Tibetan Buddhism and Jungian Psychology


Victor Mansfield

Department of Physics and Astronomy

Colgate University

Hamilton, NY USA 13346



May 2004


I: Introduction

Thanks to C.G. Jung’s association with the pioneer Tibetan scholar, W.Y. Evans-Wentz, Jung wrote two major essays[i] in the 1930’s relating Tibetan Buddhism to his psychological ideas.  He wrote, “For years, ever since it was first published, the Bardo Thödol has been my constant companion, and to it I owe not only many stimulating ideas and discoveries, but also many fundamental insights.”[ii]

Although Jung has been an important influence on me and his ideas have helped my practice of dharma, the first few pages of this paper are critical of him.  I show that he has some fundamental misunderstandings or an inability to accept the core ideas in the Buddhist texts upon which he is commenting.

After pointing out these limitations, I take a more positive stance and use a personal synchronicity example as a platform from which to discuss the convergences between Jung and Tibetan Buddhism.  Synchronicity is particularly interesting because it has both philosophic and psychological connections to Tibetan Buddhism.  Because readers of this volume are less likely to have a substantial background in Jungian ideas, I review them with some care.  I then apply Jung’s ideas to brief discussions of emptiness, the guru-disciple relationship, and deity yoga.  Through this application of Jung’s ideas, we can take a small step toward bringing the dharma more fully into the modern world.


II: Deficiencies in Jung’s Understanding of the Texts He Discusses

The most fundamental deficiency in Jung’s understanding of the texts he comments upon surfaces early in his first essay, a “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead” where he wrote, “I cannot imagine a conscious mental state that does not relate to a subject, that is, to an ego.  The ego may be depotentiated—divested, for instance, of its awareness of the body—but so long as there is awareness of something, there must be somebody who is aware.”[iii]  Jung’s need for “somebody who is aware” is contradicted by the text, which he says was his “constant companion.”  For example in the introduction to the Bardo Thödol, Evans-Wentz noted:

The whole aim of the Bardo Thödol teaching, as otherwise stated elsewhere, is to cause the Dreamer to awaken into Reality, freed from all the obscurations of karmic or sangsaric illusions, in a supramundane or Nirvanic state, beyond all phenomenal paradises, heavens, hells, purgatories, or worlds of embodiment.  In this way, then, it is purely Buddhistic and unlike any non-Buddhist book in the world, secular or religious.[iv]

A state that is “beyond all phenomenal paradises . . . or worlds of embodiment” implies that there can be no distinguishable subject, no “somebody who is aware,” who knows an object in a dualistic way.  The text clarifies this point when it discusses the dawn of the primary Clear Light at death.  It reads, “Thine own consciousness [rigpa, pure, pristine awareness], not formed into anything, in reality void, and the intellect [shes-rig, consciousness revealing contents], shining and blissful,—these two,—are inseparable.  The union of them is the Dharma-Kaya state of Perfect Enlightenment.[v]  (My inserted text in square brackets comes from the footnotes to the text quoted.)  In a footnote to these sentences, Evans-Wentz wrote, “In this state, the experiencer and the thing experienced are inseparably one and the same, as, for example, the yellowness of gold cannot be separated from gold, nor saltness from salt.  For the normal human intellect, this transcendental state is beyond comprehension.”

From this nonduality perspective, there can be no second principle of any kind.  There can be nothing outside the nondual to which it can be opposed, no oppositions within it, and no possible limitation of it.  As Evans-Wentz stated, such a nondual state is, for the normal human intellect, “beyond comprehension,” because the normally functioning human intellect must always work with oppositions.  Nevertheless, nonduality is surely a pivotal aspect of the Bardo Thödol and Tibetan Buddhism in general.  Although there are deficiencies in the Evans-Wentz translations,[vi] more accurate translations[vii] along with modern scholarship on Tibetan tantra[viii] are clear about the nonduality at the heart of Tibetan Buddhism.

The last quotation from the Bardo Thödol which states that rigpa, or pure, pristine awareness is “in reality void” needs amplification.  Emptiness or voidness is the pivot of the Tibetan Buddhist philosophic view.[ix]  In brief, it asserts that all subjects and objects, no matter how rarified or refined are totally empty or void of independent or inherent existence.  Ultimately they are all without essence or their own identity.  Yes, subjects and objects certainly have a conventional existence and can function to bring us help and harm, but their most fundamental reality is one of deep dependency and interconnection.  Thus, ultimately all phenomena are empty or void of inherent existence and only exist as a complex series of dependencies and relationships.  The ultimate truth of emptiness actually allows phenomena to conventionally exist and function.  In fact, emptiness itself is empty and nondual.

Jung understood that Tibetan Buddhism is ultimately a nondualist standpoint, but he rejected this premise.  For example, in the essay “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation” he wrote,

There must always be somebody or something left over to experience the realization, to say “I know at-one-ment, I know there is no distinction.”  The very fact of the realization proves its inevitable incompleteness.  One cannot know something that is not distinct from oneself.  Even when I say “I know myself,” an infinitesimal ego—the knowing “I”—is still distinct from “myself.”  In this as it were atomic ego, which is completely ignored by the essentially non-dualist standpoint of the East, there nevertheless lies hidden the whole unabolished pluralistic universe and its unconquered reality.[x]

The fundamental problem is Jung’s assertion that “One cannot know something that is not distinct from oneself.”  This model of dualistic knowing leads him to assert that the ego, atomic or otherwise, is the knowing I, rather than a content of mind.  That the ego and its structures can be known, can be objectified, demonstrates that the ego cannot be the knower.  For the sake of clarity, note that when Jung uses the term consciousness he is always referring to dualistic or reflective consciousness.

Jung’s inability to grant the possibility of such nondual apprehension of reality is consistent with his view of human development, or as he calls it, individuation.  Jung noted:

Every advance in culture is, psychologically, an extension of consciousness, a coming to consciousness that can take place only through discrimination.  Therefore, an advance always begins with individuation, that is to say with the individual, conscious of his isolation, cutting a new path through hitherto untrodden territory.  To do this he must first return to the fundamental facts of his own being, irrespective of all authority and tradition, and allow himself to become conscious of his distinctiveness.[xi]

For Jung, the endpoint and goal of human development is attaining a unique wholeness as a distinct individual.  Surely, attaining psychological integration of the various forces that tear at our psyches is a precious goal, but it is not the ultimate goal of Buddhism.

The ultimate goal of Tibetan Buddhism is to be simultaneously aware of the two truths while practicing universal compassion for all sentient beings.  On one hand, the practitioner must  honor the relative truth that individuals are finite and well-defined—the person identified in the passport.  On the other hand, the ultimate truth of emptiness asserts that all subjects and objects are totally void or empty of independent existence or essence.  Therefore, on the plane of relative truth, the enlightened Buddhist has a distinct and unique personality.  She has a unique body-mind complex and historical identity.  Yet, from the side of ultimate truth, she is continuously aware of her nondifference from reality, her total interpenetration and nonseparable connection to reality in all its effulgence and emptiness.  The practice of universal compassion naturally flows out of such wisdom.  On the other hand, Jung simply did not believe that Buddhism truly offers a grander vision of human development than individuation.  Although there are other limitations of Jung’s understanding of Buddhism, this bias is the most important.

A related difficulty with Jung’s understanding of Buddhism involves his view of the nature of reality.  For example, Jung stated, “Our whole experience of reality is psychic; as a matter of fact, everything thought, felt, or perceived is a psychic image, and the world itself exists only so far as we are able to produce an image of it.”[xii]  Since for Jung reality can come to us only in the form of images there is no possibility of formless meditations, which play such a crucial role in tantra.

Although it is important to keep these limitations of Jung in mind, I will show how Jung can actually help us gain a deeper understanding of Tibetan Buddhism.  For that, I turn to a discussion of synchronicity, one of the most important and controversial topics within Jung’s work.  For the present paper, synchronicity is important for two reasons.  First, it has a direct connection to the Buddhist principle of emptiness.  Second, it gives us a much deeper appreciation of the nature of archetypes, of special importance in understanding tantric practice.


III:  Synchronicity and Individuation

I have discussed synchronicity in detail with many examples elsewhere.[xiii]  Here I briefly review it and give an example.  Unlike my previous discussions of synchronicity, here I focus on the role of archetypes.

Jung defines synchronicity[xiv] as the acausal or non-causal connection of meaning between inner psychological states and events in the outer world, the world of consensual reality.  For example, a man has powerful dreams on two successive nights of his long estranged alcoholic father.  Both dreams surprisingly portray the father in a very favorable light.  The day after the second dream, he receives a telephone call urging him to visit his dying father.

In his definition of synchronicity, Jung used causality in the conventional sense of one well-defined thing affecting another through the exchange of forces or energy.  For example, I drop my pencil and the force of gravity causes it to fall to the ground, or anger causes my blood pressure to rise.  As Jung said, “We must give up at the outset all explanations in terms of energy, which amounts to saying that events of this kind cannot be considered from the point of view of causality, for causality presupposes the existence of space and time in so far as all observations are ultimately based upon bodies in motion.”[xv]  In synchronicity neither the inner psychological state causes the outer event nor vice versa.  I note in passing that Buddhism demands causes and conditions for all events so the acausality in synchronicity may seem like a conflict.  However, this is not the case, since Jung defined causality much more narrowly than most Buddhists would.

Meaning is a transpersonal principle that relates to Jung’s notion of individuation, of becoming a whole and unique person.  Meaning is transpersonal, not something the ego creates or projects on events, although the ego seeks to discover it and implement it in daily life.  Each expression of meaning, whether in a dream, a synchronicity experience, or in some moment of understanding, gives us another piece in the puzzle of who we are truly meant to be.  Marie-Louis von Franz wrote:

For Jung, individuation and realization of the meaning of life are identical—since individuation means to find one’s own meaning, which is nothing other than one’s own connection with the universal Meaning.  This is clearly something other than what is referred to today by terms such as information, superintelligence, cosmic or universal mind—because feeling, emotion, the Whole of the person, is included.  This sudden and illuminating connection that strikes us in the encounter with a synchronistic event represents, as Jung well described, a momentary unification of two psychic states: the normal state of our consciousness, which moves in a flow of discursive thought and in a process of continuous perception that creates our idea of the world called "material" and "external;" and of a profound level where the "meaning" of the Whole resides in the sphere of "absolute knowledge."[xvi]

According to the Jungian view, "absolute knowledge" transcends space and time, is not mediated by the senses, nor is it the empirical ego’s knowledge.  The realization of meaning, which touches the heart as much as the head, helps us actualize who we truly are as fully integrated, distinct individuals.  This natural process of unfolding is as unique to each person as the individuality resulting from the process.  All psychological experience can contribute to individuation, since it all contains purpose or a striving for some goal.  Jung explained,

When a psychological fact has to be explained, it must be remembered that psychological data necessitate a twofold point of view, namely that of causality and that of finality. . . .  By finality, I mean merely the immanent psychological striving for a goal.  Instead of striving for a goal, one could also say sense of purpose.  All psychological phenomena have some such sense of purpose inherent in them.” [xvii]

Since a major synchronicity is a dramatic display of meaning, it is often a significant event in the process of individuation.  Despite being exquisitely tuned to our individual psychological development, the meanings express the universal structuring patterns in the psyche, what Jung calls archetypes.  The archetype is a potential for experience that cannot be reified into an independently existent entity.  There are two overlapping aspects of archetypes: first, they express themselves dynamically through patterns of behavior.  Here is the connection to the full range of instincts.  Second, they provide the fundamental transformative meanings in our life through compelling numinous experiences, those having a mysterious power suggesting the supernatural.  Once activated, all archetypes are autonomous powers not easily directed or contained.  Here is a valuable definition from Jung’s late writing.

Of course this term [archetype] is not meant to denote an inherited idea, but rather an inherited mode of psychic functioning, corresponding to that inborn way according to which the chick emerges from the egg; the bird builds its nest; a certain kind of wasp stings the motor ganglion of the caterpillar; and eels find their way to the Bermudas.  In other words, it is a "pattern of behavior."  This aspect of the archetype is the biological one—it is the concern of scientific psychology.  But the picture changes at once when looked at from the inside, that is from within the realm of the subjective psyche.  Here the archetype presents itself as numinous, that is; it appears as an experience of fundamental importance.  Whenever it clothes itself with adequate symbols, which is not always the case, it takes hold of the individual in a startling way, creating a condition of "being deeply moved" the consequences of which may be immeasurable.  It is for this reason that the archetype is so important for the psychology of religion.  All religions and all metaphysical concepts rest upon archetypal foundations and, to the extent that we are able to explore them, we succeed in gaining at least a superficial glance behind the scenes of world history, and can lift a little the veil of mystery which hides the meaning of metaphysical ideas.  For metaphysics is, as it were, a physics or physiology of the archetype, and its dogma (or teaching) formulates the knowledge of the essence of the dominants, that is, of the unconscious "leitmotivs," of the psychic happenings predominating in that epoch.  The archetype is metaphysical because it transcends consciousness.[xviii]

Archetypes are not inherited ideas, fixed concepts, but more like universal potentials for action and meaning.  They have a biological connection through the instincts that can move us in the most powerful and sometimes overwhelming ways.  Jung wrote, “The archetypes have this peculiarity in common with the atomic world, which is demonstrating before our eyes, that the more deeply the investigator penetrates into the universe of microphysics the more devastating are the explosive forces he finds enchained there.”[xix]  While the archetypes are enormous potencies, they are also primordial units of intelligence or meaning, the source and power behind all the great “isms,” from Buddhism and communism to heroism.  They express themselves in our dreams, fantasies, behavior, and in worldwide myths and fairy tales.

Because of the great power of archetypes, they can easily overwhelm a person, as psychotics and those gripped by an obsessive idea demonstrate.  Jung observed that, “The characteristic feature of a pathological reaction is, above all, identification with the, archetype.  This produces a sort of inflation and possession by the emergent contents, so that they pour out in a torrent, which no therapy can stop.”[xx]  Although Jung stressed the importance of relating to the archetypes, of appreciating the mythic, archetypal dimensions of both our inner and outer lives, he repeatedly warns of identification with these autonomous powers.

For Jung, an archetype per se is never encountered, only one embodied in a particular set of symbols, behavior, ritual, or ideology.  Of course, the particular embodiment varies from one culture to the next.  The divine feminine takes a unique form in Tibet that differs significantly from that of the Australian aborigines or the Catholic Chruch, but the deeper underlying structure or meaning is the same in all these expressions.  Finally, since an archetype can express itself in both the inner and outer worlds, as in a synchronicity experience, Jung was forced to consider them as transcending the division between mind and matter.  In this way, archetypes become important in understanding both psychology and physics.  The following example shows how an archetype can manifest both in the inner and outer worlds.


IV:  Seeing the Dalai Lama

Although I normally teach physics and astronomy courses, for approximately two decades, as part of Colgate University’s Liberal Arts Curriculum, I have been teaching a course on Tibetan culture and history with a strong emphasis on Tibetan Buddhism.  I was teaching the course in the fall of 2003 when the Dalai Lama was coming to New York City for several days of teaching and a public talk in Central Park.  Since we had just read some of the Dalai Lama’s writing and watched an hour-long video about him, it would be a great opportunity if the class went to his talk in Central Park.  I arranged to take the class and a few students from previous classes to see him.  We were to leave Colgate at 5:00 AM on Sunday, September 21, 2003.

One more piece of background information.  Later that fall, I was scheduled to give a talk on my recent book, Head and Heart: A Personal Exploration of Science and the Sacred[xxi] to the Colgate Science Colloquium.  Rather than hiding my interests in such things as Buddhism and Jung, which I have been doing for decades at Colgate, I planned to present a real sense of the book’s contents.  I was anxious about it because it all seemed so personal and easily misunderstood with me appearing like a lunatic rather than a respected scientist.  Nevertheless, I decided not to give a “safe,” scientifically acceptable talk, but rather divulge my deeper commitments.

Because I invariably get a significant spiritual boost from seeing the Dalai Lama, I always try to prepare myself for the occasion by paying extra attention to my practice.  I was thus deeply distressed when I awoke at 3:00 A.M. on the morning we were to visit him with the following dream:

I am to give a lecture on my new book at Cornell University [where I received my Ph.D.].  I am very concerned that the material I want to present has too much Jung and related material in it, that it will not be well received by these academic scientists, that it is inappropriate, and that I might even be met with scorn.  The audience for the talk is large but the lecture will be outdoors in a place that puts me a very long distance away from the audience.  I am deeply concerned that I will not be able to reach them in either a physical or psychological sense.  Suddenly, I am told that the lecture will occur at another place.  This new place is better because I am a little closer to the audience, but I am still very apprehensive for the same reasons.  Before I am settled, about a half dozen people tell me to come with them because the lecture is actually in yet another place.  They lead me to a tiny room with glass walls.  I am to give the talk to this little group.  My former thesis and postdoctoral advisor, Ed Salpeter, is among them.  In addition to being apprehensive about the reception of the talk, I am also depressed to see how few people are interested in hearing it.  I feel very exposed in this glass room and anxious about Ed being there.

This vivid dream leaves me with a terrible feeling—a very bad way to start a trip to see His Holiness.  I meditate for a half an hour or so to regain my center and dissipate the unpleasant feelings.  Although there are many possible forms of dream interpretation, I use Jung’s approach to dreams.[xxii]  However, I still don't know what to make of the dream nor with Ed's appearance in it.  Despite my tremendous appreciation for Ed as a truly great scientist and a kind man, I was always afraid of him.  Many of his former students agree with me that, despite his kindness, his brilliance is terrifying.  I sent him a copy of my most recent book, since I have a story about him in there, but he never acknowledged getting the book.  I guessed he thought I was so far into the lunatic fringe that he did not want to reply.  I learned from meeting him in the local airport about a year earlier that his wife of 40 years just died and he recently become involved with another woman who has a connection to Tibetan Buddhism.  His presence in the little audience in the dream significantly added to my sense of dread.  Is the dream just expressing my anxiety about the Colgate Science Colloquium lecture?  That unconvincing interpretation tells me nothing new and thus, according to Jung’s understanding of dreams,[xxiii] implies the dream has no purpose.

At 5:00 AM, 45 sleepy students crowd into the bus.  It is a five-hour bus ride to New York City so I want to make constructive use of that time.  I plan to use the microphone on the bus to lead two writing exercises—after the sun is well up and I have distributed the food prepared for the trip.  To use the microphone, I have to sit in the front seat, very close to the huge window that makes up the front of the bus.  I notice that the bus driver has a seat belt, but none of the passenger seats has any.  In an accident, I could be flung right through that big piece of glass.  Thinking about this while being surrounded on three sides by glass suddenly reminds me of my unpleasant dream of lecturing in a tiny glass room.

The second exercise I have the students do is to write down a serious question that they might have about their individuation, although I do not use that term.  I tell them that many people, both Tibetan and western, believe that just being in the Dalai Lama's presence can provoke answers to their questions, can open a door to some higher intelligence within us that can help.  It is not that the Dalai Lama answers the question willfully or directly, but his presence can provoke an answer.  I encourage them to stay alert for that possibility.  I am not sure the students actually understand what I am saying, but it is worth a try.  I do not have a question.

It is an extraordinarily beautiful day in Central Park, full of sun, mild temperatures, and 65,000 people who come to see His Holiness.  We arrive there early enough to get up close.  Monks are chanting, flowers are everywhere, and the huge crowd is friendly.  I am so delighted with the whole thing, especially how the talk connects with the students.  It is the best that I can do for them.

Much as I love students, I want to slip away from them and bask in the afterglow of the Dalai Lama’s presence.  Therefore, I tell them that everybody is on their own.  I jokingly say, “Just get to the bus by 6:00 PM and only call my mobile phone if you are in jail or the hospital.”  I am in a lovely mood and want to walk in the brilliant sunshine and savor the moment.  I have no agenda for nearly four hours (an unfamiliar state!) so I wander aimlessly.  When I come to an intersection, I go in the first direction for which the light says, "Walk."  Let nature take me where she will.  Manhattan has never been so luminous.

After about a half an hour of this blissful random walk somewhere in Manhattan, I suddenly come up behind Ed Salpeter!  I say, "Is that Ed Salpeter?"  He turns and says, "There is the real Vic Mansfield."  He explains how he saw somebody he thought was me a week earlier, pointed me out to his partner, and then found it was actually somebody else who was a graduate student in my era.  Ed is on his way to Austria and has been one of the 65,000 people who saw the Dalai Lama.  Apparently, his partner brought him there.  I tell them how I am taking Colgate students to see the Dalai Lama.  Ed warmly invites me to stop at his house whenever I am in Ithaca for a meal and conversation.  I blurt out that he was in a dream of mine last night but I have no sense of the meaning of it all.  I am embarrassed by my revelation.

I was in a lovely mood before seeing Ed, but after meeting him, I am in a state of deep gratitude and joy for the astonishing interconnected mystery of the universe.  I do not understand what is going on, but clearly, something of importance is unfolding.  I wander back into Central Park, find a grassy spot under a giant oak tree, and lay on my back staring up into the canopy.

As the students and I leave Manhattan in our bus, the traffic halts in a dense gridlock.  To make constructive use of our time, I take the microphone and ask the students if they had any answers to the questions they had written down.  I knew the exercise is advanced for them and do not expect much.  Nobody answers.  I tell them that I am giving a talk at Colgate early in November and am apprehensive about it.  I briefly tell them about the dream and the meeting with Ed.  Although I do not know what is going on, this kind of experience is what I was referring to on the way down.  At that very moment, a big caravan of police escorts with flashing lights and blaring sirens makes the great ocean of traffic part so that a limousine can pass our bus on its left side.  It is the Dalai Lama and his entourage!  The students all crowd to the left side of the bus to see the Dalai Lama gazing toward the bus out of the passenger side of his limousine.  The timing is striking and I am amazed that, like a sleepwalker, I had set the stage for my experience with the writing exercise.

Still filled with wonder at it all, I settle down for a long bus ride.  I fish around in my briefcase for a manuscript sent to me in mid summer by a friend.  It has been getting dogged eared in my briefcase for at least six weeks, because I never seem to find time to read it.  As the bus rolls northward on the beautiful evening, I am stunned to find that the paper,[xxiv] whose reading has been delayed until this moment, discusses the physicist Wolfgang Pauli’s reluctance to acknowledge his long and intimate association with Jung.  Pauli also feared ridicule from his scientific colleagues because of his involvement with Jung’s ideas and his critical role in helping Jung develop his synchronicity idea.  I am both comforted and taken aback to learn that even Pauli, a daring titan in physics, so feared the possible scorn of his scientific colleagues that he would hide that important part of himself.


V: Commentary on Seeing the Dalai Lama

The greatest goal in life, according to Jung, is to actualize the unique wholeness at the core of each of us, to embark on the journey of individuation, bringing that unique seed of wholeness into full bloom.  The archetype orchestrating that process, giving our lives meaning, is the self, the archetype of distinctive wholeness, where nothing is left out, from the heights to the depths of the personality.[xxv]  Jung warned us, “The self, however, is absolutely paradoxical in that it represents in every respect thesis and antithesis, and at the same time synthesis.”[xxvi]  Jung claims that the Buddha “is the most highly developed and differentiated symbol of the self.”[xxvii]  Tibetan Buddhism wants us to view the guru as an expression of the Buddha, so he too is a particularly apt symbolization of the self, that principle which leads us on to the next step in our development.

Much like the phenomenon of transference in a therapeutic relationship, the disciple projects the self on the guru.  Initially we cannot relate directly to our inner guru, the self, so we must find it in an outward carrier.  As in any projection, we are bound to the carrier of the projection through emotional, compulsive, and primitive ways and are unable to see clearly the unique person embodying the projection.  Of course, such a situation leaves the relationship vulnerable to abuse, something unfortunately seen in all religions.  However, in Tibetan tantra the practice of guru yoga, devotedly meditating on the guru as the embodiment of Buddhahood, is central.  As Reginald Ray tells us, “guru yoga embodies the openness and devotion without which Vajrayana [tantric] practice is not possible. . . [it is] the very essence of Vajrayana practice itself.”[xxviii]  In the Tibetan tradition, not only are we to understand the guru as the revered embodiment of the Buddha, we are to visualize him in our meditations and seek to become like him.  This tremendous intensification of the projection draws out the archetype in its most powerful form.  However, just as in the therapeutic relationship, we must eventually withdraw the projection so that we can embody the self directly.

Sogyal Rimpoche wrote, “Who is this outer teacher?  None other than the embodiment and voice and representative of our inner teacher. . . .  He or she is nothing less than the human face of the absolute, the telephone, if you like, through which all the buddhas and all the enlightened beings can call you.”[xxix]  Our task is to integrate this “telephone,” convert it to a mobile phone that is always with us so that we can call at any time on the absolute in the form of our inner truth.  Alternatively, in Jungian language we seek to build a living and dynamic relationship between the ego and the self.

My root guru died two decades ago and nobody can take his place.  Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama plays the role of a guru who, although not involved directly in my daily practice, plays a central role in my inner life.  The synchronicity experience just described was saturated with the presence of the Dalai Lama, the carrier of the self and the apparent catalyst for the experience.

Turning more directly to the synchronicity experience, there clearly was no causal relationship between my dream with Ed and my meeting him the next day in Manhattan.  I had the intuition that there was a meaningful connection between those events, but the meaning, as in most synchronicity examples, was not obvious.  Just as in a powerful dream, we might have the strong sense that it is meaningful without being able to articulate the meaning.  This occurs, according to Jung, because the unconscious has a compensatory or complementing relationship to the ego.[xxx]  The meaning seeks to compensate for a one-sided or inappropriate attitude of the ego.  Since the goal of the meaning is to transform the ego, to compensate for its blind spots, it is difficult for the ego to grasp the meaning directly.  Since we are likely to impose inappropriate and premature explanations, it is best to savor such experiences, to feel our way into them and only later try to elicit their meaning, to tease out their intentionality or purpose.

For the Colgate Science Colloquium, I had planned to give a talk about the complementary relationship between science and the world of feeling and meaning.  That is already far from the usual science talk in that series.  However, the real tension came from my decision to embed the discussion within a personal synchronicity experience that directly relates to the complementarity of science and meaning.[xxxi]  (Obviously, I am also taking a similar approach here, through using a different synchronicity example.)  Despite having always hidden my spiritual and psychological interests, I wrote openly about them in my recent book, so why not be more fully me at this Science Colloquium?  Of course, I feared being misunderstood, ridiculed, or written off as harebrained, as a person with modest scientific talent who went astray.  Despite all this ambivalence, my sense of integrity demanded a representative and honest talk.

In reflecting on the experience I keep coming back to Ed’s uncanny statement, “This is the real Vic Mansfield.”  On one hand, it seems like a natural thing to say, given that he had recently confused me with somebody else.  On the other, given my inner conflict, the dream, and the state I was in just after seeing the Dalai Lama; it was extraordinary.  Here is my most revered science teacher telling me that this fellow floating in a sea of bliss and devotion was the real Vic Mansfield.

I now believe that the entire experience was trying to force me into a greater acceptance of the mystical, nonscientific part of me, to embody a wholeness that more completely represents my true psychological totality.  For decades, the scientist has struggled with the lover of dharma.  Who shall rule, the scientist or the devotee, the head or the heart?  Can I even imagine harmony between them?  My struggle and the resistance to the required synthesis is so old and deep that it seems to require a synchronicity experience, given more force by involving Ed and, indirectly, Wolfgang Pauli.  Perhaps I cannot run from my potential wholeness anymore.  Yes, I can still be devoted to science, but the lover of dharma, Jung, and the inner world demands acknowledgement and seeks to be embraced as an important part of the whole.

Let us return to the two aspects of the archetype: the dynamic or instinctual side and the cognitive or meaning side.  The dynamic side of the self seems expressed in my commitment to present a more complete picture of my interests at the Science Colloquium and my unconsciously setting up the synchronicity experience through my student writing exercise.  The meaning side of the archetype expresses itself more directly in the synchronicity experience.  The self, demanding my unique wholeness, incarnated in both my inner state and the outer world.  It incarnated in the dream with its fear of showing my deepest commitments, with Ed’s presence in the dream intensifying my fears.  In the outer world, Ed, the paragon of science, surprisingly tells me the next day that the real Vic Mansfield is the one devoted to the Dalai Lama and the state of mind he induces.

As Jung says, “Acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one's whole outlook on life. . .  to accept himself in all his wretchedness is the hardest of tasks, and one which it is almost impossible to fulfill.  The very thought can make us sweat with fear.”[xxxii]

Although relating to the self—the archetype of wholeness and meaning—is of the utmost importance, it has its dangers.  For example, Jung warned, “The great psychic danger, which is always connected with individuation, or the development of the self, lies in the identification of ego-consciousness with the self.  This produces an inflation which threatens consciousness with dissolution.”[xxxiii]  What is more, “An inflated consciousness is always ego centric and conscious of nothing but its own existence.  It is incapable of learning . . . hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with.” [xxxiv]  On that sobering note, I turn to an important philosophic implication of synchronicity.

From a Buddhist philosophic perspective, a synchronicity experience offers a striking expression of emptiness, of deep dependency and interconnectedness between ourselves and the world.  Our natural and habitual tendency is to project independent existence or inherent existence on the empty flux of experience.  We falsely believe that our world and our own identity are both independently existent.  Such projections are the foundation upon which we flee from some objects and persons or overvalue others.  This projection of inherent existence binds us to pleasure and pain—the wheel of suffering.  Our inability to see that at all levels our own personality has only a conventional existence and is ultimately a complex net of relationships prevents us from directly knowing the wisdom of emptiness and practicing compassion.

In a synchronicity experience, the deep interconnections and relatedness of the inner and outer world empirically express emptiness.  Synchronicity experiences are so arresting because they violate our naïve sense of the independent existence of our ego and its world.  Perhaps the greatest gift from a synchronicity is not the psychological meaning that might be ferreted out of the experience but the striking expression of emptiness.

Finally, I acknowledge that anecdotal evidence, such as the above synchronicity experience, is weak from a scientific point of view.  Nevertheless, synchronicity experiences dramatically present interesting scientific, psychological, and philosophic challenges.  As I have discussed in detail elsewhere, [xxxv] I do not believe that such experience is easily subjectable to traditional scientific investigation.  However, that need not deter us from a serious consideration of it.


VI:  Archetypes in Tantra

From both Tibetan sources and reports of near-death experiences, the visions seen in the after-death state are overpoweringly real, not of our making.  For example, Sogyal Rinpoche stated, “This is a vision that fills the whole of your perception with such intensity that if you are unable to recognize it for what it is, it appears terrifying and threatening.  Sheer fear and blind panic can consume you, and you faint.”[xxxvi]  On the other hand, the Bardo Thödol tells us that we are not to fear these visions because they are products of our own mind.  For example, the text reads:

0h nobly-born, all those are the radiances of thine own intellectual faculties come to shine.  They have not come from any other place.  Be not attracted towards them; be not weak; be not terrified; but abide in the mood of non-thought-formation.  In that state all the forms and radiances will merge into thyself, and Buddhahood will be obtained.[xxxvii]

How can we understand this seeming contradiction?  If they are just a product of the dying individual’s mind, “radiances of thine own intellectual faculties,” what is it that gives them such extraordinarily compelling and apparently objective nature?  Why are the wrathful or peaceful deities so difficult to dismiss if they are merely subjective?  Jung suggests that the visions seen in the after-death states, are projections of archetypes, which accounts both for their overwhelming power and seeming objectivity.[xxxviii]  Although they are subjective projections, they are expressing the objectivity and power of the archetypes, the fundamental potentials for experience.  Yes, they are personal projections, yet they express the reality and numinosity of archetypes.

If indeed these visions of both peaceful and wrathful deities, whether after-death or in deity visualization practices, are archetypal projections then their particular form or symbolization is not universal.  In other words, these same archetypal energies can be symbolized differently depending upon the practitioner’s culture.  In fact, the archetype may be even more accessible if symbolized by images taken from the practitioner’s own culture.  This may offend those who believe that the details of the deity visualization that they have worked so hard to stabilize are as important as the underlying archetype.  However, Sogyal Rinpoche tells us.

I am often asked: "Will the deities appear to a Western person?  And if so, will it be in familiar, Western forms?"

The manifestations of the bardo of dharmata are called "spontaneously present."  This means that they are inherent and unconditioned, and exist in us all.  Their arising is not dependent on any spiritual realization we may have; only the recognition of them is.  They are not unique to Tibetans; they are a universal and fundamental experience, but the way they are perceived depends on our conditioning.  Since they are by nature limitless, they have the freedom then to manifest in any form.

Therefore, the deities can take on forms we are most familiar with in our lives.  For example, for Christian practitioners, the deities might take the form of Christ or the Virgin Mary.  Generally, the whole purpose of the enlightened manifestation of the buddhas is to help us, so they may take on whatever form is most appropriate and beneficial for us.  But in whatever form the deities appear, it is important to recognize that there is definitely no difference whatsoever in their fundamental nature.[xxxix]

Although Sogyal does not use the word archetype, he clearly understands that the deities in yidam visualization practice and the experiences of the Bardo are archetypal projections, just as Jung claims.

In deity yoga, the practitioner tries to make a total identification with the deity.  For example, the present Dalai Lama writes:

For example, a main tantric technique is the cultivation of a subtle divine pride, a confidence that one is an enlightened tantric deity, the Lord of the Mandala.  One's mind is the Wisdom Body of a Buddha, one's speech is the Beatific Body, one's form is the Perfect Emanation Body, and the world and its inhabitants are seen as a mandala inhabited by the various forms of tantric deities.[xl]

This practice, involving body, speech, and mind in both the inner and outer worlds certainly flies in the face of Jung’s injunction about not identifying with an archetype.  However, Tibetan tantra is well aware of the dangers and prepares a tantric practitioner through immersion in emptiness, compassion, and renunciation.  The Dalai Lama has stressed that “Every sadhana begins with, is structured around, and ends with meditation on emptiness.”[xli]  Deity practice cannot be done without such safeguards and an intimate relationship with a fully qualified tantric master.  The Dalai Lama has also said:

Thus, we have to utterly change our sense of I.  To do so involves the subject of emptiness.  To prac­tice the yoga of divine pride without an understanding of emptiness will not only be useless, but could lead to iden­tity problems and other undesirable psychological effects.  Therefore, it is said that although the Vajrayana is a quick path when correctly practiced on the proper spiritual basis, it is dangerous for the spiritually immature.  This type of danger area is one of the reasons why the Vajrayana must be practiced under the supervision of a qualified vajra acharya.

Jung and tantra differ drastically in their advice on how to relate to these archetypal potencies.  However, they agree on the great power of these archetypes and tantra carefully girds its practitioners with ongoing grounding in emptiness, compassion, and renunciation.

Assuming that the archetypes are indeed being projected into imaginal forms both in the Bardo and in deity visualization, then the exact form of the deity is secondary to what it represents.  Therefore, tantric practices, methods, and ideas can be symbolized in ways that make them culturally more accessible to non-Tibetans.  Although this is true in principle, we cannot merely pluck pieces of tantra out of its cultural context and network of safeguards without losing both their integrity and the efficacy of the whole.  It is important to bring the dharma into the modern world, but not in a corrupt or dangerous form.


VII:  Summary and Conclusions

Although understandably Jung clearly had serious limitations in his understanding or appreciation of some core aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, he also resonated very strongly with some of its central ideas.  He too appreciated the centrality of mind and how skillful employment of the imaginative capacity of mind can transform the mind.  Of course, Jungians do not suggest deity practice, but they do encourage the use of what Jung called active imagination,[xlii] a technique for directly addressing the archetypal powers.  Of course, Jung encouraged a respectful meditation on the archetypal images that come up in dreams and visions.  Especially in the context of modern culture, so saturated in scientific materialism, Jung and the Tibetans share a deep reverence for the potency of image and imagination.  Of course, the images per se are not the goal in either Tibetan Buddhism or Jung.  The goal is to contact the autonomous intelligences, the archetypes, whether clothed in symbols from Tibet or ancient Greece.

Although many people are attracted to the idea of synchronicity and its display of archetypal meaning, I know from personal experience that many scientists dismiss or condemn it.  Nevertheless, a personal experience of synchronicity can provide a vivid expression of the truth of emptiness, the philosophic heart of Tibetan Buddhism.  If through such experience more meaning incarnates and furthers our individuation, then we are doubly blessed.

Archetypes are at the core of Jung’s work and despite the misunderstandings that often surround them, they provide a modern way of appreciating such seemingly exotic practices as guru yoga and deity practice.  Having had the privilege of introducing hundreds of bright, highly motivated, but non-Buddhist, students to Tibetan Buddhism, I know how foreign these ideas seem to them.  If through an appreciation of Jung’s ideas we can articulate this great tradition in modern and more easily understood ways, shorn of its exoticism, yet true to its source, then we have served both the dharma and the future generations seeking to understand it.



I wish to thank my dear spouse of more than three decades, Elaine Mansfield, for her constant support and for suggesting many improvements on drafts of this paper.  I offer my sincere thanks to his Holiness the Dalai Lama for his inspiring teachings, his exemplification of wisdom and compassion, and for the subtle and mysterious ways that he is present in my life.  Finally, I offer my most profound thanks to my late teacher Anthony Damiani, founder of Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies, who taught his students Jung, Buddha dharma, and other great expressions of timeless wisdom, while he simultaneously ignited our desire to realize some of these great truths in our lives.



[i] C.G. Jung, “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation” and “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” Collected Works, Vol. 11 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969).

[ii] C.G. Jung, “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” p. 510.

[iii] C.G. Jung, “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” p. 484.

[iv] W.Y. Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1977) p. 35.

[v] Ibid., p. 96.

[vi] H. Coward, “Jung’s Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead” in Self and Liberation, edited by D.J. Meckel and R.L. Moore (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1992) pp. 262-3.

[vii] F. Freemantle and C. Trunkpa (translators), The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo  by Guru Rinpoche (Berkeley, CA: Shambhala, 1988); Lati Rinpoche and J. Hopkins, Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism (Valois, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1981); R.A.F. Thurman, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding in the Between (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1994).

[viii] R.A. Ray Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2002).

[ix] J. Hopkins, Meditation on Emptiness (London: Wisdom Publications, 1983); R A. Ray, Indestructible Truth (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2000.

[x] C.G. Jung, “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” pp. 504-5.

[xi] C.G. Jung, “On Physic Energy,” Collected Works, Vol. 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978) p. 59.

[xii] C.G. Jung, “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” p. 479.

[xiii] V. Mansfield, Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making (Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing, 1995).

[xiv] C.G. Jung, “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle,” Collected Works, Vol. 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978).

[xv] C.G. Jung, “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle,” Collected Works, Vol. 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978) p. 434.

[xvi] M-L.  von Franz, Psyche and Matter (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1992) p. 258.

[xvii] C.G. Jung, “General Aspects of Dream Psychology,” Collected Works, Vol. 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978) p. 241.

[xviii] C.G. Jung, “Introduction to Woman’s Mysteries by M.E. Harding (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1976) pp. ix-x.

[xix] C.G. Jung, “The Phenomenology of the Sprit in Fairytales,” Collected Works, Vol. 9,1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977) p. 224.

[xx] Ibid., p. 351.

[xxi] V. Mansfield, Head and Heart: A Personal Exploration of Science and the Sacred (Chicago, IL: Quest Books, 2002).

[xxii] C.G. Jung, “General Aspects of Dream Psychology,” Collected Works, Vol. 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978).

[xxiii] C.G. Jung, “General Aspects of Dream Psychology,” Collected Works, Vol. 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978).

[xxiv] Hebert van Erkelens, “Introduction to The Piano Lesson,” “The Piano Lesson by Wolfgang Pauli,” and “Commentary on The Piano Lesson by van Erkelens & Frederik W. Wiegel,” Harvest: Journal for Jungian Studies, Volume 48, Number 2 (2002).

[xxv] Jung’s definition of self does not contradict the emptiness doctrine, a discussion omitted here.

[xxvi] C.G. Jung, “Introduction to the Religious and Psychological Problems of Alchemy,” Collected Works, Volume 12, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977) p. 19.

[xxvii] Ibid. p. 19.

[xxviii] R.A. Ray Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2002) p. 191.

[xxix] Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993) pp. 134-5.

[xxx] C.G. Jung, “General Aspects of Dream Psychology,” Collected Works, Vol. 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978) p. 253.

[xxxi] That talk was based on a paper to be published in Harvest: A Journal of Jungian Studies in 2004.  It is posted at www.lightlink.com/vic.

[xxxii] C.G. Jung, “Psychotherapy or the Clergy,” Collected Works, Volume 11, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969) p. 339.

[xxxiii] C.G. Jung, “Concerning Rebirth,” Collected Works, Vol. 9,1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977) p. 145.

[xxxiv] C.G. Jung, “Epilogue to Psychology and Alchemy,” Collected Works, Volume 12, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977) pp. 480-1.

[xxxv] V. Mansfield, Head and Heart: A Personal Exploration of Science and the Sacred (Chicago, IL: Quest Books, 2002) chapter 9.

[xxxvi] Ibid. p. 277.

[xxxvii] Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, p. 123

[xxxviii] C.G. Jung, “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation” and “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” pp. 518-520.

[xxxix] Sogyal Rinpoche, p. 284.

[xl] Tenzin Gyatso, The Path to Enlightenment (Ithaca, NY, Snow Lion Publications, 1995) p. 170.

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] M-L. von Franz, Psychotherapy (Boston, MA: Shambhala,  1993) pp. 146-176.


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