Theosophy and Jungian Psychology

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) are probably the two most well known names in the field of psychology in the 20th century. It’s fairly well known that Jung was Freud’s pupil and close disciple, in a sense, before parting company with him due to major ideological and personal differences.

The Freudian approach, as many are aware, could be considered very reductionist and tends to attribute most psychological problems and disturbances to something sexual originating in childhood and presents the idea that every child feels incestuous desire towards its parent of the opposite sex.

Freud’s work didn’t start to become especially prominent until shortly after H. P. Blavatsky (the main founder of the modern Theosophical Movement) had passed away, so she didn’t comment on it, but the Indian Theosophist B. P. Wadia (who helped establish many centres of the United Lodge of Theosophists around the world) described the main Freudian theories as being potentially very damaging and detrimental to human society. Carl Jung would go on to perceive that Freud’s theories represent his own – that is, Freud’s own – psychological fixations and obsessions.

So although some terminology and ideas of Jungianism have some similarities to Freudianism, his system as a whole does not.

Jungian psychology also borders closely on the metaphysical and esoteric, which is why we would suggest that although it can probably not be called “Theosophical psychology” it may well be the closest thing to it that currently exists in any major way in the general public consciousness. It is considered a type of “transpersonal psychology,” a term that has been used for various psychological therapeutic systems that take a much broader and deeper approach and perspective to the individual than just the physical and exterior self.

Being such a vast and complex system, we can barely scratch the surface of it in this article. Even the 400 page book “A Handbook of Jungian Psychology” itself only barely scratches the surface.

Theosophy is said to be an ancient, ageless, and very definite system, a specific body of knowledge whose metaphysics, ethics, principles, and psychology, precede the time of H. P. Blavatsky by not just thousands but even millions of years. HPB always stated that the teachings presented in her writings were not her own theories or her own discoveries or her own intuitions but rather a static yet vibrant system and doctrine that had been taught to her by advanced initiated human beings here on this Earth, those who Theosophists call the Masters or Adepts.

And so when she tells us about the nature and origin of mind and the Higher and Lower Manas (“Manas” is “Mind” in Sanskrit) or the Nous and the Psyche and so on, she is able to be precise, confident, detailed, and categorical, in her explanations and does not contradict herself.

But as Jung openly acknowledged, he was working out his theories as he went along, constantly revising and adjusting them, admitting mistakes, and said he did not want to create a fixed system of metapsychology. So some of his terms and concepts are not especially well or exactly defined, though they probably serve their purpose.

Jung occasionally referred to Theosophy but was not positive about it. It’s very possible, however, that the only Theosophy he encountered or had knowledge of was that which was most popular and prominent in his day, namely the Leadbeater-Besant version of “Theosophy” which is very different in almost every way from the Theosophy of HPB and her Teachers. He was also critical of the Anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, though in some respects – primarily regarding Christianity and Western esotericism – he and Steiner shared very similar views.

Although Jung believed in Karma and reincarnation and the soul, he made little mention of these publicly and in his psychology work, as he admitted that he had no hard proof or evidence for them and so did not feel comfortable asking his patients and students to accept them even as hypotheses. Only on a relatively small number of occasions did he make such statements as the following:

“The physical phenomena have been studied and threshed out down to the last detail. Metaphysical phenomena are virtually a closed book. Surely it would be valuable to inquire into properties other than those with which we have long been familiar.”

“The new empirical psychology furnishes us with data ideally designed to expand our knowledge of organic life and to deepen our views of the world . . . Our body formed of matter, our soul gazing toward the heights, are joined into a single living organism . . . Man lives at the boundary between two worlds.”

“I am trying to get nearer to the remarkable psychology of the Buddha himself, or at least of that which his contemporaries assumed him to be. It is chiefly the question of karma and rebirth which has renewed my interest in Buddha.”

Those are three different quotes from different decades. Then, in a 1939 lecture he said:

“As we have already seen that Karma is the sum-total of what we bring over from former lives, our debit and credit account, merits and losses. Samskara is the sum-total of the mind that we have created in former existences.”

Students of Theosophy are aware that Samskara is one of the Skandhas or personality aggregates (i.e. components, attributes, tendencies, that combine together to form our personal self) which Theosophy teaches we carry over from one life to the next. The William Q. Judge rendition of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras renders “samskara” as “mental deposits.”

So Jung was certainly personally in sympathy with quite a lot of these things and was famed for his deep interests in alchemy and Christian Gnosticism and was one of the main promoters of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospels after their discovery in the 1940s.

In Theosophy, as also in Hinduism, we talk about the realisation of the Self or Self-realisation, “Self” in this context meaning the One UNIVERSAL Self of All: Atman, the Higher Self, which is one and the same in all of us and which is the infinite divine Essence underlying everything.

Jungian psychology uses the term “Individuation” as the goal to be aimed at. Jung does use the term “the Self” – whether with a capital or lower case “s” – as the highermost aspect of us and acknowledged the influence on him of the Hindu Upanishads in arriving at this term, which is one of the core fundamentals of Jungian psychology. Though he carefully avoids outright saying that it is spirit or is the divine and emphasises that it cannot be scientifically proved, it’s quite clear from his words that he is more or less in harmony with Theosophy in this.

For example, he says: “The self exists from the very beginning, it is latent, that is unconscious . . . the ego stands to the self as the moved to the mover . . . I call this centre ‘the self’ which should be understood as the totality of the psyche. The self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness.” He also says “I began to understand that the goal of psychic development [Note: By “psychic development” he means psychological work on oneself as per the Jungian approach] is the self . . . I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.”

Although saying it is beginningless and endless and tacitly admitting that it is the Divine, Jung maintains that the Self includes the “lower” and personal parts of our nature and shouldn’t be thought of as something wholly abstract and separated “higher up” from the mortal man. He supported the teaching of the Upanishads, that “The Self (Atman) is all.”

In the chapter on “The Self” in “A Handbook of Jungian Psychology,” Jungian analyst Warren Colman expresses it: “The self is the goal towards which the process of individuation strives. It represents psychic wholeness and the process by which self-division may be healed. The psychology of the self is also the psychology of religious experience. . . . From the early 1920s onwards, he drew frequent comparisons between the self and the divine, and especially in his later work, emphasised that ‘the spontaneous symbols of the self, or of wholeness, cannot in practice be distinguished from a God-image.’”

But for Jung, individuation doesn’t mean a negation or minimising or depreciation or devaluing or ignoring of the personal self and the personal mind and desires, etc. If we ignore and reject or try to hide and run away from these, he says, we can never become truly whole nor psychologically healthy.

A very large part of us is currently unconscious and hidden and in darkness. Jung writes, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” This darkness he calls “the shadow” and is what some people – perhaps almost all of us! – are prone to “project” onto other people, who we then criticise, reproach, or attack, rather than acknowledging, facing, and dealing with it within us. The term “projection” has to some degree entered mainstream language and awareness and it originates with this Jungian concept of the shadow-self.

Individuation means becoming fully integrated on all levels, which for Jung means necessarily devoting a lot of time and attention and reflection to the personality, the personal self, in order to fully understand it, heal it, and then be it. For Jung, the awareness that “I am an I, I am an ego, an individual I” is highly important and crucial and must constantly be kept in mind, he says, for it is our link with the greater Self.

Although much of the work of the Jungian patient and analyst is therefore devoted to exploring, facing, and understanding, the personal self, one shouldn’t assume that this would automatically lead to an unhealthy self-obsession or self-absorption – though for some people it might do so – for he says: “Individuation is an at-one-ment with oneself and at the same time with humanity since oneself is part of humanity.”

Regarding other words often encountered in Jungian terminology, our “persona” is the version of ourselves (often incomplete and in many respects artificial) which we present to the world, which is usually quite different from how we are behind closed doors, “when no-one is looking.”

Jung offers little detail about what he means by “the ego” except that it is “the centre of consciousness.” Like in Theosophy, “ego” is not a bad word, since the active part of ourselves is indeed an “I.” In Theosophical teachings, the unqualified term “ego” (whether spelt with or without a capital E) indicates the permanent reincarnating individuality.

The “Unconscious” is the key and overriding phrase in Jungian psychology.

Whether it’s the same as what many people call the subconscious isn’t easy to say, since different people have different definitions, and Jung never used the term “subconscious” but only “unconscious,” of which he said there is a personal unconscious and a collective unconscious.

“The personal unconscious consists firstly of all those contents that became unconscious either because they lost their intensity and were forgotten or because consciousness was withdrawn from them (repression), and secondly of contents, some of them sense-impressions, which never had sufficient intensity to reach consciousness but have somehow entered the psyche.”

The collective unconscious may partly be what Theosophy calls the Astral Light, the psychic atmosphere surrounding all of us and filled with everything that has ever been thought, said, and done, on this Earth…but Jung’s “collective unconscious” also seems to mean something more. “A Handbook of Jungian Psychology” explains, “The collective unconscious is a record in, and of, the psyche of humankind going back to its remotest beginnings,” and Jung calls it “a psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes.”

One criticism often directed at Jung is that he was a “Nazi supporter” or “Nazi sympathiser.” Some Jung fans deny this, claiming it is a slanderous lie, while some critics – including a certain Freud-admiring Brazilian Theosophist – reduce the whole of Jung’s life and work to his alleged “Nazism.” The fact is that for a short time he did indeed support and write in favour of what the Nazis were doing. He later realised his mistake and expressed deep regret for having done so. He attributed his behaviour to having been temporarily swept up in and overpowered by the collective unconscious of Germany and his forefathers.

Most tolerant people would think, in light of this, that he can be forgiven. Unless there is good and demonstrable reason to doubt a person’s sincerity when apologising or voicing remorse for past mistakes or even crimes, we should believe them. Wouldn’t any of us ask and hope for the same treatment for ourselves?

There is much more that could be explored, including, for instance, Jung’s concept of Anima and Animus, which is that each man has an inner female, his Anima, and each woman an inner male, her Animus, and that men and women we see in our dreams, whether representing real or imaginary people, are often a form taken by our Anima or Animus to try to teach us something. We have to become one with it, he believed, and embody it in our daily life and activities. He uses the Gnostic term “Syzigy” for our feminine and masculine sides functioning as a united pair, which is part of what Jungian treatment endeavours to work towards.

The Anima he says represents Eros, female consciousness, while Animus represents the Logos, masculine consciousness. Theosophically that makes sense if one researches (in “The Theosophical Glossary” and elsewhere) what H. P. Blavatsky says about Eros or Kamadeva, and Logos.

Practically speaking, one might assume, in light of the rather depreciative approach that the Theosophical literature often takes towards the personal self, that Theosophy would say that the way to recover from a mental illness or psychological disturbance is by ignoring the personal self and the personal mind and by fixing all the attention on the higher, divine, immortal part of our being.

But like Jung would say, that is only part of the story and at best can only produce a partial result. Why? The higher, divine, immortal part of our being is never sick, never ill, never disturbed. Atman – the One Self, pure eternal Spirit – is never disturbed, distressed, or ill. Our Higher Ego, which means our individual reincarnating soul, the Higher Manas, is also never disturbed, distressed, or ill.

So while there will undoubtedly be some relief and peace and sense of upliftment by turning one’s attention and focus away from the Lower Manas, which is the personal brain-mind, our personal ego, personal self-consciousness, that “I” with which we’re all the most familiar, still the roots of the issue, the seeds of the problem, are in the Lower Manas and they do not go away by ignoring them, neglecting them, refusing to face or address them.

If in your home you have a framed photograph of yourself and it gets damaged, cracked, broken, it’s not going to get fixed by you just refusing to look at it and ignoring it. You may feel better for a while by trying to pretend that broken photograph isn’t there and shifting your attention to the unbroken, clean, perfect parts of your home, but that broken photograph is still there and will stay broken until you are willing to face it and fix it.

And Theosophy does actually advise us that we must search, explore, and – most importantly – come to understand, our personal self and psyche. Theosophy and Jung do cross paths when it comes to exploring one’s unconscious, even though of course there are numerous differences in approach and emphasis.

William Judge describes HPB as saying, when speaking of the many accumulated facets and features of mind which largely remain in our unconscious: “There is a vast unknown country in each human being which he does not himself understand until he has tried.” (“Elementals and Elementaries” article)

The book “Through The Gates of Gold” by Theosophist Mabel Collins (and possibly inspired or at least partly so by one of the Adepts) states therefore that each one of us requires “courage to search the recesses of one’s own nature without fear and without shame.”

The idea is that we must make some fearless unashamed effort to face that part of our being, that vast unknown country, and shed some of our inner light upon it, so that instead of it staying in the darkness of unconsciousness and causing us problem after problem we come to see what is there, understand it, accept it as what we ourselves have Karmically created over perhaps many lifetimes, and work out how to dissipate it or at least be aware of it so that we can lessen its grip over us in order that it may cease to negatively affect and impact us so much.

“The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly – for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies,” states Jung.

The chapter titled “The Shadow” in “A Handbook of Jungian Psychology” elaborates:

“In a classical Jungian analysis, problems related to shadow are thought to be the first to need attention. . . . personal shadow which may be conceived of as the repository of all the aspects of a person that are unacceptable or distasteful to them. . . . it is important to note that shadow is not always negative, for instance, where the more positive side of the individual is repressed and consequently lives in the shadow. . . . Jung says that no one can gain any insight into themselves or acquire self-knowledge without first tackling their shadow. He alludes to this as a moral problem and says that it is a huge challenge to the ego-personality requiring painstaking work over a long period of time. . . . The individual who lives through projection is convinced that it is others who have all the bad qualities and who practise all the vices. Therefore, it is they who are wrong and they who must be fought against. . . . As Jung says, only the individual who learns to deal with his/her own shadow has done something real for the world for no one can see straight if they do not see themselves. . . . If it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it remains uncorrected and liable to erupt in a moment of unawareness. . . . There are various traps any individual may fall into, one of which is identifying with the shadow. . . . Jung points to the fact that the kind of analysis that is advocated in analytical psychology is nothing other than the scientific rediscovery of an ancient truth which is the healing power of catharsis or cleansing.”

“Through The Gates of Gold” calls our personal self our “garden ground” and it adds these important words, which William Judge quoted approvingly on several occasions:

“Forget no inch of your garden ground, no smallest plant that grows in it; make no foolish pretence nor fond mistake in the fancy that you are ready to forget it, and so subject it to the frightful consequences of half-measures. . . . make no mistake like the religionists and some philosophers; leave no part of yourself neglected while you know it to be yourself. While the ground is the gardener’s it is his business to tend it; but some day a call may come to him from another country or from death itself, and in a moment he is no longer the gardener, his business is at an end, he has no more duty of that kind at all. . . . Be warned, and tend your garden to the utmost, till you can pass away utterly and let it return to Nature and become the wind-blown plain where the wild-flowers grow. . . . Cultivate, I say, and neglect nothing.”

From Judge’s article “Hypocrisy or Ignorance”:

“The doctrines of Theosophy do not ask for nor lead to the cutting out of the human heart of every human feeling. . . . the feelings are an integral part of the constitution of man, for in the principle called Kama – the desires and feeings – we have the basis of all our emotions, and if it is prematurely cut out of any being death or worse must result. . . . It seems to be time, then, that no theosophist shall ever be guilty of making pretension to any one that he or she has attained to the high place which now and then some assume to have reached. Much better is it to be conscious of our defects and weaknesses, always ready to acknowledge the truth that, being human, we are not able to always or quickly reach the goal of effort.”

In “Letters That Have Helped Me,” Judge offered this advice:

“To “turn away in horror” is not detachment. . . . if we love vice or anything, it seizes on us by attachment; if we hate anything, it seizes on our inner selves by reason of the strong horror we feel for it. In order to prevent a thing we must understand it; we cannot understand while we fear or hate it. . . . So if we turn in horror from the bad (we may feel sad and charitable, though), in a future life we will feel that horror and develop it by reaction into a reincarnation in a body and place where we must in material life go through the very thing we now hate.” (bold emphasis added)

But because that searching and exploring of what is essentially the unconscious can potentially bring all sorts of things to the surface that may be distressing or alarming or upsetting, it would be advisable for many people to perhaps not go too deeply into that part of themselves unless working with a trained and capable psychologist or psychoanalyst or psychotherapist. And also, unless one perceives an actual need to do it and feels that there would definitely be benefit from taking such an approach, it should perhaps only be done in a limited way; otherwise one may potentially end up throwing off balance an otherwise balanced life. But each of us has to decide for ourselves how deeply we may want to dig into our unconscious.

The Theosophical approach to it would be to always do it from the perspective and position of the Higher Ego; otherwise there is a very real risk of either egocentric self-absorption and self-obsession or self-hatred and self-disgust.

The Theosophically recommended practice of quietly and calmly reviewing and studying at the end of the day the things we have done, said, thought, and felt throughout that day, and assessing them in the divine, universal, spiritual light of the Higher Ego and the seven Paramitas or golden virtues – love, harmony, patience, dispassion, effort, concentration, and wisdom – is certainly the best way to start and can itself often be sufficient, in terms of self-improvement and self-healing.

As for Jungian psychology, although well known, it has not become widely accepted by the mainsteam. The reason is ultimately materialism.

Jung verged too much on the mystical, on the spiritual, it is said, both in his theories – which thus cannot be empirically demonstrated or proven – and in his own life and mystical experiences; in short, the NHS (the National Health Service in the UK) and most of mainstream psychology and psychiatry worldwide believe that Jung himself was mentally ill and psychotic, for having such notions and experiences as some of those described in this article.

As long as mystical insight and experience is automatically equated with psychosis, schizophrenia, and mental illness, any Theosophical type of psychology can never take root. Jungianism, therefore, remains for now on the fringes and Jungian Analysis the reserve of those who can afford at least £50 to £150 (often much more) per weekly session.

But to be fair to the mainstream psychologists and psychiatrists, it is quite understandable why they would assume that Jung’s famous “Red Book,” for example, was the work of a psychotically deranged mind. But with the insight provided by the teachings of Theosophy, one can evaluate and understand “The Red Book” and many other things much more fairly, reasonably, and accurately.

Having said that, there is probably no Theosophist who would presume to definitively explain exactly what that book is an account and description of. It could be one or a combination of various things.

We close this article with two pertinent quotations, which have proven prophetic:

“When [humanity] enters, in a few years, the sign of Aquarius, psychologists will have some extra work to do, and the psychic idiosyncrasies of humanity will enter on a great change.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Esoteric Character of the Gospels” article)

“Great strides have been made in the arts and in cure of diseases, but in the future, as the flower of our civilization unfolds, new diseases will arise and more strange disorders will be known, springing from causes that lie deep in the minds of men and which can only be eradicated by spiritual living.” (William Q. Judge, “The Kali Yuga – The Present Age” article in the “Conversations on Occultism” series)

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