This is Post 4 in the ‘Mandala of Love’ book blog series.
Carl Jung was a psychiatrist, and he started his professional life working in large psychiatric institutions. He was a student of the neurologist Sigmund Freud who was developing his psychoanalytic method of treatment at that time. Jung had a close friendship with Freud, but his voracious appetite for understanding lead him to his own distinctive style of psychological thinking, which is of great importance for the modern world. His Analytical Psychology was distinguished two powerful concepts: the archetypes; and the collective unconscious.
Because of his pragmatism and alignment with the emerging scientific materialism in medicine, Freud’s more reductive approach was subsequently more widely adopted during the 20th Century. Jung was altogether more ambitious. It is as if he was writing for the 21st Century – and specifically setting himself against both the scientific materialism and religious fundamentalism of the 20th Century. His perspective was, I believe, aiming to be much more comprehensive and – despite his careful efforts to avoid metaphysical speculation – more spiritual.
Jung the Scientist of the Inner World
While Jung was in some ways actually more rigorously scientific and forward looking than Freud, he was also looking back to the roots of psychology in the literature, mythology and psychological reflections of the classical, medieval and Renaissance periods. His archetypes can be thought of as the eternal principles at work in human psychology, and also as the collective psychological forces at work in nations and human groups – forces that the ancients projected onto their gods.
Initially modest in his aims, and seeing himself primarily as a psychotherapist, Jung was later prompted by his dreams to recognise, and to acknowledge more and more fully in the course of life, that he was contributing to, and playing an important part in, a much larger project, one that wise men and women have been engaged in for centuries – the pursuit of the universal knowledge that underlies and finds expression in all genuine spirituality. He came to see a need for a wide dissemination of this knowledge of the collective dimension of psychology, not only to those interested in psychotherapy, but to anyone in the world who might wish to use it for guidance in artistic, cultural, spiritual, religious, or literary endeavours.
Those who are familiar with Jungian thought will be aware that Jung’s original psychotherapy training school was in Zurich, Switzerland, but that there have been a range of different Jungian psychotherapy training schools around the world. This has meant that there is a strand at one end of the spectrum of Jungian thought where Jung’s ideas have been skilfully brought together with the best of psychoanalytic thought, while at the other end there is a group of thinkers and writers who, while they are very often also practicing psychotherapists, are more engaged with the wider culture, as Jung was towards the end of his life.
This latter group are identified by the term Archetypal Psychology, a term originated by James Hillman to distinguish this broader, that more culturally engaged, and in some respects more ‘pagan’ approach. The characteristic feature of all the Jungian and post-Jungian psychologies is the inclusion of a collective or archetypal dimension. Nowadays transpersonal psychologies, literary criticism, and spiritual traditions like that of Rudolf Steiner, that owe nothing directly to Jung, having developed in parallel, will nevertheless use Jung’s term archetype when referring to transpersonal forces and their associated imagery. While I have tried, in these blog posts, to use the term archetype with at least some of the intellectual rigour that Jung brought to it, and while I acknowledge the contribution of Hillman and his group, I also acknowledge that I, like many others, have come to use both the term archetype, and the term archetypal psychology, in a wider colloquial sense which I hope Carl Jung (and James Hillman) would be comfortable with.
Jung and Tibetan Buddhism
Interestingly, Tibetan Buddhism is understood by many of its practitioners as an ancient Tibetan form of archetypal psychology rather than as a religion. Carl Jung, in his study of the Bardo Thodol (the Tibetan Book of the Dead), and in his fascination with the subtle non-theistic religious psychology of Tibetan Buddhism, anticipated the world’s current fascination with that tradition. He was deeply engaged by that mysterious book, entering its imaginal landscape and exploring it deeply, and this study powerfully reinforced his convictions about the underlying universal spirituality.
Perhaps even more importantly his study of, and writing about, the mandala archetype contributed to his understanding of the nature of the ever-present egoic shadow – the potential for evil in the human psyche. The Bardo Thodol had a similar effect on me, when I first studied it with my Buddhist teachers in my 20s, but it is Carl Jung who has been my guide as I have reflected on it over the decades.
The Mandala of the Five Buddhas
The central image of the Bardo Thodol is the image of the ‘Mandala of the Five Peaceful Buddhas’. I, like Jung, see this mandala as a map of the Divine, and as one of the richest expressions of the universal mandala archetype to be found. The Buddhas of that mandala are not historical spiritual teachers like Gautama Buddha. Rather they are archetypal Buddhas, mythic Buddhas, Buddhas that from a historical perspective emerged in the iconography of Mahayana Buddhism, but from archetypal perspective have always existed – as spontaneously arising personifications of the experience of Consciousness.
In the next post I shall be talking briefly about Mahayana Buddhism before moving on to an initial exploration of the mandala archetype.
© William Roy Parker 2017