Carl Jung is an inspiration to many people of a spiritual nature today because he dared to go beyond the narrow bounds of “scientific” psychological theory, leading to the famous break with Freud.
Born in 1875, he passed on in 1961 at the grand age of 86. Typically, he worked until the end, his memoirs Memories, Dreams, Reflections revealing his many mystical experiences during this period.
Carl Gustav Jung is often described as a psychiatrist and physician. In fact his work matured into an all-embracing vision of human life and its relations with the Absolute. His phenomenal insight constantly came up against the numinous in everyday affairs and, being the man he was, he courageously based his post-Freudian work on his own personal experiences.
Jung’s nearest counterpart in the East in the 20th century is without doubt Dr. D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966), an almost exact contemporary who introduced Zen to the West and who was often accused by his Japanese countrymen of over-stressing the intellect in a distinctly Western way.
The truth, of course, is that both these men were too big to be contained within cultural norms, and too honest by nature to let uninformed criticism deflect them from their work.
In his long and fruitful life, Jung trod a careful path between the crusty scientific establishment of his day and the more adventurous thinkers on the fringes of Eastern mysticism and religion. He went to enormous lengths to avoid being classed as a Theosophist, a group he regarded as having swung irremediably towards psychological extremism.
His published scientific works are always models of empirical analysis, drawing living structures from a mass of precise medical observations. And yet he is never statistically arid like many scientists today. There is a life in his work that can only be described as religious, in the best sense of the word.
His main “problem” was that the inevitable conclusions arising from these tireless investigations applied just as much to so-called normal people as to his pathologically disturbed patients. He had transcended his academic discipline.
The basis of Jung’s work was the process he called individuation, a naturally occurring progression leading to psychological integration.
Individuation, as expounded by Jung, is clearly related to mystical enlightenment, in that though his ostensible concern was with empirical psychology, Jung went beyond Freud’s shallow personal subconscious (a repository of repressed mental contents) to what he called the “collective unconscious” which took in the whole of the psyche, and went far beyond the individual intellect.
Jung believed that nothing in the cosmos is incapable of psychological inclusion given the necessary insight and balanced vision. This relationship between what is psychological and what is metaphysical is dangerously subject to all the vagaries of definition, making comparisons between viewpoints all the more perilous.
Suzuki, for example, has this to say on the matter: “The idea is to express the unconscious working of the mind, but this unconscious is not to be interpreted psychologically, but on the spiritual plane where all traces of discursive or analytical understanding vanish.” That, by the way, is an exact description of the mystic’s experience of the nature of reality.
Compare this with Jung’s: “One cannot grasp anything metaphysically, but it can be done psychologically. Therefore I strip things of their metaphysical wrappings in order to make them objects of psychology … if finally there should still be an ineffable metaphysical element, it would have the best opportunity of revealing itself.”
How would it reveal itself? Is the viewpoint arising from the non-working of the senses (which includes “thinking” in Buddhism) in the state called Nirvana to be called psychological?
The difference here is no-difference. Suzuki uses “psychological” to describe objects of rational thinking — all else, by implication, is metaphysical. Jung, however, takes a Western approach and calls anything capable of being experienced, even outside the normal thought processes, psychological. Of course, anything which cannot be experienced is of no concern to us, since we couldn’t possibly ever know of its existence. This is not the case with the Buddhist Unborn mind which is clearly experienced from moment to moment by those attuned to it.
Jung used psyche to embrace all experience, normal and transcendental. Suzuki drew a line at the limits of the intellect, thus creating an enormous spiritual domain. Here the divisive nature of words manufactures an East/West chasm that doesn’t really exist.
Individuation, or wholeness, is defined by Jung as a balanced development of certain psychological faculties, so that the one-sided emphasis on one or other of the opposites is reconciled on a higher plane. Thus, for example, the apparent antagonism of liberty and equality, the subject of heated political debates, is defused and contained in the higher quality of fraternity, or brotherhood.
Jung defined the psychological faculties as thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. A further division of type is between extraversion and introversion: outgoing or inward-looking tendencies in the personality.
He defined himself as an introverted intuitive-intellectual. His “inferior” faculties therefore were sensation and feeling. To counteract these tendencies, he spent a lot of time carving and working with stone to raise the consciousness of his sensory side, and delved deeply into his unconscious through painting highly coloured mandalas to strengthen the feeling, value-laden aspect of himself, which he associated with the undeveloped feminine in men.
That he succeeded in producing a fully-rounded awareness, capable of the deepest insights into the nature of reality, while retaining its rich humanity, is amply testified by those who knew him, including several biographers.
Jung’s own enlightenment came after many years of work on himself, through dreams, visions and analysis, and seems to have been a conscious decision on his part. Author Laurens Van Der Post dates it on the afternoon of December 12, 1913, almost 100 years ago. As Jung put it, “I said to myself, ‘Well, Jung, here you go.’ And it was as if the ground literally gave way under me as I let myself drop.”
This was an action of great moral courage, since he felt that, unlike many in the East, he did not have the full backing of thousands of years of culture and experiment to guide and reassure him. He was all too aware that he could so easily end up in an institution in the same pitiful condition as his deranged patients.
My own view is that Jung exaggerated the problem. Nirvanic experience under many names is deeply embedded in Western culture. Take this description of spiritual enlightenment by a 14th century English monk: One Simple Thing)
Jung’s method of balancing the four psychological faculties and the tendencies of extra- and introversion, bears a distinct similarity with the Buddhist technique of mindfulness as expressed by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta:
A monk fares along contemplating the body in the body,
(sensation) ardent, clearly conscious of it, mindful of
it so as to control covertousness and rejection (the
opposites) in the world; he fares along contemplating
the feelings in the feelings, the mind in the mind
(intuition), and the mental objects in the mental
Suzuki has a similar scheme, though couched in slightly different terms because of semantic variations. He compares man with a geometrical point where three dimensions intersect: physical-natural, intellectual-moral and spiritual. Very roughly, the outer world, the inner personal world, and the world where concepts like “outer” and “inner” have vanished.
We may be conscious of all these lines, but usually not to the same extent. Normally, the intellectual-moral is given emphasis over the spiritual. This results in an inability fully to grasp the spiritual side of life.
The intellectual-moral line delivers a dualistic view of life. It carves its way into the soft substance of existence, setting up categories and divisions in the way a sharp stone shatters a car windscreen: the whole view disappears and one is only aware of a spidery network of frosty fragments. However, despite this, there is a “persistent urge impelling the intellect to transcend itself.”
For the intellect to leave its own line and transfer to the spiritual is a kind of suicide, a “losing of life in order to gain it.” Suzuki stresses that there is no gradation here. It is a leap, a letting go as Jung discovered too, for the moment one gives up the intellectual, one finds oneself on the spiritual.
For Westerners, the jump has to be made from the intellect instantly to the spiritual; that is the moment of enlightenment. From then on the spiritual world lights up the physical-natural with a numinous glow that transforms everything, as Jung himself found when he let himself go on the 12th of December 1913. However, there is only one world, and when the faculties lose their distinctiveness they are seen to be illusory.
Jung’s work with Richard Wilhelm on the Chinese classics, the I Ching, The Secret of the Golden Flower and The Book of Consciousness and Life, brought his considerable intuitive intelligence to bear on the “problem” of time.
Ultimately he believed that every moment has a time-signature, a character that confers a common nature to a time-moment regardless of spatial separation — a sort of Being-Time.
Jung termed this coincidental factor Synchronicity to explain the persistently prophetic nature of the I Ching when used as an oracle.
It is clear that Jung’s mental furniture comprised all the elements necessary for a full participation in the rich philosophies of the East, with their almost total concentration on the path to mystical enlightenment. At his home in Switzerland, Jung carved the following words on a block of stone: “Time is a child — playing like a child — playing a board game — the kingdom of the child.”
Jung’s enlightenment was a Western one, although inspired by a deep understanding of Eastern thought patterns. Such was the extent of the conscious development of the Western mind, that an abyss of the greatest proportions separates us from our natural selves and the wholeness of our being.
Immortality for him was the unconscious made conscious in a kind of partnership with the differentiated ego which, at this point, relinquishes its total domination over the stultifyingly intellectualised mind of Western man.
Jung was very aware that the East had a much better relationship with the symbology of the collective unconscious and could handle its intrusions without losing control. He felt that the West no longer lived a symbolic life, largely because of the failure of the churches, and therefore had no psychological immunity against the deeper contents of the psyche.
He emphasised a Western way to enlightenment, a way of balance and proportion. And he called it by the very Western name of Individuation. Jung believed that, “The sole and natural carrier of life is the individual, and this holds true throughout nature.” It is only the individual who can sacrifice his ego, and it is the individual who is called to do so. It is only from the enlightened Absolute viewpoint that this so real individual is seen to be illusory and empty in the face of its immortality.
Of Taoist Immortals he wrote this: “What did these people do in order to achieve the development that liberated them? As far as I could see they did nothing … but let things happen. The art of letting things happen … letting go of oneself, as taught by Meister Eckhart, became for me the key opening the door to the Way. We must be able to let things happen in the psyche. For us this is an art of which few people know anything. Consciousness [the mind, in this case] is forever interfering, helping, correcting, and negating, and never leaving the simple growth of the psychic processes in peace. It would be simple enough if only simplicity were not the most difficult of all things.”
Coming soon: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.
Author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.