Carl Jung and the Golden Elixir

- through Francois Leclercq

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Lu Dongbin, legendary author of The secret of the golden flower. Glazed glazed stoneware, 2002, by Lin Kuang-I. Image courtesy of Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore.

A fundamental difference between Western dance forms and Asian religious dance forms is the coexistence of complementary internal technique within the Asian forms. In terms of complexity and spontaneity, these inner techniques are as complicated as the physical movement techniques with which they are integrated. Indeed, the inner techniques are really nothing more than types of meditation; the activation and use of different parts of the psyche; a kind of mental focus and control that works while the physical body dances. The dancing spirit is another spirit. Passing on the inner teachings of spiritual dance traditions is as subtle as teaching meditation.

Padmasambhava, legendary author of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Statue at Samye Monastery, Tibet. At

Because there are many explicit meditation techniques in the Asian spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Taoism, and because these techniques are inextricable from physical embodiment by a practitioner, Buddhism and Taoism have sometimes been understood as philosophies or practices of personal culture rather than as "religions". as the term is understood in the West: a set of binding beliefs. As meditation techniques activate – and deactivate – parts of the mind by shifting attention and cultivating energy, they bring about a transformation of consciousness, beyond mundane awareness. A different part of the mind-body complex functions when practicing tai chi, for example, than in its behavior when grocery shopping. What is this state of mind? What is the moving Sacred Dance meditation? How do you focus on psychic realities while performing prescribed dance moves?

Fuxi, legendary author of the I Ching. Paint, Fu Xi and the Eight Trigrams, XNUMXth century, China. From

This column, ancient dances, was fortunate enough to be able to share descriptions of the dance from the dancers themselves, as well as monks, mountaineers, scholars, cartographers, anthropologists, philosophers, painters and psychologists. The first Western contacts with three fundamental Asian texts: The secret of the golden flower, attributed to Lu Dongbin, translated by Richard Wilhelm with English translation by C. F. Baynes (1931); The Book of Changes, attributed to Fuxi, also translated by Wilhelm and Baynes (1950); and the earliest Tibetan Book of the Dead, attributed to Padmasambhava and translated by WY Evans-Wentz (1927), arrived at the doorstep of the Western mind with the commentaries of the founding Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961), who based his fundamental reflections on Eastern spiritual practices on the supposed activity of the unconscious. . Ancestors Fuxi, Lu Dongbin, and Padmasambhava, founder of Vajrayana Buddhism, arrived in Western popular literature, filtered through Jung's nascent psychological interpretations. It is therefore not surprising that the psychedelic generation made these books into bestsellers. Jung was also interested in psychedelics. There was an organic fascination with a spirit other than the Western spirit.

Neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

The term “unconscious” was coined by the 1775th century German Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling (1854-1772). The word first appeared in English in the translations of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1834–1856). As a philosopher, Schelling was a transcendental idealist. For him, the unconscious referred to forces beyond and outside of conscious awareness. Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud (1939-XNUMX) borrowed the word and used it as a medical term, describing not only psychological activity, but naming a mental repository where memories, repressed emotions, dreams and hidden impulses were stored.

The psychoanalyst Carl Jung in front of the Burgholzli, Zurich, 1910. Color photograph. Unknown photographer. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Tapping into the unconscious and describing a "collective unconscious", using archetypes and symbols, was popularized by the work of Jung, who disagreed with Freud on the nature of the unconscious, in part by providing the unconscious with certain positive activities, including creativity. . Jung was fascinated by states of mind unknown to Western concepts of the mind or Western studies of the mind. He explored the universal meaning of mandala designs as maps of consciousness and, beyond that, as gateways to the unconscious. He experimented with traditional psychedelics, he explored dream states and investigated his own ecstatic visions. Jung was naturally fascinated by these translations of Asian spiritual classics, because they knew states of mind unknown to the West. The “dancing mind” of Buddhist monks and Tantric priests is a clear example of a highly cultivated Asian mindset with which the West was unfamiliar.

Theologian, sinologist and missionary Richard Wilhelm, translator of the I Ching et The secret of the golden flower, both commented by Carl Jung. Photographer and date unknown. Image reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

Jung did not believe that Westerners could understand or practice Eastern modes of spirituality and meditation, believing that the "two minds" were too far apart. His long commentary on non-sectarian teaching to access its primary essence, Le Secret of the Golden Flower,* devotes a lot of energy to defending Western intellectualism and the scientific approach to phenomena. Within Jung's framework, he cannot take seriously the evanescent deities of Tibetan Buddhism as a religion, but he surely regards tantric techniques as knowing the psychic conditions of the mind; living mechanisms of interactions with the unconscious. In these Asian classics, Jung expressed his appreciation for the long experience and finesse of instinctive and intuitive mental processes, including the use of symbols, which transcend rational thought. Buddhist and Taoist methods of meditation were neither rational nor intellectual for Jung. They were psychological for him.

There is perhaps something wholly incongruous in the fact that three of the most extravagant, magical and colorful characters in Asian spiritual history were introduced to the West by a mustachioed set of European intellectuals, intrigued by aspects of mind not developed in the West, but highly developed in the West. ancient China and the Himalayas. A scientific fascination with the unknown, an emerging psychology, have contributed to our understanding of I Ching, Golden Floweret The Book of the Dead.

There is a problem with the whole notion of using the “unconscious” to unlock Eastern spiritual practices. This is something that the psychoanalyst and philosopher Leonard Feldstein (1930-2022) emphasizes and elaborates on. The "unconscious" is "scientifically" defined by what it Is not. It has no positive definition. There is consciousness, and then. . . there is everything else: a broad, even convenient idea. Asian spiritual dance traditions already have terms for states of consciousness beyond discursive thought and sensory perception. It is a multiple manifestation, and a field of personal awareness and action, cultivated over thousands of years by personal transmission.

Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz, translator of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, commented by Carl Jung. Photo by Jim Colt, date unknown. Image courtesy of Theosophical Society of San Diego

Feldstein, a philosopher of science by profession, suggests that to have a coherent theory of the mind-body complex, any notion of the mind having conscious and unconscious components must be complemented by the body having the same. There must be a "non-body". The secret of the golden flower is precisely about accessing one's primary nature at all times, and continuing, with essential nature and manifest conduct functioning together in a luminous awareness that embraces both as enlightened behavior. It is the dancing spirit. This is what Shaolin monks study to become both warriors and monks.

Buddhist monastic cham Dancer, Peling Nga Cham, Yungdrung Cheoling Dzong, Trongsa, Bhutan. 2006. Photo by Joseph Houseal for Core of Culture

And this is how this whole discussion relates to Buddhist monks. cham dance, and the dance of the Newar tantric priests, the sacred art of Charya Nritya: examples where meditation technique and dance technique come together. How does a monk "become the deity?" How does the dancer priest "embodied divinity", in order to effect the transformation of his mind into a stabilized contemplative state while performing? Their body must also tap into a greater intuitive knowledge of the body than is necessary or accessible for mundane activities. The mind and the body activate the “unconscious-non-body”. Together they embody rarefied divinity, as mind-controlled energy modalities. Tantric meditation maintains the state of mind during the execution of a precise and often quite long dance. With the illusory nature of reality being central to the experience, the deities dissipate and a raw experience of primal reality is possible, even experiential, and can be achieved by adepts.

Newar Tantra Priest Dancer, Prajwal Vajracharya, Charya Nritya Vajrapani Dance. 2009. Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Photo by Jonathan Greet for Core of Culture

The meditative immanence of the moment about to emerge from non-being and the transcendence of sensory and mental stimulation come together in a yogic dance. The living experience of emptiness, the attributeless state, is introduced into the monastic tradition of cham the Newar dance and tradition of Charya Nritya.

I will conclude this brief introduction to some ideas on understanding the dancing mind with quotes from Jung's commentary on The secret of the golden flower. It is amazing to see Jung's brilliance as he eagerly tackles these newly introduced ancient works from Asia, with his own new ideas that gave him a path of understanding. It is equally amazing how far we have come in our knowledge of each other over the past 100 years.

Conscious will cannot achieve such symbolic unity because consciousness is partisan in this case. Its adversary is the collective unconscious which does not understand the language of the conscious. It is therefore necessary to have the magic of the symbol which contains these primitive analogies which speak to the unconscious. The unconscious can only be reached and expressed by symbols, which is why the process of individuation can never do without the symbol. The symbol is the primitive expression of consciousness, but at the same time it is also an idea corresponding to the highest intuition of consciousness.

. . . our time is so utterly ungodly and profane, for we lack knowledge of the unconscious psyche and pursue the worship of conscience to the exclusion of all else. Our true religion is a monotheism of consciousness, possession by it, coupled with a fanatical denial that there are parts of the psyche that are autonomous. But we differ from the Buddhist doctrine of yoga in that we even deny that such autonomous parts are experiential.

(Carl Jung, Comment on The Secret of the Golden Flower)

Composition of the elixir of gold, from a Taoist inner alchemy scroll from the Qing dynasty (1649-1911). Private collection. Image courtesy of Christies

* See The secret of the golden flowerfirst part (BDG) and The secret of the golden flowersecond part (BDG)

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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