Psychology, as it is generally understood, is the study of the mind in its different aspects and functions. Psychologists arrive at certain conclusions and formulate theories of human psychology by studying the behaviour and conduct of human beings – abnormal, normal, and supra- normal – under various circumstances. They also make a study of animal behaviour, and the conclusions drawn are applied to human beings. Today highly advanced neurology is making possible the objective study of many psychological factors. In the light of a number of scientific experiments and investigations, psychologists are entering into the hitherto unknown regions of the human psyche, revealing unforeseen factors affecting human behaviour and conduct. Armed with the most sophisticated scanning instruments neuroscientists, and those in related fields, are forging ahead into the vast uncharted territory of the human mind, unearthing amazing psychological factors that influence conscious thinking and behaviour.
Swami Vivekananda was not a professional psychologist, but with his rich experience of yoga, his dealing with different types of people the world over, his keen sense of observation, penetrative intelligence, and spiritual insight, some of his utterances, counsels, and guidance reveal the most modern psychological ideas.
Union of Subject and Object
Swamiji considered sage Kapila, the father of Sankhya philosophy, as the best and the greatest psychologist of the world. Sankhya is the world’s oldest philosophy. Speaking about him Swamiji says:
The greatest psychologist the world has ever known, Bhagavan Kapila, demonstrated ages ago that human consciousness is one of the elements in the make-up of all the objects of our perception and conception, internal as well as external. Beginning with our bodies and going up to Ishvara, we may see that every object of our perception is this consciousness plus something else, whatever that may be; and this unavoidable mixture is what we ordinarily think of as reality.
This obviously implies that no theories or concepts regarding any branch of learning, no knowledge of any thing that we conceive of can claim absolute objectivity. Even the most scienfic theories are not precluded from this subjective factor of our experience, and Albert Einstein himself confesses this through his following observation: ‘Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. … He will never be able to compare his picture [of the mechanism] with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison.(2)
If we consider this from the standpoint of psychology, it implies that whatever pain or pleasure befalls us is the creation of the subjective mind with the help of some external stimulus. Normally, our tendency is to blame the external world or other persons and events for every painful experience. However, Swamiji says:
“We have seen that it is the subjective world that rules the objective. Change the subject, the object is bound to change; purify yourself, and the world is bound to be purified. This one thing requires to be taught now more than ever before. We are becoming more and more busy about our neighbours and less and less about ourselves. The world will change if we change; if we are pure, the world will become pure. The question is why I should see evil in others. I cannot see evil unless I be evil. I can not be miserable unless I am weak. Things that used to make me miserable when I was a child, do not do so now.” (3)
The Mind’s Tendency to Project
During his wandering days in India, Swamiji stayed at Haripada Mitra’s house in Belgaum. Haripada Mitra was not getting along with his superior and would lose his poise even at the slightest provocation. When he narrated his predicament Swamiji remarked:
Know it for certain that the ideas we entertain about others express themselves through our conduct; and even though we may not express these in words, people react accordingly. We see in the external world the same image that we carry in our hearts; nobody realizes how true the saying ‘The world is good when I am good’ is. From today try to get rid of the habit of finding fault with others, and you will find that, to the extent you succeed in this, the attitudes and reactions of others also change accordingly (4).
This advice of Swamiji helped Haripada Mitra overcome his problem and, as he says, helped open a new chapter in his life. Swamiji here was speaking of one of the important psychological phenomena called projection. Whatever we do not want to see in ourselves, we project it outside and see it in others; moreover, we become intolerant of it. ‘When some tendency in ourselves arouses guilt-feelings, we very commonly project it, and become inordinately critical in others of the impulse that we are trying to repress in ourselves. The man who is always complaining of other people’s conflict, or snobbishness, or meanness, usually has a tendency towards these foibles himself.’(5)
Every vicious thought will rebound, every thought of hatred which you may have thought, in a cave even, is stored up, and will one day come back to you with tremendous power in the form of some misery here. If you project hatred and jealousy, they will rebound on you with compound interest. No power can avert them; when once you have put them in motion, you will have to bear them. Remembering this will prevent you from doing wicked things. 8
Echoing the same idea, the great trans-personal psychologist Ken Wilber says: ‘We feel the world hates us only because we are unaware of the small part of ourselves that gently hates the world.’ 9 And it also indicates our inability to express our love for others. Not only do we need the love of others, we also need to express our love for others, for our own personal growth. When we are able to do so, we do not feel that others hate us. When we fail to project our love and sympathy for others, naturally, we project our own shortcomings and see their reflections outside. Ken Wilber continues: ‘Our carping criticisms of other people are really nothing but unrecognized bits of autobiography’. He remarks: ‘If you want to know what a person is really like, listen to what he says about other people’ (ibid.). All these psychological factors reinforce Swamiji’s emphasis on subjective change. To quote him again:
“The more we grow in love and virtue and holiness, the more we see love and virtue and holiness outside. All condemnation of others really condemns ourselves. Adjust the microcosm (which is in your power to do) and the macrocosm will adjust itself for you.” 10
The harmful effect of negative thoughts was demonstrated by an experiment done in Japan. The power of thought research was led by Dr Masaru Emoto in Japan. He got water from one source and divided it into two jars. Then he had a group of people focus thoughts of appreciation and gratitude on one jar, and thoughts of hate, anger, and despair on the other jar. He then froze the water from each jar, isolated ice crystals from each, and took photographs of them using high-speed photography. The difference between the water in the two jars was dramatic. The water crystals that had been exposed to the positive thoughts were beautifully, symmetrically shaped. The water crystals that had been exposed to anger were very ugly, distorted and [had] disturbing shapes. If you consider that 80 percent of our body is composed of water, you can see the importance of surrounding ourselves with positive thoughts as much as possible.11
It is quite possible, therefore, that this atmosphere of ours is full of such thought pulsations, both good and evil. Every thought projected from every brain goes on pulsating, as it were, until it meets a fi t object that will receive it. Any mind which is open to receive some of these impulses will take them immediately. So, when a man is doing evil actions, he has brought his mind to a certain state of tension and all the waves which correspond to that state of tension, and which may be said to be already in the atmosphere, will struggle to enter into his mind. That is why an evil-doer generally goes on doing more and more evil. His actions become intensified. Such also will be the case with the doer of good; he will open himself to all the good waves that are in the atmosphere, and his good actions also will become intensified.12
“The man that has practised control over himself cannot be acted upon by anything outside; there is no more slavery for him. His mind has become free” (1.92).
“Negative thoughts weaken men. Do you not find that where parents are constantly taxing their sons to read and write, telling them they will never learn anything, and calling them fools and so forth, the latter do actually turn out to be so in many cases? If you speak kind words to boys and encourage them, they are bound to improve in time.” 15
“The ideal of faith in ourselves is of the greatest help to us. If faith in ourselves had been more extensively taught and practised, I am sure a large portion of the evils and miseries that we have would have vanished.”17
“To the man who has begun to hate himself the gate to degeneration has already opened; and the same is true of a nation. Our first duty is not to hate ourselves, because to advance we must have faith in ourselves first and then in God. He who has no faith in himself can never have faith in God”(1.38).
In this regard we can fully appreciate Swamiji’s emphasis on the manifestation of our inner divinity. It is the mind that needs to evolve and become pure. Otherwise, like a small cloud obscuring the massive Sun, our Atman remains covered and deluded. Swamiji says: ‘Manifest the divinity within you, and everything will be harmoniously arranged around it.’23
1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama), ..
2. .Quoted in Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu-Li Masters
(New York: William Morrow, 1979 ), .
3. Complete Works
4. His Eastern and Western Admirers, Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda(Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, )
5. Rex Night, A Modern Introduction to Psychology (London: University Tutorial, 1948 ), .
6. Complete Works 8
7. James Allen, As a Man Thinketh (London: Lulu),
8. Complete Works
9. Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness (Wheaton: Quest Books, )
10. Complete Works 1.82
11. Quoted in Joseph Law, Living Greatness (Sydney : New Holland, )
12. Complete Works
13. Ken Wilber, No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth (Colorado: Shambhala,)
14. Quoted in Living Greatness
15. Complete Works
16. 1,600 Quotes & Pieces of Wisdom that Just Might Help You out when You’re Stuck in a Moment (and Can’t Get out of It!), comp. Gary P Guthrie (Lincoln: iUniverse,
17. Complete Works 2.301
18. Quoted in Howard Whitman, ‘Love Is Healing’, The Reader’s Digest
19. Complete Works
20. Quoted in Willams James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Maryland : Arc Manor, ),
21. Nathaniel Branden, Honoring the Self (New York: Bantam Books, ), .
22. No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth
23. Complete Works 4.351