Asakti-Anasakti: A Model of Mental Health

Dr L. I. Bhushan, Professor and Head, Dept. of Psychology, Bhagalpur University

Sound mental health is basic for amicable adjustment and satisfaction in life. The ancient science of yoga is primarily a science of mind and consciousness. According to Patanjali, the primary aim of yoga is to restrict modifications or tendencies of chitta or mind: “Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah”. It provides mastery over all the stages of consciousness and makes us spectators of our own experiences.

Integration of body, mind and spirit

Yoga does not believe in a dichotomy of mental and physical health. On the contrary, it holds that human happiness depends on physical fitness, mental agility and spiritual verve. It aims at developing a balanced and integrated personality of which body, mind and spirit are integral components. Western psychology accepts the importance of the first two, but rejects the third, considering it a philosophical and mystical concept. But this is closing the eyes to reality. The three are closely interlinked. To emphasise one aspect and ignore the other makes a person unbalanced. Ignoring the spiritual aspect, in particular, has led to much emotional illness in developed Western society.

Nowadays, modern psychology has also accepted the significance of the self and has started studying how to improve the quality of life. Swami Satyananda (1984) has rightly said: “Those who consider mundane and spiritual life as two separate compartments, do not talk about the truth.” According to the yogic view, the mind manifests through internal and external bodily acts, but it is merely an instrument of the atman. Yoga provides techniques for establishing harmony between the three, resulting in physical and mental well-being and higher spiritual awareness. Thus it presents a wider spectrum than the modern view of psychology.

The real objective of yoga is to attain peace and tranquillity within. With this aim it is not only curative and preventive but also a promotive science. It provides cures for a number of chronic physical, psychological and psychosomatic diseases. Findings have shown that yoga practices serve as effective therapy to cure hypertension, anxiety and psychoneurotic symptoms (Kocher,1972; Naug,1975; Vishal, Singh, and Madhu, 1987). Coster (1957) has made a comparison between yoga and Western psychology. Akhilananda (1952) and Swami Satyananda (1983) have discussed in great length the yogic management of mental health. Datey et al (1969), Deshmukh (1971) and Goyeche (1979) reported, on the basis of their clinical and experimental findings, that yogic relaxation practices were beneficial and useful in reducing stress and anxiety and managing psychoneurotic, psychotic and psychosomatic disorders. Robert (1989) and David et al (1989) have found relaxation and meditation to be good therapeutic techniques for the management of stress and anxiety. A few comparative studies have shown meditation and yogic therapeutic techniques to be better and more efficacious than psychoanalysis or behaviour therapy.

Basic postulates

One important reason for the superiority of yogic techniques in managing mental health is that they are not only curative, but also preventive and promotive. On the other hand, one serious limitation of psychoanalysis is that it was born in the clinics of Vienna. While its postulates and methods were apt in understanding mental patients and making them normal again, it was beyond their conception that there could be an evolution of personality from the normal to the supernormal level. This is well-explained in the promotive aspect of yoga.

Freud's postulate regarding the topographical aspect of mind was also better conceived over 2,000 years ago by Patanjali. He not only explained the nature of the unconscious, but also emphasised that the small area of consciousness could be widened and, through Kundalini Yoga, the whole mind could be transformed into a superconscious mind. In yoga there are detailed descriptions of such techniques which may awaken the psychic centres and ultimately the superconscious mind.

Psychodynamic aspect

According to psychoanalysis, the psychodynamic aspect of the mind consists of the interaction between the forces of the id, ego and superego. The conflicting forces of the id and superego continuously struggle for supremacy. Under these circumstances optimum ego strength is a must to counterbalance the forces of the id and superego and to resolve inner conflicts and keep the person adjusted to his life situations. If it does not succeed then either the id or the superego becomes dominant and powerful. In either case the person becomes maladjusted or abnormal.

If the id becomes very powerful, it makes the person impulsive, bound by desires, uninhibited and even a criminal or socially pathological character. On the other hand, if the superego becomes very strong, the person becomes inhibited and represses his needs and desires, which leads to emotional disturbance, fear, anxiety, depression and other neurotic and psychotic symptoms. Thus, in either case, he becomes maladjusted and a problem either for society or for himself. The ego provides the sense of physical reality and that sense (according to Freud and his associates) is devoid of any moral and ethical value and keeps the person adjusted to his environment.

But what happens when the ego becomes extremely dominant? Psychoanalysis is silent about it. According to yoga psychology, this leads to ahamkara – feeling of pride. The dominant ego manifests in different forms as assertion, power displays, arrogance, violence and other compensatory acts and behaviours. In short, this again leads to social maladjustment and related problems. So, yoga advocates egolessness of mind which is devoid of the feeling of ahamkara. Egolessness does not lead to lack of self-confidence, rather it increases confidence and provides satisfaction and internal bliss called ananda. A person possessing such a mind neither hankers after fulfilment of his desires and worldly gains nor curses his lot for unethical desires/feelings, becoming repressive. His ego is not devoid of social and moral values either. He acts with a sense of duty and dedication without caring for an additional incentive of reward or avoidance of punishment. Such a person attains a mental state of tranquility (sthir buddhi). He is dutiful but devoid of excitement either in pleasure or sorrow (Gita – Chapter 2:63).

Such a mind is free from tension, anxiety and negative emotions. Without running after material gains, experiencing delight in achievement and frustration in failures, he goes on performing his duties, sharing love and pleasure with people around him, and enjoying a life of internal bliss. He is influenced neither by praise or criticism. To understand the process of attaining mental health, let us look into the theoretical framework of asakti-anasakti as explained in yoga.

Asakti-anasakti: theoretical framework

Asakti (attachment) and anasakti (detachment) are the bi-polar points of the same personality dimension. Everyone possesses a certain degree of attachment and detachment. No one is 100% 'attached' or 100% 'detached'. Like any bi-polar personality characteristic individuals differ in its magnitude. Some are high in attachment (and low in detachment) while others may be high in detachment (and low in attachment). In most other cases we find a mixture of the two manifested in ambivalent behaviour.

Taking attachment and detachment as the two extreme points on a continuum, we can define the construct operationally and identify who is an attached or detached person. Attachment-detachment manifests in a variety of thinking, feeling and action patterns. This would be based on the description given in the Bhagavad Gita, a classical literature on yoga psychology of which a number of good commentaries are now available. Attachment arouses the idea of possession, the sense of ownership. It gives rise to dependence on attachment to objects for deriving some excitement and pleasure. Naturally a person high in attachment becomes a victim of his expectations and their fulfilment, circumstances and events. He cannot escape the torments of victory and defeat. Like a pendulum he swings from elation to sorrow.

Detachment, on the other hand, develops internal freedom. “It frees you from the fetters which bind you to the ordinary plane of awareness. A man who is detached may enjoy the pleasures of life, acquire wealth and status, raise a family that he loves, control a vast business or even an empire. However, he is never dependent on them. He enjoys everything but as the master and not the slave. He develops an inner freedom or independence and remains unaffected by success and failure. Detachment, therefore, is an ability to remain unaffected in the face of the trials and tribulations of life (Saraswati, 1984).

Detachment does not mean a negation of love. On the other hand, it is actually an extension of the limited relationship of love without an expectation. A person who is really detached loves all without discrimination, without considering who is his near relation, friend or enemy. He loves all without involvement and expectation. The love of a detached person creates a supremacy of benevolence in his character. In Indian psychology, the term moha which literally means 'narrowing the area of consciousness' is used as a synonym for asakti. So, the higher one is in attachment, the narrower the area of intimacies, relationships and so-called love. On the other hand, the higher one is in detachment, the greater the area of oneness and love.

According to Swami Satyananda (1984), in order to stabilise the oscillating tendencies of the mind, instead of renouncing attachment a person should gradually widen the area of love and oneness. In the first stage he should love people with whom he is not concerned. In the second stage he should practise love and doing good to those people who neither like nor dislike him. Finally he should start loving those people who hate him. This is an expression of true detachment – loving people without expectation and apprehension or fear of being abused and without being affected by the outcome of the loving behaviour.

So, detachment is not turning away from a particular person or object, rather it is a process of developing a feeling of oneness or attachment with everybody without expectations and pride. This is called the practice of shiva bhavana and maitri bhavana about which detailed discussion is available in the Yoga Vashishta, and which have been found of significant psychotherapeutic value (Shukla, 1962). But the greatest obstacle in the practice of anasakti is one's ego dominance or ahamkara which gives a false sense of pride and prestige and which is often hurt by the behaviour of others. This is why, as stated earlier, yoga aims at developing egolessness of mind.

Towards a comprehensive model of mental health

From the description given above it is evident that the concept of asakti-anasakti provides a good theoretical framework to develop a comprehensive model of mental health. Asakti leads to anxiety, depression, fear and insecurities which come in the broad category that yoga calls klesha. With gradual reduction in the strength of asakti, one gets rid of these negative emotions and psychological problems and acquires mental peace and sound mental health. Asakti manifests in the three important psychological aspects of raga, dwesha and ahamkara. Attraction towards selected persons and objects with expectations and ego involvement is raga. Similarly, a feeling of hatred and a tendency to cause harm is dwesha.

Raga and dwesha are very similar to the love and hate instincts postulated by Freud, with one difference, that they are not supposed to be instinctive and inborn. Dwesha may be against obstacles to raga objects or against the raga objects themselves (if they go contrary to expectation). Attachment necessarily includes the perception and feeling of possessiveness. This gives rise to the third psychological dimension, i.e. ahamkara, or pride of ownership or being the doer (or controller of the fate of others).

In the classical literature of yoga psychology we find descriptions of the psychological and behavioural manifestations of raga, dwesha and ahamkara. Possessiveness, fear of loss, perception of raga objects as unique, frequent expectations of reward, ego involvement and identification with the raga objects are some of the important characteristics of a person high in asakti. Important manifestations of dwesha include withdrawal, negative perception and attitude towards dwesha objects, display of power/authority, aggressive behaviour and violence etc. Ahamkara results in a high need for recognition, egoism, arrogance, and narrowing of the area of oneness. Fear, anxiety and insecurity seem to be at the root of asakti and all the three aspects of raga, dwesha and ahamkara. On the contrary, important psychological manifestations of anasakti include task involvement, widening the area of consciousness, sama bhava, and egolessness of mind. A person high in anasakti is dedicated to his duty and enjoys doing work without caring for any additional incentive. He is self-confident, but does not carry pride in his performance.

The description provides a base on which a comprehensive indigenous model of mental health can be developed. There is a necessity to factor analyse these dimensions and examine empirically which of the factors go together to constitute the asakti-anasakti dimension. Developing an inventory to measure all aspects of asakti-anasakti is the need of the hour. This will serve as a useful tool in action research and studies concerning mental health.


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