C.G.Jung / East / Eastern / Religion

Roots of Carl Gustav Jung in Gnosticism, Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism – Draft


The relationship of the depth psychologist Carl Gustav Jung with religion, in particular Christianity, Gnosticism and Zen Buddhism is of great interest. Religion and its psychological interpretation by C.G. Jung, which is based entirely on empirical facts, is ambiguous and often rejected, or – too frequently – simply ignored. To understand Carl Gustav Jung correctly is not simple. He was it more mystic than systematic. On the other hand we miss often the necessary cultural impartiality to understand the meaning of his terms.
True, Jung’s ideas are cited frequently, but for some reason the systematic body of thought he left behind has not attracted Jungian’s as enrichment of spirituality of our age. In this essay I would like to draw attention to what I see as an unnecessary closure in Jung’s idea of the psyche and to suggest how its opening could provide a (my) missing link between Humanism,  Christianity, Gnostic thoughts as well as Taoism and Buddhism.
The body of writings Jung left behind is intimidating and fascinating. The sheer volume of his output, which continues to grow as notes from his seminars and other unpublished material are added, makes it more and more unlikely that one becomes familiar with the whole writings. For the same reason, general readers, as me but also commentators, and critics, tend to dip into his writings randomly according to their needs and to rely on secondary sources for general outlines of his thought. As a result, Jung’s model of the psyche, the wealth of his mystic, religious and historical references can be interpreted in  many ways also due to Jung’s language of ambiguity.

For C. G. Jung the religious function of the soul is of importance because it contributes an important part to find the  transcendental and mental wholeness.  I want to explore Jung’s  view on individuation the  Self and/or God image and it is transcendental value to the conscious Ego:

  • Is God for C.G. Jung only a projection of the soul, a purely internal-mental reality of the soul?
  • Does Jung’s concept of Self represent the “imago Dei” like Christian belief postulates – man as the image of God?
  •  Is the Self after the individuation process a result similar as obtained through Buddhism?
  •  Provided Taoism the fundamental formative influence on C.G Jung’s notion of “synchronicity,” correlative parallels between the inner and the outer realms of experience?
  •  Or is C.G Jung a Gnostic, as his remark indicates: “Ich glaube nicht, ich weiß.“?
  • Of what  flavour is Jung’s  mysticism – as in any case he was a mystic?

C. G. Jung’s personal faith
In its writings Jung does not leave any doubt, which essential meaning religion has for the mental life. He does not regard religion in contradiction with his psychology, but views religion from the psychological point of view. If he speaks of the transcendent, he means it as a psychological term.

The literature differentiates between three phases in C. G. Jung of faith development.
a)In the fist phase C. G. Jung interprets the God picture as sublimation of infantile sexuality and projection of the father Imago following Freud (see “The meaning of the father for the fate of the Individual.” 1909). During this time he undergoes his own psychology training.
b) In the agnosticism phase C. G. Jung increasingly appreciates the psychological function of the religion in their meaning for the future. The conclusion God seems to be explainable as a pure psychological function can be drawn easily from his purely psychological statements. “Der Gottesbegriff ist eine schlechthin notwendige psychologische Funktion irrationaler Natur, die mit der Frage nach der Existenz Gottes überhaupt nichts zu tun hat. Denn diese letzte Fra-ge kann der menschliche Intellekt niemals beantworten, noch weniger kann es irgendeinen Gottesbeweis geben. Überdies ist ein solcher auch gänzlich überflüssig, denn die Idee eines übermächtigen göttlichen Wesens ist überall vorhanden, wenn nicht bewußt, so doch unbewußt, denn sie ist ein Archetypus.” C. G Jung follows Kant who considers metaphysical realities unrecognizable, since only psychological experiences are directly given to humans. It is only necessary to make the archetypical conceptions conscious. “Der Glaube sollte durch Verstehen ersetzt werden.”
c) The phase with ” Psychology and Religion” (1937) brings new realizations, both to psychological and religious. While he strongly  keeps his empirical point of view, he recognizes now  the religious character of the “Selbst”. Faith and religion lead now to the highest human development and do not only have to be overcome by reasoning.

1. The science view

C.G. Jung regards himself as empiric and as such he holds the phenomenological point of view. As a scientist he does not feel himself entitled and competent to use philosophical or metaphysical criteria correctly. One must be careful, however, to restrict this scope too much. From phenomenological view C.G. Jung regards the psyche as only recognizable reality and subsequent ally was blamed that he reduces religion on arbitrary subjective creation. C.G. Jung stressed however, there are humans, who have conceptions of God and God belongs evenly to psychology and religion. According to Jung many hold “the prejudice that the psyche and its contents are nothing more than our own arbitrary invention or more or less illusory product of assumptions and judgment”, but certain ideas do not come from the individual but just impended to  the individual consciousness.
2. The mystic and alchemist view

Carl G. Jung pointed out in Aion, Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (1951), when referring to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius:    “Starting from the star ‘O’ and assuming a Platonic month of 2,143 years, one would arrive at A.D. 2154 for the beginning of the Aquarian Age, and at A.D. 1997 if you start from star ‘a 113.’ The later date agrees with the longitude of the stars in Ptolemy’s Almagest… Since the delimitation of the constellations is known to be somewhat arbitrary, this date is very indefinite.” Kepler believed that the great conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn in the sign of Pisces truly noted the full beginning of the Age. It should be noted, that here Jung was not using  the mean precession of the constellations. Carl G. Jung  was one of those who dealt most directly with the passage of the Piscean Period to the Age of Aquarius. He analysed astrological imagery embodied in Zodiacal ages in order to deal with the psychological problems of this period of transition. The astrological sign of Pisces is often represented as two fish – one light, the other dark in color – swimming in opposite directions. The Age of Pisces which started roughly at the same time as the birth of Jesus is the period in which Christianity developed and became the normative spiritual influence for much of the world. The Piscean Period, true to its image of the fish going in opposite directions, has been one in which the dominant ideologies have been of opposing dualism: the kingdom of the saved and the world of the damned in Christianity, the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb (the region of Islam and the region of war) in Islam, the antagonist socialist and capitalist worlds in Marxist thought.— tbc under construction —

3. The Christian view

The overwhelming majority of Christians have probably never heard of C. G. Jung, but his influence in the church is vast and affects sermons, books, and activities. One may be more aware of the use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) by management seminaries. Jung’s legacy to “Christian psychology”, however, is both direct and indirect.  Myself as professing Christian, who has been influenced by Jung’s teachings, wants to integrate aspects of Jungian theory into my own understanding of psychotherapy.  To many Jung’s legacy has not enhanced Christianity, as psychotherapy in general has supposedly undermined the doctrines of Christianity. Sigmund Freud’s attitudes towards Christianity were obviously hostile. His colleague Carl Jung, on the other hand, may not be quite as obvious in his disdain for Christianity but he did silently diminished Christian doctrines by putting them at the same level as those of all religions. Just because Jung left room for religion, however, many Christians – and myself  – feel comfortable with his ideas. Thus it is important to look at Jung’s attitudes towards Christianity.  His book “Psychologie und Religion”offers a detailed explanation of the Christian Mass and  “Symbole der Wandlung” describes this context from a much broader (also pagan) view. Jung evidently saw that religion was very meaningful to many people and that religions could be useful (at first) as myths.  His choice to consider and evaluate all myths (and religions) was further influenced by his view of psychoanalysis. According to Viktor Von Weizsaecker, “C. G. Jung was the first to understand that psychoanalysis belonged in the sphere of religion.” One may add, that to deal people who were possessed by demons (or complexes) was the task of priests since the time of Babylon. That Jung’s theories constitute a religion can be seen in his view of God as the collective unconscious and thereby present in each person’s unconscious. For him religions revealed aspects of the unconscious and could thus tap into a person’s psyche. He also used dreams as avenues into the psyche for self-understanding and self-exploration. One can come to the conclusion, that religion was only a tool for him to tap into the self and if a person wanted to use Christian symbols that was fine with him.    — tbc under construction —

4. The Buddhist view

There is much in Jung’s distinction between Ego and Self that the Buddhist mind will alien,  just as much of the other way around. Insofar as Jung stands accused of being deceived by vague of terminology, the mere application of his concepts to Buddhist material will not do.  The easiest response is  to cast the matter aside with so simple a wave of the hand and gloss over the efforts that have been made to study the value of Jung’s thought as a bridge from the Christian West to the Yogic, Hindu, Taoist, Tibetan, Mahyna, and Zen, traditions of the East is likely to content only the most dogmatic of temperaments. Insofar as these questions belong to the history of ideas, a tougher, more patient approach is in order – a shift in the basic structure of worldview.  If, as I believe to be the case, the worldviews of Buddhism and Christianity may be cut of the same cloth as the classical cosmos of Jung’s thought,  then the discussion of different ideas of Self and Ego needs some rethinking. Beliefs in higher reality and higher consciousness  are allowed to solicit new formulations or they replace them. What we see happening today—in both Christianity and Buddhism—is a tilt towards the latter, to which the interreligious dialogue may even be adding its weight. The openness to a united view of the psyche and the cosmos, may contribute to it. — tbc under construction —

5. The Taoist view
Jung became interested in Taoism by meeting in 1922 Richard Wilhelm, a German missionary to China, who had become in close contact to Taoism. Jung viewed Wilhelm and his work as creating a bridge between East and West. Wilhelm was the messenger from China who was able to express profound things in plain language which disclose something of the simplicity of great truth and deep meaning. Wilhelm had translated and analysed a Taoist healing text The Secret of the Golden Flower to which Jung wrote a psychological commentary published in 1929. Wilhelm had also produced a translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, as well as the I Ching (The Book of Changes) – a widely used book of Chinese divination, some of which predates the rise of Taoism in the 6th century BC. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching is great source of meditation, the statements are mostly in form of a paradox statement.

The Chinese Taoists were directly concerned with mental health and healing, and there were contemporary healers which Wilhelm had met. The Taoist balance between what could be considered at one level as opposites was close to Jung’s psychoanalytical efforts where he contrasted the introvert and the extrovert, thought and feeling, the person and the shadow.. As Rosen points out, the essential task of Jung’s psychology is to help in the process of “individuation” –a process toward wholeness, which like Taoism is characterized by accepting and transcending opposites.

As Lao Tzu wrote “Let the Tao be present in your life
And you will become genuine.
Whoever is planted in the Tao
Will not be rooted up.”

On the nature of tao – From Jung’s Collected Works 6, Psychological Types (1921):  “This psychological attitude is…an essential condition for obtaining the kingdom of heaven, and this in its turn – all rational interpretations notwithstanding – is the central, irrational symbol whence the redeeming effect comes. The Christian symbol merely has a more social character than the related conceptions of the East….
According to the central concepts of Taoism, Tao is divided into a fundamental pair of opposites, yang and yin. Yang signifies warmth, light, maleness; yin is cold, darkness, femaleness. Yang is also heaven, yin earth. From the yang force arises shen, the celestial portion of the human soul, and from the yin force comes kwei, the earthly part. This not far from C.G. Jungs theory of anima and animus.

6. The gnostic viewDer Gnostische Jung. Und die sieben Reden an die Toten

C. G. Jung has shown a pronounced and informed interest in Gnosticism.  In “Den  sieben Reden an die Toten ” he perceived the outstanding psychological relevance of Gnostic insights. Just recently the “Red Book” is available for the interested layman.  Both books were written during his early year, crisis years after her broke with Freud.

Gnosticism is the knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of interior, intuitive means (Gnosis). Gnosticism was primarily defined in Christian context also including pre-Christian religious beliefs common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism (especially Zurvanism), and Neoplatonism. The importance of the Nag Hammadi library, discovered in upper Egypt in 1945, was pointed out by C.G. Jung. His Book “Antwort auf Hiob” is a downright gnostic answer to the Bible´, written with subtile but well meaning irony.

Jung’s reflections had long been influenced in the thought of the ancient Gnostics to such an extent that some considered them the virtual roots of his  ‘depth psychology’ . In the light of such recognitions one may ask: “Is Gnosticism a religion or a psychology?” The answer is that it may very-well be both, just like Jung’s thought may be interpreted religiously. Most mythologies found in Gnostic scriptures possess psychological relevance and applicability. For instance, the basic Gnostic myth to Aeons, intermediate deific beings who exist between the ultimate, True God and ourselves. They, together with the True God, comprise the realm of Fullness (Pleroma) wherein the potency of divinity operates fully. The Fullness stands in contrast to our existential state, which in comparison may be called emptiness.  The false creator God  bears a close resemblance to the alienated human ego that has lost contact with the  Self. One of the aeonial beings who bears the name Sophia (“Wisdom”), referred to by C.G. Jung many times,  is of great importance to the Gnostic world view and resembles closely the story of the human psyche that loses its connection with the collective unconscious and needs to be rescued by the Self. Analogies of this sort exist in great profusion.

Gnosticism may possess both a psychological and a religious authenticity. Gnostic psychology and Gnostic religion need not be exclusive of one another but may complement each other within an implicit order of wholeness. Gnostics have always held that divinity is immanent within the human spirit, although it is not limited to it. The convergence of Gnostic religious teaching with psychological insight is thus quite understandable. The Red Book reveals the experiential, Gnostic roots of Jung’s psychology. — tbc under construction —

Note: This work in progress. I plan to carefully study this issue, fan out in special articles for each subcharter. Right now, I have not make my mind on which of the beliefs C.G. Jung finally leaned. My current guess is, he war great integrator of Eastern Thought – found psychological terms for their concepts – but was more on the Mystic, Gnostic, Alchemist side, although still affiliated to catholic belief (but not the church), as least to Christianity.

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