Psychology is a relatively recent profession. I think many people would be surprised to hear that the actual scientific field of psychology began in 1879 in Leipzig with Wilhelm Wundt. Since its emergence there have been huge leaps in the field, many of which have left the profession extremely fragmented. At the beginning of the twentieth century scientists discovered that atoms were not solid objects as science initially thought, but rather their own worlds filled with dynamic activity and empty spaces and subsequently explored the nature of reality. It began when John Archibald Weeker, a physicist, proposed a model of reality constituted of packets of waves that exist on various vibrational levels. When observed these waves collapse forming something which appears to be solid. Prior to collapsing these waves exist in an realm of endless possibilities and not in the systematic mechanistic world we once thought.
Alfred Whitehead, a revolutionary philosopher, also around this time stated that he believed that the universe was not made from an enduring substance, but rather discontinuous bursts of experiential activity. This moment to moment idea of reality, that is shared by most eastern thinkers, is not purely related to just human experience but all levels of consciousness.
Investigations unveiled that an atom is made up of a nucleus and small particles that are moving quickly within a vast array of empty space. These small particles when observed by scientists were sometimes particles and sometimes waves. The field exploded with ideas, Neils Bohr described this phenomenon as the Complementary Principle meaning that everything was formed through the interaction of the observer and the observed. This was again built upon by Heisenburg in his Principle of Indetermination, which states that it is impossible to view the world without modifying it in someway. What an exciting time to be alive!
This new understanding when applied to the expression “if a tree fell in the woods…”, according to these principles suggests there would be no ‘tree’ in the first place if nobody was there to witness it. And if there was someone there, they could influence whether the tree fell, and whether it made a noise, based on their observation. With this being said, we can now assume that the powerful sanskrit mantra SoHam or I am That is indeed correct. These tiny particles are so changeable in nature that it is impossible to say that are indeed anywhere or that they even exist. What can be deduced is this energy has an essence and it is in no one fixed thing, but in everything all at once. This non local interaction between the observer and the particle has been verified repeatedly by scientists and mathematicians that all agree with the Hindu saying. “In fact you do not exist”, scary for all of us staunch egotists out there.
Further investigation uncovered the Observer Effect that states the consciousness of an observer on matter affects its behaviour. Science therefore, proved that Protagoras, Galileo, the Buddha and the authors of the Vedas, amongst others, were correct. The reality we observe and for that matter, live in, is determined by our consciousness both individually and as a whole. Einstein has brought us more shocking revelations about our idea of reality, explaining that space is not 3D and time is not in fact linear. Time and Space are actually bound and interchangeable in a 4D reality known as spacetime. Helmut Schmidt noted that there was no equation for the observer and therefore consciousness maintains this indescribable, almost magical quality that accounts for the wonder and awe of our everyday life.
At this time the writings of Vedantic traditions were becoming really popular. These recent developments had basically proved the notion of prana. This is the undifferentiated energy that is the unique force underlying everything. While this not only aided the development of more spiritual aspects of the psychological profession, it also gave those that were sceptical the permission to assume that it was a body of work bound by the projections of the scientific mind that designed it.
While the scientific world was having a shake up, psychologists were beginning to look toward the Eastern traditions to explain their theories of human consciousness. Psychologist William James spent much of his time researching The Field and stream of consciousness and would speak about it non-stop. James noticed the gap in our consciousness was not a passive, boring place of nothingness, but rather an active place full of dynamic information.
James spent a lot of time trying to contact this intelligence. In fact, many of these psychological dynamos such as Freud, Frederick Myers and Pierre Janet utilised automatic writing as psychoanalytical and psycho-spiritual tool. James, on the other hand, saw automatic writing’s application as a tool which could be used to access the field of consciousness. At the time this was really out there and experimental. James wrote in an essay titled The Confidences of a Psychical Researcher, that it produced some “really supernormal knowledge”. James felt that social constraints stopped many psychologists from discussing the mystical side of what they would experience in their research.
Intuition was something that ancient mystics such as Plato, Saint Augustine and Aristotle relied heavily on. Could this indicate that the secret to their super deep thinking and incredible intelligence is that they were connected to the non-local knowledge, or universal consciousness, spoken about by transpersonal psychologists such as William James and Ken Wilber, Decarte, Locke and Kant? While all these guys define intuition in a slightly different way, they all relate to a type of creation that extends beyond the realm of human knowledge.
Before the birth of science and the creation of boundaries there seem to have been nations of people who practised techniques that allowed them to more readily access this boundary-less space or consciousness. John Rowan believes that this type of intuition is something that can only be accessed once that element of ourself is developed. It can be postulated, due to the unique intuition that is expressed by children, that it is something we lose through the course of our human development, otherwise known as the crushing disappointment of growing up.
Back to our story. At this time in America there was a religious movement sweeping in from the East which James felt was opening the doorway for the creation of a Science of Religions. James felt that now was the time and through the study of religion we can uncover the core of our being, where we came from, in a metaphysical sense, and our ultimate destiny. James became a champion of the human soul, adopting empirical religion and dedicating his career to proving scientifically, through human experience, that God exists. James presented this for the first time in 1898 whilst he was Lecturer at Edinburgh University.
Jung met James in 1909 around the time that he published the book Conclusions to a Pluralistic Universe, which gives us an idea of the turning point in psychology at that time. James held that many of the major religions of the time focused on one Absolute that was more of an effable feeling rather than a physical figure. He was heavily influenced by Swami Vivekananda, who upon leaving Bombay in 1893 for America set up The Vedanta Centre in San Francisco and introduced the Vedic teachings to much of the West. The core of the Vedic teachings is that real knowledge is Self-Knowledge, which fits James’ understanding of the subconscious self, which was recently discovered by psychology, although how they viewed it differed slightly.
James and Jung had many similarities through their lives and careers, notably the influence of the Vedic sciences on their theories and their personal experience of the mystical. In 1909 Jung, Freud and Sandor Ferenczi, a Hungarian psychoanalyst were asked to lecture at Clark University and for seven weeks beforehand analysed each other’s dreams in Boston. Imagine that sleep over. Jung at this time wrote on dreams and the subconscious: “There he is, still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from all nature and bare from all egohood”. Jung himself has been changed by a dream in which, he believed, the subconscious pictorially revealed its layers to him. Similarly, around that time James had a mystical experience brought about by an earthquake in which the secrets of the continuum of consciousness were revealed to him.
Everything led James to creating a new “pluralistic, pan-psychic view of the universe”, that actually has been present across many religions and writings from Plato, Thales, Spinoza, etc and is found in Buddhism and Vedantism. This is really the belief that The Absolute is in all things and this becomes the central focus of James’ work. Unlike Western psychology, the East focused on enlightenment over physical disturbances.
Likewise Jung started reflecting the Upanishads in his work, mainly in The Red Book. Bringing science and religion together in a non-dualistic fashion, Jung showed how the Relative and the Absolute could be married in all things. Analysis and comparisons related everything back to Brahman, the absolute force that is in everything. This was seen again in 1925 in his book Psychological Types where he states the “Brahamic Conception” is one of unity, opposites and is the “The Uniting Symbol as The Principle of Dynamic Regulation”. These sections are pivotal in Jung’s formation of the Transpersonal as he states that through Deliverance or the transcendent function we can be free from suffering and this is achieved through the practise of active imagination. We see through his works that the Upanishads aided his search for an ultimate release from the human condition and the emergence of an alternative treatment to psychoanalysis.
Religious symbolism sparked Jung’s interest in these traditions, which differs from where the Vedantic teachings begin. Criticism poured in for his work on the conscious states and his relationship with Indian Yoga. We can see that Swami Vivekananda taught that the Vedas’ core teachings on the Self were universal and consisted of three parts “the self is first to be heard, then to be reasoned with, then to be meditated upon”. While Jung believed that there were three types of consciousness, the subconscious, the conscious and the superconscious. Jung felt that belief and religion were two different things, that religious experience was a type of Superconscious state. These disparities in Jung’s work were due to some scepticism, influenced by James, and his drive to mould psychology into an empirical science. Jung’s contentious relationships with Indian figures later continued when he challenged their wish to escape the Ego and stated that the West would emerge with their own form of Yoga.
Jung began to explore and give seminars on Kundalini Yoga in 1932, exploring the Chakra System stating that the two higher Chakras, which are to do with the transcendence, were not relevant for the West. This was because the higher levels of transpersonal consciousness beginning with Ajna, our Third Eye Chakra, need the dissolution of the Ego and Jung felt that the Cosmic Consciousness he wrote about was for future humanities. I guess Instagram would indicate that there is a little too much Ego knocking around.
Vivekananda felt, on the contrary, that his process of Raja Yoga and the study of the Superconscious as if it was a science would open the door to the transcendent for all people. Although the state of the Superconscious was acknowledged, the perception of the Ego was essential in all forms of consciousness and he couldn’t imagine a “condition where it would be all embracing. ie. where there would not be something left over”. Vivekananda believed that Western Psychology was far removed from the psychology that we should be studying. He believed that the path to Samhadi was scientifically explorable, but had become complicated in the search for only one path or model. Vivekananda felt a transcendent life had four paths which are work, love, psychology and knowledge.
The Upanishads, the inspirational teachings on self mastery and anatomy of the mind, which we’re beginning to see through these long winded stories, influenced everybody. Austrian physicist Erwin Shrodhinger, most commonly known for his declaration that the cat in his experimental box was both dead and alive, was inspired by the work of the Upanishads. In his books he spoke about a collective consciousness that transcended our understanding of individual selves. Shrodinger felt that this was due to the collective trance that society puts us in, that creates separation.
Rumblings in the psychological community began to emerge as the traditional behaviourists started to think that these new introspectionists were totally lame. Research was emerging from Abraham Maslow and his investigations of Peak Experiences and their frequent occurrences in self actualised people and his scientific explanations of the Jonah Complex. This was detailed in his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, where Maslow investigated why people denied reaching their calling. Likewise, Roberto Assagiolli, a trained psychiatrist, met Jung and shared in his feeling that psychology was incomplete and developed his own theory Psychosynthesis. His work was very similar to Jung and in fact it is unclear where the term Psychosynthesis originated. Letters from Jung to Freud mentioning both Maslow’s and Assagiolli’s work feature this term but with no reference to its creator. It is in these letters that we see the use of the term prevalent in Jung’s theories “uberpersonlich”.
The interesting thing about all of these pioneers was that they had mystic experiences personally. These can be explored and engaged in many ways. Some feature in the everyday lives of the masses such as yoga and meditation, some are more exotic such as shamanism and psychedelics. Jung postulated that mystical experiences occurred in our daily lives, namely through the strange world of our dreams. He felt that with correct awareness and training in this way we could even explore our archetypes and engage with our transpersonal selves. Our collective assumptions that we have accepted through society have led to our disengagement from the collective whole. It is for this reason that transpersonal experiences seem so alien to us.
In conclusion, the convergence of quantum physics and the emerging psychology of the early 20th century marked a profound shift in our understanding of the nature of reality and the human mind. This transformative period in scientific and psychological inquiry also shed light on the timeless wisdom contained within ancient Eastern traditions, particularly exemplified in texts like the Upanishads.
The groundbreaking discoveries in quantum physics, with its emphasis on interconnectedness, non-locality, and the role of the observer, challenged the Newtonian worldview and opened the doors to a more holistic and interconnected understanding of the universe. This new paradigm resonated deeply with the philosophical underpinnings of Eastern wisdom, which had long held the belief in a unified and interconnected reality.
As the early pioneers of psychology, such as Carl Jung and William James, delved into the realms of human consciousness, they found themselves exploring concepts that mirrored the ancient Eastern teachings. Jung's concept of the collective unconscious and archetypes resonated with the idea of universal truths and the interconnectedness of all beings, while James' exploration of mystical experiences highlighted the potential for transcendent states of consciousness found in various Eastern contemplative practices.
The wisdom of the Upanishads, with its profound insights into the nature of self, consciousness, and existence, seemed to find its echo in the emerging psychological theories and the discoveries of quantum physics. Ideas like the interconnectedness of all life, the notion of an underlying unity beyond the material world, and the transformative potential of self-realization and awakening appeared to converge with the new scientific and psychological paradigms.
The meeting of these diverse disciplines was not only a confirmation of the timelessness of Eastern wisdom but also an invitation to bridge the gap between science, psychology, and spirituality. As the boundaries between these realms blurred, it became apparent that the pursuit of knowledge should encompass both the objective exploration of the material world and the subjective exploration of the inner realms of consciousness.
This convergence of ancient wisdom and modern science paved the way for transpersonal psychology, a field that acknowledges and celebrates the transcendent dimensions of human experience. It recognized that human beings are not merely physical entities but also spiritual beings with the capacity for self-awareness, transformation, and transcendence.
In the end, the dialogue between ancient Eastern traditions, quantum physics, and psychology continues to enrich our understanding of ourselves and the universe. It encourages us to explore the depths of human consciousness, cultivate greater awareness, and recognize the inherent interconnectedness of all life. As we embrace this integrative approach to knowledge, we move towards a more holistic and inclusive worldview, one that embraces both the ancient wisdom of the Upanishads and the cutting-edge discoveries of modern science, ultimately leading us to a deeper sense of meaning, purpose, and unity in our journey of self-discovery.