Are The Upanishads Better Than Modern Psychology?

The Wisdom of Upanishads

by Jayaram V

The Upanishads are the heart of Hinduism. I was introduced to them by chance nearly forty years ago, and ever since my interest in them only grew. It was out of my interest I translated several Upanishads twice in the past. The first attempt was several years ago, and it was meant mainly for the Internet. In my recent attempt, which took me over a year, I translated 16 major Upanishads covering over 1700 slokas. For me the exercise was more like an active meditation with an opportunity to communicate with the best of the ancient minds and making sense of their universal vision of God and existence. In this section I want to share with you the wisdom of the Upanishads, whenever I am inspired to do so. I hope to present at least a few every month until my thoughts are exhausted or my interest has waned. I hope you will find them useful. Jayaram V

Please do not look for complete answers or information in these. They are fragments of thoughts which deal with only certain aspects of the chosen subject


Some scholars go overboard and become irrational in their in their praise of Upanishads. Undoubtedly, the Upanishads have a great value for spiritual people and the wisdom it contains can be used by worldly people also to solve their problems, build their character, reason, discretion, perception and clear thinking.

However, it is debatable whether they are superior to present day works on psychology or replace them. They both belong to different domains and serve different purposes with some overlapping here and there. However, comparing them to assess their superior is like comparing apples to oranges.

The Upanishads look at the mind from a spiritual perspective and the books on modern psychology, if at all they dwell upon metaphysics or soul look at it from the perspective of the mind and perceptible field of experience and cognition. Thus, one belongs to the higher or the transcendental world and the other to this world. One is divine and the other human.

The Upanishads may enhance your spirituality but they cannot as effectively deal with the problem of human behavior or the secrets of the mental mechanisms as modern psychology. Until Freud and his associates came on the scene, mentally disturbed people were treated badly in almost every part of the world. Insanity was equated to possession and the work of demons or Devil.

Hence, patients were kept in asylums or dark dungeons and never allowed to interact with the outside world. If they appeared in public, they were inhumanly treated, stoned or beaten under the assumption that they were possessed by evil spirits.

In the Upanishads (Brihad 3.3) itself we come across a case of possession of a young girl by a Gandharva. It is possible that possessions may happen sometimes, but you cannot convincingly bring it into the realm of science and provide repeatable and verifiable cure.

Today, we are rationally and scientifically dealing with mental abnormalities and mentally ill people and showing them great compassion and understanding, because of the pioneering work done by people like Freud, Jung, and other psychologies and behavior scientists who followed them.

The Upanishads existed for over 3000 years, during which nothing much happened in India in the field of human psychology to improve the mental health of ordinary people or provide effective solutions to cure mental illnesses.

The knowledge of the Upanishads itself was kept a closely guarded secret and denied to others. Their teaching was confined to a group of select individuals and served little purpose in inspiring or liberating the common people. Despite the existence of the Vedas, the Upanishads and thousands of other scriptures, people at large remained ignorant, superstitious and primitive in their thinking and attitude.

It is a fallacy to believe that every person who lived in ancient India was a great sage like Vyasa or a poet like Kalidasa. There were people of all kinds and they lived like any other people in the world, dealing with their fear and anxieties and surviving in a hostile and primitive world. In that environment, people had little opportunity to speak about their mental problems or find solutions for them.

When we make statements about our scriptures, we must be rational and balanced. Morally, there is no difference between telling lies and embellishing truth about your religion with exaggerations and false comparisons. Whether your attachment is to your religion or to a worldly object, both lead to bondage.

Religious fanaticism has become a growing malady in today's world. It turns every religion into a weapon to oppress people or attack those who disagree with it. If you are a spiritual person, you should away from it, because fanaticism arises from the quality of tamas and clouds your judgment. It is neither ethical nor spiritual nor lawful, but a sign of ignorance, delusion and attachment, and the antithesis of the very quality of sameness the scriptures want us to cultivate.

A religion is a means, not an end in itself. You should use it for your spiritual development, and purification, but not to fill yourself with pride and vanity which will make you unworthy of liberation. It gives you an opportunity to grow the divine in you. Therefore, it is important that you should not use it as a status symbol to strengthen your ego or establish your social or cultural superiority. When you use religion as a tool for worldly ends it leads to misery and suffering.

Fanaticism manifests in many ways. One of them is when religious person blindly upholds his beliefs, scriptures and values ignoring the obvious contradictions and fallacies. For example, you cannot still hold the belief that the earth is flat, or the stars and sun revolve around it, just because some scripture says so.

It holds true for all scriptures, even the Upanishads. Even if they contain divine knowledge, they were not free from human greed and corruption of thought. Undoubtedly, the Upanishads are great books of wisdom. However, all Upanishads are not equal in importance. Some of them contain profound wisdom and some are mere copies and compilations of existing truths. Even in the major Upanishads you will find many hymns that are superstitious or socially repulsive to an educated mind. Therefore, you have to be careful which Upanishads you choose for your study and what you may say about them in public. << >>

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