Vaisnavism and the Social and Mental Health Professions
by Dhira Govinda dasa
Posted January 10, 2003

I present this article to encourage Vaisnavas interested and serving in social service and mental health fields. This piece includes a report on some publications that may be useful in academic endeavors and in the field of practice.

The January, 2003 issue (vol. 13, no. 1) of Research on Social Work Practice, a major social science research journal, contains an article that I co-authored with Dr. Neil Abell, a professor at Florida State University, entitled Examining the Effects of Meditation Techniques on Psychosocial Functioning. This article reports on research I conducted as part of my doctoral program on the effects of the Hare Krsna Maha Mantra on stress, depression, and the three gunas, and is a followup on an article on a pilot study examining the Maha Mantra, entitled Effects of the Maha Mantra on Some Mental Health Indicators, that appeared in the April, 2001 issue (vol. 62, no. 2) of The Indian Journal of Social Work.

Such publications in scholarly journals establish Vaisnava philosophy and practices in academia. Change begins in the world of ideas, and thus influence in academia trickles down to the general population. Also, such articles create a foundation for persons working in social service and mental health fields to practically implement Vedic techniques, such as chanting the Hare Krsna Maha Mantra. With a scholarly base of research articles, practitioners can enter environments such as hospitals, prisons, and depression clinics, and institute Maha Mantra chanting as an effective intervention. Other yoga groups have for decades been compiling research findings and establishing their practices in secular society.

Related articles that I've published over the years include pieces about research on the three gunas, establishing the validity of the Vedic psychological paradigm, in journals such as Psychological Reports (June, 1999- vol. 84) and the Journal of Indian Psychology (Jan., 1998- vol. 16, no. 1). Additionally, the Journal of Indian Psychology (Jan., 2002- vol. 20, no. 1) printed a philosophical article I wrote, entitled Vaisnavism and the Social and Mental Health Sciences, which presents a Vaisnava view of modern paradigms of Western sociological theory, and includes practical applications, such as research on and implementation of Maha Mantra chanting and the social system of varnasrama. Three other articles, based on Vaisnava philosophy and the guna and Maha Mantra research, are in process.

Vaisnava scholars can refer to these journal publications in their writings, and there is huge scope for further research. Practically any aspect of Vaisnava practice can effectively be studied using modern methodologies. Krsna consciousness is directly experienced (e.g., BG 9:2- pratyaksa), in accord with empirical methods. Of course, such methods are imperfect and Vaisnavas don't rely on or put much faith in them. Much of the world, however, is enamoured by such methodologies, and thus they can be utilized as a tool for educating and impressing people about the applicability of Krsna consciousness. Several others have applied and expanded this research. For example, Vahini Caturvedi Prabhu used the scale developed as part of my guna research in her doctorate dissertation at the University of Mumbai, in the Department of Audiology and Speech Rehabilation, and Jayasacisuta Prabhu is conducting additional research on the three gunas as a personality typology as part of his university research in psychology.

Included herein are the abstracts from the article in Research on Social Work Practice and the essay entitled Vaisnavism and the Social and Mental Health Sciences.

Examining the Effects of Meditation Techniques on Psychosocial Functioning: Abstract- "Objective: An experiment was conducted to determine the effects of chanting the maha mantra on stress, depression, and the three gunas- sattva (enlightenment), rajas (passion), and tamas (inertia)- described in the Vedas as the basis of human psychology. Primary hypotheses of the study were that the maha mantra group would increase sattva, and decrease stress, depression, rajas and tamas, significantly more than the other groups. Method: Subjects were tested at pretest, posttest, and followup, with testing times separated by 4 weeks. Participants were randomly assigned to a maha mantra group, an alternate mantra (placebo) group, and a control group. Results: MANOVA results supported these hypotheses from pretest to posttest at p<.05 for all dependent variables except rajas. Conclusions: The authors suggest that the maha mantra has potential in addressing problems related to stress and depression. It is also recommended that the maha mantra be considered as one possible component of a spiritual approach to social work practice."

Vaisnavism and the Social and Mental Health Sciences: Abstract- "This article provides a Vaisnava view of major paradigms of Western sociological theory, including discussion of ontological, epistemological and methodological issues in the social and mental health sciences. Practical applications of scientific methods to Vaisnava theory and practices are discussed. These applications are based on validation of guna theory, and a survey study of the gunas is described. Conclusions of the paper include the unsuitability of Western frameworks for study of Vedic social science, and the capacity for Vaisnava approaches to inform theoretical and practical discussions in the sociological and psychological disciplines."