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Carl Jung Letter about The Ego and Self.

Letters of C. G. Jung: Volume 2, 1951-1961

Carl Jung’s Letter to Arvind U. Vasavada:

Thank you for your kind letter and the beautiful “salutation to the perfect Master.” In the guru, I perceive you greet the infinitesimal God whose light becomes visible wherever a man’s consciousness has made even the smallest step forward and beyond one’s own horizon.

The light of the Dawn praised by our medieval thinkers as the Aurora Consurgens, the rising morning light, is awe-inspiring, it fills your heart with joy and admiration or with irritation and fear and even with hatred, according to the nature of whatever it reveals to you.

The ego receives the light from the self. Though we know of the self, yet it is not known. You may see a big town and know its name and geographical position, yet you do not know a single one of its inhabitants. You may even know a man through daily intercourse, yet you can be entirely ignorant of his real character.

The ego is contained in the self as it is contained in the universe of which we know only the tiniest section. A man of greater insight and intelligence than mine can know myself, but I could not know him as long as my consciousness is inferior to his. Although we receive the light of consciousness from the self and although we know it to be the source of our illumination, we do not know whether it possesses anything we would call consciousness.

However beautiful and profound the sayings of your Wisdom are, they are essentially outbursts of admiration and enthusiastic attempts at formulating the overwhelming impressions an ego-consciousness has received from the impact of a superior subject. Even if the ego should be (as I think) the supreme point of the self, a mountain infinitely higher than Mt. Everest, it would be nothing but a little grain of rock or ice, never the whole mountain. Even if the grain recognizes itself as being part of the mountain and understands the mountain as an immense agglomeration of particles like itself, it does not know their ultimate nature, because all the others are, like itself, individuals, incomparable and incomprehensible in the last resort. (The individual alone is the ultimate reality and can know of existence at all.)

If the self could be wholly experienced, it would be a limited experience whereas in reality its experience is unlimited and endless. It is our ego-consciousness that is capable of only of limited experience. We can only say that the self is limitless, but we cannot experience its infinity.

I can say that my consciousness is the same as that of the self, but it is nothing but words, since there is not the slightest evidence that I participate more or further in the self than my ego-consciousness reaches. What does the grain know of the whole mountain, although it is visibly a part of it? If I were one with the self, I would have knowledge of everything,

I would speak Sanskrit, read cuneiform script, know the events that took place in prehistory, be acquainted with the life of other planets, etc. There is unfortunately nothing of the kind.

You should not mix up your own enlightenment with the self-revelation of the self. When you recognize yourself, you have not necessarily recognized the self but perhaps only an infinitesimal part of it, though the self has given you the light.

Your standpoint seems to coincide with that of our medieval mystics, who tried to dissolve themselves in God. You all seem to be interested in how to get back to the self, instead of looking for what the self wants you to do in the world, where-for the time being at least—we are located, presumable for a certain purpose.

The universe does not seem to exist for the sole purpose of man denying or escaping it. Nobody can be more convinced of the importance of the self than me. But as a young man does not stay in his father’s house but goes out into the world, so I don’t look back to the self but collect it out of manifold experiences and put it together again.

What I have left behind, seemingly lost, I meet in everything that comes my way and I collect it, reassembling it as it were. In order to get rid of opposites, I needs must accept them first, but his leads away from the self. I must also earn how opposites can be united, and not how they can be avoided.

As long as I am on the first part of the road I have to forget the self in order to get properly into the mill of the opposites, otherwise I live only fragmentarily and conditionally. Although the self is my origin, it is also the goal of my quest. When it was my origin, I did not know myself, and when I did learn about myself, I did not know the self.

I have to discover it in my actions, where first it reappears under strange masks. That is one of the reasons why I must study symbolism, otherwise I risk not recognizing my own father and mother when I meet them again after many years of my absence.

Hoping I have answered your question, I remain,

Yours, sincerely, C.G. Jung. [November 22, 1954]