Here is a compilation of essays on ‘Hindu Psychology’ for class 9, 10, 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Hindu Psychology’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay on Hindu Psychology
- Essay on the Introduction to Hindu Psychology
- Essay on Cognition or Perception
- Essay on Consciousness
- Essay on Super-Conscious
- Essay on Emotions
- Essay on Personality and Individuality
- Essay on the Self
- Essay on the Process of Development of an Individual
1. Essay on the Introduction to Hindu Psychology:
The recently emerging awareness among Indian psychologists of the profitability of looking for certain basic concepts in ancient Indian thought, and build up an indigenous psychology. In fact, Yoga, meditation and other practices have come to attract even the attention of western psychology, to a considerable extent.
To a large extent western psychology has been atomistic and looking for elements like sensation, feelings, emotions, reflexes, etc., which are supposed to be the ultimate psychological or behavioural facts though there have been occasional ‘wholistic’ protests. Ancient Indian psychology on the other hand was not so reductionistic or elementalistic.
While granting the existence of the above facts, ancient Indian psychology looked at the human individual as the centre of the scene. Mere analysis, description and classification of actions and behaviour, while it may satisfy a very naive definition of a science, cannot be of value in helping us to understand the real nature of human behaviour.
Equally reductionistic have been the attempts of early western psychology to reduce all mental phenomena to bodily processes or brain processes. Ancient Indian teachers hold this to be a fatal mistake. While psychological and mental processes may find expression through bodily processes and neural actions, it does not mean that mental processes are just products of these actions or just these actions.
Hindu psychology believes that ultimately mental acts and the mind are realities by themselves. It is encouraging to note that this is very much similar to the views of Carl Jung who held psychic reality to be fundamental.
In fact even Freud made a distinction between psychic reality and a culture reality and accorded prominence to psychic reality. In the words of Swamy Akhilananda, “Hindu psychologists are primarily interested in the study and development of the total mind rather than in the different functions considered separately. The experimental psychologists of the west are interested in the particular phase of mental activity. Some of them go to an extreme in the specification when they study only nerve action and think they will be able to comprehend the mind itself, while they study mere instruments of mind.”
It is interesting to note that Prof. Hocking rightly says in his evaluation of western psychology… “but the exact science or sciences of mind have presented us not the mind itself but substitutes of mind near minds we may call. Hindu psychologists on the other hand have been totally concerned with the study of the mind, the ideal mind and hold that various activities like cognition, conscious activity, volition, etc. can be understood only from the concept of mind”.
Hindu psychology was primarily pragmatic and the real purpose of psychology was not only to study the mind but develop it and integrate it with character and personality. Ancient Indian psychologists were essentially pragmatic and developed an applied psychology, which had formed part of all our literature like the Upanishads, the Gita, Philosophy, etc. Yogic literature essentially deals with these applied aspects and describes various means of reaching the state of super consciousness or samadhi.
According to Patanjali, the human mind, when it is properly and systematically controlled can transcend the limitations imposed by the body or the nervous system and directly experience the reality of super consciousness and understand the unconscious, conscious and super conscious. Such a mind exposed to this state of consciousness becomes a center of power, and experiences perfect peace and harmony.
An individual in such a mental condition not only experiences super consciousness and the powers, but “radiates them”, and he becomes a luminous personality. It is also worth mentioning that ancient Indian Psychology developed in the context of social and moral considerations.
2. Essay on Cognition or Perception:
The human mind, according to Hindu thought, is just not a sequence or set of sensations. It is an internal agency, which helps to observe, analyse and integrate different sense impressions both from outside and inside. It is at the same time an experience and an observer.
It is an inner instrument or antahkarana. This is totally different from the classical western view of mind as a passive receptacle of sensations. No doubt gestalt psychology tried to reverse this view, but still could not clearly come out of a general mechanistic frame, and got caught up in a different type of “mechanistic physics”. According to the Hindu view the mind is far from being a passive receptacle. It is active and dynamic.
It has four functions:
(A) Manas or oscillatory function.
(B) Buddhi which’ is a decisive state and which identifies external objects as a tree or cow.
(C) Ahankara, here the mind realizes that it knows and
(D) Chitta, here the present experience is linked up with the past and thus a meaning is established.
The mind is the instrument whose activity helps an individual to identify objects in the environment.
Hindu psychology made a distinction between Indriya, an internal implement for sensation as different from the nervous system and the sense organs receiving stimulus from the environment. The indriya is an instrument of the mind. It is active and dynamic and reaches out to the external objects.
This idea is something alien to western psychology. If the indriya does not so react to outside objects actions, etc., then new sense impressions cannot result in perception,. In fact, the concept of indriya can explain many phenomena of extrasensory perception where there is no contact through the sensors.
While perception is the most common mode of acquiring knowledge, there are also other means like authority of experts or elders. Similarly very often we also infer from experience and use logic. We may now appreciate, why ancient Hindu thinkers laid so much emphasis on the role of the Guru or the preceptor. The Guru or preceptor provided the opportunity to learn and accept, those facts of life which a young individual cannot directly perceive and understand.
3. Essay on Consciousness:
Perhaps the most elaborate discussion of a “psychological content” in Hindu texts relates to consciousness. Western psychology, early experimental psychology, concerned itself purely with conscious experiences like sensations, feelings and images.
The inadequacy of this view was very soon realised when scientists like Charcot, Bemheim, Janet and others who used the method of hypnosis became interested in the study of unconscious mental activity, while treating the mentally ill.
The advent of psychoanalysis and the writings of Freud shifted the focus of the entire psychological thinking on the “unconscious”. Psychoanalysis brought out the importance of unconscious mental activity in influencing the behaviour of people.
According to Freud, the unconscious is the storehouse of biological and instinctual impulses and the associated mental processes on the one hand and on the other, repressed contents which could not be permitted entry into the consciousness.
The analytical psychology of Carl Jung extended this further and held that in addition to the personal unconscious described by Freud, there is a more inclusive and powerful, racial or collective unconscious which is transmitted by inheritance and contains the experiences and thought forms of mankind as a whole, expressing itself through art, mythology and other symbolic parts of culture, and occasionally through dreams and psychotic thought processes.
Western psychology thus gradually came to realise the importance of unconscious mental contents and processes. A few psychologists like William James also extended their analysis to religious and mystic experiences. In fact in his work on varieties of Religious Experiences, James observed that the so called scientific psychology was severely limited in its explanation of some experiences.
Hindu psychology on the other hand recognised four stages or levels of consciousness, the sleep stage (Susupthi), the dream stage (Swapna), the waking stage (Jagruthi), and an expanded super conscious stage (Turiya). Secondly the Hindu view of conscious stages did not share the rather gloomy and pessimistic view of psychoanalysis about the nature of the unconscious or subconscious.
According to Hindu psychology the subconscious region of the mind consists of “inherent tendencies or past impressions” (sanskaras) and these impressions may be good or bad or neutral. They can occasionally become active and powerful and strongly influence the conscious stage.
As observed by Swamy Vivekananda, bad words heard by a man, bad thoughts which he entertains and bad actions can influence conscious thoughts, and actions without his becoming aware of the same. Good thoughts, good actions and good words, equally have a good effect. Thus unconscious thoughts and experiences can have a compelling influence on an individual’s conscious thoughts, feelings and actions.
Hindu psychology definitely allows for the influence of the thoughts and actions of one individual on others thus agreeing with the views of Jung on the collective unconscious, but one significant difference is that unlike the western view, Hindu psychology holds that impressions from a previous life can also become part of the unconscious.
This is in accordance with the Hindu belief in the doctrine of rebirth and continuity of the soul. The stages of susupthi and swapna belong to the subconscious stage. Hindu psychology further holds that an awareness and integration of the subconscious, conscious and the super conscious is a royal way to reach total development and experience complete bliss and harmony.
Yoga prescribes many ways which can be adopted and practiced to achieve this. However, these techniques are different from the techniques of hypnosis and psychoanalysis developed by western psychology, in that they involve the active participation of the individual.
In a way, the technique of self- analysis advocated in western psychology may be said to work towards psycho-synthesis rather than psychoanalysis. Mere analysis of the subconscious contents will not go far. Such an analysis must result in a synthesis of the different stages.
4. Essay on Super-Conscious:
The concept of the super-conscious state is unique to Hindu thought. Though other religious mystics have hinted at an expanded consciousness and also cosmic consciousness, by and large, they have looked at these as a transitory stage and not as an enduring state of existence and living. According to Hindu psychology one of the basic preconditions for reaching the state of super-consciousness is an absolute ethical living.
According to the Katha Upanishad, he who is devoid of proper understanding, thoughtless and always impure, never attains that goal, and gets into the circle of birth and death. “But he who is intelligent, ever pure and with the mind controlled, reaches that goal whence none is born again”.
Contrary to the popular belief, a person who is a real mystic and who has spiritual realisation of the super-conscious experience is very much concerned and interested in the welfare of others. Further, what is ordinarily referred to as extrasensory and occult experience has nothing to do with super-conscious experience.
A person who has had super-conscious experience, is a totally transformed individual and can achieve this only through rigorous training and spiritual practices under a realised teacher. Such a realisation of the super-conscious proceeds in stages.
In the first stage, there are certain spiritual experiences. This is followed by the stage of Samadhi where one experiences a freedom from distinctions between happiness and misery, and light and darkness. In the words of Akhilananda “A man who enters the super-conscious stage as an ordinary person comes out of this, as a better man. His entire personality is transformed, his emotions are totally controlled, he is master of himself, his will is extremely dynamic, he can achieve what he needs to do and he gains knowledge which he never had.” The individual is completely transformed, intellectually and emotionally and is in a state of bliss.
He derives unique knowledge which is also universal and in turn he uses it for the welfare of others. Hindu thinkers made a distinction between two stages of super-conscious experience or Samadhi. In the first one, known as Savikalpa Samadhi, the person experiences the immediate presence of God while he himself remains separate.
He experiences God as a personal experience but in the other stage called Nirvikalpa Samadhi the individual transcends the limitations of the personality and personal identity, and experiences oneness and total integration with the absolute.
At this stage, all limitations in terms of time, space, causation and subject-object distinction vanish. This stage of existence is sometimes manifested in physical changes and expressions. The actual nature of this stage however varies from individual to individual.
At the highest level their power is so high that they can transform and change whole societies. Buddha, Christ and Krishna are such examples. In fact, this experience defies description, and language is a very poor tool to describe this, because our language is a product of the conscious mind. Such a state can only be experienced and not described.
Patanjali describes eight steps that should be followed for reaching the stage of super-consciousness. These are, Yama (Mental Control), Niyama (Physical Regulation), Asana (Posture), Pranayama (Breathing Control), Prathyahara Withdrawal of the Mind from Sense Objects) Dharma (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation) and Samadhi (Super consciousness). In fact William James observed that “most valuable ascetic system and the one whose results have the most voluminous experimental collaboration is undoubtedly the Yoga system in Hindustan”.
5. Essay on Emotions:
Almost every cognitive act is accompanied by a subjective reaction which is ’emotion’. It is difficult to separate the cognitive component from the emotional component. Emotions result not only from external experiences but also from one’s own primitive urges.
One can see here a similarity between the Hindu view and the view of Prof. McDougall who also considers emotions to be an integral part of human nature and holds that every instinct has a characteristic emotion attached to it. In fact,Prof McDougall went a little beyond and held that emotions are the core of instinctual response and in fact are the energizers of actions.
On the other hand, many other western psychologists have held that emotions and feelings are nothing but a set of physiological reactions and sensations resulting from these. Thus the classical James-Lange theory of emotions held that emotions were nothing but awareness of visceral and other bodily changes.
Subsequent studies by others have, while rejecting such a very simple view however, not gone beyond a physiological frame. They have tended to emphasize the role of the brain, a certain part of it like the hypothalamus and to some extent even the cerebral cortex. By and large one may say that the area of feelings and emotions has been the “blind spot” of modern western psychology.
According to ancient Hindu psychology, emotions have their roots in desires and are bi-polar in nature. A sense of happiness or joy results if the desire is achieved and sadness and unhappiness occurs if the desire is not achieved. The affective process of emotion cannot be reduced to mere physiological reflexes or awareness of such reflex actions. Further, desire, and for that matter emotions and feelings are the activities of the total individual.
In the words of Swami Abhedananda, “What is an emotion? Who feels? Is the brain feeling? No, brain does not feel. We feel; the individual, the personality feels, feels certain conditions, such as joy, grief, love, hatred, anger, fear, and pride.All these are emotions”.
It may be seen here that what is important is the effect; that there is feeling and also that it is the total person or individual who feels. No doubt, there are bodily responses and changes. The theory of western psychology that emotions are nothing but a set of bodily changes or actions or a reaction to this, cannot be accepted because there is a feeling and it is the total individual who feels.
According to Hindu psychology, any particular emotion is primarily an activity of the mind that results in the bodily changes and not the other way. Thus, emotions and feelings are a result of a desire which is an activity of the individual’s personality. The Bhagavad-Gita gives an excellent account of how to deal with one’s emotions.
Desire, according to the Hindu psychology is-the creative effort of the mind and that is at the bottom of all other activities. In Sanskrit it is called ‘Vasana’ the first impulse that is in the living substance or soul. All our actions arise out of desires. When our desires are gratified we feel happy. But the curious fact is that if a desire is completely satisfied, then the desire is dead.
It cannot any more be a cause or motivator for action. Of course, for a desire to become strong and initiate activity, there must be energy, physical energy and much more important mental and psychological energy. Desire, then depends on the mental and physical energy available for continuing to be active and keep our emotions going.
If there are too many desires, then the energy gets exhausted and no desire succeeds. It is here that one can appreciate the general teaching of Hindu thought that one should learn to give up lower order desires so that one may seek better satisfaction of higher order desires.
When this is taken to its logical end, the highest level of desire is the desire to be free from all desires, for it is such lower order desires which set in motion, mental reactions accompanied by happiness or fear, pleasure or pain and certainty or uncertainty, in fact all these processes consume energy.
6. Essay on Personality and Individuality:
Hindu psychology also accorded a central place to personality. In fact the entire emphasis in Hindu psychology was on personality. Western psychologists have in a way employed the term personality to mean individuality. Thus, definitions of personality which have emphasised the “uniqueness” of an individual’s behaviour or highlighted individual differences have used the two terms almost interchangeably.
According to Hindu psychology, there are two aspects or sides to personality. One may be called the ‘me’ and the other may be called the “I”. The two together make up our personality. In the words of Abhedananda, “the ‘me’ refers to something objective that one knows whereas I refers to something which is unknown.
The me component; has different types of constituents, material constituents, social constituents or components and spiritual and moral components. The body is a basic material component, then there are other ingredients like the members of the family, community and others with whom a person relates or identifies; then there are other material goods.
Similarly others from whom we expect love, approval, affection and recognition also become part of our personality. Thus, one’s personality at any time is a sum total of these including spiritual elements like the God and our belief in moral principles which we try to uphold.
“Yet another feature is that though over years we change and things, people around us change, there is a certain ‘consistency’, or core which one identifies as oneself. For example, in the case of a 70 year old person, his surroundings, his peer group, all are different at this age from what they were when he was 20 years old or 40 years old. But one often overlooks or ignores these changes, is often unconscious of them and sees a continuity.
Perhaps, this continuity over time is due to our ability to remember. But ability to remember by itself cannot explain this identity. Some writers advance the view that consciousness flows like a stream, and even when the stream changes course its identity as a stream remains.
But can we regard this as an adequate explanation? The explanation for this sense of identity or ‘I’ ness seems to call for belief in the existence of some agency or principle which is different from the ‘me’. This may be called the T or the pure ego.
This pure ego is the one which is active and which thinks. This pure ego, when it is clothed by thoughts and thinking power of the mind becomes a thinker. When it is clothed with garments of ideas of emotions and feelings, it becomes a feeler. When it is clothed into the garments of the sense power, it becomes a perceiver” (Abhedananda).
“It is the I or Individuality which holds our sensation, feelings, perceptions and ideas together and this individuality which is not a thought, not a function of the mind, not a function of our intellect, not a sensation, not a percept or image, but which is the unifying element of all which makes each of them related to me”. (Abhedananda).
This individuality is the background or core of our personality and this does not change. We may call this “I” or pure and non-empirical self or ego. Individuality, therefore, refers to this stable in us. It is this “I” which gives reality to our dreams. It is the greater self and at a higher level it is the cosmic self, where the ‘I’ in its pure and total form, is free of all transient and empirical contents. It is a knower not the known, a perceiver, not the perceived, and a thinker not a thought.
The reader may see here that the Indian view of personality is radically different from the western view. Perhaps, the views of Carl Jung alone are in this direction. The Indian view looks at personality as some entity which integrates individual experiences, with social experiences on the one hand and the individual experiences with the cosmic on the other.
It is quite possible that the reader may get the impression that these views are highly speculative and not empirically established. But then, empiricism is a difficult term to define.
Any attempt to limit its meaning to what can be observed or experienced through the body and body alone, may be rather arbitrary. At the same time, one should admit that the traditional Indian view has to be analysed in greater depth and translated into more operational terms.
7. Essay on the Self:
Though terms like soul and self occupied a prominent place in the classical, philosophical psychology of the west, later on both European experimental psychology and American behaviourism discarded this concept. Unfortunately, “Psychoanalysis” and gestalt psychology also found no use for this concept.
It was only with the emergence of the phenomenological and humanistic approaches and to some extent, the existential approach that western psychologists found it necessary to revive the concept of self. The pioneering efforts in this direction were those of Carl Rogers, Gordon Allport and Henry Murray.
It is observed that it is primarily the growth and development of the phenomenological approach in psychology, clinical and counseling psychologies and psychotherapy, that led to rediscovery of the concept of self by western psychology. The reader must be familiar with different approaches to the analysis of the self-concept and also terms like objective self, subjective self, self-perception, self-esteem, etc.
Ancient Hindu psychology on the other hand was totally centred around the concept of self or soul. According to this view, the self is the beginning and end of psychology, the prime mover of all human activity, and self-development or realisation is the ultimate objective of all efforts. Thus, the self is the source, means and end of all human activities.
Being so, Hindu psychologists held that self is a basic and fundamental reality and that too over, above and beyond the body. According to Hindu psychology the self does not exist in the body, but it is the other way; the body, the mind and even the objective world exists in the self. The self is thus the prime mover.
If this is so, the self has an existence independent of the body, before, during and after one’s life. Perhaps a individual fed entirely on contemporary western psychology would find such a view a little difficult to understand and even unscientific. This is an instance perhaps, where partial knowledge and biased knowledge imprison us and makes it difficult for us to understand and appreciate more wholesome and true knowledge.
Hindu psychology uses the term “Atman” to describe such an active, dynamic and eternal real entity. The Atman is the self in the individual and is an integral part or even a constricted and restricted form of the universal or cosmic self known as Brahman.
The ultimate goal of life or ultimate happiness can be reached only when the Atman or the individual self is able to free itself from its constraints, restraints and bondages which hold it, making it impossible to realise its oneness with Brahman.
This is not possible as long as it remains bound by the bodily processes, including sensation, desires, and limited knowledge acquired through the sense. Yoga, meditation, sadhana, tapasya all these are methods prescribed by ancient self to look beyond and realise that it is a part of the Brahman. When such realisation comes about it may be either a dualistic samadhi (Savikalpa) or an integral samadhi (Nirvikalpla).
The reader can now clearly see the relationship between the concept of self on the one hand and the state of consciousness on the other. Similarly when we discuss the Indian concepts of personality, a distinction was made between the term ‘personality’ and ‘individuality’, the ‘me’ and ‘I’. The individual can here see that ‘I’ is very closely related to the concept of self.
The self at the same time is different from the mind which is only an instrument of the self. Thus, according to the Hindu psychology, mind and all other agencies are subordinate to the self. Such a view is perhaps something unbelievable and incredible to western psychology. Even if they grant the reality and validity of the terms like mind and self, their argument will be that the self exists in the mind and is a part of personality and not the other way.
The nature of Atman or self freed from the body and which is supreme, is described by the Upanishads. We may here mention a few of these descriptions given in the Chandyogya Upanishad (VIII. II, 12).
This description takes the form of an answer by Prajapati to a few questions posed to him by Indra, the Lord of Gods and his followers – “verily Indra, this body is subject to death but is at the same time the vesture of an immortal soul. It is only when soul (self) is enclosed in a body, that it is cognizant of the pleasure and pain. There is no pleasure or pain for the soul once relieved of its body… This serene being arises from the mortal body, reaches the highest light and then appears in its own form. This serene being who appears in its own form is the highest person.” Such a soul freed from its body is immortal and incorporeal.
According to the Mandukya Upanishad, the soul freed from body passes through four stages of consciousness, the first quarter or “Pada” of the self is called Vaisvanara who is conscious of external reality and objects. The second stage is called Taijesa whose sphere of activity is dream stage and who is aware of internal objects and experiences. The third stage is Prajna, a stage of deep sleep where there is a state of unification of all experiences.
The final stage Turiya is a ‘super conscious’ stage and there is a cessation of all phenomena; it is a state of bliss, peace and non-dualistic. At this stage, the freed Atman is the same as Brahman when it reaches full self-consciousness.
As observed by Prof. Ranade, “thus by a survey of the different approaches to the problem of reality, namely cosmological, the theological and the psychological, we see that Upanishad philosophy tries to establish reality on the firm footing of self-consciousness. Existence is not existence if it does not mean self-consciousness.”
The supreme value attached to self-awareness is again emphasized by Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyka Upanishad (II, IV, V ).
“It is the one concrete reality, whereas what are popularly known as realities are abstractions. The self is naturally dear to everyone of us and it is the presence of self in things and persons around us that makes them dear to us. Some of the other characteristics of such supreme self is that it is self-lumincus, it is infinite and eternal.”
The above account of the self is based on the Upanishadic text as interpreted by Adi Sankaracharya from the point of view of Non-dualism or Advaita. The central argument of Advaita is that there is only one reality and in the ultimate reality the micro and macro, the finite and infinite, the ephemeral and the eternal are the same. While this trend of argument, no doubt, represents the main thrust of vedantic philosophy, nevertheless, there have been certain other approaches. We may take a brief look at these.
The Nyaya doctrine is essentially atomistic and argues for spiritual plurality. It holds that matter and spirit are separate entities and realities. According to Nyaya, the infinite source is not mortal, human beings are distinct and separate from the supreme-self, and are mortals.
The Sankhya system proceeds along a different line. According to this system the causality of the world lies in the Prakriti, which is eternal and unborn and gives rise to other creatures, whereas according to the Upanishads, Brahman is the prime cause of creation. The Upanishads assert that there is only one ultimate real self or soul, all others being ephemeral or unreal. The Sankhya system as such holds that there is plurality of souls of selves.
In the Visistadvaita School of Ramanuja one finds three basic principles, matter, soul and God; matter and soul being absolutely dependent on God. According to Ramanuja, God is the soul of souls.
In this section an attempt has been made to present a brief account of some of the issues of psychological import considered and discussed in ancient Indian texts particularly, the Upanishads. The reader after going through this perhaps may be a little confused or even disillusioned. He might have expected that there would be general theories, laws, principles, etc., as he is used to according to the general normative western psychology.
But by its very nature ancient Indian psychology is different, is not based on an elaborately designed experimentation and observation. It is based on the experiences and views of ancient seers and thinkers, their authority and inference.
Secondly, ancient Indian psychology was essentially individual-oriented and calculated to help an individual to develop self-awareness; this way it was highly pragmatic and not merely descriptive, numerative and classificatory; while certain general concepts and principles were enunciated more in the form of books and guidelines for individuals to live their lives, seek and find happiness, ultimately, ancient Indian psychology held that every individual is unique, influenced by his past knowledge and experience; the past here means not only experiences and knowledge of the present birth but those acquired during several earlier births.
The Jataka tales of Buddhism present a classical example of such wisdom accumulated over several births. Further, the reader should appreciate first that these views were based on the assumptions and belief that human nature is a part of nature at large and the universe, and is not distinct from that.
8. Essay on the Process of Development of an Individual:
Different psychologists have discussed the process of the development of the individual from birth to old age in different ways. Such developmental stages have been described by Freud, Erikson, Piaget and many others.
Freud’s scheme of stages have been based on his theory of psychosexual development. Erikson has conceptualized his stages against the basic problem of identity formation, while Piaget’s scheme of stages essentially relates to the development of the cognitive and intellectual processes.
Ancient Indian thinkers also viewed the process of development in terms of stages, but different from the theories in that their concept of developmental stages’ were more comprehensive and socio psychological in nature, taking into account the demands of society. This scheme was based not only on the “internal” states of the individual, but also attempted to integrate these states with appropriate behavioural experiences and developmental tasks.
The developmental stage concept of ancient Indian thinkers is referred to as the “Asrama” theory. The Asrama system divides the whole life span into four different stages.
A schematic presentation of this conceptualization is presented in the following table:
While ancient Indian thinkers expounded the Asrama theory, they nevertheless had in mind the fact of individual differences, and also the basic Hindu doctrine of rebirth and continuity of the soul. Thus an individual may not go through all the four stages in a single life, particularly, the last stage of Sanyasa.
This possibility of going through all the four stages, depends on his “Sanskara” or good deeds of his previous birth and also the present one. Thus the example of “Dhruva” illustrates that even as a child he could enter the Sanyasa stage.
Attempts have been, made to compare the Hindu scheme of “Asrama” with the scheme of developmental stages put forth by Erikson. One point of similarity between the two schemes is that both take into account social factors and expectations.
Sudhir Kakkar in attempting a comparison of the two schemes concludes that the 4th and 5th stages in Erikson’s scheme, school age and adolescence correspond to Brahmacharya stage, the successive stages of young adulthood to the early part of grahasta, the stage of “adulthood” covers the latter part of Grahasta and also Vanaprastha and the last stage to the Hindu view of Sansyasa.
Of course, as Professor Kakkar observes, while one can see a convergence of the two schemes, there are also differences. In the words of Professor Kakkar “….. it appears that there is a suggestive convergence (though of course not an absolute correspondence) of the image of the human life cycle as expounded by the unknown or at least mythological builders of the asrama dharma”.
Both schemes see human development in terms of stages of life, each of which contributes a specific strength, with the strengths (and the stages) integrated into a functional whole, the object of which is self-realisation and transcendence. In both theories, the individual at any stage is not viewed in isolation, but in interaction with the sequence of generations and shared mutuality; but there are three fundamental differences.
First of all, the Hindu view is an ideal one while Erikson’s approach is clinical and developmental; secondly the Hindu theory gives importance to a certain combination of traits or (Gunas) from previous lives in considering the psychological development of the individual and finally, the Hindu theory ignores Erikson’s first three stages as well as infantile sexuality, insights which we owe to the breakthrough of modern psychology with man’s individual prehistory”.