Vedic Psychology (1): Delusional Disorders

Babaji b/w-eyeem

Babaji Satyanarayna Dasa

Being in spiritual life for decades, I have come to the stunning realization that in spiritual societies there are a disproportionate number of practitioners who have mental health issues. Surprisingly and unfortunately, these issues go unnoticed and therefore untreated. One of the reasons for this is that people in the spiritual circles lack knowledge about mental health issues, and the second is that these mental health issues are many times mistaken for spiritual achievement. One of the common mental health issues, which I have personally witnessed in my own institute and ashram, as well as in my Guru’s ashram, is delusional disorder. The tricky thing about delusional disorder is that people who have it may be highly functional in all areas of life except in the area in which they have the delusion, so this can go unnoticed for years. Because tamas has some similarity with sattva, a highly dysfunctional tamasic person can be mistaken for a supreme transcendentalist, called avadhuta. I have seen examples of confusing a highly delusional person for a great realized spiritualist in Vrindavan. Therefore, I thought it will be helpful for the spiritual community to have knowledge about this fact so that the problem can be recognized and addressed. The following article is written in collaboration with Jessica Richmond (Joshika Devi Dasi), a Licensed Mental Health Counselor from America who has many years of experience in various mental health hospitals dealing with patients with a variety of mental disorders, including delusions. She now spends half of the year in Vrindavan at my ashram working with the local devotee community and devotees internationally. She is also teaching psychotherapists how to apply Vedic Psychology to get to the root cause of mental health imbalances.

A CLINICAL EXAMPLE OF DELUSIONAL DISORDER

To give an idea about the mind of a person who has delusional disorder, here is a conversation from her practice:

“I know my daughter is going to come back home for her 30th birthday. She wouldn’t be so cruel to leave me like that and not come back,” Rhonda said, her glassy pale blue eyes gazing past me into the distance, as if she was looking at her sweet daughter.

“Where is your daughter now, Rhonda?” I said, trying to get her to admit to the reality, which is that her 29-year old most beloved daughter Heidi, died tragically 6 months ago after years of a valiant battle with ovarian cancer.

“She is in heaven,” Rhonda gazed at me and smiled confidently, then added, “but Heidi is a good girl and she will be back for her birthday this May. It is only 42 days away, and she will be here. I just know it.”

I tried another angle to snap her out of it… “So, where is Heidi’s body right now, Rhonda?”

She smiled pleasantly, “Heidi’s body is on my mantle at home in an urn.”

“So you are saying that Heidi’s body is in ashes, is that correct?”

“Yes,” Rhonda agreed, nodding her head assuredly, still smiling.

Good, I thought to myself, at least she agrees that her daughter’s body is in ashes; now I have a foundation as a starting point to poke a hole in her delusion. “So, Rhonda, let me ask you one question, if I may?”

“Sure, anything,” she calmly replied.

“Okay, so if Heidi is in heaven, and her body is in ashes on your mantle, how is she going to come down from heaven and get back into that body, which has been burned into ashes? I don’t understand. Please explain how this will happen?”

Rhonda maintained that same superficial look on her face – that plastic smile that was covering up her immense pain, and peacefully said, “My baby will be here. I’m throwing a big 30th birthday party for her. She will wear all pink to her party, her favorite color. She is such a kind person, with such a big heart. She will never let me, her best friend, down. She is very reliable, she will come. Just wait until May 21st. You will see what I mean.”

“Rhonda, I still can’t imagine how Heidi could come to her birthday party. This isn’t making any sense. It sounds like you have thought about what will happen if Heidi comes, but what will happen if Heidi doesn’t come? Have you at least considered that option? Are you prepared to deal with the let down you will feel if Heidi does not show for this birthday party you are throwing for her?”

Rhonda smiled the same smile as when she walked in the door, and repeated her mantra, unflustered. “Heidi will show. Of course she will show to her own birthday party.

It was at this point that I realized that no matter what I said, no matter what reasoning I used, Rhonda was completely fixed in her delusion. Her thoughts would not budge. These thoughts were protecting her from feeling the immense pain of the loss of her daughter; pain that was so overwhelming that her mind created some other reality.

This may seem far out of the realm of many reader’s experiences (as most devotees don’t spend much time working with clients at mental hospitals), but delusion is a disorder among devotees; unfortunately one that goes undiagnosed all too often. In the case of Rhonda, it turned out to be pretty clear-cut in getting her help. I phoned Rhonda’s friend, explained Rhonda’s problem, and the friend brought her to the psychiatrist and got her on the proper medication. When Rhonda returned to see me next time, her daughter’s birthday had passed, she was properly medicated, and she was out of the delusion. We spent a few months processing her deeply cutting and desperate pain over the loss of her darling daughter Heidi, and her thoughts were eventually normalized.

DEVOTEES IN DELUSION

Unfortunately, working with devotees afflicted with delusional disorder is not so easy. In fact, working with actively suicidal and homicidal devotees has proved to be easier than working with devotees in delusion. Delusion is difficult to break through. It is like an iron-clad wall of beliefs that no psychotherapist, or even Guru’s direct orders can penetrate. You may laugh or scowl in disbelief, but we are only reporting what we are seeing. Until now, you may have perceived that someone’s lack of progress has been due to a big ego, or some offenses made in the past, or stubborn or narcissistic personality traits; but possibly there is more to their story. A person may actually be in a delusional state of mind and not know it.

Delusion is defined by The American Psychiatric Association DSM-5 as, “fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in the light of conflicting evidence,” (APA, p.87). The beliefs are irrational. According to Bhagavad Gita, the root cause of delusion is the influence of rajas and tamas on buddhi. In the 18th chapter, Krishna describes three divisions of buddhi:

pravṛttiṁ ca nivṛttiṁ ca kāryākārye bhayābhaye
bandhaṁ mokṣaṁ ca yā vetti buddhiḥ sā pārtha sāttvika

O Arjuna, that intelligence which discriminates between the paths of action and renunciation, between what is to be done and what is to be avoided, between that which results in fear and that which causes fearlessness, and between bondage and liberation, is sāttvika. (18.30)

yayā dharmam adharmaṁ ca kāryaṁ cākāryam eva ca
ayathāvat prajānāti buddhiḥ sā pārtha rājasī

O Arjuna, that intelligence by which one comprehends inaccurately what is righteousness (dharma) and unrighteousness (adharma) and what ought to be done and what is forbidden, is rājasika. (18.31)

[What it means is that buddhi is unable to discriminate between right and wrong, and rather presents the truth in a distorted manner]

adharmaṁ dharmam iti yā manyate tamasāvṛtā
sarvārthān viparītāṁś ca buddhiḥ sā pārtha tāmasī

That intelligence which, being covered by ignorance, conceives unrighteousness as righteousness and all things as contrary to their real nature, is tāmasika, O Arjuna. (18.32)

[In other words, such an intelligence presents the reality just the opposite of what it is].

Sad Woman / DreamstimeThe person who is in delusion does not see things as they are because his or her intelligence is influenced by rajas or tamas, or both; and it is the intelligence by which a person comprehends things around them. Depending on the intensity of the influence of rajas and tamas, one has corresponding intensity of delusion. According to the intensity of the influence of rajas and tamas, the delusional disorder can be classified into three categories:

  1. Impenetrable and Completely Unaware. People in this category are unaware of their delusional disorder, which is so intense that it is impossible to make them aware of their problem. They may be highly functional in their life and charismatic and very convincing. For that reason, they can have followers because they have the power to convince others. Because they are highly convinced about their delusion, they are also very devoted to their concepts. Their delusion is a result of predominant tamas complemented by rajas.
  2. Impenetrable but Aware. The intensity of delusion here is lesser than in the previous category, therefore it is possible for them to become aware of their delusions, yet it is difficult for them to get out of it even after knowing that they have delusion. This category of people will rationalize their delusions, taking support from the scriptures. Therefore, they will also be convincing to others. Their delusion is a result of predominant rajas complemented by tamas.
  3. Penetrable and Aware. The intensity of delusion here is less, therefore they are aware of their delusion and it is possible for them to accept that they have a delusion. For this category of people they are willing to accept help to come out of their delusion. Their delusion is a result of predominant rajas complemented by sattva.

If one’s intelligence is polluted, then it is almost impossible to break through and make the person understand what reality actually is. We perceive things with our senses which send information to the mind, but it is the buddhi which makes us comprehend the perception. It is at this level of comprehension that delusion occurs. Every human being is prone to delusion because the buddhi of a common person is always under the influence of the gunas, which keep on changing. But a person who has a delusional disorder is different because he or she has a chronic and constant misconception that is impenetrable.

There are numerous types of delusions that one can have, and they must persist for at least one month in order for it to qualify as a delusional disorder. Detailed below are the six delusional disorders that we have either seen directly in devotees, or have heard stories about devotees in ashram life. A common characteristic of individuals with delusional disorder is the apparent normality of their behavior and appearance when their delusional ideas are not being discussed or acted upon (APA, p.93).

  1. Persecutory delusion – belief that an individual is being conspired against, cheated upon, spied on, followed, poisoned or drugged, harassed, or obstructed in pursuit of long-term goals. The affected individual may engage in repeated attempts to obtain satisfaction by legal action. Individuals with persecutory delusion are often resentful and may resort to violence against those they believe are hurting them.
  2. Referential delusion – belief that certain gestures, comments, environmental cues, and so forth are directed at oneself when they are not. Taking hint on the basis of these cues, they act with confidence that they have received a divine message.
  3. Grandiose delusion – when an individual believes that he or she has exceptional talent or insight, or has made some important discovery, or has some special relationship with a prominent individual, or that they themselves are a prominent person. Grandiose delusions may have a religious content and the person may believe himself or herself to be empowered as a savior of humanity.
  4. Erotomanic delusion – when an individual falsely believes that another person, usually of higher status, is in love with him or her. They are obsessed with the person with whom they think is in love with them and they may stalk him or her.
  5. Somatic delusion – when an individual believes one or more things about his body parts: that he/she emits a foul odor, there is an infestation of insects on or in the skin, or an internal parasite, that certain parts of the body are misshapen or ugly, or that parts of the body are not functioning. Even a visit to the doctor will not dispel the belief.
  6. Jealous delusion – when an individual believes that her spouse or lover is unfaithful and clings to their delusion with a righteous unshakable zeal. The belief is arrived at without due cause and is based on incorrect inferences supported by small bits of evidence. The individual in delusion usually confronts the lover and attempts to intervene in the imagined infidelity.

(American Psychiatric Association DSM-5, p.90)

It is possible that a person has more than one of these types of delusions. The general understanding in the devotee community is that just by performing one’s sadhana, one will be cured from one’s disorders. There is some truth to this, and one can find scriptural statements in support of it since bhakti is the panacea for every problem. However, just as when we have some physical ailment we are advised to take help of a qualified physician; when one has a mental disorder one should take psychiatric help. Indeed, taking psychiatric help is more necessary in the case of mental disorders because they are very subtle in comparison to physical problems.

In the follow-up articles we will analyze and give examples of the six types of delusion from the devotee community.

 

 

 

 

 

15 Responses to Vedic Psychology (1): Delusional Disorders

  1. This is a fantastic series. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

    Shadbhuj das

    07.31.2017

    • I am a bit more critical about this article, if you allow me. Would you like to here about them?

      Tulasi d.

      08.04.2017

    • 1. has the aspiring devotee suffered psychological disorder before practicing bhakti? if so why the process of bhakti did not fix this.

      2. worse, did that process of bhakti as we know it, invoke such a mentality?

      anyone wants to discuss this subjects in more deepness I really would appreciate.

      Tulasi d

      08.04.2017

    • Before making any assumptions, perhaps you could clarify your understanding or definition of “bhakti as we know it”. Thanks.

      Malatimanjari

      08.05.2017

    • Since 30 years I follow Bhakti I had close association to Babaji, Astaratha and other devotees like you Malatiji. Guess I learned Bhakti the way you try to convey it. So the my question remains.

      Tulasi d.

      08.05.2017

    • 1. “has the aspiring devotee suffered psychological disorder before practicing bhakti?”

      Yes.

      2. “if so why the process of bhakti did not fix this?”

      I can only give a general answer to your question, but to know the real answer one needs to investigate every individual case. After all, bhakti is a very broad term. For example, a person who has just joined a spiritual society and taken diksha and has not studied any bhakti literature is also performing bhakti, although he may be committing various offenses simultaneously. On the other hand, somebody who is learned in scripture and he is very meticulous in following the principles of bhakti is also performing bhakti. So when you ask the question why the process of bhakti has not fixed the problem, I don’t know what kind of bhakti this person is doing. All I can say is that probably the person is not performing bhakti properly. In fact, they may be committing offenses simultaneously. And they may not even understand it clearly. Bhakti is not a mechanical process, but it is the dharma of the heart. It is not to do certain activities physically, but to actually dedicate oneself and change one’s very identity, thinking of oneself as servant of one’s guru. So bhakti can solve problems, but to do that it first has to be understood properly and then executed. Our actions originate from our understanding. If our understanding is not clear, then the same action can give a different result. Krishna says in BG that, “A person that has no notion of being the doer, and whose intellect is not tainted [by attachment], even on slaughtering all of these people, does not in fact kill, nor is he bound by the results of his actions.” (18.7). However, another person who kills without the understanding described in this verse will be implicated in the sin, so it is very important to have proper understanding of bhakti to get proper result. But, my guess is that a person who is influenced by delusion may not even have the ability to understand bhakti property. Then, where is the question of proper execution? Moreover, although bhakti has the power to cure any type of problem, physical or mental, but bhakti may not manifest her powers to everyone. God has given us medical science in the form of Ayurveda, therefore when a devotee has some physical disease, he does not think that let me just take charanamritam, and get rid of my physical ailment because in shastra it is described that charanamritam can cure all disease. In fact, devotees don’t want to use bhakti for material gain. The ultimate purpose of bhakti is to get love for Krishna, and not cure mental or physical problems, although bhakti does have the power to do it. So that is why devotees go to a doctor when they are sick. There could be different reasons why the process of bhakti did not fix the delusion problem.

      3. “worse, did that process of bhakti as we know it, invoke such a mentality?”

      What can I say? What I can add is that if a person is offensive then his mind may become influenced in a way that he acts abnormally. But in what way, I cannot say. But that is not an outcome of bhakti, but of offense. Please read basic books of bhakti and understand what it is. If you are asking such a question I can only advise you that please, please, please understand what is bhakti. I hope you don’t mind my words.

      Babaji

      08.05.2017

    • Dear Babaji we love you, as we love everyone else also. Since my existence is based on strong love, I do not really offend anyone, if so in the past, out of ignorance, I sincerely apologize here.

      A principle of life which you find in any living system is, evolving. Humans evolve all the time, nothing remains the same. Evolving does not decline the past, it just evolves from there. What was spoken hundred or even some centuries ago, have been evolved.

      In order to evolve, we need a strong loving environment. This is proven in modern brain research. If you raise your children in a atmosphere of fear, their brain can not evolve properly. Love is the very base of everything, if we do not love ourselves, we can not really love anything outside of us. On the other hand, in order to love yourself, you really have to know yourself. How you love yourself if you live in a environment of fear, by making offenses. You can not love yourself and consequently you have hard time to evolve yourself.

      We should learn to inject love into others not fear, we know that fear brings all kind of mental disorder, as you try to describe in your article.

      Tulasi d.

      08.05.2017

    • Dear Tulasi ji,

      Thank you for you comment. I am not sure if I have understood what you are trying to say. So let me make an attempt. What I get from your comment is as follows:

      1. You love everybody and I am trying to instill fear in you.
      2. You cannot love anyone without loving yourself and I seem to be denying that.
      3. We are all evolving and therefore we should update ourselves. I belong to the old school, so my knowledge is outdated. I need to update myself with the latest version.

      If my understand bout your comment is not right please enlighten me in simple and straightforward words. But if you think I got you right, then I have the following questions to you:

      1. If you love everybody and you love me, then I don’t know how I can instill fear in you. I am curious to know how I am instilling fear in you or anyone else.

      2. I have seen many people who were in intense love, but in course of time they became full of hatred for each other. You think it happened without a cause or was there a mutual displeasing behavior, which goes by the name offence in the Bhakti School. I am very curious to knowhow you love yourself because the very definition of love needs two – the ashraya, or the substratum of love and the vishaya, or object of love. As they say in English, “it takes two to Tango. “ So I am curious to know how you Tango by yourself.

      3. Please give me the latest evolved knowledge so that I can move with the time. I will stand corrected by your grace. Thank you.

      Babaji

      08.06.2017

    • Dear Babaji it is my great pleasure to elaborate on your questions.

      1. No you do not instill fear in me. I feel if someone wants to do that on me. But sometimes we do it anyhow, because we are not aware of doing it.

      2. Yes I love myself, because I am aware to be a conscious being who has the ability to love.

      3. The world around us changes all the time, so yes we naturally have to update ourselves. Not a bad thing.

      2.2 In order to understand why people do what they do, one has to look into brain research, epigenetics, and some of cell biology. It can be all explained. You can love yourself for all what you are, by accepting that you are a conscious being, creating your reality by thought alone and there is a universal intelligent who responds to your perception of life. That is the Tango of life.

      2.3 I can highly recommend Dr. Bruce Lipton who is at the leading edge of cell biology. Our body is a summation of about 7 trillion cell’s which mutate every second millions of times. It is crucial to have basic understanding of what is our body is made of. It gives you a clearer understanding, why we are not this body but a appreciating loving master of it.

      Tulasi d.

      08.06.2017

  2. As always an insightful article.
    Is delusional disorder same as obsessive compulsive syndrome and has the study on devotees been carried out only for devotees staying in Ashrams or does the sample size also include congregational devotees(those staying with families at home and also practising devotional life).
    Looking forward to the next article in this series.
    Kudos to Babaji Maharaj and Jessica Mataji for sharing their statistical study details.

    Stoka Krsna Das

    07.31.2017

    • No, delusional disorder is not the same as obsessive compulsive disorder. We have been observing devotees of all types, some who stay at ashrams, some who do not. But devotees who stay at ashrams are easier to learn about because when you see a person everyday it is easier to see how their delusional disorder manifests.

      Joshika

      08.01.2017

  3. Very insightful article.
    Waiting for the following parts.

    Thank you!

    Parikshit Chauhan

    07.31.2017

  4. great the how vedic psychology is used to cure illness of this type for betterment of vaisnava community. i know many devotees have suffered due to ill treatment and ill-conceptions and delusions about their advancement. this will hopefully open up these issues with remedies to them. again congrats to both writers.

    purushottam das

    08.04.2017

  5. Dear Tulsi Prabhu ji,
    Sorry I am budging into your discussions, but learning Sastras from Vraja Kishore Prabhu, who is a student of Babaji, I thought that maybe I can put in some points. I am still in the process of learning only so what I am writing is from my understandings as of now. Babaji and Joshika Mataji may elaborate upon that.
    Firstly, when we say things in a generalised way, it doesn’t make much of a sense, so its better to be specific about the issue and its details.
    Secondly Bhakti/Love is a very misunderstood word. What we may be considering as Bhakti may not actually be so. Thus it’s better to get the right picture from Acaryas writings, the foremost being Sri Rupa and Sri Jiva. BRS very clearly brings it out in the very beginning by saying ” Anaya abhilasita sunyam……….” verse.
    Thirdly offences happen in Agyanata and ignorance is a state opposite to Jnana. So offences in a way is anti love. Factually everyone is born in ignorance and its Guru who gives Jnana anjana shalakhya. How can this giving and imparting of Jnana be an act of instilling fear, I fail to understand, because it’s factually Sri Guru who is taking you towards Love. May be some Gurus would be doing this so as to have an artificial hold or control over their disciples lives, but if you would read one of the previous articles, there Babaji has amply made clear the Guru Tattva.
    Lastly Love is giving of oneself and not expecting anything in return. However what one gets in return is much much more than whatever one could have even imagined in one’s dreams. When one has that Sraddha or trust and faith towards someone then and only then one can give oneself in Love and the Lover and the beloved both give themselves and exist in Love.
    Its very very RARE.
    So for mortals like us its better that wherever we find this state of existence its better to get into the SHELTER of that. May be we can taste some droplets of that sweet nectarine elixir.
    DASO ASMI

    Stoka Krsna Das

    08.06.2017

  6. Very nice article, thank you.

    Kubara Dasa

    08.06.2017

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