Integral Formation

Critique of the term “Formation”: a Hindu reading with an emphasis on the psychoanalytical aspect.

Formation, within the context of the Catholic Church is acceptably a quite narrow definition — “formation”  as understood by the Roman Catholic Church is involved in the shaping of vowed Religious within the Church. There are of course, the faith formation of the laity, but that is inter-mediated through this core group of celibate individuals. This author sees ‘formation’ in dual ways: it is the formation of an individual, who need neither be a celibate Catholic wo/man or even a Catholic and also formation should be seen not something that is stressed at one point in one’s life but is an ongoing, lifelong process which carries on till one’s death (with the caveat that will have to follow the first definition of this author regarding the target audience of formation, who need not be Catholic) and in some belief systems, as a process which is carried on from life to life. This author’s own religious system [1] insists on reincarnation and repeated births for the one and same individual. So while this author eschews a narrow target audience for the understanding of what constitutes integral formation; the author would refer to such texts as the Tibetan Book of the Dying which sees integral formation as even preparing for the life to come. This latter book details ways in which an individual can and should prepare her whole life to meet not only death but indeed the exact manner of essences that she will meet post-death. So while within the Western traditions, integral formation encompasses psychoanalytic theories right from Freud’s[2] eternal dialectic of libidinal forces and thanatos or the death urge to the more recent works of humanist psychologists like Carl Rogers who invest the individual with greater autonomy and volition; within the Eastern traditions we have more genuinely holistic views of formation. The ancient way of the Dao, in China; Zen Buddhism in Japan and the Hindu forms of Tantrika[3] worship seem to this author more authentic ways of formation. Catholic formation processes post-Vatican Council II seems in comparison to the times before that to be more open and positive e.g. the vow of chastity is seen as a greater giving of the self to God in freedom, it is believed to be freeing of individual ties or exclusive friendships so that the autonomous individual can attend to god with her total person-hood. Pre-Conciliar times saw the vow of celibacy as a negative command to abstain from sex. To this author, as will be illustrated briefly below , this is just a hermeneutical tactic to interpret and forcefully impose a central logo-centric doctrine of celibacy which now seems to be liberating and freeing. This notwithstanding the fact that it is now well established within the domains of psychology that the libido should never be tampered with. In well researched text after text, e,g, When the Piano Stops  (2009)[4], the authors blame prevailing attitudes of formation even as recent as till 2005, for the grave pedophilia-scandals[5] of the Catholic Church. The formation of the Christian Brothers (of Ireland as distinguished from the Presentation Brothers or the Salesian Brothers) came under tremendous attack from no less than the Jesuit run powerful Tablet[6] which pointed out that the whole contemporary system of formation for these men had gone horribly wrong. It is now well known, that

It is true if those abusing bastards had kids , only then they would understand how it hurts if one's kid is abused

these Brothers formed sex-rings to practice pederasty on little boys and buried them in their own monasteries ( see Mount Cashel cases of sodomy)[7]. This author stresses the need to address the libido[8] in healthy formation for that is one area which we tend to pretend does not exist and yet all our living hours, according to metanalyses of psychological reports, go in tackling this one area of our lives. It is the libido which, according to the likes of Anna Freud, Melanie Klein and much nearer home to our own times, Lacan, which forms an individual. This writer finds that Western forms of formation even when applied to lay non-Christian individuals fall short of addressing how to harness the libido, if such a thing is ever possible or even desirable.This paper will critique the formation of individuals within monastic communities and encourage the truly integral formation of individuals to grow in what the Catholic Church calls, the spirit of the Holy Spirit and what in Hinduism is known as Shradhdha (see the Kathoponisad  for the concept of shradhdha).

Tantra and its possible role in integral formation.

This is the allegorical union of the Purusha with Prakriti

Tantra, a much misunderstood system of practices, which also are known as left-handed practices deals head-on with the libido and our inner compulsions to revel in the senses. Tantra, unlike other branches of Hinduism and some forms of Christianity, does not encourage Manicheanism: Tantra sees the soul and the body as being integral to each other; there is no difference between the pneuma and the sarx. Unlike what is written in the first verse of the sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which is nearly impossible for the ordinary person to attain; the Mahanirvana Tantra counsels devotees to have repeated physical intercourse with the opposite sex; the latter person must be willing to engage in such congress and must be of the same age of the practitioner. Then it exhorts its practitioners to not eschew both the eating of pungent, spiced meat and drink ( not the soma or the sweet nectar) hard liquor. Slowly the practitioner will be satiated and the inner fires quenched. The libido will calm down enough to allow an anthropomorphic response of the whole human person to God,for it is God who has allowed us to be libidinal in the first place. The Tantras do not accept any form of repression. The greatest Hindu symbol of this engagement of the libido in the spiritual process if the phallic symbol of


Nataraja within the yoni or vagina of His consort, Parvati. This is a very paradoxical symbol of the Godhead which errant Christian and Islamic puritans have rejected as being sinful and even obscene.And to tone down the real significance of this idol, Hindus on the defensive have compared it to the Chinese yin and yang, or even the Samkhya philosophy’s delineation of the Purusha and Prakriti.  But what it simply means is this: that unless one satisfies one’s

The libido needs attention otherwise insanity occurs

libido, true salvation and self-control can never happen. And it also is a sign against perversions: one is only allowed to have heterosexual congress. While engaging in the act of physical intimacy one is exhorted in the various Tantras to keep God in mind. Thus one slowly is released from the bondage of the senses; otherwise as is well known, even vowed individuals take recourse to onanism ( see the daily diary entries of the Vatican II Pope Roncalli or John XXIII). Hindus worship this symbol of necessary eroticism and find nothing sinful in this. For this author, such an approach is what would make for an integrated formation. Christ and many others echoing him, including the Swami Vivekananda stress celibacy for a minuscule percent of all mankind. Unfortunately, when a large number of people experiment with celibacy, poverty and obedience in any religion, children, our most innocent, tend to suffer[9].

Anecdotes regarding integral formation.

Here the author digresses with two small exemplary anecdotes: once a very learned Benedictine finished a magisterial history of his Order and sent the volumes to their Prior-general. The latter being truly wise, wrote to this scholar that he should pray more and fall in love once in his lifetime. His works had everything but love. ( This is a true event and as far as this author can recollect it is of the great historian Dom David Knowles whose books are a staple in every seminary in the world). Thomas Merton, was a novice master for a very long time and in this author’s experience of reading the seven journals of Merton, a very spiritual man.

A very human and holy Trappist

Merton during the latter, more mature part of his life engaged with Zen Buddhism and grew both in wisdom as well as solitude. Very few men of his calibre are either found inside or outside of monastery walls. He kept detailed journal entries of his turbulent love-affair with a nurse and in most probability had fathered a son with her. Yet, he did not destroy any of these journals or try to cover up for his affair. This he did, fully knowing that the Church and his loyal devotees will one day think him anathema for what they would consider his sins. But this author sees in this man the true fruit of solitude and divinity: he understood that one cannot love an abstraction, one cannot love all human equally and pretend to be moved by them, neither like some pederasts can one force children to satisfy the deep inner urges of sexual release, nor does a mature person engage in auto-eroticism and pornography. This Novice-Master of the Trappists understood that true formation is to live in existential authenticity. He lived what today would be called an existentially “immersed” life which was de trope. Notice in these two examples and the case of Shiva given earlier, that true formation begins with us approaching what the Hinduism influenced disciple of Freud would term as our anima, as our alter-egos, as the shadows of our true selves. Integrated formation processes would do well to consider analyzing Heart of Darkness (1902) by Joseph Conrad. There, when the time comes to face up to what we truly are, there is uttered the famous words: “The horror. The horror”. It is only when we look into our own inner abysses and cease becoming frightened by what we find there, can we even start any integrative formation. Taboos of all sorts, especially taboos relating to the body and body fluids ( see the works on Leviticus by philosophers like Mary Midgely[10]), and our fears of breaking taboos of all manners stands in our ways to genuine formation in any Faith.

Summing up:

  1. Integral formation must take into account the needs of the human body and not fall into the trap of a Manichean split between the body and the soul.
  2. There may be a role for Tantra as a discipline in the forming of individuals in any religion and monastic setting. While one need not break the vow of celibacy etc. to adapt Tantric practices within the monastery, yet there is ample scope for learning from this discipline the need for freedom and gradual ascent. Repression is anathema to integral formation.
  3. Integral Formation is required not only for the Catholic Religious, but for all peoples of this world.

[1]This author is a Hindu-Brahmin. He remains convinced of the fact that we cannot ever eschew our own roots, no matter what we choose to learn or whichever religion we choose to follow. See the epic novel by Alex Hailey; Haley, Alex. Roots. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976. This novel is an autobiographical classic of the black-American experience.

[2]Freud remains relevant in all discussions of psychology for every single psychologist after Freud till our own times has either agreed with him or rejected him. They could never have done anything without Freud, much in the same way that Plato helped Western Philosophy to flourish. Alfred North Whitehead had perceptively remarked that all Western philosophy was merely a footnote to Plato. The same analogy applies to Freud and latter psychologists. It is interesting to note that:

“…psychoanalysis had become the single most prominent school of psychology and psychotherapy in the world, one capable of attracting a steady stream of students and followers not only from the medical specialties but also from the arts and humanities…Freud’s own stature had grown in proportion to the latent scientific and philosophical dimensions that had informed the topic of neurosis from the start…religious and mystical sentiments … Freud personally abhorred.”

See Kerr, John. Introduction. In A Most Dangerous Method: the Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, 7. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.

[3]Tantrik practices are called ‘bamachara’ or the left-handed practice for it involves an immersion in sex, drinks and the fulfilment of desires. This is in direct contradiction to right-handed practices such as are found in the Upanishads. While the latter call for great and immediate renunciation of sensuality, the former revels in sensuality and thus allows free-play to Freud’s conception of the libido. I see the Upanishadic texts as repressive for the beginner in the spiritual life while I see Tantra as a fit beginning to the non-initiate in the spiritual life. The Tantras have been consistently misunderstood and have achieved notoriety in the Christian world as being merely sex-manuals. This is a gross misunderstanding which needs rigorous correction.

[4]See the eminently readable McCall, Catherine. When the Piano Stops: a Memoir of Healing from Sexual Abuse. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2009.

[5]                     “States have a responsibility under international law to criminalise violence against women such as sexual exploitation and abuse. Failure to do so is a violation of obligations to prevent, punish, and investigate acts of violence, and to provide remedy for violence perpetrated against women. At the level of customary law, states have an obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent harm committed by both state and private actors”

It is important to note that private actors too have a role to play in curbing sexual violence. Contemporary Catholic Church hierarchy has only recently awakened to its duties towards abuse victims as a private institutional actor. This author contends that blind obedience inculcated in novitiates have a detrimental effect on novices. See O’Brian, Melanie. “State Responsiblitity for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse as Human Rights Violations by Peacekeepers.” Ethics, Evil, Law and the State. Ed. Aoife Padraigín Foley. First ed. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary, 2011. 18. Print. Inter-Disciplinary. See also the widely available Murphy Report available as a facsimile PDF file on the internet. It does indict Church personnel for gross cover-ups and lacunae in the priestly formation process. The Report states at section 1.32:

“Another consequence of the obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal was the failure of successive Archbishops and bishops to report complaints to the Gardaí [police] prior to 1996. The Archbishops, bishops and other officials cannot claim that they did not know that child sexual abuse was a crime. As citizens of the State, they have the same obligations as all other citizens to uphold the law and report serious crimes to the authorities.”

This secrecy and protectiveness is the bane of Religious Formation: to teach novices to blindly obey their superiors and also to blindly cover up for the sake of propriety their Congregation’s short-comings is a scourge. It will be worthwhile to note that St. Ignatius of Loyola said that if God so willed and the Society of Jesus’s existence became contrary to the Will of the Pope, that is sinful in its very existence, he would dissolve the Society and pray for fifteen minutes and get along with the business of life.

[6]Gill, Alan. “The Tablet – Children for Export.” Editorial. The Tablet, August 08, 1998.

[7]See the film The Boys of St. Vincent. Directed by John N. Smith. Performed by Henry Czerny, Johnny Morina and Brian Dooley. Montreal, Canada: National Film Board of Canada, 1992. Dramatic Miniseries.

[8] See Sophia E. Forster, and Donald L. Carveth, “Christianity: a Kleinian Perspective,” Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis 7, no. 2 (1999).

[9]How we treat our children, the least powerful in the pecking order, is symptomatic of how mature we are in mind, body and spirit. The following is an excerpt from the Cloyne report, easily available as a PDF online:

Monsignor O’Callaghan always had reservations about reporting to

the civil authorities.   In June 2002, in a letter to a canon lawyer, he stated:

“On the issue of reporting to civil authorities I have always been of

your mind and endorse everything you say. I am convinced that

reporting should have been left to the complainants. Our role in the

whole process has been compromised by taking on direct reporting as

part of our remit. Why should we take it on ourselves to report when

the complainant does not want it done? This commitment on our part

also seriously compromises our relationship with the priest against

whom allegations have been made.”

He failed to understand that the requirement to report was for the protection

of other children.” [my highligting]

[10] See for example, Midgley, Mary. Beast and Man: the Roots of Human Nature. London: Routledge, 1995.

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