Psychologies – East and West Seminar: November 1976
PSYCHOLOGIES EAST AND WEST
A WEEKEND SYMPOSIUM
November 13-14, 1976
The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge
The University of California San Francisco
Public Programs and Continuing Education
Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy
There is a growing realization that contemporary Western approaches to the mind leave fallow the capacities for a more comprehensive perception of ourselves. That we have left undeveloped an holistic consciousness has influenced our conception of our capacities, our approach to health and disease and our understanding of the nature of education.
Many people have sensed this lack and have turned their interest to the esoteric traditions of the East, often without understanding the bases and the relevance of many of these traditions. Although the interest itself may be genuine, many of the specific doctrines and practices are suited only to the static societies of the East, or are suited to an earlier historical era, and are not relevant to the needs of contemporary people.
We will attempt to peel away some of the local coloration and obsolete or inappropriate doctrine from these traditions. We will present both appropriate historical and sociological information as well as contemporary examples of formulations of Eastern spiritual thought suited to current problems in psychology, education and medicine.
This symposium will bring together speakers who represent Eastern spiritual traditions and those who have traveled extensively in the East, with psychologists concerned with the integration of these ideas into the Western context.
Peter Brent resides in England and has made several extensive visits to India, concentrating on the role of spirituality in general and of the guru in particular in the culture of India. He is the author of Godmen of India and Healers of India.
Robert Ornstein is a research psychologist at the Langley-Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute of the University of California School of Medicine. He is the author of several books on psychology, the brain and the Eastern traditions, the best known of which is The Psychology of Consciousness. His most recent book is The Mind Field.
Idries Shah is the leading exponent of Sufism and of a contemporary approach to mysticism in the world today. He currently resides in England where he is Director of Studies at the Institute for Cultural Research, and has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and Africa relating traditional thought to the modern world. He is the author of seventeen books on Sufi thought and action, travel, magic and the use of literature in spiritual schools. His books are used in university departments throughout the world.
Charles T. Tart is an Associate Professor of Psychology University of California, Davis. He is a regular research contributor to a wide variety of fields, among them hypnosis, sleep and dreams, drug effects on consciousness, and the scientific study of “paranormal” phenomena. He is the editor of Altered States of Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychologies, and author of States of Consciousness.
Saturday, November 13
PSYCHOLOGIES: EAST AND WEST – AN INTRODUCTION
Western psychology has emphasized an impersonal “objective” approach to the understanding of the mind, often limited to observable phenomena such as language, behavior, and physiology. Its strengths are well known, yet its limitations are apparent in the understanding of the esoteric traditions of the East. This lack of a solid base in our culture has caused many to confuse contemporary “awareness trainings,” packagings of exercises with the developed esoteric traditions. The relevance of Eastern psychology to the West will be discussed.
THE GURUS: FOR US AND FOR THEM
We imagine that we know very well what the word “Guru” means; however, the contention of this lecture is that we can only know what we mean by it. For us the appeal of the Guru lies partly in exoticism, which represents an almost insuperable barrier we ignore. Westerners are ignorant of the roots of the Guru tradition and see him as guardian of a technique for what we imprecisely call “enlightenment.” There is very little in our traditions that enables us to understand this concept. It is important that we understand the phenomena of religious Asia in the terms in which they were founded.
THE ASSUMPTIONS OF WESTERN PSYCHOLOGY
Every action and thought we have rests upon assumptions. While contemporary psychologists are familiar with evidence on the role of our assumptions they rarely apply it to their own scientific analysis of the mind. Yet if we begin to apply these considerations to psychological research, perhaps much of what we consider our “basic data” may be only relatively true, in that it applies only within the shared context of our culture’s assumptions. These assumptions on the nature of man, of the physical world, and man’s place in it, and on the structure of consciousness will be considered.
A PSYCHOLOGY OF THE EAST
As Western psychologists begin to study the functions of the mind, they may find that many of their problems have been met and answered by those of the East. Although the findings of these Eastern psychologists are not published in academic journals, they nonetheless have anticipated, and in many cases still guide, the interested student of the mind.
Sunday, November 14
HEALERS OF INDIA
Many of the present criticisms leveled at Western medicine are answered by Indian theory, however inadequate their actual practice sometimes is. Like other ancient systems of medical care, they are concerned with an inner balance in the patient and the promotion of health and “normality” rather than only the removal of specific diseases. These healers demonstrate an awareness of factors, interpersonal and personal, which Western doctors do not consider of much significance, such as their approach to mental stability and, at one remove, the faith healers who are often much respected by those following a stricter discipline.
AN EXTENDED CONCEPTION OF HUMAN CAPACITIES
As Western thinkers begin to consider the traditions of the East we find that they demand the addition of a dimension to our assumptions and our conceptions. As examples: Two different modes of consciousness exist in man and function in a complementary manner; our personal and scientific attention is being shifted inward to the mastery of mental and physical states; man is not so closed a system as we had thought – we are permeable to subtle sources of energy from biospheric and human forces that often lie unnoted; the concepts of what is “normal” for man are undergoing a revision.
ON THE NATURE OF SUFI KNOWLEDGE
There is a continuous “stream” of knowledge that has coursed through the major religions, esoteric and philosophical traditions of both the East and the West. It has appeared differently in each cultural era. It exists today, again in a new form, a fresh adaptation to contemporary life. As the leading exemplar of Sufism, Idries Shah will consider the nature and development of this knowledge, both within the student and within society.
QUESTIONS, SUMMARY, COMMENTS
Brent, Ornstein, Tart
Questions from both the audience and the speakers will be considered.