Peace and Nonviolence and Psychoanalytic Theory

Posted: 29.11.2008
Updated on: 29.11.2012

4th Plenary Session, 11.11.2008

The world has witnessed the destruction and the extent to which human beings can stoop down from their moral and ethical stature in the two World Wars. Apart from the World Wars, we have also seen many wars and dissensions that led to colossal damage of people, property and environment. This is high time we started acting on the proposition in hand i.e.. Peace and Non-violence. Fruitful efforts have been taken by the international society to establish peace and non-violence. One such an endeavor is the formation of the League of Nations followed by the United Nations.

Despite the formation of United Nations, we are still not able to achieve the desired result, i.e., peaceful coexistence of people of different nationalities and cultures. It is highly unfortunate that people even fight for the religions whose aim is to create a peaceful and harmonious society. In this context, it becomes imperative to study the means of establishing peace and non- violence. The philosophy of ahimsa is the central doctrine of Jainism. Lord Mahavir is the very epitome of compassion and equanimity. So the researcher has attempted to study the philosophy of ahimsa in the light of psychoanalytic theory.

Acharya Tulsi said that societal transformation is possible only through individual transformation. In this connection, Acharya Mahapragya writes


The dictum of individual reformation was enunciated along with anuvrat. On the day the Anuvrat Movement was launched, this dictum gained greater momentum. Our objective is social revolution through individual transformation ... a correct analysis of facts will reveal the fact that no social transformation is ever possible without first effecting a change in the individual.


This statement is of immense value. Changing a society is like building castles in air. What one can do is change the individual. Psychoanalysis, founded by the Austrian Psychologist Sigmund Freud, is an invaluable tool to achieve the intended goal. Freud may be wrong in many of his assertions, but he is the first one to take us straight into the mouth of the volcano and showed what lies there. Robert Waelder observes in this Connection:


A vast field of educational opportunities for psychoanalysis opens up here. Beyond the task of curing sick people it may have an important contribution to make to the problem of shaping healthy people. One may guess that the programme of psychoanalysis "Where there was Id, there shall Ego be" goes beyond the therapeutic task of curing sick, subnormal people into the field of reshaping and educating the healthy, and of redefining the standards of ideal normalcy.



Acharya Tulsi has intensified the Anuvrat Movement so as to create the desired values in the laymen. It is a remarkable and praiseworthy endeavor. The very idea of Anuvrat Movement is to make people responsible. Irresponsibility is the root cause of all the evils in the world. In this connection, Acharya Mahapragya writes," what we need is a code of conduct.... this need can be fulfilled by adopting the anuvrat code of -^ conduct. Anuvrat is a religion." Eric Fromm in his monumental book The Fear of Freedomtalks about a psychological tendency to avoid freedom so as to escape the pangs of responsibility. Though the French Revolution has been venerated everywhere for its noble ideals i.e., Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. It has not been given its place even by the people who praise it. It may appear that every person strives for freedom but the reality is that every person wants to shun freedom. Freedom always comes with responsibility. that is the aspect which people don't want to face. The very theory of Karma aims at the same thing.

In the past the very word Hysteria was associated with women. As a matter of fact the very word hysteria comes from the Latin root meaning fetus. As women suffered more from hysteria it was wrongly understood that only women would suffer from hysteria. But the very term throws light on the fact that women suffered more because they were made to repress more. The liberalization that one can find in the west has happened only because of the momentous insights of Sigmund Freud.

When Freud was working with Joseph Breuer, he encountered the very famous case Anna ‘O. Both Freud and Breuer found out that whenever the patient pours out her repressed feelings, in the presence of the psychoanalyst, the hysteric symptoms disappeared. This process of venting out the bottled up feelings was named Catharsis by Joseph Breuer. Even though the symptoms disappeared for a short while, they came back to haunt the patient after a very brief period of relief. Freud was of the opinion that there is something more to it than meets the eye. Then he developed the idea of transference - which Breuer was not ready to accept. This led to the breaking away of Breuer from Freud, but the idea would remain with Freud always.

The very word 'repression' is very important in the light of the proposition in hand. 'Repression' simply means an unfulfilled desire taking refuge in the domain of unconscious. If a desire or an idea is repressed, it does not mean it will disappear. The repressed desire will come to haunt the patient in more than one way. Freud famously calls it “the return of the repressed.” The return of the repressed is always marked with negative feelings and reactions. In short it is mental imbalance. It goes without saying that violence is the byproduct of mental imbalance. It will be illuminating to quote

Robert Waelder in this regard:


Repression actually is the opposite of self-control; by using the latter we take cognizance of our impulse, at the same time depriving if its power, while through repression the impulse becomes unconscious while remaining effective. More than that: the repressed impulse has been withdrawn from the influence of the ego and leads its own life. Repression deprives us of the chance of control.


A man who is peaceful in his mind will be peaceful and harmonious in the society. Only a man who is non-violent to himself will be non-violent to others. This is the very philosophy of ahimsa. As Charity begins at home, non-violence also begins with the self.

Freud wrote a monumental book Civilization and Its Discontentswhere he argues that all the civilizations up to now have been highly restrictive. Neurosis and imbalance are as inevitable as the Day of Judgment. One shouldn't understand erroneously that Freud argues for an absolutely unrestrained society. On the contrary, he argues for a society which understands and appreciates the value of human dignity and fallibility.

Is there a way out from the vicious circle of desire and repression? It is a question we have to deal with. The answer is in the affirmative. Instead of repressing the desires, one can sublimate the desire. Sublimation is an activity of the mind which turns the baser material into gold. It is the very science of alchemy of mind. According to Freud, all the higher human accomplishments like literature, fine arts, music and painting etc. are the fruits of sublimation. E.S. Waterhouse observes in his monumental book Psychology and Religion:


We can never wholly dry up an instinct any more than we can dry up a deep spring. We must find a channel. If springs under your house make it damp, you must cut a channel or drain to run the water in another direction. This process takes place with instinct and is called sublimation. Psychology shows us that if we cannot destroy an instinct, we can at least choose its channel.


In sublimation the energy is not repressed, but released. Sublimation changes the very quality of the energy from being destructive into a constructive one. So the idea is very clear. Instead of putting more and more don'ts on people, the society may give avenues for the people to sublimate their energy.

Freud was of opinion that our psyche is made up of two basic drives, i.e. Eros and Thanathos. One can call it life instinct and death instinct. J.B.Priestly had written a wonderful essay called “The Student Mob” where he discuses the recklessness of the students. He says that he always finds the students indulging in destructive activities and he is not ready to accept the traditional explanations for the recklessness of the students. He thinks that there is something more to it than meets the eye. Freud came with the explanation that there is a drive in the human psyche which he called the death instinct. In his scheme of things, the death instinct is responsible for the violent and destructive activities of human beings.

But for the death instinct, how one can explain masochistic actions? Death instinct turned outside becomes sadism and if turned inside becomes masochism. The death instinct can not be destroyed but can be transformed. The transformation of the destructive elements gives birth to the constructive elements. Acharya Mahapragya writes: “The seed of violence is to be found in every man; even so the seed of non-violence, which of these seeds sprout would depend upon the factor (environment)."

Thus peace and non violence is possible only as a fruit of transformation and sublimation and psychoanalytic methods can help us transform the individual and thus help us transform the society.


Books Referred To

  1. Acharva Tulsi and Contemporary Problems. JVB, Ladnun, 1993
  2. Towards Inner Harmonv, by Acharva Mahapragya. Health Harmony, Delhi 2006.
  3. Philosophical Foundation of Jainismby Adarsh Sahitya Sangh. Delhi 2002.
  4. Psychology and Religion, by E.S. Waterhouse. Mohit Publications, Delhi 1999.
  5. Sigmund Freud, by Robert Waelder. Rupa publications, Delhi 2003.
  6. Democracy: Social Revolution through Personal Transformation, by Acharya Mahapragya. Health Harmony, Delhi 2006.



Dr. Rudi Jansma, Jaipur

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