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Psychology and Religion: West and East (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 11)

The profound relationship between yoga and the hieratic architecture of India has already been pointed out by my friend Heinrich Zlmmer, whose unfortunate early death is a great loss to Indology.

Anyone who has visited Borobudur or seen the stupas at Bharhut and Sanchi can hardly avoid feeling that an attitude of mind and a vision quite foreign to the European have been at work here if he has not already been brought to this realization by a thousand other impressions of Indian life.

In the overflowing wealth of Indian spirituality there is reflected a vision of the soul which at first appears strange and inaccessible to the Greek-trained European mind.

Our minds perceive things, our eyes, as Gottfried Keller says, “drink what the eyelids hold of the golden abundance of the world,” and we draw conclusions about the inner world from our wealth of outward impressions.

We even derive its content from outside on the principle that “nothing is in the mind which was not previously in the senses.”

This principle seems to have no validity in India. Indian thought and Indian art merely appear in the sense-world, but do not derive from it.

Although often expressed with startling sensuality, they are, in their truest essence, unsensual, not to say supra-sensual. It is not the world of the senses, of the body, of colors and sounds, not human passions that are born anew in transfigured form, or with realistic pathos, through the creativity of the Indian soul, but rather an underworld or an overworld of a metaphysical nature, out of which strange forms emerge into the familiar earthly scene.

For instance, if one carefully observes the tremendously impressive impersonations of the gods performed by the Kathakali dancers of southern India, there is not a single natural gesture to be seen.

Everything is bizarre, subhuman and superhuman at once.

The dancers do not walk like human beings they glide; they do not think with their heads but with their hands.

Even their human faces vanish behind blue-enamelled masks.

The world we know offers nothing even remotely comparable to this grotesque splendor.

Watching these spectacles one is transported to a world of dreams, for that is the only place where we might conceivably meet with anything similar.

But the Kathakali dancers, as we see them in the flesh or in the temple sculptures, are no nocturnal phantoms; they are intensely dynamic figures,consistent in every detail, or as if they had grown organically.

These are no shadows or ghosts of a bygone reality, they are more like realities which have not yet been, potential realities which might at any moment step over the threshold.

Anyone who wholeheartedly surrenders to these impressions will soon notice that these figures do not strike the Indians themselves as dreamlike but as real. And, indeed, they touch upon something in our own depths, too, with an almost terrifying intensity, though we have no words to express it.

At the same time, one notices that the more deeply one is stirred the more our sense-world fades into a dream, and that we seem to wake up in a world of gods, so immediate is their reality.

What the European notices at first in India is the outward corporeality he sees everywhere.

But that is not India as the Indian sees it; that is not his reality.

Reality, as the German word “Wirklichkeit” implies, is that which works.

For us the essence of that which works is the world of appearance; for the Indian it is the soul.

The world for him is a mere show or facade, and his reality comes close to being what we would call a dream.

This strange antithesis between East and West is expressed most clearly in religious practice.

We speak of religious uplift and exaltation; for us God is the Lord of the universe, we have a religion of brotherly love, and in our heaven-aspiring churches there is a high altar.

The Indian, on the other hand, speaks of dhydna, of self-immersion, and of sinking into meditation; God is within all things and especially within man, and one turns away from the outer world to the inner.

In the old Indian temples the altar is sunk six to eight feet deep in the earth, and what we hide most shamefacedly is the holiest symbol to the Indian.

We believe in doing, the Indian in impassive being.

Our religious exercises consist of prayer, worship, and singing hymns.

The Indian’s most important exercise is yoga, an immersion in what we would call an unconscious state, but which he praises as the highest consciousness.

Yoga is the most eloquent expression of the Indian mind and at the same time the instrument continually used to produce this peculiar attitude of mind.

What, then, is yoga? The word means literally “yoking” i.e., the disciplining of the instinctual forces of the psyche, which in Sanskrit are called kleshas. The yoking aims at controlling these forces that fetter human beings to the world.

The kleshas would correspond, in the language of St. Augustine, to superbia and concupiscentia.

There are many different forms of yoga, but all of them pursue the same goal.

Here I will only mention that besides the purely physical exercises there is also a form called hatha yoga, a sort of gymnastics consisting chiefly of breathing exercises and special body postures. In this lecture I have undertaken to describe a yoga text which allows a deep insight into the psychic processes of yoga.

It is a little-known Buddhist text, written in Chinese but translated from the original Sanskrit, and dating from A.D. 424. It is called the Amitayur-dhyana Sutra, the Sutra of Meditation on Amitayus.

This sutra, highly valued in Japan, belongs to the sphere of theistic Buddhism, in which is found the teaching that the Adi-Buddha or Mahabuddha, the Primordial Buddha, brought forth the five Dhyani-Buddhas or Dhyani-Bodhisattvas.

One of the five is Amitabha, “the Buddha of the setting sun of immeasurable light/’ the Lord of Sukhavati, land of supreme bliss.

He is the protector of our present world-period, just as Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, is its teacher.

In the cult of Amitabha there is, oddly enough, a kind of Eucharistic feast with consecrated bread. He is sometimes depicted holding in his hand the vessel of the life-giving food of immortality, or the vessel of holy water. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion, The Psychology of Eastern Meditation, Paragraphs 908-912.