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Carl Jung Preface to The Discourses of the Buddha

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9 discourse


Carl Jung’s Preface “On the Discourses of the Buddha”


It was neither the history of religion nor the study of philosophy that first drew me to the world of Buddhist thought, but my professional interests as a doctor.

My task was the treatment of psychic suffering, and it was this that impelled me to become acquainted with the views and methods of that great teacher of humanity whose principal theme was the “chain of suffering, old age, sickness, and death.”

For although the healing of the sick naturally lies closest to the doctor’s heart, he is bound to recognize that there are many diseases and states of suffering which, not being susceptible of a direct cure, demand from both patient and doctor some kind of attitude to their irremediable nature.

Even though it may not amount to actual incurability, in all such cases there are inevitably phases of stagnation and hopelessness which seem unendurable and require treatment just as much as a direct symptom of illness.

They call for a kind of moral attitude such as is provided by religious faith or a philosophical belief. In this respect the study of Buddhist literature was of great help to me, since it trains one to observe suffering objectively and to take a universal view of its causes.

According to tradition, it was by objectively observing the chain of causes that the Buddha was able to extricate his consciousness from the snares of the snares of the ten thousand things, and to to rescue his feelings from the entanglements of emotion and illusion.

So also in our sphere of culture the suffering and the sick can derive considerable benefit from this prototype of the Buddhist mentality, however strange it may appear.

The discourses of the Buddha, here presented in K. E. Neumann’s new translation, have an importance that should not be underestimated.

Quite apart from their profound meaning, their solemn, almost ritual form emits a penetrating radiance which has an exhilarating and exalting effect and cannot fail to work directly upon one’s feelings.

Against this use of the spiritual treasures of the East it might be—and indeed, often has been—objected from the Christian point of view that the faith of the West offers consolations that are at least as significant, and that there is no need to invoke the spirit of Buddhism with its markedly rational attitude.

Aside from the fact that in most cases the Christian faith of which people speak simply isn’t there, and no one can tell how it might be obtained (except by the special providence of God) , it is a truism that anything known becomes so familiar and hackneyed by frequent use that it gradually loses its meaning and hence its effect; whereas anything strange and unknown, and so completely different in its nature, can open doors hitherto locked and new possibilities of understanding.

If a Christian insists so much on his faith when it does not even help him to ward off a neurosis, then his faith is vain, and it is better to accept humbly what he needs no matter where he finds it, if only it helps.

There is no need for him to deny his religion convictions if he acknowledges his debt to Buddhism, for he is only following the Pauline injunction: “Prove all things;, hold fast that which is good” ( I Thess. 5:21).

To this good which should be held fast one must reckon the discourses of the Buddha, which have much to offer even to those who cannot boast of any Christian convictions.

They offer Western man ways and means of disciplining his inner psychic life, thus remedying an often regrettable defect in the various brands of Christianity.

The teachings of the Buddha can give him a helpful training when either the Christian ritual has lost its meaning or the authority of religious ideas has collapsed, as all too frequently happens in psychogenic disorders.

People have often accused me of regarding religion as “mental hygiene.”

Perhaps one may pardon a doctor his professional humility in not undertaking to prove the truth of metaphysical assertions and in shunning confessions of faith.

I am content to emphasize the importance of having a Weltanschauung and the therapeutic necessity of adopting some kind of attitude to the problem of psychic ! suffering.

Suffering that is not understood is hard to bear, while < on the other hand it is often astounding to see how much a person can endure when he understands the why and the wherefore.

A philosophical or religious view of the world enables him to do this, and such views prove to be, at the very least, psychic methods of healing if not of salvation.

Even Christ and his disciples did not scorn to heal the sick, thereby demonstrating the therapeutic power of their mission.

The doctor has to cope with actual suffering for better or worse, and ultimately has nothing to rely on except the mystery of divine Providence.

It is no wonder, then, that he values religious ideas and attitudes, so far as they prove helpful, as therapeutic systems, and singles out the Buddha in particular, the essence of whose teaching is deliverance from suffering through the maximum development of consciousness, as one of the supreme helpers on the road to salvation.

From ancient times physicians have sought a panacea, a medicina catholica, and their persistent efforts have unconsciously brought them nearer to the central ideas of the religion and philosophy of the East.

Anyone who is familiar with methods of suggestion under hypnosis knows that plausible suggestions work better than those which run counter to the patient’s own nature.

Consequently, whether he liked it or not, the doctor was obliged to develop conceptions which corresponded as closely as possible with the actual psychological conditions.

Thus, there grew up a realm of theory which not only drew upon traditional thought but took account of the unconscious products that compensated its inevitable one-sidedness—that is to say, all those psychic factors which Christian philosophy left unsatisfied.

Among these were not a few aspects which, unknown to the West, had been developed in Eastern philosophy from very early times.

So if, as a doctor, I acknowledge the immense help and stimulation I have received from the Buddhist teachings, I am following a line which can be traced back some two thousand years in the history of human thought.  ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 697-699