In Search of ‘Existential Health’: Religion, Travel, and Therapy in Modern India and Japan
Centred on an ensemble cast drawn from India, Japan, and Europe, this project looks at how new visions of ‘existential health’ emerged from the mid-twentieth century onwards, as ideas, practices, and people crossed borders and entered into creative exchange. ‘Buddhist psychoanalysis’ appeared in Japan, ‘Christian psychiatry’ in India, and across both contexts ambitious and all-encompassing forms of inter-religious and religion-psy dialogue opened up. This project brings these pioneering lives and movements to life, and explores the role that existential health might play in tackling some of today’s challenges: providing people and communities with renewed meaning, and helping to prevent mental ill health.
The project’s ‘cast’ includes:
– A small group of European contemplatives: Bede Griffiths, Henri Le Saux, Jules Monchanin, Francis Mahieu, Raimon Panikkar, and Sara Grant.
– The first generation of psychotherapists in Japan, including Kosawa Heisaku, Ohtsuki Kenji, and Morita Masatake.
– Pioneering psychiatrists in India: Florence Nichols, Rose Chacko, and Erna Hoch.
Bede Griffiths is probably best known for his influence on the New Age movement and on contemporary thinkers and contemplatives like Ken Wilber and Thomas Keating. Griffiths was an English Benedictine monk who tried to establish contemplative Christian practice in India in the 1950s and hoped to use Indian spirituality to revivify stale western religious life.
Griffiths stayed in south India until his death in 1993, becoming involved in inter-religious dialogue and the experimental use of psychological ideas and language to talk about religious practice and experience.
Kosawa Heisaku was a devout Buddhist, generally thought of as the ‘father of Japanese psychoanalysis’, while Ohtsuki Kenji was a more political figure, whose friends and favourite left-wing causes landed him in deep water with Japan’s secret police in the 1930s and 1940s.
Kosawa’s final psychoanalytic client was the novelist Setouchi Harumi, who later became Setouchi ‘Jakucho’: Buddhist nun, combative peace campaigner, and the conscience of contemporary Japan.
In India, I am looking at the rise of a kind of ‘Christian psychiatry’ at two path-breaking mental health institutions after
Independence in 1947: Nur Manzil in Lucknow and the Mental Health Centre at Christian Medical College, Vellore.
Drs Florence Nichols and Rose Chacko (Vellore), and Dr Erna Hoch (Lucknow) were all pioneering psychiatrists in the
1950s and 1960s, when ideas in psychiatry were changing rapidly and some in India, Japan, and the West were beginning to ask where ‘mental health’ ends and ‘spirituality’ begins…