JOURNAL OF INDIAN PSYCHOLOGY
THE QUEST FOR THE INNER MAN: TRANSPERSONAL PSYCHOTHERAPY AND INTEGRAL SADHANA
by Joseph Vrinte
Joseph Vrinte’s ‘The Quest for the Inner Man: Transpersonal Psychotherapy and Integral Sadhana’ is a significant contribution in the tradition of Geraldine Coster, Alan Watts, Fingarette, Jacobi and Swami Ajaya among others, who juxtaposed the Western and Eastern esoteric psychologies. Like them, Vrinte, a native of the Netherlands, is also very sympathetic towards the philosophical system of Aurobindo and finds it meritorious though he does not claim sole allegiance to it. Dedicated to the Mother, this book is a sequel to ‘The Concept of Personality in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga Psychology and A. Maslow’s Humanistic/Transpersonal Psychology’ (Vrinte, 1995), which attempted to present a theory of personality embedded in the complex metaphysical thought of Sri Aurobindo. To what extent it made some sense to psychologists is a matter of their conception of a scientific theory. If some principles or techniques derived from a theory are found to be applicable, then the heuristic value may outweigh the hermeneutics of a traditional theory. What is more a practical matter than psychotherapy to psychologists?
The book is a comparative study of transpersonal psychotherapy and Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana. Bringing together transpersonal psychologies and Sri Aurobindo’s integral psychology required their reconstruction and systematic formulation for an intelligible comparison, and Vrinte’s successful attempt at that makes this book valuable to an intelligent layman as well as to a practicing psychologist. Psychotherapists in India who have an identity crisis or at least some cognitive dissonance because of their knowledge of cultural relativism and application of Western concepts and tools in their practice, will once again be reminded of the potential of some of the native systems for adoption in their practice.
The book consists of eight chapters. It begins with a general introduction to psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is described both as an art and science of healing human suffering or illness and also as an endeavour at the development of higher human potentials in psychologically well-integrated individuals. The second chapter is an introduction to various psychotherapies—psychoanalysis, behaviour therapy, rational emotive therapy, cognitive therapy, humanistic and existential therapies. A survey of therapies for a volume like this is bound to be selective. Vrinte’s choice is representative and the description of the central ideas of various therapies is clear and concise.
The third chapter is devoted to the transpersonal approach in which Vrinte discusses psychotherapy and spiritual growth, transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy. It is followed by a description of the systems of various leading transpersonal psychologists, namely, Maslow, Assagioli, Wilber, Grof and Washburn. In a critical evaluation of their thought, the author states that “By including the spiritual development in the therapeutical level, transpersonal psychology reintroduced spirituality in the present materialistic society” (p. 129). He cautions the transpersonal psychotherapists who turned to the oriental heritage for inspiration, that “transpersonal psychotherapist in his analysis must not confuse the meaning of spirituality with the spiritual way, as the authentic elements of the spiritual way falls outside the frontiers of therapy” (p. 130).
According to Vrinte psychologising the conceptions and techniques of spiritual disciplines “may divest them of their spiritual values, and by misunderstanding or misinterpretation may easily lead to real dangers” (p. 130).
Chapter five is an introduction to integral yoga psychology of Sri Aurobindo and describes its aim as the spiritual growth and transformation of consciousness in that direction and presents the structure of individual personality according to Sri Aurobindo. The next chapter is on the practical discipline, sadhana, the aim of which is discovering Self of God within and rising out of the lower life of ignorance into the felicities of the higher realms of the spirit. While aspiration, self-opening, capacity, faith, and surrender are the foundations of it, purification, liberation and perfection are its constituents. The three means to the object of sadhana are work, knowledge and meditation, and love and devotion. All these and the process of transformation have been described in this chapter without an attempt to psychologise them.
The rest of the book compares sadhana and the transpersonal approach (chapter 7) and concludes (chapter 8) on the theme of the book. While discussing the psycho-spiritual concepts in transpersonal psychology and Sri Aurobindo’s writings Vrinte finds them complementary and not contradictory in dealing with the different ranges of human development. In the final conclusion each of the transpersonal thinkers are contrasted to Sri Aurobindo on some of their cardinal concepts. Sri Aurobindo goes beyond the psychologists. Transpersonal psychologists differ in their metaphysical orientation from that of Sri Aurobindo and it is evident in the former’s failure to ascertain the ultimate nature of the mind and consciousness. “By confining themselves only to verifiable psychological facts they withhold the transcendental metaphysical reality, and the fundamental truth of man remains therefore partially hidden for them” (p. 263). Then, what is the accomplishment of the fourth force in psychology? According to the author “in exploring issues such as introspection, intuition, subjectivity and spirituality, the transpersonal psychologists move beyond the mechanistic model of the scientist, but they nevertheless hold on to and use methods and assumptions of modern science in order to prove the validity of these phenomena which cannot be studied by empirical methodology alone” (pp. 264 & 265).
The convergences and divergences of integral yoga and transpersonal psychotherapy have been pointed out with the insight characteristic of Vrinte. The reader is left with the impression that transpersonal psychology falls short of integral yoga and that what constitutes the “ultimate reality” or the transcendental domain is unclear or unknown to the former. It is not so to the latter.
The concepts and tools that are relevant to psychotherapy in the writings of Sri Aurobindo have already been cognised and discussed (e.g., Dalal, 1991). This book directly contrasting some psychotherapists and Sri Aurobindo, at a much higher conceptual level is bound to have an impact on seeking psychologists and the seekers of the divine.
- Dalal. A. S. (1991). Psychology, Mental Health and Yoga. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press.
- Vrinte J. (1995). The Concept of Personality in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga Psychology and A. Maslow’s Humanistic/Transpersonal Psychology.
- P. V. Krishna Rao
Institute for Yoga & Consciousness
Andhra University, Visakhapatnam 530 017