Zen Buddhism, Christianity, & outside tradition
I practise Zen Buddhist meditation with the Canterbury Zen Group led by Marcus Averbeck (Hozan Sensei), part of the Wild Goose Zen Sangha in the UK, which belongs to the world-wide White Plum Asanga Zen lineage, and is affiliated with the international zen practice community 'Being Without Self' of Jeff Shore. I have been accepted in the Anglican Church and regularly attend services at St. Stephen's Church Canterbury and Canterbury Cathedral. But I feel free to pick from traditions and teachings as they fit me. Among my spiritual favourites are Eckhart Tolle, Carl Gustav Jung (see below), and Russel Williams. Ultimately I feel spirituality is something inside one's self, 'that which is to come', and has no name, no form, no limit.
I am a member of the Dutch Jung Society, the Interdisciplinaire Vereniging voor Analytische Psychologie. In 2015 I presented the talk below for their members.
Jung and the Beyond
A reflection on the eleventh chapter of Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the Jung autobiography, titled Life After Death.
When reading Carl Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, we should always be aware of the fact that he did not consider it a scientific work; yet it is his most popular work. In the memoirs he exposes his inner life; it is explicitly not a work of science but a personal myth, a fable. So when he describes things from ‘Beyond’, he doesn’t bother to prove or explain them in scientific terms, he just tells his personal story. Jung wrote down his fantasies in the so-called Black Book, soon to published, and later in the recently published Red Book, with his drawings. The Red Book remained unpublished in Jung’s lifetime, because it was not science. He did not want to endanger his scientific standing. This essay is about Jung’s private life, his convictions as told in the memoirs and the fantasies, now made public.
Jung, as a young man, set out his career as child of the Enlightenment, as a scientist and a disbeliever in anything irrational until proven, including occultism; in fact he was checking out mediums and exposing fraud and suggestion. In 1902 he wrote his dissertation On the Psychology and Pathology of So-called Occult Phenomena: A Psychiatric Study. It dealt with the phenomenon of personified complexes, or the unconscious appearing as persons. In 1919 Jung, lecturing to the London Society for Psychical Research, still said that “when a person dies, the feelings and emotions that bound his relatives to him lose their application to reality and sink into the unconscious, where they activate a collective content that has a deleterious effect on consciousness. (.…) [It] makes life seem less worth living, and may even be the cause of psychic illnesses. The harmful effect shows itself in the form of loss of libido, depression, and physical debility. There are also universal reports of these port-mortem phenomena in the form of ghosts and hauntings.” In all this he saw no proof whatever of the independent existence of spirits. Later I will come back to the London Society and one of its founding members, Frederic Myers. Not long after the lecture Jung, living remotely and alone in Bollingen, woke up one night to the sound of “several hundred dark-clad figures who had come down from the mountains trampling, laughing, singing and playing accordions.” It did seem very real. Later he learned it could have been a procession of the sälig Lüt, Wotan’s army of departed souls or the Reislaüfer, Medieval mercenaries. Jung felt obliged to consider the possibility that the ghosts were real.
Confrontation with the unconscious
Without any doubt the most extraordinary step that Jung took in his life was to seek a confrontation with the unconscious, using what now is referred to as active imagination: plunging down into the depths of the images below the threshold of consciousness. He did so in 1912, taking the images very serious and treating personifications as real people. In that half-world he met his spiritual teacher, ‘Philemon’, a pagan, gnostic philosopher from Hellenic-Egyptian times. This personification was more than a fantasy, he seemed quite real to Jung, as if he were a living personality. As he later learned, in India some people have a spirit as teacher, someone who may have died centuries ago. Philemon preaches the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos, the Seven Sermons to the Dead. These sermons, written down by Jung in German, form the prelude to what Jung subsequently would communicate to the world in his academic career. Philemon is in the subtitle equated with Basilides of Alexandria, the City where East touches the West. Basilides was a historic figure, a Gnostic, Christian philosopher living in the second century; little is known about his life and only fragments of his teachings survive. But really it is Jung’s alter ego speaking. The Septem Sermones are the answer to the presence of a crowd of spirits of the dead in Jung’s house. Spooky things like bells ringing by themselves filled the air. When addressed the dead cried out: “We have come back from Jerusalem, where we did not find what we sought. We implore you to let us in. You have what we desire. Not your blood, but your light. That is it.” In the Septem Sermones Philemon teaches the dead about God, ending with: “At immeasurable distance a lonely star stands in the Zenith. This star is the God and the goal of man. This is his one guiding God, in him man goes to rest, towards him goes the long journey of the soul after death.” Jung wrote the Septem Sermones in three evenings and the whole ghostly assemblage evaporated, like “smoke above a shepherd’s fire, who watches over his flock by night.” From that time on, Jung saw the dead as the voices of the unanswered, the unresolved, the unredeemed. He was astonished that the dead appeared to know no more than they did when they died. He felt the dead were waiting for answers from the living. In 1944 Jung broke his ankle and suffered a heart attack. As he hung on the edge of death in hospital he experienced deliriums and visions. It was on the edge of death that the mystery of life was revealed to him. He floated in space, he witnessed the classical Hieros Gamos, the Marriage of the Lamb and other mystical weddings. These visions he experienced as utterly real; there was nothing subjective about them, not a product of the imagination. Coming back to life in the here and now was hard. Although belief in the world returned to him, he “never entirely freed himself of the impression that this life is a segment of existence which is enacted in a three-dimensional boxlike universe, especially set up for it.” And so, this essay is about the Beyond, what’s beyond time and space, and not about the Afterlife, as Jung didn’t have to die to see it. The confrontation with the Unconscious yielded images that demanded understanding and realisation in actual life. Two images stand out as decisive in Jung’s life. The first is the mandala. Since the Septem Sermones Jung often sketched a small circular drawing, which seemed to correspond to his inner situation at the time. It led him to understand the mandala as a symbol of the centre and individuation as a path to the self, the goal of psychic development. The second image is the Tree of Life he saw in a dream in 1927. Although his life at that time was extremely unpleasant, black and opaque, he had a dream of unearthly beauty, and that was why he was able to live at all. The tree, a magnolia in a shower of reddish blossoms, stood in the centre of Liverpool. It was as though the tree stood in the sunlight and was at the same time the source of light. After the dream Jung gave up his daily drawing or painting mandalas. The Tree contained the mandalas. In Jung’s words: “If a mandala may be described as a symbol of the self seen in cross section, then the tree would represent a profile view of it: the self depicted as a process of growth.”
The Tree Symbol
I think the tree symbol holds a central place in Jung’s world. Inspired by this I did some research on the Sacred Tree symbol. The sacred tree as symbol is common to mankind from time immemorial and appears in religion, mythology and cosmology. Trees make up around 90% of earth’s biomass and have dominated the earth’s surface for over 370 million years. They live on average between 80 (apple) to 400 (chestnut) years but some reaching several thousand years. Trees don’t die from old age, they keep on growing however old they are and can in theory live forever, but they die from disease, fire, storm or the axe. As a symbol it depicts lasting growth: it grows from the earth towards the sky, showing life as a process that leads from the roots in the dark depths of matter towards the highest regions. There is an intriguing connection between the word ‘tree’, wood and matter. The English word ‘tree’ is of Indo-European descent, originally meaning ‘oak’, reflecting the importance of the oak in ancient times. In Old English and Middle English ‘tree’ also means ‘thing made of wood’. The ancient Greeks had no word for matter in general, so Aristotle adapted the word for wood, hyle (ὕλη), to this purpose. Hyle was later translated into Latin as silva, meaning wood or forest, but that was dropped in the Middle Ages in favour of materia, from mater, ‘mother’ in the sense of ‘source’. In this way the world tree symbol represents the material world as a whole. What makes the tree symbol very special is its universal appearance. All over Europe and Asia trees were regarded as sacred until Christianity and Islam banned the worship of trees as pagan idolatry, but in India it survives to this day. The tree symbol has however a prominent place in Christian thinking. The main four Christian tree symbols are: the two holy trees in the Garden of Eden (the tree of knowledge and the tree of life, Genesis 2: 8-24), the Tree of Life of the Apocalypse (Revelation 22: 2) and the Cross of Christ, which in Christian iconography is often depicted as the Tree of Life. The two Genesis trees stand for knowledge of good and evil and everlasting life, sin and exile from paradise. As the fall of man was attributed to the tree of knowledge in Eden so the tree of the Cross was equated with the Tree of Life as the means of redemption and resurrection. The tree of the Apocalypse is equated with the Tree of Life of Eden, but the Bible says it has “twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22: 2) In the Middle Ages Saint Bonaventura fused the apocalyptic Tree of Life with the Cross, giving the symbol a central position in the Christian cosmology. At about the same time, medieval monks recorded the myth of Yggdrasil, the world tree of ancient Norse mythology, as presented in the Poetic Edda’s. Yggdrasil stands at the centre of three cosmic planes. Its three great roots descend into a tripartite underworld: Hel, the land of the dead; the kingdom of the frost giants; and the underworld realm of the gods, the Aesir, where they assemble every day by the sacred spring of Fate, the Well of Urd, to sit in judgement and settle disputes. The trunk passes through the second plane, Midgard, Middle Earth, the land of mortals; and its branches ascend into Asgard, the heavenly world of the gods. At Ragnarök, the great tree is said to shake, bringing about the destruction of the gods and the world. However, concealed within its trunk are the seeds of the world’s renewal, in the form of a man and a woman, from whose union a new race will appear to repopulate the world. For Jung this meant that the tree symbol has a feminine and maternal significance as the seat of transformation and renewal. Sacred trees remain common in India. They are found in villages, in the countryside and sometimes in temples. Well known is the Bodhi tree, a large and very old sacred fig tree located in Bodh Gaya, under which Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, is said to have achieved enlightenment, or Bodhi. Bodhi trees are planted in close proximity to every Buddhist monastery. According to Hindu mythology, Ashvattha, the sacred fig is also a sacred tree for the Hindus. In the Bhagavad Gita, The Song of God, chapter 15, Sri Krishna says: Sages speak of the immutable ashvattha tree, with its taproot above and its branches below. On this tree grow the scriptures; seeing their source, one knows their essence. Nourished by the gunas, the limbs of this tree spread above and below. Sense objects grow on the limbs as buds; the roots hanging down bind us to action in this world. The true form of this tree – its essence, beginning, and end – is not perceived on this Earth. Cut down this strong-rooted tree with the sharp axe of detachment; then find the path which does not come back again. Seek That, the First Cause, from which the universe came long ago. This is a beautiful example of the tree symbol, ranging from an actual, worshipped tree to a transcendental image. The Indian inverted tree with its roots in the beyond has an interesting counterpart in medieval Spain. A group of medieval Jewish mystics claimed to be in possession of an ancient secret tradition concerning the meaning of the Jewish scriptures that is generally known as the Kabbalah. One of the earliest books in this tradition, the book Bahir, written around 1185, contains a major concept that is not found in any earlier Jewish source, namely the description of the divine world as an upside-down tree, its roots above and its branches growing downward, towards the earth. Later this concept was represented as a well known diagram in the form of a tree. The Kabbalah tree is generally known as the Tree of Life, since the most influential Kabbalistic text of all, the Book of Zohar by Moses of Leon, says: “Now the Tree of Life extends from above downwards, and is the sun which illuminates all.” The Tree is the light itself … An important place for the tree as symbol is found in the Gnostic and Hermetic tradition that connects the ancient world with modern analytical psychology. Jung wrote a book about this called the Philosophical Tree. “For [the] purpose [of comparative research into symbols] the investigator must turn back to those periods in human history when symbol formation still went on unimpeded, that is, when there was still no epistemological criticism of the formation of images, and when, in consequence, facts that in themselves were unknown could be expressed in definite form. The period of this kind closest to us is that of medieval natural philosophy, which reached its zenith in the seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth century gradually left the field to science. It attained its most significant development in alchemy and Hermetic philosophy. Here, as in a reservoir, were collected the most enduring and the most important mythologems of the ancient world.” Jung has called “the psychological development of the alchemical ‘opus’, which is a process of becoming conscious of archetypal symbols, as the philosophical tree. This is a ‘poetic’ comparison that draws an apt analogy between the natural growth of the psyche and that of a plant. The alchemical process aims at abolishing the dissociation of consciousness and the symbolic world; part of it involves the recognition of an alien ‘other’ in oneself, the objective presence of another will, a God, daemon, person, thing and the innermost secret of man.” Often associated with the symbolical tree are birds and a snake. “The tree corresponds to the passive, vegetative principle, the snake to the active, animal principle. The tree symbolizes earthbound corporeality, the snake emotionality and the possession of a soul. Without a soul the body is dead, and without a body the soul is unreal.” The Tree has an important place in Jung’s Septem Sermones ; Philemon teaches that numbers are gods, and the number three signifies the Tree of Life, “for it fills space with bodies. It is the Growing One, It greens by heaping up growing living matter. The Tree of Life grows with slow and constant increase through measureless periods of time. Good and evil unite in the growth of the tree.”
The Golden Flower
Now you may start to wonder what all this tree stuff has to do with the afterlife. When Jung had his dream of the Sacred Tree in 1927 he painted the mandala called ‘Window on Eternity’. A year later he painted another mandala, with a castle in the centre, and then he was approached by Richard Wilhelm for a commentary on a thousand-year old Taoist-alchemical treatise called The Secret of the Golden Flower. Jung recognized the golden flower as the tree of life and called the painting “the yellow castle, the germ of the immortal body.” Richard Wilhelm was a German missionary who seriously studied and translated the I Ching, the ancient Chinese oracle book, into German in 1924. It is a tool for divination and a book of wisdom in one and still very popular in China. Jung later provided a foreword to the text. I will come back to the I Ching later, but now we’re looking at The Secret of the Golden Flower, which deals with attaining immortality, a form of consciousness that survives death. Jung says in the introduction to the Golden Flower about a consciousness that has been freed from this world: “I have reasons for believing that this is a natural preparation for death, and sets in after middle life. Death is psychologically just as important as birth and, like this, is an integral part of life. It is not the psychologist who must be questioned as to what happens finally to the detached consciousness. (.…) He can only point out that the views of our text with respect to the timelessness of the detached consciousness, are in harmony with the religious thought of all times and with that of the overwhelming majority of mankind. As physician then, I make the greatest effort to fortify, so far as I have the power, a belief in immortality, especially in my older patients to whom such questions come menacingly near. If viewed correctly in the psychological sense, death, indeed, is not an end but a goal, and therefore life for death begins as soon as the meridian is passed. (….) The means to survive death of the body is the begetting and perpetuation of a psychic spirit-body ("subtle body"), the pneumatic man, known to the European from antiquity. (.…) It is the idea of the "diamond body", the indestructible breath-body which develops in the Golden Flower, or in square-inch space. This body is a symbol for a remarkable psychological fact, which, because it is objective, appears at first projected or expressed in forms furnished by the experiences of organic life, that is, as fruit, embryo, child, living body, etc. This fact could best be expressed in the words: It is not I who live, it lives me.” Yet Jung remains cautious when it comes to the question of survival of the human personality after death, pointing out that “the Chinese do not split the world in spirit and matter.”
Life After Death
In the eleventh chapter of Memories, Dreams, Reflections Jung states his ideas on life after death, recorded by Aniela Jaffé. From here I follow the contents of that chapter, with some excursions. Jung has never written expressly about a life after death in his academic publications, because he has no way of proving his ideas. So he tells his personal story, his myth, with the aid of hints sent to him from the unconscious – in dreams, premonitions, synchronicities, visions. This typically Jung: taking heed of everything but not judging, not discarding, no doctrines, but building a theory to be tested. As he puts it: “a man should be able to say he has done his best to form a conception of life after death (.…) in order to make his own life whole.” To counter the argument that this is just a compensating fantasy Jung says that “at least a part of the psyche is not subject to the laws of space and time,” as he had experienced himself. “The rationalistic picture of the universe is invalid, because incomplete.” “A complete picture of the world would require the addition of still another dimension.” So he’s speaking of the Beyond as outside time and space yet part of psychic wholeness, or the Self. In the memoirs Jung relates how several times the dead addressed crucial questions to him, as they did in the Septem Sermones. They seem to know only what they knew at the moment of their death. It is here that I think Jung is making a remarkable statement. He frequently had a feeling that “the dead are standing directly behind us, waiting to hear what answers we will give them, and what answer to destiny. As if omniconsciousness can only flow into the psyche of the living, into a soul bound to a body.” This is in opposition to Christian doctrine. Jung is saying that you can only come face to face with God while in the body, not in the Hereafter. It is the terrible truth that the crowd of the dead of the Septem Sermones do not like to hear, because they are Christians. From dreams Jung deduced that “the dead may demand a share of awareness which they failed to win in life.” Here Jung finds the significance for earthly life, man’s metaphysical task: to bring over “a maximum awareness at the time of his death.” Jung is cautious to warn against constructing a picture of the afterlife out of our three-dimensional world. Sometimes statements or images in dreams can point to irrepresentable realities beyond themselves. Or you can say – the other way around - that ideas from the Beyond represent themselves to us by using terms of our world. Jung illustrates this by amplification of the series of whole numbers: One, as the first numeral, is unity. But it is also “the unity,” the One, All-Oneness, individuality and non-duality – not a numeral but a philosophical concept, an archetype and attribute of God, the monad.” “The infinite series of natural numbers corresponds to the infinite number of individual creatures. That series likewise consists of individuals, and the properties even of its first ten members represent – if they represent anything at all – an abstract cosmogony derived from the monad. This illustrates how everyday simple things like numbers may point to another world. Jung is invoking the help of Pythagoras and ancient philosophy to present a picture of the universe that includes a ‘fourth dimension’, revealed by Sacred Numerology. Amplification in the psychological sense would put it that the unconscious is not part of space and time, and yet present in archetypal motifs, if one pays attention to them by active imagination, entering them so to say as doors. As another example of amplification Jung tells the story of a bedtime fantasy he had of a recently deceased friend, who seemed to beckon him to his library, pointing at a specific book. The next morning Jung checked it out in reality and found the book was titled ‘The Legacy of the Dead’. This example is mentioned in Erlendur Haraldssons book The Departed Among the Living when he illustrates the possible explanations for apparitions. As he says: “Either encounters with the dead are created by the minds of the perceivers, or the dead are making us aware of them by creating a sensory image in the mind of the living observers.” Jung accepts that there may be scientifically valid proof of an afterlife by parapsychological research, but he points out “that the question remains whether the ghost or the voice is identical with the dead person or is a psychic projection, and whether the things said really derive from the deceased or from knowledge which may be present in the unconscious.” But Haraldsson allows for a third possible explanation, namely the theory that “the experience is not only cognitive in nature but rather that the deceased person creates or materialises in some inexplicable way a physical form for a short period of time.” Well, that’s plain magic! Upon the death of his mother Jung experienced paradoxically a feeling of great grief and of happiness as with a wedding celebration. From the point of view of his ego it was a cruel loss, but from that of the psyche it was a blessing. In the light of eternity he says, “it is a wedding, a mysterium coniunctionis. The soul attains, as it were, its missing half, it achieves wholeness.” He illustrates this by referring to widespread Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Jewish and Christian customs of celebrating death. I would like to make a small excursion now to the Greek Mysteries of Eleusis, which were considered an initiation into the mystery of death and a celebration of good hope for a life after death.
The Mysteries of Eleusis
The Mysteries of Eleusis evolved from a prehistoric Greek harvest festival into the most respected form of pagan religious cult during the classical and Hellenistic ages. The Mysteries were devoted to the ‘Two Goddesses’, Demeter, the goddess of the grain, and her daughter Persephone or Kore, ‘the Maiden’. The image of the grain kernel which is sowed into the earth, emerges as ear and is harvested to be sowed again served as symbol for a circle of death, birth and renewal. Every year in September a procession of several thousand men, women and slaves went from ancient Athens to nearby Eleusis to celebrate the Mysteries for nine days. The rituals culminated in a nocturnal celebration, directed by the hierophant, ‘he who makes holy things appear’. The Mysteries were highly respected and several Roman emperors were initiated. The heart of the ritual was secret on pain of death. So we don’t know exactly what happened inside the sanctuary, but next to celebrating the gift of grain to mankind the Mysteries promised better hopes for a happy afterlife. An epitaph from around the year 200 states that what the hierophant has ‘shown’ in the sacred nights “is that death is not only not an evil, but good”. What did the initiates see to have such faith in life after death? There is frequent mention of light seen in the darkness of the initiation hall, and of the birth of a divine child. I feel there are strong connections to the Secret of the Golden Flower and the birth of the immortal body, appearing as symbols of organic life: fruit, embryo, child, living body, etc. If the initiates somehow had a glimpse of that at Eleusis, their lives must have been changed forever. The light of the Mysteries shines through in the philosophy of Plato. It shaped the religious feeling that underlies Socrates’ teachings on the immortality of the soul and it provided his students with the concept of a world beyond the physical universe. Plato was the first to voice the idea of what Jung would call the archetypes, the eternal forms, and the Monad as the source of all being. In the Republic he writes: My opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of the Good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual. The impact of the dialogues of Plato on Western thought can hardly be overestimated. In the Republic he also recounts the afterlife encounter of the soldier Er, who dies in battle. Ten days after his death, Er remains undecomposed. Two days later he revives on his funeral-pyre and tells of his journey in the afterlife, including an account of reincarnation and the celestial spheres of the astral plane. The tale introduces the idea that moral people are rewarded and immoral people punished after death. Plato said that reincarnation was told in the Mysteries of Eleusis and found ‘strong believers’ there. Although the Pythagoreans also believed in reincarnation, it wasn’t very general in antiquity and the Christian Church never embraced the idea. In India however the belief in reincarnation was less than two decades ago held by 92% of the population. In Jung’s words the East sees “the succession of birth and death (…) as an endless continuity, as an eternal wheel rolling on forever without a goal.” Jung had studied the concept of endless change with Richard Wilhelm and the I Ching.
For those of you not familiar with the I Ching, it is a Chinese oracle book. It contains a system of 64 hexagrams, six-line figures consisting of whole and broken lines. All hexagrams have a number and name and indicate a situation the subject is in according to the oracle. Each hexagram presents a description of this situation and advice on how to act to achieve positive result or avoid negative effects. The underlying idea is change: each situation will eventually change into another. The basic text of the I Ching was written around 700 BCE. The oracle was originally consulted with a bunch of fifty yarrow stalks and subsequently – and today mainly - with three coins. Handling the stalks or throwing the coins will produce a number, corresponding to a hexagram that reflects the situation of the diviner, thus giving an answer to the posed question; in case there are changing lines an additional hexagram is produced that indicates how the situation will develop. Jung used the I Ching with the stalks. In both cases, the medium is handled by the person asking the question. Although the procedure appears to produce results by chance one could argue the possibility of influence. It is the hand of the subject that controls the stalks or the coins, so the answer could be influenced by something controlling the diviner’s hand. It is practically impossible to consciously manipulate the outcome, but one may think of a subconscious influence on the hand or even something acting directly on the medium itself. The Chinese view is that there is no such thing as chance involved with the I Ching divination and that the result of the procedure is always meaningful. Here we find a fundamental difference of approach to reality between East and West. Studying and working with the I Ching helped Jung to develop the concept of ‘synchronicity’, meaningful coincidence. Synchronicity connects things in time in a a-causal way and therefore points to an unknown third, the Unconscious. The concept has outlived Jung and is quite popular today. For Jung the attitude that comes with the synchronistic worldview bridges East and West: “Only in astrology, alchemy, and the mantic procedures do we find no difference of principle between our attitude and the Chinese.” Jung’s student Marie-Louise Von Franz explains this by pointing to the fact that “in astrology, prognostic dreams and divination by the I Ching actual events are never predicted, but only the quality of possible events.” The I Ching leaves room for free will, but only within the framework of an endless cycle of change, a law of nature. “To Western man”, says Jung, “the meaninglessness of an eternal cycle of events is unbearable; he must assume that it has meaning.” Plato followed Pythagoras when he described the world and its creation in the Timaeus as a cosmos, a thing of beauty and harmonious. It is the idea that we live in the best of all possible worlds, the manifestation of the idea of the Good, and that there is a goal to live for. To the East, there is no goal; “the Oriental strives for fulfilment of meaning in man, stripping the world and existence from himself”, as the Buddha did. Jung interprets this as the difference between an extravert and introvert attitude.
Jung could well imagine that he might have lived in former centuries and there encountered questions he was not yet able to answer and that he had to be born again because he had not fulfilled the task that was given to him, what the East would call not fulfilled his karma. There is no word in Western languages that covers the meaning of karma, yet most people seem to understand its meaning. I would like to relay some remarks on karma by Jung and by Frederic Myers, afterlife researcher of the London Society. Jung says in his autobiography that it might happen that he would not be reborn again so long as the world needed no such answer, and that he would be entitled to several hundred years of peace after death. Although Jung is careful not to make any definite statement, the fact that he is sharing this piece of ‘imagination’ with us means a lot, I think. But he doesn’t picture that after death “we shall be spirited to some lovely flowering meadow, [but rather it] will be grand and terrible, like God and like all of nature that we know. [Even if there is bliss,] there will be darkness too, and a strange cessation of human warmth.” Now we come to a passage in the chapter on the Afterlife that is more revealing than anything he has written so far. It seems probable to me that in the hereafter, too, there exist certain limitations, but that the souls of the dead only gradually find out where the limits of the liberated state lie. Somewhere “out there” there must be a determinant, a necessity conditioning the world, which seeks to put an end to the after-death state. This creative determinant – so I imagine it – must decide what souls will plunge again into birth. Well, this is something to ponder; death may be a supernatural holiday on karma budget! But the question remains what exactly survives death. Jung repeats his standpoint that “we lack concrete proof that anything of us is preserved for eternity. At most we can say that there is some probability that something of our psyche continues beyond physical death.” Jung argues that, just as the insane hear personified voices, whatever survives of us may be conscious of itself as a person. In my words that means we may become ghosts. Now I would like you to meet the ghost of Frederic Myers. Jung was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, founded in London in 1882. The Society was very important in bringing about scientific research of occult phenomena, for instance the appearances of the deceased. During a lecture given to the Society in 1919, Jung said: "I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as fraud." That has become the motto of the Society. One of the founding members was Frederic Myers, born in 1843, a poet and afterlife researcher. Myers at sixteen read Plato’s Phaedo, which affected a kind of conversion upon him. Not only is the Phaedo about the immortality of the soul, it also presents learning as remembering knowledge from a previous existence, anamnesis. Myers life was dominated by the classics until he visited Greece in 1864 and he realised it was a vanished world. Then he turned to Christianity and Darwinism before he came to his own convictions about life after death. In 1882 Myers coined the term telepathy, which included communications between the living and the dead. In 1903, after Myers' death, his book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death was published. It presents Myers' research into what he called the ‘subliminal self’ in 1360 pages, often based on sessions with psychic mediums. Within a few weeks of Myers’ death in 1901, mediums in England, The United States and India received messages from a spirit claiming to be Frederic Myers. The Irish medium Geraldine Cummins received between 1924 and 1931 by automatic writing a complete description of the afterlife world from this spirit, filling some 250 pages. The style and content is consistent with writings we have from Myers. It comes naturally to imagine that the spirit of Frederic Myers, having spent so much effort on afterlife research, would be likely to attempt to communicate his experiences to the living. Of course there is no proof that the spirit is Myers and as always some people do suspect that Cummins is a fraud. She published the communications by Myers in two books, The Road to Immortality and Beyond Human Personality. To say the least, it makes fascinating reading. Myers says we live on seven Planes of Existence beginning with the Plane of Matter. After death we pause in Hades before entering the Plane of Illusion, and we may progress through the Planes of Colour, Pure Flame and Pure Light to the Monad in a state of timelessness. It somehow reminds me of Jung´s 1932 seminar on the seven chakras. On karma Myers’ spirit writes: When I talk of my spiritual forebears I do not speak of my physical ancestors, I speak of those soul-ancestors who are bound to me by one spirit. There may be contained within that spirit twenty souls, a hundred souls, a thousand souls. The number varies. It is different for each man. But what the Buddhist would call the karma I had brought with me from a previous life is, very frequently, not that of my life, but of the life of a soul that preceded me by many years on earth and left for me the pattern which made my life. I, too, wove a pattern for another of my group during my earthly career. (…) I shall not live again on earth, but a new soul, one who will join our group, will shortly enter into the pattern or karma I have woven for him on earth. It is an interesting interpretation of karma, not individual karma, nor genetic burden but patterns woven by souls in time. But is this Frederic Myers speaking from the Beyond, or is it a fake by Geraldine Cummins? I think Cummins is giving us a detailed picture of Myers’ inner world, very Platonic and poetic; it would be very hard to make that up. However, some passages raise serious doubts so I would like to call it a ‘mixed bag’.
To the other shore
Jung concludes his chapter on the Afterlife with two dreams, where “the unconscious represents the generator of the empirical personality”. Our world is experienced as “a kind of illusion, like a dream which seems a reality as long as we are in it, (…) the Oriental conception of Maya.” The first example of the reversed generation of reality is Jung’s dream of an UFO, which had a form like a magic lantern. Half asleep the thought came to him that the UFO projected him, not the other way around. In the other dream Jung enters a wayside chapel, where he finds a yogi meditating. The yogi has Jung’s face. He awakes with the thought: “Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream, and I am it. When he awakens, I will no longer be.” Now I feel we have come to the other shore. We are no longer asking if ghosts are real and if there is life beyond death, we are asking is we are real and if this world is not just an illusion. The chapter on the Afterlife closes with “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.” These cryptic words serve as a bridge to the next chapter, ‘Late Thoughts’, where Jung reflects on the opposites within the God image, good and evil. The chapter ends by admitting that besides the realm of reflection there is another realm, that of Eros, hardly spoken of, “the creator of all higher consciousness, a daimon who rules from the endless spaces of the heavens to the dark abysses of hell.” I feel I should mention that Jung also does not say very much in his autobiography on the Christian concept of the afterlife, although he was a Christian; nor does he say much on the esoteric tradition of the ‘astral body’, although he studied astrology. Having said what wasn’t there, I would now like to recall the steps we’ve taken on ‘Jung and the Beyond’. We started out with the Jung the psychiatrist who was very much aware of the power of the unconscious on people and their surroundings; he was open to but suspicious of occult phenomena, describing them as ‘exteriorisations’. As he plunged into his inner world after breaking with Freud, he discovered the reality of the psyche: spirits like Philemon that had a life of their own. He encountered a crowd of spirits of the dead, shouting: We have come back from Jerusalem, where we did not find what we sought. Jung his inner experiences were the base material for his academic output, taking the mandala as a symbol of the centre and individuation as a path to the self, the goal of psychic development. Then the Sacred Tree of Liverpool came up as a symbol of the self depicted as a process of growth. Jung’s break from isolation came with the recognition of the similarity of these symbols and those of Chinese and Western alchemy. In 1944 he experienced liberating visions on the edge of death. Afterwards he felt we live in a three-dimensional boxlike universe especially set up for us to do our task, to answer the questions life poses us. Near the end of life he dreams life is in fact a dream. After his wife died in 1955, Carl Jung spent much time in the garden of their home at Bollingen, on the shores of Lake Zürich. He would often read and rest in the shade of a magnificent old poplar tree during the summer months. It became one of his favourite places during his later years. Jung died on the afternoon of June 6th, 1961. A few days before Jung had seen the Philosophers’ stone in a dream. That was the fulfilment of his life’s quest for understanding man and his symbols. While taking his final breaths, a great storm erupted around lake Zurich. A bolt of lightning cleaved the sky, striking and splitting into two the poplar tree under which he had spent much time. To me that signifies that Jung had completed his metaphysical task: to bring over a maximum awareness at the time of his death. And so, if you ask me, I think he is still here, and – to cite Haraldsson - he “might be ‘just around the corner’ and a part of us.”
Light of Eleusis
Excerpt from an essay for the MA on Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred of Canterbury Christ Church University on the Mysteries of Eleusis.
The goddess Demeter had two gifts for mankind: the golden grain as the basis of civilized life and the Mysteria that held the promise of ‘better hopes’ for a happy afterlife. One is tempted to think this involves food for the body and food for the soul. We know nothing for certain about the afterlife, just as we know nothing for certain about the secret of the Mysteria.
I believe that some of the mystai saw the light of eternity. Plato writes: “There was a time when with the rest of the happy band they saw beauty shining in brightness – we philosophers following in the train of Zeus, others in company with other gods; and then we beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence before we had any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy, which we beheld shining in pure light”. The whole nine-day initiation gives me the impression of having been directed towards experiencing life as a divine gift, from procreation to eternity. Whatever the hierophant was able to make appear in the Telesterion must have been very profound. The Eleusinian hope for life beyond the death of the body can only be explained if the vision somehow referred to the source of all creation, matter and soul, male nor feminine. That would be very much in accord with Plato, whose beatific vision is the vision of the Good. I think the Mysteria of Eleusis provided the soil out of which Platonic philosophy grew and therefore its mystery lives on in Western thought and arts.
I Ching: chance and change
Excerpt from an essay for the MA on Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred of Canterbury Christ Church University.
The Book of Changes, usually called the I Ching , is a Chinese oracle book. It contains a system of 64 hexagrams, six-line figures consisting of whole and broken lines. There are 26 = 64 possible combinations, and thus 64 hexagrams. All hexagrams have a number and name and indicate a situation the subject is in according to the oracle. Each hexagram is presented with a description of this situation and an advice on how to act to achieve positive result or avoid negative effects.
It is generally taken to be the Chinese view that there is no such thing as chance involved with the I Ching divination and that the result of the procedure is meaningful, even if not apparent. The I Ching text has a peculiar attitude towards free will. Hellmut Wilhelm writes in his book Change. Eight Lectures on the I Ching : “From this comprehensiveness of Tao, embracing both macrocosm and microcosm, the Book of Changes derives the idea that man is at the centre of events; the individual who is conscious of responsibility is on a par with the cosmic forces of heaven and earth. The individual must adjust to the fated order of heaven and earth, and only then does the framework of reference emerge within which action is possible and is demanded” . So there is only real free will within the framework of fate. Hellmut Wilhelm finds this a natural attitude for the Chinese.
The ‘Book of Changes’ has at its heart the concept of change. The 64 hexagrams were conceived as symbols of the successive stages in the ever moving cycle of universal change. While in Europe pure Being is taken as fundamental, the decisive factor in Chinese thought is the recognition of change as the essence. The I Ching makes change itself the centre of observation and recognizes time as an essential factor in the structure of the world and in the development of the individual. The concept of change of the I Ching has as its opposite reversal, regression, things going against nature. Lama Govinda says: “The dark begets the light and the light begets the dark in ceaseless alternation, but that which begets this alternation, that to which all life owes its existence, is Tao with its law of change”.