[note: the book does say “serf-knowledge” but that is obviously a misprint.]
The realization of the importance of serf-knowledge did not, of course, begin with Jung.
As far as I know Pythagoras (sixth century B.C.) was the first to put it into words, and since then it has been revived from tune to time by particularly wise and far-seeing individuals all over the world.
Perhaps one of the clearest descriptions of the value of self-knowledge is to be found in the writings of Richard de St. Victor, a Scotsman and one of the most famous and learned monks of the Victorine order in the twelfth century.
In his book, “Benjamin minor,” he writes:
The first and fundamental task of the mind, which strives to climb the summit of knowledge, must be to know itself. it is the summit of knowledge to know that one knows oneself completely.
The complete knowledge of the reasonable mind is a great and high mountain.
It is higher than the peaks of all worldly knowledge, it looks down from above on all the wisdom of the world and on all the knowledge in the world.
Richard de St. Victor continues by pointing out the weakness of philosophy in this respect:
What has Aristotle found of this kind, what has Plato found, what of such things has the great multitude of the philosophers found?
Verily and without doubt, if they had been able to climb this mountain of their penetrating mind, their effort would have sufficed to find themselves; had they known themselves perfectly, they would never have paid homage to idols, they would never have inclined to the hill of things created, they would never have lifted their head against the creator.
Here the searchers failed in the search.
Here, they did fail, and therefore it is impossible for them to climb the mountain.
“Man lifts himself on high in his innermost and God is uplifted.” (Ps. 63 [Vulgate, 63, 7])
Learn to meditate, O man, learn to meditate on thyself, and thou wilt ascend in thine innermost.
The more thou improvest daily in self knowledge, the more thou wilt climb above thyself.
He who reaches perfect self-knowledge, has already reached the top of the mountain.
Anyone who knew Dr. Jung well will have realized that it was just this knowing himself that made him what he was.
There are no fake idols in his psychology; the whole thing is genuine through and through and is in my experience at least the one thing that never disappointed me.
Naturally the mountain of self-knowledge that Richard de St. Victor praises so highly here is not mere ego knowledge,
not just personal psychology, as Richard makes very clear when he quotes the passage: “Man lifts himself on high in his innermost and God is uplifted.”
In medieval Christian language, Richard is saying the same thing here as Jung said seven hundred years later:
As to this self knowledge, this real penetrating knowledge of our own being, do not make the mistake of thinking that it means seeing through the ego.
To understand the ego is child’s play, but to see through the Self is something totally different.
The real difficulty lies in recognizing the unknown.
No one need remain ignorant of the fact that he is striving for power, that he wants to become very rich, that he would be a tyrant if he had the chance, that he is pleasure seeking, envious of other people, and so on.
Everyone can know such things of him or herself, because they are mere ego knowledge.
But Self knowledge is something completely different, it is learning to know of the things which are unknown.
It was in recognizing the unknown in himself that Jung most excelled and where he laid the foundation for his whole psychology.
I think Richard de St. Victor would have said that he reached the “top of the mountain” as few, if any, had done before him.
Nor would Richard have accused him of inclining “to the hill of things created” or of “lifting up his head against the creator,” as he does not scruple to accuse the philosophers of doing, even Aristotle and Plato.
This is all the more remarkable when we remember that Jung grew up in the last quarter of the nineteenth century when the whole spirit of the age was turning more and more toward materialism.
In spite of their great merits in the field of personal psychology, both Freud and Adler succumbed to this trend and were unable to see beyond the material and personal.
So it must have been particularly difficult for Jung to swim directly against the current of his time and never “incline to the hills of things created.”
And, as you know, the spirit of the time was also dead against the value of the individual, and more and more tended toward sinking the individual in the mass.
Even in the countries where some rights were still left to the individual, all introspection or self-examination was dismissed as morbid.
Yet Jung never wavered but remained faithful all his life to “climbing the mountain of self knowledge” and thus, as Richard says, not only saw all the wisdom and knowledge of the world spread out before him but saw far beyond there to the eternal in us or, in his own language, to the Self.
But climbing the mountain of self-knowledge, and above all getting a clear objective view of the Self, always entails having it out with the opposites.
It is easy enough to accept these intellectually and to talk of the really scalding hot pair of oppositesgood and evilas if they were dark and light, hot and cold, or any other natural pair of opposites.
But Jung was a parson’s son and I am sure you all remember his description of the agony he went through, already as a schoolboy, when on a day of “radiant sunshine” he thought of God sitting on a golden throne in the blue sky above Basel Cathedral and was suddenly brought up short by a “great hole in his thoughts and a choking sensation” and knew that to think the thought to the end meant “committing the most frightful of sins.”
He could not sleep for two nights and the days were “sheer torture,” which shows us clearly the burning problem that evil was, even then, to Jung.
After an agony of indecision, on the third night, he decided to risk thinking the thought to the end and to let the result show him whether he had understood God’s will correctly or not.
To his intense relief his by all traditional standards highly blasphemous thought proved indeed to have been what was asked from him and, instead of ”the expected damnation,” grace and unutterable bliss descended on him and made him weep ”for happiness and gratitude.” ~Barbara Hannah, The Inner Journey, Pages 18-20