Psychology and Religion

[Carl Jung on “Psychic Reality” and “Self-Liberation.”]

“Psychic reality” is a controversial concept, like “psyche” or “mind.” By the latter terms some understand consciousness and its contents, others allow the existence of “dark” or “subconscious” representations.

Some include instincts in the psychic realm, others exclude them. The vast majority consider the psyche to be a result of biochemical processes in the brain cells.

A few conjecture that it is the psyche that makes the cortical cells function. Some identify “life” with psyche. But only an insignificant minority regards the psychic phenomenon as a category of existence per se and draws the necessary conclusions.

It is indeed paradoxical that the category of existence, the indispensable “sine qua non” of all existence, namely the psyche, should be treated as if it were only semi-existent.

Psychic existence is the only category of existence of which we have immediate knowledge, since nothing can be known unless it first appears as a psychic image. Only psychic existence is immediately verifiable.

To the extent that the world does not assume the form of a psychic image, it is virtually non-existent. This is a fact which, with few exceptions as for instance in Schopenhauer’s philosophy the West has not yet fully realized.

But Schopenhauer was influenced by Buddhism and by the Upanishads.

Even a superficial acquaintance with Eastern thought is sufficient to show that a fundamental difference divides East and West. The East bases itself upon psychic reality, that is, upon the psyche as the main and unique condition of existence. It
seems as if this Eastern recognition were a psychological or temperamental fact rather than a result of philosophical reasoning.

It is a typically introverted point of view, contrasted with the equally typical extraverted point of view of the West Introversion and extraversion are known to be temperamental or even constitutional attitudes which are never intentionally
adopted in normal circumstances.

In exceptional cases they may be produced at will, but only under very special conditions. Introversion is, if one may so express it, the “style” of the East, an habitual and collective attitude, just as extraversion is the “style” of the West. Introversion is felt here as something abnormal, morbid, or otherwise objectionable.

Freud identifies it with an autoerotic, “narcissistic” attitude of mind. He shares his negative position with the National Socialist philosophy of modern Germany, which accuses introversion of being an offence against community feeling.

In the East, however, our cherished extraversion is depreciated as illusory desirousness, as existence in the samsara, the very essence of the nidana-chain which culminates in the sum of the world’s sufferings.

Anyone with practical knowledge of the mutual depreciation of values between introvert and extravert will understand the emotional conflict between the Eastern and the Western standpoint.

For those who know something of the history of European philosophy the bitter wrangling about “universals” which began with Plato will provide an instructive example, I do not wish to go into all the ramifications of this conflict between introversion and extraversion, but I must mention the religious aspects of the problem.

The Christian West considers man to be wholly dependent upon the grace of God, or at least upon the Church as the exclusive and divinely sanctioned earthly instrument of man’s redemption. The East, however, insists that man is the sole cause of his higher development, for it believes in “self- liberation.”

Footnote 2: I am purposely leaving out of account the modernized East.

Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion, Pages 480-482, Paragraphs 769-770.