Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bringing It All Together, Part 3

Bringing It All Together, Part 3
by Scott Bradley

One of the more interesting ideas in Jung's commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower is his exhortation that we, as Westerners, not practice its teachings, which he describes as Chinese yoga, nor that of any other Oriental philosophy. His reasoning is that these philosophies grew out of their particular historical contexts which differ significantly from our own. He quotes a Chinese proverb to this effect: "If the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way."

His respect for these Oriental philosophies is considerable, for he sees their development as an expression of an Oriental cultural which achieved a greater degree of personality integration than in the West. "The Chinese have never failed to recognize the paradoxes and the polarity inherent in what is alive," he writes. In what seems to me a rather romantic interpretation of Chinese culture, he continues, “the Chinese are without that impulse towards violent repression of the instincts which hysterically exaggerates and poisons our spirituality.”

Because we in the West have over-developed our consciousness at the expense of the unconscious, he tells us, we are ill-prepared to pursue methods which take the unconscious fore granted. “There could be no greater mistake than for a Westerner to take up the direct practice of Chinese yoga, for it would be a matter of his will and his consciousness, and would only strengthen the latter against the unconscious, bringing about the very effect to be avoided...We are not Orientals, and therefore have an entirely different point of departure in these things.”

Jung was writing at a time when psychology was just beginning to emerge as a science and an awareness of the depths of our unconscious selves was emerging. This, together with a sudden wave of esoteric occultism imported from the East, as typified by theosophy (which he and others saw as a prime example of this mindless imitation of an alien spirituality), probably contributed to what today seems a rather extreme position.

Nevertheless, there is some wisdom here, and we who look to the philosophies of the East as a means to our own growth would do well to remember that one size does not fit all. Not only do those of different cultures need to grow different spiritualties, but so must every individual.

“The greatest and most important problems in life are insoluble,” writes Jung. “They must be so because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.” There are no external remedies or elixirs which can heal us. “Every good is costly, and the development of the personality is one of the most costly of all things. It is a question of yea-saying to oneself, of taking one’s self as the most serious of tasks, of being conscious of everything one does, and keeping it constantly before one’s eyes in all its dubious aspects — truly a task which taxes us to the utmost.”

Ma-tsu? No, Carl Jung-tzu.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. This is very interesting to me and brings up a somewhat parallel point. An Asian thinker, whose name is in a book in my office---I'll look it up later--made an observation regarding the progress of science (as we know it), that it did not occur in China because the West has always embraced doubt...questioning things, not merely observing them.

  2. It was Fukuzawa Yukichi who said the origin of western civilization was...doubt.

    His picture is on the 10,000 yen banknote.


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