Psychoanalysis and Jātaka Stories
Posted on February 12th, 2016

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge 

Psychoanalysis was introduced by Sigmund Freud in which free association, dream interpretation, and analysis of resistance and transference are used to explore repressed or unconscious impulses, anxieties, and internal conflicts. To Freud, psychoanalysis was clearly a social theory as well as a psychological theory (Stea, ‎2012).

Some experts view that the Freudian Psychoanalysis as a subject which is incomplete. According to Wax (1983) the scientific status of psychoanalysis has been the subject of continual debate. Influential philosophers of science have challenged the form of its theories and the nature of the evidence offered on their behalf. Some have concluded that the theories are beyond testing. Bogousslavsky and  Dieguez (2014) state that Freud did not follow a scientific process of verified experiments, but rather adapted his theories to the evolution of his own beliefs on psychological conditions, selectively emphasizing the aspects of his ‘therapies’ with patients which supported his emerging ideas, with often abrupt changes in theoretical interpretations.

The renowned Sri Lankan Literary genius Martin Wicramasinghe D.Lit. argues that the Psychoanalysis was initiated not by Freud but by the Jātaka Storyteller. Martin Wicramasinghe gives solid examples to qualify his opinion. Wicramasinghe intensely wrote on Buddhist Jātaka stories. In his books The Buddhist Jataka Stories and the Russian Novel (published in 1952) and Jataka Katha Vimasuma (The Literary Aspects of Buddhist Jātaka Stories) published in 1968 Martin Wicramasinghe explained the mind analysis that shown in the Jātaka stories. The Jātaka storyteller revealed and analyzed the noble to ignoble characteristics of the human psyche. The Jātaka storyteller knew the complexity of the human mind. He described the human behavior in vivid situations. He knew the internal mental conflicts, repressions and hysteria type of behavior that people exhibited. A vast amount of abnormal behaviors were recorded in form of stories by the Jātaka storyteller. The Jātaka stories represent a broad structure of mental phenomena.

The Late Professor K. N. Jayatilleke stated that Buddhist psychology does not share with Freud his psychic determinism and his consequent pessimism about the possibility of transforming human nature, but the Buddhist’ theory of motivation outlined above shows a marked similarity with that of Freud’s.

The similarity, as we may observe, even extends to the classification of desires and the use of terminology.. In a later phase of Freud’s thought there was a division of drives into eros (lust) or the life instinct and thanatos or the death instinct. At this stage eros comprehended both libido, the sex instinct, as well as the egoistic instincts. In Buddhism we find rāga (eros) subdivided into sex (kāma-rāga) and ego-instincts (bhava-rāga). Vibhavataṇhā is the desire for destruction or annihilation since vibhava and vināsa are synonyms, in the Pali texts (cp. … ucchedavādā sattassa ucchedaṃ vināsaṃ vibhavaṃ paññapenti, i.e. annihilationists posit the annihilation, destruction and extermination of a being). This is what Freud calls the death instinct, sometimes (mistakenly) referring to it as the Nirvana principle. In view of the close similarity of concepts the question as to whether Freud was influenced by Buddhism should be carefully examined especially since Freud had made a thorough study of Schopenhauer, who claimed to be a Buddhist deeply influenced by Buddhist and Upaniṣadic literature (Jayatilleke, 1978).

According to Dr. D V J Harischandra (1996) in Ummagga Jatakaya and Mahasupina Jatakaya there exist almost all the unconscious mechanisms that Freud described over six centuries later – including symbolisation, condensation, displacement and secondary elaboration.

Buddhist psychology espouses several competing topological theories of mind all of which include some form of an unconscious. The Abhidharmic model conceptualizes the unconscious as bhavanga-citta, a ground consciousness that is conditioned by karma and acts as a conditioning factor for current life habitual tendencies. Later revisions of that model view the unconscious as ālaya-vijñāna, a store consciousness containing the individual’s karmic seeds of suffering. Like Freud’s unconscious, bhavanga-citta and ālaya-vijñāna are thought to motivate the mind to produce destructive habitual mind states (Waldron, 2003)

Nichol (2006) sees some parallels between the Buddhistic Psychoanalysis and Freudian Psychoanalysis. He further states that around 600 BC Siddhartha Gotama practiced intensive meditation for several years and found a way for people to cultivate a sense of equanimity, wisdom, and compassion in their lives. Around 1900 AD Sigmund Freud undertook several years of intensive self-analysis and developed theories and therapeutic techniques for understanding how the unconscious operates in our lives to perpetuate neurotic suffering, and how we might gain insight and relief from that suffering and be more free to move toward our potential in this life.

Mid-twentieth century saw the collaborations between many psychoanalysts and Buddhist scholars as a meeting between two of the most powerful forces” operating in the Western mind (Tapas Kumar Aich, 2013). Schopenhauer is a link between Freud and Buddhism. The Buddhist axiom: “sabbe sattd ummattakd” (all worldlings are deranged) shows that both systems looked upon the neurosis of mankind as a problem with which to deal, but Freud saw the solution as a rational insight into one’s own condition; whereas Buddha was concerned with a man’s emotions and whole being. Both systems had a dynamic quality and not a static one; however, in de Silva’s view Buddhism goes further than does Freud. Freud claims that man must live with the best adaptation to the human condition that one can have and Buddhism’s araliat professes to transcend this condition entirely (de Silva, 1978).

The Psychoanalysts such as Erich Fromm and Karen Horney studied the Psychoanalytic component in the Buddhist philosophy. According to Erich Fromm psychoanalysis is not a therapy of commitment but rather an approach that liberates people from the type of commitment required by traditional religion and other social institutions. Fromm once stated: Psychoanalysis is a characteristic expression of the Western man’s spiritual crisis, and an attempt to find a solution. The common suffering is the alienation from oneself, from one’s fellow men, and from nature; the awareness that life runs out of one’s hand like sand, and that one will die without having lived; that one lives in the midst of plenty and yet is joyless”  (Fromm , Suzuki & Martino, 1960).

The Buddha helped to liberate people from emotional bondages and oppressed social conditions two millennia ago. Unlike the Freudian psychoanalysis the Buddhist psychoanalysis has a profound spiritual dimension and it extensively focuses on the deeper existential questions. Buddhist psychoanalysis brings unconscious and consciousness to a dialectical relation.

According to Mark Epstein- psychiatrist and the author, both the Buddha and Freud came to appreciate that the source of self-generated misery is an exaggerated sense of self’s absolute reality. Nonetheless Freud believed that the inner layers of the human personality consist of irrational and savagery wishes. In contrast the Buddha believed in the positive aspects of the human personality and its capabilities. The Buddha preached that the human have the capacity for self growth and achieve higher spiritual level (Jayatunge, 2014).

Hysteria Types of Reactions Described in the Jātaka Stories

The history of hysteria stretches over several millennia and contains a plethora of different understandings and interpretations.(Møllerhøj , 2009). Hippocrates (5th century BC) is the first to use the term hysteria. He believed that the cause of this disease lies in the movement of the uterus (Sigerist, 1951).

Paul Briquet’s Traité de l’Hystérie was published in 1859 and is a comprehensive clinical and epidemiological study of 430 patients with hysteria (Mai & Merskey, 1981). Up till 1870 hysteria had been regarded as a gynaecological illness that affected almost exclusively women; as a result of Charcot’s work the illness was transformed into a neurological disorder. However, shortly before his death Charcot had to acknowledge that he had been mistaken and that hysteria was in fact a psychiatric disorder (Gilson, 2010).

The Webster’s dictionary defines Hysteria as a psychiatric condition variously characterized by emotional excitability, excessive anxiety, sensory and motor disturbances, or the unconscious simulation of organic disorders. Jean Martin Charcot, Pierre Janet, Freud, and Joseph Breuer comprehensively wrote on hysteria.

Sigmund Freud provided a contribution that leads to the psychological theory of hysteria and the assertion of a male hysteria (Tasca, 2012). Sigmund Freud saw a traumatic experience in childhood that is uniformly of a sexual nature as general aetiology of hysteria. Freud’s famous case study of Anna O (Bertha Pappenheim) suffered from a rigid paralysis, accompanied by loss of sensation, of both extremities on the right side of her body over two years. Anna O was the classic study of Hysteria.

Hysteria’ (conversion disorder) remains in modern humanity and across cultures, as it has for millennia (LaFrance, 2014). Hysteria was largely considered to be a neurological problem in the 19th century, but without a neuropathological explanation it was commonly assimilated with malingering (Kanaan et al., 2009).

The DSM- IV -TR distinguishes hysteria under Somatoform Disorders and the Dissociative Disorders. Somatoform disorders are psychological ailments that cause bodily symptoms, including pain and numbness. The symptoms can’t be traced back to any physical cause. And they are not the result of substance abuse or another mental illness. Dissociative disorders (DD) are conditions that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, awareness, identity or perception. There are numerous Somatoform and Dissociative Disorders are discussed in the Jātaka stories.

The Vibhanga Atuwawa – a Buddhist scripture part of the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism describes vibrant neurotic features that are perceptible in laymen. The Abhidhamma model implies that neuroses, psychoses and an armored personality are natural phenomena, but also that there is a systematic training to go beyond these modes of living (Barendregt , 2006).

The Jātaka stories give numerous case examples of neurotic behavior in people. The story of Prince Asanaga is one of the special case studies of phobias.

The Prince Asanaga – a character that is described in Chula Phalobhana Jātaka Story suffers from Gynophobia or an abnormal, irrational and persistent fear of women. According to Karen Horney the male dread of woman to the boy’s fear that his genital is inadequate in relation to the mother.

The Prince Asanaga fears and avoids women from childhood. From birth to the adulthood, he was in the company of males and never had a chance to associate women. He consciously avoided women following unexplainable fear. Accidentally he got acquainted with a woman and experiences an erotic relationship with her. His fear turns in to a severe craving. His suppressed sexual desires emerge like a volcano and the Prince Asanaga goes in to an acute stress reaction. The Prince was deprived of sexual pleasure from his birth due to his fear and once he experienced it he could not control himself. He becomes violent and attacks the men on the street with his sword. The Jathaka storyteller colorfully describes the inner mental conflict of the Prince Asanaga and his fears, anxiety, sudden desire and the acute emotional reaction.

Psychogenic diseases

Psychogenic disease is a broader category than psychosomatic disease, in that it can include the hysterical form, where there is no physiologic change in peripheral tissues, as well as the psychosomatic form, where there is some physiologic alteration (Sarno, 2006). The Jātaka Storyteller narrates numerous stories of psycho- physiological manifestations (psychogenic skin rashes, psychogenic sexual dysfunctions, and psychogenic paralyses) found in men and women. According to these Jātaka stories the Akusal or the guilty based mind is responsible for such manifestations.  In one of the stories a guilty ridden Count experiences sexual impotence and subsequently a sex change. 

Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures

Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures have long been known by many names. A short list includes hysteroepilepsy, hysterical seizures, pseudoseizures, nonepileptic events, nonepileptic spells, nonepileptic seizures, and psychogenic nonepileptic attacks (Gedzelman & LaRoche, 2014). Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures are episodes of movement, sensation, or behaviors that are similar to epileptic seizures but do not have a neurologic origin; rather, they are somatic manifestations of psychologic distress (Alsaadi & Marquez, 2005). These seizures are triggered by psychological problems.

In Illisa Jātakaya the miserly count Illisa goes in to a psychogenic fits when he found his wealth had been distributed among the poor people. He lost his consciousness and then his body shakes violently. After a while he gains consciousness and then demands his property. According to the storyline after he gained consciousness there was no postictal period described in the count Illisa’s story. He was not under sedated state and he walks up and energetically cries for his possessions.

Psychogenic Itch

Itch (or pruritus) is defined as an unpleasant sensation inducing the desire of scratch. Psychogenic itch is related to psychologic abnormalities e.g., itch in obsessive compulsive disorders, depression, and delusions of parasitosis (Yosipovitch & Samuel, 2008).  As indicated by Gupta & Gupta (1996) it has been estimated that in at least one third of dermatology patients, effective management of the skin disorder involves consideration of associated emotional factors.

The Ghata Jātakaya is one of the best case studies of Psychogenic Itch. In Ghata Jātaka (also called Ghatakumara). The king Ghata was a righteous monarch who ruled his kingdom according to humane laws. Once he found his chief minister committed adultery with a noblewoman of his royal harem. Instead of condemning him to death the King Ghata expelled him from the position that he held.

The expelled minister went to the neighboring kingdom and met the monarch Vanka who was greedy for power and who had a desire to extend the borders of his kingdom. The ex minister persuaded king Vanka to attack his native land.  The king Vanka invaded king Ghata’s kingdom.

Being a virtuous person the king Ghata did not want to see any bloodshed or to send his men to a slaughtering noxious battle. He renounced the throne. Hence the king Vanka became the new ruler and sent king Ghata to the prison. At the prison the king Ghata practiced the meditation of loving-kindness. He had no anger or ill feelings towards the king Vanka who seized his kingdom.

Knowing the extraordinary and compassionate qualities of the king Ghata and his innocence Vanka had severe guilty feelings. Within a several days he had a skin rash and an excruciating itch which made him extremely uncomfortable.  The royal physicians gave him profuse medicine, but his condition became worst. Finally the king Vanka freed king Ghata from the prison and restored his kingdom. After these reconciliations the king Vanka had a spontaneous recovery.

The Oedipal Conflict and Jātaka Stories 

Sigmund Freud introduced the term ‘Oedipus complex’ in his ‘Interpretation of Dreams that was published in 1899 (Ahmed, 2012).  In formulating his psychology of the unconscious, Freud makes constant reference to Sophocles’ version of the Oedipus myth (Bollack, 1993). In the Oedipus myth we find a dramatic representation of the child’s passionate ties to its parents (Zachrisson, 2013).

According to Freud the concept is a desire for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex, which produces a sense of competition with the parent of the same sex and a crucial stage in the normal developmental process (Ahmed, 2012).  As Freud described in the Oedipus complex, largely unconscious ideas and feelings, which concentrate, on the desire to possess the parent of the opposite sex and eliminate the parent of the same sex. Freud analyzed the story of Oedipus Rex, and describes the unconscious motives of patricide He postulated that patricide was the great crime at the base of all social evolution.

In Freud’s theory the Oedipus complex is the core of human sexual development (Žerjav, 2010). Freud believed that by birth man is sexy; a child must possess sexual desire even when he is in his Mother’s womb and this inborn sexual predisposition lays the foundation for all other propensity (Ahmed, 2012).

The universality of the Oedipus complex indicates that the oedipal situation is at the heart of the mental life of man (Lebovici, 1982). Borove~ki-Jakovljev and colleagues (2005) state that  nevertheless, the conflicts of phallic phases of the psychosexual development are universal to all human being, no matter how we call them – Oedipus, Electra or Persephone Complex.

The Oedipus complex wanes as a crucial pathogenic focus to the extent to which its resolution—never achieved once and for all—is more than a repression,” something other than a retreat from and exclusion by what Freud called the coherent ego. Seen from the perspective of parricide, guilt, and responsibility, repression of the complex is an unconscious evasion of the emancipatory murder of the parents, and a way of preserving infantile libidinal-dependent ties with them (Loewald, 2000).

According Freud’s Oedipus complex theory in the unconscious level every male subject has a desire to murder his father and commit an incestuous act towards his mother. Various cultures have folktales that are similar to Oedipus story. The Thayo Darma Jātakaya is a metaphorical story which draws attention to many psychologists and it can be interpreted as an Oedipus complex narrated in the Jātaka storybook.

Thayo Darma Jātakaya is a story about the conflict between a father and a son. The father (King of the monkeys) destroys the genitals of male baby monkeys in order to liquidate any impending future threat by a male monkey. In addition the father monkey keeps all the female monkeys for himself making other male monkeys impotent. One of the male baby monkeys was able to escape physically unharmed and grows up in a hidden area of the jungle. The male baby monkey’s mother secretly feeds him. Hence the male monkey becomes emotionally attached to its mother and hating the father. Once the monkey becomes a fully grown adult he comes out and challenges his father. In this conflict, the son kills the father and becomes the new King.

In Totem and Taboo (1913) Freud writes that the myth of the murder of the primal father.   The primal father is a father who has in his possession and who enjoys all women and this is why the sons decide one day to murder the father. The active words destruction, demolition, which Freud has used in referring to the dissolution of the Oedipus complex, may be heard as reverberations of that dominant feature of the oedipal conflict, parricide, the destruction of the parent by the child (Loewald, 2000).

The murder of the primal father or parricide discussed in the Thayo Darma Jātakaya has a symbolic meaning and it is outstanding. This story was written thousands of years ago. Nonetheless the Jātaka storyteller had an insight about repressed childhood conflicts.

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