Difficulties encountered by a European in trying to understand the East
A thorough Westerner in feeling, I am necessarily deeply impressed by the strangeness of this Chinese text. It is true that a certain knowledge of Eastern religions and philosophies aids my intellect and intuition in understanding these ideas, partly at least, just as I can fathom the paradoxes of primitive religious ideas “ethnologically”, or as a matter of the “comparative history of religions”. This, in fact, is the Western way of hiding one’s own heart under the cloak of so-called scientific understanding.
We do it partly because of the misérable vanité des savants which fears and rejects with horror any sign of living sympathy, and partly because an understanding that reaches the feelings might allow contact with the foreign spirit to become a serious experience.
So-called scientific objectivity would therefore have insisted on reserving this text for the philological acuity of sinologues, and would have guarded it jealously from any other interpretation. But Richard Wilhelm has penetrated too deeply into the secret and mysterious life of Chinese wisdom for him to have allowed such a pearl of great insight to be shelved by any one of the special sciences. It is an especial honour and pleasure that his choice of a psychological commentator has fallen upon me.
78 But it is the East that has taught is another, wider, more profound, and a higher understanding, that is an understanding through life. We know this way only vaguely, as a mere shadowy sentiment culled from religious terminology, and therefore we gladly dispose of Eastern “wisdom” in quotation marks, and push it away into the obscure territory of faith and superstition. But in this way Eastern “realism” is completely misunderstood. It does not consist of sentimental, exaggeratedly mystical, intuitions bordering on the pathological and emanating from ascetic recluses and cranks; the wisdom of the East is based on practical knowledge coming from the flower of Chinese intelligence, which we have not the slightest justification for undervaluing.
80 We should do well to confess at once, that, fundamentally speaking, we do not understand the utter unworldliness of a text like this, indeed, that we do not want to understand it. Have we, perhaps, an inkling that a mental attitude which can direct the glance inwards to that extent owes its detachment from the world to the fact that those men have so completely fulfilled the instinctive demands of their natures that little or nothing prevents them from perceiving the invisible essence of the world?
Can it be, perhaps, that the condition of such knowledge is freedom from those desires, ambitions, and passions, which bind us to the visible world, and must not this freedom result from the intelligent fulfilment of instinctive demands, rather than from a premature repression, or one growing out of fear?
Do we only become free to know the world of the mind when the laws of earth have been obeyed?
The man who knows the history of Chinese culture, and who besides has carefully studied the I Ching, that book of wisdom permeating all Chinese thought for thousands of years, will not lightly wave aside these doubts.
He will know, moreover, that in the Chinese sense, the views set forth in our text are nothing extraordinary, but are quite unescapable, psychological conclusions.
81 For a long time, spirit, and the passion of the spirit, where the greatest values and the things most worth striving for in our peculiar Christian culture of the mind. Only after the decline of the Middle Ages, that is, in the course of the nineteenth century, when spirit began to degenerate into intellect, there set in a reaction against the unbearable domination of intellectualism which led to the pardonable mistake of confusing intellect with spirit, and blaming the latter for the misdeeds of the former.
Intellect does, in fact, violate the soul when it tries to possess itself of the heritage of the spirit. It is in no way fitted to do this, because spirit is something higher than intellect in that it includes not only the latter, but the feelings as well.
It (intellect) is a line or principle of life that strives after superhuman, shining heights; but, in opposition to it, stands the dark, earthborn, feminine principle with its emotionality and instinctiveness reaching far back into the depths of time, and into the roots of psychological continuity. Without a doubt, these concepts are purely intuitive visions, but one cannot dispense with them if one tries to understand the nature of the human soul.
China could not dispense with them because, as the history of Chinese philosophy shows, it has never gone so far from central psychic facts as to lose itself in a one-sided over-development and over-valuation of a single psychic function. Therefore, the Chinese have never failed to recognise the paradoxes and the polarity inherent in all life. The opposites always balance on the scales - a sign of high culture. Onesidedness, though it lends momentum, is a mark of barbarism.
Therefore, I can only take the reaction which begins in the West against the intellect in favour of eros, and in favour of intuition, as a mark of cultural advance, a widening of consciousness beyond the too narrow limits set by a tyrannical intellect.
83 Modern psychology offers a possibility of understanding
...the psychic processes are a common substratum - the collective unconscious.
As a common human heritage it transcends all differences of culture and consciousness and does not consist merely of contents capable of becoming conscious, but of latent dispositions towards identical reactions. Thus the fact of the collective unconscious is simply the psychic expression of identity of brain structure irrespective of all racial differences. By its means can be explained the analogy, going even as far as identity, between various myth-themes and symbols, and the possibility of human understanding in general. The various lines of psychic development start from one common stock whose roots reach back into the past. Here too we lies the psychological parallelism with animals.
84 Taken purely psychologically, it means that we have common instincts of ideation (imagination), and of action. All conscious imagination and action have grown out of these unconscious prototypes, and remain bound up with them.
86 It is a fact that consciousness, increased by a necessary one-sidedness, gets so far out of touch with the primordial images as to make a collapse inevitable. Long before the actual catastrophe, the signs of the mistake announced themselves as absence of instinct, nervousness, disorientation, and entanglement in impossible situations and problems, etc.
At this point begins the path travelled by the East since the beginning of things. Quite obviously, the Chinese owes the finding of this path, to the fact that he has never been led to force the pairs of opposites of human nature so far apart that all conscious connection between them is lost.
The Chinese has his inclusive orientation because, as in the case of primitive mentality, the yea and the nay have remained in their original proximity. Nonetheless, he could not escape feeling the collision of the opposites, and therefore he sought out the way of life in which he would be what the Hindu terms nirdvandva, free of the opposites.
87 Our text is concerned with this "Way", and it is the question of this same "Way" that comes up with my patients also.
Boe: the Way - Dao
87 It cannot be sufficiently strongly emphasised that we are not Orientals, and therefore have an entirely different point of departure in these things. It would also be a great misstake to assume that this is the path every neurotic must travel, or that it is the solution to be sought at every stage of the neurotic problem. It is appropriate only in those cases where the conscious has reached an abnormal degree of development, and has therefore diverged too far from the unconscious. This high degree of consciousness is the conditio sine qua non. Nothing would be more wrong than to wish to open this way to neurotics who are ill on account of the undue predominance of the unconscious. For the same reason, this way of development has scarcely any meaning before the middle of life (normally between the ages of thirty-five and forty), in fact, if entered upon too soon, it can be very injurious.
Boe: my first contact with Jung - I was twenty years old!
As has been indicated, the essential urge to find a new way lay in the fact that the fundamental problem of the patients seemed insoluble to me unless violence was done to the one or the other side of his nature.
I always worked with the temperamental conviction that in the last analysis there are no insoluble problems, and experience has so far justified me in that.
88 I have often seen in individuals who simply outgrew a problem which had destroyed others. This “outgrowing”, as I called it previously, revealed itself on further experience to be the raising of the level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest arose in the persons horizon, and through this widening of his view, the insoluble problem lost its urgency.
It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded out into contrasts to a new stronger life-tendency. It was not repressed and made unconscious, but merely appeared in a different light, and so became different itself.
What, on a lower level, had led to the wildest conflicts in two emotions full of panic, viewed from the higher level of personality, now seemed like a storm in the valley scene from a high mountain top. This does not mean that the thunderstorm is robbed of its reality; it means that instead of being in it, one is now above it. But since, with respect to the psyche, we are both valley and mountain, it seems a vain illusion if one feels oneself to be above what is human. The individual certainly does feel the affect and is convulsed and tormented by it, yet at the same time he is aware of a higher consciousness which prevents him from being identical with the affect, a consciousness which takes the affect objective, and can say, “I know that I suffer.”
Boe: I know that I suffer! - India 1984
Here and there it happened in my practice that the patient grew beyond the dark possibilities within himself, and the observation of the fact was an experience of foremost importance to me. In the meantime,
89 I had learnt to see that the greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They must be so, because they express the necessary polarity in here and in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.
I therefore asked myself whether this possibility of outgrowing, or further psychic development, was not normal, while to remain caught in a conflict was something pathological. Everyone must possess that higher level, at least in embryonic form, and in favourable circumstances, must be able to develop the possibility.
When I examine the way of development of those persons who, quietly, and as if unconsciously, grew beyond themselves, I saw that their fates had something in common. Whether arising from without or within, the new thing came to all those persons from a dark field of possibilities; they accepted it and developed further by means of it....In no case was it conjured into existence through purpose and conscious willing, but rather seemed to flow out of the stream of time.
90 I have been deeply impressed with the fact that the new thing prepared by fate seldom or never corresponds to conscious expectation. It is still a more remarkable fact that though the new thing contradicts rooted instincts as we know them, yet it is a singularly appropriate expression of the total personality, an expression which one could not imagine in a more complete form.
What then did these people do in order to achieve the progress that freed them? As far as I could see they did nothing (wu wei 無爲 ) but let things happen, for, as Master Lü tsi teaches in our text, the Light circulates according to its own law, if one does not give up ones accustomed calling.
(Wu wei (Chinese: 無爲; a variant and derivatives: traditional Chinese: 無為; simplified Chinese: 无为; pinyin: wú wéi; Japanese: 無為; English, lit. non-doing) is an important concept in Taoism that literally means non-action or non-doing.)
The art of letting things happen, action in non-action, letting go of oneself, as taught by Master Eckhart, became a key to me with which I was able to open the door to the “Way”. The key is this: we must be able to let things happen in the psyche.
Boe: Meister Eckhart - gelassenheit! (gelāʒenheit „Gottergebenheit“) - daoism - the Way - Sinn - I Ging