YOGA AND PSYCHOLOGY Language, Memory and Mysticism by Harold G. Coward

In part one of the book, Coward establishes the centrality of language to yoga. Here his thesis is bold and clear - that language has inherent within itself the power to convey knowledge both of a sensuous and a super sensuous kind, and to realize release. In the second part he discusses Freud, Jung and some transpersonal psychologists' perspectives on yogic issues like dualism and the possibility of an almost immaterial, ego-less knowing, the eradication of desires and of the unconscious, and free will.

The most relevant for our research issue is that Coward establishes in detail the centrality of trustworthy linguistic communications: the importance of testimony. According to Coward, there are divisions of Indian schools depending on the "degree of revealing power allowed to words" (p12). Verbal communication (agama) is one of three sources of valid knowledge (pramana) in Indian thought, (along with perception (pratyaksa) and inference (anumana)). Verbal communication functions when a trusted observer (apta), transfers his or her knowledge to us and is valid "if it is not deceptive, confused or barren in knowledge" (p. 12). The apta has to be "skilled and compassionate in the passing on of knowledge" (p.12), and not prone to any twisting of the knowledge for fame or fortune. Of course, the verbal communication may still fail if the mind of the hearer is too 'covered with karmic impurity' or too distracted to pay attention.

Yoga is thus a set of techniques for permitting the committed yogin to become one with Isvara (Isvara is defined as pure sattva (transparent consciousness) by a special kind of self or purusa that is beginninglessly untouched by the taints of karmas), a mystical fusion that entails losing one's impure personal ego. Language is central to this mystical experience since in it sound and meaning become one. "It is Isvara who is expressed by the word AUM: the sound of the word evokes its meaning" (p17). The relation between word and meaning here is not by convention" the relationship between Isvara and the word AUM is fixed like a lamp and its light" (Vyasa cited in p. 17).

Yoga teaches freedom and release from the individual ego rather than the cultivation of ego-strength or uniqueness endorsed in the west, entails a loss of individual ego. Yoga entails the belief that the true nature of objects can be encountered when we have transcended all of the material apparatus of body, senses and to some extent individual mind. Yoga is not about control of the object, but of changing the subject. It has a very precise array of techniques and practices to achieve that, involving postures, breath-control, taming of the fluctuations of the mind as a result of wandering senses, and an exquisite attention to the role that habits of mind and perception play in distorting our grasp of reality so that we can counter these habits, and be open to what is. With meditative practice one becomes so subtly aware of the way that past traces, emotions and a kind of sloth or heaviness marks one's consciousness that one can root out those tendencies to an ever-increasing degree. Coward suggests that Yoga assumes that when 'egoity' (sic) is overcome there is no further duality between subject and object, only immediate intuition.

From my point of view, through all this knowledge we can try finding an alternative and complementary way to investigate what the "tipping point" is in which communication/interaction breaks off in people with Alzheimer and how cognitive functions (memory, attention) are involved and interact with language.

Click Book Reference: Yoga and Psychology Language, Memory, and Mysticism by Harold G. Coward SUNY Press, 2002

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