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The Remarkable Journey to India

  1. G. Jung’s assistant and later successor at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich, C. A. Meier, gave an account of a private seminar in 1930 in which Jung discussed the case of a patient who in the course of her analysis described the inner pictures she had seen in “active imagination” -a practice that Jung felt was indicated in certain cases for activating the unconscious.

But he was unable to unravel the images this patient had produced until he became familiar with the work of the well-known English Indologist Sir John Woodroffe (pseudonym Arthur Avalon).

This work, first published in Madras in 1918 under the title The Serpent Power, contained a discussion of Kundalini-Shakti or “serpent power,” from two texts translated from the Sanskrit with commentary by Avalon.

Kundalini refers to the spiritual and psychic energy-the libido, as it were, in its original elementary form-that is liberated in the process of (tantric) yoga.

It rises up through the seven spiritual energy centers, or cakras, from the lowest, the muladhara-cakra, located in the area of the sexual organs, to the sahasrara-cakra beneath the top of the skull.

In connection with a definite system of spiritual practices, the idea is to awaken the Kundalini serpent slumbering, so to speak, at the root of one’s being, and lead it upward to an experience of unification and enlightenment.

In the Sahasrara center the Kundalini, or Shakti, thought of as feminine, is The Remarkable Journey to India united with Shiva; a hieros gamos or sacred marriage takes place.

Before this awakening, the Kundalini persists in the unconscious state.

A comparison with the alchemists’ experience of transformation suggests itself.

When J. W. Hauer, with Heinrich Zimmer present, held a seminar on Kundalini yoga at the Zurich Psychological Club for several days in October 1932, Jung had supplied detailed commentary and was even available for discussion.

The papers and personal meetings at the first Eranos conferences had undoubtedly contributed to strengthening Jung’s interest in Indian philosophy and religion, particularly” as he admits expressly in his Memories to his conviction about the value of Eastern spirituality.

It is all the more surprising, then, that Jung did not consider traveling to India of his own accord.

To be sure there was talk once of a trip to China, which Erwin Rousselle suggested to him.

It was to take up about half a year, but it did not come off, probably owing to lack of time and his intensive involvement with his alchemical studies.

Jung also had to defer his attempt to learn Chinese, which he had taken up particularly on account of the I Ching.

The fact that in December 1937-in the company of Fowler McCormick-he did at last embark on a journey to India that was to last a scant three months was due rather to external circumstances.

In the summer of 1937 Jung had two guests from India.

These were V. Subramanya Iyer, the guru of the Maharaj a of Mysore, and the English writer on yoga and India specialist Paul Brunton, a pupil of the famous Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), the saint of Tiruvannamalai, of whom, beside Brunton, Heinrich Zimmer, Arthur Osborne, Hans-Hasso

von Veltheim-Ostrau, and Lucy Cornelsson have also given extensive accounts.

  1. S. Iyer had taken part as the Indian representative at the International Philosophy Congress at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1937.

From a letter of Jung’s to Iyer on 16 September  we learn that at this time he already had in hand an invitation from the (British) Indian government to take part in the festivities that were to take place in January 1938 to mark the twenty-fifth year of existence of the University of Calcutta.

Thus the motivation for this trip to India was quite different than it had been in the twenties, when he had wanted to visit the Pueblos or the East African: Elgonyi in order to gain insight into the psyche of people still undisturbed by civilization.

This time his travel would have to be, so to speak, “self-supporting.”

He fancied himself “like a homunculus in the retort,” Jung said.

India gave me my first direct experience of an alien, highly differentiated culture.

Altogether different elements had ruled my Central African journey; culture had not predominated.

As for North Africa, I had never had the opportunity there to talk with a person capable of putting his culture into words.

In India, however, I had the chance to speak with representatives of the Indian mentality, and to compare it with the European.

This assertion, however, cannot obscure the fact that Jung maintained a definite distance toward India and specifically Indian spirituality, be it of Hindu or Buddhist origin-a distance that on one hand was justified, and on the other gives rises to critical questions.

Undoubtedly well founded was the need for the Wes tern doctor, during his travels to Calcutta, Benares, Allahabad, and Agra, as well as a number of Indian temple sites, to remain in touch with the “fundamental strata of European thought,” and not to lose himself in the hypnotic quality of Eastern religiosity.

For just this reason he brought with him one of his books on alchemy, the first volume of the Theatrum Chemicum from 1602, and “studied the book from beginning to end.”

This was the volume that contained the most important writings of Gerardus Dorneus, so often referred to by Jung.

Thus we see the noteworthy fact that not even for a few months would Jung detach himself from the traditions which dealt with the secret of transformation and self-development as it existed in the Western alchemy that grew out of Christian esoterism.

Clearly, he was not prepared to exchange the one spiritual approach for another, even one as wide-ranging and venerable as Indian tradition.

The travelers came ashore at Bombay, the city of over a million inhabitants on the west coast.

The broad expanse of a sea of houses and low green hills silhouetted against the horizon intimated to the newcomers a huge continent, an unknown land filled with mysteries, secrets, and contradictions of all kinds.

The doctor from Europe spoke only English and so could make himself understood to only a small portion of the inhabitants of lndia.

The fact that the population was split into a multitude of languages, religions, and social classes (castes), with mutually conflicting interests and needs, makes any assertion about “India” seem a totally inadequate, indeed arbitrary statement of opinion.

Jung was fully aware of this fact, yet he attempted to bring together his impressions under a valid common denominator.

He spoke of the “dreamlike world of India,” into which he had plunged for several weeks and from which he drew his selective observations.

Renting a car, Jung had himself driven out of the city and into the countryside:

There I felt a great deal better-yellow grass, dusty fields, native huts, great, dark-green, weird banyan trees, sickly palmyra palms sucked dry of their life-juice (it is run into bottles near the top to make palm wine, which I never tasted), emaciated cattle, thin-legged men, the colorful saris of women, all in leisurely haste or in hasty leisure, with no need of being explained or of explaining themselves, because obviously they are what they are. They were unconcerned and unimpressed; I was the only one who did not belong to India.

This consciousness of not belonging, of having to remain at a distance, stayed with him.

It was relieved only when he was able to speak with people like himself, Europeans or intellectual, that is Europeanized, Indians.

But this India with its jumble of haphazardly piled-up human habitations and its masses of people vegetating there as if in a dream, seemed filled with the monotony of endlessly repeated life.

There seemed to be nothing here that had not already been a hundred thousand times before.

Was this not the ideally favorable soil for the “transmigration of souls,” and not of egoistic individual entities in the sense of Western consciousness, but a transmigration of nameless souls?

Time was relative, space was relative.

Jung went for a stroll through the hustle and bustle of Bombay’s bazaar.

I had felt the impact of the dreamlike world of India ….Perhaps I myself had been thrown into a dreamlike state by moving among fairytale figures of the Thousand and One Nights. My own world of European consciousness had become peculiarly thin, like a network of telegraph wires high above the ground, stretching in straight lines all over the surface of an earth looking treacherously like a geographic globe.

For a moment the thought even flashed through the psychologist’s mind that this India, with its sentimental, monstrous images of gods, might be the real world, while the white man lived in a “madhouse of abstractions” -a depressing thought!

Just as in Africa he had had to escape the danger of “going black,” so here he was threatened by the endless dream sequences of India’s dreamlike world.

And yet even in India in the thirties there were factors that were willing to lead the way in social and political life, on the one hand, and on the road to spiritual awakening and growing consciousness on the other: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma or Great Soul, had stood up for years in word, writing, and exemplary deed for the equality of the casteless and for the unity and independence of India. In the West, too, Mahatma Gandhi had long since become a moral force.

Jung left him unmentioned, as he did Sri Eurobond Ghose, the creator of Integral Yoga, who strove to bring about a spiritual synthesis of East and West, and who with his ashram in Pondicherry in Southeast India stood out at the time from the profusion of Indian gurus and yoga masters.

The very silence of Jung’s Memories on these two men strikes one as remarkable, for one would have thought it was precisely efforts of this kind that must have challenged the psychologist.

At all events he was concerned with the question of the ominous population explosion; twenty years after his Indian journey Jung characterized the problem of overpopulation as more serious and more urgent for the future of humankind than that of the atomic bomb.

The Indian subcontinent exerted a powerful suction, from the point of view alone of the great distances that had to be covered within the space of a few weeks.

It was well over a thousand kilometers from Bombay to Calcutta, and from there another thousand and a half kilometers to Ceylon, where the homeward journey was to begin.

At various places lectures were expected of Jung; the Islamic University of Allahabad as well as two universities of a more Hindu or English character, those of Benares and Calcutta, distinguished the European guest with honorary doctorates.

More important to the honoree than the academic ceremony were meetings and conversations.

His observations related, for example, to the manner in which Europeans spoke English here.

It gave the impression, he thought, of being somehow superimposed, affected and insincere.

The Swiss, known for his own unreservedness and sometimes stubborn frankness, noted:

“It makes you tired listening to these unnatural sounds, and you long for somebody to say something unkind or brutally offensive.”

Above all, even in his voice the still-dominant Englishman displayed his position and the respect it demanded.

The appearance of the Indian women made a somewhat more positive impression on Jung, the dignity and elegance with which they wore the traditional clothing that suited them, whereas he heaped bitter scorn on the fashion of the Western woman, largely designed by men-one need think only of the ladies’ fashions of the mid-thirties!

“Even fat women have a chance in India; with us they can only starve themselves to death.” Trousered women parading about in their finery the traveler found “mercilessly ugly.”

Quite otherwise were his impressions of the Indian temple buildings, the Hindu temples, stuffed with Hindu mythology and also with noise and dirt, of the destroying Shiva, the terrifying Kali, and fat, elephant-headed Ganesha, who is supposed to bring luck.

The religion of Islam, more highly developed and in some respects superior, stood in marked contrast.

“Its mosques are pure and beautiful, and of course wholly Asiatic. There is not much mind about it, but a great deal of feeling. The cult is one wailing outcry for the All-Merciful. It is a desire, an ardent longing and even greed for God; I would not call it love. But there is love, the most poetic, most exquisite love of beauty in these old Moguls.”

With this the reporter came to speak of the Taj Mahal, which has always been prized as a miracle of architectural beauty, “a heavenly dream in stone.”

The visitor was filled with unbounded admiration.

In this gigantic burial monument, which Shah Jehan had erected to his wife in the seventeenth century, Jung saw a tool for self-realization.

This, he felt, was the one place in the world where the all too invisible and jealously guarded beauty of the Islamic Eros had become manifest through an almost divine miracle.

Jung was enthralled:

It is the delicate secret of the rose gardens of Shiraz and of the silent patios of Arabian palaces, torn out of the heart of a great lover by a cruel and incurable loss. The mosques of the Moguls and their tombs may be pure and austere, their divans, or audience halls, may be of impeccable beauty, but

the Taj Mahal is a revelation. It is thoroughly un-Indian. It is more like a plant that could thrive and flower in the rich Indian earth as it could nowhere else. It is Eros in its purest form; there is nothing mysterious, nothing symbolic about it. It is the sublime expression of human love for a human being.

Without question, Jung was deeply moved.

As he was in quite a different way, more as a curiosity, by the equally gigantic dimensions of the Surya-temple at Konarak in the eastern state of Orissa, not far from the sea in the Bay of Bengal.

The thirteenth-century structure was patterned after the chariot of the sun.

What created a sensation-for the Western observer-were the representations, some small, some larger than life, of erotic lovemaking, an expression of fruitfulness and above all of the union of the human being with God.

Jung spoke of the “exquisitely obscene sculptures,” which were explained to him by the pandit who accompanied him.

What was the real meaning of these Kama sutras hewn in stone in every barely conceivable position of amorous union, which were also to be found in other parts of India?

Jung talked with his guide for a long time about these remarkable figures, which he said were meant to evoke spiritualization in the visitor to the temple:

“I objected-pointing to a group of young peasants who were standing open-mouthed before the monument, admiring these splendors-that such young men were scarcely undergoing spiritualization at the moment, but were much more likely having their heads filled with sexual fantasies. Whereupon he replied, “But that is just the point. How can they ever become spiritualized if they do not first fulfill their karma? These admittedly obscene images are here for the very purpose of recalling to the people their dharma [law]; otherwise these unconscious fellows might forget it.”

Quite a remarkable interpretation, indeed. “At last I have heard something real about India for a change!” remarked Heinrich Zimmer, when Jung told him of the event after his return.

Finally, among the unforgettable impressions were those of the stupas of Sanchi, which bore the imprint of Buddhist spirituality.

“They gripped me with an unexpected power,” Jung admitted, after he had climbed up to the temple precinct one brisk morning.

The extraordinary clarity of the air set off every detail of the hemispherical structure, with its circular paths which one followed clockwise, in the direction of the sun.

The stupas lay on a rocky hill, with a pleasant path over large stone slabs leading to the top through a green meadow.

“The stupas are tombs or containers of relics, hemispherical in shape, like two gigantic rice bowls placed one on top of the other (concavity upon concavity), according to the prescripts of the Buddha himself in the Maha Parinibbana-Sutta.”

Hence to walk meditatively around the circular structure, the representation of totality, was to take part oneself in the process of becoming whole, of becoming oneself.

Here Jung grasped the basis for an understanding of the Buddha, who embodied the reality of the Self for Eastern people as did Christ for those in the West-to the extent that such a sweeping, stereotyped comparison is possible.

But whereas Buddha stood before people as the world conqueror, showing the Eightfold Path to a spiritual transformation that was meant to lead to overcoming the world within oneself, in Christ the dominant factor was the vicarious sacrifice.

Suffering was judged to be a positive thing by one, a negative by the other .

. . . Christ is an examplar who dwells in every Christian as his integral personality. But historical trends led to the imitatio Christi, whereby the individual does not pursue his own destined road to wholeness, but attempts to imitate the way taken by Christ. Similarly in the East, historical trends led to a devout imitation of the Buddha. That Buddha should have become a model to be imitated was in itself a weakening of his idea, just as the imitatio Christi was a forerunner of the fateful stasis in the evolution of the Christian idea.

Certainly a notion that called for further elucidation! The abundance and the vehemence of the manifold impressions stretching over so many weeks left traces with Jung that extended to somatic symptoms.

Thus he was able to consider it almost a bit of good fortune that he was taken seriously ill for a short time, when for the space of about ten days he was forced to check into a hospital with dysentery.

Could this have been the physical expression of overindulgence in the many indigestible things that India has to offer the European?

Thus the stay in the clinic actually afforded a few days of reflection.

Hardly was the patient sufficiently restored to his usual robust constitution to continue the journey and bring it to a close, when he was caught unawares by a great dream, great particularly in view of its subject and the existential force of what it had to say.

The dreamer saw himself, completely removed from India, transported to an island, which seemed to lie near the coast of southern England.

First there appeared before him a castle with a flight of broad stone stairs leading up to a columned hall dimly illuminated by the glow of candles.

This, he knew, was the castle of the Grail, where the Grail was celebrated.

Next Jung found himself at the shoreline in an unpopulated and desolate area.

And as neither footbridge nor boat was anywhere to be seen, it became clear to him that he would have to swim across the strait alone and fetch the Grail.

Then he awoke.

Understandably, he was greatly taken aback.

Here in the midst of India was a dream that recalled a part of the central core of Christian and Occidental esoterism, without a trace of any connection to Eastern spirituality, whether Hindu, Buddhist, or Islamic.

All the more startled was Jung as he could not help thinking of the correspondences between the poetic Grail myth and the tenets of alchemy, for there too there were the unum vas (“one vessel”), the una medicina, and the unus lapis.

All at once the past had come to life, for alchemy, of course, had long been no mere museum piece or research object for Jung, but something that concerned himself and his own self-development:

Imperiously, the dream wiped away all the intense impressions of Lyndia and swept me back to the too-long-neglected concerns of the Occident, which had formerly been expressed in the quest for the Holy Grail as well as in the search for the philosophers’ stone. I was taken out of the world of India, and reminded that India was not my task, but only a part of the way-admittedly a significant one which should carry me closer to my goal. It was as though the dream were asking me, “What are you doing in India? Rather seek for yourself and your fellows the healing vessel, the salvator mundi, which you urgently need. For your state is perilous; you are all in imminent danger of destroying all that centuries have built up.”

This, then, expressed Jung’s evaluation of his trip to India, directly from the unconscious as well as its interpretation.

Once again Jung put to sea by passenger liner, another thousand kilometers and more southward to Ceylon; from the port city of Colombo to the ancient capital of Kandy in the interior, where the extraordinary relic of the holy tooth of Buddha was venerated.

Again there were unforgettable ceremonies, this time devoted exclusively to the “Enlightened One,” the dominant force in the life of most Ceylonese.

What Jung had consciously avoided, however, even while still on the Indian mainland, was a meeting with one of the many Indian gurus or spiritual masters who had traveled the path of enlightenment or self-realization and now taught this path to their innumerable pupils.

Thus Heinrich Zimmer’s first question on Jung’s return was whether he had ever sought out Ramana Maharshi of Tiruvannamalai, a wish that never came to pass for the prematurely deceased lndologist.

Jung had to admit that the possibility of such a meeting had indeed presented itself in Madras.

“Probably I ought to have visited Sri Ramana after all,”

Jung said after Zimmer’s death, in his Foreword to the latter’s book on the great Hindu (Der Weg zum Selbst).

But at the same time he added the defense that even the spiritual Maharishi was not so unique; Jung had actually seen him everywhere in India, the “true Son of Man of the land of India.”

He even conceded that figures such as the earlier Ramakrishna or the saint of Tiruvannamalai, who was then becoming known, could be compared with the prophets of ancient Israel, whose role in relation to their people was a compensatory one, inasmuch as they too had wished to show their “unfaithful” people the way to the true sources of spiritual life.

But at bottom, Jung said to himself, the truth of these initiates of the East is not a truth for all the world.

He himself must be satisfied with his own truth.

I would have felt it as a theft had I attempted to learn from the holy men and to accept their truth for myself.

[Their wisdom belongs to them, and what belongs to me is only that which comes from within myself.]

Neither in Europe can I make any borrowings from the East, but must shape my life out of myself-out of what my inner being tells me, or what nature brings to me.

An unmistakable hint for, or rather against, those who wished to make Jung into a trailblazer of Eastern spirituality in the West!

All in all, India did not pass him over without a trace. Jung also said unmistakably, “What India Can Teach Us.”

His prescription from the year 1939 was:

One should wrap oneself in the mantle of one’s moral superiority and stand before the Black Pagoda of Konarak, covered with its erotic obscenities, and then one should analyze with care and utmost honesty one’s own reactions, feelings, and thoughts. It will take you quite a while, but in the end, if you have done good work, you will have learned something about yourself, and about the white man in general, which you have probably never heard from anyone else. I think, if you can afford it, a trip to India is on the whole most edifying and, from a psychological point of view, most advisable, although it may give you considerable headaches.

Indeed, quite a remarkable piece of advice, after a remarkable journey to India!

Thus it will be necessary for us to return, in a later chapter, to Jung’s assessment of Western thought and Eastern spirituality.  ~Gerhard Wehr, Jung: A Biography, Pages 279-290