From Kleshas to Contentment: Navigating Mental Health through Ancient Indian Wisdom

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Aruna Narayan

Pune, 21st August 2023: On the occasion of India’s Independence Day, it is pertinent to contemplate whether we have attained an “inner freedom” in addition to the external freedom that our country bestows upon us.

This notion of “inner freedom,” expounded within Buddhist texts and the Patanjali yoga sutras, refers to a mind that is unburdened by mental defilements or “kleshas” (क्लेश). These encompass emotions such as anger (क्रोध), hatred (द्वेष), attachment (उपदाना), jealousy (ईर्षा), ignorance (अविद्या), egoism (अस्मिता), and others that ensnare us, leading to frustration and discontent. Actively surmounting these is imperative to attain a mental state that is virtuous, focused, and serene.

Such a mind is not only healthy but also content.

Ancient Indian scriptures, particularly Buddhist psychology, correlate mental health with mental transformation – a process of altering our non-virtuous and unskillful mental habits and behaviors. Emphasis is placed on purifying the mind from unskillful or unvirtuous thoughts.

But what constitutes unskillful or unvirtuous? It includes any thought, feeling, or action that fails to benefit oneself and others. For instance, likening anger to holding a scalding coal, the Buddha highlighted that any negative action first inflicts harm upon oneself. This stands as the root cause of our unhealthy mental states.

Mental well-being should encompass not only remedial measures but also preventive approaches. Similar to caring for our bodies, where we seek medical attention when sick (remedial), we also strive to avert illness as much as possible (preventive). This has led to the growth of numerous therapies that bolster the immune system, enhance immunity against diseases, and a burgeoning industry centered around natural methods to sustain health and decelerate aging.

While conventional psychology primarily concentrates on remedies such as psychotherapy and CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), as well as psychiatric intervention in cases of brain chemical imbalances, it addresses thoughts, emotions, and feelings that give rise to characteristic behaviors – shaped by personal experiences and circumstances from our formative years.

In contrast, Buddhist psychology encompasses both preventive and remedial measures. This approach relies on personal introspection and the mindful examination of our own minds. It involves cultivating positive or virtuous qualities while discarding non-virtuous ones.

These techniques encompass practices like Vipashyana meditation.
A harmonious fusion of conventional psychology rooted in Western thought and the techniques drawn from Eastern scriptural wisdom offers a remarkable pathway towards achieving mental well-being and realizing our fullest potential.

(About Author: Aruna is a former managing director of a manufacturing company and is now a teacher of Vipashyana meditation techniques.)