THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 11, September, 1955
(Pages 495-499; Size: 17K)


[Part 26 of a 29-part series]

THEOSOPHICAL students, when encountering the word psychology, are often apt to think of Wm. Q. Judge's criticism of Western systems bearing that name -- occurring at the outset of Chapter 16 of The Ocean of Theosophy. There Mr. Judge stated that, from a theosophical point of view, "there is no Western Psychology worthy of the name," because of the materialistic dogmas supported by "investigators of the accepted schools." Further explanation follows:

This lack of an adequate system of Psychology is a natural consequence of the materialistic bias of Science and the paralyzing influence of dogmatic religion; the one ridiculing effort and blocking the way, the other forbidding investigation.

Real psychology is an Oriental product today. Very true, the system was known in the West when a very ancient civilization flourished in America, and in certain parts of Europe anterior to the Christian era, but for the present day psychology in its true phase belongs to the Orient.

Since the time of Judge's writing considerable changes have taken place in the outlook of "Western investigators," and the most important of these might be said to be widespread recognition of the validity of just such criticisms as those mentioned in The Ocean of Theosophy. Along with this has grown an awareness that the word psychology itself, in Western usage, has been both traduced and confused. The historical origin of confusion in respect to psychology may be traced back to the De Anima of Aristotle, for, as the Encyclopedia Britannica notes, Aristotle "merged" psychological studies with "purely biological questions." During the Middle Ages, the Church was certainly not interested in psychology -- which implies a developing science in respect to the soul -- and, in fact, theology and psychology are likely always to be at odds. Therefore, since the churchmen claimed exclusive domain over the "inner man," the approach which characterized the development of psychology in Christian culture was by a side entrance; the physical scientists were, apparently, the only true investigators, and, being of inveterate curiosity, were bound sooner or later to attempt to study mental phenomena by way of physics and biology.

The trend towards materialism in psychology, involving multitudinous confusions and factionalisms, is amply represented in a 1933 volume entitled Seven Psychologies, by Professor Edna Heidbreder. Dr. Heidbreder's first chapter commences her survey of the warring systems of the 30's with the following paragraphs:

It is something of a paradox that systems of psychology flourish as they do on American soil. Psychology, especially in the United States, has risked everything on being science; and science on principle refrains from speculation that is not permeated and stabilized by fact. Yet there is not enough fact in the whole science of psychology to make a solid system.

No one knows this better than the psychologists themselves. They see with the eyes of familiar association not only the undeniable poverty of their science, but the flimsiness and shoddiness of much of the material they are asked to accept as genuine fact. Psychologists are continually looking upon the work of their colleagues and finding that it is not good. And with little hesitation, or with none at all, they expose the weaknesses and flaws they discover.

One can hardly cross the threshold of the lively young science without suspecting that all is not peace and harmony under its roof-tree; that the bands of workers one encounters there represent not only a necessary division of labor but a state of internal strife. Perhaps the most assertive of the warring groups is composed of the younger students of animal and comparative psychology most of whom pride themselves on being hard-headed and realistic and on having discarded the airy nothings of a psychology that deals with minds. They wish above all else to be severely scientific, and some of them seem convinced that they can best realise this ambition by resembling as closely as possible their near neighbors, the physiologists. They are for the most part confident and resolute young men, strong in the faith that by probing into the depths of matter and muscle, they are digging at the roots of things.

This "physical science orientation" in regard to psychology has left a deep imprint, and even the Britannica defines psychology as study of "mental phenomena or of the higher functions of beings endowed with mind." Emphasis upon "phenomena" and "functions" reveals the tendency mentioned -- to approach the soul as if it were a function, or efflorescence, of the physical organism, a tendency which caused the earliest approaches chosen by orthodox psychologists to be heavily weighted by preconception.

The inclination of Western psychology towards full materialism reached an extreme in the doctrines of "behaviorism," now largely discredited because of obvious oversimplifications. It was probably in respect to the behaviorists that a noted German scholar once remarked that "psychology long ago lost its soul, and is now said to be losing its mind." But present trends in psychology, as often recently noted in "Lookout," move in a different direction. Not only have parapsychologists begun to approach the subject of consciousness from a nonmaterialistic point of view, but philosopher-psychologists have recognized the need for a definition of psychology which includes all that philosophy once meant by the word "soul."

One of the best examples of this maturation of perspective appears in passages from Erich Fromm's Psychoanalysis and Religion, portions of which have been previously quoted in THEOSOPHY. Dr. Fromm draws a distinction between formal religion and genuine psychology by remarking that the searching student "is not concerned with the church but with man's soul." He continues:

A view which is often proposed by religionists is that we have to choose between religion and a way of life which is concerned only with the satisfaction of our instinctual needs and material comfort; that if we do not believe in God we have no reason -- and no right -- to believe in the soul and its demands. Priests and ministers appear to be the only professional groups concerned with the soul, the only spokesmen for the ideals of love, truth, and justice.

Historically this was not always so. While in some cultures like that of Egypt the priests were the "physicians of the soul," in others such as Greece this function was at least partly assumed by philosophers. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle did not claim to speak in the name of any revelation but with the authority of reason and of their concern with man's happiness and the unfolding of his soul. They were concerned with man as an end in himself as the most significant subject matter of inquiry. Their treatises on philosophy and ethics were at the same time works on psychology.

Elsewhere, in criticizing the materialists whose unconsciously-held dogmas dominated the field for such a long time, Fromm further explains that "psychology thus became a science lacking its main subject matter, the soul; it was concerned with mechanisms, re-action formations, instincts, but not with the most specifically human phenomena: love, reason, conscience, values. Because the word soul has associations which include these higher human powers I use it here and throughout these chapters."

H. P. Blavatsky's fundamental discourse on the human mind, published in Lucifer under the title of "Psychic and Noëtic Action," indicates that the esotericists' quarrel with nineteenth-century psychology lay principally in its failure to distinguish between physiology and the "science of the soul." To make this clear, she approvingly selects two full pages of quotations from Yale Professor George T. Ladd's textbook, Physiological Psychology, wherein Dr. Ladd aptly pointed out the confusion resulting from most contemporary psychologists' unwarranted assumptions adopted during efforts to explain the human mind by nerve and brain phenomena alone. One of the passages quoted from Dr. Ladd reads as follows:

The phenomena of human consciousness must be regarded as activities of some other form of Real Being than the moving molecules of the brain. They require a subject or ground which is in its nature unlike the phosphorized fats of the central masses, the aggregated nerve-fibres of nerve-cells of the cerebral cortex. This Real Being thus manifested immediately to itself in the phenomena of consciousness, and indirectly to others through the bodily changes, is the Mind. To it the mental phenomena are to be attributed as showing what it is by what it does. The so-called mental "faculties" are only the modes of the behaviour in consciousness of this real being. We actually find, by the only method available, that this real being called Mind believes in certain perpetually recurring modes: therefore we attribute to it certain faculties. ... Mental faculties are not entities that have an existence of themselves. ... They are the modes of the behaviour in consciousness of the mind. And the very nature of the classifying acts which lead to their being distinguished, is explicable only upon the assumption that a Real being called Mind exists, and is to be distinguished from the real beings known as the physical molecules of the brain's nervous mass. [Note: For those who would like to read it, once you have finished reading this article, I've placed a link to HPB's "Psychic and Noëtic Action" article at the end of this one.--Compiler.]
Elsewhere, in Isis Unveiled, H.P.B. indicated that psychology assisted by clear-thinking men like Ladd, would some day again come to signify "the science of the soul," and the true meaning and significance of the term eventually be reborn. In discussing the limitations of materialistic medicine, she writes:
Psychology has no worse enemies than the medical school denominated allopathists. It is in vain to remind them that of the so-called sciences, medicine, confessedly, least deserves the name. Although of all branches of medical knowledge, psychology ought more than any other to be studied by physicians, since without its help their practice degenerates into mere guesswork and chance-intuitions, they almost wholly neglect it. Alas! that in questioning nature so many men of science should daintily sort over her facts and choose only such for study as best bolster their prejudices. And where should the keys to every truth in nature be searched for, unless in the hitherto unexplored mystery of psychology?
Since H.P.B.'s time a whole new field of medicine has been admitted, that of "psychosomatics," and the psychologists -- Western psychologists -- have forced its notice upon orthodox medicine.

Note must be taken, also, before closing the discussion in respect to "materialistic" psychologists, that even these devotees of the Western tradition -- particularly when psychotherapists and psychoanalysts -- have indeed provided a scientific explanation of behavior for kamically-dominated Personal Man. Theosophical doctrines and precepts are capably supplemented by the findings of such investigators -- who have, almost from necessity, been occupied with distortions of the psychic nature, reflecting lower manasic motivations. The "errors" of psychology, then, have been principally errors of omission, typical of mechanistic science in general, all flowing from the assumption that a discussion of "physiological psychology" explains everything about human consciousness. With modern investigators pressing forward into the field of parapsychology, however, and with men such as Dr. Fromm revitalizing the meaning of "soul," the distortions occasioned by this type of preoccupation will doubtless be gradually corrected.

It is interesting, in this connection, to correlate Madame Blavatsky's statement in regard to Gotama Buddha -- that he actually belonged to the Sixth Round of evolution, thus being as far advanced as anyone occupying mortal body could be on the earth -- with the growing recognition on the part of psychologists that Buddha's profound wisdom is directly applicable to therapy today. As one of the first scholars of the world, S. Radhakrishnan, remarked, in his two-volume work on Indian philosophy, "Buddhism is essentially psychology." So the word that originally meant "search for the invisible breath or spirit," or "knowledge pertaining to the immortal ego," has, perhaps, like the whole human race, passed through a number of transitional cycles -- first downward "into matter," and is now on an ascending arc, turning back toward its natural birthright, plus the knowledge gained.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

The nonmathematician is seized by a mysterious shuddering when he hears of "four-dimensional" things, by a feeling not unlike that awakened by thoughts of the occult. And yet there is no more commonplace statement than that the world in which we live is a four-dimensional space-time continuum. 


[Note: Here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "Psychic and Noëtic Action", that was mentioned and quoted from in the above article by the Editors.--Compiler]

Next article:
[Progress. Progressive.
For the Individual Theosophy is Progressive.
For the Individual H.P.B.'s Writings are Progressive.
Diligent Student's Constantly Understand More.
More and More Subtlety is Seen in Them.
The Higher the Student's Awareness the More They Unfold.
Words and Ideas Undergo Transitions.
The Distinction Between Individuality and Personality.
A Permanent Perspective For the Higher Ego.
There Are Truths Which Do Not Vary. Progress of the Soul.
The Word "Progress" in Western Philosophy and Science.
Intellectual Progress Discouraged by Medieval Theologians.
Karl Marx. Revolution. Progressive View of History.
Socialism. Ends Justify the Means. Progressive Movements.
The State. Compulsion in Working Social Transformation.
Progress in America.]
[Part 27 of a 29-part series]

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