SHAMANS, MYSTICS AND DOCTORS: A Psychological Inquiry into India and Its Healing Traditions by Sudhir Kakar
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SHAMANS, MYSTICS AND DOCTORS: A Psychological Inquiry into India and Its Healing Traditions

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A Western-trained Indian psychoanalyst, posed--sometimes precariously--between two spiritual and professional worlds, goes on a remarkable voyage of discovery in his native land. Kakar spent three years (on and off, presumably) studying the broad and bewildering spectrum of Indian ""healing traditions."" He visited a Muslim pit (wise elder) whose office was a dingy little room smelling of urine next to a mosque in Delhi; a bhagat, or shaman, from the Oraon tribe in eastern India; the lama of Macleodganj, a Tibetan refugee living in the Himalayan foothills; a tantric therapist, a charismatic female guru, a practitioner of Ayurveda (traditional medicine), etc. Kakar describes all these encounters with verve and a novelist's eye for detail; but as a Freudian (trained under Erik Erikson) and card-carrying member of the International Psychoanalytical Association, what is he to make of them? While he can't shed his scientific convictions, Kakar finds a splendid pluralistic wisdom in the old ways. He can't, for example, literally believe in the elaborate demonology of some Muslim and Hindu healers; but he recognizes that the unquestioning acceptance of this mythic system by the patient, his family, and his friends greatly facilitates therapy: diagnosis is reassuringly quick, and the shared ""idiom of illness"" smooths communication between the patient and everyone else. And the method works--at least occasionally. Again, while he is put off by the esoteric complexities of Tantrism, Kakar views its ideal androgyny as both rational and desirable. By the end of the book he seems to be distancing himself more and more from the strict empiricism of modern Western psychology. Kakar notes that the two leading Western approaches to mental health, the biomedical and the psychoanalytic, tend to neglect the job of restoring ""the lost harmony between the person and his group""--something traditional healers do very well. Kakar's text is sometimes too dense, too interlarded with Hindi terms; but he's a uniquely privileged observer, with a fine English style and a droll, ingratiating presence. An extraordinary cross-cultural ""field report.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1982
Publisher: Knopf