Letters Volume II

To Melvin J. Lasky

Dear Mr. Lasky, 19 October 1960

I don’t feel happy about the reaction to Koestler which you received from Zurich through the medium of my secretary.

I am recovering from a serious illness and I was unable to take care of my correspondence for several weeks.

The impression you got from my message must have been confusing.

This unfortunate effect can hardly be avoided when one has to deal with such a paradoxical phenomenon as Zen (and the less complicated Yoga).

In the main I fully agree with Koestler’s rather unfavourable opinion.

His is a meritorious as well as a needful act of debunking for which he deserves our gratitude.

The picture he draws of Yoga and Zen, as seen by the Western mind, is rational, distant, and as it were-unprejudiced and correct.

As far as this kind of mind reaches and can be called valid, Koestler’s judgment is true.

But the question that must be asked is this: Is the Western point of view really unprejudiced? What about its rationalism and its habit of opinionating from without, viz., its extraversion? Rationality is only one aspect of the world and does not cover the whole field of experience.
Psychic events are not caused merely from without and mental contents are not mere derivatives of sense- perceptions.

There is an irrational mental life within, a so-called “spiritual life,” of which almost nobody knows or wants to know except a few “mystics.”

This “life within” is generally considered nonsense and has therefore to be eliminated-curiously enough in the East as well as in the West.

Yet it is the origin and the still-flowing source of Yoga, Zen, and many other spiritual endeavours, not only in the East but in the West too.

But just as Buddhism in its many differentiations overlaid the original spiritual adventure, so Christian rational- ism has overlaid medieval alchemistic philosophy, which has been forgotten for about 200 years.

This philosophy is as completely lost to us as the I Ching is to China.

Alchemy also developed the symbolism of aiming, shooting, and hitting the target/not with the bow but with the crossbow, and not as a real practice but as a purely pictorial metaphor.

It used this symbolism in order to express the idea that its procedure had a purpose, a goal, and a target, though it never concretized the symbol to the extent of making a ritual of shooting with crossbows-it remained a metaphor.

But the actual chemistry attempted in alchemy was an obvious result of the literal-mindedness of the adept, who tried to cook, melt, and distil “symbolic” substances.

Even a genuine and original inner life has a tendency to succumb again and again to the sensualism and ratio- nalism of consciousness, i.e., to literal-mindedness.

The result is that one tries to repeat a spontaneous, irrational event by a deliberate, imitative arrangement of the analogous circumstances which had apparently led to the original event.

The immense hope, the liberating ekstasis of the primordial experience, soon turns into the pertinacity of an

intellectual pursuit which tries, through the application of a method, to attain the effect of the primordial experience, namely, a kind of spiritual transformation.

The depth and intensity of the original emotion become a passionate longing, an enduring effort that may last for hundreds of years, to restore the original situation.

Curiously enough, one does not realize that this was a state of spontaneous, natural emotion or ekstasis, and thus the complete opposite of a methodically construed imitation.

When the old Chinese master asked the pupil, with whom he was walking at the time of the blossoming lau- rel: “Do you smell it?” and the pupil experienced satori, we can still guess and understand the beauty and the fullness of the moment of illumination.

It is overwhelmingly clear that such a kairos can never be brought back by a willful effort, however painstaking and methodical.

There is no doubt that patient and pertinacious application does produce effects of a kind, but it is more than doubtful whether they represent the original satori or not.

An even greater distance seems to separate the satori of meaningful koans from Zen archery.

It is comparable to the difference between the events depicted in the gospels, or the illumination of St. Paul, and the Exercitia Spiritualia of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The original Gnostic conception of alchemy is still visible in Zosimos of Panopolis (3rd cent. A.D.) and one can understand, from the depth and power of these ideas, the subsequent obstinacy of the alchemical

quest, which for 1700 years could not give up its hope of producing the panacea or the artificial gold in spite of all disenchantments
and all “debunking” through the centuries .

I quite agree with Koestler when he puts his finger on the impressive mass of nonsense in Zen, just as I agree with all the former critiques of alchemy.

But I want to point out at the same time that, just as the obviously absurd chemistry of alchemy was a half- conscious blind for a very real spiritual longing, the secret passion which keeps Zen and other spiritual techniques alive through the centuries is connected with an original experience of wholeness-perhaps the most important and unique of all spiritual experiences .

Since there are apparently no external, rational, controllable, and repeatable conditions to prove or justify the existence or validity of an inner life, one is inclined to think that such an unusual amount of absurdities would have killed any spiritual movement in no time, or would kill it at least in our more enlightened days .

This very understandable Western expectation does not come off, because it envisages only the non-essential, but not the essential, which is omitted in our judgment.

We in our Western ignorance do not see, or have forgotten, that man has or is visited by subjective inner ex- periences of an irrational nature which cannot be successfully dealt with by rational argument, scientific evidence, and depreciative diagnosis.

Because the West has deprived itself of its own original irrational methods and yet needs them so badly, and

because the inner life can only be repressed but not helped by rationalism, it tries to adopt Yoga and Zen.

It is just pathetic to see a man like Herrigel acquiring the art of Zen archery a non-essential if ever there was one, with the utmost devotion-but, thank God, it has obviously nothing to do with the inner life of man!

We are even afraid of admitting the existence of such a thing because it might be “pathological.” This is the poisonous dart in the bow of the sceptic, the suicidal doubt in a weak mind!

The opinionated life should perhaps be a happy one according to our standards, yet it is not; and vice versa.

We are unexpectedly happy when we are doing uphill work, like Till Eulenspiegel, and should be gloomy, at least by all reasonable expectations.

We hate and fear the irrationality of the things within, and thus never learn the art of living with things as they are.

We prefer opinions to real life and believe in words rather than facts, with the result that our experience is two-rather than three-dimensional.

The more this is the case, the more the longing for wholeness intensifies.

But instead of considering one’s own irrationality one eagerly studies Zen and Yoga, if possible the more obvi- ous and tangible parts of both.

If one is patient enough (e.g., to spend years and years in learning Zen archery) one is rewarded, as one al- ways is, when one does something disagreeable with the utmost patience and discipline.

These in themselves are reward enough, but not more.

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 600-603