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Atma, Self and Individuation – Jungian Psychology and the Advaita Vedanta Philosophy (part 2)

March 20, 2013

in Hinduism and India, Spiritual Growth

Jung grants that self is more than mere ego, but by this he refers to the collective or many selves. The purpose of individuation is not to leave the world behind as is the goal of the Eastern mystic, but rather to gather the world to one’s self. Here lies the parting of the waves between East and West. Remember the Janus image mentioned earlier? East looks inward while West gazes outward towards the world.

Certainly there are parallels between Jungian thinking and that of Vedanta. In fact, it is likely Jung took the term, Self, from Indian texts. However, according to Barbara Hannah, Jung felt “the East was too far above everyday reality for us (Westerners)” (Jung xxiii). In his Kundalini Yoga lectures, Jung speaks of the process of individuation:
It is the withdrawal from the emotions; you are no longer identical with them. If you succeed in remembering yourself, in making a difference between yourself and that outburst of passion, then you discover the self; you begin to individuate (Jung 39).

This, of course, is only the beginning of a long process. Jung is careful to distinguish between, on the one hand, an individualist who becomes the ego, subject to inflation, and, on the other hand, “individuation as becoming that thing which is not the ego.” (Jung 39) He goes on to speak of the ego as “a mere appendix of the self in a sort of loose connection.” He asserts that
a connection persists, while advaita Vedanta speaks of ego as mere illusion. The comparison is sometimes given of the rooster with his head chopped off that continues to dance. Hence, thinking ourselves a separate entity or ego, we continue to strut and dance, unconscious of our real Self or even aware that the roots have already been severed. It certainly does feel like this often enough!

In a 1932 lecture, Jung speaks of individuation taking place when you are conscious of it whereas individuality is there from the beginning of one’s existence. (Jung 5) In sharp contrast, the enlightenment of the East tends to occur when one is not conscious. It is through the loss or surrender of the conscious self that the light of Self shines. From the Upanishads:

When I think of myself as an embodied being,
I am your servant;
When I think of myself as an individual soul,
I am a part of You;
but when I realize I am Atma,
I am one with you.{7}

The final goal then is to get beyond the individual self to the greater Self. Meister Eckhart echoes this: “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.” (Jones 5) So inner experience rather than inner thought is desired; not theories but nothing less than direct revelation.

The fact is the world exists;
The Truth is it does not.
One lies in the realm of mind,
the other in the pure experience of Self. (Jones 31)

So I wrote during a two-year sadhana period in south India under the guidance of Sri Adwayananda, the son and successor of the great sage Sri Atmananda, whom Jung almost met in l938. Perhaps it is of some interest that Joseph Campbell, who was so influenced by Jung, did actually meet Sri Atmananda. Campbell spoke to me in New York of his great respect for the Indian Sage and later publicly acknowledged His influence on him in the Bill Moyers television interviews (The Power of Myth series).

For over thirty years, I have had the good fortune to study Advaita Vedanta under Sri Adwayananda. Yet, for over thirty years, I struggled as a Westerner to transcend the illusive ego. Jungian psychology and Advaita Vedanta have been for decades my unresolved opposite poles of influence. Jung rightly pronounces the importance of waiting until late thirties-early forties to undertake serious inner work. When first living in India with the householder sage and his family, I was but twenty-three. Though it was an amazing time and will no doubt remain the most important years of my life, it was an arduous and confusing time as well. Later I compared myself to one who had built a penthouse before establishing a foundation or lower floor. Granted,
there were various impressive mystical experiences due to the powerful atmosphere which surrounds the sage. Yet after years of denying both body and mind, I had eventually to confront both. Jung understood this from his own experience as he writes in his autobiography:

“Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things
we have neglected will return with added force”(Jung 277).

The danger of engaging higher states of consciousness before sufficient ego development is evident in the occurrence of inflation or shadow. Disregard of the body in prolonged meditations can certainly invite serious physical problems that remind us we are also body. Similarly, years of prolonged separation from the world as in ashram life can give birth to shadowy confusions. However, I do not in any way suggest that such great souls as Sri Adwayananda or Ramana Maharshi, who meditated without speaking for many years, had any such problem. The danger most likely lies in lesser souls such as the writer of this paper. The question remains, can Westerners achieve enlightenment through Eastern traditional methods?

Perhaps one of the difficulties of religious or spiritual writings is that the reader takes them literally rather than symbolically. There is all too often an unfortunate insistence on literal interpretations of religious and spiritual texts leading to both war and mayhem, from the Crusades of the Middle Ages to Waco, Texas in our own time.

A great contribution of Jung’s thinking has been his insistence on the symbolic meaning of experience both in waking and dream state. These symbols may draw our attention to aspects of ourselves that we have overlooked, which are hidden in what he calls the “shadow” outside the light of our usual consciousness. Jung urges us to look to our own shadow projections and claim them in order to integrate all the contradictory parts of the psyche. Similarly, this shadow side may also be the undeveloped talents and virtues, the good we do not suspect we may do. Jung’s program for individuation urges us to integrate all the various parts of our personality. This leads to individuation, not to separation from the world.

Are the world and its perceiver but a dream? Or is the dream part of the individual’s world? In Jung’s lectures on Kundalini Yoga, he states:

It appears to us as though India were fascinated by the background of
consciousness, because we ourselves are entirely identified with our
foreground, with the conscious. . . (Jung 61)

This Background seen from the Vedantic perspective is the Reality, the Atma, while the perceived or foreground is witnessed as the illusion. Jung goes on to say how the psyche is alive yet so obscure and “so difficult to access that we are first forced to represent it symbolically.” (Jung 62) Sri Atmananda in Atmananda Tattwa Samhita states that “words are only pointers to
the Absolute.” (Atmananda 22) And what are words if they be not symbols? If the Absolute lies beyond the mind, then how can it be grasped by the mind? Yet being human, we cannot help ourselves. We continue to seek to contain what lies beyond our grasp. Jung sees that certain

“dreams, visions, and mystical experiences suggest the existence of a
consciousness in the unconscious…no consciousness can exist without a
subject, that is, an ego to which the contents are related…We know of no
other kind of consciousness, nor can we imagine a consciousness without an
ego.” (Storr 219)

Jung admits that “in our (Western) world. . . our consciousness is localized in the head.” (Jung 62) It is after all in the mind, in thought, where the opposites live. “All the opposites meet at the Absolute,” resounds the sage Adwayananda.

Perhaps if we could see our limited selves as no more than metaphors or symbols reaching for the Absolute or Self, the journey would be not only richer but require less angst. The focus would then be not so much on what we think but rather on the inner experience where our thoughts lead. For this to occur, space must be allowed for thoughts to sink more deeply into dissolution, for the identified mind/body to disappear. Jung compares the relationship of the soul to the Divine to “the relationship of a drop of water to the sea.”
The drop would seem to be lost in the magnitude that is the sea, yet “that sea would not exist but for the multitude of drops” of which the sea itself is composed (Storr 259). Here Jung’s emphasis remains on the drops or individuals. The Indian Sage, however, dismisses both wave (individual soul) and sea (the Divine),leaving in their stead pure experience: “Waves are nothing but water. So is the sea.” (Atmananda 8)

Could we say that Jung and Advaita Vedanta are complementary? Here doubt arises. I remember an example from the ancient Sanskrit texts my teacher would use. It went something like this:

Logical thinking is merely the stick used for keeping the funeral pyre
burning. The pyre is for the ego. Once the body—or ego—is burnt, there is no
need to take the stick home with you. No. You toss it into the fire as well.
“(Jones 48)

To conclude in Eastern, cyclic fashion by returning to the beginning, to the first quote, we might ask ourselves which path more deeply calls?

“Consciousness going out towards objects is mind.
That which turns towards the Self is pure Satva.” (Atmananda 9)


JUNG: Jung, C. G., The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 10.

JONES: Jones, Cathrine Ann, “Cathrine Ann Jones.” Dodge Days, Eds. Edmund and Pamela McIlhenny. (Avery Island, 2000), pp. 109-112, a privately published memorial book for which I was asked to write an essay.

catherine-ann-jonesGuest post by CATHERINE ANN JONES, who holds a graduate degree in Depth Psychology and Archetypal Mythology from Pacifica Graduate Institute where she has also taught. She is an award-winning author, playwright & screenwriter whose films include UNLIKELY ANGEL, THE CHRISTMAS WIFE, and the popular series, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. Fulbright Research Scholar to India studying shamanism, winner of the National Endowment for the Arts Award, author of The Way of Story: The Craft & Soul of Writing and Heal Your Self with Writing (Aug 2013, Divine Arts,). Catherine works as a writing consultant, keynote speaker, and teaches internationally. For online courses, schedule, blog, and consultant service visit www.wayofstory.com


David Melik March 21, 2013 at 5:43 am

Peace be with you, Katinka (and ‘Tashi Delek,’) and Catherine,

I had worried AC was going to close, but I have problems with other feedburner.com RSS. I had wanted to see if I could comment but forgot to go to the AC URL.

Jung is fascinating, deep, but unfortunately largely influenced by religion of his day… I took a closer look at his works and that seemed apparent. Nevertheless, I took the introductory psychology class at university and concluded Jungian Pyschology and Transpersonal Psychology, neither of which were even in the textbook, are the top two psychology schools of thought.

Many ideas you mentioned above I would have to look up to understand better. I used to think Jung had basically the same model of mind/psyche/consciousness as Freud, with the id, same ego, and superego (and maybe one or two others that I had read about, besides ‘collective unconsciousness,’ which does not have to be called a level of an individual,) and that there were a few other ideas that were more explanations of thoughts or how the minds worked, than being parts, per se… but in my recent reading also referencing Jung, I see Jung may have had a much more complex model of mind/psyche/consciousness.

It is also interesting reading about Jung’s and your Advaita guru’s ideas on the metaphor of consciousness as drops in a sea or water. It reminds me of something I read about in ebooks several times in recent months/years, ‘Indra’s net,’ which is supposedly used in Buddhism–or maybe I forgot or the writer meant Hinduism–and which is a similar literary model.

The model, in those ebooks, that most interests me, after years of being between esoteric Christianity (I have been non-Christian a few years) ecumenically with European paganism & philosophy, general Dharma & Taoism, while studying as much other philosophy as I could, is a strictly mathematics-based, but not numerological, model developed from Pythagoreanism-Neoplatonism and lots of derived Western philosophy… Pythagoras said ‘all is number;’ Plato apparently paraphrased, and modern ideas based on theirs, etc., use ideas by the two most well-known greatest idealists after Pythagoras and Plato: Descartes, who said mind is unextended, and Leibniz, who said every being is a monad. Since Leibniz also created the version of analysis/calculus most people use, one might suspect it has something to do with his monads: it does! This model considers monads to be unextended (i.e. to take up no space,) so actually, to be points. This model does not contradict Chandrakirti’s (the ancient Mahayana teacher/Master denying a self made of parts) sevenfold reasoning. As atman was partly called ‘smaller than the small spaces,’ this agrees with Euclid’s definition of a point (‘that which has no part(s),’ so takes up only infinitesimal space,) and Leibniz’s monads. So, like Jung’s collective idea of consciousness, and infinite water drops in an the infinite ocean you mentioned, or infinite gems in Indra’s net all reflecting each other, one can see fundamental reality as consisting of infinite living mathematical points/monads/minds/souls in infinite space, and the ‘material’ universe to be an ‘objective illusion’ caused by point/life/mind/soul/monad interaction.

Madame Blavatsky (HPB) practiced idealism (position that life/mind/soul/spirit is most fundamental reality, and opposite to materialism, which says matter is,) but unfortunately her description of monads used a materialist–atomist–description. An atom is not a monad/soul in Leibnizian terms, because an atom takes up space that itself consists of infinite points in ‘real space’ (referring to the real line, which consists of infinite points.) It seems true at least one etheric/astral/mental/spiritual humanoid body exists at least while one lives in a body, since I have lucid dreamed out of my body, but I am once again skeptical about any idea of a larger individual atman as portratyed by Hinduism/Theosophy. It would be interesting if it exists, and the whole seven principles model is interesting, but I just wonder if it is necessary.

I elaborated on my spirituality of mathematics and what I had been doing since I last discussed with Katinka years ago, but other than what might interest people who have been reading for years, I deleted it as it may bore most people besides mathematicians such as Katinka herself. I will email her some thanks and a notification about some advice she gave me years ago, and maybe some of the other stuff.

Katinka - Spirituality March 25, 2013 at 4:08 am

Hi David,
I have been having technical difficulties (hopefully solved) and I have also not posted here very often. However, it seems to me the feed works right now – so perhaps you should subscribe again?

I have no intention of quitting blogging. With the guest posts offered by Divine Arts, it looks like this blog is turning into an online magazine of sorts in it’s own right. On top of that – whenever I have something to say, as recently on karma, I will continue to say it.

On the whole I’m still working through the transition from ‘theosophist’ to ‘Buddhist’: What remains the same? What is different? What changes do I want to make in my life and the way I deal with spirituality? This introspection does not translate into blogposts until I’ve worked it (or aspects of it) through.

As for your site: Personally I’ve always felt that as long as material I put online is interesting for at least one person besides myself, it deserves to be online.
On the other hand: you very much mistake me if you think I’m much interested in any link between math and spirituality. Any attempts at that, that I’ve seen, look forced to me. The same is true for most attempts to unite science and spirituality.

Will Meecham April 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm


I haven’t yet had a chance to explore much of your site, but your reply to the comment above already prompts me to write. You feel that most attempts to combine science and spirituality look forced. While I agree that strange contortions are often employed to unite the two, it seems to me that the problem mostly comes up with attempts to unite science with traditional, deistic Christianity. It’s much easier to align science with non-dualist metaphysics, and vice versa. I say this as someone who was trained in biophysics and practiced as a physician prior to exploring Eastern mystical traditions. Long before I heard of Advaita, my scientific knowledge was informing a view of the cosmos as a unitary system in which humans are fully embedded. Everything we know about ecology, evolution, genetics, cosmology, and even Newtonian mechanics supports this view. One can go further, of course, and invoke quantum mechanical principles such as entanglement, but it really isn’t necessary. The point is, scientific principles don’t require any distortion to fit into a view of the cosmos wherein the individual may feel separate from but is actually seamlessly interlaced with the whole.

A prosaic ecological view was my starting point, but a mystical perspective later evolved out of it, especially as I read up on Eastern philosophies. Even so, I don’t feel a more rarefied take on consciousness and spirituality requires me to abandon what empirical research demonstrates (though it does put me–and anyone else who insists that profound mystery still exists in the world–at odds with the academic mainstream).

Anyway, I just wanted to insert my personal perspective here. Science isn’t necessary for non-dual spirituality, but it isn’t at odds with it either.

Valarie August 27, 2013 at 11:13 am

Hello, what a great blog. Truly inspirational! I have found myself over the last four years being careful giving advice for I do not want to take on anyone else’s karma. My teacher explained to me that everyone has to make their own choices and live with the consequences of those choices.

Thank you for all your knowledge and sharing!

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