The Relevance of Wisdom to Modern Psychiatry
It may be argued that the Gita exemplifies the cultural psychology of traditional India and makes sense there and that its teachings are dependent on a theosophical tradition that is anchored in an ancient system of values, attitudes, and behavior that may be discrepant with the ethos of modern life and, especially the western culture. Indeed, as we mentioned earlier in this paper, the Gita could be viewed as primarily a religious text with a deep-rooted cultural resonance. However, we should also point out that a number of Indian scholars of Hinduism and the Gita have written extensively on the meaningfulness of the teachings of the Gita for modern lifestyle (e.g., Munshi (1962), Vivekananda (2003)). Similarly, several western writers on spirituality have commented on the relevance of the Gita for western cultures (e.g., Steiner (2007)). In many ways, most teachings of the Gita have universal applicability (similar to some of the classical texts in other religions) as they transcend temporal, geographic, and cultural barriers.
Modern clinical psychiatry has been criticized for its lack of success in promoting patients’ well-being despite major strides in psychopharmacology and evidence-based psychotherapy (Cloniger, 2006; Myers and Diener, 1996). One criticism of some of the current psychotherapeutic approaches is that these tend to be reductionistic and somewhat impersonal. The Gita suggests a more individualistic as well as a more holistic approach that could lead to the development of psychotherapeutic interventions focusing on enhancing personal well-being rather than just psychiatric symptoms. Two of the main themes promoted in the Gita are spirituality and work. Although relatively little scientific attention was paid to these domains in previous psychiatric literature, empirical data collected in recent years point to the importance of both these dimensions. Thus, it has been reported that clinicians are increasingly recognizing the relationship between greater spiritual awareness and improved outcomes (D’Souza, 2007). Koenig (2007) found that older patients with medical illness and depression were less likely to be religiously involved than those without depression as well as those with milder depression. Similarly, the importance of ‘work’ across the lifespan and despite disabling psychiatric illnesses can be inferred from recent research suggesting that vocational rehabilitation improves outcomes even in older persons with very chronic schizophrenia (Twamley et.al., 2005). Literature in these and other areas related to different dimensions of wisdom is growing but remains scattered and unconnected. Evaluating these studies through the wisdom paradigm may point to novel connections among concepts of work, spirituality, well- being, and successful outcomes. This can also be the ground for devising interventions promoting broader well-being as suggested by Cloninger (2006).
Studies of wisdom would seem to have considerable relevance for psychiatry. While it may be challenging to develop interventions aimed at promoting a multidimensional construct such as wisdom, it is reasonable to suggest that interventions aimed at improving specific dimensions of wisdom may enhance outcomes in mentally ill persons. The concept of wisdom may indeed be useful to psychiatry as an ‘umbrella’ under which several novel approaches for improving the outcome in mentally ill persons can be grouped and used as a foundation for creating integrated models of remission and recovery.
Finally, studies of cross-cultural comparisons of concepts of wisdom would be particularly helpful, as they may have implications for developing possible interventions to enhance wisdom as a means of facilitating successful aging in a culture-specific manner. Additionally, combining elements of wisdom from various cultures could yield a more comprehensive and effective means of promoting wisdom.
To examine the concept of wisdom as outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, we conducted an independent review of each of the two main English translations. We review the direct translation of the Sanskrit Bhagavad Gita text rather than scientific comments because we feel that the comments will be biased by the subjective opinions of the commentators. We chose a translation by RC Zaehner (westerner with a Sanskrit scholarship) which was revised and edited by Goodall (1996), and another by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (2007), an Indian Hindu scholar.
The added advantage of the latter translation is that this translation is also available in electronic format, allowing us to analyze the text using electronic software. There are some differences in grammar and syntax between Zaehner and Giri’s translations; However, these variations do not appear to have a significant impact on the significance of the texts presented.
To measure the relative importance of each domain as described in the Bhagavad Gita, we conducted an analysis of the text version of the Giri translation using QSR NVivo (Fraser, 2000), Version 2.0, which is software designed to facilitate qualitative/quantitative text analysis mix. We use the “Coding Consensus and Comparison” method. In some cases, the same paragraph can be given more than one code or domain.
To validate the use of our English words to explain concepts originally conveyed in Sanskrit, we use the reverse translation method. Initially we used the Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon (2006) to produce a list of Sanskrit synonyms for the words ‘wisdom’, ‘wise’ and ‘sage’. Furthermore, we use online resources provided by Bhagavad-Gita Trust (1998), which allows us to compare each verse of the text in English and Sanskrit simultaneously. With this, we make a list of words used in the Bhagavad Gita Sanskrit text which are translated as ‘wisdom’, ‘wise’ or ‘wise’ in the English version used in our original analysis. This list is then compared to the synonym list obtained using the Sanskrit Cologne lexicon. We found a 100% match between the list of Sanskrit words used in Gita and the list of synonyms for that keyword.
After we encode the electronic translation, we compare it with Zaehner’s translation (Goodall, 1996). There is a 100% match between the two translations in terms of the specific domains covered by each verse, although there are small differences in the order in which words are used, syntactic, and grammatical. The frequency of the verses that determine a particular area of wisdom is then calculated. The 10 domains we identified (with the number of verses associated with each domain given in parentheses) are as follows: Life knowledge (28 verses), Emotional Regulations (20 verses), Control over Will (20 verses), Affirmation (20 verses) )), Love of God (19 verses), Task and Work (14 verses), Yoga or Personality Integration (12 verses), Compassion / Sacrifice (8 verses), and Insight / Humility (7) verses).
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