far subtler and more difficult achievement.
[CoG 157] ... as in yoga so also in analysis confused habits of thought based on childish emotions and on traditional reactions have to be broken up in order to make clear thinking possible. A large part of the work of the analyst consists in helping the patient to release his tense hold on fixed ideas of personal inferiority, of sin and guilt, of fear, of self-importance, and the like.
[CoG 153] The third requisite is resignation to the will of God or Ishvara [or guru].
[CoG 153] Apart from the necessity for acceptance of and submission to the teacher there is also involved ... the need for a profound acceptance of the conditions of individual life. Attitudes of mind such as ambition, resentment, discontent in face of [CoG 154] the inevitable, rebellion, are recognized as antipathetic to the mastery of the mind and emotions. The ambitious or resentful person is never sufficiently at leisure from himself to achieve the recollectedness and concentration of faculty necessary for the practice of yoga.
There is, however, a much subtler and more elusive reason why acceptance is one of the fundamental necessities. For all the loftier achievements of living an unimpeded flow of life-force or libido or spiritual energy is necessary. It is possible to exist automatically with the life-force dammed back, but creative awareness demands a free flow. [] There is a sense in which yoga is the supreme creative activity, and the feeling of wholeness, oneness, freedom, of having all one’s faculties in alignment and harmony, of being afloat upon the stream of being and void of resentment or shrinking, is a necessary preliminary to the more advanced yoga practices.

[CoG 159] The eastern idea of ignorance may be compared with the Christian conception of original sin. [] The goal of evolution is the dispelling of ignorance, as the goal of the Christian life is the conquest of sin. When ignorance is completely dispelled, the man attains liberation, i.e. freedom from the bondage of reincarnation and compulsory experience; when sin is vanquished the Christian attains heaven.
[CoG 160] Desire is the illusion by which man is identified with, entangled in experience. The term covers the entire range of sensational and emotional experience.
[CoG 161] It is from the sense of identity with experience that the candidate must extricate himself. By continual practice he learns to realize that the cravings of the physical body, the constant play of the emotions, the automatic weaving and interweaving of the ever-active mind, are exterior to an inner consciousness which is himself. Experience then becomes more objective, less enthralling and yet in a sense more interesting.
[CoG 161] The distinction between this technique and what is ordinarily known as repression is a real one; for whereas repression is the automatic unconscious refusal to admit an experience to come into the field of consciousness, the yoga technique involves the objectifying of experience and the acceptance [CoG 162] or rejection of it by reference to the conscious choice of the self. This habit of regulating the emotional life by a process of withdrawal and choice is very difficult to acquire ...
[CoG 166] The third hindrance or obstacle is aversion or hate... Whereas desire, the entanglement of the self in experience, is predominantly a question of the emotions, and its true opposite is hate, aversion is an obstacle occasioned by the workings of the concrete mind. [] The concrete mind is to a great extent occupied in noting differences and making critical comparisons.
[CoG 167] The fact that the critical faculty used destructively is anti-social and separative and that it feeds self-esteem makes it a very definite barrier to training in yoga, the whole trend of which is toward the recognition of unity and brotherliness.

[CoG 243] That yoga in its traditional form is essentially an eastern practice unsuited to western life and temperament I am prepared to admit. It is true that [CoG 244] playing at yoga has become a fairly common pastime in certain sections of society, but the relationship between this play and the true practice of the eastern science is comparable to that between the child who cuts open her sawdust doll to remove its appendix and the surgeon who actually performs the operation of appendicectomy.
[CoG 245] The difficulty is to adapt the method to current needs without cheapening the subtleties of real introspective experience on the one hand, or losing its practical value in a maze of pseudo-mysticism on the other.


For comments: Dolf Hartsuiker