Zarathustra Seminars

[Carl Jung on Samadhi]

Samadhi is one of those terms which was used in the past in India, and is still used in the actual religious movements of the present time.

But it is used with no very definite meaning.

To think that these Indian concepts have a definite meaning is one of our Western mistakes; that is doing them an injustice.

The Indian mind is peculiarly indefinite, and they try to make up for it by a lot of terms which are very difficult to translate, the difficulty chiefly consisting in the fact that we give
them a definite meaning which does not belong to them.

And their mind is extraordinarily descriptive; they want to give a picture of a thing rather than a logical definition.

But in trying to give a good description, it sounds as if they were trying to give a definite concept, and that is the cause of the most baffling misunderstandings between the Indian and the Westerner; that we give a definite meaning to a concept which is not definite in itself, which only sounds definite, brings about endless misinterpretations.

The terms, Samadhi, dhyana, sahasrara, and so on, apparently have a definite meaning but in reality they have not.

Even the Indians are absolutely at sea with these concepts.

For example, there is a statue of Sri Ramakrishna in the temple of Belur Mutt, made from a photograph which was taken of him quite against his will.

He is clearly in what we would call a state of ekstasis-a somnambulistic or hypnotic condition–and they call it Samadhi.

But at the same time they call the super consciousness which is reached in that state samadhi and also dhyana.

Of course, there are definitions in literature; in the Patanjali Yogasutra there is a definition, but then you find another one somewhere else.

In the different schools these terms have different definitions.

You can only be sure that you are not wrong when it has to do with superconsciousness; every Indian will understand you when you use the term samadhi in that sense, for then he instantly has a picture of a Yogin in that state of Samadhi or dhyana.

The word tapas is too classical-it would only be understood by a connoisseur of Sanskrit.

Every educated Indian has a certain knowledge of Sanskrit, however; he understands many of those terms.

When you compare the translation of the Patanjali Yogasutra made by Hauer with the one by Deussen, and with the English translation, you see at once the difficulty; they have all been put to the greatest pains to find the proper Western terms.”

That is due to the Eastern mentality which, despite all their efforts at terminology, remains indefinite; such painstaking terminology is always a compensatory attempt to make certain of something which is not certain at all.

As I said before, if you want a blade of grass or a pebble, they give you a whole landscape; “a blade of grass” means grass and it means a meadow and it is also the green surface of the earth.

Of course that conveys truth, too, and leads eventually to Chinese concepts-the peculiar way in which the Chinese mind looks at the world as a totality for instance, where everything is in connection with everything else, where everything is contained in the same stream.

While we on the other hand are content to look at things when they are singled out, extracted, or selected, we have learned to detach detail from nature. If I ask a European, even a quite uneducated man, to give me a particular pebble or leaf, he is capable of doing so without bringing in the whole landscape.

But the Easterner, particularly when it is a matter of a conscientious mind, is quite incapable of giving one a piece of definite information.

It is somewhat the same with learned people: you ask a learned man for some bit of information and would be perfectly satisfied with yes or no, but he will say yes-under-such-conditions, and no-under-such-conditions, and finally you don’t know what it is all about.

Of course for other learned individuals this is excellent information: a trained mind would get very definite information in this way, but for the ordinary mind it is less than nothing.

In my many conversations with Indian philosophers, I remember that their answers seemed less like yes-under-such-and-such-conditions, and more like a yea-and-nay-but-under-no-conditions.

We think it is a sort-of unnecessary clumsiness, but when you look carefully at what they give you, you see really a marvelous picture; you get a vision of the whole thing.

The best example I ever came across is the story Prof. McDougall told me, of his attempt to inform himself about the concept of Tao.

Now, Prof. McDougall is a man whose turn of mind would not suit the Eastern mentality, but naturally he was rather curious as to the meaning of their concepts.

He therefore asked a Chinese student what he understood by Tao, expecting a clear answer in one word.

For instance, the Jesuit missionaries called Tao simply “God,” a translation which can be defended, yet it does not render the Chinese concept of Tao.

It has also been translated as “providence,” and Wilhelm called it Sinn, or “meaning.”

Those are all definite aspects of a thing which is far more indefinite and incomprehensible than any of those terms; even the concept “God” is much more definite than the concept of Tao.

The Chinese student told him many things but MacDougall could not follow, and finally after many attempts the Chinaman, in spite of his politeness, got impatient, and taking him by the sleeve he led him to the window and asked him: “What do you see out there?”

The professor replied: “I see trees.” “And what else?” “The wind is blowing and people are walking in the street.” “And what else?” “The sky and the clouds and a streetcar.” “Well, that is Tao,” said the Chinaman.

That gives you an idea of the way the Eastern mind works.

I owed it to this story really that I was fairly capable of following the arguments of my Indian interviewers.

I kept that experience in mind and it helped me to understand their mentality.

They could not understand what I meant by the “collective unconscious,” any more than I could understand what they meant by “super consciousness,” until I saw that it was what happens in a state of Samadhi or dhyana.

Samadhi means to them the condition of super-consciousness. Or the Tantrist would understand if you spoke of Bodhi or of sahasrara or of the ajna consciousness.

All these terms really describe what we call the collective unconscious.

Of course, the very term collective unconscious shows how we approach the problem, as their terms show their way of approaching it. You see, these two ways depend upon what one calls reality.

When they say you ought to “realize,” or talk about “the realization of truth,” they mean something entirely different from what we would mean.

I won’t go into a long and complicated philosophical definition of reality because you know what it means in the Western sense.

Now in contrast to what we assume reality to be, the Indian means his own conscious realization of reality, not a tangible thing like this desk, which is reality to us.

But that is Maya to the Indian-that is illusion. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Pages 1372-1375.