From the self to the self: an exploration of the process of self-realisation in the context of Indian psychology

Cottingham, Jennifer Margaret
Thorpe, Mark
Item type
Degree name
Master of Philosophy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

Introduction The concept of ‘self’ has been explored through many different theoretical frameworks in both philosophy and psychology over the centuries. Indian psychology has based its concept of Self on an eternal ‘beingness’, beyond mind or intellect. This thesis explores the contribution such ideas could make to the development of a ‘global psychology that, potentially could enhance the theoretical basis and provide effective solutions for many of the problems that beset modern humanity. Background The field of IP is a developing one and, as such, has provided very little empirical studies to support its claims. The discipline of psychology has attempted to explore the ‘self’ through various methods and understanding, some based on philosophical stances, others based on understanding of biology, in particular neurobiology, there is little consensus of what the ‘self’ or consciousness is, and how it interacts with the whole person. Indian psychology has approached this from a different stance, one that is rooted in the experiences and information supplied by ancient seers, who described the ‘Self’ as being greater than (and beyond) the realm of everyday experience. Method Three questions formed the core of this investigation: Is the process of Self-realisation (actualisation) still consistent with that described in the Upanishads?; What is the experience of practitioners?; What value does this ancient science have for our knowledge, understanding and practice of psychology? I have attempted to answer these questions utilising a qualitative methodology, with an heuristic approach, in that I (as the investigator) have fully immersed myself in the world of IP and the practitioners of Vedanta (the participants) who, effectively practice the fundamental principles in their daily lives. This is proffered as a research paradigm consistent with the principles and framework of IP. Questions were framed and semi-structured interviews were conducted. These were recorded,, then transcribed and thematic analysis was applied to the transcript, using coding, as well as utilising a hermeneutic approach that allowed for a more complete understanding to emerge. Some ethnographic observations have been integrated with the data to shed light on certain aspects of the participant’s stories and views. This data was finally synthesised with a literature review of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita (two ancient Indian texts). Findings Seven core themes have been identified from the data. These are: there is a need for ego transcendence; desire and attachment are the root causes of unhappiness; mental and emotional self-mastery are essential attributes; character and values are the basis for spiritual life ; spiritual practices are essential to the process of Self-realisation; a teacher is necessity to the process; realisation is constant integrated awareness. Discussion This centred on the applicability of findings to the development of global psychology. This applicability potentially could be based on a model of Self-realisation that emerges from the synthesis of the findings with the ancient texts. The emergent model summarises the process as having five important components, related to the koshas (sheaths or levels of existence) whereby negative tendencies are transformed, through spiritual discipline, into positive life outcomes. This has the potential to free us from the ‘existential prison’ of the relative self or ego.

Conclusion The study has successfully synthesised the body of evidence that addresses the core issues of psychology with spiritual understanding based in Vedanta and expressed in the emergent discipline of IP. The model developed from the findings shows potential to enable psychologists and psychotherapists to develop new approaches to many of the mental/emotional issues that affect modern human beings. In short, it has the potential to guide people towards happiness.

Self-realisation , Indian psychology , Western psychology , Global psychology , Positive psychology , Transcendence , Vedanta , Consciousness
Publisher's version
Rights statement