SELF AND LIBERATION: The Jung/Buddhism Dialogue
Edited by Daniel Meckel and Robert L. Moore

Paulist Press: New York, 1992. 338 pp., $19.95 (paper).

Michele Martin

AFTER DECADES of exchange, many Buddhist practitioners and an increasing number of psychologists agree that the two traditions can benefit one another. The ongoing question remains: How? Answers to this depend on a clear knowledge of each other’s position. Within the lungian world, therapists such as lames Hillman and Clarissa Pinkola Estes are creatively questioning and reshaping their inheritance, which includes, however, Jung’s often idiosyncratic writings about the East. This new volume brings together material that allows for a more precise understanding and evaluation of Jung’s relation to what he understood Buddhism to be.

The first section contains Jung’s foreword to D. T. Suzuki’s Introduction to Zen Buddhism, an essay titled “The Psychology of Eastern Meditation,” and Jung’s two commentaries on the Bardo Thodrol (the Tibetan Book of the Dead). These texts are quite uneven in their presentation of Buddhism. Some of Jung’s misunderstandings about the Tibetan tradition can be laid at the feet of Evans-Wentz, whose translation is based on inadequate knowledge of Tibetan and more on Theosophy (i.e., concepts such as Universal Mind, soul, etc.) than Buddhism. Others, however, come from lung’s impetus to bring in support for his own system and yet maintain its autonomy vis-a-vis “the East,” which was for lung a shifting shape of Buddhist-Hindu blend. Jung’s failure to make clear distinctions leads him to distort the main issue—the status of the self—which is defined in radically different terms by these two traditions. Jung may be writing about Buddhism and non-ego, but his operating assumptions fall into a Hindu worldview that includes an ultimately existent self, however subtle it may be.

Jung’s definitions of the ego as I consciousness and the self as a I greater whole that includes the unconscious never get beyond a limited self, because there persists a continual basis for its regeneration—the collective unconscious. This statement would also hold true for other broad concepts, such as Adler’s communal feeling. These ideas are useful in that they extend ego’s awareness, but there remains an expanded group ego, which must also be relinquished. In Buddhism, if one holds on to the existence of any basis or foundation for the self, it will continue to regenerate and one will never be free of suffering. Suffering begins with the concept of self; from this comes the thought of other, and then like or dislike, and so on into the wheel of samsara. Liberation from suffering, for oneself and for others, is the basic goal of Buddhism, but Jung believed that happiness and suffering were necessary. He also held that a certain tension is inherent to the psyche and did not accept that suffering could be overcome. And indeed it cannot be if any clinging to the self, in whatever form, remains.

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