Jung, Evans-Wentz and various other gurus
Abstract: How did Jung become deeply concerned with Asian religions and particu- larly with the Tibetan Buddhism of a Welshman from Trenton, New Jersey? Could that man be considered one of Jung’s gurus? This essay begins six years after Jung, at twenty, was admitted to the medical school of Basel University and became a member of the Zofingiaverein, a student society. The next year he gave the first of a series of lectures on the interpretation of Christ as the model of the ‘god-man’, like the Apostle Paul, Confucius, Zoroaster and the Buddha, who was ‘drummed into the Hindu boy’. (Jung’s Zofingia Lectures were discovered only after his death, in 1961, and were pub- lished in English in 1983). The present essay discusses Jung’s early Buddhist interest as displayed in The Psychology of the Unconscious (finally, in a revision, entitled Symbols of Transformation), in Psychological Types and later in his foreword of the Wilhelm translation of the I Ching. Jung was influenced by the gurus Richard Wilhelm and his son Hellmut, the scholar J. W. Hauer (with whom he later broke off relations because of Hauer’s Nazi politics), the indologist Heinrich Zimmer, and the Zen master
- T. Suzuki. Walter Yeeling Wentz was born in Trenton in 1878 and brought up in his family’s theosophist faith. The Wentzes moved to San Diego in 1900, and Walter added his mother’s Celtic surname, Evans, to the German Wentz. He was educated at Stanford University and travelled in Europe, studying Celtic folklore, and widely in the Near East, Tibet, India, and Oxford – studying religions everywhere and editing Tibetan books. He lived his last decades in San Diego and conducted a correspondence with Jung, while living in a cheap hotel, or in an ashram.
In 1901, at twenty-three – almost the same age Jung was when he lectured to his Zofingians – Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz entered the new Stanford University. He became a scholar of religion and, most deeply, of Buddhism and theoso- phy. His path would cross Jung’s only in the 1930s, though both had become immersed in the religions of Asia many years earlier. I want to dwell not only on Evans-Wentz and Buddhism, but also on some of the other scholars of Eastern religion who influenced Jung – who, in a sense, were his gurus.
In the fall of 1909, after Jung had returned from his visit to the United States with Freud, his interest in mythology was kindled by the works of Friedrich Creuzer, an early nineteenth century scholar of esoteric religions.
Jung’s acquaintance with Creuzer’s writings and other such works led him more deeply into Buddhism, among other such byways. At the time he was working on Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (Psychology of the Uncon- scious). And his correspondence then with Freud offers much testimony to these concerns. (One thinks of Freud’s famous comment: ‘In you the tempest rages; it comes to me as distant thunder’.) Jung had been transfixed by the story of the Buddha’s birth, as told in Sir Edwin Arnold’s poem, ‘The Light of Asia’, and by the example of the young Buddha, ‘who renounced all the luxury of his home in order to go out into the world and live his destiny to the full’. Jung considers this a parallel to Christ’s withdrawing from his family, as told in the gospel of Matthew. And, from the Buddha’s discourses, he quotes that ‘it is our own repressed desires that stick like arrows in our flesh’. Throughout Symbols of Transformation (to use the later title) we also find many references to the Hindu classics: the Upanishads, and so on. (Jung’s own library eventually contained nearly all of the fifty volumes of the Sacred Books of the East.) He discovered Mithraism, which had roots in India and Persia, and he dwelt on that militaristic cult at length.
During Jung’s so-called ‘fallow period’, from 1913 to about 1918, he was buried in the preparatory work for Psychological Types – ‘pursuing his inner images’, he wrote. (Ellenberger’s term for this phase was ‘a creative illness’.) During the war years, he was commandant of an Alpine camp for interned British soldiers. This was the time when, every morning upon rising, Jung sketched a mandala, a common symbol in Asian religions, which he realized was an expression of the self. And he was studiously reading Schopenhauer, a sure avenue to Buddhism, as he observed in a 1918 article on ‘The role of the unconscious’. The original versions of the Two Essays on Analytical Psychology were written during this period, but they were mainly clinical; a few allusions to Buddhism were added in the later revisions. During this period he happened upon the James Legge English translation of the I Ching, or Book of Changes – he doesn’t tell us how or when, but it was before he had met Richard Wilhelm, in the early nineteen twenties, at Count Keyserling’s ‘School of Wisdom’, at Darmstadt. The original German edition of Types appeared in 1921 and the English translation (by H. Godwin Baynes) in 1923 – with a subtitle said to have been added by Baynes: The Psychology of Individuation. This has been one of the best known of Jung’s books, and it is rich in cultural and religious material. The religions of Asia certainly turn up. Schopenhauer is again present, and his doctrine of deliverance, we are told, is essentially Buddhist. ‘For an illuminating view into the Oriental attitude’, Jung turns to the problem of opposites in the Hindu classics and in the ancient folk religion, Taoism. There are eleven mean- ings of tao, he tells us: way, method, principle, natural force, life force, the regulated processes of nature, the idea of the world, the prime cause of all phenomena, the right, the good, and the moral order. And tao is composed of the fundamental pair of opposites, yang and yin – all terms that have entered the glossary of Jungian psychology.
In 1923, Jung invited Wilhelm to visit Zürich to lecture at the Psychology Club on the I Ching – or I Ging, its title in German. The next year, when Wilhelm’s translation was published, Jung immediately acquired a copy (surely a gift from Wilhelm), which became a key text for him. Wilhelm, by then a close friend, taught him its secrets, as well as those of another Taoist classic, The Secret of the Golden Flower, which was published in German (in Wilhelm’s translation), in 1929, with Jung’s notes and discussion of the text, and a ‘European commentary’. The volume included black and white plates of mandalas painted by Jung, some of which were inspired by these Chinese classics. This was the first time Jung devoted his writing entirely to an aspect of Asian religion. When the volume appeared two years later in Cary Baynes’s translation, it also included Jung’s memorial address for Wilhelm, who had died in the spring of 1930. Jung’s account of his friendship with Wilhelm is printed as an appendix to Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963). Richard Wilhelm’s son Hellmut, a professor of sinology at the University of Washington, brought translations of other works on the I Ching into the Bollingen Series.
Jung had lectured at the Psychology Club on Indian parallels to yoga in 1930. In autumn 1932, with a German indologist, J. W. Hauer, he gave a sem- inar on The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga. First, Hauer delivered six lectures in English and German, and then Jung followed with four English lectures of psychological interpretation. Heinrich Zimmer, who attended the seminar, described Hauer as ‘most unreliable as a scholar and as a character as well, but endowed with a demonic, erratic vitality made up of primitive resistances and ambitions [that] drew the attention of doctors-psychiatrists-psychologists to the subject of yoga’. Barbara Hannah commented on the seminar: ‘As always happens when… Indian philosophy is placed before a European audience, we all got terribly out of ourselves and confused . . . but Jung’s psychological commentary on Hauer’s lectures . . . got us all back’.
In 1996, Princeton University Press published the Kundalini seminar in the Bollingen Series. Its editor, Sonu Shamdasani, contributed an historical intro- duction of some thirty pages, entitled ‘Jung’s Journey to the East’, in which he also discusses Hauer’s later turn toward Nazism and Jung’s break with him.
One could think of Wilhelm and Zimmer as gurus for Jung, and one may also say that Jung was a guru for Zimmer. They first met in early 1932, well before the Kundalini seminar at the Club, where Zimmer had been invited to lecture on the psychology of yoga. In a talk that Zimmer gave ten years later at the New York Psychology Club, he told how his first encounter with Jung featured a generous drop of gin that Jung was pouring into Zimmer’s glass of lemon squash. One must read Zimmer’s account, with a smile, to experience the full force of the event. Be that as it may, the friendship was launched, based on the common bond of mythological scholarship and eastern religion. In 1933 Zimmer delivered the first lecture, on Tantra Yoga, at the first Eranos Conference, near Ascona, Switzerland; Jung spoke on individuation. Over the years of Eranos that followed, Jung’s knowledge of Indian mythology was enriched by Zimmer’s lectures on Hindu myths and symbols, the Hindu world mother, and Hindu death and rebirth.
In 1938, the Nazi persecution of Jews was becoming more severe, and Zimmer, whose wife, Christiana, was partly of Jewish descent, moved his family to Oxford, where for a year he lectured at the university. In June 1940, the Zimmers sailed for New York, in a zigzagging convoy to escape German submarines, and settled in New Rochelle, New York. Heinrich Zimmer immediately Amer- icanized himself, became Henry R. Zimmer, learned American lingo, and taught at Columbia University. He was active in the New York Jungian community and played an important role in establishing the Bollingen Foundation and the Bollingen Series. In spring 1941, he and Christiana drove across country to California, and he gave a seminar on Indian religion, Irish folklore, Tarot cards, and other of his enthusiasms to a group of Jungian analysts at the Whitneys’ place in Inverness. In March 1943 Zimmer died suddenly in New York of pneumonia. Subsequently, Jung wrote an introductory essay for Zimmer’s The Holy Men of India. And Joseph Campbell, who had been Zimmer’s student at Columbia, edited four valuable books in the Bollingen Series, on Buddhist and Hindu art and religion, shaped from Zimmer’s lecture notes and fragmentary manuscripts.
Jung found yet another Asian guru among the lecturers at Eranos: Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, the Zen Buddhist master. Jung wrote an extended foreword to Suzuki’s Introduction to Zen Buddhism. And when Suzuki lectured at Eranos, he was Frau Froebe’s guest in an apartment over the lecture hall. Zen devotees created a problem by climbing the stairs to leave flowers or ask for a cup of the master’s bath water. At the end of the conference, after the other speakers had left, Suzuki lingered at Casa Eranos to watch the rise of the full moon reflected in Lago Maggiore.
Let us now return to this other unlikely guru of Jung’s. Walter Yeeling Wentz was born on February 2, 1878, in Trenton, the capital of New Jersey. (His well-to-do protestant family was said to be of Welsh ancestry.) There he spent his childhood and his schooling, up to the second year of high school. He dropped out, and having decided to become a journalist, he took business courses in Trenton and, oddly, in Jacksonville, Florida, while his family was vacationing in nearby Pablo Beach. Then, like Mark Twain, he worked his way across country, pausing for jobs on small-own newspapers. Meanwhile, his family had gone west and settled in La Mesa, a suburb of San Diego, and his father went into real estate. Young Walter joined them, gave up journal- ism, and opted for higher education. In 1901, he moved up to Palo Alto and applied to the new Stanford University. (Around that time he had taken a break for a steamship cruise from San Diego to San Francisco and wrote a poetic account of the three-day trip, most admiring of the Golden Gate. His travel log is preserved in the Stanford archives.) To make up for his deficient education, he studied under tutors, was accepted by Stanford, and graduated in 1906, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and founder of the Social Service Club, devoted to high spiritual ideals and good works. In spring of that year, when the disastrous San Andreas earthquake of 1906 demolished many of the university’s buildings, Wentz led students in helping victims with food and shelter.
Staying on for graduate work at Stanford, Wentz studied philosophy under William James, who was a visiting professor and – to Walter’s satisfaction – fostered an interest in the study of religious experience and the idea of a panpsychic reality permeating all of human existence. After earning his MA, in June 1907, Wentz went to France and studied Celtic folklore at the University of Rennes in Brittany. He earned a doctorate in 1909 and affirmed his part- Celtic (Welsh) ancestry by adding ‘Evans’ to his name. He continued his Celtic studies at Oxford University, where he took a degree in anthropology for studies in Celtic folklore and religion. Sometime during his early years he had embraced theosophy and had wanted to spend his life in Point Loma, but when a neighbouring theosophist told him his karma was in the East, he decided that it was the East for him. He acquired many books by and about Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Colonel Olcott, and others, which are now in the Stanford Library. And he remained a devout theosophist the rest of his life.
In 1911 Oxford University Press published Evans-Wentz’s first book, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. His father’s business success in California enabled Walter to travel extensively between 1911 and 1917, documenting the religious experiences of many peoples, in the Mediterranean countries and in Egypt, where he lived for three years, studying Islam, Coptic Christianity, and the religion of the Pharaonic dynasties. In 1917, he began a five-year sojourn in India, Ceylon (where he published books on the doctrine of rebirth), and most importantly in Sikkim, a small Himalayan kingdom between Nepal and Bhutan, most of whose people are Tibetan Buddhists. Evans-Wentz spent those years, not in theoretical study but rather in living the religion. He wanted to experience the life of the people. According to a Stanford biographer:
He climbed mountains with pilgrims who were imploring the deities to cure them of their maladies, visited various ashrams, and became a Buddhist novice monk in Sikkim… Despite his close proximity to the religious rituals of the people, he always remained the carefully trained anthropologist who evaluated his data in a scholarly manner, attempting to illuminate the Buddhist religious experience in the light of Western religious phenomena.
During Evans-Wentz’s years as a monk in Sikkim, he was introduced to the Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (oddly, by the chief of police of Darjeeling) and recognized him as a Buddhist scholar whose piety was beyond question. The Lama was the headmaster of the Maharajah’s Bhutia Boarding School for Sikkimese boys of good Tibetan ancestry, knew English, and was laboriously translating the Bardol Thodol from the Tibetan. He took Evans-Wentz as his student, and Evans-Wentz became his editor and entitled the work The Tibetan Book of the Dead. (The Tibetan title means ‘Liberation by Hearing on the After-Death Plane’ – a possible inspiration, the original title of The Egyptian Book of the Dead is ‘The Coming Forth of Day’.) The Lama called his editor ‘his living English dictionary’, and Evans-Wentz declared, with due modesty, ‘Indeed the editor had been little more than this, for his knowledge of Tibetan was almost nothing’. One is inclined to doubt that.
Subsequently, the Lama was appointed lecturer in Tibetan at the University of Calcutta. But, we learn from Evans-Wentz, ‘very unfortunately, as is usual with peoples habituated to the Himalayan regions, he lost his health com- pletely in the tropical climate of Calcutta, and departed from this world on the twenty-second day of March 1922’.
While Evans-Wentz was still in Sikkim, he began writing ‘Some Notes for an Autobiography’, a lengthy handwritten work. It opens:
The records which this book contains are those of one who has sought to lift the Veil that hides the Great Mystery – Life. He has acknowledged no law higher than that of his own inner Conscience. He has claimed no country other than that of the world. He has striven to love all mankind of all nations and races and faiths.
And further along he wrote:
Life itself has been experiment. Death has lost for him its terrors, even as Birth has. The Truth which he has gathered has been gathered not for himself alone, but for all who are seeking after Truth… To them he offers this, the Book of his Pilgrimage.
And so on for many pages. This document has been preserved in the Point Loma Theosophical Archive.
Evans-Wentz devoted five years to preparing the first edition of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, living off and on in India, in Oxford (at Jesus College), and in San Diego, where his business properties, inherited from his father, were centred. His estate at that time was around one hundred thousand dollars. He also owned land southeast of the city, on the Mexican border, and properties in India. During the nineteen-twenties, Evans-Wentz established a School for Research in Oriental Religions and Philosophies at Almora, in the Himalayan foothills northeast of New Delhi, and for much of his life he returned to Almora every summer.
In October 1927, Evans-Wentz wrote to the president of Stanford University, Ray Lyman Wilbur, proposing to establish an American-Oriental Educational Trust, which was to support his school in Almora and also to fund a lecture- ship at Stanford in oriental religion, philosophy, and ethics. The Evans-Wentz lecture is still given annually, and many distinguished scholars of Asian reli- gion have been on its programmes.
Oxford published The Tibetan Book of the Dead in 1928, and in closing his preface to this first edition Evans-Wentz wrote:
This book is sent forth to the world, in the hope that it may contribute something to the sum total of right Knowledge, and serve as one more spiritual strand in an unbreakable bond of good will and universal peace, binding East and West together in mutual understanding, and in love such as overleaps every barrier of creed and race.
That was written at Jesus College, Oxford, on Easter 1927. He was then at work on completing a Swiss-German edition of Das Tibetanische Totenbuch, with Jung’s expressly commissioned psychological commentary (Einführung), and the entirety of Evans-Wentz’s text translated into German by one Louise Goepfert March. It was finally published by Rascher Verlag in 1935.
The Eranos conferences at Ascona, which as we know were founded and led by Olga Froebe-Kapteyn, began in 1933. In August 1934, Jung invited Evans- Wentz to the Tagung (no doubt a the behest of Frau Froebe). Evans-Wentz replied from Oxford, declining because ‘unfortunately, my time in England is definitely limited and every bit of it will be needed if I am to complete my forthcoming book before I depart from Oxford for India With every good
wish to Madame Froebe Kapteyn, as to yourself, and to all who are shortly to assemble at Ascona’. Evans-Wentz would have been the ideal speaker on Frau Froebe’s podium, and she vainly extended her invitation again more than once. Unhappily for her, he was not a speaker and did not wish to be.
Nineteen thirty-five was the year of Jung’s Tavistock Lectures in London, from September 30 to October 4. His familiarity with The Tibetan Book of the Dead is shown by his reply when a physician in the audience asked him to comment on a child’s dream. Jung said, ‘ you find with many children an
awareness of the contents of the collective unconscious, a fact which in some Eastern beliefs is interpreted as reminiscence of a former existence. Tibetan philosophy, for instance, speaks of the “Bardo”existence and of the condition of the mind between death and birth’ – and he cited Evans-Wentz’s book in its first edition.
Jung’s next few years were crowded: he founded and presided over the Swiss Association for Practical Psychology, took up his professorship at the ETH, struggled with the difficulties of the International Medical Society for Psychotherapy, and lectured at Harvard, Yale, and Bailey Island. His three- month sojourn in India and Ceylon with Fowler McCormick was his next adventure.
In December 1937 they disembarked in Bombay and travelled on to New Delhi, Sanchi, Mysore, Allahabad, Darjeeling, Orissa, Calcutta, et al., while Professor Jung received honorary degrees along the way. The expedition ended in Ceylon, where they took ship for home in early spring. One might wonder why, during this sweep over India, they didn’t meet up with Evans-Wentz, but he was then in Oxford where, because of the libraries, he preferred to work. They did meet in Oxford in July of 1938, when Jung was there as president of the International Medical Congress for Psychotherapy and received an honorary Doctorate of Science. (Evans-Wentz had received the same degree from Oxford in 1931.)
As time went by, Evans-Wentz continued sharing out his visits to India, Oxford, and Egypt, where he had a retreat on the outskirts of Cairo. He did return sporadically to San Diego, and he kept a room in the Keystone Hotel, an ordinary lodging in a very ordinary part of the city.
The correspondence of Jung and Evans-Wentz resumed with an exchange in November 1938. Jung agreed to write another psychological commentary, this one for The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation. Evans-Wentz had com- pleted his texts and sent the typescript to Jung, who surmised that he could finish the commentary by July 1939. Meanwhile, Evans-Wentz was in Dorset, England, visiting E. T. Sturdy, a Sanskrit scholar and translator, who for many years had been his collaborator. ‘He is much interested in psychology’, Evans- Wentz wrote to Jung, and ‘he is inclined to dissent from your use of the term ‘unconscious’, inasmuch as he says there is nothing really non-conscious, not even the single cell; and he prefers the term ‘superconscious’.’
A synopsis of Jung’s lengthy response need not be offered, as his letter to Evans-Wentz is to be found in the first volume of the Adler/Jaffé edition of Jung’s Letters. It had reached Evans-Wentz in Cairo on January 4, 1939, he had forwarded it to Sturdy in Dorset, and Sturdy had responded with comments which, unfortunately or not, haven’t been preserved. Evans-Wentz described his friend as ‘one of the most serious thinkers in England; and inasmuch as he has carried on research in India among yogins and philosophers, his views are ‘original and worthwhile’. Jung sent Evans-Wentz his response (of February 9) to Sturdy’s response, and it is also in the Letters – three salty pages, including these final words:
Thus agnosticism is my duty as a scientist, I don’t compete with confessions of reli- gious creeds. I never claimed to be a metaphysician. We have too many of them already and too few are really believed.
Sturdy, oddly, had taken issue with some ideas of Evans-Wentz and recom- mended that he read a little book called Einstein and the Universe.
Jung did finish the commentary in May 1939. ‘I’m afraid I have written per- haps too much’, he wrote, ‘but the subject interested me and it made me think furiously . . . I naturally carry on with my own work here, as I do not feel dis- turbed by all the political madness that is going on around Switzerland. Being an alienist I was trained to live in a mad-house!’ In July the typescript reached Evans-Wentz in Almora. He immediately read it twice.
It is a most valuable contribution to the advancement of learning and of right under- standing between Occident and Orient . . . Among your writings it is distinctive and, as you have said, will make the book intelligible to all classes … It was to be of far- reaching importance for students to realize, as you do, the intimate relationship between the Eastern concept of the ‘one Mind’ and the Western concept of the unconscious.
And then: ‘If the war does not come by mid-August – and I do not think it will – I may return to Oxford to see the book through’. But on December 27, Evans-Wentz wrote that ‘We are postponing the publication of the book owing to the war. If I return to the United States, we may publish the book there’.
In May 1949, Evans-Wentz sent an air letter to Jung from San Diego – he was back at the Keystone Hotel. And he never returned to Oxford or Almora. He wrote Jung cheerfully that the book would soon be going to press. ‘Suitable paper, in adequate quantity, has not been until recently available’. The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation was published four years later.
A second English edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead had appeared in 1949, and when Evans-Wentz wrote his preface (again on Easter) at the request of his publisher, he sought to explain ‘what the essential message is that the book holds for people so enamoured of this world’s utilitarianism and physical existence and so fettered to bodily sensuousness as are the people of the Occident. The message is that the Art of Dying is quite as important as the Art of Living . . . ’ and he continued with an eloquent sermon deploring that in America ‘every effort is apt to be made by a materialistically inclined medical science to postpone and thereby to interfere with the death-process . . . ’ In that same year, Oxford University Press had published his biography of Tibet’s great Yogi Milarepa, who, he tells us, has died ‘triumphantly, as do the saints and sages of all saving faiths throughout the ages’.
The story might have ended here, but in early 1950 Evans-Wentz airmailed Jung that, again with the encouragement of his publisher, he was planning a third edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The second edition was almost out of print. With Jung’s compliance, he got busy. He intended to return to Oxford, and if India were not in civil turmoil he would go to his Research Center at Almora. This never happened, perhaps for reasons of civil turmoil, if not for reasons of health. Negotiations with the Swiss publishers for rights to the original German version of Jung’s commentary dragged on. Jung’s patience was wearing out, as we learn from a letter he wrote to his friend and colleague James Kirsch, in California.
I have not heard of [the book’s] fate for ages and am quite astonished to hear that it is already in the printer’s press I presume that Evans [sic] is bristling with resistance against my psychological point of view because, as every true Easterner, he believes that he has produced an eternal truth, but, with the whole of the East has, of course, never heard of a theory of cognition and of Immanuel Kant . . .
The third edition was finally published by Oxford, in 1957. Jung’s psycho- logical commentary was translated by R. F. C. Hull; Dr Kirsch supplied a ‘prefatory admonition’ to the Occidental reader, explaining Jung’s use of the word ‘soul’; the forewords by Lama Anagorika Govinda and Sir John Woodruffe were brushed up; and Evans-Wentz’s editorial apparatus was enlarged. He signed his preface in San Diego on Easter 1955.
The last letters between Jung and Evans-Wentz preserved in the Jung archives at the ETH were written in spring 1955. Jung said he had found the preface Evans-Wentz had sent him of the greatest interest, and he added a synchronistic note: ‘It is a meaningful coincidence that at the same time your letter arrived I received the German translation of the Great Liberation’. Evans- Wentz wrote him that he had had news that the magazine Tomorrow wanted to print Jung’s commentary from The Great Liberation for a fee of $250. Jung advised him to apply to the Bollingen Foundation, which controlled his pub- lishing rights. He and Evans-Wentz agreed to split the fee and donate it, respectively, to the Zürich Institute for Analytical Psychology and the Research Center in Almora. Evans-Wentz congratulated Jung on his eightieth birthday – on July 26 – and wished he could be in Zürich for the celebration, along with the other San Diegans who were attending. And, finally: ‘May you be with us for many years to come, to add to the great store of wisdom which you have bequeathed to mankind’.
What sort of person was Evans-Wentz? A friend whose parents had known him in his prime in the theosophical world of San Diego described him as tall, slender, clean-shaven, living a rather austere, celibate, and yogic lifestyle. To quote:
Some would say he was a recluse, though not in the least shy or withdrawn. He was a dedicated theosophist his entire life. To many, an odd character, a solitary hermit living in an old hotel for those with little monetary means. Perhaps in the Himalayas he would have preferred a cave!
He always wore the same suit and shoes. But he had a car, and once, when he was driving to Santa Barbara in the mid-fifties, he was stopped by a policeman. He had no identification with him at the time. He explained that he was a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and a graduate of Oxford. The officer thought him a little crazy and took him to jail as a homeless vagrant. Evans-Wentz persuaded the authorities to phone the president of the San Diego Board of Education, who vouched for him, and he was released.
In his remaining years in San Diego, Evans-Wentz devoted himself to continuous writing, research, and good works. For example, he wrote to the Bollingen Foundation in 1957 urging that his friend Professor Chen-chi Chang’s three- year grant for the translation of the songs of Milarepa be renewed for a second term. (The renewal was not approved.) He kept in touch with his Research Center in Almora, where a close Buddhist friend, Anagrika Govinda, was the caretaker. He prepared the arrangements for his estate to donate his papers, books, and keepsakes of Buddhist art to Stanford University. He wanted his 2,261 acres of land, fifty miles southeast of San Diego and west of Tecate Peak, to go to a private school for Oriental studies. The mountain top was to have a monument honouring the native people of this land. (The Yuma Indians called the peak ‘Cuchama’, meaning ‘the exalted high place’.) Accord- ingly, his intentions were preserved in the theosophical archives at Point Loma.
In his last years he lived at the ashram of another close friend, Pramahansa Yogananda, in Encinitas, where he was cared for by the monks until his death, on July 17, 1965. He died in a nursing home, was cremated, and was given a memorial service at the mortuary. A friend read the traditional liturgy from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. There were no immediate survivors.
Two years later, the California State Forestry Board voted acceptance of Evans-Wentz’s gift of the Tecate land. He was described in the local paper as a sportsman who had wanted his land to be used for recreation, game preserva- tion, and forestry training. Today, part of it is a national forest and another part belongs to the Boy Scouts.
Response to William McGuire by John Beebe
On the back cover of Ken Winkler’s little biography of Dr. Walter Evans-Wentz, Pilgrim of the Clear Light (Winkler 1982), a photograph shows the Tibetan scholar from Trenton, New Jersey standing happily alongside his teacher, the self-styled Lãma Kazi Dawa-Samdup, in flowery Tibetan costume, complete with cap. The cultural complex that is caught by this picture is striking, and sets off associations: one thinks immediately of the pictures of T. E. Lawrence, in Bedouin garb, as Lawrence of Arabia. In the manner of so many Westerners who made forays into ‘Oriental’ cultures in the early decades of the twentieth century, the explorer has surrendered his Western identity to that of the culture explored.
This is what C. G. Jung didn’t do. Rather, throughout his prefaces to Evans- Wentz’s translations of key Tibetan texts, and in the correspondence with Evans-Wentz and the letter to James Kirsch about Evans-Wentz that Bill McGuire has reviewed for us, Jung consistently asserted his own Western standpoint. In that sense, Jung’s psychological commentaries, which led so many people to get interested in the sacred texts of the East, are more remarkable for what they don’t do than for what they do do.
We should revisit his commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Jung 1935/1969). The Tibetan text itself is filled with a fascinating authoritative description of the passage of the person through various states of mind after death, culminating in the anxiety that directly attends rebirth into a new incarnation. Tibetan Buddhism specifies six transitional states of conscious- ness, called bardos, three of which are especially involved in the process of death and rebirth. In the service for the dead, a text specific to each of these bardos is read to accompany the dead person’s transition through that bardo, which is revealed to be a new opportunity for the dead person to be liberated from the karmic obligation to reincarnate. Hence the truer title, The Book of Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo (Fremantle & Trungpa 1975).
The invitation to write a psychological commentary on such a text would seem a perfect occasion to formulate the intermediate quality of the strange states of mind that accompany the soul’s journey to inner transformation. But in Jung’s interpretation of the passage through the bardo realms we find no anticipation of Winnicott’s concept of transitional space or of Victor Turner’s notion of liminality, nor of Mircea Eliade’s work on shamanism or Joseph Henderson’s archetype of initiation – not even an anticipation of Kubler-Ross’s recognition of the need for a therapy of the end of life that respects the stages of ‘dying’. All of these potential discoveries might have been derived from this Eastern text, but they would have been imports, like printing and gunpowder and yoga and acupuncture – a Western ‘use’ of Eastern culture. Jung does not want to be an importer.
Rather he chooses to read The Tibetan Book of the Dead exactly backward, without any concession to a theosophical impulse to ‘receive’ the Eastern meaning. Today it can sound Kiplingesque to divide the world of discourse into ‘West’ and ‘East,’ and Jung’s habit of speaking this way grates on post- colonial ears. I have chosen to remain within Jung’s metaphor in order to develop what I think he means us to understand by it. Where Jung can instruct us with this metaphorical language lies in his understanding of the importance of clarifying one’s own tradition before attempting to take aboard the assump- tions of another tradition. One could say that while most of Evans-Wentz’s readers read the text East to West, Jung chose to read it West to East. His mirror reading resists the dogmatic idea that the transitional states of mind the text describes exist in a set order or that their particular qualities suggest a set of purposes. Rather, he sees the different bardos as layers of depth that co-exist at all times in the unconscious, their only progressiveness being their different degrees of experience-nearness.
Jung’s model of the mind-sets that make up the unconscious starts with the unfortunate state of hungering for life through rebirth that immediately precedes actual rebirth in the Tibetan system. This final intermediate state, the Sidpa bardo, is characterized by infantile lusts and hungers, very much the id as Freud described ‘it’ when referring to that level of the desire-filled unconscious that is nearest to our experience on an everyday basis. This for Jung is just the personal unconscious. In the Tibetan scheme, which moves from the moment of death to the moment of probable rebirth, the Sidpa bardo is preceded by the Chönyid bardo, a more contemplative state in which the reality of the transper- sonal world of the deities is envisioned. Jung sees the Chönyid as belonging to a deeper level of psyche than the Sidpa. The Tantric deities, both wrathful and peaceful, that fill the Chönyid Jung understands as the archetypes of the collec- tive unconscious. Sometimes called ‘the bardo of the experience of reality,’ the Chönyid’s reality is the reality of the psyche. Going on with this reverse reading of the Tibetan text, the ultimate layer of the psyche, and the hardest one for the conscious mind to access, is the relatively imageless state that appears at the moment of death (the Chikhai bardo), which of course is where this text begins, before any movement toward rebirth into an incarnation with a (karmi- cally flawed) unconscious has occurred. This ultimate layer, for Jung, is the Self, about which he insists that he doesn’t know very much.
With this reading of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Jung neither exploits the text to amplify a theosophical notion of the soul’s progress through lower to higher states of mind, nor sacrifices his identity as a psychologist in a position to specify the level of depth of these states of consciousness. He uses the occasion of being asked to comment on this afterlife text to amplify his own model of the unconscious. The result is just as liberating to Western as to Eastern psychology. The surprising thing is how much this approach came to attract non-analytic Western students of Asian texts. Here is a one-sentence dream that Tom Kirsch shared with me many years ago; he dreamed it in early 1964 when he was still a psychiatric resident, beginning his own training as an analyst: Jung is talking to the Beatles.
At one level, Tom’s dream heralds the rise of New Age Jungianism, the mass Western colonization of Eastern thought in the name of Jung, which we might call Jungian Orientalism (see Said 1978). Just after the 1960s had ended, Paul Goodman (1970) described the international youth counterculture consciousness as ‘a farrago of misunderstood styles,’ and one of those styles, most assuredly was Jung’s approach to Eastern religion. The Psychedelic Experience, for instance, by Leary, Metzner and Alpert (1964/1992), began with hymns to Evans-Wentz and Jung, before offering instruction in how to use the Tibetan instructions in conscious dying for the right taking of LSD trips. By 1970, Jung had been anointed the master prophet of the New Age. Tom Kirsch’s dream was therefore predictive of what was about to happen, but, in a deeper, more compensatory sense, it was also showing what needed to happen and didn’t in many people’s acceptance of Jungian Orientalism. The trouble is, the Beatles and the numbers of young fans that they turned on to The Tibetan Book of the Dead may have heard tapes that ran backwards, but they really weren’t listen- ing to Jung. What they took in from the Beatles’ Revolver album, released just two years after Tom Kirsch’s dream, was, ‘Lay down all thought, Surrender to the void’. These words came from the version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead produced by Timothy Leary et al.
New Age pop-Orientalism posed a set of dangers Jung recognized all too clearly. In his Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, he states, By an inevitable decree of fate the West is becoming acquainted with the peculiar facts of Eastern spirituality . . . If we snatch these things directly from the East, we have merely indulged our Western acquisitiveness, confirming yet again that ‘everything good is outside,’ whence it has to be fetched and pumped into our barren souls . . . (Jung 1954/1969, para. 773)
Instead of learning the spiritual techniques of the East by heart and imitating them in a thoroughly Christian way – imitatio Christi! – with a correspondingly forced attitude, it would be far more to the point to find out whether there exists in the unconscious an introverted tendency similar to that which has become the guiding spiritual prin- ciple of the East. We should then be in a position to build on our own ground with our own methods. (Jung 1954/1969, para. 773)
Jung makes it clear, in other words, that taking Eastern wisdom into the ego is actually a typically Western move. And there is an even deeper danger than this Orientalized egoism that Chögyam Trungpa (1973) came to call spiritual materialism. For occasionally one meets someone who is really willing to sacrifice the Western attitude of will and make a wholesale identification with the psychological attitude of an Eastern culture. Such a person may work enormously hard at the sacrifice involved, and even succeed, but there is always the risk of an enantiodromia, in which the sacrificer ends up being the sacrificed. In a very moving memorial essay, Jung (1930/1966) records how he observed that very reversal at the end of the life of his friend Richard Wilhelm, who translated the I Ching for the first time in a way that it could really be used by people in the West. In absorbing enough of the Chinese point of view to pull this off, Wilhelm effectively turned himself into an instrument for the realization of Chinese culture. But then he tried to reassert his former standpoint, returning to Germany as a teacher of Chinese thought. Following that move back to Europe, China turned negative in his dreams and his Western ego staged a return, but in Jung’s view the return of that ego was too much for a body that was already weakened by disease. Wilhelm was to die soon after. For Jung, Wilhelm’s early death marked the fulfilment of a tragic destiny. On this, as on other occasions, Jung stressed that the journey to the East is not to be undertaken lightly, as it will absolutely upset the Western balance between ego and Self, either by inflating the ego or setting up a situation in which we may not be prepared any longer, to withstand the force of our Western ego when it does return from a long, enforced exile.
It should be noted that Jung took care to lay the groundwork for Western consciousness when he made the Wilhelm translation of the I Ching available to an English-speaking audience. The I Ching is a veritable textbook of the Self and its dynamics. Jung carefully prepared the way for the Western ego’s assimilation of this text, not only with his Foreword (1950/1969), but with his work with Pauli (1952/1955) on the principle of synchronicity, which announced to the Western mind, accustomed to a scientific notion of causality, that the time had come, within Western discourse, for consideration of links that are rooted in meaning. To pave the way, he provided in his book with Pauli an historical presentation of the forerunners of the idea of synchronicity in Occidental thought, including Leibniz, who (though Jung doesn’t mention there the philosopher’s important connections, through Jesuit missionaries, with Chinese thinking [Perkins 2002; Cambray 2003]) had been the first major Western thinker to take up the study of the I Ching. In this way, Jung prepared Western readers of the I Ching (and they were to become a legion) for their taking aboard an ancient Chinese outlook on science and practical reason. By contrast, the New Age generation that used Jung’s authority to give themselves permission to dive headlong into the cultures of the East, often lost themselves in ways a careful reading of Jung might have prevented. That is why I say Tom Kirsch’s dream about the Beatles and Jung getting into a dialogue shows not what did happen but what should have happened.
In his dialogue with Evans-Wentz, Jung maintained his own standpoint in relation to the Tibetan texts in at least two ways. First, he rejected the theosophy that had informed Evans-Wentz’s Western Orientalist approach to Tibetan religion (see Donald S. Lopez Jr.’s Foreword to Evans-Wentz 2000). In their correspondence, Jung is clear that consciousness is not identification with superconsciousness. We should note that in The Philosophical Tree Jung writes,
Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic feature of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular. (Jung 1945/1967, para. 335)
In preference to idealizing conceptions, Jung favoured the tradition of alchemy, which worked with the dark prima materia of the fallen man.
Second, Jung insisted on the existence of an unconscious, of which our knowledge is necessarily limited. Here is a passage from his Psychological Commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation:
[The text] emphasizes that as the Mind is without characteristics, one cannot assert that it is created. But then, it would be illogical to assert that it is non-created, for such a qualification would amount to a ‘characteristic.’ As a matter of fact you can make no assertion abut a thing that is indistinct, void of characteristics, and moreover, ‘unknowable.’ For precisely this reason Western psychology does not speak of the One Mind, but of the unconscious, regarding it as a thing-in-itself, a noumenon, ‘a merely negative borderline concept,’ to quote Kant. We have often been reproached for using such a negative term, but unfortunately intellectual honesty does not allow a positive one. (Jung 1954/1969, para. 819)
This is neither the theosophical nor the Gnostic mysticism of which Jung has so often been accused. With his detailed account of Evans-Wentz’s life and its crossings with Jung’s, Bill McGuire makes clearer what Jung’s attitude actu- ally was toward the possibility of asserting the nature of ultimate reality.
Cambray, J. (2003). Personal communication.
Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (1960/2000). The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
Fremantle, F. & Trungpa, C. (trans.) (1975). The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boulder & London: Shambhala.
Goodman, P. (1970). ‘Notes of a neolithic conservative’. New York Review of Books, March 26 (online: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/11012)
Jung, C. G. (1930/1966). ‘Richard Wilhelm: In Memoriam’. CW 15
—— (1935/1969). ‘Psychological commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead’. CW 11.
—— (1945/1967). ‘The philosophical tree’. CW 13.
—— (1950/1969). ‘Foreword to the I Ching’. CW 11.
—— (1954/1969). ‘Psychological commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation’. CW 11.
Jung, C. G. & Pauli, W. (1952/1955). The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche. New York: Bollingen.
Leary, T., Metzner, R. & Alpert, R. (1964/1992). The Psychedelic Experience. New York: Citadel Press/Kensington Publishing.
Perkins, F. (2002). ‘Virtue, reason, and cultural exchange: Leibniz’s praise of Chinese morality’. Journal of the History of Ideas, 63, 3, 447–64.
Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books
Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Eds. S. Mipham & Baker. Boulder: Shambhala.
Winkler, K. (1982). Pilgrim of the Clear Light Berkeley, CA: Dawnfire Books. [MS first received November 2002; final version April 2003]