Jung and Guru: Parallels between Hindu Thought and Jung

The innermost desire of every man is to know who he really is. Not knowing oneself, one is unhappy. We all meet in this common factor, though there may be and are different paths adopted by us.

The innermost desire of every man is to know who he really is. Not knowing oneself, one is unhappy. We all meet in this common factor, though there may be and are different paths adopted by us.

The study of the works of Freud and Adler gave me some understanding of how a neurotic mind works. The goal of their therapy is to bring a neurotic to the level of a normal man, who is adjusted to the society and to a degree productive in the world. A socially adjusted man is not conflict-free. A person looking seriously at his life of conflict is afflicted with spiritual dissatisfaction. He strives to end this conflict totally. According to Hindu thought the so-called normal person is man with dis-ease. The Hindu tradition informs him that this dis-ease can be ended.

I found that the psychologies of Freud and Adler could not talk meaningfully to one who wants more than mere adjustment to society; Hindu thought did not address the neurotic mind. It did not have the language to speak to them. Thus there was no communication between the two. Understanding and helping the neurotic interested me. Since the neurotic and the normal mind dip into the same Mind, there has to be a link between the two. There has to be a common therapeutic process to help the neurotic and the normal mind and to go beyond. To be in conflict, to be torn and live in misery does not seem to be the order of life. Dissatisfaction tells man that there is a conflict-free, whole and harmonious life. The goal of life is not merely adjusting to social conditions and living a sordid life. It asks for more.

Reading the works of Jung available in the forties in India, I felt that Jung's psychology had a language common to both to neurotic and normal. He came upon the realm of spirit through psychology. It became very clear to me while reading the first chapter of Psychology and Alchemy. He talks about man's spiritual dissatisfaction and his search for total man. (1) Further, in the same chapter he mentions how his psychology brought a Parsee back to the Fire Temple.(2) It told me clearly that Jung's psychology leads man to the truly religious goal beyond "isms." This is exactly what a guru does. A guru does not belong to any "ism" though he may use the language of the tradition into which he is born. Many Muslim students and other belonging to different faiths came to my guru's meetings. They did not feel that he was trying to convert them to his views. They were happy and were not in conflict about "isms." The guru led them to the experience which is common to all mankind and is beyond all dogma.

So in the psychology of Jung I found a language with which one could talk meaningfully to both neurotic and normal. It became my driving passion to learn it.

Before drawing parallels between the two (the way of guru and that of Jung) let me tell you some of the basic things one has to learn and live while working with a guru. When I am referring to guru I mean the guru I worked with. This guru was a householder, a working man with a family. He did not wear the persona of a guru. Those who approached him projected guru on him. He, however, met them on a friendly, informal level. They often lived with him in the same house and interacted with him on different levels, discussing all and sundry matters with him.

The guru did not concern himself with the personal matters of one's life such as divorce, marriage etc. in detail as a therapist does. He did not keep case histories. The main thrust of his talks and conversations consisted in making one aware of the likes and dislikes, the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. How one was driven by pleasure and likes and dislikes and struggled to avoid the inevitable pain and disappointments; the natural movement of psyche. This struggle to avoid the negative pole is futile, not only that, how entangling it is and how it makes life more and more complicated! Such an attempt is like struggling to get out of a bog which makes us sink deeper every time we make an effort to get out. Man thinks that thinking is the only tool he has to solve all problems. But being limited by past experiences, thinking cannot understand the Unknown, the living whole situations of human relationships. Thus thinking in order to end the struggle imprisons him in his conditioned past by reinforcing it.

This comes to be the gist of the first part of the work with him. If an outsider listens to his talks, he will see them as boring and repetitious. It does not feel so to the one who really listens to it.

The second phase of the work starts as one ceases to struggle in the old habitual manner and learns to live with the dirty end of the pole. It means he has learned to contain the opposites in his belly.

It is here that often times he has glimpses of mystic experience. It generally happens that one tries to cling to this experience. He tries to simulate situations and events to bring it again. This is the most illusive and deceptive situation one falls into. The glimpses of this experience and whatever he has read and heard about them from religious books and his projection on the guru makes him believe that mystic experience is a state of mind and can be achieved by will. Achieving this state will shut off all the trials and tribulations of life. The guru is quite alert at this period. He watches the illusion and deception under which one starts living. He shatters them, causing much pain, suffering and often misunderstanding. He constantly warns the seeker not to project any of his ideas of this experience. If he does so, he sees what he wants to see. He is living in the illusion of having got it. He is asked to be completely open and empty. He is often asked to forget about it and asked to live his day to day life with all care and sense of responsibility.

It is at this point also he is made aware that pursuit of mystic experience is getting back into the old habit of pursuit of pleasure. His thought-free No-thingness is the reality of what IS, which is always present. It is the wholeness of being. It is not a thing nor a state of mind. It is there whenever thought-mind, naturally comes to rest and becomes empty after every activity.

The root cause of one's futile activity, the pursuit of pleasure and mystic experience, becomes evident. In the moment of thought-free place there is a sense of togetherness, sense of completion, not wanting but a state of fullness. The very arising of thought, which is consciousness of me, creates a split, I and Other, and the struggle to unite with the other in order to feel and experience wholeness. Understanding this, one can cease to struggle, since the realization comes that everything ends now, so BE STILL and SEE.

The Way of Jung

One does not have to mention the kind of relation that exists between a Jungian analyst and the analysand. The main difference between Jung's psychology and Hindu thought is the understanding of psychological problems through dreams. Jung's psychology leans heavily on dreams to understand the problems, and dreams have become a way to experience the whole realm of archetypes. Experiencing the archetypes opens the way to understanding the realm of mythology. This is absolutely new and foreign to Hindu thought. In the Hindu tradition dreams are used to warn and predict favorable and unfavorable events of life by the kind of figures that appear in the dreams. The figures are seen more as signs rather than as symbols. No account is taken of dreams as a help in the pursuit of self knowledge. Another difference is that the way of Jung takes account of personal problems of a client and goes into their details. Each client is addressed differently according to his needs. Jung's way is interested in the differences and peculiarities of the problems of each client. There are no generalities of problems here. Jung's psychology has a way of making the client aware through dreams as to how he casts a shadow and does not see the other person. He, thus, is unaware of a part of himself. The problem of shadow and persona are worked on in the early part of analysis. Withdrawal of the shadow projection makes him humble. He realizes that he is in no way different from others. He is a part of the collective mind. In terms of Hindu thought the client begins to know how he relates to a person through his likes and dislikes; he neither sees himself nor the other and in this manner he isolates himself from people.

In dealing with the contra-sexual problem and going through its tortuous course, one takes a long, hard, and painful journey. One knows through experience how difficult it is to withdraw anima/animus projection and be free of their fascination. One realizes the mistake that when he has met his soul-mate and started a satisfying life with her/him, he believes he has found the answer. However, one knows that this is sinking into the collective mind.(3) It is not the way to individuation. Life lived with a soul-mate is a life of fascination - unconsciousness - for a short time; the hard realities of what is within the psyche of each one of the partners is not very easy to live with. All the negativities that surface in the course of time tell us about the dross that needs purification. One is asked to fall back within and reflect in the true sense of the term, rather than project.

According to Hindu thought it is here that one becomes aware of heavy attachment to pleasure and one's inability to die to what goes out of life. Anima/animus can be integrated only when through either a long or short process of time, one has learned to contain the opposites within one's belly.(4) In this both Jung and guru meet. Then one ceases to avoid the pain and suffering caused by the dirty end of the stick. The greater part of the analytical work is consumed by this problem. It is also a difficult time for the analyst because he can get fascinated by the intricacies of the individual problem and get stuck. The guru does not go onto the detail of the individual's problem. He talks in generalities and his own impartial, non-attached life is a mirror before the seeker. That is one help he has from the guru. The seeker has to find his own way, which means - if he has begun to learn - to do nothing but to stay with what is, with pain, disappointment, or depression, whatever. The guru in this period also brings support to the person by reciting or asking him to read writings of saints who have experienced and described similar states. The seeker is not in total darkness, the suffering is temporary only and one has to go through it.

It seems that it was Jung's fate and destiny to travel via dreams to the Unconscious the realm of archetypes, so that the western mind would be awakened to the buried, rich content of archetypes and the reality of one's being.

The scientific mind demands objective proofs. The realm of spirit is beyond perception. The intermediary realm of dreams, myths, and archetypes connects perception to the experience of spirit - self. Jung experienced this realm himself. He then spoke meaningfully and convincingly to the scientific mind, opening the way for western man to experience this realm. Understanding the so-called meaningless and frightening fantasies to ego, of psychotic mind, awakened Jung to their meaningfulness. The events of dreams and fantasy have the same impact on mind as happenings in the waking world. Unless one-sided mind is made to attend to them seriously and is prepared to withstand their impact, the journey cannot be safe and successful. A weak ego, says Jung, easily succumbs to the influence of archetypes. This is true not only in the case of a psychotic but even for a normal person. Assimilation of shadow and dis-identification from persona through analytical work lays the foundation of what is called strengthening of the ego. This continues all along the journey to individuation. It is important to understand here the term strengthening the ego. It is difficult to understand this term - ego - since Jung uses the same term in different contexts which makes it confusing. What is the difference between a strong and a weak ego? What is it that makes an ego strong or weak? If we reflect on our own experiences we might become clear about it. A weak ego is one who is unconscious, not aware of identification with positive or negative images he projects. In the language of Hindu thought, ego is attached to things, persons, and ideas. Getting non-attached brings the light of discrimination. Discrimination brings impartial objectivity to what is happening. The ego learns to be a witness to events happening to him . This is strengthening of ego. The light which was clouded by attachment becomes clearer. Witnessing is seeing clearly. The confrontation and dialoging with what is, which Jung's psychology teaches, helps dissolve the attachment. Jung has repeatedly brought this to our understanding by describing in detail this process in relation to the anima/animus problem as well as the self/ego problem. The confrontation with anima/animus and their integration happen when one learns to keep an impartial attitude towards polarities. This brings one to experiencing the archetype of self through different symbols. In this manner Jung keeps to scientific standpoint and holds the living experience of self before western man.

In terms of Hindu thought, Jung brings the journey to selfhood to the level of the witness-Sakhshi- the one who sees impartially. It is yet a standpoint of duality. It is a stage in which ego is still in confrontation with other, though it is a pure ego. There is a glimpse of the experience of self-mystic experience- but not being IT. Confrontation has to end naturally to let experiencing be. There has to be cessation and rest for consciousness to flow back into its source and origin from moment to moment.

One raises a question at this point. Is there a way out of the imprisonment of this psychic world? It is a suffocating place. Jung becomes aware of this situation within and clearly describes it. He says that there is no Archemedian standpoint for a psychologist. He is enclosed in his subjective world. I did not understand the implication of such statements of Jung earlier. I felt as if Jung remained imprisoned in his psychic world, even though my experience with him denied it. Reading with care these very words again I saw how he had crossed it in becoming aware of it. He had found himself and opened the door for anyone who saw it. Let us see how he did it.


The experience of individuation is the highest value for Jung. It is the only satisfying thing in life.(5) It is a natural process in man. It is very clear from his writings and the presence I felt in his person that all the efforts of his life were to experience and awaken others to experience it. His psychological research culminated in it. For a person from the Hindu tradition Jung was a guru first and a psychologist secondarily.

Following the scientific tradition of west in the exploration of psyche-mind and understanding it, he realized that the scientific approach defeats itself in this area. It cracks down. As a science, psychology trying to understand and explain its content defeats itself, since it has no standpoint outside itself to look at its contents and explain them.(6) Psychology can talk in terms of its language - ideas, images, etc. which are themselves psychic contents. Thus it finds itself imprisoned in its own world. Physics can talk about matter in terms of mind, not so psychology. This exploration, however, brings the unconscious to consciousness, as if psyche becomes aware of itself, as if seeking has found itself.(7) The efforts of psyche to know itself as an object fails because it cannot know itself as other. This realization is the experience of Self, wholeness. It is IT's Self. There is no other, waves are water-ocean, ocean is water and waves. Guru's way meets Jung again in this final goal. The final experiencing of self is just experiencing - not from any center. Hence no description is possible. From the point of view of ego it is going into the dark abyss, being nowhere. But it is the beginning and end of everything. I could find only two references about this experience in Jung's writings. Let me quote from Seven Sermons To The Dead. "Harken! I begin with nothingness. Nothingness is the same as fullness. In infinity full, is no better than empty. Nothingness is both empty and full.....it is not, or it is. A thing that is infinite and eternal hath no qualities, since it hath all qualities."(8) Another reference is his letter to Dr. S. on Feb. 22,1938. "It is perfectly understandable that, when consciousness detaches itself from the object, the feeling arises that one does not know where one stands. Actually one is standing nowhere, because standing has a below and an above. But there one has no below or above at all, because spatiality pertains to the world of senses, and consciousness possesses spatiality only when it is in participation with the world. It is not-knowing, which has the same positive character as Nirvana in the Buddhistic definition or Wu Wei, not-doing, of the Chinese which does not mean doing nothing."(9)

Whenever Jung has come upon this experience, he has been very honest. He very humbly says he cannot describe it. "It is relatively a rare occurrence."(10) The way in which ego is transformed at this stage is hard to describe. He writes in great detail about dangers in the early part of this journey. He warns the seeker of the pitfalls he has to take note of.(11) Everything gained can be lost in a moment if one is unaware of the tricks ego plays at this time. Ego never wants to give up its central position. Either it is assimilated by self or to self. Both of these are losing games.(12) Ego has to understand its humble and useful role in the service to self. It has to become aware that it has no will of its own. Surrender to self is the only right attitude for ego.

All these warnings feel quite right in place if one has taken some part of the journey to individuation. What painstaking efforts, sufferings, and turmoil one has gone through at this stage! How much one has given up and left behind! He has died to many things and relations. All this labor of love can be lost in an instant, if one is not alert enough. The goal of individuation can be described only negatively. To be individuated is not to be particular, to show a stance different from others or to distinguish oneself from others.(13) To be whole, to be individuated, is to feel one with all, one with the world, Tattvamasi - that thou art. It is At One-Ment.


1. "It was these cases that finally convinced me that the treatment of neurosis opens up a problem which goes far beyond purely medical consideration and to which medical knowledge alone cannot help to do justice." CW 12. p.5 (4) Also cf. "In fact, one could say that while the patient is unconsciously and unswervingly seeking the solution to some ultimately insoluble problem, the art and technique of the doctor are doing their best to help him towards it. 'Art totum requirit hominen!' exclaims an old Alchemist." Ibid. p.6 (6).
2. "Even a Parsee found the way back to the Zoroastrian fire-temple" Ibid. p.15 (17).
3. "The language of love is of astonishing uniformity, using the well-worn formulas with the utmost devotion and fidelity, so that once again the two partners find themselves in a banal collective situation. Yet they live in the illusion that they are related to one another in a most individual way." CW 9.ii p.15-6. Also cf. "In both its positive and negative aspects the anima/animus relationship is always full of 'animosity', i.e., it is emotional, and hence collective." Ibid, p.16. (31).
4. "This knowledge is an essential prerequisite for any integration-that is to say, a content can only be integrated when its double aspect has become conscious and when it is grasped not merely intellectually but understood according to its feeling value." CW 9.ii. p.11-2. (38). Also cf. "The ego keeps its integrity only if it does not identify with one of the opposites, and understands how to hold the balance between them. This is possible only if it remains conscious of both at once." CW 8. p.219 (425). Also cf. "Therefore, anyone who wants to achieve the difficult task of realizing something not only intellectually, but also according to its feeling value, must for better or worse come to grips with anima/animus problem in order to open the way for higher union, a conniunctio oppositorum. This is an indispensable prerequisite for wholeness." CW 9.ii. p. 31. (58).
5. ".....so always the inner experience of individuation been appreciated as the most valuable and important thing in life. It is the only thing that beings any lasting satisfaction to a man. Power, glory, wealth mean nothing in comparison. These things are external and futile. The only important things are within. It is more important for me that I am happy than that I have external reason for happiness. Rich people should be happy but often they are not, they are bored to death, therefore, it is ever so much better for man to work to produce an inner condition that gives him an inner happiness. Experience shows that there are certain psychological conditions in which man gets eternal results. They have something of the quality of eternity, of timelessness, they have the quality of reaching beyond man. They have a divine quality and yield satisfaction which manmade things do not." Dream Seminars. Vol.1. p.210.
6. "Psychology is doomed to cancel itself out as a science and therein precisely it reaches its scientific goal. Every other science has so to speak an outside; not so psychology, whose object is the subject of all science." CW 8. p.223(429).
7. CW 8. p.223-4.
8. The Seven Sermons of the Dead. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. p.379.
9. Jung. Letters, Vol.1.
10. CW 8. p.223 (430).
11. CW 9.ii. p.31-2 (60).
12. CW 8. p.225 (430).
13. "But again and again I note that the individuation process is confused with coming of the ego into consciousness and that the ego is in consequence identified with the self, which naturally produces a hopeless conceptual muddle. Individuation is then nothing but ego-centeredness and autoeroticism. But the self comprises more than mere ego, as the symbolism has shown from the old. It is also as much one's self, and all other selves, as the ego. Individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to himself." CW 8. p.225 (432).

Copyright Arwind Vasavada. All rights reserved.

Arwind Vasavada, D.Litt., graduated from the C.G. Jung Institute of Z├╝rich in 1956. He is currently in private practice. He is the author of Tripura Rahasya: A Comparative Study of the Process of Individuation and the co-author of Hinduism and Jungian Psychology with Marvin Spiegelman.