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Yoga and Psychology

Language, Memory, and Mysticism

Harold Coward

Publication Year: 2002

Harold Coward explores how the psychological aspects of Yoga philosophy have been important to intellectual developments both East and West. Foundational for Hindu, Jaina, and Buddhist thought and spiritual practice, Patañjali’s Yoga Suµtras, the classical statement of Eastern Yoga, are unique in their emphasis on the nature and importance of psychological processes. Yoga’s influence is explored in the work of both the seminal Indian thinker Bhartr|hari (c. 600 C.E.) and among key figures in Western psychology: founders Freud and Jung, as well as contemporary transpersonalists such as Washburn, Tart, and Ornstein. Coward shows how the yogic notion of psychological processes makes Bhartr|hari’s philosophy of language and his theology of revelation possible. He goes on to explore how Western psychology has been influenced by incorporating or rejecting Patañjali’s Yoga. The implications of these trends in Western thought for mysticism and memory are examined as well. This analysis results in a notable insight, namely, that there is a crucial difference between Eastern and Western thought with regard to how limited or perfectible human nature is—the West maintaining that we as humans are psychologically, philosophically, and spiritually limited or flawed in nature and thus not perfectible, while Patañjali’s Yoga and Eastern thought generally maintain the opposite. Different Western responses to the Eastern position are noted, from complete rejection by Freud, Jung, and Hick, to varying degrees of acceptance by transpersonal thinkers.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras (c. 200 CE), the classical statement of Eastern Yoga, are foundational for Hindu, Jaina, and Buddhist theology, philosophy, and spiritual practice. This book explores the fundamental contribution of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras to the philosophy of language and theology of revelation of Bhartṛhari (c. 600 CE) in part I, and in part II analyzes where Western psychology (Freud, Jung, and Transpersonalists...

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pp. 1-7

Yoga is a very popular word in the West these days. From exercise programs to meditation training, yoga teachers abound in most communities of Europe and North America. In bookstores the self-help sections contain numerous “yoga” titles. In most cases these modern presentations of yoga are updated versions of some aspect of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, the basic presentation of the Indian Yoga school dating from...

Part I. Yoga and Language

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p. 9

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2. Āgama in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

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pp. 11-20

As humans, we live and move and have our being in our use of words. Although animals can use signs and sounds to signal one another, it would seem that humanity alone possesses the ability to think and speak, and at the same time to be aware of what he or she is thinking and speaking. Aristotle established the classical Western conception of humanity as the beings who have language (logos). Even to criticize its limitations...

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3. The Yoga Psychology Underlying Bhartṛhari’s Vākyapadīya

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pp. 21-40

In the previous chapter we saw how the function of language as valid knowledge and the Vedas as divine truth were given psychological explanation by Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtras. This chapter turns to the analysis of how words and sentence function according to Bhartṛhari, India’s greatest philosopher of language. Living after Patañjali, Bhartṛhari (c. 500 CE) undoubtedly knew the Yoga Sūtras and the understanding of language and...

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4. Yoga in the Vairāgya-Śataka of Bhartṛhari

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pp. 41-48

In addition to establishing himself in the classical Indian tradition as a grammarian and a metaphysician, and having established a basis for literary criticism, Bhartṛhari is also well known for his Sanskrit poetry. In popular Indian thought, Bhartṛhari is identified as a king who was discouraged by the inconstancy of women and was thus led to renounce the world of sensuous experience. One of his verses recounts the experience...

Part II. Yoga and Western Psychology

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p. 49

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5. Freud, Jung, and Yoga on Memory

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pp. 51-60

Modern Western psychology has rejected Yoga as a valid form of psychology. Yoga is dismissed as yet another version of Eastern metaphysics and mysticism. But there is one promising point of contact between Yoga and modern psychology, namely, an apparent parallel between the modern psychology of memory and the Yoga notion of karma. This is especially notable if a comparison is made of the conception of karma...

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6. Where Jung Draws the Line in His Acceptance of Patañjali’s Yoga

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pp. 61-69

In the formation of his psychological theory, Carl Jung was for a time strongly influenced by Patañjali’s Yoga Psychology.1 The period of influence was mainly in the 1920s, but by the end of the 1930s Jung’s main attention turned back to Western thought.2 This is especially evident if the cognitive aspects of his psychology, for example, the processes of memory, perception, and thinking are analyzed in relation to...

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7. Mysticism in Jung and Patañjali’s Yoga

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pp. 71-82

The study of mysticism has occupied an important place in almost all of the great religious traditions. In recent years, however, the term mysticism has been used so loosely in everyday language that its traditional meaning is in danger of becoming lost. Bookstores typically link mysticism with the occult and frequently display books on mysticism in the “occultism” section. Such psychic phenomena as visions, levitation...

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8. The Limits of Human Nature in Yoga and Transpersonal Psychology

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pp. 83-90

Views of the limits and perfectibility of human nature differ fundamentally between much of Eastern and Western thought. This fact is especially evident when the Yoga psychologies of the East are compared with the transpersonal psychologies of the West. Transpersonal psychologists, such as Carl Jung, are greatly drawn to Yoga psychology and influenced by it, as we have shown in chapters 6 and 7. Yet even they draw a clear line beyond...

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9. Conclusion

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pp. 91-92

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, India’s traditional psychology, have been shown to be foundational for the Indian understanding of how language functions both in ordinary communication and in the mantra chanting to achieve release (mokṣa). Yoga psychology has also been seen to influence modern psychologists, including Carl Jung and the transpersonalists such as Charles Tart. However, both Jung and the transpersonalists were found...


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pp. 93-105

Glossary of Sanskrit Terms

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pp. 107-111


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pp. 113-115

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487914
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791454992
Print-ISBN-10: 0791454991

Page Count: 125
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 61367546
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Yoga and Psychology

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Subject Headings

  • Psychology and religion.
  • Yoga.
  • East and West.
  • Patañjali. Yogasūtra.
  • Jung, C. G. (Carl Gustav), 1875-1961.
  • Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939.
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