Krishna, the Supreme Psychologist
By Padma Devi Dasi
Lord Krishna's teachings provide the perfect framework for dealing with psychological issues.
Psychology is the study of the human mind, intellect, and emotions and how the condition of these determines our behavior. Mostly, psychologists try to remove problems in our thoughts, feelings, speech, eating habits, social interactions, and so on, that cause us psychological anguish. Today, counseling, psychology, and psychiatry are heralded as being effective in this task, but we should understand that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, is the unequalled expert in all psychological matters.
In the Seventh Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Krishna declares that no one is superior to Him. No one can surpass the Supreme Lord in any field of knowledge or activity. To describe Krishna as the Supreme Counselor, the Supreme Psychologist, and the Supreme Psychiatrist, excelling all others, is thereby certainly appropriate. His knowledge of all psychological matters is infallible, just as He Himself is infallible. No psychologist other than Krishna can make this claim.
Psychological Knowledge in the Vedas
Although generally considered to be religious texts, Vedic writings also inform us about the embodied soul's mental, intellectual, and emotional functions. Much of this knowledge is presented within discussions about social structures, interpersonal relationships, communication techniques, belief systems, problem solving, identity issues, and so forth, in which both philosophical and pragmatic aspects of such topics are considered. Within texts such as Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna discusses the psychological constitution of the embodied soul in great detail. Although His descriptions of psychological phenomena vary according to His audience, His teachings are unanimous in their message that the spiritual soul's accepting a false identity, or false ego, is the cause of all ailments, including psychological ailments. The false ego, a product of false or polluted consciousness, is diametrically opposed to the real ego. While the real identity of the living being is that he is an eternal loving servant of the Supreme Lord, false identity is to think himself anything else. What creates our false identity? Material desires.
In the Bhagavad-gita (18.58) Krishna tells Arjuna, "If you become conscious of Me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditioned life by My grace. If, however, you do not work in such consciousness but act through false ego, not hearing Me, you will be lost." Lord Krishna also imparts knowledge on the behavioral tendencies of persons with different natures. In the Sixteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Krishna describes people endowed with either divine or demoniac natures, including their consciousness, how they think, how they act, and the consequences of their actions. For example, Krishna says that people with demoniac natures are attracted by impermanence, or in other words, they are attracted to the material world. He explains that although they consider themselves to be progressing in life, such attraction causes them to indulge in materialistic life while they gradually glide down toward hell.
Krishna also provides specific information on how the spiritual soul suffers through the workings of the material mind and intellect. For example, in the Eleventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Krishna describes to His confidential friend Uddhava the inconsistencies of perception for one who succumbs to the illusion of the material world. Such a person is described as perceiving many differences in the value and meaning of material objects and thus suffers due to the innumerable contradictions within his or her mind. For example, due to valuing objects differently at different times, a person may be attracted to one object one day and to another the next day. Or a person may be unable to discern whether something is beneficial or detrimental for material and spiritual well-being.
Besides giving such knowledge about the causes of psychological suffering, Krishna also gives prescriptive measures for how materially afflicted souls can alleviate such suffering. For example, to avert the disaster of succumbing to the demoniac nature, Krishna advises that one should give up the behavioral tendencies of anger, lust, and greed, which He describes as the three gateways leading to hellish, or demoniac, life (Bhagavad-gita 16.21). And in the Eleventh Canto (11.7.9), Krishna instructs Uddhava that those who experience many-branched perceptual inconsistencies, and are thereby continuously disturbed by their own minds, should learn to see that the entire world is situated within the self and that the self is situated within the Supreme Lord. A person who subdues the mind and controls the senses can achieve this peaceful state of equilibrium. Krishna then states that by practicing mind and sense control and following Vedic guidelines for applying Vedic knowledge, a person will feel satisfaction and peace and become dear to all living beings.
In this way, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Psychologist, gives materially embodied souls sound practical advice for diminishing the psychological anguish caused by the material energy. Although the materially embodied living being will never be entirely free from psychological problems, Krishna explains that adherence to Vedic prescriptions reduces suffering significantly.
Detailed Knowledge of the Subtle Material Realm
Krishna also provides vast amounts of information about the subtle material realm, which accommodates all psychological processes. Whereas the gross material body consists of the elements air, fire, water, earth, and space, the subtle material body is made of the mind, intelligence, and false ego. Both the subtle and gross material bodies assist living beings in their attempts to enjoy the material world. The subtle material body makes plans for material indulgences, and the gross material body struggles to execute them.
Srila Prabhupada says that the primary function of the materially conditioned mind is to accept and reject material proposals. Every single day, the materially embodied soul is confronted with countless impressions from the material environment, which are accepted or rejected just as a person buys paintings from an art gallery. Our minds thereby fill with material impressions that please our tastes, regardless of their other attributes, such as whether or not they are depictions of the true nature of this world, whether or not they serve some higher ethical or spiritual purpose, or whether or not they shed some light on our spiritual identity.
In the words of Srila Prabhupada: "So as we are changing our body, we are getting different experiences, and all those experiences are photographed within the mind. And they sometimes come out and make an intermixture, and we see dreams and so many contradictory things." (Conversation with Professor Durckheim, 1974, Germany) Based on these "photographs" of material life, the mind produces countless ideas, concepts, beliefs, attitudes, viewpoints, judgments, evaluations, decisions, and so on. The incoming photographs mingle not only with each other, but also with photographs collected by the mind from previous lifetimes. Srila Prabhupada writes in The Nectar of Instruction (Text 8), "The mind contains hundreds and thousands of impressions, not only of this life but also of many, many lives of the past. These impressions sometimes come in contact with one another and produce contradictory pictures. In this way the mind's function can become dangerous for a conditioned soul."
The incessant production of these multitudes of material constructs forces the spiritual soul to flounder about in an inestimable number of impressions collected by the material mind and plans made by the material intelligence. Consequently, the soul is distracted from focusing on spiritual goals. But the unchanging spiritual soul is meant to exist eternally in the spiritual sky with the Supreme Lord and thus desperately longs for a permanent sense of reality.
It is the function of the false ego, however, to keep the soul from regaining entrance into the spiritual sky. In its efforts to convince living beings that they are products of material nature, the false ego offers a false-identity profile to the soul, based on material impressions collected by the mind and material plans made by the intellect. If the soul accepts the false identity, the person will think and act according to the identity's specific characteristics. If the soul rejects the proposal offered by the false ego, the material mind and intelligence will assemble components for a new material profile to be presented to the spiritual soul. All psychological problems trace to the above sequence of events.
The Pitfalls of Contemporary Approaches to Psychology
Today's society considers a healthy psychological condition one in which a person can enjoy his or her material circumstances. For the most part, psychologists and psychiatrists guide their patients toward maintaining pleasurable thoughts and feelings about their material predicaments, rather than considering them sources of suffering, which, according to Bhagavad-gita, they are. Based on such an understanding of psychological health, therapists seek to vanquish hindrances to their patients' enjoyment as quickly as possible, with little or no concern for their spiritual progress. Yet the ineffectiveness of such an approach is becoming increasingly evident. More and more people cannot find psychological peace, even though governments spend vast amounts of money on health-care initiatives; community centers and schools expand counseling programs; and pharmaceutical companies increase varieties of drugs such as anti-depressants, anxiolytics (for anxiety disorders), mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and stimulants. Instead of producing psychologically adept citizens, modern society is filling up with insecure, emotionally depleted, physically rundown, and often very confused people who have no idea how to put an end to their psychological suffering.
Although psychologists and other mental-health practitioners study the functions of the mind and intelligence, their understanding of subtle material phenomena in relation to the nonmaterial soul is almost nonexistent. Without authoritative knowledge of the spiritual identity of the living being, psychologists remain in ignorance about the constitutional and functional relationship shared by the soul and the subtle material mind, intelligence, and false ego. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.29.75) Srila Prabhupada writes, "Modern psychologists can study the actions of the mind-thinking, feeling, and willing-but they are unable to go deep into the matter. This is due to their lack of knowledge and to their not being associated with a liberated acharya."
In addition to lacking such important psychological knowledge, the majority of today's mental-health practitioners have no factual knowledge of karma, reincarnation, the Supersoul, and the soul's eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord. Consequently they do not understand the purpose or the meaning of their patients' life circumstances and can often do little more than offer temporary band-aid solutions to psychological dilemmas. But as the Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.5.18) states, one should not accept dependents unless one can deliver them from the clutches of repeated birth and death. With regards to these topics, we must take knowledge from the Vedas. Srila Prabhupada writes, "Guided by so-called psychologists and philosophers, people in the modern age do not know of the activities of the subtle body and thus cannot understand what is meant by the transmigration of the soul. In these matters we have to take the authorized statements of Bhagavad-gita." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.29.75, Purport)
Although today's psychologists are thus in dire need of thorough knowledge of their patient's psychological constitutions, they are often heralded as possessing the capacity to deliver patients from all types of suffering-mental, intellectual, emotional, social, vocational, educational, and even philosophical dilemmas. Srila Prabhupada writes, "Sometimes physicians, psychiatrists, and social workers try to mitigate bodily pain, distress, and fear, but they have no knowledge of spiritual identity and are bereft of a relationship with God. Yet they are considered mahajanas by the illusioned." (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 17.185, Purport)
Furthermore, unless practitioners are familiar with the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, they will be unable to discern different behavioral characteristics according to the three modes of material nature. As the entire subtle and gross material creation functions according to these three material qualities, a lack of knowledge about them creates numerous problems for the aspiring psychologist.
Without understanding the benefits of the mode of goodness for psychological well-being, and the detriment of the modes of passion and ignorance, psychologists cannot guide their patients toward good psychological health. The mode of goodness endows the living being with peace, wisdom, fearlessness, sobriety, satisfaction, and control of the mind. A person situated within the mode of passion experiences poor psychological health in the form of anxiety, dissatisfaction, uncontrollable hankering, distortion of the intelligence, and perplexity and unsteadiness of the mind. Within the mode of ignorance, one's consciousness drastically deteriorates into utter disarray, and conditions such as fear, madness, delusion, foolishness, unhappiness, depression, helplessness, and chronic fatigue predominate.
And lastly, if psychologists themselves are absorbed in the modes of passion and ignorance, they cannot discern harmful from helpful psychological factors in general. Such psychologists are highly likely to employ treatments within the mode of passion, as this mode offers material proposals that appear, to the uninformed, to benefit psychological well-being. Treatment programs designed by such psychologists are thereby highly likely to begin like nectar but end like poison, the symptom of any action or scheme undertaken within the mode of passion.
Srila Prabhupada Discusses Psychological Health
In Perth, Australia, 1975, Srila Prabhupada told a psychiatrist that a lack of God consciousness means poor psychological health: "Anyone who has no sense of God consciousness is diseased mentally. He requires treatment. The whole human society, especially at the present moment, has given up God consciousness. They are not interested. That is their disease. . . . Therefore everyone requires a treatment, psychiatrist's treatment. And the best treatment is to induce a person to become Krishna conscious."
Srila Prabhupada said, "Sanity means become a devotee." (Bhagavad-gita 2.27-38 Lecture, Los Angeles, 1968). He also said that devotees of Krishna are psychiatrists because they can cure the insanity of being a nondevotee. The purpose of the Hare Krishna movement is to bring all materially engrossed beings back to their original pure consciousness, which frees them from all types of psychological afflictions. By reawakening their spiritual consciousness, living beings regain their natural, healthy psychological condition, in which love for the Supreme Lord and all other living beings can be exhibited unimpeded. This pure, uncontaminated love can create an environment of genuine empathy, kindness, tenderness, and acceptance, an environment of good psychological support for all types of human beings. Because devotees of Lord Krishna can deliver such genuine love, which instills genuine respect and trust in its recipients, people should seek their company.
In His infinite mercy for the fallen souls, Lord Krishna appeared as Lord Chaitanya to inaugurate the chanting of His holy names, the supreme tonic for all mental, intellectual, and emotional problems. The presence of Krishna on the tongue counteracts such problems and destroys madness. In this way, Krishna acts as the Supreme Psychologist, providing the very best remedy for all types of psychological suffering. In this most troublesome Age of Kali, the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra is specifically recommended: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
If we accept Srila Prabhupada's statement that we are all in need of psychological care, then we should decisively take shelter of the Supreme Psychologist, Sri Krishna. Every living being's inherent position is to take shelter of someone. Certainly we all need shelter from the material environment, which frightens us with so many psychological problems. If we accept Lord Krishna not only as our worshipable Lord and dearest friend, but also as the original and most excellent psychologist, then we can be assured we are on the right path to cure all our psychological troubles, once and for all.