On a recent
June evening Swiss psychologist Carl Jung and his Indian guest Gautama
the Buddha dined at a local restaurant without translators present.
the Buddha: I'd like the fish, please.
G Jung: An inspired choice, Gautama. And I'll take your English
Yes, sir. Anything to drink?
CGJ: A red
B: A glass
filled with ice please.
sir, will that be all for now?
I was saying, here in the West our so-called Age of Enlightenment
dawned several centuries ago. We began to look at things differently.
We even began to apply our new scientific methodology to the causes
of suffering of men and women. We made some great advances and replaced
superstition with knowledge. Today, men and women are better off
then before but, still, suffering persists.
B: It is
always so. An unavoidable condition of being human. As you know,
I am not unacquainted with suffering. Indeed, all my father's careful
manoeuvring to keep me sheltered from the world of pain came to
nought - how could it be otherwise? The West and the East are not
so far apart.
human is alien to me, the Roman poet Terence said. Our Age of Enlightenment
may have cleared away many falsehoods but we awoke from our feudal
past and suddenly found ourselves in a modern world unavoidably
responsible for our own well-being.
B: No doubt
a great shock but, as you say, unavoidable. How did you come to
devote yourself to the problem of suffering?
I left my sheltered childhood world I fell into studying medicine,
and graduated to work in the field of psychiatry. It seemed a world
full of possibilities. Then I encountered patients suffering from
the strangest ills, without apparent cause. They were not physically
ill, organically diseased. Their mysterious mental suffering seemed
these patients fully aware of their suffering?
CGJ: I took
note of their words and actions and eventually saw that their illnesses
often made sense according to their own internal logic. I came to
understand their ills served a "secondary gain" purpose. Symptoms
were really a way of coping with painful aspects of their lives.
Their symptoms were distorted internal responses to environmental
challenges. These were not ideal adaptations, to be sure, but they
allowed the patient to cope after a fashion.
B: Did you
cure them of their ills?
There were some lasting cures. My associates in Freud's circle had
also begun exploring this field. Separately and together for some
years our small band of fractious pioneers set out to chart the
territory of the human mind. This was not entirely new ground but
we brought a certain fresh intellectual rigour to mapping out the
largest landforms of the human psyche - id, ego, superego, collective
W: The fish
for you. The roast beef. Another glass of wine sir?
W: You are
main legacy, for which some reviled us, was, ironically, the upending
of a key notion of our Age of Enlightenment. Our charting of unconscious
forces scared many people. With God having been dethroned some time
earlier, we now in turn dethroned the ego from its privileged seat
of rationality. We showed that other actors - unconscious drives
and motivations, emotions - sometimes held the human stage, even
if we weren't consciously aware of this shadow play.
it has been my observation that most people are usually all too
conscious of their drives and motivations. Greed, lust, pride. These
- shall we call them disorders? - constantly motivate people to
pursue particular desires. Attaching to these desires causes discontent
and dissatisfaction. Only by ceasing our attachment to desires can
we realise an end to such suffering.
go of suffering. Just like that?
letting go can be aided by the cultivation of wisdom, ethical behaviour
and mindful awareness. Essentially, our suffering arises from the
illusion that the individual self is enduring and needs to be protected.
I call psychological complexes, our personal patterns of thought
or behaviour charged with strong emotional energy, can drive us
to pursue illusions or throw us off balance psychologically. So
it is never enough to think we know what we are doing; we need to
become aware of these internal forces, see where they are leading
us and then act accordingly to put ourselves in control.
attaining mindful awareness and wisdom. This is necessary. In the
meantime, we talk of being in control, but in control of what? We
live as if everything is cut and dried. We try to control things.
But in the end, we rely on God's grace or fate or luck to carry
our plans through. We are not in control of our lives. Existence
can't be dictated by human beings. All things are always shifting.
So are we, moment by moment. Nothing is permanent. When I realised
this it wasn't frightening. On the contrary, it was ... liberating.
How is your beef, Carl?
good, Gautama. And the fish?
B: I haven't
tasted such fish in ages.
is permanent. Yet,
to ourselves, we always retain the view that we remain the same
person, don't we? B: It is a very enduring illusion. But we must
admit that we change, or else psychoanalysis couldn't hold out a
promise of cure, could it?
CGJ: I see
therapy as really a process of taking up responsibility for managing
our changing selves to the fullest extent we are able.
or enlightenment or salvation demands effort and practice. It won't
come from outside. We have to go inside. This is why training in
meditation is so useful. It aids in concentrating the mind but,
more importantly, helps us to remain mindful in all circumstances.
After all, we can hardly let go of our attachments if we are not
aware of them.
old friend Freud said something like that. Where id was, there shall
B: I do
not frame it in terms of restoring ego to the throne. The self is
constantly changing. It has no lasting structure and content.
you don't have a concept of a whole integrated self?
B: I find
it more fruitful not to think in terms of either self or non-self.
Neither attachment nor aversion. There is a middle path. It is because
we are ignorant of the truth that we think we can be made happy
by fulfilling our attachments to a specific person, place, feeling,
thing and then we form aversions and dislikes. We don't like it
when we don't get what we want. When dislike is reinforced it often
escalates to anger, hate and enmity. (Das 1997: 60)
desires can paralyse and poison us.
B: Yet desires
are natural. I am not sure it is useful to focus upon the origins
or content of desires. It is enough to understand that desires naturally
arise and just as naturally cease. That is part of our existence.
Things arise together. All is dependent upon all other things.
I don't have knowledge of past lives, I certainly know that our
past can condition or influence our present way of living. Most
patients come to analysis with a particular problem. Sometimes together
I can help them find a solution. They may suffer through an attachment
to a frustrated desire or because they have an aversion to something.
The cause of this suffering lies in the present, to be sure, but
the patient's tendency is often to apply to the present problem
a pattern of thought or action that formed in response to some previous
setback to the ego's wants. It is this inappropriate choice of response
that fails to overcome the present obstacle.
B: If it
can be viewed as an obstacle.
B: I'm fine. Our past conditions us to be in the present in a certain
way. But we have choice. One can see what is really occurring now.
Understand the truth of the situation. And act ethically. No longer
need we be prisoners of past deeds of ourselves or others. We can
be in the world in a new way. Perhaps for most it's best to start
with small things. Take that pipe of yours, for instance. If you
were of a mind to quit smoking, you might start with examining your
desire for smoking. Become aware of when and how it arises. Observe
it. Feel the desire. Feel your attachment to it. Not intellectually,
but really feel it in your bones - or your marrow. Practise letting
go of your attachment and see what happens to this desire. It will
hang around for a while, and then eventually disappear. Seeing the
desire for what it is will allow you to come to grips with it. Before
you can actually choose to stop smoking you must admit to the strength
of your desire - not deny your desire or try and hide from it.
your glass is still empty. And that reminds me, we have an organisation
for problem drinkers that operates along much the same lines. The
desire of the drinker for attaining a particular alcohol-induced
psychic state cannot be resisted or denied forever. That ties up
too much psychic energy. The 12 steps path to freedom arises only
when the drinker can sit with his or her desire comfortably without
being compelled to act to satisfy this transient urge.
it is a case of learning the soft way to resist the seemingly irresistible.
But the soft way is not the easy way - it can be immensely difficult
to overcome the habits of a lifetime.
fortunate then that we may be given many lifetimes.
ice is melting.
go asks a lot of us. On the external level, think about all the
things we don't want to relinquish. Think about possessions, money,
youth, people, accomplishments, career and status. On the internal
level, notice how we cling to self concepts and images, to our ideas,
opinions, beliefs, politics and habitual ways of doing things; think
about how attached we are to our feelings, moods, regrets, grudges,
memories and the stories we tell ourselves. Think about all the
ways we hold on to and control all the aspects of our lives. On
the innermost level, reflect on how we don't want to let go of our
egoistic, selfish, self-important view of self and who we think
we are. As we walk the spiritual path to enlightenment, ego-clinging
is what we are really attempting to shed. We want to let go of and
empty out our separatist tendencies and our selfish agendas. (Das
CGJ: I think
this ego-clinging, all the discontent it engenders, must be understood
ultimately as the suffering of a soul which has not yet discovered
its meaning. Now, I am not suggesting that one may achieve a life
without suffering but, rather, that the suffering is already upon
us and we are obliged to find its meaning. (Hollis:18)
much in the universe is unfathomable, we are obliged to realise
our Buddha nature. The ultimate goal of our lives is to be happy.
W: Any dessert
take some cheese, please.
CGJ: I am
not so sure.
B: Of the
about happiness being our ultimate goal. But it all depends on what
you mean by happiness. It all starts when we ask the question, 'Who
am I apart, from my history and the roles I have played'? (Ibid:
my life pass swiftly by as I wander upon this world like a hungry
ghost, or will I undertake the work necessary to achieve salvation,
which is already within me? Carl, everybody should become their
own psychologist and learn to control the undisciplined mind in
order to lead it from suffering to happiness.
is painful, certainly, but is it really bad or undesirable? There
are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other
in the year's course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure
of darkness, and the word 'happy' would lose its meaning if it were
not balanced by sadness. (Jung)
arising from attachment to obsessive desires is certainly painful
and completely unnecessary. Enlightenment is a state of becoming
freed of limiting desires.
so, and I agree that freeing yourself of limiting desires is a good
thing, is not enlightenment itself limiting? Are you not advocating
that the highest value lies in becoming a detached and happy carrot?
Can suffering itself ever be eliminated? Should it?
is a permanent transformation of consciousness, leading to freedom
from suffering and a life without discontent. The mind can be permanently
transformed. There is a stage beyond egocentricity that is everlasting.
though everything is in a constant state of flux?
is an unchanging achievement, but there are different stages of
enlightenment. You could think of it as a process. After all, it
took me many lifetimes to reach my final stage of enlightenment.
suffering that is worked though can enrich and deepen a human life,
by generating greater knowledge, openness, sensitivity, compassion
and passion. (Ibid: 208)
that is so, even in the grip of this changing world.
can one ever get beyond the changing world? Even after death, our
material substance continues to change and transform. Even the enlightened
follower of the way continues to age, change.
B: Our intrinsic
Buddha nature is unchanging. It is our original face and has existed
since before we or our parents were born. And will continue to exist
after our death. This world is transitory but it is nevertheless
real. Suffering exists. Pain is real.
our pain and suffering shows us the way to liberation, does it not?
In this way worldly delusions can be valuable.
B: The world
of delusions and suffering is not to be underestimated. It provides
many valuable lessons.
do you seek to do in the world?
B: I set
up the individual mind of each one who seeks peace, bring it to
quietude, unify it, gather it together. (Sun: 7)
patients lack a sense of wholeness. They are off-centre or out of
balance, like a wheel riding off its axle or a bone riding out of
its socket. This off-centeredness is most often experienced as negativity
and restlessness. (Young-Eisendrath: 72)
think they want this, or that, but all along they are looking for
someone else or something else to save them. They think, if only
this person would like me more, if only things could be the way
they used to be in the past, or if only I could live in such a way
I'd be happy. They don't have what they want ...
B: - and
so they are able to go on blaming some other cause for their misery.
They are absolved from any responsibility, and guilt too, I suppose.
the guilt doesn't disappear. It just goes into hiding, papered over
with neurotic or false suffering, a way of escaping from having
to do the hard work themselves.
is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. (Jung 2)
The hardest task of all is to become truly aware of your own strategies
for avoiding yourself. The self, our true self, sometimes plays
a devious game of hiding itself in its shell of wants. If we continue
to follow our own desires, we remain in the world of samsara still.
Enlightened self-interest cannot lead to enlightenment. All beings
already have everything they need to live the existence allotted
for them. We just don't realise it. This is the world of samsara.
need courage to risk all our ego defences and unconscious avoidance
strategies in order to move from our one-sided off-balanced position
is value in wholeness. Living an off-balance life will get us nowhere.
We'll eventually run out of steam. CGJ: Usually around the time
of our middle years, when the great tasks of the ego are accomplished
- establishing ourselves in the world independently of mother and
father, becoming educated about things we need to work in a job,
make money and gather possessions around us, find a mate and raise
a family of our own. And then where are we?
B: But this
is important. You first need to develop a healthy ego before you
can move beyond its one-sidedness towards wholeness. You must be
somebody before you can be nobody, so to say.
we live long enough, the life passage eventually arrives where we
have to face what we have avoided so far in our journey. Some people
live too much in their heads and block out or avoid dealing with
their emotions. These patients have to really feel their emotions
first, painful as it is, in order to get better. Other people are
constantly swayed by emotional reactions. Their task on the other
hand is to work at developing a rational framework to better deal
with their emotions.
B: The ways
of escaping these tasks are endless.
CGJ: I am
constantly amazed at how so many of my patients will do anything
to prevent themselves getting better. (Suler: 336)
B: We think
we know what is good for us, but it is neither thoughts alone nor
emotions alone that have the answers we need. This is apparent when
we sometimes get what we think we really want. It doesn't satisfy.
Things don't turn out right ever after. Even wanting to be enlightened
won't satisfy. Striving for enlightenment will only make it so much
harder to attain.
thoughts exactly. Now Gautama, tell me this, how should you live
B: Act always
as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while
laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any
B: And you
vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens. (Jung)
B: I wish
I had said that.
aren't you drinking?
B: I always
like really cold water and I have just been waiting for the ice
to melt. But look! We seem to be finished. Shall we have a little
after dinner brandy?
not? And you can tell me all about reincarnation and what happens
B: Oh, certainly.
But it's not really all that interesting, you know.
continued on in this vein for a glass or so.
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