The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) spent most of his life in Vienna investigating the intricacies of the human mind and formulating ideas that have largely guided the treatment of mental illness in the West up to the present day. Here Śrīla Prabhupāda points out that because Freud ignores the real craziness of materialistic life—the misidentification of the self with the body—all his analyses and treatments are ultimately futile.
Disciple: Sigmund Freud’s idea was that many psychological problems originate with traumatic experiences in childhood or infancy. His method of cure was to have the patient try to recall these painful events and analyze them.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But he did not know that one must again become an infant. After this life, one will be put into another womb, and the same traumatic experiences will happen again. Therefore it is the duty of the spiritual master and the parents to save the child from taking another birth. The opportunity of this human form of life is that we can understand the horrible experiences of birth, death, old age, and disease and act so that we shall not be forced to go through the same things again. Otherwise, after death we shall have to take birth in a womb and suffer repeated miseries.
Disciple: Freud treated many people suffering from neuroses. For instance, suppose a man is sexually impotent. By recalling his childhood, he may remember some harmful experience with his father or mother that caused him to be repelled by women. In this way he can resolve the conflict and lead a normal sex life.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: However, even in the so-called normal condition, the pleasure derived from sexual intercourse is simply frustrating and insignificant. For ordinary men attached to the materialistic way of life, their only pleasure is sexual intercourse. But the śāstras say, yan maithunādi-gṛhamedhi-sukhaṁ hi tuccham: the pleasure derived from sexual intercourse is tenth class at best. Because they have no idea of the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the materialists regard sex as the highest pleasure. And how is it actually experienced? We have an itch, and when we scratch it, we feel some pleasure. But the aftereffects of sexual pleasure are abominable. The mother has to undergo labor pains, and the father has to take responsibility for raising the children nicely and giving them an education. Of course, if one is irresponsible like cats and dogs, that is another thing. But for those who are actually gentlemen, is it not painful to bear and raise children? Certainly. Therefore everyone is avoiding children by contraceptive methods. But much better is to follow the injunction of the śāstras: Simply try to tolerate the itching sensation and avoid so much pain. This is real psychology. That itching sensation can be tolerated if one practices Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Then one will not be very attracted by sex life.
Disciple: Freud’s philosophy is that people have neuroses or disorders of their total personality—various conflicts and anxieties—and that all these originate with the sexual impulse.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That we admit. An embodied living being must have hunger, and he must have the sex impulse. We find that even in the animals these impulses are there.
Disciple: Freud believed that the ego tries to restrain these primitive drives, and that all anxieties arise from this conflict.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Our explanation is as follows: Materialistic life is no doubt very painful. As soon as one acquires a material body, he must always suffer three kinds of miseries: miseries caused by other living beings, miseries caused by the elements, and miseries caused by his own body and mind. So the whole problem is how to stop these miseries and attain permanent happiness. Unless one stops his materialistic way of life, with its threefold miseries and repeated birth and death, there is no question of happiness. The whole Vedic civilization is based on how one can cure this materialistic disease. If we can cure this disease, its symptoms will automatically vanish. Freud is simply dealing with the symptoms of the basic disease. When you have a disease, sometimes you have headaches, sometimes your leg aches, sometimes you have a pain in your stomach, and so on. But if your disease is cured, then all your symptoms disappear. That is our program.
Disciple: In his theory of psychoanalysis, Freud states that by remembering and reevaluating emotional shocks from our childhood, we can release the tension we are feeling now.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But what is the guarantee that one will not get shocked again? He may cure the results of one shock, but there is no guarantee that the patient will not receive another shock. Therefore Freud’s treatment is useless. Our program is total cure—no more shocks of any kind. If one is situated in real Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he can face the most severe type of adversity and remain completely undisturbed. In our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, we are giving people this ability. Freud tries to cure the reactions of one kind of shock, but other shocks will come, one after another. This is how material nature works. If you solve one problem, another problem arises immediately. And if you solve that one, another one comes. As long as you are under the control of material nature, these repeated shocks will come. But if you become Kṛṣṇa conscious, there are no more shocks.
Disciple: Freud’s idea is that the basic instinct in the human personality is the sexual drive, or libido, and that if the expressions of a child’s sexuality are inhibited, then his personality becomes disordered.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Everyone has the sex appetite: this tendency is innate. But our brahmacarya system restricts a child’s sex life from the earliest stages of his development and diverts his attention to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As a result there is very little chance that he will suffer such personality disorders. In the Vedic age the leaders of society knew that if a person engaged in unrestricted sex indulgence, then the duration of his materialistic life would increase. He would have to accept a material body birth after birth. Therefore the śāstras enjoin that one may have sexual intercourse only if married and only for procreation. Otherwise it is illicit. In our Kṛṣṇa consciousness society, we prohibit illicit sex, but not legal sex. In the Bhagavad-gītā [7.11] Kṛṣṇa says, dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo ‘smi bharatarṣabha: “I am sexual intercourse that is not against religious principles.” This means that sex must be regulated. Everyone has a tendency to have sex unrestrictedly—and in Western countries they are actually doing this—but according to the Vedic system, there must be restrictions. And not only must sex be restricted, but meat-eating, gambling, and drinking as well. So in our Society we have eliminated all these things, and our Western students are becoming pure devotees of Kṛṣṇa. The people at large, however, must at least restrict these sinful activities, as explained in the Vedic śāstras.
The Vedic system of varṇāśrama-dharma is so scientific that everything is automatically adjusted. Life becomes very peaceful, and everyone can make progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. If the Vedic system is followed by human society, there will be no more of these mental disturbances.
Disciple: Freud says that sexual energy is not only expressed in sexual intercourse, but is associated with a wide variety of pleasurable bodily sensations such as pleasures of the mouth, like eating and sucking.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is confirmed in the śāstras: yan maithunādi-gṛhamedhi-sukham. The only pleasure in this material world is sex. The word ādi indicates that the basic principle is maithuna, sexual intercourse. The whole system of materialistic life revolves around this sexual pleasure. But this pleasure is like one drop of water in the desert. The desert requires an ocean of water. If you find one drop of water in a desert, you can certainly say, “Here is some water.” But what is its value? Similarly, there is certainly some pleasure in sex life, but what is the value of that pleasure? Compared to the unlimited pleasure of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, it is like one drop of water in the desert. Everyone is seeking unlimited pleasure, but no one is becoming satisfied. They are having sex in so many different ways, and the young girls walking on the street are almost naked. The whole society has become degraded. Every woman and girl is trying to attract a man, and the men take advantage of the situation. There is a saying in Bengal: “When milk is available in the marketplace, what is the use of keeping a cow?” So men are declining to keep a wife because sex is so cheap. They are deserting their families.
Disciple: Freud says that as the child grows up, he begins to learn that by giving up immediate sensual satisfaction, he can gain a greater benefit later on.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But even this so-called greater benefit is illusory, because it is still based on the principle of material pleasure. The only way to entirely give up these lower pleasures is to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As Kṛṣṇa states in the Bhagavad-gītā [2.59], paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate: “By experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” And as Yāmunācārya said, “Since I have been engaged in the transcendental loving service of Kṛṣṇa, realizing ever-new pleasure in Him, whenever I think of sex pleasure I spit at the thought, and my lips curl in distaste.” That is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Our prescription is that in the beginning of life the child should be taught self-restraint (brahmacarya) and when he is past twenty he can marry. In the beginning he should learn how to restrain his senses. If a child is taught to become saintly, his semen rises to his brain, and he is able to understand spiritual values. Wasting semen decreases intelligence. So from the beginning, if he is a brahmacārī and does not misuse his semen, then he will become intelligent and strong and fully grown.
For want of this education, everyone’s brain and bodily growth are being stunted. After the boy has been trained as a brahmacārī, if he still wants to enjoy sex he may get married. And because he has been trained from childhood to renounce materialistic enjoyment, when he is fifty years old he can retire from household life. At that time naturally his firstborn son will be twenty-five years old, and he can take responsibility for maintaining the household. Household life is simply a license for sex life—that’s all. Sex is not required, but one who cannot restrain himself is given a license to get married and have sex. This is the real program that will save society. By speculating on some shock that may or may not have occurred in childhood, one will never discover the root disease. The sex impulse, as well as the impulse to become intoxicated and to eat meat, is present from the very beginning of life. Therefore one must restrain himself. Otherwise he will be implicated.
Disciple: So the Western system of bringing up children seems artificial because the parents either repress the child too severely or don’t restrict him at all.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is not good. The Vedic system is to give the child direction for becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious. There must be some repression, but our use of repression is different. We say the child must rise early in the morning, worship the Deity in the temple, and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. In the beginning, force may be necessary. Otherwise the child will not become habituated. But the idea is to divert his attention to Kṛṣṇa conscious activities. Then, when he realizes he is not his body, all difficulties will disappear. As one increases his Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he becomes indifferent to all these material things. So Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the prime remedy—the panacea for all diseases.
Disciple: Freud divided the personality into three departments: the ego, the superego, and the id. The id is the irrational instinct for enjoyment. The ego is one’s image of his own body, and is the instinct for self-preservation. The superego represents the moral restrictions of parents and other authorities.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: It is certainly true that everyone has some false egoism, or ahaṅkāra. For example, Freud thought he was Czech. That is false ego, or identifying oneself with one’s place of birth. We are giving everyone the information that this identification with a material body is ignorance. It is due to ignorance only that I think I am Indian, American, Hindu, or Muslim. This is egoism of the inferior quality. The superior egoism is, “I am Brahman. I am an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa.” If a child is taught this superior egoism from the beginning, then automatically his false egoism is stopped.
Disciple: Freud says that the ego tries to preserve the individual by organizing and controlling the irrational demands of the id. In other words, if the id sees something, like food, it automatically demands to eat it, and the ego controls that desire in order to preserve the individual. The superego reinforces this control. So these three systems are always conflicting in the personality.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But the basic principle is false, since Freud has no conception of the soul existing beyond the body. He is considering the body only. Therefore he is a great fool. According to bhāgavata philosophy, anyone in the bodily concept of life—anyone who identifies this body, composed of mucus, bile, and air, as his self—is no better than an ass.
Disciple: Then these interactions of the id, the ego, and the superego are all bodily interactions?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, they are all subtle bodily interactions. The mind is the first element of the subtle body. The gross senses are controlled by the mind, which in turn is controlled by the intelligence. And the intelligence is controlled by the ego. So if the ego is false, then everything is false. If I falsely identify with this body because of false ego, then anything based on this false idea is also false. This is called māyā, or illusion. The whole of Vedic education aims at getting off this false platform and coming to the real platform of spiritual knowledge, called brahma-jñāna. When one comes to the knowledge that he is spirit soul, he immediately becomes happy. All his troubles are due to the false ego, and as soon as the individual realizes his true ego, the blazing fire of material existence is immediately extinguished. These philosophers are simply describing the blazing fire, but we are trying to get him out of the burning prison house of the material world altogether. They may attempt to make him happy within the fire, but how can they be successful? He must be saved from the fire. Then he will be happy. That is the message of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and that is Lord Kṛṣṇa’s message in the Bhagavad-gītā. Freud identifies the body with the soul. He does not know the basic principle of spiritual understanding, which is that we are not this body. We are different from this body and are transmigrating from one body to another. Without this knowledge, all his theories are based on a misunderstanding.
Not only Freud, but everyone in this material world is under illusion. In Bengal, a psychiatrist in the civil service was once called to give evidence in a case where the murderer was pleading insanity. The civil servant examined him to discover whether he was actually insane or not. In the courtroom he said, “I have tested many persons, and I have concluded that everyone is insane to some degree. In the present case, if the defendant is pleading insanity, then you may acquit him if you like, but as far as I know, everyone is more or less insane.” And that is our conclusion as well. Anyone who identifies with his material body must be crazy, because his life is based on a misconception.
Disciple: Freud also investigated the problem of anxiety, which he said was produced when the impulses of the id threaten to overpower the rational ego and the moral superego.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Anxiety will continue as long as one is in the material condition. No one can be free from anxiety in conditioned life.
Disciple: Is it because our desires are always frustrated?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. Your desires must be frustrated because you desire something that is not permanent. Suppose I wish to live forever, but since I have accepted a material body, there is no question of living forever. Therefore I am always anxious that death will come. I am afraid of death, when the body will be destroyed. This is the cause of all anxiety: acceptance of something impermanent as permanent.
Disciple: Freud says that anxiety develops when the superego represses the primitive desires of the id to protect the ego. Is such repression of basic instincts very healthy?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. For us repression means restraining oneself from doing something which, in the long run, is against one’s welfare. For example, suppose you are suffering from diabetes and the doctor says, “Don’t eat any sweet food.” If you desire to eat sweets, you must repress that desire. Similarly, in our system of brahmacarya there is also repression. A brahmacārī should not sit down with a young woman, or even look at one lustfully. He may desire to do so, but he must repress the desire. This is called tapasya, or voluntary repression.
Disciple: But aren’t these desires given outlet in other ways? For instance, instead of looking at a beautiful woman, we look at the beautiful form of Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, that is our process: paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate. If you have a better engagement, you can give up an inferior engagement. When you are captivated by seeing the beautiful form of Kṛṣṇa, naturally you have no more desire to look at the so-called beautiful form of a young woman.
Disciple: What’s the effect of childhood experiences on one’s later development?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Children imitate whoever they associate with. You all know the movie Tarzan. He was brought up by monkeys, and he took on the habits of monkeys. If you keep children in good association, their psychological development will be very good—they will become like demigods. But if you keep them in bad association, they will turn out to be demons. Children are a blank slate. You can mold them as you like, and they are eager to learn.
Disciple: So a child’s personality doesn’t develop according to a fixed pattern?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. You can mold them in any way, like soft dough. However you put them into the mold, they will come out—like badas, capātīs, or kachoris. Therefore if you give children good association, they will develop nicely, and if you put them in bad association, they will develop poorly. They have no independent psychology.
Disciple: Actually, Freud had a rather pessimistic view of human nature: he believed that we are all beset with irrational and chaotic impulses that cannot be eliminated.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: This is not only pessimism, but evidence of his poor fund of knowledge. He did not have perfect knowledge, nor was he trained by a perfect man. Therefore his theories are all nonsense.
Disciple: He concluded that it was impossible to be happy in this material world, but that one can alleviate some of the conflicts through psychoanalysis. He thought one can try to make the path as smooth as possible, but it will always be troublesome.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: It is true that one cannot be happy in this material world. But if one becomes spiritually elevated—if his consciousness is changed to Kṛṣṇa consciousness—then he will be happy.