This essay is an attempt at looking at the psychodynamics of the ego or self from the metaphysical perspective of Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Initially a distinction is made between ‘ego’, related to ‘individual(ism)’ or ‘personality’ (who I think I am), and ego –soul, person or individual– (who I am…?) immediately followed by a deepening of the significance and reality behind the terms ‘soul’ or ‘person’ as far as it can be taken, and whose consequences are far-reaching. This distinction is central not only to religion but also to philosophy and psychology. The enigma of multiple subjectivities is discussed as a preliminary. A possible relationship between Eastern wisdom and Western empiricism, and between philosophy and medicine, are postulated. Two important Buddhist triads are given a central position in this exposition: ‘the three poisons’, and ‘the three marks of existence’, as well as some important Advaitist concepts. Suffering and its release would be the aim. Reasons are advanced as to why the empirical method, by itself alone, is insufficient with regard to integral (holistic) healing or ‘liberation’.
This self lends itself to that Self, and that Self to this self; they coalesce. With the one aspect (“rupa” form ) he is united with yonder world, and with the other aspect he is united with this world.”
Aitareya Aranyaka II.3.7
The present age is a strange mixture of optimism and Angst. The purpose of this essay is to express the view that metaphysics, Eastern philosophy, and, to some extent, traditional religion – all three generally ignored with respect to health in whatever of its dimensions – have something fundamental to offer, their standards being more solid by far than those offered by contemporary Western philosophy and psychology. The metaphysical principles or presuppositions of the various religions agree with each other and are a testimony to a universal wisdom for which the expression ‘sacred science’ has been used in the past. In the West the predominant religion is Christianity, but I take as my main focus some Buddhist doctrines and, to a lesser extent, the Advaita Vedanta of Hinduism, which are easy to understand when properly explained. A study of traditional, universal teachings under a foreign and unfamiliar guise may prompt an understanding of the same or equivalent teachings in their more familiar (but often neglected) Christian form, as is the case in the West. This is my reason for using Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta as points of reference in this article.
What follows could also be seen as an attempt to show the relationship between philosophy and psychology, Eastern wisdom and Western empiricism, as well as philosophy and medicine. Western medicine and psychiatry look at ‘personality disorders’ (among others) with a particular methodological approach which leads to particular types of diagnosis and treatment, all of it based on a more or less definitive and analytical classification of disease. We will not go in this essay into the metaphysical bases or presuppositions of Western medicine in particular or the empirical method in general, both of which underlie that approach.