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The Third Method of Research in Psychology

Manoj Pavithran


Research in psychology, these days, are predominantly following the objective scientific method and its underlying worldview of materialism. While this method has its place, the very method limits the scope of our understanding and the perspectives we can get through it. On the other hand, there are other methods of research, particularly Vedic, that are hardly known or used these days, methods that rely on higher-order cognitive faculties. This paper is an attempt to discern between three different methods of research to show the need for understanding and using the Vedic or Yogic method of research in psychology that can give us a method appropriate for the domain of research.

Fluttering Flag

Advancing the frontiers of knowledge requires methods of research that are appropriate for the domains of knowledge being explored. Research in psychology, to be considered scientific, is now validating itself through objective scientific research with its methods of hypothesis, measurement, data collection, analysis and confirmation. While it is self-evident that psychological experiences are subjective and fluid and won’t easily yield to the demands of measurements, there is nevertheless an objective side to the subjective experience that is measurable.

The brain’s and the body’s biophysics and chemistry are within reach of measurable physics and chemistry and provide objective correlates with studying subjective phenomena. Neuroscience is making rapid progress with measurable objective data correlating with subjective human experience and so are the modern insights into biochemistry where scientists are tracing material molecules responsible for subjective experiences like pleasure, happiness, love, etc. Modifying the chemistry and physics of the body is now a powerful means to alter subjective experiences.

This can also work the other way round,that is by inducing subjective experiences we can generate corresponding biophysics and chemistry. It has also been well demonstrated that with the power of will and concentration, which is a subjective force, one can alter biochemistry and physics. It is like physical movement producing an electric current or in reverse, an electric current producing physical movement. But what is more fundamental, physical movement or electric energy? In physics, we know electrical energy is more fundamental than physical movement, even if the physical movement can produce electrical energy.

We can study a flag objectively to know about the wind, but the wind has its own existence independent of the flag. Same way, the operations of our mind can be measured in the neural networks of our brain, but the mind has its own existence independent of the hardware in which it is reflected. It is the same for body chemistry and physics. We can indeed flutter a flag to produce wind and imagine that we have found the mechanics or secrets of the wind and in the same way we can alter the biophysics and chemistry of the body to produce various psychological states and imagine that we are touching upon the mystery of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo’s research in consciousness shows an opposite view, he writes:

“Consciousness uses the brain which its upward strivings have produced, brain has not produced nor does it use the consciousness. There are even abnormal instances which go to prove that our organs are not entirely indispensable instruments, — that the heart-beats are not absolutely essential to life, any more than is breathing, nor the organised brain-cells to thought. Our physical organism no more causes or explains thought and consciousness than the construction of an engine causes or explains the motive power of steam or electricity. The force is anterior, not the physical instrument (1).”

But what is the research method used by Sri Aurobindo to arrive at this conclusion which is quite opposite to the modern scientific understanding of brain, mind and consciousness? This is where the third method of research in psychology becomes relevant because a research method is not only the by-product of a worldview but also limits the worldview itself by the very method.

The Forces of Nature

The forces of Nature have woven our body, which is a physical instrument, out of the material elements. Within the matrix of our material body emerges the psychological forces and materialism assume that the material forces — chemical and physical — are producing the psychological forces and resultant subjective experiences. It is a worldview with materialism as its foundation leading us to consider the study of biophysics and chemistry as the way forward to master our psychological nature. It has indeed a place in understanding the correlation between our subjective and objective existence. However, while objective methods are perfectly valid and effective in understanding the material machinery of Nature, applying the principles of our machinery and its processes to master our psychological nature is like putting the cart in front of the horse.

Love is a powerful force that moves within our subjective space but to reduce it into chemical molecules and biophysics is to confuse the flag for the source of wind. We need a different orientation, a different starting-point, and a different research method for investigating the psychological forces that emerge in our inner space, a method that can reveal a different worldview and its forces at work.

Research methods

Research into psychological forces demands research methods that are appropriate for the domain of research and this raises the question of what are the methods of research available to us. Sri Aurobindo writes:

“All processes of intellectual discovery feel the necessity of reposing upon some means of confirmation and verification which will safeguard their results, deliver us from the persistent questioning of intellectual doubt and satisfy, however incompletely, its demand for a perfectly safe standing-ground, for the greatest amount of surety. Each therefore has a double movement, one swift, direct, fruitful, but unsafe, the other more deliberate and certain (2).”

There are many processes of intellectual discovery and each method has developed its own way of confirmation and verification. But what is common between them is the double movement, first a direct and swift process of knowing followed by a slower, systematic process of confirmation of that knowledge. Let us find out how different research processes apply this double movement. Sri Aurobindo writes about three types of research methods:

1. Metaphysical
2. Scientific and
3. Vedic

Metaphysical method

Philosophical research, pure mathematical research and research in theoretical physics fall into this category of research. How does the double movement unfold in metaphysical research? Sri Aurobindo states that, “The direct process of metaphysics is speculation, its confirmatory process is reasoning under strict rules of verbal logic …. (3).”

Srinivasa Ramanujan, the famous mathematician, was known for this direct and swift process of knowing which, for the lack of better words, we may say is by intuition. His approach was not intellectual speculation as a starting-point but an inner vision of complex mathematical truth. He could arrive at results without going through the analytical process of logic but to confirm and validate his knowledge, or rather to prove it to his peers, he would labour systematically following rigorous mathematical logic to arrive at and validate the knowledge he had already arrived at by intuition. This bridging with logic made it acceptable and accessible to the peers of his mathematical fraternity.

While the case of Ramanujan is more an exception than a norm, he is a striking example where the contrast makes it easy to distinguish the double movements. Every great philosopher, mathematician or theoretical physicist starts off with some trails of intuition, however vaguely sensed, which is first chiselled out into a clear intellectual form as starting speculation. Then it is confirmed through the slower, systematic process of verbal or mathematical logic. This is already a well-established pathway to knowledge, and we can see it in the expositions of Adi Shankaracharya’s Advaita Vedānta.

Scientific method

The most common and well-established form of research in today’s world is scientific research, with its emphasis on empirical evidence. Here too the double movement of the process is followed. Sri Aurobindo says, “… the direct process of science is hypothesis, its confirmatory process is proof by physical experiment or by some kind of sensational evidence or demonstration (4).”

Getting clarity on one’s hypothesis provides the starting-point for scientific research and a hypothesis may be arrived at intellectually, or based on previous research act as a stepping-stone for the next step, or through intuitive sensing, which is given sufficient intellectual and rational form of support. Physical experimentation, data collection and confirmation are now so well-established and widespread processes that they require no elaboration here.

Social sciences use research methods that are derived from the scientific research method, but less rigorous and applied in a more fluid field of study with data which is either qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both. Cultural (or social) anthropology, sociology, political science, economics and even psychology are applying such methods of research. However, in all these methods, the researcher is separate from the object of study, the knowledge gained doesn’t fundamentally change the researcher’s own psychological nature.

Vedic method

Among the three methods, the Vedic method is the most ancient and least known to the world. Nevertheless, the ancient researchers too followed a process with a double movement and Sri Aurobindo observes:
“The method of Veda may be said to have in the same way a double movement; the revelatory processes are its direct method, experience by the mind and body is the confirmatory process (5).” However, there is a fundamental difference — “In Veda drishti and sruti illumine and convey, the intellect has only to receive and understand (6).” Here the role of the intellect is passive, it receives the knowledge from higher-order cognitive faculties referred to as dṛṣṭti (truth-seeing) and śṛti (truth-hearing) where Truth is self-existent. This is hard for the modern intellect steeped in its own logical processes and materialistic worldview to grasp. However, seen from this perspective, Srinivasa Ramanujan’s swift methods of arriving at profound mathematical truths become more relatable. There are cognitive faculties higher than the rational intellect but it is active only in some exceptional individuals like Ramanujan. Since Ramanujan was in the field of mathematics, his confirmatory process was by following the logical process of a precise intellect. However, in the field of psychological research, the metaphysical method is insufficient.

In the case of the Vedic Ṛṣis:
“Experience by the mind and body is necessary not for confirmation, but and for realisation in the lower plane of consciousness on which we mental and physical beings live. We see a truth self-existent above this plane, self-existent in the satyam ritam brihat of the Veda, the True, the Right, the Vast which is the reality behind phenomena, but we have to actualise it on the levels on which we live, levels of imperfection and uncertainty, striving and seeking; otherwise it does not become serviceable to us; it remains merely a truth seen and does not become a truth lived (7).”

For the Vedic Ṛṣis, the experience was not for confirmation of what intuition and revelation brought in but for the transformation of their ordinary human nature into a higher evolutionary capacity. Opening not only to the higher-order cognitive functions, but also making its dynamic and creative powers active in life is a goal sought by the Vedic seers, a method that transformed the researcher as a result of confirmation, as a truth lived, an embodied truth in oneself.

Adapting the Vedic method

Unlike the Vedic Ṛṣis, we live in the 21st century with a highly developed intellect actively leading the frontiers of research. Besides this, the higher-order cognitive function is not as accessible to the modern man as it was for the Vedic Ṛṣis who preceded the development of the age of reason. People like Srinivasa Ramanujan are exceptions who had the privilege of having access to a swift higher-order cognition beyond the labouring intellect. Nevertheless, people like him represent proof of the concept, applied in the field of mathematics and confined within the framework of metaphysical research.

But while adapting the Vedic method for psychological research, “...when we moderns attempt to repeat the Vedic revelatory processes, experience by the mind and body becomes an indispensable confirmatory process… (8)” It is indispensable to us because, “we, habitually intellectual, pursued into the higher processes, when we can arrive at them, by those more brilliant and specious movements of the intellect which ape their luminosity and certainty, could not feel entirely safe and even, one might say, ought not to feel entirely safe against the possibility of error. The confirmation of experience is needed for our intellectual security (9).”

Sri Aurobindo proposes, in the context of research and rediscovery of Vedic psychology, “… a process of psychological experiment and spiritual experience aided by the higher intuitive or revelatory faculties… (10)” However, the intuitive or revelatory faculties are not in possession of the researcher and hence the first task is of building the lab itself which means upgrading one’s own personal cognitive faculties with the aid of Yoga. “It differs from the method by which the ancient Rishis received Vedic truth, — revelation confirmed by experience, — only by the side of approach which must be for us from below, not from above, and the weight of the emphasis which must rest for a mentality preponderatingly intellectual and only subordinately intuitional, on experience more than on intuition (11).”

We need to build from the bottom up by training the intellect to open to intuition and revelation but always confirmed by experience to validate intuition and revelation. This training of the intellect differs from the rigorous training required for metaphysical and scientific research. Here the intellect must be trained to be silent and passive so that the powers of intuition and revelation can develop in the researcher. Without developing these higher-order cognitive skills we cannot utilise the Vedic method and validate the knowledge they possessed. Applying metaphysical and scientific methods is awfully insufficient. The greater impact of the Vedic method goes beyond the gain of knowledge itself into the transformation of one’s own inner nature which no other method can provide.

Sri Aurobindo’s own discoveries, which are well documented and available to us as The Record of Yoga (12) and C.J. Jung’s research data, also well documented and available to us as The Red Book (13) are modern examples of the Vedic methods of research which is essentially first-person research method. Such research methods give a new perspective on reality where psychological and spiritual forces are found to be more fundamental than the mechanics of outer nature.

Summary of the three methods of research

Research methods
Direct process
Confirmatory process
1 Metaphysics Speculation Reasoning under strict rules of verbal logic
2 Science Hypothesis Proof by physical experiment, sense evidence, demonstration
3 Vedic Revelatory processes
Experience by the mind and body

For the re-discovery of the Vedic psychological knowledge, Sri Aurobindo proposes a method derived from the method of the Vedic Ṛṣis.

Research method
Direct process
Confirmatory process
Yogic Intuitive or revelatory faculties
(We need to build these capacities by yogic training)
Psychological experiment and spiritual experience.

These days, research in psychology or even when research on Indic or Yogic psychological knowledge is done, usually it is by following the metaphysical or scientific method. The method proper for Yogic research is still not considered valid in the ambit of research. If Vedic and yogic psychology is to be fully recovered and brought forth with its true creative power for the future of humanity, it is essential to acknowledge and use the methods appropriate for the task at hand which can complement the scientific and metaphysical methods. The notions of yogic first-person research or consciousness-based research are still in their infancy in the academic world. However, it is the foundation of yogic development and therefore must be brought forth and given its rightful place in the scheme of things.


1. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022].

2. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

3. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

4. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

5. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

6. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

7. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

8. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

9. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

10. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

11. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

12. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

13. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th Aug 2022]

Manoj Pavithran, an Integral Yoga practitioner and educator, is co-founder of Purnam Centre for Integrality in Auroville, India.

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Materialistic research






Vedic research



Sri Aurobindo


Srinivasa Ramanujan


C.J. Jung