Sample from the Fall 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Swami Tadatmananda

Vedanta and Psychotherapy would seem at opposite ends of the spectrum. Vedanta asserts that all is Brahman and psychotherapy has the psyche as its focus. But as Swami Tadatmananda (a senior disciple of Sri Swami Dayananda, one of the most respected living Vedantis) illustrates, there is an important relationship between psychological and spiritual growth as evidenced in the scriptures and teachings of the Vedas.

Integral Yoga Magazine: Swami Dayananda teaches a course on Vedanta and psychotherapy. How did this evolve?

Swami Tadatmananda: Swami Dayananda (Pujya Swamiji) tells a story of how he had been teaching Advaita Vedanta in India for some ten or fifteen years and he felt that these teachings were so powerful that any sincere student with proper guidance could become enlightened. But, then he came to America in 1976 and started teaching western students. He soon discovered that too many of these disciples had considerable emotional and psychological obstacles that stood in the way of significant spiritual growth. There is plenty of support for this in the teachings of Vedanta. Sri Shankara and other masters acknowledged that adhikaritvam (preparedness or competency) is needed. The Mahavakyas like Tat Tvam Asi, will only be effective for one who is prepared. Pujya Swamiji began to incorporate teachings to help the western disciples begin to address their emotional issues. He consistently integrated—almost in a parallel manner—into his Vedantic teachings, methods to help students gain emotional maturity. He also encouraged them to go to a conventional therapist if this would be helpful.

IYM: Can you give us an example of these methods?

ST: He saw hurt and, the inability to let go of hurt, as a major obstacle for many students. There is a form of contemplation he conducts in which he asks students to close their eyes and do some preliminary pranayama and mantra japa to quiet the mind. Then he asks them to reflect on people who have hurt them and understand that those who hurt us, do so because they feel compelled to hurt us. He then will say, “Can you imagine a situation in which someone would strike you in the face hard. Now, imagine a situation in which you would be neither angry nor hurt. Is it possible?” Of course anyone would give the answer, “That’s crazy. I would be outraged by such an action.” Pujya Swamiji will then say, “Imagine you are holding a one-year-old baby who is a little agitated and waving its arms and hits you hard. Would you be angry and shout angrily? Would you feel hurt? Would you say to the child, ‘Why did you hurt me. I am trying to comfort you and what do I get for my kindness, you smash me in the face.’”

The point of the story is that those who have hurt us do so because they are momentarily out of control, just as a child can be out of control. Adults under sufficient emotional stress are driven to do harmful things because they momentarily go out of control. This is what we call “emotional reactivity”—getting caught up in a powerful emotional reaction and doing or saying something that is likely to be hurtful.

IYM: Would you please give us another example?

ST: I lead an elaborate contemplation on forgiveness. I will first give a full lecture unfolding these teachings. Following the lecture, we will do some pranayama, meditate and then I’ll guide people through a process. Reflect and think back on when you did something hurtful to someone else. Did you do this because you wanted the person to suffer and you are a mean nasty person or was it because you were under some emotional duress, caught up in surge of reactivity, were compelled to do or say something hurtful. So, we will reflect on our own hurtful behavior. Then, I invite everyone to think of a particular person who hurt them and we go through a process of understanding what may have led that person to hurt us. In general, those who hurt us are those who themselves have been hurt. If we come to understand that those who have hurt us have done so in a condition of helplessness like the small child—just as we don’t blame the child for our pain, we won’t blame those adults. If we don’t blame them, where is the issue of forgiveness? We just understand.

IYM: How did Sri Swamiji personally guide in this process?

Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.