Psychology of Yoga and Meditation
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Psychology of Yoga and Meditation

Lectures Delivered at ETH Zurich, Volume 6: 1938–1940

C. G. Jung, Martin Liebscher, John Peck, Heather McCartney

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eBook - ePub

Psychology of Yoga and Meditation

Lectures Delivered at ETH Zurich, Volume 6: 1938–1940

C. G. Jung, Martin Liebscher, John Peck, Heather McCartney

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Jung's illuminating lectures on the psychology of Eastern spirituality Between 1933 and 1941, C. G. Jung delivered a series of public lectures at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Intended for a general audience, these lectures addressed a broad range of topics, from dream analysis to the psychology of alchemy. Here for the first time are Jung's illuminating lectures on the psychology of yoga and meditation, delivered between 1938 and 1940.In these lectures, Jung discusses the psychological technique of active imagination, seeking to find parallels with the meditative practices of different yogic and Buddhist traditions. He draws on three texts to introduce his audience to Eastern meditation: Patañjali's Yoga Sûtra, the Amitùyur-dhyùna-sûtra from Chinese Pure Land Buddhism, and the Shrß-chakra-sambhùra Tantra, a scripture related to tantric yoga. The lectures offer a unique opportunity to encounter Jung as he shares his ideas with the general public, providing a rare window on the application of his comparative method while also shedding light on his personal history and psychological development.Featuring an incisive introduction by Martin Liebscher as well as explanations of Jungian concepts and psychological terminology, Psychology of Yoga and Meditation provides invaluable insights into the evolution of Jung's thought and a vital key to understanding his later work.

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Winter Semester 1938/1939

Lecture 199

28 OCTOBER 1938

IN EARLIER SEMESTERS, I spoke a lot about dreams and attempted to outline how dreams are structured and how we can get at their meaning. Now, in this semester I will follow up by describing the phenomenon of “active imagination.”
You will recall the dream of the concert where, at the end, a glowing bauble emerged out of the Christmas tree.100 In particular, I said this:
This bauble is not an ordinary object, but rather it is a symbol that reaches far back into the intellectual history of humanity. It is an example of how contents from the collective unconscious impose themselves upon consciousness until they become conscious. If we were to proceed anthropomorphically, it could be said that it is as if these contents of the collective unconscious have a certain volition of their own to become manifest. However, this is only a hypothesis, and I ask you not to take this literally. In any case, such contents appear first in dreams. These are phenomena that take place at the edge of consciousness, contents that emerge into consciousness. I was impressed by this fact very early on. You see this phenomenon extremely frequently in patients, as well as in the mentally ill. I asked myself if it might not be possible to make an impact upon that background where the unconscious originates so that it would give up its contents more clearly, or if it were possible to make these traces of the unconscious clearer so that one could discern them and understand them better?
I found that if one directs attention to these traces and concentrates upon them, a curious phenomenon of movement gets going, just as when one stares at a dark spot for a long time which then begins to become animated. We are then suddenly able to discern the forms of one’s own internal background. “Gazing into the glass or bowl of water” opens onto the background to one’s own soul, to the extent that one ultimately perceives the images—though of course not in the water.101 This is a technique used by the ancient Egyptian priests, for example, who stared into a bowl of water. There is nothing present in the water, but the intense gazing arouses the soul into seeing something. It has a hypnotic and fascinating effect. For this purpose, the ancient magicians used a glass button or jewel, or Egyptian priests a beautiful blue crystal, in order to impart unconscious perceptions to their clientele. It was not understood in this way back then but was employed for the purposes of prophecy, divination, and healing. The ancients were well aware that to heal the soul, or even the body, a certain assistance from psychic experiences was necessary.
We find similar ideas in the ancient Asclepius cult.102 That is why medical clinics in antiquity had incubation chambers in which the ancients would have a dream that proffered the correct diagnosis, or often even indicated the right cure for healing.103 Similar practices are still used today by Indians and medicine men of primitive tribes. If someone is troubled by an evil dream, the medicine man has them go through this process in order to bring them back into harmony with their psychic backdrop. For it is well known that someone who no longer has this connection has lost their soul. The loss of soul is typical for primitives. It is absolutely imperative that the soul be recaptured. This can be achieved by restoring the connection with the unconscious by capturing the psychic substratum. With children, for example, images sometimes even start to come alive: the locomotive begins to move or the people in the picture book begin to do something. It is thought these are only children’s experiences, but some primitives have much more experience with the background than we who live orientated to the external world. We must get to know this. We live through our eyes. However, that is not characteristic for all peoples, but simply a peculiarity of the West.
If one concentrates on such a fragment, it is necessary to clearly retain the initial perception of it in the soul. This is where the Westerner has a tendency to inhibit the arousal of fantasy. He can shut off something from the environment, i.e., he so holds to one and the same standpoint that noting disturbs him. This differentiation is characteristic for Westerners, but not for people from the East. It is almost impossible to acquire precise information from them. They have no meditation on a specific area. If I bend down over a specific blade of grass and ask what it means, the Eastern person will give me the entire meadow. For them that’s a demanding task that wears them out. This has also struck me about spiritually significant people from India or China. They cannot concentrate exclusively on one tiny detail.
But active imagination does not imply such singular concentration, which kills off anything happening. It must be possible that while the image stays firmly in mind unconscious fantasy can also join in. If this can be done, then something gets going. If one observes with the most relaxed attention possible, then one can perceive that some other material enters in that enlivens the situation. If one practices this, one can allow an entire system to unfold from any point of departure. In doing so, one always thinks that one does it oneself, one is inventing it, but in reality these are spontaneous thoughts. With such images one may not say that one created them oneself. If a roof tile falls on your head, you have not made it happen, nor have you done it yourself. These are “freely arising perceptions” as Herbart104 has already said. If one gives up tense expectancy and only gazes at the emerging possibility, then one perceives what the unconscious is creating from its perspective. In this way, an image is stimulated. When this occurs, a glimpse into the unconscious can be gained. People often dream in a very fragmentary way, or the dream breaks off in one place—then I ask the dreamer to imagine it further. I sort of ask for the continuation. In principle, this is nothing other than the usual technique of creating the dream’s context. I elicit the entire texture in which the dream is embedded. As it appears to the dreamer. There are some simple ideas: we believe water is the same for everyone, but that’s not the case. If I ask twelve people what they associate with water, one is amazed at what they say. So, if, instead of asking for the entire fabric of the dream, I were to ask how they would dream it onwards, then I would get as a reply material that would correlate exactly with the meaning of the dream. One can also sabotage such a quest. Someone already brought me a dream right out of the dictionary which I was supposed to be convinced by. Unfortunately for them I noticed this.
Active imagination is a making conscious of fantasy perceptions that are manifesting at the threshold of consciousness. We must imagine that our perceptions possess a certain energy through which they can become conscious at all. It is a great achievement to be conscious. For this reason, we are exhausted after a relatively long period of consciousness. Then we must sleep and recover. If primitives are asked quite simple questions, after a while they too become exhausted and want to sleep. If you leave them to their own devices, they think of nothing, sit around, don’t sleep, but they also do not think. Something is happening that is not in the head, that is quite unconscious. Some are insulted if you ask what they are thinking. “Only crazy people hear something up there in the head,” not them. You see from what night our consciousness in fact comes awake.
There are four different states of psychic content:
Conscious perceptions.
Threshold perception
Contents on the threshold of consciousness, below which darkness reigns (background perceptions).
Personal unconscious
Unknown or forgotten contents which however belong to the personal domain.
Collective unconscious
Thoughts which have already ...


  1. Cover Page
  2. Series Page
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright
  5. Contents
  6. General Introduction
  7. Editorial Guidelines
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Chronology
  10. Introduction to Volume 6
  11. Translator’s Note
  12. The Lectures on the Psychology of Yoga and Eastern Meditation Consisting of Winter Semester 1938/1939 and the First Half of Summer Semester 1939 as Well as Lectures 1 and 2 of the Winter Semester 1940/1941
  13. Summer Semester 1939
  14. Winter Semester 1940/1941
  15. Abbreviations
  16. Bibliography
  17. Index