Saturday, October 23, 2010

C.G. Jung on India

Been reading Jung of late. Following are few excerpts from the book "Psychology and the East" by renowned psychologist Carl Gustav Jung on what things India can teach the West (and these days, itself). For a first visit (in December 1937), he makes many good points which some of us are fast forgetting. I do not find fault with him yet for having wrong observations on the Indian dhoti (he thinks people cannot fight in it, perhaps he had not seen Kalaripayattu being practiced) and studying Buddhism separately, since he had little time to explore India properly. I however find two of these excerpts very important.

Below is an excerpt from the chapter "What Indians can teach us". Jung feels that Indians do not think as a Westerner does, but he perceives his thinking. In that way, he resembles a primitive person.

"I am now going to say something which may offend my Indian friends, but actually no offence is intended. I have, so it seems to me, observed the peculiar fact that an Indian, in as much as he is really Indian, does not think, at least not what we call "think". He rather perceives the thought. He resembles the primitive in this respect. I do not say that he is primitive, but that the process of his thinking reminds me of the primitive way of thought production. The primitive's reasoning is mainly an unconscious function, and he perceives its results. We should expect such a peculiarity in any civilization which has enjoyed an almost unbroken continuity from primitive times."


I am not quite sure how a Westerner thinks, but I do think by perceiving my thought, and imagining the results of my actions. But Jung says that this thought of the Westerner is the outcome of a split between the conscious and the unconscious personalities of a person, and while the Westerner tamed the conscious side, the unconscious remained barbarous. He adds that this is the reason why inspite of being technologically superior and scientifically advanced, the Occident can commit ferocious atrocities on human life. The Indian thought in comparison comes from having a union of the conscious and the unconscious sides, and his view of life is wholesome.

Jung also warns of the collapse of Eastern culture in "The Holy Men of India". This section on pages 184-6 of the book reads much like high school essays on the ill effects of Western life, but is one of the most relevant part of Jung's observations on the Orient:


"The Eastern peoples are threatened with a rapid collapse of their spiritual values, and what replaces them cannot always be counted among the best that the Western Civilization has produced. From this point of view, one could regard Ramakrishna and Shri Ramana as modern prophets, who play the same compensatory role in relation to their people as that of the Old Testament prophets in relation to the "unfaithful" children of Israel. Not only do they exhort their compatriots to remember their thousand year old spiritual culture, they actually embody it and thus serve as an impressive warning, lest the demands of the soul be forgotten amid the novelties of Western civilization with its materialistic technology and commercial acquisitiveness. The breathless drive for power and aggrandizement in the political, social, and intellectual sphere, gnawing at the soul of the Westerner with apparently insatiable greed, is spreading irresistibly in the East and threatens to have incalculable consequences. --- snip --- The externalization of life turns to incurable suffering, because no one can understand why he should suffer from himself. No one wonders at this insatiability, but regards it as his lawful right, never thinking that the one-sidedness of this psychic diet leads in the end to the gravest disturbances of equilibrium. That is the sickness of Western Man, and he will not rest until he has infected the whole world with his own greedy restlessness. "


Jung is greatly influenced by Ramana Maharishi to whom he had been introduced by Heinrich Zimmer through this book. Zimmer seems to be a bigger enthusiast on India, whom we will explore later if time and resources permit. Jung feels that solving the above problem of Western Culture can be done through a study of the East.


" The wisdom and mysticism of the East have, therefore, very much to say to us, even when they speak their own inimitable language. They serve to remind us that we in our culture possess something similar, which we have already forgotten, and to direct our attention to the fate of the inner man, which we set aside as trifling and teaching of Shri Ramana are of significance not only for India, but for the West too. They are more than a document humain: they are a warning message to a humanity which threatens to lose itself in unconsciousness and anarchy. It is perhaps, in the deeper sense, no accident that Heinrich Zimmer's last book should leave us as a testament, the life work of a modern Indian prophet who exemplifies so impressively the problem of psychic transformation"

On the above, anything that becomes a positive feedback loop will keep growing larger, until it burns out the resources and gets destroyed on its own. The solution to such a problem is for us to remove the causative factors before the burn out time arrives or device an inhibiting mechanism that converts it into a negative feedback control system and makes our culture of today arrive at an equilibrium. The path that Western Culture has put us on and it itself is on is a positive feedback cycle. At some point, this has to end or it will end us. The destruction of today's culture of never ending desire and greed is not only a moral problem, but is proven to be similar to problems in science and biology as well and it will be no surprise if it goes in a similar fashion.

How to solve the problem?

I do not know yet. Perhaps the awareness that this is wrong and needs to be corrected is sufficient to satiate today's desires. Perhaps more is required? To answer that must be one of the objectives of this blog.

1 comment:

Sidharth Ullal said...

Dear Sir,

Yours is a most important post and seems highly relevant in modern times.