[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next]

Self and Jung's View of Spiritual Reality

Sep 08, 1995 11:07 AM
by Arthur Paul Patterson

Thanks Jerry S. for your post on Jung and Self. Here are some additional
insights into Jung's understanding of the self and its relationship to the
spiritual life (experiential religion). I was studying the journal keeping
methods of Ira Progoff when I discussed the following question. I am not
sure that Jung is a theosophist but I have come to agree with Hoeller that
Jung is definitely a gnostic.

4. What is Jung's conception of religion and how does it relate to his
concept of the Self?

When I first began reading Jung's works as a graduate student I believed
that I had come across a depth psychologist who affirmed the existence of
God. I read Jung to support my particular brand of religiosity,
neo-evangelicalism. I was please when I read of Jung's apparent pietism,
expressed in the sculpting of the words, "Summoned or unsummoned God is
there.", over his door in Zurich. I was encouraged as I read how he would
direct his analysand's back to their traditional roots, and that he was
convinced that the religious attitude is the key to working with
dysfunction beyond middle age. Jung spoke glowingly of religious
experience, especially symbolic experience and how it lead to a
transformation which I could only interpret spiritually. I was especially
stuck when I discovered his emphasis on the transformed psyche,

In this way there arises in consciousness which is not longer imprisoned in
the petty, oversensitive, personal world of the ego, but participates
freely in the wider world of objective interests.. bring the individual
into the absolute, binding, indissolvable communion with the world at

The goal of spirituality "the transcendence of the ego" echoed the Pauline
promise that humankind has become a new Creation, old things have passed

Over time, while still realizing that Jung appreciated the symbolic in the
Christian system of thought, I discovered that he also had a deep and
pervasive criticism of Christianity which, although hard to catch on to at
first, resulted in a shift of my own understanding of faith and religious
experience. The tension between Jung's faith enriching and debunking
approach caused me to remember his challenge to theologians and pastors
which he wrote to William Temple the Archbishop of Canterbury,

Please send me an intelligent young theologian, I will lead him into the
night of the soul so that one of them at least may know what he is actually
dealing with.

I did not expect that inwardly taking up the challenge would have such an
effect on my life. Through the influence of Jung and other Jungians such as
Edinger and Dourley, I had modified my revelationally based understanding
of religion to a modern perspective of faith as an experience of inwardly
felt trust in a universal process of transformation that Jung called
Individuation. The question I am to answer concerning the religious
implications of the Self has been far from strictly theoretical since
Jungian insights transformed my religious perspective.

When Jung spoke of "religion" he did not have in mind a tradition such as
Christian, Buddhist etc., but a category of experience. Religion is
described empirically and experientially. He says,

I want to make clear that by the term religion I do not mean a creed. It is
however true that every creed is originally based on the one hand upon the
experience of the numninosum and on the other hand upon faith, that is to
say, trust or loyalty, faith and confidence in a certain experience of a
numinous nature and in the change consciousness that ensues.

The nature of this numinous experience is described in terms very similar
to such thinkers as Meister Eckhart, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Otto, William
James and Teilhard De Chardin,

Religion appears to me to be a peculiar attitude of mind which could be
formulated in accordance with the original use of the word, religio, which
means a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors
that are conceived as "powers": spirits, daemons, gods, ideas, ideals, or
whatever name man has given to such factors in his world as he has found
powerful dangerous, or helpful enough to be taken into careful
consideration, or grand and beautiful and meaningful enough to be devoutly
worshipped or loved... We might say that religion designates the attitude
peculiar to a consciousness which has been changed by experience of the

What is true of religion is equally true of his empirical approach to the
Self the organizing, compensating, and guiding archetype of human

Intellectually the self is no more than a psychological concept, a
construct that serves to express an unknowable essence which we cannot
grasp as such, since by definition it transcends our powers of
comprehension. It might equally well be called the God within us. The
beginnings of our whole psychic life seem inextricably rooted in this
point, and all our highest and ultimate purposes seem to be striving toward

Jung writes in Memories, Dream and Reflections,

 God-image is a term derived from the Church Fathers... the imago dei is
imprinted on the human soul. When such an image is spontaneously produced
in dreams, fantasy, visions, etc., it is from a psychological point of
view, a symbol of the self, or psychic wholeness.

It is in this clear distinction between God in and of Godself and the image
of God as a psychological construct threatens those inclined to orthodox
Christianity. Jung explains his approach to God,

It would be a regrettable mistake if anybody should take my observations as
a kind of proof for the existence of God. They prove only the existence of
an archetypal God-image, which to my mind is the most we can assert about
God psychologically. But is it an important and influential archetype, its
relatively frequent occurrence seems to be noteworthy fact for any
theologia naturalis.

What is true of God is also applicable to the Self, Progoff attests to the
empirical and thereby non-metaphysical nature of the self,

as he finally developed his conception, however, it does not depend at all
on metaphysical or philosophical substructure. Actually it derives from
empirical material to a much greater extent than the abstract,
semi-religious formulation might suggest.

The Self being a symbol is therefore multi-valent and like God or the
unconscious itself can be approached from several directions. Frank Bockus
summarizes the many ways the Self is viewed in the collected writings of

>From one point of view , the self is the total system of the psyche. It is
the superordinate system in relation to which the various structures and
subsystems of mind stand. From a second viewpoint, the self is a
centralizing tendency of the psyche as a whole. It is the central point and
function around which are clustered and integrated all structures and
dynamics. As one moves toward selfhood, one moves toward self hood, one
moves toward greater integrity and individuality. One becomes the unique
center of one's personal history. From yet another standpoint, the self is
the whole within which and in relation to which progressive differentiation
and complexity proceed. The distinct structures of the self must be viewed
in relation to the larger ground to which all are related. From a fourth
vantage point the Self can be understood as the goal of human development.
But this goal, grounded in a collective base, can be reached from a variety
of developmental histories. Finally, the self, in yet another aspect, is an
archetypal tendency which predisposes us toward human development. The
Archetypal Self

The Self is then the ground out of which all archetypes emerge as well as
the goal of wholeness toward which the human organism strives. It is the
raw material and guiding purpose. Progoff is right in quoting Jung's phrase
as being extremely revealing as to the nature of the Self, "Jung uses the
idea of an acorn having a dream in which the future development of the tree
was symbolized."

The similarity of approach between the archetype of the Self and God is
revealed by comparing two quotes the first is from Jung and applies to the
Self. The second is from the seventeenth Century German hymnist Angelus
Silesius. Jung says,

the Self is the ordering and unifying center of the total psyche (conscious
and unconscious), while at the same time the Self is the whole sphere - the
Self is both the center and the circumference of the psyche. The Self
incorporates all the other archetypes into a paradoxical unity,
transcending any attempt to contain or define it.

Silesius, probably expanding on Bonaventure's phrase, "God is a circle
whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.", says, "God is my
center when I close him in, and my circumference when I melt in him." The
similarity between the God-Image and the Self is arresting. Both are
considered to be the center and the circumference of life. Roman Catholic
priest John Dourley poignantly reveals the dilemma of exchanging the Self
and the God image freely,

The possibility of a deity-engendering faculty with in the psyche is
understandably a threat to a Christianity still largely committed to living
the burden of its religious projections understood for the most part
literally and historically.

Specifically, the direct connection between the Self and God or the
God-Image is a threat to any exclusivity of traditional revelation as the
definitive understanding of God. Secondly it questions the long held
tradition of God being "totally other than Creation". Filtered through
Jungian thought the God-Image of the Bible like the Self needs to be made
conscious thereby revealing a less than prefect deity who is in need of his
creation for his own redemption. This conception has parallels in both the
mystical panentheism of Eckhart as well as the recent Process theological
views of Whitehead and Cobb.

To put it in Progoff's terms Jung's insights potentially contain not only
the seeds of the death and rebirth of psychology but also the death and
rebirth of religion and spirituality. To use an offshoot of James Hillman's
idea there needs to be a Revisioning of Religion based on the empirical
understanding of the ground of the Self in the human psyche, and beyond it,
rather than merely revealed religion which is not universal enough to be an
adequate symbol for modern seekers. Christianity is a likely candidate to
move beyond creedalism in that it propounds as a central thesis that
"unless a grain falls into the ground it cannot bring forth fruit". The
breaking of the wineskins no longer applies to its original referent first
century Judaism but is now in a position to critique Christianity itself.
Dourley comments on this possibility,

In the face of this problem, Christianity, with its central symbol of death
and resurrection, could be the candidate among the monotheisms to break the
impasse and to affirm itself by transcending itself - to die in its present
configuration in order to rise in some form of more inclusive

Jung himself believed that Christianity had a unique role to play in the
psycho-spiritual life of modern people,

It is therefore well to examine carefully the psychological aspects of the
individuation process in the light of Christian tradition, which can
describe it for us with an exactness and impressiveness far surpassing our
feeble attempts...

As I continue my studies on the religious implications of the Self in the
future, I feel that I must come face to face with the question that Jung
posed in Aion about Christ as the Symbol of the Self.

Modern psychology is therefore confronted with a question very like the one
that faced the alchemists: Is the self a symbol of Christ or is Christ a
symbol of the self?

[Back to Top]

Theosophy World: Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application