Rise of Consciousness


Several discussions on mind-brain focus on the neural progress (incase of dysfunctions) achieved by augmenting general wellbeing, identity corrections etc. In Indian psychology (apart from the darsana tradition, to this repository would belong the healing systems, folk traditions, traditional knowledge systems etc.) the three ideas that we see discussed in very many ways is the nature, function and placement of reason, emotion and their mutual influence. Various aspects of these two ideas, epistemological as well as therapeutic, are discussed in a larger context of personal wellbeing.

The psychology of Self-knowledge is central to Indian discourse. The difficult task in understanding the psychological significance of Self-knowledge is to avoid cognitive reduction of something basic to our identity, and at the same time relating it to a world of experiences and responses. The usual casualty in therapeutic quest, or search for transcendence, happens to progress in thinking and conceptualizing, and spontaneity in responding because of concluded thinking and division of experience into 'ordinary' and 'transcendental'. The notion of personal growth is mostly ruled by the idea that change has to happen to states of minds in a (abstract) transcendental and other-worldly manner.

On the contrary, if we examine the traditional knowledge systems, philosophical discourse, psychological techniques etc. we find that transformation and evolution of consciousness imply basic attitudinal and self-identity changes and shifts. The concept of healing thus, in Indian psychology, is not just a solution to a problem but a state of perfection aimed for by one and all. The Bhakti traditions are exemplars in redefining spiritual uplift by connecting it to self-transformation and enrichment of positive emotions.

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Pain in Love, Aesthetics and Mysticism: Classical and contemporary Indian experiences

arrow Four Indian texts: Vikromarvasiyam and Ritu Samharam (of c. 170 BC poet Kalidasa), Gita Govindam (of 13th century poet Jayadeva) and Narada Bhakti Sutras (anonymous author) use love and pain as two principal experiences guiding the transformation of human experience within the context of a complexity of emotions:

  1. how pain is defined in the context of love and what its various expressions are,
  2. how these ideas transform the text into an aesthetic piece,
  3. the metaphors used for pain which have a combined aesthetic and spiritual meaning,
  4. cross-sections of eroticism and mysticism in the various expressions and experiences of pain,
  5. why and how pain in love is a spiritual tool apart from being an aesthetic state.

    These three major texts belong to a class of literature which are identified with a core of aesthetic
    and spiritual meanings and experiences.

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A First-person approach to Aesthetic emotions in Natyasastra

arrowThe study of emotions and emotional experiences has a history that takes us to the fascinating accounts of Charles Darwin in the West and Bharata Muni (1st c. CE) in the East. While Bharata Muni focused on multiple and complex levels of emotions in a theatrical context, the observations made during his voyages formed the crux for Darwin’s theory. These accounts together present to us the cultural and natural expressions of human emotions. This paper will particularly focus on the Natyasastra account of emotion.

Nātyaśāstra, authored by Bharatamuni, is the foundational text of Indian dramaturgy  The available form of the text comprises 5600 verses coupled with prose.  The original version is said to have had more than 30,000 verses. It is a complete treatise on Indian dance, drama and music. The text has a comprehensive thematic structure since it deals with a complex conception of drama (nātya)  consisting of objective and subjective features. There is elaborate discussion, on the one hand, of the characteristics of  the  playhouse, different kinds of plays, different and complex gestures and movements, rules of prosody, metre and music, use of language, style of characters, costumes and ornaments. On the other hand, there is also discussion on emotions and causal mental states, mutuality of emotions and mental states, rapport between actor and spectator, mental and physical nature of the actor and the  spectator, preliminary mystic rituals for effective representation, and the ultimate goals of drama. There is a structural rigidity as to the epistemology, and openness about the subjective expression of the actor , relationship between the actor and the spectator and the goals of drama.

More in: Menon, S. 2011, A first-person approach to aesthetic emotions in Natyasastra
In: R Narasimha and S Menon (Eds.), Nature and Culture, PHISPC and Centre for Studies in Civilizations, New Delhi, pp. 259-270


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Wellbeing and its implications for Brain and Consciousness studies

arrowRasa is a complex concept which is the central idea on which the experience of natya is founded. The word rasa is variously translated as ‘relish’, ‘enjoyment’ and related to mean the object of relish or relish itself. According to Bharatamuni rasa emerges out of the combination of three basic components such as vibhava, anubhava and vyabhicari. They are also the (karana, karya and sahakari) determinant, consequent and auxiliary conditions of rasa. All three taken together is called the sthayibhava which is directly responsible for the production of rasa. Bhava is that which makes something happen. In Natya Sastrabhava’ is used as a technical word to relate to the mental states as responsible for producing rasa for the spectator through a combination of kinds of (abhinaya) gestures. Whether rasa is produced through bhava  or vice versa or whether they are mutually influenced is a debate which is prominent in the literature on Natya Sastra by various commentators. For the discussion in this paper, I will deal only with the detailed presentation of kinds of rasa and bhava, one instance of abhinaya which is that of eyes (dhrsti), and nature of effectiveness of natya (natya siddhi nirupana), to show the importance given to the nuances and details of mental states, basic nature of experience and their physical representations,  with an attempt to give a third-person account of first-person experience.

More in: Menon, S. 2003, Binding experiences for a first person approach: Looking at Indian ways of thinking (darsana) and acting (natya) in the context of current discussions on 'consciousness', In: On Mind and Consciousness, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and Department of Humanitiees and Social Sciences IIT Kharagpur,  Eds. Chhanda Chakraborti, Manas K Mandal and Rimi B Chatterjee, pp 90-117

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