Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007
(Note: the funny thing about blogs…they go backwards, like experimental fiction. So, this month’s post is the leading edge of my thread, and it may seem esoteric. Go to earlier months to fill in some gaps if need be. Also, this isn’t really a typical blog, in that I’m not offering my diary to the world so much as using this medium as a way to put my writing out for others. I go back and edit to make sure things are consistent, so it should hold up as a whole.
Also, I was getting asphyxiated by spam, so comments were restricted for a few weeks as I flailed around trying to get the spam filter in place. Problem has been fixed, hopefully; please leave one if you are so inclined. Thanks, steve)
Carl Jung is the mosquito buzzing around the ears of the Western yogi. I find myself returning to him again and again and almost invariably I eventually put the book down with the conclusion that Jung is ridiculous and absurd. But then he creeps back up on me, and I pick him back up. He’s the pest that won’t go away. Why does he bug me so? Well, a big reason is that several of his ideas are somewhat threatening to Westerners who have taken up yoga. Here’s one of them:
If a Westerner does serious yoga, he will uncover deeper layers of himself. Those layers are Western, not Eastern; the more yoga the Westerner does, the further he will get from yoga. That’s my extension of Jung’s basic idea anyway. His response to this dilemma : the West will eventually build its own yoga, based on Christianity. This involves a few astute recognitions on his part, one being that, in yoga, India has developed a “system of hygiene” as he put it, which he saw as superior to anything comparable developed in the West. However, he saw an elemental incompatibility when an Eastern cultural item is used to unveil the depths of a Western character formed on Western cultural items; the Westerner will begin to diverge from the kinds of developmental traces that informed the Eastern teacher and teaching. For example, a person of Anglo-Saxon descent who does serious yoga will begin to reach deeper realms of character which will be Anglo-Saxon in quality: the themes given up by her imaginations and dreams, her deeper motivations, her worries and concerns, her style of approaching reality, that to which she is unconsciously drawn, all of these will begin to cluster around certain traits which can be traced to the specific culture and heritage of the individual, which Jung dredged many generations back. These various ways of being may not be well served by yogic techniques, in which case it’s better to pursue the things that Anglo-Saxons did, or Russian things (if I’m Russian), or Hopi things if I’m Hopi, etc.
The whole cross-cultural post-modern thing: Although there are a great many ways in which people are similar across cultures, we can’t underestimate the major differences in the particle /neurological arrangements of psychic selves from culture to culture. Some post-modern scholars claim that this difference is so profound that it is impossible for a Westerner to actually understand what is meant by, for example, the Yoga Sutras. I think this position goes way too far, but it has some essential truth in it.
So, although Jung and post-modernists rarely see eye to eye, they have a broad commonality on this issue. The next bothersome idea I wanted to introduce from Jung is that of enantiodromia, which basically says that whatever position or state that the consciousness of the individual achieves, this will eventually become subject to a counter-position developed by the unconscious. So: if we achieve a blissful state of serenity, this will likely be intruded upon by some kind of disturbance. This idea seems immensely unpalatable, but pose a question to yourself: hasn’t this happened to you everytime you have achieved inner peace, meaning: was that inner peace permanent? Jung would say that one of the upheavals of that peace will be a demonstration by the psyche that another aspect of existence also needs to be considered. The qualities that contributed to that feeling of peace will find themselves confronted by qualities that do not feel like peace.
So, again, supposedly, the more yoga a Westerner does, the further he will get from yoga. But I see the limit to this: Shankaracharya, considered an essential teacher in Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga yoga tradition (which incidentally signals Pattabhi’s move from Patanjali’s dualism into an acceptance of the non-dual Advaita position; the Ashtanga path to the highest aims of yoga is through the Upanishads and Vedanta with some Bhagavad Gita thrown in) endlessly belabors different angles into the way in which he sees ultimate reality as being other than anything that has qualities. Until causal emptiness has been realized, this distinction must continue. After the casual realm has been experienced, it is said to clearly cast relative existence in such a way that the two are obviously distinct, and the yogi no longer confuses relative things with the causal matrix. At this point, the non-dual sage chooses to join the material fray, as it were, of his own desire, and thus it all becomes Lila, play, as opposed to grim drama, dreadful comedy of errors, etc., (where the relative drama is taken to be the ultimate drama.)
So, in simple terms: the highest goals of yoga are cross-cultural, period; they take us out of the relative, with all its variations and differences, and into the causal matrix from which the relative emanates, which is one and without distinctions. Our innermost self is the same regardless of individuality and culture. Only one problem with this however: the depths of culture and tradition will be plumbed and ultimately transcended by almost none of us. So, since almost all of us will while away our days in the grip of the relative, we need to recognize that this is the realm where cultural and individual differences must be recognized and honored.
All of the mature global paths toward enlightenment: Vedanta, Mahayana, Chan, Zen: they all culminate in a state called “non-dual”, which implies a sage who has recognized the nature of the dualistic material world and has embraced it as the only realm in which we can live in this lifetime. But she also knows of the causal matrix, the Brahman, the emptiness behind the relative: she does both. So, this part of us which is relative, even if we reach the highest states of yoga, this will always be subject to the cultural and interpersonal dynamics from which we have arisen.
So, the highest point of yoga is not really inner peace at all. It is full identity with the witness which sees existence. The yogi who sits in Samadhi may well be psychicly in tune with a pure emptiness without movement or any qualities. But his body which supports him while he does this will still be doing many of the things that it usually does, for example: fighting off harmful microorganisms, viz: warfare. Shankaracharya’s main point is that the body and psyche all live in the relative and that the witness state is something other than the relative. And the relative is a zone of tension/release, conflict/peace, hard/soft, easy/difficult, nice/not nice, etc. That’s just the way it is. That’s the way of the world. What most of us will experience as a sense of inner peace is really just a temporary moment where our bedeviling conflicts have been brought to a degree of resolve. But this state is still something material: perhaps a fabulous mix of elements of the highest degree of refinement, but still elements, still relative, still subject to a set of different elements which can confront it and question it as the final word. And Jung says, they will.
But Shankaracharya claims that there is a final word and that he knows what it is- following after Nagarjuna, Patanjali, Buddha and all the other sages through Indian history who fully recognized and grappled with this drama of opposites- he claims to have found the “positive entity” which transcends all this. And with intense practice and proper guidance, he claims we can get there in this lifetime.
Several years ago I attended a seminar by post-Jungian James Hillman, who at one point bellowed out “Don’t Go East!!” Well, why does he yell something like this? Because the Jungians/ Joseph Campbell people/ Archetypalists, hold that the Greek/Latin/Germanic tribes/Jewish tribes/Celtic tribes thing is to participate in myth and story and philosophical and alchemical analysis of various aspects of existence and to find those constellations of elements and plots which our soul is drawn towards, and to follow that draw, to bring the old stories to life in a new way. An Anglo-Saxon who reads Beowulf may feel something deep and murky stir down there. A Jewish person who has never read the Bible will read the book of Exodus and have vivid dreams that night. Good movies stir up deep old archetypal gunk. Certainly this is a compelling approach to life. (For more on this, go to the 2nd entry under August 2006)
One problem: I, Steve Dwelley, am one example among now millions of Westerners who are compelled in this same archetypal kind of way to practice yoga from India (or Tibet, China, Southeast Asia, Japan: these are the places on the planet where yoga has played itself out in the past; the story is now underway throughout the world). Lots of Westerners just do yoga to feel good or get sexy, but many of us are allured by a sense of purpose, a way of unraveling the mysteries of the mind, of gleaning some of the meaning of life. We are compelled by this Asian myth: the yogi fights through the “dragons” of the body and mind and attains degrees of ”the maiden”: enlightenment.
The world and its world-wide-web is so interconnected now that I believe the souls of those of us living now (and the next generations will go even further) have the entire cultural and lived offering of the history of life on Earth in all its parts open to us, and we may be drawn to any part of it, and in an unconscious manner, we will be. And the West and East are drawing toward one another irresistibly.
So, to return to the above example of Anglo-Saxon particles: I hold that such revelations of our deeper self, and their peculiar nature, which may be other than want we thought we wanted for ourselves in life, these must be honored and integrated. As we get higher in consciousness, we simultaneously go deeper into who were were, into that which has formed us. We can transform who we really are only after we have found out something about it.
So, if a Westerner is using yoga, she must keep integrating new revelations of her old self with the yogic technique which is catalyzing the revelation process. Honoring this, we can certainly return to yoga, again and again, in each moment if so desired, but we negate this dialogical, cross-cultural process at our own peril. There are deep Western vibrations that don’t quickly fit with Eastern vibrations and the synthesis process needs some tending, it will take some psychic time in each individual for this synthesis to happen.
To make some blatant, broad generalizations about historical differences: the classic Western view of India is that they just stand around doing nothing, praying to God while their buildings collapse and their buses fly off bridges, while Indians (at least those in touch with their authentic Indian heritage- many of them lost touch with that in modern times) often get a belly laugh at how helplessly Westerners flail and thrash against the emptiness and despair in their lives. The other side: Westerners have made the manifest world their God, and such a view has provided them a profound intensity and motivation to the way they pursue material development, and they have created apparent miracles. Indians have understood causal psychic existence and their great sages have offered it to their people at large, providing mass realizations of acceptance, contentment and meaning among a populous who haven’t a fraction of the material advantage of Westerners. And what they have done with psychic energy has produced apparent miracles. Putting these two together seems so natural.
So, I’m not letting Jung have the final word on this. I’m sure he’d be delighted.