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SNAPSHOT: Transpersonal Psychology

Another Close Look

Yukteswar describes how large parts of his book are organised: "First to enumerate a proposition in Sanskrit terms of the Oriental sages, and then to explain it by reference to the holy scriptures of the West. In this way I have tried my best to show that there is no real discrepancy, much less any real conflict, between the teachings of the East and the West." [Hos 6-7]

He does not tell which sage outputs he has selected, does not tell which sages he calls "the Oriental sages". He has not cited all of them, and he does not tell which ones he has cited.

Unreferenced selectivity as to Sanskrit output, and referenced but hardly significant enough Bible quotations spell "flawed" perhaps just as much as flavoured". He has chosen and arranged selections that could support his Babaji-ordered task in the first place, and ignores much other material that, frankly, dominates Hinduism. As for the messages that are taken to matter in Christianity, they are more numerous than some thirty passages from John and Revelation in support of a Samkhya treatise.

A short book on a postulated underlying harmony

Savoury, pregnant deeds should be awarded.

Babaji wanted Yukteswar to write a short book on the underlying harmony between Christian and Hindu scriptures (Autobiography of a Yogi,, ch. 36). Christians hold that one should convert Hindus and all others to Christianity according to the Missionary Command at the end of Matthew, a late addition to that gospel, and a forgery, says Joseph Wheless in Forgery in Christianity. [Link]

In the SRF-published version of the book, the Sanskrit verses are translated, apart from shown in the original. But with one exception there are no references to who actually wrote the Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms) that Yukteswar uses in his book, and where they are found. So it becomes practically impossible to check the quotations in their original contexts for almost anyone.

Perhaps Yukteswar uses a medley from Hindu canon. The question of the representativeness of his quotations goes unmentioned by him. As shown above and on other pages, there are other variants or forms or modes of Hinduism. That should be recognised. Gavin Flood says in An Introduction to Hinduism [Ith]:

The diversity of Hinduism is truly vast . . . Some might claim, both from within the tradition and from outside it, that because of this diversity there is 'no such thing as Hinduism', while others might claim that, in spite of its diversity, there is an 'essence' which structures or patterns its manifestations. The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere between these claims . . . and differences between Hindus might be as great as differences between Hindus and Buddhists or Christians [Ith 5].

Yukteswar does not bring up the topic whether and to what extent there is any underlying harmony between all the religions. However, it is standard procedure for researchers to question one's basic propositions (hypotheses) in order to arrive at something of possible value. Yukteswar does nothing of the kind; he settles on explaining a theistic variant of Samkhya that is about the same as the Yoga philosophy of India. He sprinkles this yoga exposition with some thirty passages from the Gospel of John and from Revelation, thirty-six Bible quotations in all.

The choice of what texts to use, seems to be Sri Yukteswar's own. Among a massive amount of such texts, he choses three small books, bases his works most of all on theistic Samkhya, and uses his selected Bible quotations to season some of it, but far from all his sections, and far from extensively. How representative of (1) "all religions", (2) very complex and extensive Hinduism and (3) Christianity can that be?

Surface Knowledge: Bible matters

Christians hold different views of the Old Testament. There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament that are commonly used in Christianity. Some communions add more books, and up to twelve books more in the Orthodox communion. Further, among Christian denominations, the New Testament, a collection of works written at different times by various authors, consists of 27 books. Almost all Christian traditions today stick to those same books of the New Testament.

The two books of the New Testament that Yukteswar uses along with his Samkhya exposition, do not reflect Christianity as a whole, are not well suited to cover the whole gamut of Christianity.

Yukteswar does not offer any criticism of Christianity when the good opportunity was there. However, others have spent criticism on Christianity throughout its history, often along with a quest for textual understanding. And although moderate and liberal Christians generally accept the reliability of scripture in varying degrees, they differ in how to interpret particular passages. Further, some criticism addresses Christian beliefs, teachings and interpretation of scripture: the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are difficult to reconcile, for example, for they differ much from one another.

Things Jesus did not accomplish

Hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, Jewish prophets promised that a messiah would come. Judaism claims that Jesus did not fulfill these prophecies. And surely, he did not come close to fulfilling all of them. The Hebrew Bible's prophetic literature ends waiting for Judah to be restored via a new monarch, one who will restore David's kingdom and possibly create universal peace. Two gospels in the New Testament trace Jesus' line to that of David through the carpenter Joseph, but in two widely different ways. It is to claim legitimity for the Christ (Messiah) title. At any rate Joseph was not his father if an angel was. Stephen L. Harris sums up sides to it:

Jesus did not accomplish what Israel's prophets said the Messiah was commissioned to do: He did not deliver the covenant people from their Gentile enemies, reassemble those scattered in the Diaspora, restore the Davidic kingdom, or establish universal peace. [Isa. 9:6-7] [11:7-12:16] Instead of freeing Jews from oppressors and thereby fulfilling God's ancient promises - for land, nationhood, kingship, and blessing - Jesus died a "shameful" death . . . Indeed, the Hebrew prophets did not foresee that Israel's savior would be executed as a common criminal by Gentiles. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Criticism of Christianity"]

Also, certain interpretations of various moral positions in the Bible are considered at least ethically questionable by many. Some of the passages commonly criticised include:

  • Subjugation of women, aided by man-centred Bible stories that serve a patriarchy, so that women have been largely denigrated and forced into a second-class status;
  • Religious intolerance, when a group, or the society refuses to tolerate practices, persons or beliefs on religious grounds, such as against Mormons having many wives. Harems are certainly not forbidden in the Bible, neither the Old and New Testament;
  • Support for the institution of slavery in both Old and New Testaments: Early Christianity variously opposed, accepted, or ignored slavery.
  • This point should be added to the list list: The inferior moral of sacrifice of innocent victims for the sake of offending ones in both Testaments. It has nothing to do with fair treatment.

How did Yukteswar deal with these issues of well-founded, acceptable criticism? He did not mention them; he let John and Revelation serve his ends.

Several areas of criticism include some claims of scripture itself, ethics of biblical interpretations that have been used historically to justify attitudes and behaviors that are seen by critics as clearly wrong, the question of compatibility with science, and certain Christian doctrines that some find unsettling or unreasonable. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Christianity", "Books of the Bible", "Criticism of Christianity", "Religious Intolerance"]

The fuzzy-edged tradition: Hinduism

"First study the scriptures and see whether there is any underlying harmony there. Then say it is there if you find it to be so - without being so ordered, preferably - and in what parts, and so on." Gavin Flood has tried to, and has come up with a different conclusion (above): Even in Hinduism there is not any inclusive harmony.

Some more points from Flood's book may be added:

Hinduism does not have a single historical founder [and] it does not have a unified system of belief encoded in a creed or declaration of faith, it does not have a single system of soteriology [theology dealing with salvation], and it does not have a centralized authority . . .

Hinduism . . . has fuzzy edges. Some forms of religion are central to Hinduism, while others are less clearly central but still [accepted]. [Ith 6-7]

Flood grants that Western understanding of 'religion' is largely determined by Christianity in terms of beliefs. But, according to Flood, the sacred in Hinduism is "mediated through innumerable, changings forms". [cf. Ith 8-9]. Further, "One striking feature of Hinduism is that practice takes precedence over belief. What a Hindu does is more important than what a Hindu believes. Hinduism is not credal." [Ith 12]

"While there are pan-Hindu traditions of Vaisnavism, Saivism and Saktism alongside the renouncer tradition, there are also local or popular traditions, even within a particular village." [Ith 17]

A Brief Look into Upanishads

Yoga forms are connected to Upanishads. They are Hindu scriptures that constitute the core teachings of Vedanta. The oldest date to the 500s BCE, and the latest were composed in medieval and early modern times. The Upanishads speak of Brahman (Universal spirit) and Atman (individualided spirit, soul) as actually one and the same "substance". Upanishads do not explain all inner, subtle experiences with crystal clear wording, though, so a great many commentaries exist to explain them. Schools of thought were formed from antiquity on top of different ways of understanding the Upanishads.

K. Narayanasvami Aiyar informs in his foreword to Thirty Minor Upanishads that Hindus reckon with 108 Upanishads. Eleven of them are considered part of the sacred canon of Hinduism. Two more Upanishads are often added to that group. The eleven and one more are commented on by Adi [the first] Shankara of Advaita Vedanta.

Vedanta is first and foremost concerned with "yoga of the heart". Aiyar explains that many Upanishads tell that the Atma in the heart may be realised, and then the Atma in all universe is realised too. In fact, the eleven principal Upanishads and the Vedanta Upanishads among the minor Upanishads deal with the heart and the heart alone, and are aimed at those who want to have a development of the heart by focusing attention on it and through it. Other groups of Upanishads have somewhat different focuses, not only on the heart and further. The Yoga Upanishads, for example treat of many centres in the organism, chakras, the heart centre included.

Aiyar further classifies a selection of thirty minor upanishads loosely under the headings of (1) Vedanta, (2) Physiology, (3) Mantra, (4) Sannyasa and (5) Yoga, adding that the Upanishads that come under the headings of Vedanta and Yoga are the most important. There are overlappings between the groups. [BOOK REF]

In Sixty Upanishads of the Veda [So], Paul Deussen groups the better-known Upanishads by their sources, such as "The Upanishads of the Rigveda", "The Upanishads of the Samaveda", "The Upanishads of the Black Yajurveda", and so on.

Further, in The Philosophy of the Upanishads [Puh], Deussen exposes the system that gradually developed from them. He lays bare (1) the theology of Brahman; (2) the doctrine of the soul, Atman; (3) the doctrine of reincarnation and moskha, emancipation; and (4) the way to it (existential-practical philosophy). Deussen further lists up the pure Vedanta Upanishads and the Yoga Upanishads, along with other groups of Upanishads, and points out that the Yoga Upanishads treat recognition of the Atman through the syllable Om (Aum). [Cf. Minor Upanishads]

How did Yukteswar address the problem that there are many and variegated scriptures and understandings of them in Hinduism? He settled on presenting just one of the six orthodox philosophical systems of Hinduism, a system that is much as the orthodox Yoga hilosophy. What is more, he chose to present just one variant of his chosen system, namely Samkhya without atheism. The point is: Among all the scriptures and schools he did not chose, many interpret and teach differently. To tell about that state of affairs in Hinduism would be fair, but Yukteswar ignores it on a farfetched "unity mission".


Yukteswar and Transpersonal Psychology

Yukteswar writes that his book is divided into four sections, according to "the four stages in the development of knowledge". [Hos 6]. Yukteswar treats subjects which are central in transpersonal psychology. Why just four stages? Some do not postulate "four stages". The widely accepted psychodynamic theory by Erik Erikson usually has eight stages of life and life lessons - and knowledge to get along with them. They are linked to social-emotional development of the id system. Knowledge of the stages should be helpful.

"The highest aim of religion is Atma-jnanam, Self-knowledge. But to attain this, knowledge of the external world is necessary. Therefore the first section of the book deals with the gospel (veda), and seeks to establish fundamental truths of creation and to describe the evolution and involution of the world," says Yukteswar [Hos 6, emphasis added]. That "knowledge of the external world is necessary" hardly fits the general understanding of good yoga or a mango-fond Ramakrishna (above); it is by largely ignoring the world one interiorises the mind in all right yoga and goes on to deepen mind interiorisation from there. It is the fifth step in Patanjali's Yoga, called pratyahara (sense-withdrawal). After such sense-withdrawal, meditation may deepen. That is how yoga progress is outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

Another rendering of atmajnana (from atman (soul, spirit) and jnana (gnosis) than self-knowledge is self-realization, wa term that is rather often met with nowadays, and a common subject in transpersonal psychology too. Yukteswar passed away about a generation before the field of transpersonal psychology took off as an academic discipline. However, in his Kaivalya Darsanam he deals with many core issues that today are talked of in transpersonal psychology, so here is another snapshot to present key information about the subject. The abstract is selective: there are many other persons in the field of transpersonal psychology, more issues, and so on.

Snapshot 4: Transpersonal Psychology

Abraham Maslow published work regarding human peak experiences, and was one of the people who suggested the term "transpersonal" for the emerging field. Trans means such as "on the other side of, to the other side of, across, beyond". Personal, from 'person', includes for example, "of, relating to, or affecting a person, relating to an individual or an individual's character, conduct, motives, or private affairs, being rational and self-conscious, having the qualities of a person". 'Person' in this jargon involves the personality of a human being as recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties. [For more: Wikipedia, s.v. "Personal identity"]

Gradually, during the 1960s, the term "transpersonal" was associated with a distinct school of psychology within the humanistic psychology movement. In 1969, Abraham Maslow was among the initiators behind the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, the leading academic journal in the field. This was soon to be followed by the founding of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology (ATP) in 1972. Past presidents of the association include Daniel Goleman. In the 1980s and 90s the field developed through the works of Charles Tart [cf. Edit] and others.

Mariana Caplan defines of transpersonal psychology thus:

Transpersonal psychology . . . beginning with the publication of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology in 1969 and the founding of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology in 1971, . . . draws upon ancient mystical knowledge that comes from multiple traditions. Transpersonal psychologists attempt to integrate timeless wisdom with modern Western psychology and translate spiritual principles into scientifically grounded, contemporary language. Transpersonal psychology addresses the full spectrum of human psychospiritual development – from our deepest wounds and needs, to the existential crisis of the human being, to the most transcendent capacities of our consciousness. [Ewo 231]

Issues considered in transpersonal psychology include spiritual self-development, self beyond the ego, peak experiences, mystical experiences, systemic trance and other sublime and/or unusually expanded experiences of living.

Lajoie and Shapiro [2] reviewed forty definitions of transpersonal psychology from the period 1969 to 1991. They found that five key themes were often used in these definitions: states of consciousness, higher or ultimate potential, beyond the ego or personal self, transcendence, and the spiritual.

Transpersonal psychology is a form of psychology that studies the transpersonal, self-transcendent or spiritual aspects of the human experience. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology suggests that transpersonal psychology "is concerned with the study of humanity's highest potential, and with the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness" [3].

Transpersonal psychology developed from earlier schools of psychology including psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology. Transpersonal psychology attempts to describe and integrate spiritual experience within modern psychological theory and to formulate new theory to encompass such experience.

Types of spiritual experience examined vary greatly but include altered states of consciousness and spiritual practices. Carl Gustav Jung and others explored aspects of the spiritual and transpersonal in their work, but on the whole, Western psychology has had a tendency to ignore the spiritual dimension of the human psyche. With the advent of positive psychology, more research has been funded into some of the channels that transpersonal psychology is about.

Amongst the thinkers who are held to have set the stage for transpersonal studies are Carl G. Jung and Abraham Maslow. The earliest usage of the term "transpersonal" can be found in Harvard lecture notes of William James in 1905-6.

Transpersonal therapies are also included in many therapeutic practices. Currently, transpersonal psychology, especially the schools of Jungian and Archetypal psychology, is integrated, at least to some extent, into many psychology departments in American and European Universities. Institutions of higher learning have adopted insights from transpersonal psychology. There is also a strong connection between the transpersonal and the humanistic approaches to psychology.

The following branches are among those considered to be transpersonal psychological schools: various depth psychology approaches including Analytical psychology, based on Carl Gustav Jung and the theories of Abraham Maslow and of Charles Tart.

Transpersonal psychology is not Parapsychology. Transpersonal psychology tends to be more closely related to the epistemology of the humanities and the hermeneutic disciplines (humanism, existentialism, phenomenology, anthropology), yet with contributions involving experimental and statistical research.

Transpersonal psychology may be associated with New Age beliefs too, although transpersonal psychology is an academic discipline, not a religious or spiritual movement.

Transpersonal psychology is many times regarded as the fourth wave force of psychology which according to Maslow even transcends the self actualization of Humanistic psychology. Transpersonal can be considered the most integrated complete psychology, a positive psychology.

The transpersonal perspective spans many interests. The following list is abbreviated from one by Scotton, Chinen and Battista [3]:

  • Spiritual traditions - Hinduism, Yoga, Theravada Buddhism, Vajrayana, Zen, Taoism, Tantra and Christian mysticism and psychology

  • Adult spiritual development

  • Meditation research and consciousness studies

  • Diagnosis of Religious and Spiritual Problems

  • The treatment of former members of cults

  • Dying and near death experience (NDE)

  • Ecological survival

Contributions to the academic field:

Many of the psychological difficulties associated with a spiritual crisis are not ordinarily discussed by mainstream psychology. A spiritual crisis has to do with a person's relationship to existential issues, or issues that transcend the mundane issues of ordinary life. Among these are problems tied in with near-death experience, Kundalini awakening, intensive meditation, and illness. Transpersonal Psychology has brought attention to spiritual crises.

A spiritual crisis in a person's life may involve a "gradual unfoldment of spiritual potential with no disruption in psychological-social-occupational functioning" [4], but in cases where the spiritual unfoldment is intensified beyond the control of the individual it may lead to a state of "Spiritual Emergency" and cause significant disruption in psychological, social and occupational functioning.

Criticisms of transpersonal psychology have come from several commentators. One of the earliest criticisms of the field was issued by the Humanistic psychologist Rollo May, who disputed the conceptual foundations of early transpersonal psychology: its low level of reflection on the dark side of human nature, and on human suffering.

Doctrines or ideas of many colourful personalities, who were or are spiritual teachers in the Western world, such as Gurdjieff or Alice Bailey, are often assimilated into the transpersonal psychology mainstream scene. Most psychologists take an eclectic [selective] approach.

Transpersonal psychologists disagree with the approach to various inner phenomena taken by traditional psychology, and claim that transpersonal categories have typically been dismissed either as signs of various kinds of mental illnesses, or as a regression to infantile stages of psychosomatic development. For such reasons religious and spiritual experiences have in the past been seen as either regressive or pathological and treated as such.

From the standpoint of Buddhism and Dzogchen, Eías Capriles elaborates on what he calls a meta-transpersonal psychology.

Transpersonal psychology has been applied to areas such as counselling, health, spiritual development, mind expansion, and to provide psychological security for self growth. Applications to the areas of business studies and management have been developed. Other transpersonal disciplines, such as transpersonal business studies, are listed in transpersonal disciplines.

Transpersonal art criticism can be considered that which claims conventional art criticism has been too committed to stressing rational dimensions of art and has subsequently said little on art's spiritual dimensions, or as that which holds art work has a meaning beyond the individual person. Certain aspects of the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung may also relate to the field. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, in 2005, Volume 37, launched a special edition devoted to the media, which contained articles on film criticism that can be related to this field.

[Source: Wikipedia, "Transpersonal Psychology", "Spiritual crisis"]


Yukteswar book, the holy science, Literature  

Ak: Yogananda, Paramahansa: Man's Eternal Quest. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1982.

Alk: Beck, Thomas: Astrologisk leksikon. Oslo: Teknologisk forlag, 1993.

Aso: Asimov, Isaak: Om tall. Oslo: Dreyer, 1980.

Ay: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 1st ed. New York: Philosophical Library, 1946.

EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010.

Ewo: Caplan, Mariana. Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path.. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2009.

Ha: Yogananda, Paramahansa: Autobiography of a Yogi. 12th ed. Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). Los Angeles, 1981.

Hom: Berne, Eric: What Do You Say After You Say Hello? The Psychology of Human Destiny. Bantam. New York, 1973.

Hos: Yukteswar, sw: The Holy Science. 7th ed. Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), Los Angeles, 1972.

Ith: Flood, Gavin. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Mux: Bühler, G. tr: The Laws of Manu. Banarsidass (Reprint from Oxford University's 1886-edition). Delhi,1984.

Nai: Guba, Egon, and Yvonne Lincoln. Naturalistic Inquiry. Newbury Park: Sage, 1985.

Pa: Yogananda, Paramahansa: Autobiography of a Yogi. 11th ed. Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). Los Angeles, 1971.

Puh: Deussen, Paul. The Philosophy of the Upanishads. New York: Dover (Reprint of Clark's 1906-ed), 1966.

So: Deussen, Paul, tr. Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Vols 1-2. Varanasi: Banarsidass, 1980.

Tpu: Deussen, Paul. The Philosophy of the Upanishads. Tr. A. S. Geden. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, and Co. Ltd, 1906.

Tmu: Aiyar, K Narayanasvami, tr. Thirty Minor Upanishads. Madras: K. N. Ayar, 1914.

Viom: Jolly, Julius tr: The Institutes of Vishnu. Banarsidass. Delhi, 1965.


  1. Lajoie, D. H. and Shapiro, S. I. (1992). "Definitions of transpersonal psychology: The first twenty-three years." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 24.
  2. Lajoie and Shapiro, p. 91.
  3. Scotton, Bruce W., Chinen, Allan B. and John R. Battista, eds. Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology. New York: Basic Books, 1996
  4. Lu Francis G., David Lukoff D, and Robert P. Turner. "Religious or Spiritual Problems." In: DSM-IV Sourcebook, Vol. 3. Widiger TA, Frances AJ, Pincus HA et al., eds. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, pp 1001–1016. 1996:238
  5. "Vegetarians are more intelligent, says study". London Evening Standard, 15 Dec. 2007.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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