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Yoga Guru Shrii Anandamurtii’s contributions to psychology and mental health

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By Dr Steven Landau, USA

Dr Steven Landau

As a yoga and spiritual Guru, Anandamurtijii had a natural interest in controlling people’s minds, and in helping them to control their own minds. As such, he created many methods of leading people to liberation and health, both physically and spiritually. It is well known and established in the scientific literature that employing the techniques found in yoga and meditation are effective in controlling symptoms of anxiety and depression. A few of these will be discussed here.

Primary among his techniques are the use of mantra. It is said that mantra is that collection of sounds which lead to liberation. Anandamurtijii made liberal use of mantra, both for meditation upon the Supreme, providing individuals with Is’t’a’ mantras suited to their personal sam’skaras, Guru mantra to help them detach themselves from actions and the result of actions, Bath mantra to help them recognize the value provided by ancestors and rishis (seers and inventors), and Baba Nam Kevalam mantra to help people achieve bliss while singing and dancing.

Anandamurti also revived the spirit of dance in the psychophysiologic development of the personality. In Lalita Marmika, the arms are upraised in spiritual exaltation and the toes are tapped rhythmically to connect the brain with the earth and the body. It is recognized widely that physical postures alter the psychic flow, and Lalita Marmika is no exception. He also connected movement with spiritual and psychic ideation in the development of Tandava, Shiva’s Tantric dance of bravery, in which he combined fearful objects like snakes and skulls with symbols of bravery like knives and swords to give people control of their fear tendencies while doing a vigorous jumping dance that eliminated any possibility of the fear physiology from taking root in the psyche.

Anandamurtiji divided the mind operationally into three major segments. The first, and crudest, is found in very undeveloped animals and plants, and is known as Citta, or mental plate. This layer records impulses and sensations, and does not process them much. It is similar to monitor screen on a computer. The second, more inner segment, is called Aham’tattva, and is known as Doer – I, or the sense of the ability to do things. It is similar to what is known as ego. It processes information, and experiences the results of good or bad actions. It is similar to the processor unit in the computer. The deeper level is called Mahattattva, or Knower – I, which basically has the sense of existence. This is similar to the memory storage and operating system in the computer. Deeper to that is the soul, or Atman, which is omni-telepathic and is connected to all the other segments operationally, but does actually nothing itself. It is necessary for all the rest to be substantiated. It is similar in this respect to the person operating the computer.

Chief among his contributions is the notion of Kos’as, the layers of the mind. These are felt to be largely a part of the Citta. They were previously proposed by Patanjali, with slightly different terminology,  and made a bit more subtle by Anandamurtijii. He included the body itself as the Annamaya (food based) kos’a, recognizing the importance of the physical body on the mind, and recommending sattvic diet and asanas to control the emotions. Next was the Kamamaya (composed of desire) Kos’a, which he dubbed the conscious mind, and is that portion of the mind which focuses upon external realities. This Kos’a is purified with the help of Yama and Niyama. Why to purify this and other Kos’as? It is to experience the Bliss of the Self within.

Next Kos’a is Manomaya Kos’a, dubbed the “subconscious” mind (bearing in mind that Western psychologists call this the “conscious” mind. Manomaya Kos’a is that layer within which rational thoughts occur, and memories are projected. It is also called the “subtle” mind. It is a level where people spend much of their time when their eyes are closed and they are thinking and planning.

Next is Atimanas Kos’a, wherein dreams and sam’skaras are created and stored, and wherein intuition is developed. The notion of sam’skaras requires definition here, because they are a unit of karmic reaction to prior actions. They are habits, or tendencies, which influence thoughts and future actions, voluntary and involuntary. The Sam’skaras are “burned” or expiated, by dint of Sadhana, dream work, and physically undergoing the reactions of actions so that the person learns the lesson imparted by them and achieves a measure of liberation with each sam’skara burnt. Creativity also develops in the realm of Atimanas Kos’a. It is considered to be the beginning of the causal mind.

Next is Vijinananamaya Kosa, wherein wisdom and detachment (vairagya) are developed. This layer doesn’t contain much detail. Rather, it is the perception of patterns that lead one to make proper decisions about life, death, and relationships. Similar to the immune system in the human body, and located or associated with the fourth cakra, it has associations with the thymus gland which helps to distinguish between that which is “me” and that which is “not me” and between that which is real and that which is not real.

Finally we get to the Hiranmaya Kos’a, the “golden” layer, which separates the individual from the Cosmic mind, and is the last layer to be resolved into the Cosmic bliss.

Mentally, attachments keep people from actualizing themselves. Accordingly, Anandamurtiji created numerous organizations within Ananda Marga and outside of it, so that people’s minds would be continuously occupied in constructive activities and not focusing on the lower propensities like fear, shame, hatred, lust, etc. It is known that “the idle mind is the Devil’s workshop” and Anandamurtiji gave people no scope for idleness. “Remember, you have no scope for rest until every creature in the universe accepts the tenets of Ananda Marga.” Accordingly social service activities of all types and development of new society structures became paramount, along with strict guidelines on morality. As we know from life coaching experience, rendering selfless service is a sure cure for depression, and so providing so many avenues for service, Anandamurtiijii has taken away a major cause of mental illness.

Sam’skaras deserve their own discussion. They are a distortion of the mental plate in one way or another, requiring a readjustment to normal values. They can be inborn, due to past lives actions. They can be imposed, due to society’s pressures to conform in particular ways, and they can be acquired due to voluntary actions in this life itself. People naturally want to be free of limiting beliefs and limiting sam’skaras, and so by experiencing them while doing service, they learn their lessons and become free and happy.

Happiness merits another discussion. Anandamurtijii defines happiness as a state in which the mental waves of a person match the waves of the impulses and sensations coming in from the outside, or from the person’s own mind. Unhappiness is when those waves don’t match. Spirituality is the approach to reality in which one recognizes that those incoming waves are actually Cosmic in origin, which lessens their impact on the psyche and the person is left with a peaceful mind.

Asanas are also part of the formula for mental health. Anandamurtijii has described 50 vrittis, or propensities, characteristic of human beings. Each of them is considered to have a sound, or acoustic root associate, and each is located in one of the 6 major cakras. By using asanas to press on those cakras, one can stimulate or diminish the effect of one or several of those vrittis. For example, shyness is characterized by the 3rd or manipura cakra, and asanas like peacock (mayurasana) may be thought to help with this vritti when it is found in excess.

The teachings of Yama and Niyama go a long way towards mental peace. Learning about santos’a (contentedness) as a practice helps people relax in any circumstance. Following Shaoca (cleanliness and purity) helps people in confusion once they clean up their act, physically and mentally. Svadhyaya brings a person into daily contact with the spiritual Master who wrote the book, thereby elevating the practitioner by direct association with higher ideals. Iishvara Pranidhana is the basic meditation method by which with the help of mantra and focusing on a person’s Ist’a cakra, the mind becomes purified of extraneous thoughts and peacefulness and good concentration ensue.

The Social Norms provide a means for easy interaction between people and things, and grease the wheels for a pleasant society (Please see below).

The 15 Shiilas mark a firm stance on moral and ethical behavior, and those that follow them are blessed and at peace with themselves and others.

Below please find abbreviated versions of Yama and Niyama, along with 15 Shiilas and the Social Norms, the following of which enhances one’s existence and psychic balance immensely. They are all found in a small book called Ananda Marga Caryacarya Part II, which was designed to be small enough to be kept in one’s vest pocket for easy reference. I recommend memorizing the codes as well as the whole book, since it has so many guidelines for peaceful and graceful living. Among the guidelines that I like best are:

“ Bear in mind that you have a duty towards – indeed, you owe a debt to – every creature of this universe, but towards you, no one has any duty; from others, nothing is due.” This helps prevent the “entitlement attitude” so prevalent among dissatisfied people, and helps engender the “gratitude attitude” that leads to lasting happiness.

Yama has five parts –(i) ahiḿsá, (ii) satya, (iii) asteya, (iv) Brahmacarya, v) aparigraha.

(i) Ahiḿsá: Not to inflict pain or hurt on anybody by thought, word or action, is Ahiḿsá.

(ii) Satya: The benevolent use of mind and words is Satya.

(iii) Asteya: To renounce the desire to acquire or retain the wealth of others is Asteya. Asteya means “ non-stealing.”

(iv) Brahmacarya: To keep the mind always absorbed in Brahma is Brahmacarya.

(v) Aparigraha: To renounce everything excepting the necessities for the maintenance of the body is known as Aparigraha.

Niyama has five parts – (i) shaoca, (ii) santośa, (iii) tapah, (iv) svádhyáya, (v) Iishvara prańidhána.

(i) Shaoca is of two kinds – purity of the body and of the mind. The methods for mental purity are kindliness towards all creatures, charity, working for the welfare of others and being dutiful.

(ii) Santośa Contentment with things received unasked-for is santośa. It is essential to try to be cheerful always.

(iii) Tapah: To undergo physical hardship to attain the objective is known as Tapah. Upavása (fasting), serving the guru (preceptor), serving father and mother, and the four types of yajiṋa, namely, pitr yajiṋa, nr yajiṋa, bhúta yajiṋa and adhyátma yajiṋa (service to ancestors, to humanity, to lower beings and to Consciousness), are the other limbs of tapah. For students, study is the main tapah.

(iv) Svádhyáya: The study, with proper understanding, of scriptures and philosophical books is svádhyáya. The philosophical books and scriptures of Ananda Marga are Ánanda Sútram and Subháśita Saḿgraha (all parts), respectively. Svádhyáya is also done by attending dharmacakra (group meditation) regularly and having satsauṋga (spiritual company), but this kind of svádhyáya is intended only for those who are not capable of studying in the above manner.

(v) Iishvara prańidhána: This is to have firm faith in Iishvara (the Cosmic Controller) in pleasure and pain, prosperity and adversity, and to think of oneself as the instrument, and not the wielder of the instrument, in all the affairs of life.

Paiṋcadasha Shiila (The Fifteen Rules of Behaviour)

1. Forgiveness.
2. Magnanimity of mind.
3. Perpetual restraint on behaviour and temper.
4. Readiness to sacrifice everything of individual life for
5. All-round self-restraint.
6. Sweet and smiling behaviour.
7. Moral courage.
8. Setting an example by individual conduct before asking anybody
to do the same.
9. Keeping aloof from criticizing others, condemning others,
mudslinging and all sorts of groupism.
10. Strict adherence to the principles of Yama and Niyama.
11. Due to carelessness, if any mistake has been committed
unknowingly or unconsciously, one must admit it immediately and
ask for punishment.
12. Even while dealing with a person of inimical nature, one must
keep oneself free from hatred, anger and vanity.
13. Keeping oneself aloof from talkativeness.
14. Obedience to the structural code of discipline.
15. Sense of responsibility.

Social Norms

1. You should offer thanks to someone from whom you are taking service (by saying, “Thank you”).

2. You should promptly reply to someone’s namaskára in a similar way.

3. One should receive or offer something with the following mudrá: extend the right hand, touching the right elbow with the left hand.

4. One should stand up if any respectable elder person comes up to him/her.

5. When yawning, cover your mouth, and at the same time make a snapping sound with your fingers.

6. When talking, always use respectful words about someone who is absent.

7. Before you sneeze, cover your mouth with handkerchief or hand.

8. After cleaning the nasal duct, wash your hands. When distributing food, if you sneeze or cough, using your hand, wash your hands immediately.

9. After passing stool and using water, wash your hands with soap, rubbing the soap in the right hand first, and then cleaning the left hand with the right.

10. Before you come up to people who are engaged in talking, seek their permission.

11. You should not engage in private (organizational) talk in a train, bus or other public transportation.

12. Do not take another’s article without his or her prior consent.

13. Do not use anything that belongs to someone else.

14. When talking, do not hit anyone with harsh or pinching words: say what you want to say indirectly.

15. Do not indulge yourself in criticizing others’ faults and defects.

16. When you are going to a meeting with office personnel, you should seek prior permission, or send your identity card, or get verbal permission.

17. You should refrain from reading the personal letters of others.

18. When in conversation, give scope to others to express their views.

19. When you are listening to someone, make a mild sound now and then to indicate that you are listening attentively.

20. When speaking with someone, do not turn your eyes or face elsewhere.

21. Do not sit in a “zamindary posture” and dance your feet in a silly manner.

22. If someone you are going to speak with is writing at the time, do not look at his or her writing paper.

23. Do not put your fingers in your mouth and take them out repeatedly, and never cut your fingernails with your teeth.

24. During conversation, if you fail to understand something, humbly say, “Excuse me, please.”

25. When someone is inquiring about your health and welfare, you should offer your cordial thanks to the person.

26. One should not go to another’s house or call after 9:00 P.M.

27. If you must convey something negative to someone, you should use the words “Excuse me” and then start your talk.

28. Before you take a meal, you should wash your hands and feet.

29. If you want to take honey, you should take it with water.

30. Do not talk standing before someone who is eating.

31. Do not sneeze or cough when you are at the dining table.

32. Do not offer a food dish to anyone with your left hand.

33. Do not take a bath or shower, or drink water, from a standing position.

34. Do not pass urine or stool from a standing position.

35. When your left nostril (id́á nád́ii) is active you should take liquid food, and take solid food when the right nostril (piuṋgalá nád́ii) is predominant.

36. When your id́á nád́ii is working predominantly, you should utilize the time for your sádhaná.

37. You should offer a drinking glass touching only its lower portion.

38. When you are serving drinking water to someone, first wash the glass with the help of your fingers, then without the help of your fingers, then fill it with water.

39. If you are sweating profusely at the time of taking food, you should remove the sweat with your handkerchief.

Finally, we note Anandamurtijii’s contribution of Microvita theory, by which he envisions and perceives living microscopic and even subatomic particles which are the “mysterious emanations of Cosmic Factor” and which Professor Uttam Pati believes are the links between the subtle world of the mind and the cruder world of the brain.

This being said, I hope and trust that your mental well-being and those of others will be constantly enhanced.

Yours in Service,

Acarya Pashupati Steven Landau MD

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