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Year : 2010  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 77-81  Table of Contents     

Human nature: Indian perspective revisited

Editor, IPJ, India

Date of Web Publication28-Nov-2011

Correspondence Address:
Kalpana Srivastava
Scientist 'F', Department of Psychiatry, Armed Forces Medical College, Pune - 411 040, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-6748.90335

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How to cite this article:
Srivastava K. Human nature: Indian perspective revisited. Ind Psychiatry J 2010;19:77-81

How to cite this URL:
Srivastava K. Human nature: Indian perspective revisited. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2010 [cited 2022 Jul 7];19:77-81. Available from: https://www.industrialpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2010/19/2/77/90335

"The end of all the scientific pursuit and endeavor is to know our own self."

Human existence on earth, as per the Hindu mythology, dates back to over 8 million years. These years have been divided into four "yugas," viz. Satyuga (5.6 million years), Treta (1.4 million years), Dwapar (4.68 lakh years) and the present yug "Kalyug" that started approximately 5000 years ago. Ancient Indian literature was considered to be written around 5000-1000 BC. Ancient Indian literature was considered to be written around 5000-1000 BC(1). [1]

Indian thinkers placed enough emphasis on consciousness as the primary reality. This also led to the conjecture that first and foremost, we are conscious self, one with Brahman. The proof in psychology was considered to be subjective experience. The Indian tradition has approached the problem by focusing on the quality, purity, and concentration of the antahkarana, the inner instrument of knowledge used by the person who has experience. The Indian tradition has developed a plethora of methods to enhance the quality and reliability of inner observation. The relook in Indian conceptualization of human nature reveals interesting observations about the doctrines of mind, personality and self. Indian writing has placed enough emphasis on the positive view of human nature. The human nature is viewed to be having strong inwardly character. Human nature is kaleidoscopic; this has been amply stated by both eastern and western scientists. [2] Western literature referred to experiences of self nearly 6000 years ago; the experiences during sleep and dreams were considered to be wandering, shadow-like entities, which in Shamanism came to be known as "spirits." This idea of a wandering spirit capable of ethereal travel into and outside the body has existed among cultures until 8 th -5 th century BC. Homer explained the presence of these entities, i.e. spirit, as the "soul." Interestingly, the location of these spirits was considered to be head by Homer. [3],[4],[5]

In Indian scriptures, the roots of psychology can be traced back to the vast storehouse of ancient religious and philosophical text. The analysis of various sources like Atharveda, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata and others reveals the fine aspect of human nature. Ancient Indian thinkers were characteristically synthetic in their views. According to Indian conception, human nature is not the accidental offshoot of an unconscious nature, but has its root like every other thing in the being of an absolute self. [6]

Transpersonal psychology as a developing branch, also referred to as fourth force, has found in the Indian tradition a significant body of knowledge on transcendental dimension of human nature. [7] Tart [8] has referred to ancient traditions like Buddhism, Christian mysticism, Hinduism, Sufism and others as spiritual psychologies. He is categorical in asserting that modern psychology developed in western context has nothing to offer about self and one has to look toward these spiritual psychologies to fill the void. Thus, transpersonalists have found Indian wisdom literature like Veda, Upanishads, Yoga Sutra and others as spiritual psychologies and also as consciousness disciplines [9] which offer insight into farther reaches of human nature. The thought has close affinity to that of Maslow, [10] who referred to the transcendental dimension of human existence. Indian tradition has much to offer by way of theoretical models and practical techniques in enhancing human potential and optimal well-being. In fact, the Holistic Therapy concept of body-mind-spirit has been influenced by the Indian tradition, in particular by Ayurveda and Yoga.

   Evolution of ATMAN Concept in Indian Psychology Top

The analysis of the ultimate reality can be traced back to the upanishadic terms of Brahman and Atman. Brahman in Upanishads meant "prayer," being derived from a root (brh) meaning "to grow" or to burst forth. Brahman as prayer is what manifests itself in audible speech. The philosophic significance it bears in the Upanishads is the primary cause of the universe that bursts forth spontaneously in the form of nature as a whole and not as mere speech.

Atman originally meant "breath" and then came to be applied to whatever constitutes the essential part of man, his self or soul. The distinctive meaning of Brahman is the ultimate source of outer world while that of Atman is the inner self of man. Though they seem to be having independent significance, they were used interchangeably. The source of the central essence of the individual is distinguished from the physical form leading to the development of the word Atman as the meaning of soul or self. Atman as the soul or self is the inmost truth of man; the method of unveiling the truth was subjective and often it was based on introspection. The concept of universal consciousness was universalized, i.e. the universe was described as parts of purusa or a giant man. To exemplify few, the departed soul was addressed in the funeral hymns as "let thin eye go to the sun, thy breath, to the wind, etc." The notion of parallelism between the individual and the world runs throughout the literature of the later vedic period. Atman as the self or inmost truth of man becomes the cosmic soul or self. The concept of unity is so wonderfully integrated into the upanishadic teaching that is expressed in the great saying (Mahavaka) like "I am Brahman0" or by the equation Brahman-Atman. The individual as well as the world is the manifestation of the same reality and both are therefore at bottom one. There is continuity between nature and man. The Vedantic psychology asserts that Brahman is the innermost universal being characterized by pure consciousness (Chit) and Atman (the self) is the innermost individual being characterized by individual consciousness (Chitta). The essence of personality is something beyond body, life, mind and intellect. It is Atman, the self. Its chief attribute is consciousness. The self exists before, in and after the various states of consciousness: wakeful, dream and sleep. Denial of consciousness means denial of everything else. Hence, mind and self are not identical. The self is knower (kshetrajna), the seer (drasta), the witness (sakshi), and the immutable (kutastha). The composite whole of chit and achit (consciousness and matter), kshetrajna and kshetra (knower and known), karta and karana (doer and its instrument) is the total personality called Jiva and Jivatman - the embodied self. Jiva (the individual), Purusha (the person), Samsari (the worldly person), Vijnanaghana/Vijnanatma, Prajna, Atma/Pratyagatma, Sariri, Karta, Bhokta, and Kshetrajna are synonymous.

This concept of manas had existed in the upanishadic teaching as cosmic soul. The Upanishads use two other terms for the soul, viz. bhokta (experiment) and karta (agent), they together emphasize the psychological or conscious aspect of the activity. The principle of unconscious activity is termed prana and that of conscious activity is termed as manas. The conscious side activity of soul is carried out by the manas with the aid of the 10 indriyas: 5 of knowledge (cakus, srota, tvak, ghrana, touch, smell and flavor) and 5 of action (vak, pana, pada, payu and upastha, which are respectively the organs of speech, holding, moving, excretion and generation).

Cognition: In Indian psychology, the root of the word "mind" was originally used in the sense of thinking and that of the "soul" in the sense of a substantial principle different from it, of which the physical body and development are manifestations.

   Mind in Upanishads Top

The Aitareya Upanishad gives the following as the names of manas: samjnana, ajana, vjana, prajnana, medhasdtisttidhrti, mati, manias, giti, smuti, sankalp, kratu, asu, kama and vasa. The cognitive aspect of human nature was quantified in these descriptions. The functions of manas may be translated as to determine knowledge, feeling of lordship, differential cognition and intelligence. Besides the word manas, the word citta is also used in this Upanishad. Chitta is what understands the pragmatic value of things.

   Mind in Advaita Vedanta Top

Mind in the Advaita is described as the internal organ (antahkarna). The external organs are instruments of either action or perception. Hands, feet, etc. are organs of activity; eye, ear, etc. are organs of sense perception. The five sense organs have as their objects, sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Mind is capable of establishing contact with all the external organs. The entire apparatus of the internal organs consists of four divisions: manas, buddhi, ahanakara and citta. The Advaitins often include ahankar in manas and citta in buddhi, and divide antahkarna into budddhi and manas only.

   Mind in the Purva Mimansa Top

The theory of mind according to Purva mimansa is different from Advaita. The two leading exponents of the mimansa are Prabhakara and Kumarila. According to Prabhakara, manas is a substance (dravya), atomic (anu), eternal and extremely mobile. Kumarila, like Prabhakara, treats manas as an organ (indriya). It is never operative apart from the body. Advaita treats antehkarna as being composed of four divisions; the mimansa as a whole treats it as being composed of only one entity manas.

   Mind in the Samkhya and Allied Schools Top

The Samkhya account of mind is akin to that of the Advaita; mind is called antahkarna or inner organ and consists of only three divisions: buddhi, ahankara, and manas. Manas is called an indriya or organ, the number of indriyas thereby becoming 11 instead of 10. It has a special function to perform, namely, perceiving sukha (pleasure) and dukkha (pain).

Atman or purusa is different from antahkarana. It is pure cit or consciousness. Antahkarna is due to the reflection of Atman in prakrti, which is composed of three gunas (constituents): sattva (purity), rajas (activity) and tamas (insensibility). Out of prakrti comes mahat or buddhi; out of buddhi comes ahankara; out of ahankara comes manas and 10 organs of sense and action.

Manas is regarded as both an organ of sense and an organ of action, for the reason that it directs the activities of both kinds of organs. All these mental processes, i.e. buddhi, ahankara, manas and the senses can operate either simultaneously or in succession.

   Mind-in the Nyay and Vaisesika School Top

Atman, according to the Upanishads, is sat (existence), cit (consciousness) and anand (bless). So, every form of happiness or pleasure, the Advaita maintains, should be derived from the ananda of Atman.

According to Nyayavaisesika, Atman has 14 qualities: buddhi (knowledge), sukha (pleasure), dukha (pain), iccha (desire), dvesa (hatred), yatna (striving), sankhya (number), pramiti (size), prathaktva (distinctness), amyoga (contact), vibhya (separation), bhavana (imagination), dharma (merit) and adharma (demerit).

Buddhist literature has no conception of manas apart from buddhi, citta, or vjnana. The concept of atman and pudgala are used interchangeably in Buddhist school of thought. It designates self with soul (atman). They regarded it as being composed of five skandhas (aggregates): rupshandha or the aggregate of matter, vednanshandha or the aggregate of concept, sanskaraskandha or the aggregate of latent forces like instincts third skandha "samjna" means perception or the capacity to conceptualize things, and vijnanaskandha refers to the aggregate of consciousness. Everything except rupshandha is having psychological component. Personality is viewed just as an aggregate of aggregates.

   Mind in Jainism Top

The concept of manas in Jainism is neither a single function nor a single entity. The name is given to two different

things - dravyamanas or substantial manas and bhavamanas or ideal manas. The former is the matter or pudgale and the latter is jnana or buddhi and so belongs to Atman. There is a material as well as spiritual manas. If we look at the analysis done by Indian authors, manas can be defined as a functional concept constituted by mood, thought, and intellect,

which are nicely amalgamated and synchronized and cannot function in isolation. They always function in unison. [11]

   Affect : Indian Perspective Top

Indigenous contribution theory in this sphere is the theory of rasa. Rasa is esthetic pleasure, which is said to be taken to the sublime bliss of God realization (Brahmasradesahodara). The Upanishads say that the nature of Braham is ananda (bliss).

The writers on alankara (rhetoric, poetics) follow the upanishadic view and say that rasa is one and is Braham. But it can take different forms, which are usually accepted as nine corresponding to nine bhavas (emotions or sentiments). They are sringara (love), una (heorism), karuna (pity), adhbuta (wonder), hasya (laughter), bhayanak (dread), bibhatsa (disgust), raudra (fury), and snata (quiet or peace). At their base lie the corresponding dominant feelings of rati (sexual craving), utsaha (energy), soka (sorrow), vismaya (astonishment), hasa (mirth), bhaya (fear), yugupsa (aversion), krodha (anger) and nirveda (self-disparagement). Besides the description of various rasas, they have been given different symbolic meanings in consonance with their respective nature. The furious, the terrible, the comic, the erotic, the pathetic, the horrible, the marvelous and the heroic are supposed to be red, black, white, dark gray, dark blue, orange and yellow, respectively.

Interestingly, pleasure (sukha), happiness (pitti), and bliss (ananda) are supposed to form an ascending series. The neutral feeling which characterizes the state of dispassion or indifference (vairagya) is necessary for attaining the highest condition of the mind or soul. Higher feelings are those connected with spiritual elevation, e.g. contentment, peace, magnanimity, love, kindness, humility, honesty, etc. and those proceeding from an enlightened interest in the well-being of fellow greatness; they are classified under the four forms: maξtre, karuna, mudita and upeksa. The training to master the feeling and achieving the higher goals was inherent in our system, which is time and again reflected in modern psychology under adaptability and emotional quotient.

   Conation : Indian Perspective Top

There are four ideals of life which prompt a man to act. They are dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (desire) and moksa (liberation). Though a big part of voluntary action is connected with the obeying of scriptural injunctions, performance of appointed duties are the cultivation of spiritual disciplines. Conation occurs in the whole range of behavior of human philosophy. Jainism gives the longest list of actions that men perform for their moral elevation or undoing.

   Types of Human Nature Top

Medical man undertook studies on human nature in terms of two main habits - the phthisis and apoplectic - or in terms of four humors, i.e. food, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Indian medical classification categorizes men according to the preponderance of vayu (mind), pitta (bile), and kapha (phlegm). The subsequent classification systems of Dr. Kretshmer and Dr. W Sheldon are equally comprehensive.

The Dharma Sastra has given a psycho-sociological scheme of classification in order to establish the fourfold social structure (catuvana) on the sattva, rajas, and tamas. Under the distinctive principle laws, karma and heredity are the determining factors in the development of human nature,

Caraka: The exponent of the Ayurveda system of medicine has analyzed the human constitution as a mind-body complex, with a view to discovering the etiology of bodily and mental diseases and their remedies.

Caraka's classification


  1. Brahmasattva type - Highly intellectual and moral
  2. Aryasattva type - Endowed with care perception
  3. Aindrasattva type - Energetic powerful
  4. Yamyasattva type - Endowed with presence of mind
  5. Varunassattva type - Calm but courageous
  6. Kauberasattva type - Fond of family life
  7. Gandharvasattva type - Fond of music

B) Following are named after demonic and aggressive animal species in which the element of rajas predominates:

  1. Asurasattva type - Characterized by physical prowess
  2. Raksasa type - Marked by enduring wealth, aggressively cruel
  3. Paisava type - Cowardly
  4. Sarpa - Heroic in anger
  5. Praithya - Loving food
  6. Sakura - Given to sensuous desires

C) The following are named after lower animals, vegetation. These are the classes wherein the element of tamas predominates.

  1. Pasavasattva type - Dirty in dress
  2. Matsyasattva type - Given to anger
  3. Vanaspatya type - Living a purely vegetative life

Classification of human nature in Bhagavad Gita is based on the main faculties of human mind: thinking, will, feeling (knowledge, devotion and action). They are being conceived as the margas or ways of life. The individuals in whom will prevails take to karma yoga. Bhakti marga pursues the path of devotion. The Gita attempts another classification of man's nature according to his sraddga (preponderant desire), sattviki, rajasiki or tamasiki resulting from the dominating influence of the fundamental constituting components of sattva, rajas or tamas in life of desire.

   Therapeutic Aspects of Indian Cultural Traditions Top

Indian cultural traditions call it religious rituals or customary traditions. All of them are nicely woven into the system providing cushioning impact. The supportive or reassuring aspect of Indian psychological intervention is built in within the network of relationships. The nurturant aspect of relationships is the most unique part of Indian culture. The significant word in the therapy is "arise" (uthishthe). This arousal is from their areas of inactivity, from ignorance to knowledge, from apathy to a positive feeling and from inertia to purposeful activity. Gita brings out the ingredients of the relationship so well that Krishna considers his pupil as a friend capable of intelligent interrogation and exercising the power of discrimination. There is on the part of Arjuna, a total sense of surrender and readiness to be instructed and to be told what is to be done. The master and the pupil in Gita display what is extremely necessary for a rapport. The counseling on the battle field was akin to crisis intervention and a noteworthy brief intervention. The immense potentiality in resources of human mind is brought about in the discourse on the battle field. These parameters indicate Gita as a masterpiece of psychotherapy touching upon every aspect of mental activity.

Nasto Mohan Smritit Labdha



"My delusion is destroyed. I have regained my memory through your grace Achyuta. I am firm. I am free from doubt. I shall act according to your word."

These psychotherapeutic traditions provided a global framework of physical psychological and spiritual health. The rescue from teen jap-addhi, uyaadhi and upaadhi was the goal of these traditions.

The buddhist tradition

The way of Nirvana was provided by the Buddhist tradition. Psychology of Nirvana considered Nirvana to be the goal of mental health. Nirvana is attained as a result of transformation - a transformation is a state of self-fulfillment, realistic self-evaluation, freedom from inner conflicts and a stable emotional life.

The yogic tradition

Yoga means union -union of the individual consciousness with cosmic consciousness. The ancient Indians set a high value on introspection and reflection. Through the meticulous study and practice of Yoga, they perfected their faculty of intuition, attained serenity of mind, and made very careful analyses of the constitution of the mind and the mental processes. The Buddha synthesized and integrated the main ideas of the Vedanta, Samkhya and Yoga schools, laying emphasis on the exercise of concentration, and developed the most comprehensive psychology of intuition, in which intuition was considered as a higher level/form of consciousness or Bodhi. [12]

The bhakti tradition

Saheja is seen as an ideal of mental health. Saheja is both a process and a state characterized by spontaneity, bringing about harmony with oneself and culminating into illumination.

Carl Gustav Jung was significantly influenced by the teachings of the East, [13] Eugene Taylor, in his book [14] , on the history of spirituality, comments on the basis of existing trends that Indian psychology is bound to have an increasing influence on the world culture, especially as a new epistemology. It will be appropriate to conclude that the core of Indian psychology is its spiritual understanding. Its real value will show itself when this spiritual knowledge is used not only for individual liberation, as it has done in the past, but also for a comprehensive, collective transformation of life, and this has future implications. The Indian philosophy and Indian psychology has a treasure house of practical and spiritual knowledge as its heritage.

   Conclusion Top

An attempt has been made here to present, in brief, the main thrust of different schools of Indian philosophy in as much as it relates to an understanding of human personality and its behavioral paradigms. It is evident from the above that the vast reservoir of knowledge and wisdom that forms an inherent part of Indian philosophers and thinkers has much to offer to the students of psychology. The immense psychotherapeutic value that each school of thought individually offers is indeed promising to the mental health professionals.

   References Top

1.Shiv G. Mental health in ancient India and its relevance to modern psychiatry. Presidential address delivered at 51 st Annual Conference, Indian Psychiatric Society, Bhubaneshwar; Jan 1999.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Srivastava K. Human nature: An Indian perspective. Souvenir: Jan 2001 ANCIPS Pune.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Bennett MR. Development of the concept of mind. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2007;41:943-56.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Edwards SD. The body as object versus the body as subject: The case of disability. Med Health Care Philos 1998;1:47-56.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Santoro G, Wood MD, Merlo L, Anastasi GP, Tomasello F,Germano A. The anatomic location of the soul from the heart, through the brain, to the whole body, and beyond: A journey through Western history, science, and philosophy. Neurosurgery 2009;65:633-43.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Muller FM. A history of Ancient Sanskrit Literature. Basu BD, Allahabad; 1926.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Sri Aurobindo. The Life Divine, SABCL. Vol. 19. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram; 1972. p. 685.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Tart CT. Transpersonal psychologies. 2 nd ed. New York: Harper Collins; 1992.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Walsh R. The consciousness disciplines and western behavioral sciences. Am J Psychiatry 1980;187:663-73.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Maslow A. The Farther reaches of human nature. Edinburgh, England: Penguin Books; 1971.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Thirunavukarasu M. A utilitarian concept of manas and mental health. Indian J Psychiatry 2011;53:99-110.  Back to cited text no. 11
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
12.Bhattacharya H. The Cultural Heritage of India. Vol. 3, Ch. 4, 31, and 36 on Yoga Psychology, Nature of Mind and Its Activities, Indian Psychology. Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture; 1975.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Ajaya S. Psychotherapy -east and -west: A unifying paradigm. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy; 1983.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Taylor E. Shadow culture: Psychology and spirituality in America. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint; 1999. p. 290-1.  Back to cited text no. 14

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   Mind in Upanishads
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    Mind in the Purv...
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    Mind-in the Nyay...
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