‘Advaita (psycho)therapy’
Supplementary or conflicting?
[introduction and interview with Susan Frank by Johan van der Kooij]

I heard a visitor ask a question during a seminar given by Ramesh Balsekar:
'What do you think about psychotherapy?'
The hall became stock-still as if everyone were holding their breath so as not to miss the answer. Balsekar’s answer was simple and clear: 'If your body is weak, then it makes sense to go to a doctor, similarly, if your mind is weak it makes sense to be in therapy.'
At first sight it seems as if the principles of advaita and psychotherapy are contradictory.
Jean Klein described the distinction very clearly:

'All forms of psychotherapy, including psychoanalysis, are based on a premise that is exactly the cause of what could be called a fundamental neurosis in the light of advaita … namely the arising of an ego that experiences itself as a separated entity...The psychoanalyst tries to restore an ego to balance and harmony, an ego in balance with its surroundings and with other beings. On closer examination this ideal is seen to be completely naïve... This is just about as absurd as applying oneself to curing the symptoms of a disease without turning to the sickness itself. The psychoanalytic cure is thus not a real cure. It doesn’t liberate the sick person from the sickness, it helps him to live with it, with the ego. His sickness is imaginary. From the point of view of advaita a psychoanalyst always works, whether consciously or not, and in all sincerity, just as does Monsieur Purgon, the doctor in Moliére’s ‘The Imaginary Invalid’. (source: Be who you are, Watkins Publishing, Dulverton 1978)

The vestibule

After the second world war a broad interest arose in personal growth and spirituality. Humanistic psychology developed as a reaction to classical psychoanalysis and is accessible to a broad audience. Humanistic psychology is a collective name for experience-directed psychotherapy which stresses personal growth. The heart of humanistic psychology lies in the art of looking into the inner. Another important starting point of humanistic psychology is that there is fundamentally nothing wrong with people, that everyone uses a mask now and then in order to be able to function. The masks arose in the psyche, almost invisibly, when they were needed. Seen in this way we are all a little bit neurotic. Humanistic psychology offers a method to unmask the personality and so to come in touch with a deeper reality in ourselves.

You could call humanistic psychology a vestibule to the interest that currently exist for spirituality in general, and non-duality in particular. Humanistic psychology began to use self-awareness to explore the depths of consciousness. It goes without saying that it came into contact with areas where scientific psychology stops and experience of being begins.

-Is it a pitfall or just a form of support if we do therapy during our sadhana?
-Can one penetrate to the essence of advaita without psychological insight into the personality? Or is that just another mental game, a mental foothold?

Amigo visited Susan Frank, who regularly gives satsang in Holland, with these and other questions.

Some years ago ShantiMayi, the spiritual Master of Susan Prajnaparamita, asked her to 'spread the light all over the world.'
Since then Susan has unceasingly offered satsang and intensives, inspiring all who are longing to awaken to their inherent Buddha nature. Susan, living devoted to truth and freedom all her life, she has been given a rich vista of non-dual teachings: Advaita Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Zen, Ch’an.

Also see: www.susanfrank.nl

Johan: I see similarities between advaita and psychotherapy and that is what I would like to bring to the foreground in this conversation.

Susan: I don’t know anything about psychotherapy and I also know nothing about advaita, so this could become an amusing conversation…. !

Johan: A large number of people do psychotherapy to work on themselves. It seems as if this target group also go deeper into advaita. Do they fit together?

Susan: Naturally everything fits together, there is one totality, a division cannot be made anywhere. Does this tree and that cloud belong together? Yes, naturally, it is manifestation, everything belongs together, One. All divisions that one makes are mind-made, and in essence misunderstandings, One cannot be divided. What items would you pull out of existence, and where will you place them?

Ah, but you know, there are an infinite number of points of view, and which one is true? Everyone is right, seen from their own point of view. But let’s change the perspective.

Most people work on themselves in order to become happier, to resolve traumas or heal sadness. Psychotherapy groups have an important function. The realization that everyone in the group is confronting the same difficulties; that you can share with each other, and work away your sadness, the catharsis, the feeling that you are not alone…

Pieces of tension and pain fall away, maybe even big pieces. The focus is on feeling better, on feeling more free. And this is all a great good.

And now we come to a crucial difference: my first and great love is advaita, a beautiful way… Then all interest in what you think or feel stops. Here we come to a totally different dimension. 'How are you?' Yeah, Who cares?

Here, the fascination stops for how you feel, your fascination for your fancied identity, for your attainments, your status, your possessions, your experiences…

Find that which is free of all that….

Who is ready to face a total loss of identity? Who dares to be so open and vulnerable and admit to being nobody?

Johan: In my introduction to this article I quote Jean Klein on the conflict between advaita and psychotherapy. To put it briefly, that quote says that psychotherapy has the goal of bringing the separated ego into balance again.

Susan: In psychotherapy it is always assumed that you are somebody. For example, the sad person who wants to be in balance again and feel happy. When you are willing to open to non-dual spirituality, and take a deeper look, you will see that there is no such thing as an ego, or a separated ego. The ego itself is the delusion of separation.

Johan: I once asked Jean Klein whether I needed to clean up my psychological past before I started investigating advaita. His answer was: ‘If you look from the non-dualistic perspective then all the psychological problems will finally dissolve by themselves.’

Susan: Yes, I agree completely.

Johan: Still that happened only partially during that time.

Susan: Jean Klein used the word ‘finally’…

At a certain moment you are ready to stop investing in your pain, you are ready to lay down your fascination for your sadness and your discomforts. You entrust yourself to a larger perspective. It seems as if you are taking a step backward. A step from experiencing to purely witnessing all experience, from being identified with all movement to silently observing all movement. Slowly all anxiety will dissolve. It is a process of purification. It takes time, trust, sincerity, boundless patience, total dedication and no wavering.

When the old pains come to the surface, be ready to see that everything comes and goes and that nothing really has any substance. For some people this is the moment to declare: 'It’s not going well, now I have to go into therapy…'

And well, the people who absolutely want recognition for their feelings and experiences, they may be better off with some counseling first.

Johan: Many psychotherapists have also come in contact with spirituality. Can the two exist together?

Susan: Yes, that’s possible for some time, but even better: bring the wisdom of spirituality into psychotherapy and don’t try to squeeze psychotherapy into spirituality. Eventually every form of psychotherapy is superfluous and spirituality evaporates into a life that is so ordinary, extraordinary ordinary.

Johan: You once said: 'As long as you think that you still need therapy, that means that you have not crossed the ocean of samsara*.'

Susan: Absolutely, after self-realization there is no more benefit from psychotherapy. The imagined personality has been seen to be completely transparent and one has lost all interest for this phantom.

Johan: Suppose, someone has met a guru, but the old sadness continues to exist.

Susan: Yeah, it may even become ten times stronger.

Johan: What is happening then?

Susan: In satsang, and in the relation with a spiritual Master light is thrown into your heart. Everything that is still hidden and repressed is brought to light. In the increasing trust, and in the openness that arises in you, and in the light that comes into your being all the old sadness dares to show its face.

If you are not sufficiently prepared, or do not have good contact with your spiritual Master, you may think: now things are going really bad with me! At first it was going so well, but now things are worse, what a relapse! I really need therapy…!

No, its actually going very well, because everything that has always been ignored or suppressed is becoming visible to you. And more and more you will find the courage to just be with what is.

What is beautiful about these days is that so many therapists are beginning to get deep spiritual insights. They have a far greater 'capacity' for their clients. And nowadays, many of their clients really need that.

Johan: By means of psychotherapy you investigate yourself and your relation to the world. Then you land in territories other than your rational mind. The way opens itself towards essence.

Susan: As far as I am concerned it is very simple: do you have a compelling fascination for your drama? Then go into therapy.

But, as long as you are working on a person, working on a somebody, then you are still into reconstructing a three dimensional illusion.

Spirituality is actually for healthy, stable people. You need to be mature and stand firmly on your feet to be able to completely surrender to…, what shall we say; freedom, truth, love to all that is.

Johan: What is then the difference between what you do and what a therapist does?

Susan: I don’t know what I do, I actually don’t do anything, the words come immediately without the intervention of ideas.

I have never been to a psychotherapist, but I have understood that therapists can be a great help in making you feel better, feel more confident, and let go of old pain and traumas.

Spirituality is about opening completely and entrusting yourself to totally nothing and totally everything at the same time. In this, every idea of being-there dissolves.

The readiness to die, every moment, the readiness to fully live, every moment. Live life fully. Live joyfully, fall in love, earn your money, deny yourself nothing. But look right through it, see that it doesn’t have a single speck of reality.

You are not tied down by anything, you don’t have to let go of anything, you are not bound by anything. Deny nothing, exclude nothing, include everything… In the midst of life and free of it at the same time.

Our togetherness is about self realization

Johan: Do you tune into a psychological layer during individual talks?

Susan: People come to satsang with varying unique problems or complications. Some matters are not suitable to talk about during satsang. So sometimes we make an individual appointment and take the time to disentangle some balls of twine.

Disentangling the knots means that they come to see that actually nothing is really there, they come to see that all knots are mind made. They come to see that all is mind made.

Our togetherness is about self realization, nothing else than that. And whatever is needed for that, is needed for that. Everyone in their own completely unique way, step by step going home, home which no one ever left.

Johan: Sometimes therapists say that people who are involved with spirituality have a tendency to sweep their emotional problems under the rug.

Susan: Yes, that is true, therefore you need a spiritual teacher who can catch you by the sleeve, when necessary. In a half baked understanding of the principle of observing, people can get aloof, avoid participating in life, soothing their fears.

Sometimes what is meant to be a pointer, or an encouragement to the student is again conceptualized. New ideas are made, ‘spiritual’ ideas, in an ongoing attempt to define and control life.

And … there are no emotional problems really, any problem is mind made and a resistance to directly experiencing what is.

Life itself shows. And, if you try to preserve your control behind spiritual concepts, or behind a refusal to be totally present, then that certainly comes to light. Everything wants to be seen, and everything that you try to avoid knocks on your front door one day. Thus these are always the big subjects: What are you trying to avoid, and what are you afraid of? Live life fully and deny nothing!

Johan: But, 'everything wants to be seen'… that is an invitation to investigate the personality, why am I actually sad, why does my partner irritate me?

Susan: No, all ‘why’ stops! In radical spirituality there is absolutely no interest in any why! It all depends on where you are on your path of unfolding, whether you just allow and experience that sadness, or merely let it pass. Why sadness exists, that is again the realm of fascination with the imagined person.

Everyone walks their own unique path.

Johan: In psychotherapy one can learn that an emotion like anger is a projection, a reaction because maybe you received too little attention in your family. If you see that you can let it go.

Susan: As far as I am concerned there are three possibilities: 1) go totally into the emotion or 2) let it pass, or 3) find out the ‘why ­ because’ in order to let it go.

The why-because-and-then-letting-it-go doesn’t belong in my shop, also not when I meet people individually.

I am not a psychotherapist, yet sometimes it can be helpful to look together at certain complications.

Everyone walks their own unique path. Walking home: learning to listen deeply to existence, learning to bend, learning to yield.

Everyone has ideas about what they think they need for their inner journey, but that is not necessarily what you get, or what you really need.

Johan: How can you know?

Susan: The connection with your spiritual teacher is of the utmost importance. The teacher is there for you, the teacher is serving you, loving you unconditionally.

There is an immense power, a very mysterious one working in this relation. I have the feeling that this is not much realized nowadays.

Do not deny yourself such a rare gift and blessing. You will be nourished so deeply and inspired and empowered again and again to go beyond any limit, any judgment, any concept….


Johan: Is it because of deep relaxation that someone becomes totally themselves after self-realization?

Susan: Yes, deep relaxation and then authenticity comes to the foreground. We all long very much for authenticity. You only have to look at who our heroes are, for example Nelson Mandela, Madonna, Mick Jagger…, or on a much greater scale Jesus, Buddha, the Dalai Lama. All people who are so much themselves. Their authenticity reminds us of something that lives deep in us and that we long for: relaxing in just being my self, relaxing in just being totally natural…

During your sadhana you stop lugging your life around and forcing it to be what you want. We only need to be natural, relax and surrender totally to what is.

Johan: How does personal authenticity arise?

Susan: That has something to do with self trust.

Your spiritual unfolding adds a great dimension to that. Your self trust transforms into Self-trust by means of an ever deeper surrender, by getting out of the way and making room for God.

You find ever more room in your heart. You need not reject or acquire anything anymore and your existence becomes an expression of naturalness. Then authenticity is no longer personal.

Johan: Do you still have a personality?

Susan: What is that

Johan: Do you have preferences?

Susan: Yes, certainly!

Johan: Could you call that a personality?

Susan: Personality means mask, but for me the word means that there is a delusion of a separate identity.

A preference wells up, it wells up that I want to go for a walk, that I feel like some coffee, a thought that I have to call somebody. Is a personality needed for that? Not at all…

Johan: Jean Klein, Nisargadatta and John Levy were three totally different kinds of people, I would almost say that they were three totally different personalities. I am convinced that they were not identified with the personality. But they had very definitely different preferences.

Susan; Yes, that’s what you say, their being personalities, but that isn’t how they see. It all depends on your point of view. Are there preferences? O.K. Are there no preferences? O.K.

Do you still believe that you are identified? Are you flexible in changing perspectives, do you see the transparency of everything, do you see that no perspective has any reality?

Ananda Mayi Ma for example, was so absorbed, she merged with everything, she didn’t see any difference between fire and water, … but I do! I know that the essence of water and fire is the same, but I also see the difference between them very clearly.

There is no such thing as a final destination

Johan: Does that insight add something to the notion of essence?

Susan: Notion of essence…… let’s be careful, and not again objectify the unborn principle that you call essence.

Essence is not an object. Essence has no name and no form. Nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken away from it.

You realize who you are, you know who you are, without knowing cognitively.

There is an unending deepening, ever finer and more subtle. But there is actually no such thing as a final destination….Let’s live by the famous mantra in the Heart Sutra:

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha
(Go, go beyond, go beyond the highest, beyond the highest reality, beyond the highest realization. Svaha: all intent is relinquished)

Johan: How can there still be movement after self realization?

Susan: Yes, well movement is there. In self realization nothing changes, you only know without a shadow of a doubt that all notion of ‘I’ has dissolved into formless, indefinable consciousness.

Movement just continues. See the unchanging in the changing, and the changing in the unchanging.

From my point of view there is no personality, I can’t find anyone anywhere who is me. There are thoughts, feelings, there are preferences, there is sleep, there is hunger, there is a momentary impatience… life expressing itself.

Johan: Do you see a personality in other people?

Susan: No personality here, no personality there. No here, no there. Once someone asked me: 'What are you actually? Are you a Guru or a Satguru? ' I know that I am everything, and nothing at the same time. How can I confine myself to being something, or not being something? How can I define myself to one or the other? I can’t say: I am a Guru, or a Satguru, I am this or I am that…. impossible. Maybe some can say that, but it means nothing to me. And you are exactly the same: limitless, formless essence. In reality there is no me and no you, there is only God and God can be seen in all eyes.

'Just be willing to receive
like an empty vessel
life, expressing itself as it does.
Give up your preoccupations,
your interpretations,
and all conditions put on existence.
Come to see that there is no separate individuality,
see that all sense of separation is mind made.
Realizing this all suffering ceases
and you will awaken to love, wisdom and compassion
expressing itself in all actions throughout your entire life.'

Susan Prajnaparamita

* Samsara = the ever becoming
**Ananda Mayi Ma = a unique, dazzling incarnation of divinity, India 1896 - 1982