A Tribute to Carl G. Jung
Psychology is the systematic attempt to describe and explain man’s behaviour, both conscious and non−conscious. The scope of study is broad − covering the infinite variety of human activity and experience; and it is long − tracing back through the history of the individual, through the history of his ancestors, back through the evolutionary vicissitudes and triumphs which have determined the current status of the species. Most difficult of all, the scope of psychology is complex, dealing as it does with processes which are ever−changing.
Little wonder that psychologists, in the face of such complexity, escape into specialization and parochial narrowness.
A psychology is based on the available data and the psychologists’ ability and willingness to utilize them. The behaviourism and experimentalism of twentieth−century western psychology is so narrow as to be mostly trivial. Consciousness is eliminated from the field of inquiry. Social application and social meaning are largely neglected. A curious ritualism is enacted by a priesthood rapidly growing in power and numbers.
Eastern psychology, by contrast, offers us a long history of detailed observation and systematization of the range of human consciousness along with an enormous literature of practical methods for controlling and changing consciousness. Western intellectuals tend to dismiss Oriental psychology. The theories of consciousness are seen as occult and mystical. The methods of investigating consciousness change, such as meditation, yoga, monastic retreat, and sensory deprivation, and are seen as alien to scientific investigation. And most damning of all in the eyes of the European scholar, is the alleged disregard of eastern psychologies for the practical, behavioural and social aspects of life. Such criticism betrays limited concepts and the inability to deal with the available historical data on a meaningful level. The psychologies of the east have always found practical application in the running of the state, in the running of daily life and family. A wealth of guides and handbooks exists: the Book of Tao, the Analects of Confucius, the Gita, the I Ching, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, to mention only the best−known.
Eastern psychology can be judged in terms of the use of available evidence. The scholars and observers of China, Tibet, and India went as far as their data allowed them. They lacked the findings of modern science and so their metaphors seem vague and poetic. Yet this does not negate their value. Indeed, eastern philosophic theories dating back four thousand years adapt readily to the most recent discoveries of nuclear physics, biochemistry, genetics, and astronomy.
A major task of any present day psychology − eastern or western − is to construct a frame of reference large enough to incorporate the recent findings of the energy sciences into a revised picture of man.
Judged against the criterion of the use of available fact, the greatest psychologists of our century are William James and Carl Jung. [To properly compare Jung with Sigmund Freud we must look at the available data which each man appropriated for his explorations. For Freud it was Darwin, classical thermodynamics, the Old Testament, Renaissance cultural history, and most important, the close overheated atmosphere of the Jewish family. The broader scope of Jung’s reference materials assures that his theories will find a greater congeniality with recent developments in the energy sciences and the evolutionary sciences.] Both of these men avoided the narrow paths of behaviourism and experimentalism. Both fought to preserve experience and consciousness as an area of scientific research. Both kept open to the advance of scientific theory and both refused to shut off eastern scholarship from consideration.
Jung used for his source of data that most fertile source − the internal. He recognized the rich meaning of the eastern message; he reacted to that great Rorshach inkblot, the Tao Te Ching. He wrote perceptive brilliant forewords to the I Ching, to the Secret of the Golden Flower, and struggled with the meaning of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. “For years, ever since it was first published, the Bardo Thodol has been my constant companion, and to it I owe not only many stimulating ideas and discoveries, but also many fundamental insights. . . Its philosophy contains the quintessence of Buddhist psychological criticism; and, as such, one can truly say that it is of an unexampled superiority.”
The Bardo Thodol is in the highest degree psychological in its outlook; but, with us, philosophy and theology are still in the mediaeval, pre− psychological stage where only the assertions are listened to, explained, defended, criticized and disputed, while the authority that makes them has, by general consent, been deposed as outside the scope of discussion.
Metaphysical assertions, however, are statements of the psyche, and are therefore psychological. To the Western mind, which compensates its well− known feelings of resentment by a slavish regard for “rational” explanations, this obvious truth seems all too obvious, or else it is seen as an inadmissible negation of metaphysical “truth.” Whenever the Westerner hears the word “psychological,” it always sounds to him like “only psychological.”
Jung draws upon Oriental conceptions of consciousness to broaden the concept of “projection”: Not only the “wrathful” but also the “peaceful” deities are conceived as sangsaric projections of the human psyche, an idea that seems all too obvious to the enlightened European, because it reminds him of his own banal simplifications. But though the European can easily explain away these deities as projections, he would be quite incapable of positing them at the same time as real. The Bardo Thodol can do that, because, in certain of its most essential metaphysical premises, it has the enlightened as well as the unenlightened European at a disadvantage. The ever−present, unspoken assumption of the Bardo Thodol is the anti−nominal character of all metaphysical assertions, and also the idea of the qualitative difference of the various levels of consciousness and of the metaphysical realities conditioned by them. The background of this unusual book is not the niggardly European “either−or,” but a magnificently affirmative “both−and.” This statement may appear objectionable to the Western philosopher, for the West loves clarity and unambiguity; consequently, one philosopher clings to the position, “God is,” while another clings equally fervently to the negation, “God is not.”
Jung clearly sees the power and breadth of the Tibetan model but occasionally he fails to grasp its meaning and application. Jung, too, was limited (as we all are) to the social models of his tribe. He was a psychoanalyst, the father of a school. Psychotherapy and psychiatric diagnosis were the two applications which came most naturally to him.
Jung misses the central concept of the Tibetan book. This is not (as Lama Govinda reminds us) a book of the dead. It is a book of the dying; which is to say a book of the living; it is a book of life and how to live. The concept of actual physical death was an exoteric facade adopted to fit the prejudices of the Bonist tradition in Tibet. Far from being an embalmers’ guide, the manual is a detailed account of how to lose the ego; how to break out of personality into new realms of consciousness; and how to avoid the involuntary limiting processes of the ego; how to make the consciousness− expansion experience endure in subsequent daily life.
Jung struggles with this point. He comes close but never quite clinches it. He had nothing in his conceptual framework which could make practical sense out of the ego−loss experience.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the Bardo Thodol, is a book of instructions for the dead and dying. Like The Egyptian Book of the Dead it is meant to be a guide for the dead man during the period of his Bardo existence. .
In this quote Jung settles for the exoteric and misses the esoteric. In a later quote he seems to come closer: . . . the instruction given in the Bardo Thodol serves to recall to the dead man the experience of his initiation and the teachings of his guru, for the instruction is, at bottom, nothing less than an initiation of the dead into the Bardo life, just as the initiation of the living was a preparation for the Beyond. Such was the case, at least, with all the mystery cults in ancient civilizations from the time of the Egyptian and Eleusinian mysteries. In the initiation of the living, however, this “Beyond” is not a world beyond death, but a reversal of the mind’s intentions and outlook, a psychological “Beyond” or, in Christian terms, a “redemption” from the trammels of the world and of sin. Redemption is a separation and deliverance from an earlier condition of darkness and unconsciousness, and leads to a condition of illumination and releasedness, to victory and transcendence over everything “given.”
Thus far the Bardo Thodol is, as Dr. Evans−Wentz also feels, an initiation process whose purpose it is to restore to the soul the divinity it lost at birth.
In still another passage Jung continues the struggle but misses again: Nor is the psychological use we make of it (the Tibetan Book) anything but a secondary intention, though one that is possibly sanctioned by lamaist custom. The real purpose of this singular book is the attempt, which must seem very strange to the educated European of the twentieth century, to enlighten the dead on their journey through the regions of the Bardo. The Catholic Church is the only place in the world of the white man where any provision is made for the souls of the departed.
In the summary of Lama Govinda’s comments which follow we shall see that the Tibetan commentator, freed from the European concepts of Jung, moves directly to the esoteric and practical meaning of the Tibetan book.
In his autobiography (written in 1960) Jung commits himself wholly to the inner vision and to the wisdom and superior reality of internal perceptions. In 1938 (when his Tibetan commentary was written) he was moving in this direction but cautiously and with the ambivalent reservations of the psychiatrist cum mystic.
The dead man must desperately resist the dictates of reason, as we understand it, and give up the supremacy of egohood, regarded by reason as sacrosanct. What this means in practice is complete capitulation to the objective powers of the psyche, with all that this entails; a kind of symbological death, corresponding to the Judgement of the Dead in the Sidpa Bardo. It means the end of all conscious, rational, morally responsible conduct of life, and a voluntary surrender to what the Bardo Thodol calls “karmic illusion.” Karmic illusion springs from belief in a visionary world of an extremely irrational nature, which neither accords with nor derives from our rational judgments but is the exclusive product of uninhibited imagination. It is sheer dream or “fantasy,” and every well−meaning person will instantly caution us against it; nor indeed can one see at first sight what is the difference between fantasies of this kind and the phantasmagoria of a lunatic. Very often only a slight abaissement du niveau mental is needed to unleash this world of illusion. The terror and darkness of this moment has its equivalent in the experiences described in the opening sections of the Sidpa Bardo. But the contents of this Bardo also reveal the archetypes, the karmic images which appear first in their terrifying form. The Chonyid state is equivalent to a deliberately induced psychosis. . . .
The transition, then, from the Sidpa state to the Chonyid state is a dangerous reversal of the aims and intentions of the conscious mind. It is a sacrifice of the ego’s stability and a surrender to the extreme uncertainty of what must seem like a chaotic riot of phantasmal forms. When Freud coined the phrase that the ego was “the true seat of anxiety,” he was giving voice to a very true and profound intuition. Fear of self−sacrifice lurks deep in every ego, and this fear is often only the precariously controlled demand of the unconscious forces to burst out in full strength. No one who strives for selfhood (individuation) is spared this dangerous passage, for that which is feared also belongs to the wholeness of the self − the sub−human, or supra− human, world of psychic
“dominants” from which the ego originally emancipated itself with enormous effort, and then only partially, for the sake of a more or less illusory freedom. This liberation is certainly a very necessary and very heroic undertaking, but it represents nothing final: it is merely the creation of a subject, who, in order to find fulfilment, has still to be confronted by an object. This, at first sight, would appear to be the world, which is swelled out with projections for that very purpose. Here we seek and find our difficulties, here we seek and find our enemy, here we seek and find what is dear and precious to us; and it is comforting to know that all evil and all good is to be found out there, in the visible object, where it can be conquered, punished, destroyed or enjoyed. But nature herself does not allow this paradisal state of innocence to continue for ever. There are, and always have been, those who cannot help but see that the world and its experiences are in the nature of a symbol, and that it really reflects something that lies hidden in the subject himself, in his own transubjective reality. It is from this profound intuition, according to lamaist doctrine, that the Chonyid state derives its true meaning, which is why the Chonyid Bardo is entitled “The Bardo of the Experiencing of Reality.”
The reality experienced in the Chonyid state is, as the last section of the corresponding Bardo teaches, the reality of thought. The “thought−forms” appear as realities, fantasy takes on real form, and the terrifying dream evoked by karma and played out by the unconscious “dominants” begins.
Jung would not have been surprised by professional and institutional antagonism to psychedelics. He closes his Tibetan commentary with a poignant political aside:
The Bardo Thodol began by being a “closed” book, and so it has remained, no matter what kind of commentaries may be written upon it. For it is a book that will only open itself to spiritual understanding and this is a capacity which no man is born with, but which he can only acquire through special training and special experience. It is good that such to all intents and purposes “useless” books exist. They are meant for those “queer folk” who no longer set much store by the uses, aims, and meaning of present−day “civilization.”
To provide “special training” for the “special experience” provided by psychedelic materials is the purpose of this version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Tibetan Book of the Dead – Timothy Leary