Psychology through the ages into now

Essays > Psychology

Marc provides a deeper look into the history of psychology: “Psychology today is the science of behaviour and mind and includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought.”

Edwin Smith Papyrus

Psychologists explore behaviour and mental processes, including perception, cognition, attention, emotion, intelligence, phenomenology, motivation, brain functioning, and personality. This extends to interaction between people, such as interpersonal relationships, including psychological resilience, family resilience, and other areas.

All the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, Persia, China and India, engaged in the philosophical study of psychology.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus is an ancient (c. 1600 BCE) Egyptian medical text, named after the dealer who bought it in 1862, and the oldest known surgical treatise on trauma. This document, which may have been a manual of military surgery, describes 48 cases of injuries, fractures, wounds, dislocations and tumors. Historians note that Greek philosophers, including Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle addressed the workings of the mind. The latter wrote an influential treatise on the psyche in Greek Περ Ψυχῆς (Peri Psyches), in Latin De Anima and in English On the Soul. As early as the 4th century BCE, Greek physician Hippocrates theorized that mental disorders had physical rather than supernatural causes.

Medieval Muslim physicians also developed practices to treat patients suffering from a variety of ‘diseases of the mind’. Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi (850–934) was among the first in this tradition, to discuss disorders related to both the body and the mind, arguing that “if the nafs [psyche] gets sick, the body may also find no joy in life and may eventually develop a physical illness.” Al-Balkhi recognized that the body and the soul can be healthy or sick, ‘balanced or imbalanced’. He wrote that imbalance of the body can result in fever, headaches and other bodily illnesses, while imbalance of the soul can result in anger, anxiety, sadness and other nafs-related symptoms. He recognized two types of what we now call depression: one caused by known reasons such as loss or failure, which can be treated psychologically; and the other caused by unknown but possibly physiological reasons, which can be treated through physical medicine.

In China, psychological understanding grew from the philosophical works of Lao Tzu and Confucius, and later from the doctrines of Buddhism. This body of knowledge involves insights drawn from introspection and observation, as well as techniques for focused thinking and acting. It frames the universe as a division of, and interaction between, physical reality and mental reality, with an emphasis on purifying the mind in order to increase virtue and power.

Buddhism includes an analysis of human psychology, emotion, cognition, behaviour and motivation along with therapeutic practices. A unique feature of Buddhist psychology is that it is embedded within the greater Buddhist ethical and philosophical system, and its psychological terminology is coloured by ethical overtones. Buddhist psychology has two therapeutic goals: the healthy and virtuous life of a householder (samacariya [Pali] – “harmonious living”) and the ultimate goal of nirvana, the total cessation of dissatisfaction and suffering (dukkha).

Buddhism and the modern discipline of psychology have multiple parallels and points of overlap. This includes a descriptive phenomenology of mental states, emotions and behaviours as well as theories of perception and unconscious mental factors. Psychotherapists such as Erich Fromm have found in Buddhist enlightenment experiences the potential for transformation, healing, and finding existential meaning. Fromm noted: “There is an unmistakable and increasing interest in Zen Buddhism among psychoanalysts.”

Distinctions in types of awareness appear in the ancient thought of India, influenced by Hinduism. A central idea of the Upanishads is the distinction between a person’s transient mundane self and their eternal unchanging soul. Divergent Hindu doctrines, and Buddhism, have challenged this hierarchy of selves, but have all emphasized the importance of reaching higher awareness. Meditation is a range of techniques used in pursuit of this goal and in particular Osho’s meditation techniques are helping hundreds of thousands to move beyond boundaries to find access to the inner and a life in totality. He says,

“People who are not satisfied with a dead, routine life, people who are adventurous, people who take risks, people who dare, and people who go into the unknown and the unfamiliar… you are all abnormal according to Freud. Otherwise, what are you doing here with me? Meditating? Meditation is not a good term with Freud. […] This psychology cannot be a real psychology. It cannot help us to explain Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mahavir, Patanjali; it cannot help us to understand the lotus – it can only help us to understand the dirty mud. What type of psychology is this? It does not help us to see above the boundaries, beyond the boundaries. It confines us to the boundaries. I call it a so-called psychology. Necessary, a preparation for the real psychology to come and take over.” ¹

Through Osho’s insights, a giant leap from so-called psychology to create the psychology of the buddhas happened. It is far removed from the ordinary psychological work in that it does not work with the mind. Rather, it is about moving out of the mind, to become detached from it, disidentified. The psychology of the buddhas does not need a psychologist to analyse and advise a person. Meditation and awareness are the keys to transformation and transcendence.

Thanks to Wikipedia

¹ Osho, A Sudden Clash of Thunder, Ch 6, Q 4 (read whole question)

Related discourses by Osho
Modern psychology leaves no possibility for growth
The Psychology of the Buddhas

MarcMarc is a regular contributor

More articles by the same author on Osho News


Comments are closed.