in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Full Circle with Rabindranath Tagore

I have just completed a short article for Arvind Radhakrishnan for ‘The Bangalore Review’. He hopes it will appear in March. The title is Psychotherapy and Counselling: Pseudo-Science or Pseudo-Myth? and I take up some of the themes of my Indian lectures, in particular how psychology takes its understanding from its conception of psyche, especially in the relationship between mind and body. Drawing on the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein I argue that it is more fruitful to see psychology as means of ‘seeing the foundation of possible buildings’ rather than appealing to the pseudo-objectivity of science. However the greatest pleasure in writing it for me was to return to the writings of Rabindranath Tagore. In the first article I wrote for an Indian publication (IIC) almost twenty years ago I concluded with the Nobel laureate’s words. Returning to his last lectures for this article I was struck once again by how pertinent and prescient his comments written in 1941, at the age of eighty, are. I am posting the final paragraphs of the latest article here and conclude with one of my favourite verses from Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’. I hope you enjoy them.






‘In this respect Wittgenstein saw the value of Freud’s contribution to our understanding of the mind being not the observations of a pseudo-scientist but of someone who ‘changes the perspective’ of their interlocutor:


When a dream is interpreted we might say that it is fitted into a context in which it ceases to be puzzling. In a sense the dreamer re-dreams his dream in surroundings such that its aspect changes

In considering what a dream is, it is important to consider what happens to it, the way its aspect changes when it is brought into relation with other things remembered, for instance. (LC: 45-46)


Following this thought-way, a key point I would like to conclude this short article is that we should view the practice of spiritual direction, counselling and therapy as unlike other modes of healing, in particular, scientific based modes. There is a tendency today to relate counselling to scientific and observable, quantifiable and empirical ‘outcomes’. As Robert Johnson says:


When people enter therapy today with (a hunger for the divine) many healthcare professionals try to talk them out of their experiences; too many mainstream therapists pathologise the client’s dreams and visions and make every attempt to get this neurotic individual back into the humdrum world of so-called ‘normality’. (Johnson 1996:13)


I would argue such a position is doomed to failure as therapy and counselling are themselves modes of operation other than and in many ways alien to the operations of the dividing and cutting cognitive mind. They are more at home in the unheimlich – that which is ‘not at home’ – that which is ushered in by the strange and inexplicable phenomena from the ‘meadows of the underworld’. In this respect, I would argue, the successful therapist or spiritual director is closer to that of the artist and poet than to the scientist or analytical investigator. Freud, and Jung understood this despite Freud’s attempts to put his nascent discipline on a more ‘objective’ and ‘scientific’ footing. This seems to have wrong-footed later commentators. With the benefit of hindsight we could conclude by saying that counselling and psychotherapy owe more to the realm of myth-making than scientific observation and how we understand that will depend on our view of the value of mythos in a world increasingly obsessed by the emergent dominance of the logos.

As the West seeks to recover mythos through the arts of psychotherapy and counselling my own hope would be that India, with her rich traditions of mythos, will be able to preserve this perspective for future generations. Twenty years ago I concluded an article for an Indian journal with the words of the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. In one of his last articles, written in 1941 and called ‘Crisis in Civilisation’ he wrote:


The spectre of a new barbarity strides over Europe, teeth bare and claws unconcealed in an orgy of terror… the spirit of violence dormant perhaps in the psychology of the West has roused itself and is ready to desecrate the spirit of Man. (Tagore 1961:358)


As I return to Bangalore and see the spirit of innovation, industry and enterprise fill the city I am delighted for the prosperity it will bring my friends here. However, like Tagore, I fear the ‘spirit of violence’ dormant in the calculative role of the logos. Mythos and logos both are needed for the true development of the human spirit. Tagore’s final hope was that ‘a new dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises’ (Tagore 1961:359). As India integrates the insights of Western psychology with its own mythic systems my own hope would be that Indian intellectual life will preserve both mythos and logos in the future psychological paths it undertakes.’






Have you not heard his silent steps? He comes, comes, ever comes.

Every moment and every age, every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes.

Many a song have I sung in many a mood of mind, but all their notes have always proclaimed, `He comes, comes, ever comes.'

In the fragrant days of sunny April through the forest path he comes, comes, ever comes.

In the rainy gloom of July nights on the thundering chariot of clouds he comes, comes, ever comes.

In sorrow after sorrow it is his steps that press upon my heart, and it is the golden touch of his feet that makes my joy to shine.


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