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"C.G. Jung and Vallabha - A Portentous Encounter!"


presented by Richard Barz

Canberra Jung Society


Friday 2 August, 2013


C.G. Jung and Vallabha: A Portentous Encounter

Richard Barz 

Anyone who has seen Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 film The Last Picture Show will not need to be told the degree of passion that people in Texas feel for their local high school football team. 

On the evening of the 4th of October, 1957 that passion was in the air at Amarillo Stadium.  I know because I was there sitting in the stands. I was 15 years old. The hometown Golden Sandies had romped through the first half scoring touchdown after touchdown.  Now, as the first half came to an end, they were well on their way to demolishing their archrivals the Bronchos from Odessa, a town a few hours journey to the south. The Sandies fans, as they settled in to enjoy the halftime show, were jubilant in anticipation of a victorious second half.  But the bands and pom-pom girls had hardly filed on to the field when an announcement came over the public address system. It transformed the excited chatter of the crowd to stunned silence: just over an hour before the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, and in a matter of minutes it would pass directly over the stadium. Like everyone else I craned my neck skyward and, just as predicted, a tiny silver star streaked across the night sky fully visible to the assembled fans, cheerleaders and football players.

When Sputnik sped over my head I had no idea that a football game on the ground and a Space Race in the sky had set in motion a series of incidents that would determine the course of my life. Much later, when I had read Carl Gustav Jung’s Synchronicity: an Acausal Connecting Principle (London, 1955), I realised that the game and the race, with the conflict intrinsic to each, constituted a clear case of synchronicity for me. Meanwhile, Sputnik sent panic through America.  The Soviet antagonists had taken the lead in the first lap of the Space Race and something drastic had to be done to get back in front.  Money had to be poured into higher education, especially into science and maths. But Sputnik wasn’t just a technological achievement, it was a propaganda victory as well.  So along with the scientists and technicians, there would have to be linguists trained in a multitude of tongues to keep the world informed of all the benefits America could offer. Funds had to be funnelled into university courses not just in familiar languages like Spanish but in those more exotic like Hindi.

A year or so after Sputnik, while browsing in a newsagency, I came across a paperback edition of the Bhagavad Gita in English and bought it. The Bhagavad Gita is set at the beginning of a battle between two branches of a single family. In it Krishna, the supreme being in human incarnation, explains how inner balance can be maintained in the midst of a world of struggle and uncertainty. I was so moved and excited by the book’s message that I stayed awake reading all night until I had finished it. Until then I had known nothing about India, but the Bhagavad Gita made me want to find out more about the culture that had produced it.  I decided that I should start by reading the Bhagavad Gita in the original Sanskrit. The theme of conflict which linked the Bhagavad Gita, Sputnik and the game between the Sandies and Bronchos in a skein of synchronicity was still altogether beyond my ken. 

When I enrolled in the University of Arizona a couple of years after discovering the Bhagavad Gita, I was disappointed to find no courses in Sanskrit.  But there was a course in Hindi, which there certainly would not have been without the challenge of Sputnik. So I set out to learn about India by studying Hindi. That led eventually to post-graduate study of Hindi and Sanskrit at the University of Chicago and, in due course, I found myself with my wife and infant son in October 1966 in Agra in northern India.  My task was to write a PhD thesis on the Pushtimarg (“the nourishing way”), a Hindu sect founded in the late 15th century by the philosopher and religious reformer Vallabha, known in Hindi as Vallabhācārya (“Vallabha the Teacher”).

My modus operandi was to read everything that I could find on Vallabha and his thought and to travel around India interviewing scholars, leaders and ordinary followers of his Pushtimarg.  No doubt this is not quite the outcome that the political movers and shakers of the United States had in mind when they made it possible for a lad from Amarillo to take up the study of Hindi, but then they may not have given much consideration to synchronicity in their deliberations.

Vallabha’s thought had considerable appeal for me. Although most of his doctrines were well within mainstream Hinduism, some of them were novel.  For instance, Vallabha held that Krishna, whom he saw as the only existent entity from which all else arises, is as dependent on each human being as each human being is on him.  Vallabha reasoned that Krishna must be omniscient since omniscience is inherent in his nature as the supreme being.  But because Krishna is the only existent entity, there is nothing separate from him in contradistinction to which he can know himself.  If he couldn’t know himself, then how could he be omniscient? Vallabha solved this conundrum by inferring that Krishna veils an infinite number of fragments of himself from awareness of their nature as parts of his whole. Each fragment is convinced that it is individual and unique.  These fragments are the human souls. Under the delusion that they are distinct egos they pass through an eternity of birth and rebirth. The egotism of each soul blinds it from perceiving its true nature as a particle of Krishna.

The souls don’t understand that every one of them is a medium through which Krishna, each soul’s true essence, knows the universe which he has spun out of himself.  Krishna’s knowledge of himself through a human soul culminates when that soul awakens from the dream of its egotism to discover its identity with him as a portion of his whole. Krishna’s omniscience is then complete through knowledge of himself. For this knowledge, Krishna intensely desires each soul to return to him. In turn, each soul can find release from endless reincarnation only through selfless yearning for Krishna. In this way, Vallabha concluded that the souls and the supreme being are dependent on each other for the attainment of self-knowledge and that the bond of this mutual dependence of the human and divine is love. This was an idea that resonated with me and I looked for something similar in general philosophy and religion.  As, by this time I had already been attracted to Jung’s writing on synchronicity, I turned to him. In his memoir  Memories, Dreams, Reflections (London, 1983) on page 371 these words of his leapt off the page at me: “If the Creator were conscious of Himself, He would not need conscious creatures…”  What more vivid confirmation could there be that Jung shared with Vallabha the conviction that to be conscious of himself the supreme being requires human consciousness.

But how did Vallabha expect the soul to forget its false ego to return to its true identity in Krishna? In his solution to this enigma Vallabha, like many other religious leaders, mingled his philosophy with myth.  According to Hindu scripture, in time beyond ordinary history Krishna revealed himself in human form as a handsome young cowherd in a village near the city of Mathura south of Delhi. It was this same Krishna, grown older, who revealed the message of inner balance in the Bhagavad Gita. For the most part, Krishna’s earthly activities were consistent with traditional north Indian rural life. On those occasions when Krishna called on his supernatural powers, as when he lifted up the hill Govardhan to provide the people of his village with shelter from a violent rainstorm, a kind of amnesia fell over the villagers. They forgot Krishna’s supernatural powers and continued to consider him entirely human.  What was extraordinary about Krishna incarnate was the irresistible attraction which he had for his fellow villagers of both sexes. Older men and mature women adored him as a perfect son while young men were drawn to him in days of companionship devising merry rustic pranks and young women in nightly raptures of erotic passion.

So ravishingly alluring was Krishna that the villagers utterly forgot themselves in their love for him. Inspiring that ego-occluding, all-consuming love was, for Vallabha, the purpose of Krishna’s life on earth. Vallabha taught that only by following the example of the scriptural villagers and allowing oneself to be totally absorbed in love for Krishna could the ego be obliterated. But, in the absence of Krishna, such total absorption would remain no more than a philosophical ideal. In order to become real that love had to be put into practice in the world of everyday life. The passage from mythical love to actual love became a real possibility when, in 1494, Vallabha identified as Krishna a modest-sized black stone image of a man with his left arm held aloft. The image had emerged out of a hill that was said to be that very Govardhan Hill that Krishna had lifted up to protect his people. The image, which has come to be known as Shri Nathji- “auspicious lord” in Hindi, from that time forth has been the primary focus of worship in Vallabha’s sect. Today it is installed in a sectarian temple in Nathdwara, Rajasthan. There are also representations of it in the sect’s other centres of worship in India, Australia and many other countries of the world. At the time of his revelation of Shri Nathji, Vallabha also disclosed that Shri Nathji was not an inanimate idol but Krishna himself. As Krishna himself, Shri Nathji has been able to transport some of his devotees to that state of egoless participation in Krishna exemplified by Krishna’s villagers so long ago. 

Shri Nathji evokes powerful emotions in anyone attuned to the archetypical motifs of Indian civilisation. For example, his black colour brings to mind the fury of dark monsoon storm clouds, harbingers of both fertility and destruction. Fertility is also suggested by his crown of peacock feathers mimicking the mating dance display of peacocks in the rainy season. His left arm is upraised to hold up Govardhan Hill, a reminder to his worshippers that he offers salvation as he saved the people of his village. From his right hand hidden behind his back protrudes the flute which charmed women with its music in mythical time.  In the same hand are the lotuses which symbolise souls who take refuge with him away from the world of the profane. Since the Sanskrit word mukta means both “liberated” and “pearl”, the pearls that decorate Shri Nathji’s crown, nose and body assure those who love him that he gives liberation from the ego caught in the endless whirl of births and deaths. His eyes are half closed in contemplation, hinting of his access to the transcendent world beyond ordinary experience.  Finally, the containers of areca nut and betel leaf to his right and the covered water pot to his left show that Shri Nathji is not an inert icon but is an actual, living divine presence that must be continually fed and cared for by his devotees. The water pot, a feminine symbol in Indian imagery, also embodies Yashoda who mothered Krishna in mythical time and reinforces the fact that Shri Nathji was born on earth as a human being and continues to be accessible there in daily life.

Vallabha initiated a program of worship for Shri Nathji which revolves around providing him with food and clothing appropriate to the time of day and season of the year. At set periods of the day Shri Nathji’s devotees are admitted into his temple to feel the attraction which he radiates. The effect can be startling as some in the congregation vividly experience the surge of his love. Those practitioners of the Pushtimarg who are most moved by Shri Nathji can transcend even their sex as they pass into communion with Krishna, loving him in his world outside time both as one of his village men and one of his women. This transcendence of natural sex in Vallabha’s sect was most intriguing to me. I began to look for explanations for it that there might be in relevant literature and, in my search, I came upon Jung’s article on the animus and the anima in his Aspects of the Feminine (London, 1989).

There clearly was a connection between his concept of the anima in men and the animus in women and the ability of those advanced on the Pushtimarg to find in themselves both a masculine and a feminine character through which to love Krishna. It was difficult to isolate the exact connection, though, since Jung was inquiring into questions of psychological behaviour alien to Vallabha’s perspective. I went on to consult other works by Jung, coming upon the connection I was seeking on page 411 of Memories, Dreams, Reflections in his statement that: “The natural function of the animus (as well as of the anima) is to remain in (their) place between individual consciousness and the collective unconscious…The animus and the anima should function as a bridge, or a door, leading to the images of the collective unconscious…”. 

In 1976 my thesis on Vallabha was published in Faridabad in India as The Bhakti Sect of Vallabhācārya and reprinted in New Delhi in 1992. As a result of my study, I was profoundly impressed by Vallabha’s philosophy and deeply appreciative of the skill with which he had woven into that philosophy the most intimate strands of the Hindu psyche to create a religion of captivating beauty. Nevertheless, I remained personally uncaptured. For years I wondered how it was that my fascination for Vallabha and the Pushtimarg had remained constant but always impersonal and abstract. I could not comprehend why there was a conflict between my appreciation of Vallabha’s philosophy and my inability to participate in his religion.  Through

my interest in the psychology of C.G Jung it gradually became clear to me that my personal conflict with Vallabha’s religion was related through synchronicity to my experience in the past of conflict in a sporting event, Sputnik and the Bhagavad Gita. The conflict I felt was evidence of my psychic state with regard to my impossible attempt to apply Vallabha’s insights to my own life. As Jung put it on page 36 of Synchronicity: an Acausal Connecting Principle: “Synchronicity therefore means the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state…”

On page 144 of the same book Jung went on to point out that “synchronistic events…prove to be relatively independent of space and time” which explains why so much time could elapse between the first two and the third of my synchronistic events of conflict. The resolution of my psychic conflict meant that I could be stimulated by Vallabha’s thought but I would have to find its meaning for me on my own terms. 

A similar experience seems to have befallen Jung himself. Since at least the second decade of the 20th century Jung had been fascinated by Hindu and Buddhist Tantra in general and the concept of kundalini in particular. Jung’s fascination reached fruition in a series of lectures he gave in 1932 which have been published in The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga (Princeton, 1996), edited by S. Shamdasani. Despite his interest in Tantra and kundalini, Jung did not try to delve into either personally. Instead, he wrote on page 15 of The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (London, 1959) “We have let the house our fathers built fall into decay, and now we try to break into Oriental palaces that our fathers never knew.” I think that in saying “Oriental palaces” had been broken into and “the house our fathers built” had fallen into decay, Jung was maintaining that it had become impossible for him to adopt in his inner life either Asian philosophy or Christian theology. He had to find in himself meaning for himself.

It would be too much to claim that Vallabha was as an early Jungian or Jung was a late Vallabhan since the two were divided by 431 years and radically different cultural milieus. Moreover, the two had different orientations. Jung’s goal was to heal while Vallabha’s was to redeem. Nevertheless, they shared some fundamental principles and both have been and will continue to be gurus for many, including me. 

Based on a talk given to the Canberra Jung Society on the 2nd of August, 2013,
and published in the Canberra Jung Society Newsletter, Autumn 2014, pages 3-8.   _______________________________________________________________________