Ancient Indian Psychology (भारतीय मनोविज्ञानम्)

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Manovijnana (Samskrit: मनोविज्ञानम्) pertains to the science of the mind or of mental states and processes, and of human and animal behaviour. Broadly these aspects are studied in the modern branch of Psychology and Psychiatry. Understanding the manas or mind, thought, actions of the sense organs and consciousness have remained as elusive subjects and beyond the reach of common understanding. Understanding the various mental processes and managing mental health has remained a major challenge to modern scientists and doctors till this day. It is time to reflect on the various siddhantas and methods used by ancient seers who made unfathomable advancements in the study of consciousness and mental processes.

The source of man's insights are twofold - exploring the wonders of the world outward and the states of the mind inward. In the Vedas, the boundless diversity of nature engages attention. In the Upanishads we return inwards to explore the depths of inner world. The interest of the seers has always been in understanding and in controlling the mental processes encountered in the inward journey. The Bharatiya way of philosophic analysis started with the reflection on the inner Self of man with the ultimate goal, of all mental training, being the attainment of Moksha. We find that the psychological and physiological disciplines developed in the Upanishads, the Yoga sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, and in the schools of Buddhism and Jainism. Practicing scholars were astonished alike at the psychosomatic views held by the great medical authorities of India, namely, Charaka and Sushruta. It has been one of the wonders in intellectual history that though there was no independent branch of study like Psychology in ancient India, the ancient thinkers had independently developed highly systematic views regarding mind and its operations, particularly with reference to mental health and well-being.[1]


Ancient Indian thought is not only rich in describing the metaphysical but also in psychological aspects. While there was no special discipline to study Manovijnana, loosely corresponding to the modern subject of Psychology, we find numerous valuable insights about this topic in as early as the Vedic times. Each school of philosophy, medicine, aesthetics etc., developed its own theory of mind.

A few outstanding examples of well known contributions of Indian seers in the field of psychology include the following.[2]

  1. The Gayatri Mantra in Rigveda and Yajurveda
  2. Shiva sankalpa mantras in Yajurveda
  3. Understanding the power of the Self in Kena Upanishad
  4. The four states of Consciousness in Mandukya Upanishad
  5. Panchakoshas described in the Taittriya Upanishad

The Vedic thinkers were chiefly preoccupied with the aspects of consciousness, its relation to the body, sense organs, and mind to the states of consciousness, viz., waking, dreaming, sleep and above all the turiya or the fourth state. With the rise of theories of materialism (Charvaka, Lokayuta), Buddhism and Jainism, the focus shifted to attention, perception, inference and illusion. Memory, imagination, feelings and emotions, thoughts and a way to express them, their relation to the development of language were paid considerable contemplation. Apart from these dynamics of the mind, thoughts and behaviour, there was a great deal of concern regarding meditation, aesthetics, carnal pleasures and religion, all of which played a significant role in psychological processes of a human being.[2]

Manas in Sanatana Dharma

Firstly, the term "mind" is not a suitable translation for "manas" as is the case with many other concepts expressed in Sanatana Dharma. The term 'mind' is limited to cognition, whereas 'manas' captures cognition, emotion, and behaviour. However, in this article, manas is loosely translated as mind. Mind has been conceived to be the functional element of the Atman (Soul or Self) in the Vedas.[3]

In the Vedas, the Rigveda and Yajurveda, prayers or stutis light up the inner world of a person with noble thoughts. It has been mentioned that thoughts determine facial appearance, and influence the expression; thoughts can be purified through mantras. Such purified thoughts influence the natural instincts, thus preventing mental imbalance and pain.[4] It should be noted that while thoughts are reflected on the organs of the body, Manas itself has no specific organ located in the body, but consists only in its functions.[5]

Concepts of Manas in Rigveda

In Rigveda we find mantras depicting the concepts of the speed of mind, methods and prayers for mental happiness, and methods to increase medha (intelligence).[4]

मनो॒ न योऽध्व॑नः स॒द्य एत्येक॑: स॒त्रा सूरो॒ वस्व॑ ईशे । (Rig. Veda. 1.71.9)

In this mantra, we find that just like the mind, Surya alone travels on his celestial path with great speed.[6] The ancients were well aware of this particular quality of the mind.

का त॒ उपे॑ति॒र्मन॑सो॒ वरा॑य॒ भुव॑दग्ने॒ शंत॑मा॒ का म॑नी॒षा । (Rig. Veda 1.76.1)

In this mantra, the seer talks about finding ways to make the deity Agni favourable, - what are the ways to make your mind happy? Which prayer by us will give you sukh (happiness)? [7] It has been stated that purification of the mind prevents diseases in human beings therefore one should have noble thoughts. The power of mind in healing has also been described in Rigveda.

उषो॒ ये ते॒ प्र यामे॑षु यु॒ञ्जते॒ मनो॑ दा॒नाय॑ सू॒रय॑: । (Rig. Veda. 1.48.4)

Rigveda mantras mention about the ways to increase concentration, developing habits such as getting up in the Ushakala or Brahmamuhurta for adhyayan (studies) and performing good activities such as dana (charity). Any person who controls his mind from wandering and engages in good activities will become mentally sharp. The prayer to the deity Usha thus increases the mental faculties and generates noble thoughts. [8]

That the personality traits in a human being are influenced by the Trigunas the Sattva, Rajas and Tamo gunas has been described in the Rigveda.[4] Psychopathology was understood by these trigunas in Ayurveda system of medicine.

The famous Gayatri Mantra in the Rigveda (3.62.10) which is also present in the Yajurveda, is the essence of the Vedas. The prayer is rendered as follows:[2]

"We meditate upon that adorable efflungence of the resplendent vivifier, Savitr (Sun); May he stimulate our intellects"

In this mantra, mans asks, not for happiness or riches, but for a keen intellect and for enlightenment. It embodies in the form of a prayer, the highest aspiration of a man to come into contact with the universal consciousness. Another case of the famous allegory of two birds indicates the recognition of two aspects of personality, one the bodily aspect eager to satisfy materialistic needs or bhoganubhava, while the other is the enlightened aspect of human personality, who as a passive spectator is unaffected by the worldly experience.

द्वा सु॑प॒र्णा स॒युजा॒ सखा॑या समा॒नं वृ॒क्षं परि॑ षस्वजाते । तयो॑र॒न्यः पिप्प॑लं स्वा॒द्वत्त्यन॑श्नन्न॒न्यो अ॒भि चा॑कशीति ॥२०॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.164.20)

According to Sayanacharya, the two birds refer to the individual Self and the Supreme Being dwelling in one body.

Concepts of Manas in Yajurveda

In Yajurveda mind has been conceptualized as the inner flame of knowledge. The famous Shiva Sankalpa of Yajurveda (34, 1-6) is a remarkable description of the mind.[3]

तन् मे मनः शिवसंकल्पमस्तु । may my mind take an auspicious determination. (Shuk. Yaju. Veda. 34.1)[9]

In 34.1 manas is identified as a traveller, described as "that which goes our afar" in waking state and takes charge even while at rest in sleeping state. It is looked upon as being swift in motion, unhampered by the limitations of time and space. It is said to consist of intelligence, feeling and determination. The mind is described as "the light of lights" which illuminates all cognitions; it is the master of all sense organs. It is an instrument for the Jivatma.

In 34.2 following three characteristics of manas are identified:

  1. Thoughtful and intelligent people or sages who apply themselves to proper karma use manas in the performance of yajna i.e., manas is needed in the performance of auspicious deeds or yajna.
  2. Manas stays in the center of the body of living beings
  3. It stays in the yajna as a venerable being.

In 34.3, the following three characteristics of manas are noted:

  1. manas is characterized simultaneously as having extreme patience (dhira) and as the deep thinker or experiencer of awareness (chetaha), as it contemplates on special knowledge (prajna).
  2. Further, manas is characterized as the immortal light within the living being.
  3. Without manas no work can be performed or manas is said to be the performer of all works.

In 34.4, the following two characteristics of manas are presented:

  1. Manas is characterized as indestructible and the holder of all that is in the past, present, and the future. In other words, without manas we cannot experience or understand the three phases of time – past, present, and future. Manas is indestructible. Manas is beyond time or transcends time.
  2. Manas permeates the seven elements (body, work organs, sense organs, manas, buddhi, Atman, and paramAtmA) and spreads the yajna and is thus characterized as the one that nourishes yajna.

In 34.5, the following three characteristics of manas are noted.

  1. Manas is characterized as the seat of the veda mantras and lifted to the highest level.
  2. Manas is depicted as the holder of the chariot that the vedas are.
  3. It is said to be permeating the Chittam of a living being.

Finally, in 34.6, the following three characteristics of manas are captured.

  1. Manas is characterized as the able charioteer who controls the horses of the chariot in different directions as necessary. A metaphor is used to characterize manas as the controller of the journey of human life.
  2. Manas is characterized as the entity that directs humans toward various goals.
  3. And finally the seat of manas is stated to be the human heart, and it is characterized as something that does not get old and is very powerful.

It is clear from the above that manas is a complex construct. These six mantras present 24 characteristics of manas, and many of them are captured in metaphors. These characteristics provide a rich description of the construct of manas and could be the starting point for developing a typology and a theory of manas. It should be particularly noted that the vedic sages found it appropriate to pray to the manas before starting auspicious tasks or deeds related to yajna, which continues to this day as these mantras are chanted at the beginning of the Rudra Astadhyayi.[3]

Manas is the principle which is the basis of memory and anticipation (past, present and future). It holds all experiences and all memories together. It is that which leads and controls all the activities of man. It is the basis of all accomplishments in war as well as in peace time.[2]

Manas is the seat of Sankalpa, it is the essence of manas. Sankalpa - resolution, decision and Vikalpa - indecision and irresolution, doubt and hesitation are the two facets of the manas. Shiva sankalpa mantras present a prayer that mind should not only be of firm resolve but also of auspicious (Shiva) resolve, that is constructive and growth oriented.[2]

Concepts of Manas in Atharvaveda

In Atharvaveda, we find that the seers recognised the power of thoughts. Evil thoughts, i.e., thoughts which are anti-social and destructive, lead to anti-social and destructive deeds. So the task of man is to discriminate and reject evil thoughts.[2]

Atharvaveda describes “Manas” as an instrument of hypnotism and talks in details about will power, emotion, inspiration, and consciousness. It also describes emotional states such as grief, envy, pleasure, hostility, attachment, laziness etc. “Unmad” (psychosis) has been mentioned as a deluded state of mind in Vedas with etiology suggestive of both organic (worms/microorganisms, fever, etc.) and functional (rakshasa, gandharvas, Apsaras etc and sins toward Gods) origin with feelings of guilt.[10]

Concepts of Manas in Upanishads

Significant mention and discussion about mind, its states, qualities etc is found in important upanishads such as the Chandogya, Svetashvatara, Brhadaranyaka, Katha, Kena and Mundaka Upanishads.

Kathopanishad declares the Self conjoined with the sense organs and manas (mind) is the experiencer (bhokta). The mind is superior to the sense-organs and the buddhi (intellect) is superior to the mind.

Concepts of Manas in Bhagavadgita

Bhagavad Gita is considered to be the simplified and condensed form of the Vedas and Upanishads. It has one of the earliest written descriptions of anxiety and depression as seen in Arjuna and also describes the several aspects of psychotherapy.[10] Manas appears in many places in the Bhagavadgita (1.30, 2.55 & 60 & 67, 3.40, 3.42, 5.19, 6: 12, 14, 25, 26, 34, 35; 7.4, 8.12, 10.22, 11.45, 12.2 & 8, 15.7 & 9, 17.11 & 16, 18.33). In the first adhyaya we see that Arjuna expressed confusion of manas, and so by extension, it can also be stated that manas can also see without confusion or see things clearly. In the second adhyaya we see that Manas is characterized as the seat of all desires. Shloka 2.60 indicates that the sense-organs work through the manas, and they have a reciprocal relationship. Shloka 2.67 indicates that prajna (or buddhi) resides in the manas, and that manas can get captured by the sense that it is using or is associated with. In the third adhyaya the relationship between manas with desires is explained. In shloka 3.41, Krishna explains to Arjuna the hierarchy of the that the five senses are said to be superior to the body, whereas the manas is considered superior to the senses, buddhi is said to be superior to manas, and the atman is superior to even buddhi.

इन्द्रियाणि पराण्याहुरिन्द्रियेभ्यः परं मनः । मनसस्तु परा बुद्धिर्यो बुद्धेः परतस्तु सः ॥ (Bhag. Gita. 3.41)

Thus, manas is above the body and senses, which is also captured in the Indian conceptualization of self where manomaya is more subtle than the annamaya and pranamaya selves. But more subtle than the manomaya self are vijnanmaya and Anandamaya selves. Thus, manas stands in the middle of the five-level concept of self and thus is an intermediary in understanding the Atman.[3]

Having a balanced manas or equanimity is a very important aspect for mental health explained in shloka 5.19 for those whose manas is established in equanimity have in effect established themselves in brahman. This characteristic helps one understand the effects of rage, anger, greed, fear on manas and deal with situations in life with the required equanimity. The essence of the sixth adhyaya is that manas can be controlled by training it to practice dhyanayoga. In shlokas 24 and 25 of the sixth adhyaya, the role and state of manas in dhyana is captured, and the role of buddhi in taming the manas through practice and detachment is established.[3]

In the eleventh adhyaya, we find that manas is stated to be the center for emotions like fear. Here we find that manas can mean both mind and heart in English depending on the context. Hence literal translation of manas as mind is not appropriate. Another important concept of manas is described in the seventeenth adhyaya; the tapas of manas. The tapas of manas is defined as one in which one keeps the manas happy, kind, silent, self-controlled, and pure. What is important to note that actions, speech, and manas provide the criteria for defining concepts like tapas, yajna, dhriti or determination (18.33), and so forth, and the one done with the manas is considered to be of the highest level. For example, nonviolence is to be practiced at three levels, in actions, in speech, and in the manas, in ascending order. Therefore, it is not enough to practice nonviolence, truthfulness, or any other virtue in actions and speech but also at the highest level in the manas. As noted earlier, manas cannot be translated as mind without losing significant aspects of its meaning. For example, saying that nonviolence is practiced in the mind does not do justice, because when it is done with the manas, it includes emotion, cognitions, and behavioral intentions, which is not the case with mind.[3]

The Mind and its Mysteries

Distinction between Hrday (हृदयम्) and Manas (मनः)

The ancient seer had doubtless his share of joys and sorrows, passions and dejections, moods and urges in life. And he had the right sense to turn his attention to these, 'inner breezes' within his own heart. So it was the 'heart' (हृद्) that was involved in all these psychological experiences. In the role of poets who composed the suktas, they often spoke of

  • 'the pangs of grief in the heart' (हृ॒त्सु शोकै॑... Rig. Veda. 10.103.12)
  • 'holding fear in the heart' (भियं॒ दधा॑ना॒ हृद॑येषु॒... Rig. Veda. 10.84.7)
  • 'praises with all the heart' (हृदामतिं... Rig. Veda. 3.26.8)

It is verily the 'heart' that is touched on when the intoxicating Soma enters the system. The heart indeed is the fountain of all 'song'. It is surely not the mere physical heart that is alluded to by the poet, but the psychological faculty characterized by 'feeling'; but of course the physical heart is the one bodily organ readily affected by intense feelings. It is different from the Manas (Mind), but its close relative.[5]

The heart is identified as the source of all involuntary, irrational and normally uncontrolled psychological processes. Fear enters, not mind, but heart as expressed by the poet saying, इन्द्र हृ॒दि यत्ते॑ ज॒घ्नुषो॒ भीरग॑च्छत् । "O Indra, if there arises fear in your heart at the time of killing Vrtra...." (Rigveda. 1.32.14). It is also not the mind but the heart that experiences longing, grief or pleasure.[5] We see in the Yama Yami Samvada, the longing of Yami and accusations she throws (ब॒तो ब॑तासि यम॒ नैव ते॒ मनो॒ हृद॑यं चाविदाम ।) for the lack of affection towards her (Rigveda. 10.10).

The Vedic seer has rightly recognized an intimate connection between the heart and the mind; indeed many references point to the mind being located in the heart. However, mind has an independent consideration also.[5]

Relationship of Manas with Body

Kathopanishad (Adhyaya 1 Tritiyavalli) clearly points to the role of Manas in body it's relationship between mind and body.[1]

आत्मानँ रथितं विद्धि शरीरँ रथमेव तु । बुद्धिं तु सारथिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहमेव च ॥ ३ ॥ इन्द्रियाणि हयानाहुर्विषयाँ स्तेषु गोचरान् । आत्मेन्द्रियमनोयुक्तं भोक्तेत्याहुर्मनीषिणः ॥ ४ ॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.3.3-4)

The body is compared to the chariot and the Self is the rider in it. The intellect (buddhi) is the charioteer. The sense organs are the horses and they tend to roam in (worldly) matters; the mind (manas) is the reins with which the horses are held in control. The body, the sense organs, and mind are all the instruments of the Self. It is through them that the Self knows, feels and acts. The Self is called as the Bhokta - the Knower, the Enjoyer and the Agent of Action.[1]

Understanding this aspect greatly aids in developing psychological models to tackle the mental health problems arising out of the negative aspects clouding the manas and mano-dourbalyas (weaknesses of manas).

Relationship of Manas with Universe

While the Kathopanishad relates to the inward microcosmic role and relationship with the human being, the macrocosmic role of manas is understood from the Hiranyagarbha (Creator of the Universe) Sukta (of Rigveda.10.121) and the concept of Mahat (an evolute of Prakriti) in Samkhya darshana.

Questions pertaining to similarity and universality of the world religions, deep-seated belief systems, morals, ethics and concepts of fair, right or wrong are a few aspects which relate to the term "collective consciousness" - a characteristic of the macrocosmic role of manas. Collective consciousness refers to the idea that a segment of the deepest mind is genetically inherited and not shaped by personal experience. It is about understanding what makes society work. Migratory birds returning to their far off native habitats is one such example. Basically, collective consciousness is a constellation of ideas, beliefs, and values that a great number of individuals in a given society share. It also explains how one can know things they have never learned. Research studies in this less explored areas of psychology are underway.[11][12]

Qualities of the Mind

Mind is par excellence an instrument of reason, it symbolizes the rational faculty of man. Its function is likened to the winnowing of barley through the seive; the function being selective reception and filtration of data. Mind can be truthful, unruffled, mature, firm and sharp. It is essentially intellectual and only indirectly connected with our emotional life. Mind is even invoked to exercise restraint over the tempestuous surgings of the heart. Lovelorn Pururava implores his beloved Urvashi to return home and he asks her to 'stay with mind'. Mind is said to 'investigate and consider' into deeds. While the heart represents rather the stirred-up state of the individual, mind symbolizes the reflective aspect of mental life. Maintenance of mind contributes to life; and death is associated with the dissolution of mind.[5]

The qualities of Manas are spoken of in Bhagavadgita; that it is volatile, turbulent, obstinate and restless, characterized by "chanchalatva", its control is as difficult as the control of wind.[1]

चञ्चलं हि मन: कृष्ण प्रमाथि बलवद्दृढम् | तस्याहं निग्रहं मन्ये वायोरिव सुदुष्करम् || 34|| (Bhag. Gita. 6.33)

Not only was mind important in individual life, its contribution to social well-being was also recognized. The very last mantra of the Rigveda concludes with the celebrated prayer which emphasizes the psychological concord in social life:[1]

स॒मा॒नी व॒ आकू॑तिः समा॒ना हृद॑यानि वः । स॒मा॒नम॑स्तु वो॒ मनो॒ यथा॑ व॒: सुस॒हास॑ति ॥४॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.191.4)

Meaning: May our resolutions be uniform and our hearts united; May our minds be one, that we all live well together.[5]

Types of Mind

The mind of man was looked upon as having three aspects:

  • the sub-conscious
  • the conscious
  • the super-conscious

The psychic experiences such as telepathy and clairvoyance were considered to be neither abnormal nor miraculous. They were considered to be the powers of the mind which could be developed with effort. They were classified as siddhis, which were attained with training the mind, nevertheless were to be refrained from use. Siddhis such as clairvoyance and telepathy were looked upon as obstacles in the development of one's personality. The 'abnormal' psychic phenomena like ecstasy, trance etc were considered as the working of the 'superconscious mind'. The Yoga system in particular and other systems of thought refer to these superconscious states of the mind and how they can be deliberately induced and the pitfalls to be avoided in the process.[1]

Avasthas or States of Mind

Indian approach to understand psychological aspects included the division of mental states or manasika avasthas into four categories:[4][1]

  1. Jagrat or awake state: In this state the individual interacts with the world. The objects and processes in the world stimulate the individual through the sense organs with which he perceives and he reacts through the motor organs. The whole process is organized and integrated by the four processes: manas (mental), buddhi (intellectual), chitta (here memory) and ahamkara (the self-sense). Thus in this waking state we are aware of the external world and the dependence of the self on the body is predominant. The Upanishads use the terms Bhokta (one who experiences) and Karta (agent of action) which together characterize the conscious activities of the individual.
  2. Svapana or dream state: Like the waking state, the dreaming state also involves the functioning of the manas. The sense organs are in a quiescent state, and hence termed as 'senses are united with manas'. While in the waking state the manas receives inputs from outside world and builds them as ideas, in this dream state, the manas creates a world on its own. It uses the impressions from the waking state as material to form the dreams, but the experiences are not like those of memory. During the experience the dream is felt to be as real as perceptual experience; as a result dreams have been described as "perception without sensation".
  3. Sushupti or dreamless deep-sleep state: In deep, dreamless sleep, the manas as well as senses are quiescent. In this state there is no consciousness of individuality. However, there is a sense of personal identity since on waking one says that one slept well. But during the "sushupti" state itself there is no awareness of oneself or of any object. In this state a pauper or a prince feel the same way. Another characteristic feature of this state is the experience of bliss, even though he recalls it only after waking up. The Mandukya Upanishad describes, in Sushupti we have neither dreams nor desires. In this state we are lifted above all desires and freed from conflicts and frustrations.
  4. Samadhi or Turiya or the supernormal mental state (Superconscious state): While the first three states are common to all human beings and within the experience of all; the fourth state is an uncommon supramental state experienced by a few. This state resembles the sushupti state in all respects but one. Here also we find that there is withdrawal of normal consciousness, absence of all desires and manifestation of bliss. However, sushupti state is transitional and achieved without any effort on the part of a person without any training, the turiya state is the result of concentration and meditation; it results from personal effort and long training. Turiya state also bears resemblance to the anandamaya state as mentioned in Taittriya Upanishad (2. 1-5) as being higher than the experience of the conscious (manomaya) and the self-conscious (vijnanamaya) levels of life. According to Hiriyanna, one can get some insight into the turiya state of consciousness on the basis of the experience in the sushupti state and anandamaya experience.

An interesting and famous story of Prajapati and Indra in the Chandogya Upanishad, leads one, step by step from the identification of oneself with the body in the waking state, to the identification of one's form in the dream state, to the experience or lack of it in the dreamless state and finally identification with the universe as a whole, from finite to the infinite in the turiya state.

Shaktis or Powers of Mind

There are three Shaktis (powers, potencies) in the mind, viz.,

  1. Ichha Shakti (Will): A desire arises in the mind.
  2. KriyaShakti (Action): The mind exerts to have this desire gratified.
  3. Jnana Shakti (Knowledge): It plans, schemes and finds out methods, etc., for the achievement of the desired object.

Vedana-Shakti (power of perception), Smarana-Shakti or Smriti-Shakti (power of memory), Bhavana-Shakti (Power of imagination), Manisha-Shakti (power of judgment), Ichha-Shakti or Sankalpa-Shakti (will or volition) and Dharana-Shakti (power to hold) are the six important powers of the mind.[13]

Methods to Analyze Mind

Ancient thinkers adopted some methods to analyze and study the problems of the mind and behaviour. These methods were not recorded as such and are found explained in almost each discipline of philosophy.

  1. Observation was found to be a very important method in the study of behaviour.
  2. Introspection
  3. Reasoning
  4. Analysis of Anubhava or Experience
  5. Analysis through questions and seeking answers

The great emphasis on dhyana, meditation, is to enable an individual to follow the path so that he can have his own experience and verify for himself. Experience and realization are the dominant features of all Indian systems of thought. The guru-shishya relationship is akin to the relationship between a psychoanalyst and his patient in some respects. This is why it can be looked upon as a form of the clinical method according to Prof. Kuppuswamy.[2]

Mind as a Cause of Bodily Ailments

According to ancient Indian texts, an ideal person is expected to manage one’s life in spite of adversities of any nature. The following integrated definition of mental health is based on the descriptions from mental health textbooks and from the description of an ideal person from the Indian texts.[14]

"A mentally healthy person attends to one’s legitimate duties in personal, family, social and occupational areas fulfilling spiritual, affectional, and material needs of self and family in harmony among one’s role functions, one’s abilities and limitations, prevailing circumstances and righteous means with sincerity and honesty, hope and confidence, and contentment."[14]

Rigvedic seers identified that suffering due to mental illnesses (vyatha) could be avoided by prayers. The following mantra depicts the earnest request for protection from manasik vyatha (mental suffering).

अ॒हं सो अ॑स्मि॒ यः पु॒रा सु॒ते वदा॑मि॒ कानि॑ चित् । तं मा॑ व्यन्त्या॒ध्यो॒ ३ वृको॒ न तृ॒ष्णजं॑ मृ॒गं वि॒त्तं मे॑ अ॒स्य रो॑दसी ॥७॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.105.7)

Summary: However much a man becomes scholarly and wise, he is chased by mental suffering just like a thirsty deer is chased by a pack of wolves. Even after attaining wisdom a man's mind is far from being calm, thirst for worldly enjoyments and anger keep him unsettled. Even those who recite stotras, pray, perform sadhana and sing bhajans are not exempted from mental suffering completely. They are consumed by manasik vyatha, just like how a starched cloth is eaten by mice. Just like how mice consume the starch applied to the threads of a cloth, similarly (the mice such as) kama, krodha etc thrive on worldly desires (starch of bhog iccha) applied on the mind thereby destroying the mental peace of a person. A man surrounded from all sides with many mental worries is just like a man stuck among many wives. O! Dyavaprthvi, understand my suffering and protect me[15].

Greater number of diseases are now believed to be functional and caused by maladjustment, conflict, frustration, or lack of mental balance with consequent disorder of the nervous system. How can the mind and nerves affect the body in such a way as to cause organic disease?

When the nerves do not function properly, ailments appear in certain organs. Psychologists tell us that many of the so called organic diseases had their beginning when the organs could not function properly owing to mental maladjustments, conflict, and consequent lack of balance in the nervous system. It is well known that the nervous system plays a vital and most important part in our lives. It is closely connected with the mind and is easily affected by the slightest mental disorder. Therefore, mental troubles which are reflected in the nervous system can be shown as the real cause of many functional diseases. Also many cases of insanity, neuroses and psychoses, can be traced to mental dissatisfaction and agitation, frustration and conflict.[16]

Although western psychologists formed different schools of thought according to their various theories of the subjective and objective elements of consciousness and the relation of these elements to the physical body, they all studied the conscious elements only, ignoring the subconscious and superconscious states of mind. From their observations, many of them came to the conclusion that consciousness and soul had no existence separate from physical brain matter and that they were really only products of brain matter. Materialistic thinkers completely ignored the fact that there could be a separate existence of mind or consciousness.

Mind exists beyond body

Further the mind usually functions in ordinary persons through the nervous system and brain cells, just as electricity functions and is manifested through wires and electrical apparatus. Yet one cannot conclude that the electricity and the wires are identical. Similarly, the mind in its functionings, conscious or otherwise, cannot be identified with the instruments, such as nerves and brain cells, through which it works or has expression.

The trend of modern science, unlike the older schools of thought are taking a liberal point of view in recent years and are open to the conviction that the mind may continue to exist even after the dissolution of the body and brain.[16]

According to Freud, Jung, and other psychologists, the greater portion of the mind is actually submerged, unknown to every one of us. Indian psychology agrees with them in this respect. The submerged mind, the subconscious state, is a potent factor and powerful enough to determine even conscious tendencies. Often we do not realize what influences are hidden there. A man may not be aware of the forces that lie beneath the surface of his mind, nor can these forces be suspected by an untrained observer. Indian psychologists call these hidden mental forces as "samskaras". These samskaras are different from the Samskaras or purificatory sacraments prescribed in the Grhyasutras to be undergone from birth to death.[16] The mind is thus a storehouse of impressions of these past experiences also called as Samskaras. Vedanta philosophy conceptualizes Atman as the core of personality which is the prime control of the mind, body, and intellect, but Vasanas (or the inherent tendencies or predispositions) determine the nature and activities originating from them.[4] This difference between the mind and Atman has always confused the Western philosophers, till the researches of Freud, Jung, and Adler recognized the reality of unconscious. Cartesian dualism differentiating mind from matter is very recent to the Western thought while the Indian philosophy, particularly the Upanishads understood the mind “more from within than from without.”[10]

Tendencies of the Mind

Ancient Indian seer-psychologists do not agree with the view that man has a basic destructive tendency. Suicide, war, and all other such destructive tendencies are not expressions of the normal mind. It seems that Freud and other psychoanalysts make unnecessary and uncalled-for generalizations from the study of pathological cases. It is also equally illogical and superficial to trace the death or destructive urge even in religious self-abnegation and sacrifice. An unbiased understanding of the true spirit of religious culture will convince us that Freudian conclusions of this sort are thoroughly unjustified. The view of the Indian psychologists is just the opposite. They come to the conclusion that there is an urge for eternal happiness and eternal existence in the human mind. The search after abiding happiness, bliss, is the real motive power behind man’s activities both conscious and unconscious. According to the Indian psychological schools, the greatest expression of mind lies in its total illumination, which is achieved by the subjective methods of concentration and meditation and consequent mental integration. The mind must be synthesized in order for a person to achieve real success. Greatness of mind can be judged not by its ability in action but rather by its integration and unification.[16]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Prof. B. Kuppuswamy (1993) Source book of Ancient Indian Psychology. New Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Prof. B. Kuppuswamy (1985) Elements of Ancient Indian Psychology. Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Bhawuk, Dharm P.S. Spirituality and Indian Psychology, Lessons from the Bhagavad-Gita. Springer Publications.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Gautam, Shiv (1999) Mental health in ancient India and its relevance to modern psychiatry. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 41, 1, 5--18
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Rao, Ramachandra. S. K. (1962) Development of Psychological Thought in India. Mysore: Kavyalaya Publishers.
  6. Pt. Sripada Damodara Satvalekar (See Page 179 of Subodh Bhashya for Explanation of Rigveda. 1.71.9)
  7. Pt. Sripada Damodara Satvalekar (See Page 188 of Subodh Bhashya for Explanation of Rigveda. 1.76.1)
  8. Pt. Sripada Damodar Satvalekar (See Page 116 of Subodh Bhashya for Rigveda Mantra 1.48.4)
  9. Shiva Sankalpamastu mantras in Yajurveda (Adhyaya 34)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Mishra A, Mathai T, Ram D. History of psychiatry: An Indian perspective. Ind Psychiatry J 2018;27:21-6
  13. Sivananda Swami (1983) Mind and its mysteries and control. Garhwal: Divine Life Society. (Page 57)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Shamasundar C. Relevance of ancient Indian wisdom to modern mental health – A few examples. Indian J Psychiatry 2008;50:138-43.
  15. Pt. Sripada Damodara Satvalekar (See Page 188 of Subodh Bhashya for Explanation of Rigveda. 1.105.7 - 8)
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Swami Akhilananda. Hindu Psychology, Its Meaning for the West. London: George Routledge & Sons Ltd.