SELF AND LIBERATION: The Jung/Buddhism Dialogue
Edited by Daniel Meckel and Robert L. Moore
Paulist Press: New York, 1992. 338 pp., $19.95 (paper).
AFTER DECADES of exchange, many Buddhist practitioners and an increasing number of psychologists agree that the two traditions can benefit one another. The ongoing question remains: How? Answers to this depend on a clear knowledge of each other's position. Within the lungian world, therapists such as lames Hillman and Clarissa Pinkola Estes are creatively questioning and reshaping their inheritance, which includes, however, Jung's often idiosyncratic writings about the East. This new volume brings together material that allows for a more precise understanding and evaluation of Jung's relation to what he understood Buddhism to be.
The first section contains Jung's foreword to D. T. Suzuki's Introduction to Zen Buddhism, an essay titled "The Psychology of Eastern Meditation," and Jung's two commentaries on the Bardo Thodrol (the Tibetan Book of the Dead). These texts are quite uneven in their presentation of Buddhism. Some of Jung's misunderstandings about the Tibetan tradition can be laid at the feet of Evans-Wentz, whose translation is based on inadequate knowledge of Tibetan and more on Theosophy (i.e., concepts such as Universal Mind, soul, etc.) than Buddhism. Others, however, come from lung's impetus to bring in support for his own system and yet maintain its autonomy vis-a-vis "the East," which was for lung a shifting shape of Buddhist-Hindu blend. Jung's failure to make clear distinctions leads him to distort the main issue—the status of the self—which is defined in radically different terms by these two traditions. Jung may be writing about Buddhism and non-ego, but his operating assumptions fall into a Hindu worldview that includes an ultimately existent self, however subtle it may be.
Jung's definitions of the ego as I consciousness and the self as a I greater whole that includes the unconscious never get beyond a limited self, because there persists a continual basis for its regeneration—the collective unconscious. This statement would also hold true for other broad concepts, such as Adler's communal feeling. These ideas are useful in that they extend ego's awareness, but there remains an expanded group ego, which must also be relinquished. In Buddhism, if one holds on to the existence of any basis or foundation for the self, it will continue to regenerate and one will never be free of suffering. Suffering begins with the concept of self; from this comes the thought of other, and then like or dislike, and so on into the wheel of samsara. Liberation from suffering, for oneself and for others, is the basic goal of Buddhism, but Jung believed that happiness and suffering were necessary. He also held that a certain tension is inherent to the psyche and did not accept that suffering could be overcome. And indeed it cannot be if any clinging to the self, in whatever form, remains.
All these points come out quite clearly in the second section of the book, which makes available for the first time a transcript of the interview between Jung and Shin'ichi Hisamatsu, giving both of their commentaries on the event and two further discussions. Hisamatsu Sensei (1889-1980) was a lay Zen master, famous in Japan for the subtlety and breadth of his insight, his sensitivity to art, and his skill as a calligrapher and master of tea ceremony. His Zen and Fine Arts is a classic in its field. During his first intensive week of practice (sesshin), Hisamatsu Sensei broke through to a profound realization. His attainment was unusual not only for its swiftness, but also be cause he had to free himself from two quite different tendencies: in his youth, he was deeply devoted to Pure Land Buddhism, with its theistic tendencies, and later he became an ardent and skilled student of rational Western philosophy.
After his realization, Hisamatsu Sensei founded a society of study and practice that was open to everyone. The teaching emphasized the interdependence of all humankind and the necessity of engaging in the world to help others. For his students, he created a fundamental koan that encompassed all others: "When you can do nothing, what can you do?" In 1956, Hisamatsu Sensei composed a poem that expressed the essence of his insight:
The Absolutely Negative Solitude:
Everything reliable having
There is no place between
heaven and earth
To place this mortal body.
The Absolutely Affirmative Solitude: Reliable is the self
that awakes as 'Won't rely'
For, free from all,
It has no hindrances.
The Self-effecting Nature of Dharma:
Since this is the I
My self feels at ease just as it is
With sin and death just as they are.
With nothing to rely on, he was free to be with whatever arises.
In 1958, Hisamatsu Sensei travelled to the West, taught at Harvard Divinity School (an appointment arranged by D. T. Suzuki), and met with Paul Tillich, Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel, Rudolf Bultman, Martin Heidegger, and Carl Jung. Jung's interlocutor was not an ordinary intellectual but a deeply realized master with a keen mind and awareness of the West. The depth of his knowledge allowed Hisamatsu Sensei to penetrate to the essential point. To quote from their dialogue:
Jung: . . . In short, through liberation, man must be brought to a point where he is free from the compulsion to chase after myriad things or from being controlled by the collective unconscious. . .
Hisamatsu: . . . Do you mean that the collective unconscious is something from which, in its nature, we can free ourselves?
Jung: Yes, it is.
Hisamatsu: What we generally call "self" is the same as the self [Selbst] characterized by you, Professor Jung. But it is only after the emancipation of this self that the "Original Self" of Zen emerges. It is the True Self described in Zen as the Self which is realized in absolute emancipation and without dependence on anything. . . .
Through his deft questioning, Hisamatsu Sensei brought Jung to see the basis of his misunderstanding of the self, but as Jung's subsequent letter shows, he was unable to finally accept this, perhaps realizing that it would entail significant changes in his own system.
The third section of the book is a collection of nine essays, with those by Harold Coward and Nathan Katz the most interesting. There are areas of convergence between Buddhism and Jung. Once the no-self of Zen, or the true nature of the mind, has been understood, then one can explore the world of active imagination and archetypes, which have correlations with deity meditation in Vajrayana Buddhism (never forgetting, however, that in practice these figures arise out of the empty nature of the mind and dissolve back into it). The subject of mental habitual patterns in Buddhism could also be fruitfully compared to Jung's latent tendencies, leading into a discussion of the Buddhist science of perception and Jung's understanding of mental functioning. In the meantime, Self and Liberation performs a great service in bringing together texts that reveal how Jung interpreted Buddhism. Once this relationship becomes clear, then the dialogue can grow deeper to the benefit of both traditions.
Michele Martin practiced with Shin'ichi Hisamatsu's Zen group in Kyoto and currently translates Buddhist teachings from Tibetan into English.