“With a truly tragic delusion, theologians fail to see that it is not a matter of proving the existence of the light, but of blind people who do not know that their eyes could see. It is high time we realize that it is pointless to praise the light and preach it is nobody can see it. It is much more needful to teach people the art of seeing. For it is obvious that far too many people are incapable of establishing a connection between the sacred figures and their own psyche; they cannot see to what extent the equivalent images are lying dormant in their own unconscious.”–C.G. Jung
Sitting on the roof in an absolutely incredible wind storm. Looks like monsoon season is here. Everything seems to be coming together in bits and pieces, catching glimpses at the unus mundi. After Friday’s remarkably disappointing showing at the Dalai Lama’s talk, I took Saturday off (with permission) to reset and recharge before the two-week sprint to the end of the program. I spent a couple hours at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, intending on doing research for my project, but ended up mainly reading up on Tantrism. The more I read, the more apparent it becomes that Tibetan Buddhism is really only partially Buddhism, with a tremendous amount of syncretism with Shaivite Tantrism and Bon, Tibet’s animistic shamanistic tradition.
After my time at the library, I was thinking a lot about Jung’s ideas and their remarkable similarities to Tantric Buddhism. After lunch, I broke from the small group I’d been in to go wandering and came across a small book store. I walked in and synchronistically immediately sighted ‘The Essence of Jung’s Psychology and Tibetan Buddhism.” It was a bit more pricey than I would have liked (600 Rs~$12) but felt absolutely obliged to pick it up.
The book begins with a brief introduction into Tibetan Buddhism, with a focus on Tantrism/Vajrayana (The Indestructible Path.) The practice largely deals with the weaving of opposites and the dissolution of duality, cultivating an understanding of the relationship between the microcosm of man and the macrocosm of the cosmos. By tapping into our own prana (vital energies,) we can gain access to those same dynamic forces that propel the universe. Key to this practice is the union and transcendence of opposites, chiefly that of male and female, representing method and wisdom. Western analysis often stops at this point, presenting Tantrism as solely focused on eroticism, but the unity of male and female is only a small part of the picture. The product of this union is bliss, nirvana, enlightenment, transcendence- the tertium quid of primordial unity.
The book than turns to a consideration of C.G. Jung and his eerily similar insights. He unknowingly forged through a lifelong experience of Tantrism, encountering the dark depths of his unconscious after his falling out with Freud, leading to an experience which many would consider to be a psychotic break. From the Western pathologizing view, it probably would be safe to say that he went insane: plummeting from the security of the rational, self-contained Self into the unknown depths of man’s primordial nature. It was at this time that he came to see the centrality of the Self, both as the origin of his madness and its ultimate goal, coming to realize that it is the archetype of orientation and meaning. This Self is not the ego as we consciously identify it, but the platform on which man’s dual natures, spiritual and mundane, can be integrated. The ego, on the other hand, is the “I”-centered being that grasps for the mundane, often resisting or even denying the existence of the unconscious.
Through Jung’s encounter with this Self, he also came to discover the collective unconscious, our psychological instincts that we owe to heredity rather than personal experiences. It lies within all of us, brimming with endless archetypes of man’s basest emotions and common experiences, just waiting to manifest in the appropriate (and oft-seeming inappropriate) context. These are not inherited ideas, but predispositions and propensities in the human psyche that activity based on one’s cultural environment and particular circumstances. As noted earlier, the Self is the guiding and uniting force behind the archetypes. The Self is the unifier of opposites, holding both man’s individual nature and his collective, and what might be considered divine, aspect.
Through the process of individuation, the Self seeks to unite these poles. This occurs in all of us, whether unconsciously or consciously, and the intention makes all the difference, leading either to the endless void of suffering and madness or an existence permeated with life as the human Godhead.
Jung also found these common themes running through Medieval and Chinese alchemy. While the practices may have been said to be explicitly working with properties of matter, there is also a deeper psychological work undertaken by the alchemist. Turning metal into gold represents man’s transformation from instinctual animal to divine being, and the elixir of life is a state of consciousness that exists beyond time and space. Within this practice too, the union of opposites is central. The primary poles are consciousness and the unconscious, represented by Sol and Luna, the masculine and the feminine, sulfur and salt. This union occurs through the presence of a third element: Mercurius, its title drawn from the liminal figure of Mercury in Roman mythology:
“He is one of seven and the first among them; and though he is now all things, at first he was only one. In him are the four elements, yet he is not an element. He is a spirit, yet he has a body; a man, yet her performs a woman’s part; a boy, yet he bears a man’s weapons; a beast, yet he has the wings of a bird. He is poison, yet he cures leprosy; life, yet he kills all things; a King, yet another occupies his throne; he flees from the fire, yet fire is taken from him; he is water, yet he does not wet the hands; he is earth, yet is sown; he is air and lives by water.” ( Metzner, Maps of Consciousness)
Here we find Jung’s, and all of our, Self. He is also the individuation process and the entirety of the collective unconscious, the totality of it all: the unus mundi. However, it seems that this Self (and this is my conclusion, not Jung’s) doesn’t really exist in the Buddhist sense of nonexistence, meaning that it has no inherent existence in itself. It serves as a bridge between the conscious and the unconscious, a conduit between the material and the immaterial. We spend so much time bridging this divide between the two realms that we identify ourselves as the bridge, rather than recognizing that we/it have no identity at all beyond the poles that are united.
In Tantrism, this idea of the Self as conduit between the immaterial and the material can be seen through the invocation of various deities. Rather than acting as actual divine beings, these figures could be thought to represent the primordial energies within the Self. By calling them forth and identifying their existence within the collective unconscious within oneself, one can be healed of the afflictions that denial of that aspect might cause. It is only by coming into contact with these elements that we can ultimately come to terms with them and coexist alongside them. This parallels Jung’s idea of recognizing and integrating the shadow, the negative aspect of oneself. In doing so, one becomes a more fully developed and psychological mature person.
A couple days ago I had the thought that I might want to pick up econ again to some degree, but it’s become clear that now is not the time. This book and talking with one of the other students on the program about the arduous but fulfilling process of creating a new major has gotten me inspired. I need to get serious about making a psychology of religion major. When I first decided to veer away from econ and considered making my own major, I met with nearly every psych professor in Pomona’s department. I mentioned that I was thinking of starting with the works of William James, Jung and Freud and was unanimously shot down, told that those authors aren’t ‘scientific’ and aren’t worth my time. And I listened for awhile, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’ve clearly tapped into something real. As I was reading today I remembered my fascination with Hillman’s idea of the monotheism of consciousness and am realizing that this thing goes deep. Certainly deep enough to get an undergraduate degree out of it.
If I’ve learned anything from this program it’s that, while logic and reason are tremendously valuable tools, scientific materialism and empiricism aren’t the only viable methods of discovery and certainly shouldn’t be lauded as the unequivocally best. They’ve no doubt helped countless numbers of people but there’s more to reality and the psyche than what can be objectively examined in the lab. I’m sure all the psych teachers I talked to had the best intentions and thought they were right as far as they could see, but I just don’t think they see the whole picture. I certainly don’t think I see it all either, but at least I recognize that what I’m seeing is only a slice of it something larger. While trying to make my own major may not be the easiest path, it increasingly seems that it would be worth the trouble and is almost necessary. Not only is this stuff downright fascinating to me, but it could also be damn useful. Psychotherapy has a bad wrap, but I think it has a lot to learn from religion and I would love to help find a way to bridge the gap.
For Jung, the process of healing and expanding the self mirrors the individuation of the Self, albeit performed consciously and with a guide. This isn’t a practice solely intended for those identified as “mentally ill” (a concept which is really a tremendous disservice to anyone unfortunate to be designated as such): it’s for anyone who wishes to develop their personality more fully and find a broader perspective of life. The role of the therapist as guide is key to this process. He must become deeply engaged with the patient (I don’t really like this word but seems to be the best I can do at this point) and even a part of their experience. This is no place for concepts and labels, which only serve to separate the patient from the guide. And as Jung says himself, “The spirit does not dwell in concepts.”
To cure the spirit of its suffering, one must become engaged with it and venture into its depths to discover its nature. While this may seem to some to be an egocentric process of Self-discovery, the wisdom that is found at the core of the Self is that we are all the same at the most basic level, dwelling in the collective unconscious. From this wisdom, compassion spontaneously arises, a desire to help all beings merge their oppositions and realize their dual nature. Wisdom and compassion are really just two sides of the same coin.
The similarities to Buddhism are absolutely uncanny, from the focused exploration of the self with the help of a guru, to the alleviation of suffering and cultivation of wisdom and compassion. This is not a journey that can be universally expounded upon in texts, but one of Self-discovery and experience, guided onward by the guru’s skillful means and leading towards the wholeness of understanding and experience that we all desire:
“What makes a man blessed is not belief (in the sense of the acceptance of a definite dogma), but the becoming conscious of reality, which latter is metaphysics to us only for as long as we have not experienced it…viewed from without (as a system) Buddhism is metaphysics; viewed from within (as a form of reality) it is empiricism. In so far as ‘the metaphysical’ is disclosed upon the path of inner experience, it was not rejected by the Buddha, it was only rejected when it was thought out upon the path of speculation. Metaphysics is an entirely relative concept, whose boundaries depend upon the respective plane of experience, upon the respective form and extent of consciousness. Buddha overcame metaphysics and its problems, not by merely ignoring them, but in an absolute positive manner, in that, through training and extension of consciousness he pushed back the boundary lines of the latter, so that the metaphysical became the empirical.” ( Lama Govinda)
Through the presence of an outer guru, the student (not the patient!) comes to learn that what is being taught is already within oneself. The outer teacher is really just the archetypical guru, the Buddha-nature, one’s own inner guide.
Quite fittingly, Jung was fascinated by the Bardo Todol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This text focuses on the liminal space of the bardo between death and rebirth, the moment in which consciousness is bathed in Pure Light. It is at this moment that the mind may either transcend beyond this reality or descend back into samsara, as is so often the case. Jung advises that we read the Bardo Todol backwards, as an emergence from the darkness of the unconscious/samsara to the Pure Light of expanded awareness. Trongpa Rinpoche offers an alternative psychological reading, viewing each of the six realms of samsaric existence as corresponding to man’s various psychological states:
Hell: Self-destructive anger
Hungry Ghosts realm: insatiable hunger for possessions
Animal realm: security and comfort, predictable with no mystery
Human realm: passion, unending pursuit of sensual pleasure and wealth
Jealous Gods realm: paranoia
Gods realm: Pride and narcissism, intoxication with the ego
Since this was all really a stream of conscious (unconscious?) type post, I don’t really have a nice way to tie a bow on it at the end. Maybe with yet another quote from Jung?
“We imagine we have left such phantoms of gods far behind. But what we have outgrown are only the words-ghosts, not the psychic facts which were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as possessed by our autonomous psychic contents as if they were gods. Today they are called phobias, compulsions, and so forth, or in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus, but the solar plexus, and creates specimens for the physicians consulting room, or disturbs the brain of the politicians and journalists who then unwittingly unleash mental epidemics.”
No matter where I start, it always seems to come back to the same place…