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Carl Jung on Satori.


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Letters Volume II

To James Kirsch

Dear Colleague, 10 December 1958

Best thanks for your kind and interesting letter of December 2nd.

The satori experience of your friend, Dr. K., is a typical mandala vision.

If there are people in the East who claim to have had an imageless experience, you must always remember that the report is as a rule highly unpsychological.

It is the tradition that a satori experience is imageless and they
therefore say it was imageless.

That it cannot possibly have been imageless is proved by the fact that they remember something definite.

Had it been totally imageless they could never say they remember something, since the memory is an image of something that has been.

But this simple reflection does not come to the Oriental, and for the same reason he can assert that he passed into an imageless condition when he received an illumination.

He knows it was an imageless condition and this in itself is already an image, but these people can’t see that.

I have never really succeeded in convincing an Indian that if no conscious ego is present there can be no conscious memory either.

The comparison they always make with deep sleep when all memory is extinguished is a condition in which no memory whatever can come into existence precisely because nothing is perceived.

But in the satori experience something is perceived, namely that an illumination or something of the sort has occurred.

This is a definite image which can even be compared with the tradition and brought into harmony with it.

I therefore regard this assertion of an imageless condition as an uncritical and unpsychological statement due to lack of psychological differentiation.

This lack also explains why it is so difficult for us to have any real contact with such people, and it is no accident that the only person who was able to give you a satisfactory answer is himself an observant psychologist.l

It is simply not to be comprehended how an experience can be established as having happened if nobody is there who has had it.

This “nobody” who establishes it is always an ego.

If no ego is present nothing whatever can be perceived.

Even with us there are people who make such assertions; for instance a Christian can assert that he has been redeemed by Christ, although it is easy enough to prove to him that in reality he has been redeemed from nothing.

He has merely experienced a change of mind and sees certain things differently from before.

But the situation is fundamentally the same as it always was.

With my best wishes for the New Year,

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 466-467