JUNG ON SURVIVAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS
By Elined Prys Kotschnig
Reprinted from INWARD LIGHT, Vol XXVI, No 64,
Sponsored by the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology
In its December issue The Atlantic did the American public a signal service: it published parts of the chapter “On Life After Death” from C G Jung’s forthcoming Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé. This “interior autobiography”—as different from the usual autobiographical work as are Jung’s writings from the usual books on psychology—appeared in German last fall, and the first edition was soon sold out. Understandably so, for to read it is to feel both enchanted and sobered, uplifted and appalled, enlightened and argumentative, impressed and touched, moved to laughter and to tears, especially in the childhood chapters, and filled with renewed admiration and gratitude for the immense genius and the simplicity of this man. Aniela Jaffé’s editing is beyond all praise; no seams are visible between the chapters written in Jung’s own hand and the ones on which he collaborated with her. The English translation, to be published by Pantheon Books in May, will surely meet a warm reception over here; the way has been paved by two further Atlantic selections, “Jung on Freud,” and “Jung’s View of Christianity,” in November and January issues respectively.
This is not the place for a review of the book as a whole; we are concerned here only with its chapter on life after death. Jung’s informal answers to questions put to him on this subject, a translation of which had been scheduled to appear in Inward Light, were in part the basis for this chapter in his autobiography. They passed recently, with other manuscripts, into the possession of the publishers, whose copyright, to their sympathetic regret, has prevented the fulfillment of our promise in the form originally intended; however, we are sincerely thankful that Jung was able before his death to enlarge upon those remarks and include them in this book. We hope our readers will be able to study the complete chapter when the book comes out, or at least to read the important selections from it in The Atlantic. Meanwhile, to facilitate their approach to Jung’s highly original empirical treatment of death and the beyond, we offer a summary of his reflections and arguments, together with an introductory framework for his thought.
JUNG’S EMPIRICAL APPROACH
In the course of his long life Jung was frequently asked to make authoritative statements on ultimate matters such as immortality or the nature of God. He always steadfastly maintained, however, that he was not a theologian or a metaphysician, but an empiricist, and would assert only what he could back up with experience and observation. Religious leaders who felt that the weight of his testimony would be invaluable to a doubting public implored him to state what his own beliefs were, even if his scientific conscience would not allow him to regard them as proved. But his invariable reply was that he was so constituted that he could only know or not know. If he did not know, he could not believe, and if he knew, he did not need to believe! This was no mere witticism, for he would add that belief was a gift of Grace, but one which had not been vouchsafed to him. However, he would go on to say, as in a BBC interview some three years ago, [in1960] that when he found sufficient reasons for a hypothesis he naturally accepted it, and would in consequence assert that certain possibilities deducible from it must be reckoned with. Whether there is any fundamental distinction between this attitude and the reverent agnosticism of a theologian acutely aware of the limitations of man’s mind may well be doubted. Witness the closing sentence of a recent book by Ralph Harlow, retired professor of Religion at Smith College: “Yes, I believe, in spite of those doubts with which my mind struggles, and probably always will struggle in this world. I still believe in immortality.” [A Life After Death, by S Ralph Harlow, Doubleday and Co., N Y, 1961]
ZONE OF SILENCE
Jung had always been alert to what the unconscious in himself and in his patients had to offer on this as on other matters. He observed, as did Freud, that the unconscious makes very little ado about the fact of death. Death presents itself in dreams as a journey, a change of location, etc., in much the same way as do other crises preceding a transition to a new psychological stage of being. It is treated in dreams as a rebirth into a continuity of existence, and such dreams may show their relevance to a man’s life by beginning to appear a year or more before death supervenes, even though nothing in the outer situation prompts them.
In 1934 Jung embodied his reflections up to that time in his essay on “The Soul and Death,” which has recently appeared in the English edition of his collected works. [The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Bollingen Series, Volume 8, Pantheon Books, New York] When Jung was asked, many years after its first publication, why this original and important work had not been translated into English, he retorted jestingly: “Americans are not interested in death!” It took in fact a full quarter century for that interest to quicken to the point where Jung’s article could be chosen by Herman Feifel to lead off his impressive symposium on The Meaning of Death. [McGraw Hill, New York, 1959. Reviewed in Inward Light, No. 62]
In the Pacific Ocean, it is said, there is an area called the Zone of Silence, because no sound can penetrate its acoustical deadness; many ships have been wrecked there because no warning bell can save them from rocks and reefs. Fear, doubt, helplessness have spread even in religious circles an analogous zone of silence around the facts of death and what follows death. Who knows how many human hopes and loves have been shipwrecked in this unnatural silence, which kills the proclamations of faith and too often mutes even the sympathy of friends to a fainthearted and shamefaced murmur?
But the taboo is lifting. Whereas, in the preface to his symposium, Feifel had stated: “There is no book on the American scene which offers a multi-faceted approach to death’s problems,” in the four years since then writers and publishers have responded increasingly to the unvoiced need with books and articles on this, our most inescapable problem; religious and scientific groups have had the courage to broach it, and interviewers of such leading thinkers as Aldous Huxley, Hermann Hesse, or Carl Jung have assumed that the public is interested in these men’s views on life after death.
THE KEYNOTE OF FACT
In such an interview last August for Réalités magazine, Aldous Huxley affirmed: “I think it likely that we are going to survive death, yes. There are certain facts that one can scarcely interpret other than in terms of the afterlife.” Huxley was striking in these words the modern keynote for meeting the age-old questions. While the traditional alternative attitudes—intuitive belief, intuitive unbelief, and rational skepticism—still prevail among most people, the attitude of search and examination of evidence is met with increasingly. If there are secular philosophers and scientists who treat the subject as not necessarily beyond human ken, and who are collecting relevant facts to see what can be deduced from them, there are on the other side of the fence religious thinkers who feel sure that, though it is blessed to believe without having seen, it is not less blessed to have both seen and believed.
Especially is this true of those who feel a responsibility to their fellows “caught in the discomfort of doubt and wonder,” as Ralph Harlow writes. Another veteran Christian leader, Dr Sherwood Eddy, who died recently at the age of ninety-three, was so stirred by the “heart-hunger” he found among enlisted men of World War I for valid evidence of survival, that he was led by their need into years of prolonged research, not for his own sake but that he “might be able to help others who had not sufficient religious faith to believe firmly in personal immortality.” He has told in his book, You Will Survive After Death, [Rinehard and Co., N Y 1950] the story of this search and of how in World War II the young aviators especially “poured in their eager questions and asked why they had not been told these things before.”
A widespread manifestation of the new attitude is the rise of such an interdenominational movement as Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, one of whose aims is to explore in a spirit of reverence possibilities of communication with the other side. In England as far back as the early twenties, a committee of bishops had gone so far as to declare: “It is possible that we may be on the threshold of a new Science, which will, by another method of approach, confirm us in the assurance of a world behind and around the world we see. . . . We could never presume to set a limit to means which God may use to bring men to the realization of spiritual life.”
JUNG BREAKS SILENCE
Doubtless, it is the mounting nuclear menace that
forces death once more upon our reluctant imaginations. The ominous atmosphere
of our time, under which Jung suffered deeply, certainly conduced to his
breaking silence and including in his posthumous autobiography the chapter “On
Life After Death.” He had always felt keenly the dilemma of man who, being
finite, cannot by the very nature of things “know” intellectually things
which transcend his temporal experience, yet finds in himself such urgent and
anguished questioning concerning death and the hereafter that an answer of some
sort becomes imperative. Jung felt it was laid upon one therefore to try to form
an opinion on this burning issue, and his hypothesis was that this is possible
on the basis of hints from the unconscious. The opinion that had matured for him
out of a lifetime of experience and reflection he had regarded, however, as a
personal matter, of interest to his friends but having no other value for
scholarship than to contribute to the multitude of human data on which a
reasonable hypothesis could be based. It is moving, therefore, to find him
introducing this chapter in the following words:
What I have to tell about the
hereafter, and about life after death, consists entirely of memories, of images
in which I have lived and of thoughts which have buffeted me. The memories in a
way also underlie my works; for the latter are fundamentally nothing but
attempts, ever renewed, to give an answer to the question of the interplay
between the “here” and the “hereafter.” Yet I have never written
expressly about a life after death; for then I would have had to document my
ideas, and I have no way of doing that. Be that as it may, I should like to
state my ideas now.
Even now I can do no more than
tell stories—and “mythologize.” Perhaps one has to be close to death to
acquire the necessary freedom to talk about it.
The German phrase here translated the ‘here and the ‘hereafter’” is “Diesseits” und “Jenseitis,” literally “’this side’ and ‘that side’.” It is one of the difficulties of translation that to distinguish the two modes of existence before and after death, English generally prefers the time-metaphor and German the space-metaphor. The space-metaphor, however, allows Jung to range over a broader field of meaning than the time-metaphor could do; consequently the use of “the hereafter” gives a mistaken slant to more than one passage in this translation, notably to the initial paragraph, which reads as though the deepest subject of Jung’s preoccupation had been the specific problem of the future life, instead of being the relation between consciousness and the whole universe of the unconscious, which includes not only what may lie beyond death but all that undergirds and overarches man’s life here and now.
Two or three further errors in what is otherwise an admirable translation by Richard and Clara Winston should be pointed out, as they cast an erroneous light upon Jung’s attitude. The German sentence following the above quotation reads literally: “I neither wish nor do I not wish that we should have a life after death, and I would as soon not cultivate such thoughts; but I must establish the fact, to let reality have its say, that without my wish and without my assistance, thoughts of this kind circulate within me.” The first three lines of this have been translated: “It is not that I wish we had a life after death, in fact, I should prefer not to foster such ideas. Still, I must state, to give reality its due,” a rendering which gives to Jung’s affirmation of his non-committal attitude a distinct bias against the idea of life after death; and which, by using “foster” instead of “cultivate” for the German kultivieren, alters the original implication of a subjective cultivation of one’s own thoughts into that of an objective fostering of ideas among one’s public.
This same negative pressure exercised by the translation comes out again in the fourth paragraph. It might pass without comment were it not for its reinforcing of the bias in paragraph one. It reads: “What the myths or stories about a life after death really mean, or what kind of reality lies behind them, we certainly do not know.” The word rendered “certainly” is allerdings, which means “to be sure” or “indeed.” To use “certainly” in this context is to stress in lieu of merely granting the fact of man’s ignorance. The phrase should therefore run: “what kind of reality lies behind them, to be sure we do not know.”
Even the omission of quotation marks on page 42 can serve a similar distortion of meaning: “for reason shows him nothing but the dark pit into which he is descending.” This translation almost reverses Jung’s ironic intention, for what he wrote was: “for ‘reason’ shows him nothing but . . .”
The mis-rendering of a single word has equally serious consequences in paragraph five, the final passage to which we draw attention. Jung is speaking of that art of myth-making to which he attributes so high a value, both as healing for the emotional life and as a pre-stage of intellectual understanding. He writes: “It gives existence a [luster] which we would not like to do without. Nor is there any good reason why we should.” The German word which we have rendered as ‘lustre” is glanz, which the translators have unaccountably turned into “glamour.” The German equivalents for “glamour” given in the dictionary signify magic, and illusion or deception, whereas no such connotation is even implied by the many equivalents given for glanz, which include in addition to luster a string of words like gleam, gloss, brightness, splendor, magnificence, glory! Read Jung’s sentence again, with any of these words in mind, and it becomes clear that he is investing “mythic man’s” imaginations with a quality not of illusion but of reality.
The cumulative effect of these passages had caused this writer considerable surprise, which only the arrival of the German original removed; hence it seems essential to restore the more positive tone of Jung’s statements, while repeating that the rest of the translation is an excellent rendering of the German.
Returning to the text of Jung’s opening paragraph, a further comment may be helpful, to make clear what he means by “mythologizing” or “telling stories” as modes of grasping reality. In describing, however fragmentarily, what they intuit, feel, and think about ultimate reality, men can only use the elements of the world that is familiar to them, recombining them in myths or stories of the Origin of Man and the Cosmos, of the Goal of Creation, of the Soul’s Journey here and hereafter. Every race and religion has its own symbolic images and sacred stories which tend, after having been venerated for centuries, to find either a too facile acceptance or an equally facile rejection. This hides from us the fact that at one time these images were fresh-minted in the original minds of a few highly-dowered individuals. Whenever the marks of the mint become worn and flattened by too long usage, and whenever revolutionary discoveries demand incorporation into our symbols of life and the universe, we find the consecrated imagery losing its fullness of substance and significance. It is left carrying little more than its literal and therefore ludicrously inadequate meaning, and must either be re-visualized with vigor and freshness, or yield to new “stories” that come to birth with compelling conviction in contemporary minds. Of this situation Rufus Jones has written.
One of the most noticeable features of our time is the weakening of faith in immortality. The reason for this changed attitude is due to the disintegration of all the old ways of thinking of life after death. We have lost our “imaginative material.” The “heaven in the sky” is gone. The thin and ghostly future life of animism makes no appeal to us. The resurrection of the body seems to us crude and materialistic.
Rufus Jones himself illustrates the revitalizing of a
venerable image when he continues:
It seems strange that St Paul’s
great spiritual conception has never quite got into man’s consciousness. . . .
It fits our new world outlook better than any other suggestion that has been
made. St Paul holds that we are all weaving a permanent soul-structure while we
live and think and act here in the body. It is an inside self, not composed of
atoms, of molecules, or corporeal stuff. It is an immortal, eternal, spiritual
heavenly sheath which gives form and covering to our spirits so that they are
not naked when they lose their outside tent. “For we know that if our earthly
house of this tent were dissolved we have”—not shall have—“a
building God-made, not constructed by hands, eternal and heavenly.” [Thou
Dost Open Up My Life. Pamphlet No. 127, Pendle Hill, Wallingford, PA, 1963]
Paul fused the material supplied by his experience of Christ on the one hand and of his tent-maker’s craft on the other, into a concept which was to become part of the Christian currency; and Rufus Jones, by his own loving and creative participation in Paul’s inspiration, re-mints it—brushing aside the literalism of physical resurrection and declaring Paul’s concept to be a “stoutly spiritual” mythos of the relation between the soul’s life on this side and on the other side of death. In contrast to Rufus Jones, Carl Jung, though he too was deeply influenced by the Christianity in which his childhood was immersed (his father and several uncles and cousins were Protestant pastors), was pre-eminently of those destined to be innovators; his radical imagination struck new coinage whose images and superscriptions, mottoes and devices sprang from many sources, but whose authentic ring attracts numberless people for whom the historic symbols have lost their power.
OUR MULTI-DIMENSIONAL WORLD
In considering the question of whether anything of man’s being continues after death, Jung takes his departure from observable and well-authenticated facts which indicate that right here and now “at least a part of the psyche is not subject to the laws of space and time.” Precognitive dreams, hunches and premonitions that are subsequently borne out by events, paranormal perceptions traditionally known as telepathy, clairvoyance, etc., the meaningful coincidences of which Jung himself had made a special study, coordinating them around a principle of “synchronicity”—all these had convinced him that psychology must follow physics in accepting the possibility of further dimensions of reality. “Reason,” he warns, “sets the boundaries far too narrowly for us, and would have us accept only the known . . . just as if we were sure how far life actually extends.” The occurrence of unexplained paranormal phenomena attests “that our categories of space and time, and therefore of causality, are incomplete” and fail to describe, let alone account for, a proportion of the events of ordinary life. “We must face the fact that our world, with its time, space, and causality, relates to another order of things lying behind or beneath it, in which neither ‘here and there’ nor ‘earlier and later’ are of importance. . . . This relativity seems to increase, in proportion to the distance from consciousness, to an absolute condition of timelessness and spacelessness.”
To illustrate his point Jung retells several striking
dreams and premonitions of his own, whereby he was made aware, before conscious
knowledge could reach him, of danger or death befalling relative or friend. He
comments: “When one has such experiences . . . one acquires a certain respect
for the potentialities and arts of the unconscious. Only, one must remain
critical and be aware that such communications may have a subjective meaning as
well. . . . I have, however, learned that the views I have been able to form on
the basis of such hints from the unconscious have been most rewarding.”
In the middle section of the chapter (not reproduced in The Atlantic) Jung goes further, telling of dreams through which he received, so he surmises, communications from or concerning friends who had died. Jung felt he had learned to distinguish between dreams in which a personage stood for a subjective aspect of his own psyche and those that referred objectively to the person appearing in the dream. When asked on one occasion if he could define the difference in quality of the two experiences, he replied that it roughly resembled the difference between “a cinematographic picture and ordinary reality” though he added that this comparison was a little too coarse.
A single example from among those he recounts will illuminate the above statements. About a year after his wife’s death he awoke suddenly one night knowing that he had spent a day with her in Provence, where she was studying the Grail legend. Emma Jung had died before completing her work on the Grail, and it seemed meaningful to Jung that she should appear in the dream as continuing her mental and spiritual development—in whatever way that might be understood. A subjective interpretation, he felt, would have made her a symbol for a side of himself at work on an unfinished task, but such a message would have seemed to him redundant, since he was perfectly aware that his own work was not completed. The objective interpretation, on the other hand, made better sense and brought with it a feeling of reassurance.
The skeptic, of course, makes short work of such dreams, which to him are just “wish fulfillments.” (We may note that both views are equally impossible either to prove or disprove, just as it can never be “proved” to any doubter that other persons or an outer world exist save as elements of his subjective experience.) Jung freely grants the possibility of arguing that the dreams may be compensating for the fear of extinction. However, the argument from dreams does not stand alone; they but reinforce the evidence of the other mental phenomena which attest that at least a part of our psyche exists beyond space and time. Taking into consideration all these hints from the unconscious, Jung writes: “I will acknowledge that I have a ‘myth’ which encourages me to look deeper into this whole realm.”
JUNG’S IDEA OF THE BEYOND
Viewing old age as the preparative stage for life’s climax, death, Jung sees it as essentially a period of reminiscence, of reflective pondering on the past in order to understand life better and establish one’s significance within it. This process comes to expression in symbolic images which counteract the danger of remaining fixated in the concete memories themselves. (We may instance the many images that sum up live as a Quest, a series of Ordeals, or a Journey, and its end as a crossing of the River, a descent of “Sweet Chariot,” a return Home, etc., etc.) Through the images, says Jung, “I try to see the line which leads through my life into the world and out of the world again.” This is a process only imperfectly to be realized on this side; as he once remarked, human life seems like a page torn out of a book—we know neither what precedes nor what follows, and how should we understand its meaning? The same image lay behind the lines of John Donne, who carried it two steps further, into the after-life; “all mankind is of one Author, and is one volume; . . . and His hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.” The poet’s thought would accord with the “myth” Jung had found forming within him regarding the future life as a logical continuation from a vital old age, a further rumination and assimilation of the lifetime on earth. This process cannot be lacking in painful and somber aspects: Jung does not subscribe to a picture of future existence as all light and harmony. The universe is one, and “the world into which we enter after death will be grand and terrible, like God and like all of nature that we know. Nor can I conceive that suffering should entirely cease.” In this Jung appears to be more in accord with Catholic than with Protestant ideology, and to many thinking people more in accord with common sense.
Limitations of knowledge and capacity continue to characterize the life Beyond, as Jung sees it, a view which is in line with our modern tendency to conceive of that life as one of continued growth rather than a static condition fixed once and for all. But as always, his thinking is based not on speculation but on empirical facts. Dreams of his own and other people brought him to this view, such as the dream already quoted concerning his wife. Another example he cites concerns a friend who had just died without ever having questioned his conventional view of life. In the dream this man sat at a table with his daughter, who was enlightening him on the truths of psychology. He seemed to be so fascinated that he barely waved to the dreamer, in greeting and at the same time farewell. To Jung the dream seemed to delineate some process of realization going on in his friend, to make up for his obtuseness while on earth.
Such recognition of the need for growth and completion in those who have passed on is not without consequence for those who are in this life. Jung writes that he has often felt as if souls of the dead stood immediately behind us, intent on catching the answers we can provide to their questions, as though our three-dimensional world were the necessary condition for acquiring distinct and decisive awareness. How deeply such an experience may affect conduct is illustrated by an episode in his own life. He dreamt, he writes, that he was in an illustrious company of men from former centuries, all debating in Latin. A bewigged scholar put to him a difficult question, which he understood but had not enough Latin at his disposal to reply to. The deep shame he suffered woke him up, and his first thought was of the book he was then engaged upon. He was at the moment on a bicycling tour, but he took the first train home next morning. He felt he could not have wasted three more days before getting back to work, for even though on waking he could not recall the content of the question, he had a profound hunch that through working on his work he would be finding an answer to it. Much later he recognized that the company had represented his predecessors in scholarship, who in their own times could not yet bring to expression what would be the ripe fruit of succeeding centuries of thought, but were eager to share in the expansion of knowledge, and depended on the exertions of himself and his contemporaries to bring it to clear consciousness. If Jung’s idea seems far-fetched, we may compare it with the very similar thought in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it is stated of the historical men of faith in Israel “that they without us should not be made perfect,” or as the New English Bible has it: “that only in company with us should they reach their perfection.”
It must not be supposed that in drawing conclusions from dreams such as these, Jung took them simply at face value. Few dreams, even those concerning our daily companions and circumstances, can be thus taken; usually they need painstaking examination and skilled interpretation to yield their meaning. Jung likens dreams concerning those who are no longer in the flesh to pictures of three-dimensional bodies projected onto a flat canvas, or to attempts to represent four-dimensional entities in three dimensions. The dreams should be treated as hints pointing toward those imaginative constructs or myths which form the much needed bridge between the world we know and the totally unknown.
The conception that “mankind’s metaphysical task seems to be the heightening of consciousness” on behalf of past as well as future generations, fills with a new significance the labors and achievements of this life. Perhaps on a less sophisticated level, a little housemaid once expressed a similar thought: questioned as to how she faced up to her more disagreeable chores, she replied, “I offer them up for the poor souls in purgatory.”
One may feel inclined to quarrel with Jung’s idea that the highest level of consciousness reached among the living constitutes the ceiling of what is available to those who have gone before; it seems to place the center of gravity too much in the temporal life of this planet. But we must recall again that his surmises spring from experience, and that the most readily accessible sphere of the next life must logically be whatever state lies immediately beyond the present; this, it is natural to suppose, would be continuous with our own condition and interdependent with it.
However, Jung seems to have left room for further evolution in the after-life. In a conversation the year before he died, he spoke of four distinguishable stages in man’s relation to those on the other side of death. The first he characterized as a period during which they appear to be still part of our lives, and can for example carry out plans previously made for communicating with survivors. Many a bereaved person can testify to the experience of feeling the loved one to be present in some way. This postmortal period, Jung added, may last six weeks or more. To many it will be a glorious thought that the Resurrection appearances between Easter and Ascension may be paralleled, if humbly and faintly, in the lives of ordinary people who can open mind and heart to what is happening.
A second stage which Jung thought could be distinguished after some years was a kind of second death, when all sense of contact ceases. He agreed that this experience had found a hallowed cultural form among the Chinese, who after three years inscribe the name of a deceased parent on the tablets of the ancestors.
A third stage may supervene in which rare, spontaneous, and irregular manifestations occur, such as Jung’s own totally unexpected dream of his father, twenty-six years after his father’s death and six weeks before his mother died. This dream and the striking circumstances which explained it are described in the autobiography.
In addition to the above three stages, Jung mentioned intimations of a state so different from our consciousness as to be inexpressible by human means. This again will commend itself to any reasonable intelligence as what we could not but expect.
Concerning all these stages, Jung stressed that they are not just subjective perceptions or mere speculations, but are based upon traditions and collective assumptions or experiences. These are embodied oftentimes in ritual, custom, and myth.
REINCARNATION AND KARMA
“Myths are the earliest form of science,” Jung states. Without this intermediate realm of intuition and imagination, he sees us menaced with petrifaction in doctrinaire theory or dogma, with no link to living experience. Conversely, he warns against the danger for oversuggestible minds of treating intuitions and hunches as if they were certainties. This should be kept in mind particularly when we look at the suggestion he throws out, that certain souls may “plunge again into birth,” depending perhaps upon how much completeness or incompleteness they have taken across with them from their human existence.” The idea Jung expresses here finds a ready echo in many contemporary minds. Witness Albert Schweitzer: “The idea of reincarnation contains a most comforting explanation of reality by means of which Indian thought surmounts difficulties which baffle the thinkers of Europe.” Not only does the idea provide a partial explanation for the inequities of human destinies, and for the phenomenal gifts with which some children come into the world, but it meets the yearning for future fulfillment of human possibilities. Keenly aware of the half-baked condition which most of us attain to and of the further growth so obviously needed, why, some ask, should not this growth take place in a new life on earth, at least until we have caught up with all the challenges this planet provides.
It is too little realized that reincarnation was taught in the Christian Church during the first five centuries A.D. In our own day so noted a churchman as the late Rev. William R Inge (Dean of St Paul’s) has written: “Rebirth is plainly asserted in the Wisdom of Solomon . . . which the Roman Church rightly accepts as canonical. It is implied in St John’s Gospel. The belief was widely held among the Jews. I believe there is an element of truth in this belief about our personality, which is common in India and all the mystics.”
In a portion of his chapter omitted from The Atlantic, Jung further develops the theme, speaking of the “widespread myth of the Beyond constituted by ideas of reincarnation.” He draws attention to the fact that to a land as highly civilized as India reincarnation seems just as self-evident as, say, the creation of the world by God seems to us. Educated Indians know that we don’t think as they do, but it bothers them not at all. An example brought to his notice when he was in India had impressed him as having no parallel, to his knowledge, in Europe, and though he does not mention the case in this chapter, it may be worth recounting here. An Indian physician had given him a whole file of material on a girl who, as a small child, began remembering her former life, her own name and her husband’s, her children and her home town. She was finally conducted to that distant town, where her former family still lived; she gave so many proofs of identity, that she was accepted by them as being the deceased wife.
A striking sequel to this story is related in the book by Ralph Harlow which was mentioned earlier. In the chapter entitled “Shanti Devi,” Professor Harlow tells the story as it appeared in the New York Times, and goes on to relate an experience of his own. Speaking with a group of students in India about this widely known case, he was amazed to hear from a woman student that her own mother had been a life-long friend of the young wife who had died; and that when the allegedly reincarnated child came to their town, she had immediately recognized her former playmate and called her by the nickname which only they two had known. The student added that her own family was Christian and so did not believe in reincarnation; nevertheless, she had to admit that these baffling facts had left them mystified.
Before leaving this story, it will be pertinent to mention an article in the magazine Tomorrow, summer 1962, by Professor C T K Chari of Madras Christian College. Speaking of the Shanti Devi and similar cases, he raises the question of “why a reincarnationist interpretation of them is more likely to be true than any other,” and whether they could not be explained by paranormal cognition or by spiritistic manifestations, “for cases of rebirth do not carry their own interpretation with them. There is a great deal for parapsychology to do here.” In conclusion however, he emphasizes that “the ancient ‘depth psychologies’ of the East have something to offer to the West,” not excluding their key concept of reincarnation.
Jung was among those western scholars who never doubted the value of the Eastern contribution to psychology and religion. In the chapter we are discussing he writes that, holding in great respect the testimony of India concerning rebirth, he had kept his eyes and ears open for anything in his environment that might point in a similar direction. He testifies to a recent series of dreams of his own which to all appearances described the reincarnation process of someone he had known; certain elements of the dreams could in fact be checked with an amount of probability that could not be lightly dismissed. Having found no further cases of the sort, however, he had to content himself with leaving the matter there.
The striking difference between the Oriental and Occidental ideas of the soul’s continuing life cannot of course be resolved by dismissing either of them, and for Jung, as one would expect, they constitute a pair of complementary opposites, each of which is justified in what it affirms.
Inseparable from reincarnation is the idea of karma, and the crucial question is whether karma is personal or impersonal. In other words, has a specific personality lived before, returning in this generation to complete an unfinished task, or is he, for example, an embodiment of many ancestral lives? Buddha, Jung recalls, was twice asked similar questions by his disciples, but he always turned them aside in favor of the pursuit of right conduct in this life. Jung too holds that if our deeds do indeed follow us, the essential is that we should not reach our life’s end empty-handed. But while sympathizing with Buddha’s silence towards a type of questioning that degenerates into sterile speculation, he still remains on the lookout for any fact that may shed light on the possibility of personal survival. He mentions, in addition to dreams, two classes of observations that bear significantly on this possibility. One of these concerns certain phenomena of dissociation, and is of interest chiefly to the psychiatrically oriented. The other is based on the hitherto unexplained fact that there are cases of acute brain injury where the consequent “total loss of consciousness can be accompanied by perceptions of the outside world and vivid dream experiences.” An example Jung once quoted in a talk was taken from the published report of two army surgeons on subjective levitation-phenomena accompanying a shot through the brain. The soldier’s consciousness rises above his unconscious body. He looks down on the battlefield, where all is stilled and silent. Later—perhaps on hearing his name called by a rescuer—he comes to, to find himself lying wounded on the field. (Similar cases have of course been reported of patients under anesthesia, or believed by the doctors to have died.) The cerebral cortex, the seat of consciousness, is in such cases put out of action. Yet the subject continues to experience in some way yet to be understood, and can later report on his experiences. Here then, said Jung, is a form of consciousness which conceivably may function so independently of brain and body that it may prove capable of surviving them.
THE TEMPORAL AND THE ETERNAL SELF
At no point of this far-ranging discussion does Jung lose his realistic approach to the whole question of death and survival. Physically, and still more psychically, death is a frightful brutality, he reminds us in a searing paragraph. Its cruel reality is agonizingly present at the very same time as it is being seen, from an eternal standpoint, as a joyful mystery of the soul. He tells of experiencing this truth intimately on the sudden unexpected death of his mother. Traveling home for the funeral, filled with deep sadness, he yet heard with the inner ear sounds of music and laughter, as though at a wedding; feelings of warmth and joy kept alternating with feelings of fear and grief, and this continued all through the night. He finds the explanation for these contradictory feelings in the vital fact that a death is viewed, now from the standpoint of the temporal ego fallen victim to a catastrophic event, and now from the standpoint of the soul united as it were to its missing half and thus achieving wholeness. Popular sentiment witnesses to the same contrast; he cites the carvings of weddings or feasts which adorn antique sarcophagi, or the custom which has survived in many localities of holding picnics on family graves on All Souls Day. Lafcadio Hearn has a beautiful description of a parallel custom in Japan.
At the close of the chapter Jung illustrates with two dreams the question of how the “I” in time and space may be related to the eternal self existing beyond time and space. Commonly we all view the universe from the focus point of the ego, and the eternal and infinite are perceived but vaguely and sketchily. A startling hint of a reversed viewpoint came to Jung in a dream where he found himself the object of scrutiny by a UFO (unidentified flying object) pointed straight at him like a telescope. It came to him that far from the UFOs being projections of ours, we apparently were projections of theirs! In another dream he saw a yogi in deep meditation—then to his terror he saw that the yogi had his face. Jung awoke with the realization “He has a dream, and I am it.” The Yogi, he concludes, represents the unconscious wholeness of the dreamer’s self, which is “the generator of the empirical personality.” Such intuitions may come even to young children, like the little boy of six or eight who remarked to his mother, “Sometimes I think I’m part of God’s dream.” Questioned as to when this thought came to him, he replied dreamily, “When I’m looking out and it’s snowing—or when brother drags me down the hall by the leg”! A footnote in the book reminds us that Chuangtzu had a similar experience in his famous butterfly dream. This is to feel one’s earthly limited self to be “related to something infinite,” and to restore this sense is in Jung’s opinion the crying need of an age which has so stressed the here and now that “man has been robbed of transcendence.” But we can only regain our sense of the infinite “if we are bounded to the utmost.” (If we find this a hard saying, we may recall the homely wisdom of Mrs. Miniver, looking through her rose-colored curtains at the dawn sky and saying to herself: “Eternity framed in domesticity—how else could I see eternity?”) The greatest limitation of all, Jung proceeds, is man’s own self, but, knowing that, he can achieve the paradoxical experience of himself as limited and eternal, both at once.
EXPLORING INNER SPACE
We have completed our résumé of Jung’s chapter
“On Life After Death.” It has
confirmed our belief—and we hope has suggested to the reader—that as
religious, philosophic, and scientific thinkers converge upon the nature of the
self and the issue of its survival, we may expect discoveries to break upon us
that still seem to the average mind as fantastic as did Space travel a few
years—yes, only a few years—ago. Some will feel that this is undesirable
even if possible. And it is true that there are difficulties in the way of
research such as this which do not apply to the sciences of matter, difficulties
of heart as well as head. It is natural for those who may have personal evidence
to offer to shrink from exposing it, and for scholars of sensibility to hesitate
to seek it out. Nevertheless, we may not allow ourselves to be frightened off by
these hindrances, which beset the investigation of all intimate and subtle human
experience whatsoever. Robert Frost has bequeathed to us the inspiriting lines:
Have no hallowing fears
Just because it’s hidden.
Trespass and encroach
On successive spheres
In the hands of men and women with true understanding and
respect for human feelings, the correlation of whatever facts may be entrusted
to them will be safe from the curiosity or cold intellectual zeal too often
associated with science. In the exchange mentioned above concerning the four
stages, Jung declared of these “almost intangible realities” that “to say
anything about them is a brutal and unjustifiable attempt to press something
into words which only ought to be alluded to in most delicate terms.”
Nevertheless, feeling as he did man’s painful need to probe his ultimate
destiny, he was always willing in private to speak of personal experiences, his
own and the interlocutor’s, and to express more freely than in print his own
opinions, which appeared in a more positive light than his writings lead one to
suppose or his scientific conscience allowed him to affirm. All his life Jung
accepted, in this matter as in others, to endure the tension between evidence
for and evidence against. What he considered as serious “evidence for” is
set forth in the chapter “On Life After Death.” Some may feel disappointed
at what seems to them the inconclusiveness of the arguments, when compared with
the great hymns of the church or the ringing words of St Paul which Christian
burial service draws upon. Others may compare the arguments adversely with some
of the claims put forward by parapsychologists, such as Jung refers to on page
40 of the Atlantic article*. But
there will be many who positively (or ruefully) align themselves with Jung’s
own professed inability “to believe what one does not know” even though all
saints and theologians assert it, and who furthermore mistrust the testimony of
people whose parapsychological make-up they have no clue to; these may admire
the cautious boldness with which Jung, as a great student of the human mind,
advances evidence for life after death from both individual and folk experience,
and may find his approach congenial and liberating. In sum, for those who are
not convinced of the survival of consciousness, here are data which will turn
their reflections into fresh channels, while for those who are already convinced
there will be new evidence they may never have thought of, some of it
disturbingly or inspiringly different from their customary train of thought on
that haunting query, “If a man die, shall he live again?”
*There are leaders in that field, however, no less pledged to empiricism than Jung, who have expressed surprise at this reference to what “parapsychology holds to be scientifically valid proof of an afterlife,” as though there existed a single unitary viewpoint among parapsychologists.
The INWARD LIGHT Journal
(sponsored by the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology but no longer in
publication) sought to be an organ of expression and intercommunication among
those concerned. with cultivating
the inner life and relating it to the problems of our time. Murraycreek.net is
grateful to the Conference for their kind permission to reprint this issue in
full. For further information on the Conference go to http://fcrp.quaker.org/
Return to Home