How Indian Philosophy Influenced Jung

“Whatever is here, the same is over there;
and what is over there is also right here.
From death to death he goes,
who sees any kind of diversity.
For that is this.
With your mind alone you must understand it –
there is here no distinction at all!” – Katha Upanishad II.1

“Brahman is the union and dissolution of all opposites, and at the same time stands outside them as an irrational factor. It is therefore wholly beyond cognition and comprehension.” – Jung: Psychological Types §330

“Although Brahman, the world-ground and world-creator, created the opposites, they must nevertheless be cancelled out in it again…” – Jung: Psychological Types §329

By Ryan Smith

In Psychological Types, Jung hints that the spiritual development of the personality is the fifth mental function that stands outside of the mundane interplay of the functions as a type of meta-function. To activate this meta-function in the psyche, one must, develop the spiritual facilities in one’s personality.

junghyouSpirituality is not religion – one can be spiritual without being religious; religious without being spiritual; one can be both, or one can be neither.

Philosophically, Carl Jung was a solipsist. Although his stated degree of support for this position waxed and waned, the solipsism was always there. Solipsism is the philosophical belief that one’s own subjective consciousness is the only thing that is real. With regard to Jungian typology, this belief has the practical implication that if solipsism is true, then all the functions are equally valid, just as all psychic perceptions of phenomena are equally ‘true.’[1] This would seem to be the inevitable conclusion that rears its head at us from much of Jung’s work.[2] Hence, one reason that Indian philosophy was so appealing to Jung was that there, in the meditative traditions of the East, he believed he had found a philosophical method of investigation that gave priority to the exploration of human consciousness over the materialistic and ‘extroverted’ mode that he saw as dominant in the West.

Brahman Eludes Us When the Functions Polarize

“A division … that is carried to the extreme … makes man, who is not a machine but many-sided, sick. The opposites should be evened out in the individual.” – Jung: Personal Letter to Hans Schmid-Guisan[3]

According to Jung, the further we go back in history, the fainter the concept of individuality will be, and the closer we get to our own time, the more clearly defined the concept of individuality will be.[4] With regard to typology, this meant, for Jung, that the functions are over-separated in the psyche of us moderns. Jung furthermore believed that this over-separation, where each function is clearly differentiated and separated into a dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, or inferior level in the psyche, is actually a source of psychological unhealth.[5]

In his studies of Indian philosophy, Jung found the spiritual concept of an all-encompassing, highest consciousness, namely Brahman, and in Psychological Types, Jung uses the concept of Brahman to represent the meta-cognitive, ineffable integration of the functions that emerges when the personality is developed enough to go beyond the opposites that are inherent in the functions.[6]

To this end, Jung warns the student who wishes to realize Brahman against the dangers of regarding the scientific worldview as comprehensive (and as fact would have it, there is indeed no scientific proof that the scientific worldview can be rendered exhaustive).[7] Jung’s point here is not that he is against science as such; he simply recommends that we regard it as a way of knowing, rather than as the only way of knowing. According to Jung, regarding science and logic (or any other one-sided perspective for that matter) as the only possible mode of inquiry shuts the conscious mind off from the totality of psychic life, thus causing the highest form of consciousness to elude us.

As an example of what happens when the functions over-separate, Jung mentioned Friedrich Nietzsche as a thinker whose Intuitive and Thinking functions were separated too greatly from his Feeling and Sensation functions. Lacking any conception of Brahman as a spiritual mediator of psychic life, Nietzsche was eventually led to declare himself his own god.[8] However, according to Jung, the overly active distinction between the functions that was active in Nietzsche’s psyche could not be upheld, and the neglected functions of Sensation and Feeling eventually came crashing into consciousness through Nietzsche’s spasmodic and pseudo-religious championing of the Dionysian.[9]

Jung’s Examination of Brahman in ‘Psychological Types’

In Psychological Types Jung discusses the Indian concept of supreme consciousness (Brahman) as a fifth function (or rather meta-function) that regulates the interplay of opposites in the psyche. Jung treats Brahman approvingly, and he regards it as a means (if not the means) to mediate the oppositional character of the functions and for the individual to develop his personality beyond the tyranny of the individual type (each of the 16 types being really a limitation on consciousness, sorted according to the functions).

To Jung, Indian concepts such as rta and dharma possess a purity and arcane quality that are virtually unknown in the West. One reason for the potency of these concepts, according to Jung, is that they owe their origin to the introverted traditions of the East which quell the psychic noise of the opposites through meditation. In deep trance-like states, the wise men of the East realize a type of consciousness that is beyond functions, allowing them to unearth insights of the greatest arcane significance from the depths of the Collective Unconscious.[10] Hence in Jung’s view, Indian concepts like rta and dharma are purer as archetypes than the ones that are seen in the West (such as ‘The Trickster’ or ‘The Wise Old Woman’) since our archetypes are still embodied in human form, whereas Indian concepts have reached the stage of pure ideas.

However, though Jung grants the Indian archetypes a greater degree of conceptual purity than their Western counterparts, he nevertheless disagrees with Indian traditions such as Buddhism and Vedanta when these traditions assert that the individual is able to achieve complete liberation from the personal ego the way that Vedantins achieve moksa or Buddhists achieve nirvana. On this point of disagreement, Jung’s philosophical outlook is distinctly Western in the sense that he asserts that any complete negation of the personal ego is by definition impossible. As Jung would have it, should a Hindu or Buddhist master actually succeed in shedding the personal ego entirely, he would soon find himself in a state of psychic death.

indiaAs I just said, Jung’s argument against the possibility of nirvana or moksa is that it is by definition impossible. And though he warned us against trusting too much in reason or science as the only ways of knowing, Jung’s argument against the possibility of a state of consciousness devoid of the personal ego actually seems to do just that: Jung appears to draw the logical distinction between a subject-bound experience of reality and then reality-in-itself, as first drawn by Immanuel Kant, and then concludes that, by definition, insofar as there exists a supreme mode of consciousness in which the personal ego does not exist, “we do not exist.”[11] In other words, Jung agrees that there is such a state as supreme consciousness beyond the functions (Brahman), but he denies that this state is devoid of the notion of a personal ego.

However, the Vedic seers of the Upanishads had already addressed arguments such as Jung’s more than a thousand years before he voiced them. According to the Vedantins, in the supreme state of consciousness, we are beyond the mundane reifying functions that provide us with skewed perceptions and judgments fitted to the understanding of our personal subject. In this state we perceive only Brahman as the singular and supreme object, devoid of all difference. And it follows, then, that in this state of consciousness, the personal subject, too, is simply a part of the supreme One; the unity that has no duality and no knower. In other words, it is a state of consciousness where the knower gets lost in the known.[12] In this consciousness there is only a supreme intuition without the slightest trace of distinction between subject and object, thus leaving no place for the personal ego at all.

Jung between Ego and Self, Atman and Brahman

“…for the ego gropes in darkness while the Self lives in light…” – Katha Upanishad I.3

As we have seen, while Jung accepted the existence of Brahman as a psychic entity capable of regulating the opposites of the psyche, he denied the Indian conception that the personal ego can fuse with Brahman, thus negating the existence of the personal ego altogether. That was not Jung’s only point of divergence. While Jung did perhaps postulate Brahman as a meta-function in Psychological Types, he nevertheless found himself in disagreement with the Vedic seers of India who had seen Brahman as a completely transcendental object, which was indeed the only true object, and which was devoid of all distinction. For Jung’s part, he preferred to think of Brahman as having separated into multiple instances of the same basic form, similar to how DNA has the same basic structure in all individuals but we nevertheless speak of each individual as having his own DNA, rather than conceiving of DNA as a single super-entity that is essentially the same in all individuals.[13] Hence, while the Indians say there is one Brahman that is a supreme transcendental object devoid of distinction and multiplicity, Jung saw Brahman as a diversified entity, spread onto each instance of life in the cosmos, somewhat like how DNA is active in encoding the genetic instructions in all living organisms.

From the perspective of Indian philosophy, Jung’s version of Brahman is neutered and “made safe” to protect his dearly-held notion of the personal ego. According to Vedanta philosophy, the world may indeed appear to be multifaceted and dualistic to us, but as the Katha Upanishad says, in the supreme mode of consciousness we look upon the world and ascertain that “there is here no distinction at all!” Indeed, from the standpoint of Vedanta, mistaking the apparent multiplicity of the world for the actual truth about Brahman is one of the hallmarks of spiritual ignorance.[14] To the individual who has realized Brahman, the seeming multiplicity of colors and sounds that surrounds us is really no more than a series of dream objects. True insight removes the false multiplicity to reveal that there is only the supreme object of Brahman that is completely without distinction or difference.

Another way in which Jung drew on Indian ideas was in connection with his well-known distinction between the ego and the Self. The Jungian opposition between the ego and the Self has become very popular, and has even made it into pop culture and instances of New Age literature that have nothing to do with Jung or Jungian circles at all.

According to Jung, the Self is defined as the true center of the individual’s total consciousness (defined as the person’s ego consciousness + his personal unconscious + the Collective Unconscious) in the same way that the ego is the center of ordinary consciousness (defined as ego-consciousness alone). Regarding the genealogy of these ideas, it is not unfair to say that Jung appropriated the distinction between Atman and Brahman from Indian philosophy and repackaged the borrowed concepts to serve as ego [Atman] and Self [Brahman] in his own work.

When we briefly discussed the concepts of rta and dharma above, we saw that Jung gave precedence to his theory of the Collective Unconscious when accounting for their explanatory power: Rather than granting that these ideas were unusually compelling in their own right, Jung posited that they owed their appeal to their unique relation to his own concept of the Collective Unconscious. In the same way, when appropriating the concepts of Atman and Brahman for his own use, Jung would deny that he had merely repackaged them from Indian philosophy: Embarking upon a line of argument that posited the Collective Unconscious to be primordial to other ideas as he did, Jung claimed that Atman and Brahman were really “universal ideas” of which the Indians had furnished but one possible proof. Hence in Jung’s view, he was not merely repackaging Indian ideas, but giving expression to “universal ideas,” which in his versions were uniquely adapted to the psychological temperament and intellectual climate of the West.[15]

One may legitimately ask whether it was really necessary to refurbish the Indian concepts to fit with a Western agenda the way Jung does. One particularly dark perspective, which has been levelled at Jung in the past, is that he needlessly reinvented several Indian and Chinese concepts and then presented them to the West as his own ideas.[16] What Jung’s genuine motives were in this regard we cannot know for certain, but whatever may be the case, it is certainly true that today many of the concepts that Jung acquired from Indian philosophy are often referred to as Jungian concepts with no mention of Oriental influences or Indian philosophy whatsoever.

Functions Unite in the Self, not in the Ego

As we have seen, Jung (1) acknowledged Brahman as a meta-function capable of reuniting the functions in the psyche, thus enabling him to achieve a state of consciousness beyond the individual type, but (2) denied that such a state of difference-less consciousness could ever entail liberation from the personal ego. In other words, Jung would agree that we can go beyond the constrictions of consciousness set for us by our psychological type, but he would maintain that, even in this state of supreme consciousness that lies beyond types, there would still be the notion of a personal ego as this concept has usually been defined in the Western tradition. Though the two concepts are somewhat confounded in Jung’s typology (the ego usually being identified with the top three functions), the personal type is not all that there is to the notion of a personal ego: At a deeper level, there is also the notion of the ego as a structure-imposing agent that reifies and delimits external occurrences, allowing them to be perceived as objects, and imposes subject-object distinctions upon psychic perceptions, allowing us to perceive ourselves as different from the world around us.

As the initiator of this discussion in modern times, Descartes had said that the only thing we can be sure of is our own cognitive activity. Adding to that, Kant had postulated that the categories by which we experience reality are inherent in us, not in the things in themselves. Finally, Freud had said that the delineating consciousness functions not just by breaking undifferentiated reality down into impersonal and seemingly objective categories, but that the ego also keeps specific intra-psychic contents out of consciousness as a means of economy and defense. It is this quintessentially Western conception of the ego that Jung regards as indispensable to the concept of psychic life and which he denies that the supreme consciousness of Brahman can ever blot out.[17] To go quickly:

  • Rene Descartes (1596-1650) introduced a method of radical doubt in his books Discourse on Method and Meditations. In these books, Descartes resolves to doubt everything that can possibly be doubted. Senses can be doubted, of course, as can notions about objects existing in time and space. Likewise, dreams and hallucinations can present us with illusory information about the real. According to Descartes, however, there is one thing that human beings cannot doubt: The fact that we are having thoughts. Even if the entirety of the mental contents in our cognition is an illusion, the thoughts about the illusion must still be there. “The thoughts exist,” reasons Descartes, “and therefore the thinker must also exist.” Hence his famous dictum, I think therefore I am. Descartes’ examinations into the nature of cognition and his acceptance of the cogito – the ‘I’ – as the foundation of all further knowledge form the backdrop for later Western conceptions of the ego.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) analyzed and mapped out the innate cognitive predispositions that are connected with human cognition and demonstrated by means of logic how our faculty of reason must by definition be insufficient to make sense of the whole of reality “in itself” (i.e. as it exists independently of our cognitive apprehension of it). “What we can know,” says Kant, ”is really only our own rendition of reality, broken down into comprehensible categories like space and time – not reality in itself.” According to Kant, reality as it exists apart from our human cognition of it must forever remain beyond our grasp. While we may have insight into some semblance of the real, the totality of the real can never be comprehensively rendered by the finite capacities of human cognition.
  • Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939) contribution to the Western conception of the ego consisted of two main parts: One is the image of the ego as akin to the myth of the charioteer from Plato’s Phaedrus, where the ‘I’ corresponds to a charioteer that must steer a chariot pulled by both a dark horse (representing appetites and desires) and a white horse (representing ‘spiritedness’ and honor).[18] Here, by analogy, the Freudian concept of the ‘I’ is akin to the charioteer, suspended between drives and instincts (the dark horse or Id) and ethics and morality (the white horse or Superego). Freud’s second contribution, as already hinted, was to point out how the ego blots out information that it technically already possesses (such as the memory of childhood abuse) in order to keep functioning normally and prevent itself from being overpowered by the weight of one’s negative memories and insights.

It is this specifically Western conception of the ego that Jung perpetuates, albeit in his own unique synthesis of the concepts handed down to him:

  • From Descartes (directly or indirectly), Jung took the idea that the knowing ‘I’ is the starting point for all knowledge and experience and that one’s own personal consciousness is something that one can be more certain of than external objects and phenomena.
  • From Kant, Jung took the opposition between the contents of subjective consciousness, which can be known, and the totality of objective reality, the accurate cognition of which lies beyond the limits of ordinary human consciousness.
  • From Freud, Jung took the notion of the ‘I’ as not just an epistemological, but also a psychological agent, while leaving behind the Freudian contention that the ego is inherently antagonistic towards the unconscious (and vice versa).

In his review of Indian ideas, Jung censured the Indians for being “pre-Kantian”;[19] i.e. for believing that they could rid themselves of the confines of the subjective and limited personal ego and accurately cognize the totality of objective reality through contact with Brahman. It is true that the Indians have never proven that their postulated state of supreme consciousness is comprehensive or even possible. But on the other hand, neither Jung, nor Descartes, nor Kant ever proved their assertion that a thinker was necessary for the experience of thought.[20] With both sides lacking in proof, the question remains a metaphysical one; a matter of taste in ideas. Even Jung would admit that he believed his argument to be true by definition, rather than by way of any actual proof.[21]

Mystical Experiences in Indian Philosophy and Jung

“You see, I am not a philosopher. … I am a medical man. I deal with facts. This cannot be emphasized too much.” – Jung: Personal Interview given in 1952[22]

“I am an empiricist and I am concerned with facts. The thinking of [my] critics is two-dimensional, and they have no respect for psychological facts.” – Jung: Personal Interview given in 1955[23]

“I am an empiricist with no metaphysical views at all.” – Jung: Personal Interview given in 1959[24]

A point that we have previously covered on the site is that whenever Jung was accused of being “mystical,” or a speculative metaphysician, he would defend himself by claiming that he was merely an empiricist “following the facts” that had presented themselves to him in his medical practice. Quite aside from the glaring question of why no other psychiatrist ever arrived at the same conclusions by “merely following the facts,” there is also some confusion of definitions here: Today empiricism is commonly taken to mean that the veracity of one’s claims can be demonstrated by means of controlled, repeatable experiments, and in that sense, Jung was certainly no empiricist.

santoneYet in another, more traditional sense, empiricism refers to a methodological outlook where one orientates oneself by experience, following raw experience and mental impressions wherever they lead without recourse to reason-based interpretations of these experiences by way of first principles and pre-conceived thought-categories to moderate one’s conclusions. This is the sense in which Indian philosophers, from both Vedanta and Buddhist lineages, can be called empiricists (the Buddha, especially, can be called an empiricist since he refused to answer metaphysical questions, citing as his reason that the answer was not given in experience). It is in this experience-based sense of the term ‘empiricism’ that Jung, too, can legitimately be called an empiricist, since he certainly did seem to follow the gist of his own impressions wherever they led him (even when they led him to contradict himself).

Jung rarely cared much for controlled experiments or the scientific method, and his choice of subjects often led him to speculate on matters which escape all means of scientific testing.[25] As a result, one might have expected Jung to be sympathetic to the Indian philosophers of Buddhism and Vedanta, since their claims were the children of a method and epistemological outlook that resembled his own. However, that was not quite the case: As we have already seen in this essay, Jung categorically denied the contention set forth by the Indians that there is such a thing as a supreme state of consciousness akin to nirvana or moksa where the subject is completely liberated from the influence of the personal ego. The Indian “evidence” for the claim of nirvana or moksa was that this egoless state had been revealed to them by way of direct experience, in other words, by the very same way of knowing that Jung always deferred to when charged with the fact that there was no hard evidence for his theory of the Archetypes or Collective Unconscious. “My proof,” replied Jung on more than one occasion, “is that the evidence supporting these theories was given to me in experience.” As Jung would have it, his critics were two-dimensional rationalists with no respect for the “psychological facts” of direct experience.

All the more surprising, then, to find that in refuting the “empirical” findings of Indian philosophy, Jung would suddenly become a rationalist himself. In Jung’s own words: “[The Indians] do not recognize that a ‘universal consciousness’ is a contradiction in terms, since exclusion, selection, and discrimination are the root and essence of everything that lays claim to the name ‘consciousness.’”[26] In other words, the personal ego must by definition be present, even in the experience of nirvana or moksa, since otherwise we would lack the faculties of discrimination that the Western philosophers have postulated to inhere in the ego.[27] Jung, the self-styled empiricist who was “not a philosopher,” and who only dealt with “the facts of experience,” has now suddenly become a consummate rationalist and even a pure-blooded Cartesian to boot!

Besides the self-styled empiricist’s complete surrender to rationalism, another incredible thing about Jung’s repudiation of Indian philosophy is the fact that Jung’s own claims are far more elaborate than those of the Indians. The Vedic seers contended themselves with one major concept, namely Brahman, which is a supreme state of consciousness that is devoid of duality and distinction and at the same time the source of all the cosmos. But Jung, on the whole, was far more licentious, postulating not just the Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, but also the Anima and Animus, insight into the Kantian noumenon, the Self, the Shadow, and a whole range of other unfalsifiable concepts. And when faced with the objection that there was no scientific proof for these theories, Jung always defended himself by claiming that the proof of these concepts was given in experience.[28] In other words, Jung himself made profligate use of the same epistemological method that he denied the Indians.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Jung held a bizarre double standard on this point: He defended himself by pleading empiricism when others accused him of being unscientific, yet chided the Indians for making use of the same approach when he did not agree with their conclusions.

Jung’s Provincialism in Warning against Indian Philosophy

“…nowadays far too many Europeans are inclined to carry Eastern ideas and methods over unexamined into our Occidental mentality. … For what has issued from the Eastern spirit is based on the peculiar history of that mentality, which is most fundamentally different from ours. … [It is] not applicable to us.” – Jung: Personal Letter to Oskar Schmitz[29]

“[Eastern ideas and symbols] are a foreign body in our system – corpus alienum – and they inhibit the natural growth and development of our own [Western] psychology. It is like a secondary growth or poison.” – Jung: The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga[30]

As this essay has shown, Jung was profoundly influenced by Indian thought – not just with regard to his theory of psychological types, but with regard to the structure of his thought as a whole. Yet at the same time, Jung often warned his fellow Westerners against taking up the insights of Indian philosophy as if they were universally valid. As the quotes above have shown, Jung thought that the Indian concepts needed to be changed into a form that was more in line with the cultural history of the West in order for them to be applicable to the Westerner. As Jung saw it, the insights of one regional group were not directly applicable to that of another.[31] This type of regionalism informed Jung’s thinking on not just the relations between Indians and Occidentals, but also on the relations between Germans and Frenchmen, Catholics and Protestants, and Germans and Jews.[32] (One wonders all the more, then, how Jung could chide the Indians for being “pre-Kantian.”)

With regards to his theory of psychological types, Jung’s warning to Westerners not to dedicate themselves to following the insights of Indian philosophy may be interpreted as naming an instance of the type of activity that would also contribute to the modern phenomenon of over-separation between the functions. In taking it upon himself to cultivate a foreign spirituality as if it were regionally his own, the Westerner would, according to Jung, only intensify the split in the functions of consciousness, thereby worsening the problem.[33]

However, the problem of a divided consciousness can be approached from any number of angles. In Jung’s case, he found it advisable to borrow the concepts of Indian thought, but replaced the specifics by dressing them up in Western names and images and presenting them as distinctly ‘Western’ ideas. As mentioned, his cultural outlook was heavily regionalistic: Indian philosophy and concepts for Indians, European philosophy and concepts for Europeans, and Jewish philosophy and concepts for Jews. The individual who ventures outside the cultural traditions of his nation or race might find some stimulation thereby, but in Jung’s view, such an endeavor will ultimately be pitiful and inhibitive to growth.

In our case, we often tell our readers that the cognitive functions are not about mental contents, but about the mental processes that handle those contents, with each function being, in principle, capable of handling any type of content. It is my contention, therefore, that the functions are not in themselves malnourished simply because one chooses to expose them to contents that are foreign in origin. Of course, Jung may have a point in saying that if the Westerner takes it upon himself to ardently follow an Oriental spiritual tradition (such as Vedanta), then that commitment will in the end become something akin to a process, wherefore the distinction between processes and contents cannot be neatly upheld. But for one thing, Jung’s warning is not merely that the Westerner should not convert to Vedata or Buddhism; his admonition is that it is better for a person to study the concepts and history of his own regional tradition (e.g. the Greeks over the Indians) and that the Westerner should be careful about studying Indian or Chinese thought too much.

For my part, I should say that it is hard to see how Jung could arrive at this conclusion, given that he himself was a passionate student of Indian philosophy. I would contend that Jung’s conclusion that the insights of Indian thought are not applicable to Westerners is at least in part a reflection of his own psychological provincialism; it need not be true in all cases.

Conclusion: Jung’s Crisscross between Indian Philosophy and the West

As we have seen in this article, there can be no doubt that Jung was profoundly influenced by Indian philosophy. And while he did at times take care to credit the Indian influences on his thought, Jung’s reception of Indian philosophy also evinces the traces of a love/hate relationship with this foreign influence, which seemed both dangerous and alien to him, but which had nevertheless succeeded in developing a spirituality based on introvertive insights – something that he felt was lacking in the West.

It will be seen that Jung’s thinking was situated between two worlds: When Westerners accused him of not being rigorous enough, he sought refuge in Indian and other Oriental thought systems in order to find confirmation for his “empirical” method and “mystical” manner of thinking. But then when Indian thought confronted him with conclusions that were disagreeable to him, he would conduct an abrupt about-face and seek refuge behind the breastworks of that same Western rationality which he himself had criticized as ‘limited’ when it dictated that the evidence for his own conclusions was lacking.

In this article I have also argued that Jung’s famous idea of the relationship between the ego and the Self was essentially a Westernized version of the Indian opposition between Atman and Brahman. The whole normative element of typology (i.e. using its insights as a starting point to eventually go beyond types), as developed by Jung, appears to be intimately tied up with the Indian concept of Brahman as the supreme mode of consciousness that exposes all difference and opposition as void. The normative aspect of Jungian typology is one that has been largely neglected. In fact, I know of no other writers on the subject, besides James Graham Johnston and myself, who have followed Jung in further exploring the normative side of his typology. By far the overwhelming majority of theorists and writers in this field have preferred to remain quintessentially Western and have ignored Jung’s admonition that the purely descriptive approach to typology is “nothing but a childish parlor game.”[34]

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad it is declared that “where there is unity, one without a second, that is the world of Brahman. This is the supreme goal of life. … Those who do not seek this supreme goal live on but a fraction of this joy.”[35] There is a strong case to be made for the exegesis that this is how Jung thought about psychological types as well – the person who does not realize Brahman in his lifetime remains a slave to his functions and lives through life on but a fraction of his full potential.


Images in the article commissioned for this publication from artist Francesca Elettra.

Coward: Jung and Eastern Thought SUNY Press 1985
Jung: Alchemical Studies Princeton UP 2014
Jung: C.G. Jung Speaking Princeton UP 1977
Jung: Civilization in Transition Princeton UP 1978
Jung: Letters vol. I Routledge & Kegan Paul 1973
Jung: Psychological Types Princeton UP 1990
Jung: Psychology and Religion, East and West Princeton UP 1975
Jung: Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche Princeton UP 1975
Jung: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious Princeton UP 1969
Jung: The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga Princeton UP 1996
Jung & Schmid-Guisan: The Question of Psychological Types Princeton UP 2013
McLynn: Carl Gustav Jung – A Biography Black Swan 1997
Murti: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism Munsiram Monoharlal 2013
Nagy: Philosophical Issues in the Psychology of C. G. Jung SUNY Press 1991
Russell: History of Western Philosophy Routledge 2004
Wilson: Consilience Abacus 1999


[1] Jung: Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche §747
[2] Nagy: Philosophical Issues in the Psychology of C.G. Jung p. 32
Indeed, it would seem that on several counts Jung’s instinctive reading of the Indian texts resembles the methodology of the solipsistic Yogacara Buddhism – a form of “mind only” Buddhism which postulated that only the personal consciousness was real.
[3] Jung, in Jung & Schmid-Guisan: The Question of Psychological Types p. 78
[4] Jung: Psychological Types §8
[5] Jung originally used the name ‘auxiliary function’ to apply to both the secondary and tertiary functions. I have used the modern terminology above as it offers more precision.
[6] Jung: Psychological Types §330
[7] Wilson: Consilience p. 7
[8] Jung: Alchemical Studies §163
[9] Jung: Psychological Types §235
[10] Jung: Psychological Types §336
[11] Jung: Letters vol. I p. 247
[12] Murti: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism p. 217
[13] Coward: Jung and Eastern Thought p. 34
[14] Murti: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism p. 242
[15] Coward: Jung and Eastern Thought p. 52
[16] Coward: Jung and Eastern Thought p. 82
[17] Coward: Jung and Eastern Thought p. 134
[18] Plato: Phaedrus 246a–254e
[19] Jung: Psychology and Religion, East and West §956
[20] Russell: History of Western Philosophy 3.1.9
[21] Jung: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious Princeton §520
[22] Jung: C.G. Jung Speaking p. 206
[23] Jung: C.G. Jung Speaking p. 270
[24] Jung: C.G. Jung Speaking p. 414
[25] McLynn: Carl Gustav Jung – A Biography p. 316
[26] Jung: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious Princeton §520
[27] Coward: Jung and Eastern Thought p. 52
[28] McLynn: Carl Gustav Jung – A Biography p. 312
[29] Letter dated 26 May 1923
[30] Jung: The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga p. 14
[31] Coward: Jung and Eastern Thought p. 86
[32] Jung: Civilization in Transition §354
[33] Jung: Alchemical Studies §8
[34] Jung: Preface to the Argentine Edition of ‘Psychological Types’
[35] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.3.32


  1. I thought this was a great article. :)

    The more I learn about Jung, the more he annoys me haha. He deserves a “black background” on your site, like Hitler and Bin Laden (and Bush Jr). :D

  2. You really should remove the black backgrounds, they’re highly subjective and western centric. Where is the black background on Dick Cheney and George W Bush for instance? A ton of historical people are objectively much worse than say Putin or Arafat, but get their nice clean white background. Washington and Jefferson owned thousands of slaves, where are their black backgrounds. The whole thing is childish and looks unprofessional, especially considering typology is an amoral system.

  3. I agree with Scratch. :)

    I see why you use the black/white backgrounds – kind of – but you can’t divide people up into heroes/neutrals vs. villains. If someone doesn’t like being the same type as Hitler… well, so what? Putting a black background behind that person isn’t going to solve the problem. :D

    Also, your site could be seen as anti-INFJ haha, because they have so many “crazies”.

  4. Hehe, but INFJs have all the best crazies, INTJs are mostly just idiots who blew stuff up. Also what is up with INFPs and not having a single blackframe? What does a an INFP ‘villain’ even look like?

  5. Haha I’m not sure. Depending on your worldview, Ed Snowden could perhaps be seen as an INFP villain. Or perhaps someone like Regina Spektor, JK Rowling or Charlotte Brontё — for being so talented lesser artists feel resentful. :)

    Depends on your viewpoint. :D

  6. @Admins

    Wouldn’t Jung’s philosophical views and perspective on types mean he’d deeply dislike modern typology, and possibly even consider it “immoral” compared to his own view of typology?

    I ask because his view seems to directly conflict with modern views…

    1 Modern typology seems to say that understanding your type and how you operate functionally, can lead to self-knowledge, which can then help you to grow as a person.

    2 Jung seems to be of the opinion that trying to differentiate your functions and analyze your use of them, is bad for your personal growth, because the goal of the person is to reach the ideal state where you transcend all your functions and the self in completely indivisible.

    So wouldn’t Jung get very frustrated with modern typology — and your website! — because you are advocating the idea that this kind of compartmentalization of the human psyche is something worth doing? Wouldn’t he want to just throw eggs at you in the street? :D

    Or am I misunderstanding?

  7. No, you’re right. He’d hate not just us, but almost anyone who assigned static types to people. That means he’d also ‘hate’ his own disciples, von Franz and van der Hoop, on this point. However, Jung would not disagree with (1), he would simply say that you have to eventually go *beyond* types, and this is where most modern typologists don’t follow him. We’d say that they don’t *want* to follow him, but most modern typologists simply haven’t a clue about the normative aspect of Jungian typology. So on your point (2), it’s the same point again: Jung would agree that we should analyze our type and our functions and that this exercise can be a valuable step towards the end goal, namely psychic life beyond the functions. All of this said, Jung would probably still want to throw eggs at us in the street for pegging him as having a feeling preference. He was adamant that he was a strong-rational-scientist-and-certainly-no-feeler(TM). And of course, F types are far more capable of being “strong rational scientists” than Jung ever gave them credit for.

  8. This is a serious question to everyone reading: is it possible to one day fully individuate if I consciously push to engage all contending functions on a chronic basis?

  9. @Oripers0

    Hi, interesting question. :)

    No, I don’t think that’s possible at all. And why would you want to? :)

  10. Well, I don’t think psychic life should be left to its own taking—or rather, I esteem an enormous moral responsibility in each person to complete him or herself.

  11. Actually, I take that back, I esteem it in myself only since I know, but don’t REALLY know other people’s psychic life.

  12. As an INFP an INFP villain is an ESTJ projection. But also the INFP hero is an INFP+ESTJ combination that is able to defeat the ESTJ projection that is inward turned (and sometimes extroverted if triggered in a serious way).

    If the ESTJ projection is so dissociated from oneself it can easily turn into a dark ESTJ manifestation.

    So when you mention JK Rowling I think she took Voldemort rather seriously.

    As far as “full integration” there is no such thing exactly. We can sense but we can not sense all things and in all ways. We can intuit but we can’t intuit in the same way as another person, nor be able to interpret intuition. We can feel but do we always know the proper relationship to emotion? Sometimes we can over enduldge emotion and sometimes we repress, suppress, avoid or dissociate from emotion wisely. Do our emotions always tell us the truth? Really only a narrative truth. Can we master all forms of thinking? Even someone like Wittgenstein who claimed to have mastered rational philosophy moved on to other forms of thought that were outside his millieu but never became a great aesthete.

    I am 100% positive that a person can work to gain a “fifth” function. But the fifth function can be gained and lost and gained and lost and gained and then suddenly you grasp how to sustain it which is a whole new journey.

  13. Very good article–quite salient to understanding Jung’s view/model. I think it is likely related to what I consider an over-emphasis Jung placed on opposites (a resistance to the kind of “definition” needed to sustain an ego ever quite being dissolved).

    I would add, by the way, that it is quite possible some resistance to the “irrational” outlook of the eastern philosophies, including ideas like Brahman, might be part of why Jung declared himself a rational initially (I’d agree with the gist of what appears to be your site’s conclusion that calling him a rational relative to most true pronounced ones is a stretch — and that he more seemed to have a kind of defensive appeal to it).

    Now, the interesting point is perhaps there was a tiny something to his objection, because even in the pure enlightened state, the Indian saints seem to say something along the lines of the truth being “I am” yet “I am not” — if memory serves.
    So while it does seem very much, as you say, that Jung is appealing to rationalism in a kind of protest, part of his appeal might still retain an irrational character (ie that the nature of consciousness must involve a sense of opposites).

    Obviously this is far from suggesting those saints said there is always a personal ego, but more suggesting that at least some presentations still suggest existence of a sense of duality. It just isn’t a duality based on definition/separation (or to use Jung’s word, differentiation).

  14. Thanks!
    The position you mention sounds the closest to Jainism.
    In Vedanta/”Hinduism” ‘you’ are the absolute (Tat Tvam Asi) along with everything else.
    And in Buddhism ‘you’ don’t exist.

  15. Yeah the position I mention isn’t quite the Vedanta one, not quite sure where it’s from to be honest; I wonder if it is a more Tantra-oriented take actually, because it still acknowledges a dual rather than singular nature of consciousness, although it is sort of a simultaneous Buddhist and Vedanta answer (pure consciousness and non-existence simultaneously). It wouldn’t be traditional Tantra which tends to focus I think on a masculine and feminine union, but it could be in that spirit.

  16. Greetings and thank you for this article. I have a question and will appreciate your assistance highly. From your article I don’t understand whether it is Jung’s saying or your explanation of him comparing Brahman to DNA. I found the quoted source (13) but could not locate any DNA analogies noticed. Please let me know if you can help, I am very interested. Sorry for my English.

  17. Although I think your essay is valuable and critically examines Jung’s ideas in a fair way, I would say that, in the way of an apologist, Jung probably did not have a sufficient understanding of the full scope of Indian thinking regarding Brahman. Also, although Jung may have been inspired by the notion of Brahman, it may easily be said that such inspiration probably came about as much from his own subjective predilection to see value in such an idea from a foreign culture as it did from the foreign culture itself. As such, given his recognition that religious and mythical ideas in general are facts of psychic experience (see his prior work Symbols of Transformation), he would have felt entirely justified to shop for such ideas elsewhere especially as he did later when he recognized alchemy as an example of Individuation. This intuitive interplay of his own Western notions and those interpretations of ideas more foreign to his personal background, I feel, is valid to an extent that it is done openly and with a health sense of what it is, idea shopping. Sort of like sampling in music.

    I feel that your critique of Jung selling the Indian ideas somewhat short is a valid criticism and probably a sign that his familiarity with such ideas was, indeed, limited though still insightful.

  18. Regarding the discussion of the separation of the functions…I don’t think that it is bad to differentiate the functions but that in our modern society with separation of labor to an extreme, we have become more strongly bound to our differentiated capabilities and we are upheld in that biased development with being paid to do the work that our biased psychologies give us a special talent for…

    Coming into an initial categorization one can potentially and rather suddenly find context for one’s own way of interacting with the world and then gain context for how other ways of interacting with the world are also valuable even as one subjectively struggles to appreciate that.

    For me the truth is that we are biased in our early development such that by the time we become self-aware enough to categorize and contextualize our own personalities, we already are caught in a somewhat maniacal bias of development due to the forces of our society somehow promoting that.

  19. A very good article! I just have a point to add. Most of the westerners know only about Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta which states that the individual soul (Atma) is same as the Paramatma (Brahman). That is when a person realizes this truth, he or she gets liberated and merges with the Brahman losing his or her identity. This Vedanta philosophy is mainly propounded by Sankaracharya. I belong to the Dvaita school of thought. Dvaita means dual. This is propounded by Madvacharya. He states that there are two realities, i.e., independent and dependent. Brahman is the independent reality, and the individual souls and the material world is dependent on Brahman. As per Dvaita a.k.a Tattvavada there are five-fold differences – the difference between Brahman and atman, Brahman and material, atman and material, between two atmans and between two material objects. This philosophy is highly individualistic in nature. The relationship between Brahman and atman is like that of the object and its reflection. Once the atman realizes that greatness of Brahman and that he is dependent on and a reflection of Brahman, then he gets liberated. In liberation also the bliss experienced by each atman would be unique and will never lose its identity but enjoy the bliss along with Brahman.

  20. Am surprised to learn that Jung came to reject much of non-European traditions that were “not his own”. Was he kidding or just ignorant? If we believe in a Collective Unconscious, there is much to learn from all traditions related to expansion of consciousness. He was less of an empiricist than he claimed, and much less of an historian.

    Three points

    1. Many critical ideas of the Wisdom Tradition migrated 3000 years ago across the cradles of civilization in the MIddle East (Indus, Tigris/Euphrates, and Nile). The Indians partiuclarly influenced the Persians, who greatly influenced early Greek philosophy and Second Temple Judaism, which gives rise to the mixtures of Christian and Islamic religious traditions. The systems were OPENED through trade and conquest, and synergies were common because spiritual minds were so accepting. J, C, and I theologians (e.g., Maimonides, Aquinas, and Averroes) learned much from one another. Emerson, Thoreau, and German Romantic philosophy owed much to Hinduism.

    2. Jung here seems to be entirely unaware of later Indian thought (e.g., Ramanuja, Vishnavism, Bhaghavad Gita) that moved beyond the monism of Vedanta/Sankarachartya to more sense-based systems related to panentheism that calls to mind Western thought. Vishnu/Krisha sounds like Jesus. A fuller and more accepting compendium of Indian thought can be found in the works of his friend, Heinrich Zimmer, who greatly influenced Joseph Campbell. Google HZ!

    3. Until his last year, Jung was entirely unaware of Jewish Kabbalah, a religious tradition of manifestation and mysticism that has many similarities with later Hindu thought. A Jungian analyst in NYC, Sanford Drob has written extensively on this. Google SD.!

    Amazingly, there ARE universal archetypes in the human mind, but’s its not the Trickster.

  21. Thanks for a very thought provoking, honest and incisive article. I wish such intellectual honesty had sprung from Jung himself.

    Two questions.
    1. GAs an Indian who has surveyed both Eastern and western thought systems with equal respect I find that that Jungs notion of Collective Unconscious is a repackaging of the idea of Chit ( Sat Chit Anand) of Yoga system or Brahman of Vedanta. Usually translated as the Universal Consciousness. I find your article silent on this. Could you please say more on this.

    2. Jung had said somewhere that Buddha does not exist in the image a Buddhist worships. But Christ is everywhere. Could his intellectual resistance to accepting the absorption of Atman in Brahman come from his Christian predisposition.

    Thank you and Namaskar.

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