Carl Jung on “Zen” – Anthology
Great as is the value of Zen Buddhism for understanding the religious transformation process, its use among Western people is very problematical. The mental education necessary for Zen is lacking in the West. ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Paras 901-902
We cannot be sufficiently grateful to the author, first for having brought Zen closer to Western understanding, and secondly for the manner in which he has performed this task. Oriental religious conceptions are usually so very different from our Western ones that even the bare translation of the words often presents the greatest difficulties, quite apart from the meaning of the terms used, which in certain circumstances are better left untranslated. I need only mention the Chinese “tao,” which no European translation has yet got near. The original Buddhist writings contain views and ideas which are more or less unassimilable for ordinary Europeans ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 877
I do not know, for instance, just what kind of mental (or perhaps climatic?) background or preparation is necessary before one can form any completely clear idea of what is meant by the Buddhist “kamma.” Judging by all we know of the nature of Zen, here too we are up against a central conception of unsurpassed singularity. This strange conception is called “satori,” which may be translated as “enlightenment.” “Satori is the raison d’être of Zen without which Zen is not Zen,” says Suzuki. It should not be too difficult for the Western mind to grasp what a mystic understands by “enlightenment,” or what is known as such in religious parlance. Satori, however, designates a special kind and way of enlightenment which it is practically impossible for the European to appreciate ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 877
The occurrence of satori is interpreted and formulated as a break-through, by a consciousness limited to the ego-form, into the non-ego-like Self. This view is in accord not only with the essence of Zen, but also with the mysticism of Meister Eckhart ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 887
Satori corresponds in the Christian sphere to an experience of religious transformation. As there are different degrees and kinds of such an experience, it may not be superfluous to define more accurately the category which corresponds most closely to the Zen experience. This is without doubt the mystic experience, which differs from other types in that its preliminary stages consist in “letting oneself go,” in “emptying oneself of images and ideas,” as opposed to those religious experiences which, like the exercises of Ignatius Loyola, are based on the practice of envisaging sacred images. In this latter class I would include transformation through faith and prayer and through collective experience in Protestantism, since a very definite assumption plays the decisive role here, and not by any means “emptiness” or “freeness.” The characteristically Eckhartian assertion that “God is Nothingness” may well be incompatible in principle with the contemplation of the Passion, with faith and collective expectations ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 893
Thus the correspondence between satori and Western experience is limited to those few Christian mystics whose paradoxical statements skirt the edge of heterodoxy or actually overstep it. The koan is understood to be a paradoxical question, statement, or action of the Master. Judging by Suzuki’s description, it seems to consist chiefly of master-questions handed down in the form of anecdotes. These are submitted by the teacher to the student for meditation. A classic example is the Wu anecdote. A monk once asked the Master: “Has a dog a Buddha nature too?” Whereupon the Master replied: “Wu!” As Suzuki remarks, this “Wu” means quite simply “bow-wow,” obviously just what the dog himself would have said in answer to such a question ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 894
At first sight it seems as if the posing of a koan question as an object of meditation would anticipate or prejudice the end-result, and that it would therefore determine the content of the experience, just as in the Jesuit exercises or in certain yoga meditations the content is determined by the task set by the teacher. The koans, however, are so various, so ambiguous, and above all so boundlessly paradoxical that even an expert must be completely in the dark as to what might be considered a suitable solution. In addition, the descriptions of the final result are so obscure that in no single case can one discover any rational connection between the koan and the experience of enlightenment. Since no logical sequence can be demonstrated, it remains to be supposed that the koan method puts not the smallest restraint upon the freedom of the psychic process and that the end-result therefore springs from nothing but the individual disposition of the pupil ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 895
The complete destruction of the rational intellect aimed at in the training creates an almost perfect lack of conscious assumptions. These are excluded as far as possible, but not unconscious assumptionsthat is, the existing but unrecognized psychological disposition, which is anything but empty or tabula rasa. It is a nature-given factor, and when it [the unconscious] answers this being obviously the satori experienceit is an answer of Nature, who has succeeded in conveying her reaction direct to the conscious mind. What the unconscious nature of the pupil opposes to the teacher or to the koan by way of an answer is, manifestly, satori. This seems, at least to me, to be the view which, to judge by the descriptions, formulates the nature of satori more or less correctly. It is also supported by the fact that the “glimpse into one’s own nature,” the “original man,” and the depths of one’s being are often a matter of supreme concern to the Zen master ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 895
Great as is the value of Zen Buddhism for understanding the religious transformation process, its use among Western people is very problematical. The mental education necessary for Zen is lacking in the West. Who among us would place such implicit trust in a superior Master and his incomprehensible ways? This respect for the greater human personality is found only in the East. Could any of us boast that he believes in the possibility of a boundlessly paradoxical transformation experience, to the extent, moreover, of sacrificing many years of his life to the wearisome pursuit of such a goal? And finally, who would dare to take upon himself the authority for such an unorthodox transformation experience—except a man who was little to be trusted, one who, maybe for pathological reasons, has too much to say for himself? Just such a person would have no cause to complain of any lack of following among us. But let a “Master” set us a hard task, which requires more than mere parrot-talk, and the European begins to have doubts, for the steep path of self-development is to him as mournful and gloomy as the path to hell. ~Carl Jung, CW 11, Para 902
I know Suzuki personally. I have studied Zen not in the practical sense but only from the psychological angle. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Page 101.
Perhaps the profoundest insights into the peculiarities of the East Asian mind come from Zen, which tries to solve the Eastern problem on the level of our Scholasticism. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Page 439.
The way is ineffable. One cannot, one must not, betray it. It is like the way of Zen—like a sharp knife, and also twisting like a serpent. ~Carl Jung, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, Pages 359-364
Zen is a true goldmine for the needs of the Western “psychologist.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Page 128
Consider, for example, the word “Unconscious.” I have just finished reading a book by a Chinese Zen Buddhist. And it seemed to me that we were talking about the same thing, and that the only difference between us was that we gave different words to the same reality. ~Carl Jung, Two Friendships, Page 100.