The Vedantic Self and the Jungian Psyche ~ Dr Carol Whitfield

Advaita Vedanta offers an ancient and yet timely perspective on the nature of the Self and its relationship to the individual, the world, and God. I believe that the introduction of the Vedantic Self into the existing canons of psychological knowledge and its integration into psychological models of the mind could enrich the current Western understanding of human nature and provide us with a model of the psyche that adds an emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually satisfying dimension to our current understanding of human behavior.

The Vedantic Self could be integrated into all our existing models of the mind and its addition, I believe, would enrich any model that receives it. However, such an all-encompassing task is beyond the scope of this study. Integrating the Vedantic Self into one model is more feasible and will allow for a much deeper treatment of the subject matter. I will use Jung’s model of the psyche for this purpose. Jung was familiar with the Hindu Upanishads and drew from them in his understanding of the psyche; and he acknowledged the religious and spiritual aspects of the psyche, giving a more complete picture of human nature than do models that ignore the psyche’s innate need for God.

Jung’s Psychological Model of the Mind

Jung’s psychological model of the mind is based on his personal experience and his work with patients, as I believe is true for all psychological models. Jung (1929/1961b), in comparing his work with Freud and Adler, states that psychological theories are:

the more or less successfully formulated confession of a few individuals, and so far as each of them conforms more or less to a type, his confession can be accepted as a fairly valid description of a large number of people. And since those who conform to other types none the less belong to the human species, we may conclude that this description applies, though less fully, to them too. (p. 334)

Jung views his psychology as descriptive of psychological processes and structures that he has directly encountered and worked with in his investigations of the psyche. He said, ‘Everything about this psychology is, in the deepest sense, experience; the entire theory, even where it puts on the most abstract airs, is the direct outcome of something experienced’ (Jung, 1917/1966b, p. 117). Jung presents his hypotheses, such as the existence of an unconscious, archetypes, and the ‘reality of the psyche,’ as necessary constructs to account for his data. Jung (1952/1976) said:

The ‘reality of the psyche’ is my working hypothesis, and my principal activity consists in collecting factual material to describe and explain it. I have set up neither a system nor a general theory, but have merely formulated auxiliary concepts to serve me as tools, as is customary in every branch of science. (p. 666)

In describing the elements of the psyche, Jung uses terms that have a mythological ring to them – such terms as persona, archetype, shadow, anima, animus, and Self with a capital ‘S.’ Jung (1951/1959) defended his use of such mythological language, saying:

It is possible to describe this content in rational, scientific language, but in this way one entirely fails to express its living character. Therefore, in describing the living processes of the psyche, I deliberately and consciously give preference to a dramatic, mythological way of thinking and speaking, because this is not only more expressive but also more exact than an abstract scientific terminology, which is wont to toy with the notion that its theoretic formulations may one fine day be resolved into algebraic equations. (p. 13)

Though the use of such language may be more representative of the psyche than the more sterile scientific terms of his contemporaries, the use of such terms has tended to isolate Jung from the past and present non-Jungian psychological community. Winnicott had a similar problem with his use of personally coined terminology. In order to understand either of them, one has to be both open to and willing to learn their language.

Freud also used language that spoke to the soul, and his writing has been described as beautifully simple and humanistic, meant to communicate the experience of the psyche in easily understandable terms. For example, the German names Freud chose for the major components of his psychological model of the mind were ‘Ich,’ ‘Es,’ and ‘Uber-ich,’ which can be simply and accurately translated as the ‘I,’ the ‘It,’ and the ‘Over-I.’ His translator, James Strachey, however, chose to translate these terms as the ego, the id, and the super-ego. The original German terms, Strachey felt, were too simple for the scientific community of the West, and so in order to make Freud more acceptable to this community, Strachey significantly altered the feeling-tone and communicative power of Freud’s original words by translating them into his choice of scientific terminology. Bruno Bettelheim, in his well known book, Freud and Man’s Soul (1982), addresses the loss of Freud’s ‘essential humanism’ in these scientific translations. Bettelheim writes:

When, in middle age, I was fortunate enough to be permitted to start a new life in the United States, and began to read and discuss psychoanalytic writings in English, I discovered that reading Freud in English translation leads to quite different impressions from those I had formed when I read him in German. It became apparent to me that the English renditions of Freud’s writings distort much of the essential humanism that permeates the originals… In his work and in his writings, Freud often spoke of the soul – of its nature and structure, its development, its attributes, how it reveals itself in all we do and dream. Unfortunately, nobody who reads him in English could guess this, because nearly all his many references to the soul, and to matters pertaining to the soul, have been excised in translation.

This fact, combined with the erroneous or inadequate translation of many of the most important original concepts of psychoanalysis, makes Freud’s direct and always deeply personal appeals to our common humanity appear to readers of English as abstract, depersonalized, highly theoretical, erudite, and mechanized – in short, ‘scientific’ – statements about the strange and very complex working of our mind. Instead of instilling a deep feeling for what is most human in all of us, the translations attempt to lure the reader into developing a ‘scientific’ attitude toward man and his actions, a ‘scientific’ understanding of the unconscious and how it conditions much of our behavior. (1982, pp. 3-5)

This fate did not so drastically befall Jung. Jung wrote in English as well as in German and his translators also had a value for keeping the spirit of Jung in their translations. But, perhaps, if they had couched his ideas in more ‘scientific’ language, his work would have been more ‘respected’ by the scientific community, at the price, of course, of losing the soul of what he had to say, as has happened to Freud. However, even though Jung’s terminology may have contributed to the lack of acceptance of his work by many in the scientific community, still, many of his terms are now quite integrated into the common parlance of educated people. Laurens van der Post (1975) states:

Words that [Jung] introduced in new senses into modern English idiom have lost their elitism and are part today of our ordinary educated vocabulary. Terms like extrovert, introvert, persona, archetype, anima, animus, and shadow, that we to owe him, testify how wide and deep his impact has been. (p. 3; emphasis in original)

Jung does not use terms lightly. His terms name psychological processes and structures that can be experienced and recognized by those who are willing to submit themselves to an analytical analysis of their psyche. The terms are meant to match the feeling tone and mythical numinosity of what they represent. The language of the psyche is one of feeling-toned images and Jung’s terminology fits the phenomena he is referencing.

Jung’s model of the psyche centers on what Jung terms the individuation process, that is, the ego’s coming into a dialectical relationship with the Jungian Self. [Jung’s use of the term ‘Self’ is much different from the Vedantic use of the term. Therefore, whenever necessary for clarity, I will use ‘Jungian Self’ and ‘Vedantic Self’ to differentiate the two.]

The individuation process is the story of an individual’s journey to consciously becoming what he or she was destined in life to become. Just as an oak seed is destined to become an oak tree and not a pine tree, every individual has a destiny that is true to him or her: This destiny can be thwarted in many ways throughout life, causing maladaptation and neuroses. According to Jung, the primary purpose of the therapeutic process is to release the blocks in the psyche that are obstructing its natural development and to bring the ego into a conscious, respectful, and adult relationship with the autonomous forces of the psyche, particularly the Jungian Self.

Jung (1921/1971) defines the psyche as ‘the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious’ (p. 463), and he divides the psyche into three parts: the conscious mind, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious.

The conscious mind, according to Jung, comprises, all that we consciously know, and the ego is its center.

Jung identifies consciousness with the ego, the ego being the conscious center to which all objects of consciousness must attach to be known. According to Jung, one’s consciousness increases as the ego’s contact with psychic contents increases.

The personal unconscious comprises those things that we have experienced but have dropped from consciousness. The repressed contents of the personal unconscious that are contrary to one’s conscious values cluster around the archetype of the shadow. Jung (1961a) defines the shadow as ‘a relatively autonomous ‘splinter personality’ with contrary tendencies in the unconscious’ (p. 399).

The collective unconscious is the underlying structure of the psyche that ‘forms, as it were, an omnipresent, unchanging, and everywhere identical quality or substrate of the psyche per se’ (Jung, 1951/1959, p. 7). This commonality in the structure and functioning of the psyche can be likened to the generic structure and functioning of the human body or the instincts. The collective unconscious is composed of archetypes, the generic patterns of behavior that influence all our human activities.

The Jungian Self is the central archetype of the collective unconscious and also ‘designates the whole range of psychic phenomena in man’ (Jung, 1921/1971, p. 460). It is an active principle that directs the psyche’s process of individuation, and is the central organizing principle of the total psyche. Paradoxically, the Jungian Self is both the center of the psyche and includes the psyche in its entirety.

The process of individuation involves the ego’s coming into a dialectical relationship with the Self. It is this relationship that accounts for the spiritual dimension in Jung’s psychology. The Self is a reality to be met and reckoned with by the ego. In so doing, the ego comes into relation with something greater than itself, an inner reality that is its guiding force. As will become clear in the next chapter, for Jung the relationship of the ego to the Self, and to the unconscious in general, is the ego’s relationship to God. Jung believes that God cannot be distinguished from the unconscious forces of the psyche that impel one to act over and above one’s conscious will. Jung (1929/1978a) states:

If I assume that God is absolute and beyond all human experience he leaves me cold. I do not affect him, nor does he affect me. But if I know that he is a powerful impulse of my soul, at once I must concern myself with him, for then he can become important, even unpleasantly so, and can affect me in practical ways – which sounds horribly banal, like everything else that is real. (p. 52)

God can only be known as He is experienced in the psyche, and a God that is not experienced is of little value. For Jung, what presents itself to the psyche is the only reality that is directly available to us. The external source or cause of what we actually see is filtered through the structural grid of the sense organs and psyche and may or may not be an actual representation of the external object. Our knowledge of God is subject to the same limitation. We can only know God as He is present in the psyche. Our relationship with God, then, is our relationship with the impulses, forces, and images of the psyche as they impact upon us from the unconscious. According to Jung, these forces must have as much reality as the ego and the external world, for they are able to act upon and influence our behavior, often against the ego’s will. This being the case, the ‘reality of the psyche’ cannot be ignored or taken lightly, as it affects us with as much or more force than does the world.

According to Edward Edinger, a foremost disciple of and commentator on Jung, the uniqueness of Jung’s model of the psyche lies in his understanding of the ‘reality of the psyche’ and the ‘phenomenology of its manifestations.’ The ‘reality of the psyche’ is perhaps Jung’s greatest contribution to humanity. Edinger (1972) states:

It is only beginning to dawn on the educated world what a magnificent synthesis of human knowledge has been achieved by C.G. Jung. Starting as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist he discovered in his patients and in himself the reality of the psyche and the phenomenology of its manifestations at a depth never before observed systematically. As a result of this experience, he could then recognize the same phenomenology expressed in the culture-products of mankind – myth, religion, philosophy, art and literature. He has penetrated to the root source of all religion and culture and thus has discovered the basis for a new organic syncretism of human knowledge and experience. The new viewpoint thus achieved is so comprehensive and all-embracing that, once grasped, it cannot fail to have revolutionary consequences for man’s view of himself and the world. (p. xiii; emphasis in original)

The reality of the psyche and the autonomy of its archetypal components add complexity and depth to Jung’s model of the psyche, in opening it up to connections with a universe whose levels of reality extend beyond the physical world of sense perception. Jung acknowledges a religious component to the psyche, which seeks its connection with this higher order of reality that is more encompassing than itself. This religious component has expressed itself through the ages in the form of our God-images, ‘the primary formulations of how mankind orients itself to the basic questions of life, its mysteries’ (Edinger, 1996, p. xiii). Jung (1944/1968) speaks of the God-image in terms of the soul’s relationship to God, saying:

It would be blasphemy to assert that God can manifest himself everywhere save only in the human soul. Indeed the very intimacy of the relationship between God and the soul precludes from the start any devaluation of the latter. It would be going perhaps too far to speak of an affinity; but at all events the soul must contain in itself the faculty of relationship to God, i.e., a correspondence, otherwise a connection could never come about. This correspondence is, in psychological terms, the archetype of the God-image. (pp. 10-11; emphasis in original)

It is Jung’s acknowledgement and integration of a subtle level of reality and our relationship to a God-image that makes Jung’s model of the psyche especially appropriate for the integration of the Vedantic Self.

Dr Carol Whitfield is a teacher, psychologist and writer, as well as being one of Sri Swami Dayananda’s senior students. She currently teaches in Berkeley, California, and works as a Jungian-oriented clinical psychologist, as well as offering private classes via Arsha Kulam, a non-profit organization dedicated to the traditional teachings of Advaita Vedanta.

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