Does the orient see truth in Freud’s sexual drive theory?

The ideas of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychotherapy, has had a massive impact on modern society. His theory is an attempt to answer some of the deepest questions surrounding the human condition – what is it that pushes us to do the things we do? He answers this question with his drive theory, which focusses on the sex impulse as the main impetus for human motivation. This text will firstly provide a clear definition of what Freud terms as the sexual drive, then look at how this idea shaped Freud’s method of psychoanalysis. Finally, we will give a counterpoint to Freud’s theory, by
looking at theistic teachings of the Orient, which shares Freud’s view on the importance of the sex drive, but differs in the ultimate solution offered for dealing with the tensions that arise in its regulation.

Drives play an evident part in the functioning of a human being. Freud explains that energy is transformed from a physical-biological form to psychic energy. Hereby, drives is considered by Moore, Viljoen and Meyer (2017) to determine the direction of behaviour as well as motivate and
prompt a person towards a particular function. In order for a drive to compel an individual to act, it is composed of four characteristics known as source, impetus, goal and object.

Broadly these characteristics obtain the necessary quantity of energy needed to please the goal of satisfaction by using a suitable ‘something’ or person. Subjective satisfaction is based on two type of drives being the life drives (eros) which work to preserve life and the death drive (thanatos) of deconstruction. Of the two life drives – the ego drives and the sexual drives – the sexual drives have received a considerable bigger emphasis in Freud’s theory (Moore, Viljoen, & Meyer, 2017).

The sexual drives are mainly focused on the excitement of pleasure and the release of tension or discomfort which ultimately leads to pleasure (Stoleru, 2014) . Stoleru (2014) also highlights that the highest form of pleasure is that of the erotogenic zones. However, Freud museum London (2015) points out that Freud’s term of ‘sexuality’ was not limited to the physical act of sex but rather referred to an enlarged concept of sexuality. Any conscious activity that is invested with instinctual psychic energy, to satisfy primitive biological urges – such as self-preservation or sexual pleasure – which results in an erotic charge for that person, is considered to fall under Freud’s definition of sexuality. Moore, Viljoen and Meyer (2017) further concurs with this definition of sexuality as being both driven by the need of the survival of the species as well as satisfaction thereof leading to erotic

Freud museum London (2015) states, “Our sexuality is not simply bound up with the task of reproduction but rather we can find pleasure, joy and disturbance all over the body.” The primary points of experiencing enjoyment is through the five senses of the body. The desire for pleasure, has to be curbed for effective functioning in the world, as individual desires often clash with the greater good. Freud thought that the origin of psychopathology, lies in the repression of sexual desire. It
causes a disturbance in the flow of the libido, the primal sexual energy, and it can lead to aggression and a variety of mental disturbances (Moore, Viljoen, & Meyer, 2017) .

Due to momentous events in a person’s formative years, the primal drives can become repressed or misdirected, causing conflict in the unconscious mind. Freud’s method of psychoanalysis aims to resolve these unconscious
conflicts by therapeutic intervention. Having lived through World War I, and also seeing the beginnings of World War II, by the time of his death in 1939, Freud was in a state of utter pessimism toward the human condition.

His final book, Civilization and Its Discontents, outlines his vision that
the individual and the society is locked in an unresolvable struggle. Freud states that “It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct” (Freud, 1930) . The individual will therefore always be subjected to the repression of his instinctual drives, and always be prone to the resultant psychopathology and dissatisfaction.

Freud summed up the human condition in quite a morbid way: “We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our body, which is doomed to decay… From the external world which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless force of destruction, and finally from our relations with other men… This last source is perhaps more painful to us than any other” (Freud, 1930, p. 77) . Freud’s views were obviously quite controversial, especially in the age of conservative Christianity. He adamantly denied the religious and spiritual realities, seeing God as
merely a human attempt to satisfy irrational, unconscious desires (Shallit, 2004) .

While Freud’s inordinate focus on the sexual drives as the main impetus for human action put him at odds with his religious contemporaries, it is very interesting to note that there are religious traditions that share some of his ideas. The Vedic tradition of ancient India, the forerunner of religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, agrees with Freud that the sexual urges are the source of destructive human actions.

In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the great classics of Sanskrit literature, a conversation takes place between Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna asks Krishna, “What is it that impels the human being, as if by force, to engage in destructive activities?” (Prabhupada, 1972, pp. 179-180) . Krishna answers that it is lust, born of passion, which is the all- devouring enemy of this world. Krishna explains that when this lust is frustrated, it turns into anger, and this angers destroys the intelligence, leading humans to destructive acts.

However, even though the Vedic tradition might share Freud’s
diagnosis of the problem, they do have a more optimistic view toward its resolution. As a materialist, Freud saw no other alternative to sex in the pursuit of pleasure. In religious traditions however, there is the religious experience of God, which is super- sensual, and which can purportedly bring more pleasure then the fleeting pleasures of sex. The Vedic religion gives an outline of the process of yoga, spiritual practices by which one can again have such an experience of God. Negation of sexual instincts will
never be successful if there is not a positive alternative. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna that, “even though someone might be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for that objects remain. One can only cease such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, and then one can become fixed in a higher state of consciousness.” (Prabhupada, 1972, p. 131)

In conclusion, Freud viewed the human as being driven by unconscious, irrational drives, of which the sex drive was the most important. Due to experiences in his childhood, or due to the pressure of society, these unconscious drives can become repressed or misdirected, which causes mental disturbances, and even aggression that can lead to war. Freud created his psychoanalytic method as means by which the internal conflicts can become reduced, and the libido more positively expressed.

However, he saw the tension between instinctual drives and societal restrictions as an irresolvable conflict, thus dooming the human being to a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. But, Freud’s inability to acknowledge a positive solution, was due to his denial of the spiritual. The path of yoga, is an example of a spiritual tradition that shares Freud’s concern about the sexual instincts, but which aims to uplift it to spiritual practices that can provide satisfaction on a supra-sensual level. The medieval writer and mystic, Rupa Goswami, confirms that a spiritual connection with a personal God is the only way to satisfy the heart:

“Not by wearing the clothes of a monk, not by restricting food and other sense-activities, not by living in the forest, not by discussing philosophy, and not by observing a vow of silence, can the desire for sex be overcome. It is only overcome by even the slightest beginning of devotional service to the lotus feet of Lord Govinda, who enjoys pastimes on the wide bank of the river Yamunä” (Goswami, 2015) .

Categories: Philosophy

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