Get Even More Visitors To Your Blog, Upgrade To A Business Listing >>

Commentary of The Secret of the Golden Flower by Carl Jung

Commentary of The Secret of the Golden Flower by Carl Jung



A thorough Westerner in feeling, I am necessarily deeply impressed by the strangeness of this Chinese text. It is true that some knowledge of Eastern religions and philosophies aids my intellect and intuition in understanding these ideas to a certain extent, just as I can understand the paradoxes of primitive beliefs in terms of ‘ethnology’, or in terms of the ‘comparative history of religions’. Indeed, this is the Western way of hiding one’s heart under the cloak of so-called scientific understanding. We do it partly because of the misérable vanité des savants which fears and rejects with horror any sign of living sympathy, and partly because a sympathetic understanding might permit contact with an alien spirit to become a serious experience. The socalled scientific objectivity would have reserved this text for the philological acuity of Sinologues, and would have guarded it jealously from any other interpretation. But Richard Wilhelm penetrated into the secret and mysterious vitality of Chinese wisdom too deeply to have allowed such a pearl of intuitive insight to disappear in the pigeonholes of the specialists. I am greatly honored that his choice of a psychological commentator has fallen upon me.

This entails the risk, though, that this unique treasure will be swallowed by still another special science. None the less, anyone seeking to minimize the merits of Western science and scholarship is undermining the main support of the European mind. Science is not, indeed, a perfect instrument, but it is a superior and indispensable one that works harm only when taken as an end in itself. Scientific method must serve; it errs when it usurps a throne. It must be ready to serve all branches of science, because each, by reason of its insufficiency, has need of support from the others. Science is the tool of the Western mind and with it more doors can be opened than with bare hands. It is part and parcel of our knowledge and obscures our insight only when it holds that the understanding given by it is the only kind there is. The East has taught us another, wider, more profound, and higher understanding, that is, understanding through life. We know this way only vaguely, as a mere shadowy sentiment culled from religious terminology, and therefore we gladly dispose of Eastern ‘wisdom’ in quotation marks, and relegate it to the obscure territory of faith and superstition. But in this way we wholly misunderstand the ‘realism’ of the East. This text, for instance, does not consist of exaggerated sentiment or overwrought mystical intuitions bordering on the pathological and emanating from ascetic cranks and recluses. It is based on the practical insights of highly evolved Chinese minds, which we have not the slightest justification for undervaluing.

This assertion may seem bold, perhaps, and is likely to be met with disbelief, but that is not surprising, considering how little is known about the material. Moreover, the strangeness of the material is so arresting that our embarrassment as to how and where the Chinese world of thought might be joined to ours is quite understandable. When faced with this problem of grasping the ideas of the East, the usual mistake of Western man is like that of the student in Faust Misled by the Devil, he contemptuously turns his back on science, and, carried away by Eastern occultism, takes over yoga practices quite literally and becomes a pitiable imitator.

(Theosophy is our best example of this mistake.) And so he abandons the one safe foundation of the Western mind and loses himself in a mist of words and ideas which never would have originated in European brains, and which can never be profitably grafted upon them.

An ancient adept has said: ‘If the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way.’ This Chinese saying, unfortunately all too true, stands in sharp contrast to our belief in the ‘right’ method irrespective of the man who applies it. In reality, in such matters everything depends on the man and little or nothing on the method. For the method is merely the path, the direction taken by a man. The way he acts is the true expression of his nature. If it ceases to be this, then the method is nothing more than an affectation, something artificially added, rootless and sapless, serving only the illegitimate goal of self-deception. It becomes a means of fooling oneself and of evading what may perhaps be the implacable law of one’s being.

This is far removed from the earth-born quality and sincerity of Chinese thought. On the contrary, it is the denial of one’s own being, self-betrayal to strange and unclean gods, a cowardly trick for the purpose of usurping psychic superiority, everything m fact which is profoundly contrary to the meaning of the Chinese ‘method’. For these insights result from a way of life that is complete, genuine, and true in the fullest sense; they are insights coming from that ancient, cultural life of China which has grown consistently and coherently from the deepest instincts, and which, for us, is forever remote and impossible to imitate.

Western imitation of the East is doubly tragic in that it comes from an unpsychological misunderstanding as sterile as are the modern escapades in Taos, the blissful South Sea Islands, and Central Africa, where ‘primitivity’ is earnestly being played at while Western civilized man evades his menacing duties, his Hic Rhodus hic salta. It is not a question of our imitating, or worse still, becoming missionaries for what is organically foreign, but rather a question of building up our own Western culture, which sickens with a thousand ills. This has to be done on
the spot, and by the real European as he is in his Western commonplaces, with his marriage problems, his neuroses, his social and political delusions, and his whole philosophical disorientation.

We should do well to confess at once that, fundamentally speaking, we do not understand the complete detachment from the world of a text like this, indeed, that we do not want to understand it. Have we, perhaps, an inkling that a mental attitude which can direct the glance inward to this extent can bring about such detachment only because these people have so completely fulfilled the instinctive demands of their natures that little or nothing prevents them from viewing the invisible essence of the world? Can it be, perhaps, that the premise of such vision is liberation from those ambitions and passions which bind us to the visible world, and does not this liberation result from the sensible fulfillment of instinctive demands, rather than from the premature or fear-born repression of them? Is it that our eyes are opened to the spirit only when the laws of earth are obeyed? Anybody who knows the history of Chinese culture, and has also carefully studied the I Ching, that book of wisdom which for thousands of years has permeated all Chinese thought, will not pass over these questions lightly. He will know, moreover, that the views set forth in our text are nothing extraordinary from the Chinese point of view, but are actually inescapable, psychological conclusions.

In our Christian culture, spirit, and the passion of the spirit, were for a long time the greatest values and the things most worth striving for. Only after the decline of the Middle Ages, that is, in the course of the nineteenth century, when spirit began to degenerate into intellect, did a reaction set in against the unbearable dominance of intellectualism. This movement, it is true,at first committed the pardonable mistake of confusing intellect with spirit, and blaming the latter for the misdeeds of the former. Intellect does, in fact, harm the soul when it dares to possess itself of the heritage of the spirit. It is in no way fitted to do this, because spirit is something higher than intellect in that it includes not only the latter, but the feelings as well. It is a direction, or principle, of life that strives towards shining, supra-human heights. In opposition to it stands the dark, the feminine, the earth-bound principle (yin), with its emotionality and instinctiveness that reach far back into the depths of time, and into the roots of physiological continuity. Without a doubt, these concepts are purely intuitive insights, but one cannot very well dispense with them if one is trying to understand the nature of the human soul. China could not do without them because, as the history of Chinese philosophy shows, it has never gone so far from central psychic facts as to lose itself in a one-sided over-development and over-valuation of a single psychic function. Therefore, the Chinese have never failed to recognize the paradoxes and the polarity inherent in what is alive. The opposites always balanced one another- a sign of high culture. One-sidedness, though it lends momentum, is a mark of barbarism. The reaction which is
now beginning in the West against the intellect in favour of feeling, or in favour of intuition, seems to me a mark of cultural advance, a widening of consciousness beyond the too narrow limits of a tyrannical intellect.

I have no wish to undervalue the tremendous differentiation of Western intellect; measured by it, Eastern intellect can be described as childish. (Obviously this has nothing to do with intelligence.) If we should succeed in elevating another, or even a third psychic function to the dignity accorded intellect, then the West might expect to surpass the East by a very great margin. Therefore it is sad indeed when the European departs from his own nature and imitates the East or affects it in any way. The possibilities open to him would be so much greater if he would remain true to himself and develop out of his own nature all that the East has brought forth from its inner being in the course of the centuries.

In general, and looked at from the incurably external point of view of the intellect, it would seem as if the things so highly valued by the East were not desirable for us. Intellect alone cannot fathom at first the practical importance Eastern ideas might have for us, and that is why it can classify these ideas as philosophical and ethnological curiosities and nothing more. The lack of comprehension goes so far that even learned Sinologues have not understood the practical application of the I Ching, and have therefore looked on the book as a collection of abstruse magic spells.


Observations made in my practice have opened to me a quite new and unexpected
approach to Eastern wisdom. But it must. . be well understood that I did not have a knowledge, however inadequate, of Chinese philosophy as a starting point. On the contrary, when I began my life-work in the practice of psychiatry and psychotherapy, I was completely ignorant of Chinese philosophy, and only later did my professional experience show me that in my technique I had been unconsciously led along that secret way which has been the preoccupation of the best minds of the East for centuries. This could be taken for a subjective fancy- one reason for my
previous reluctance to publish anything on the subject- but Richard Wilhelm, that great interpreter of the soul of China, fully confirmed the parallel for me. Thus he gave me the courage to write about a Chinese text which belongs entirely to the mysterious shadows of the Eastern mind. At the same time, and this is the extraordinary thing, in content it is a living parallel to what takes place in the psychic development of my patients, none of whom is Chinese.

In order to make this strange fact more intelligible to the reader, it must be pointed out that just as the human body shows a common anatomy over and above all racial differences, so, too, the psyche possesses a common substratum transcending all differences in culture and consciousness. I have called this substratum the collective unconscious. This unconscious psyche, common to all mankind, does not consist merely of contents capable of becoming conscious, but of latent dispositions towards certain identical reactions. Thus the fact of the collective unconscious is simply the psychic expression of the identity of brain-structure irrespective of all racial differences. This explains the analogy, sometimes even identity, between
various myth-motifs, and symbols, and the possibility of human beings making themselves mutually understood. The various lines of psychic development start from one common stock whose roots reach back into all the strata of the past. This also explains the psychological parallelisms with animals.

Taken purely psychologically, it means that mankind has common instincts of
imagination and of action. All conscious imagination and action have been developed with these unconscious archetypal images as their basis, and always remain bound up with them. This condition ensures a primitive health of the psyche, which, however, immediately becomes lack of adaptation as soon as circumstances arise calling for a higher moral effort. Instincts suffice only for the individual embedded in nature, which, on the whole, remains always the same. An individual who is more guided by unconscious than by conscious choice tends therefore towards marked psychic conservatism. This is the reason the primitive does not change in the course of
thousands of years, and it is also the reason why he fears everything strange and unusual.

It might lead him to maladaptation, and thus to the greatest of psychic dangers, to a kind of neurosis in fact. A higher and wider consciousness, which comes about only through assimilation of the unfamiliar, tends towards autonomy, towards revolution against the old gods who are nothing other than those powerful, unconscious, archetypal images which have always held consciousness in thrall.

The more powerful and independent consciousness, and with it the conscious will,
become, the more the unconscious is forced into the background. When this happens, it is easily possible for the conscious structures to detach themselves from the unconscious archetypes.

Gaining thus in freedom, they break the chains of mere instinctiveness, and finally arrive at a state that is deprived of, or contrary to, instinct. Consciousness thus is torn from its roots and no longer able to appeal to the authority of the archetypal images; it has Promethean freedom, it is true, but also a godless hybris. It does indeed soar above the earth, even above mankind, but the danger of an upset is there, not for every individual, to be sure, but collectively for the weak
members of such a society, who then, again like Prometheus, are chained to the Caucasus by the unconscious. The wise Chinese would say in the words of the I Ching: When yang has reached its greatest strength, the dark power of yin is born within its depths, for night begins at midday when yang breaks up and begins to change to yin.

A physician is in a position to see this peripeteia enacted literally in life. He sees, for instance, a successful businessman attaining all his desires heedless of his peril, and then, having withdrawn from activity at the height of his success, falling in a short time into a neurosis, which changes him into a querulous old woman, fastens him to his bed, and thus finally destroys him.

The picture is complete even to the change from a masculine to a womanish attitude. An exact parallel to this is the legend of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel, and indeed, Caesarean madness in general. Similar cases of one sided exaggeration in the conscious standpoint, and of the corresponding yin reaction of the unconscious, form no small part of the practice of psychiatrists in our time, which so overvalues the conscious will as to believe that where there is a will there is a way’. Not that I wish to detract in the least from the high moral value of conscious willing; consciousness and will may well continue to be considered the highest cultural achievements of humanity. But of what use is a morality that destroys the human being?

To bring will and capacity into harmony seems to me to be a better thing than morality. Morality h tout prix is a sign of barbarism—more often wisdom is better—but perhaps I look at this through the professional glasses of the physician who has to mend the ills following in the wake of an exaggerated cultural achievement.

Be that as it may. In any case, it is a fact that consciousness heightened by a necessary one-sidedness gets so far out of touch with the archetypes that a breakdown follows. Long before the actual catastrophe, the signs of error announce themselves as absence of instinct, nervousness, disorientation, and entanglement in impossible situations and problems. When the physician comes to investigate, he finds an unconscious which is in complete rebellion against the values of the conscious, and which therefore cannot possibly be assimilated to the conscious, while the reverse, of course, is altogether out of the question. We are then confronted with an
apparently irreconcilable conflict with which human reason cannot deal except by sham solutions or dubious compromises. If both these evasions are rejected, we are faced with the question as to what has become of the much needed unity of personality, and with the necessity of seeking it.

And here we come to the path travelled by the East from time immemorial. Quite obviously, the Chinese owes the finding of this path to the fact that he was never able to force the opposites in human nature so far apart that all conscious connection between them was lost. The Chinese has such an all-inclusive consciousness because, as in the case of primitive mentality, the yea and the nay have remained in their original proximity. None the less, he could not escape feeling the
collision of the opposites, and therefore he sought out that way of life in which he would be what the Hindu terms nirdvandva, free of the opposites.

Our text is concerned with this way, and this same problem comes up with my patients
also. There could be no greater mistake than for a Westerner to take up the direct practice of Chinese yoga, for it would be a matter of his will and his consciousness, and would only strengthen the latter against the unconscious, bringing about the very effect to be avoided. The neurosis would then simply be intensified. It cannot be sufficiently strongly emphasized that we are not Orientals, and therefore have an entirely different point of departure in these things. It would also be a great mistake to assume that this is the path every neurotic must travel, or that it
is the solution to be sought at every stage of the neurotic problem. It is appropriate only in those cases where the conscious has reached an abnormal degree of development, and has therefore diverged too far from the unconscious. This high degree of consciousness is the conditio sine qua non. Nothing would be more wrong than to wish to open this way to neurotics who are ill on account of an undue predominance of the unconscious. For the same reason, this way of development has scarcely any meaning before the middle of life (normally between the ages of
thirty-five and forty); in fact, if entered upon too soon, it can be decidedly injurious.

As has been indicated, the reason for looking for a new way was the fact that the
fundamental problem of the patient seemed insoluble to me unless violence was done to the one or the other side of his nature. I always worked with the temperamental conviction that fundamentally there are no insoluble problems, and experience justified me in so far as I have often seen individuals simply outgrow a problem which had destroyed others. This ‘outgrowing’, as I formerly called it, on further experience was seen to consist in a new level of consciousness.

Some higher or wider interest arose on the person’s horizon, and through this widening of his view the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded out when confronted with a new and stronger life-tendency. It was not repressed and made unconscious, but merely appeared in a different light, and so did indeed become different. What, on a lower level, had led to the wildest conflicts and to panicky outbursts of emotion, viewed from the higher level of the personality, now seemed like a storm in the valley seen from a high
mountain-top. This does not mean that the thunderstorm is robbed of its reality, but instead of being in it, one is now above it. However, since we are both valley and mountain with respect to the psyche, it might seem a vain illusion to feel oneself beyond what is human. One certainly does feel the affect and is shaken and tormented by it, yet at the same time one is aware of a higher consciousness, which prevents one from becoming identical with the affect, a consciousness which takes the affect objectively, and can say, Ί know that I suffer.’

What our text says of indolence: ‘Indolence of which a man is conscious and indolence of which he is unconscious are a thousand miles apart’, holds true in the highest degree of affect also.

Here and there it happened in my practice that a patient grew beyond himself because of unknown potentialities, and this became an experience of prime importance to me. I had learned in the meanwhile that the greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They must be so because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only outgrown. I therefore asked myself whether this possibility of outgrowing, that is, further psychic development, was not the normal
thing, and therefore remaining stuck in a conflict was what was pathological.

Everyone must possess that higher level, at least in embryonic form, and in favorable circumstances must be able to develop this possibility. When I examined the way of development of those persons who quietly and, as if unconsciously, grew beyond themselves, I saw that their fates had something in common. The new thing came to them out of obscure possibilities either outside or inside themselves; they accepted it and developed further by means of it. It seemed to me typical that some took the new thing from outside themselves, others from within; or rather, that it grew into
some persons from without, and into others from within. But the new thing never came
exclusively either from within or from without. If it arose from outside, it became a deeply subjective experience; if it arose from within, it became an outer event. In no case was it conjured into existence through purpose and conscious willing, but rather seemed to be borne on the stream of time.

We are so greatly tempted to turn everything into purpose and method that I deliberately express myself in very abstract terms in order to avoid causing a prejudice in one direction or another. The new thing must not be pigeonholed under any heading, for then it becomes a recipe to be applied mechanically and it would again be a case of the ‘right means in the hands of the wrong man.’ I have been deeply impressed with the fact that the new thing presented by fate seldom or never corresponds to conscious expectation. And still more remarkable, though the
new thing contradicts deeply rooted instincts as we have known them, it is a singularly appropriate expression of the total personality, an expression which one could not imagine in a more complete form.

What did these people do in order to achieve the development that liberated them? As far as I could see they did nothing (wu wei)1 but let things happen. As Master Lu-tsu teaches in our text, the light rotates according to its own law, if one does not give up one’s ordinary occupation. The art of letting things happen, action through non-action, letting go of oneself, as taught by Meister Eckhart, became for me the key opening the door to the way. We must be able to let things happen in the psyche. For us, this actually is an art of which few people know anything.

Consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, and negating, and never leaving the simple growth of the psychic processes in peace. It would be simple enough, if only simplicity were not the most difficult of all things. To begin with, the task consists solely in objectively observing a fragment of a fantasy in its development. Nothing could be simpler, and yet right here the difficulties begin. No fantasy-fragment seems to appear—or yes, one does—but it is too stupid—hundreds of good reasons inhibit it. One cannot concentrate on it—it is too boring—what would it amount to— it is ‘nothing but,’ et cetera. The conscious mind raises prolific
objections, in fact it often seems bent upon blotting out the spontaneous fantasy-activity in spite 1 Action through no action iof real insight, even of firm determination on the part of the individual to allow the psychic processes to go forward without interference. Often a veritable cramp of consciousness exists.

If one is successful in overcoming the initial difficulties, criticism is still likely to start in afterwards and attempt to interpret the fantasy, to classify, to aestheticize, or to depreciate it. The temptation to do this is almost irresistible. After complete and faithful observation, free rein can be given to the impatience of the conscious mind; in fact it must be given, else obstructing resistances develop. But each time the fantasy material is to be produced, the activity of consciousness must again be put aside.

In most cases the results of these efforts are not very encouraging at first. They usually consist of webs of fantasy which yield no clear knowledge of their origin or goal. Also, the way of getting at the fantasies is individually different. For many people, it is easiest to write them; others visualize them, and others again draw and paint them with or without visualization. In cases of a high degree of conscious cramp, oftentimes the hands alone can fantasy; they model or draw figures that are often quite foreign to the conscious mind.

These exercises must be continued until the cramp in the conscious mind is released, or, in other words, until one can let things happen, which was the immediate goal of the exercise. In this way a new attitude is created, an attitude which accepts the non-rational and the incomprehensible, simply because it is what is happening. This attitude would be poison for a person who had already been overwhelmed by things that just happen, but it is of the highest value for one who chooses, with an exclusively conscious critique, only the things acceptable to his consciousness from among the things that happen, and thus is gradually drawn out of the stream of life into stagnant backwater.

At this point, the way travelled by the two types mentioned above seems to be separate. Both have learned to accept what comes to them. (As Master Lu-tsu teaches: ‘When occupations come to us we must accept them; when things come to us we must understand them from the ground up.’) One man will chiefly take what comes to him from without, and the other what comes from within, and, according to the law of life, the one will have to take from the outside something he never could accept before from outside, and the other will accept from within things which would always have been excluded before.

This reversal of one’s being means an enlargement, heightening, and enrichment of the
personality when the previous values are retained along with the change, provided, of course, that these values are not mere illusions. If the values are not retained, the individual goes over to the other side, and passes from fitness to unfitness, from adaptation to the lack of it, from sense to nonsense, and even from rationality to mental disturbance. The way is not without danger.

Everything good is costly, and the development of the personality is one of the most costly of all things. It is a question of yea-saying to oneself, of taking one’s self as the most serious of tasks, of being conscious of everything one does, and keeping it constantly before one’s eyes in all its dubious aspects- truly a task that taxes us to the utmost.

The Chinese can fall back upon the authority of his entire culture. If he starts on the long way, he does what is recognized as being the best of all the things he could do. But the Westerner who wishes to start upon this way, if he is truly serious about it, has all authority against him—intellectual, moral, and religious. That is why it is infinitely easier for a man to imitate the Chinese way, and desert the troublesome European, or else to seek again the way back to the medievalism of the Christian Church, and build up once more the European wall intended to separate true Christians from the poor heathen and the ethnographic curiosities dwelling outside. Aesthetic or intellectual flirtations with life and fate come to an abrupt end here. The step to higher consciousness leads us out and away from all rear-guard cover and from
all safety measures. The individual must give himself to the new way completely, for it is only by means of his integrity that he can go further, and only his integrity can guarantee that his way does not turn out to be an absurd adventure.

Whether a person’s fate comes to him from without or from within, the experiences and
events of the way remain the same. Therefore I need say nothing about the manifold outer and inner events, the endless variety of which I could never exhaust in any case. To do so, moreover, would be irrelevant to the text under discussion. But there is much to be said of the psychic states that accompany the further development. These psychic states are expressed symbolically in our text, and in the very symbols which for many years have been familiar to me in my practice.



The great difficulty in interpreting this and similar texts for the European mind is due to the fact that the Chinese author always starts from the central point, from the point we would call his objective or goal; in a word, he begins with the ultimate insight he has set out to attain. Thus the Chinese author begins his work with ideas that demand such a comprehensive understanding that a person of discriminating mind must feel that he would be guilty of ridiculous pretension, or even of talking utter nonsense, if he should embark on an intellectual discourse on the subtle psychic experiences of the greatest minds of the East. For example, our text begins: ‘That which exists through itself is called the Way.’ The Hui Ming Ching begins with the words: ‘The subtlest secret of the Tao is human nature and life.’

It is characteristic of the Western mind that it has no concept for Tao. The Chinese
character is made up of the character for ‘head’, and that for ‘going’. Wilhelm translates Tao by Sinn (Meaning). Others translate it as ‘way’, ‘providence’, or even as ‘God’, as the Jesuits do. This shows the difficulty. ‘Head’ can be taken as consciousness, and ‘to go’ as travelling a way, thus the idea would be: to go consciously, or the conscious way. This agrees with the fact that ‘the light of heaven’ which’ dwells between the eyes’ as the ‘heart of heaven’ is used synonymously
with Tao. Human nature and life are contained in ‘the light of heaven’ and, according to Liu Huayang, are the most important secrets of the Tao. Now ‘light’ is the symbolical equivalent of consciousness, and the nature of consciousness is expressed by analogies with light.

The Hui Ming Ching is introduced with the verse:

If thou wouldst complete the diamond body with no outflowing, Diligently heat the roots of consciousness and life. Kindle light in the blessed country ever close at hand, And there hidden, let thy true self always dwell. These verses contain a sort of alchemistic instruction, a method or way of creating the ‘diamond body’ which is also meant in our text. ‘Heating’ is necessary; that is, there must be an
intensification of consciousness in order that the dwelling place of the spirit may be ‘illumined’.

But not only consciousness, life itself must be intensified. The union of these two produces conscious life’. According to the Hui Ming Ching, the ancient sages knew how to bridge the gap between consciousness and life because they cultivated both. In this way the shelf, the immortal body, is ‘melted out’, and in this way ‘the great Tao is completed’.

If we take the Tao to be the method or conscious way by which to unite what is
separated, we have probably come close to the psychological content of the concept. In any case, the separation of consciousness from life cannot very well be understood to mean anything but what I have described above as an aberration, or deracination, of consciousness. Without doubt, also, the realization of the opposite hidden in the unconscious, i.e. the ‘reversal’, signifies reunion with the unconscious laws of being, and the purpose of this reunion is the attainment of conscious life or, expressed in Chinese terms, the bringing about of the Tao.


As has already been pointed out, the union of opposites on a higher level of
consciousness is not a rational thing, nor is it a matter of will; it is a psychic process of development which expresses itself in symbols. Historically, this process has always been represented in symbols, and today the development of individual personality still presents itself in symbolical figures. This fact was revealed to me in the following observations. The spontaneous fantasy products we mentioned above become more profound and concentrate themselves gradually around abstract structures which apparently represent principles’, true Gnostic archai. When the fantasies are chiefly expressed in thoughts, the results are intuitive formulations of dimly felt laws or principles, which at first tend to be dramatized or personified.

(We shall come back to these again later.) If the fantasies are expressed in drawings, symbols appear which are chiefly of the so-called mandala type. ‘Mandala’ means a circle, more especially a magic circle, and this symbol is not only to be found all through the East but also among us. Mandalas are amply represented in the Middle Ages. The early Middle Ages are especially rich in Christian mandalas, and for the most part show Christ in the center, with the four evangelists, or their symbols, at the cardinal points. This conception must be a very ancient one, for the Egyptians represented Horus with his four sons in the same way. (It is known that Horus with his four sons has close connections with Christ and the four evangelists.)

Later there is to be found an unmistakable and very interesting mandala in Jacob Boehme’s book on the soul. This latter mandala, it is clear, deals with a psycho-cosmic system strongly colored by Christian ideas. Boehme calls it the ‘philosophical eye’, or the ‘mirror of wisdom’, which obviously means a summa of secret knowledge. For the most part, the mandala form is that of a flower, cross, or wheel, with a distinct tendency towards quadripartite structure. (One is reminded of the tetraktys,
the fundamental number in the Pythagorean system.) Mandalas of this sort are also to be found in the sand paintings used in the ceremonies of the Pueblo and Navaho Indians. But the most beautiful mandalas are, of course, those of the East, especially those belonging to Tibetan Buddhism. The symbols of our text are represented in these mandalas.

I have also found mandala drawings among the mentally ill, and indeed among persons who certainly did not have the least idea of any of the connections we have discussed.
Among my patients I have come across cases of women who did not draw mandalas but
who danced them instead. In India this type is called mandala nrithya or mandala dance, and the dance figures express the same meanings as the drawings. My patients can say very little about the meaning of the symbols but are fascinated by them and find them in some way or other expressive and effective with respect to their psychic condition.

Our text promises to ‘reveal the secret of the Golden Flower of the great One’. The
Golden Flower is the light, and the light of heaven is the Tao. The Golden Flower is a mandala symbol which I have often met with in the material brought me by my patients. It is drawn either seen from above as a regular geometric ornament, or as a blossom growing from a plant. The plant is frequently a structure in brilliant fiery colors growing out of a bed of darkness, and carrying the blossom of light at the top, a symbol similar to that of the Christmas tree.

A drawing of this kind also expresses the origin of the Golden Flower, for according to the Hui Ming Ching the ‘germinal vesicle’ is nothing other than the ‘yellow castle’, the ‘heavenly heart’, the ‘terrace of life’, the ‘square inch field of the square foot house’, the ‘purple hall of the city of jade’, the ‘dark pass’, the ‘space of former heaven’, the ‘dragon castle at the bottom of the sea’. It is also called the ‘border region of the snow mountains’, the ‘primal pass,’ the ‘realm of the greatest joy’, the ‘land without boundaries’, and ‘the altar upon which consciousness and life are made’. ‘If a dying man does not know this germinal vesicle,’ says the Hui Ming Ching, ‘he will not find the unity of consciousness and life in a thousand births, nor in ten thousand aeons.’

The beginning, in which everything is still one, and which therefore appears as the
highest goal, lies at the bottom of the sea in the darkness of the unconscious. In the germinal vesicle, consciousness and life (‘human nature’ and ‘life’, hsing- ming) are still a ‘unity’, ‘inseparably mixed like the sparks in the refining furnace’. ‘Within the germinal vesicle is the fire of the ruler.”… all the sages began their work at me germinal vesicle.’ Note the fire analogies.

know a series of European mandala drawings in which something like a plant seed surrounded by its coverings is shown floating in water, and from the depths below, fire penetrating the seed makes it grow and causes the formation of a large golden flower from within the germinal vesicle.

This symbolism refers to a sort of alchemical, process of refuting and ennobling;
darkness gives birth to light; out of the ‘lead of the water-region’ grows the noble gold; what is unconscious becomes conscious in the form of a process of life and growth. (Hindu Kundalini yoga affords a complete analogy.) In this way the union of consciousness and life takes place.

When my patients produce these mandala pictures it is, of course, not through suggestion; similar pictures were being made long before I knew their meaning or their connection with the practices of the East, which, at that time, were wholly unfamiliar to me. The pictures came quite spontaneously and from two sources. One source is the unconscious, which spontaneously produces such fantasies; the other source is life, which, if lived with complete devotion, brings an intuition of the self, the individual being. Awareness of the individual self is expressed in the
drawing, while the unconscious exacts devotedness to life. For quite in accord with the Eastern conception, the mandala symbol is not only a means of expression, but works an effect.

It reacts upon its maker. Very ancient magical effects are hidden in this symbol for it derives originally from the ‘enclosing circle’, the ‘charmed circle’, the magic of which has been preserved in countless folk customs. The image has the obvious purpose of drawing a sulcus primigenius, a magical furrow around the center, the templum, or temenos (sacred precinct), of the innermost personality, in order to prevent ‘flowing out’, or to guard by apotropaeic means against deflections through external influences. The magical practices are nothing but the projections of psychic events, which are here applied in reverse to the psyche, like a kind of spell on one’s own
personality. That is to say, by means of these concrete performances, the attention, or better said, the interest, is brought back to an inner, sacred domain, which is the source and goal of the soul and which contains the unity of life and consciousness. The unity once possessed has been lost, and must now be found again.

The unity of these two, life and consciousness, is the Tao, whose symbol would be the
central white light (compare the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead). This light dwells in the ‘square inch’, or in the ‘face’, that is, between the eyes. It is the image of the creative point, a point having intensity without extension, thought of as connected with the space of the ‘square inch’, the symbol for that which has extension. The two together make the Tao. Human nature [hsing] and consciousness [hui] are expressed in light symbolism, and are therefore intensity,while life [ming] would coincide with extensity. The first have the character of the yang principle, the latter of the yin. The above-mentioned mandala of a somnambulist girl, fifteen and a half years old, whom I had under observation thirty years ago, shows in its center a ‘spring of life-energy’ without extension, which in its emanations collides directly with a contrary spaceprinciple—a perfect analogy with the fundamental idea of the Chinese text.

The ‘enclosure’, or circumambulatio, is expressed in our text by the idea of a ‘circulation’. The ‘circulation’ is not merely motion in a circle, but means, on the one hand, the marking off of the sacred precinct, and, on the other, fixation and concentration. The sun wheel begins to run; that is to say, the sun is animated and begins to take its course, or, in other words, the Tao begins to work and to take over the leadership. Action is reversed into non-action; all that is peripheral
is subjected to the command of what is central. Therefore it is said: ‘Movement is only another name for mastery.’ Psychologically, this circulation would be the ‘turning in a circle around oneself, whereby, obviously, all sides of the personality become involved. ‘They cause the poles of light and darkness to rotate,’ that is, day and night alternate.

Thus the circular movement also has the moral significance of activating all the light and the dark forces of human nature, and with them, all the psychological opposites of whatever kind they may be. It is self-knowledge by means of self-incubation (Sanskrit tapas). A similar archetypal concept of a perfect being is that of the Platonic man, round on all sides and uniting within himself the two sexes.

One of the finest parallels to what has been said here is the description of his central experience given by Edward Maitland, the collaborator of Anna Kingsford. He had discovered that during reflection on an idea, related ideas became visible, so to speak, in a long series 2 The radiance of paradise alternates with deep dreadful night (Faust) apparently reaching back to their source, which to him was the divine spirit. By means of concentration on this series, he tried to penetrate to their origin. He says: ‘Ι was absolutely without knowledge or expectation when I yielded to the impulse to make the attempt. I simply experimented on a faculty… being seated at my writing-table the while in order to record the results as they came, and resolved to retain my hold on my outer and circumferential consciousness, no matter how far towards my inner and central consciousness I might go.

For I knew not whether I should be able to regain the former if I once quitted my hold of it, or to recollect the facts of the experience. At length I achieved my object, though only by a strong effort, the tension occasioned by the endeavor to keep both extremes of the consciousness in view at once being very great. ‘

‘Once well started on my quest, I found myself traversing a succession of spheres or
belts… the impression produced being that of mounting a vast ladder stretching from the circumference towards the center of a system, which was at once my own system, the solar system, and the universal system, the three systems being at once diverse and identical.

Presently, by a supreme, and what I felt must be a final effort”… I succeeded in polarizing the whole of the convergent rays of my consciousness into the desired focus. And at the same instant, as if through the sudden ignition of the rays thus fused into a unity, I found myself confronted with a glory of unspeakable whiteness and brightness, and of a lustre so intense as well-nigh to beat me back… But though feeling that I had to explore further, I resolved to make assurance doubly sure by piercing if I could the almost blinding lustre, and seeing what it enshrined. With a great effort I succeeded, and the glance revealed to me that which I had felt
must be there…It was the dual form of the Son… the unmanifest made manifest, the unformulate formulate, the unindividuate individuate, God as the Lord, proving through His duality that God is Substance as well as Force, Love as well as Will, Ferrunine as well as Masculine, Mother as well as Father.’ He found that God is two in one like man. Besides this he noticed something that our text also emphasizes, namely, ‘suspension of breathing’. He says ordinary breathing stopped and was replaced by an internal respiration, ‘as if by breathing of a distinct personality within and other than the physical organism’. He took this being to be the entelechy of Aristotle, and the inner Christ of the Apostle Paul, the ‘spiritual and substantial individuality engendered within the physical and phenomenal personality, and representing, therefore, the rebirth of man on a plane
transcending the material’.

This genuine experience contains all the essential symbols of our text. The phenomenon itself, that is, the vision of light, is an experience common to many mystics, and one that is undoubtedly of the greatest significance, because in all times and places it appears as the
unconditional thing, which unites in itself the greatest energy and the profoundest meaning.

Hildegarde of Bingen, an outstanding personality quite apart from her mysticism, expresses herself about her central vision in a similar way. ‘Since my childhood,’ she says, Ί have always seen a light in my soul, but not with the outer eyes, nor through the thoughts of my heart; neither do the five outer senses take part in this vision… The light I perceive is not of a local kind, but is
much brighter than the cloud which bears the sun. I cannot distinguish height, breadth, or length in it… What I see or learn in such a vision stays’ long in my memory. I see, hear, and know in the same moment… I cannot recognize any sort of form in this light, although I sometimes see in it another light that is known to me as the living light. While I am enjoying the spectacle of this light, all sadness and sorrow vanish from my memory…’

I know a few individuals who are familiar with this phenomenon from personal
experience. As far as I have been able to understand it, the phenomenon seems to have to do with an acute state of consciousness, as intensive as it is abstract, a ‘detached’ consciousness (see below), which, as Hildegarde pertinendy remarks, brings up to consciousness regions of psychic events ordinarily covered with darkness. The fact that the general bodily sensations disappear during such an experience suggests that their specific energy has been withdrawn from them, and apparently gone towards heightening the clarity of consciousness. As a rule, the phenomenon is
spontaneous, coming and going on its own initiative. Its effect is astonishing in that it almost always brings about a solution of psychic complications, and thereby frees the inner personality from emotional and intellectual entanglements, creating thus a unity of being which is universally felt as ‘liberation’.

The conscious will cannot attain such a symbolic unity because the conscious is partisan in this case. Its opponent is the collective unconscious which does not understand the language of the conscious. Therefore it is necessary to have the magic of the symbol which contains those primitive analogies that speak to the unconscious. The unconscious can be reached and expressed only by symbols, which is the reason why the process of individuation can never do without the symbol. The symbol is the primitive expression of the unconscious, but at the same time it is also an idea corresponding to the highest intuition produced by consciousness.

The oldest mandala drawing known to me is a paleolithic so-called ‘sun wheel,’ recently discovered in Rhodesia. It also is based on the principle of four. Things reaching so far back in human history naturally touch upon the deepest layers of the unconscious and affect the latter where conscious speech shows itself to be quite impotent. Such things cannot be thought up but must grow again from the forgotten depths, if they are to express the deepest insights of consciousness and the loftiest intuitions of the spirit. Coming from these depths they blend together the uniqueness of present-day consciousness with the age-old past of life.


Whenever the narrowly delimited, but intensely clear, individual consciousness meets the immense expansion of the collective unconscious, there is danger because the latter has a definitely disintegrating effect on consciousness, indeed, according to the exposition of the Hui Ming Ching, this effect belongs to the peculiar phenomena of Chinese yoga practice. It is said there: ‘Every separate thought takes shape and becomes visible in color and form. The total spiritual power unfolds its traces. . . .’ One of the illustrations accompanying the book shows a sage sunk in contemplation, his head surrounded by tongues of fire, out of which five human figures emerge; these five split up again into twenty five smaller figures. This would be a schizophrenic process if it were to become a permanent state. Therefore the instructions, as
though warning the adept, say: ‘The shapes formed by the spirit-fire are only empty colors and forms. The light of human nature [hsing] shines back on the primordial, the true.’

Thus it is understandable that the text returns to the protecting figure of the ‘enclosing circle’. It is intended to prevent ‘outflowing’ and to protect the unity of consciousness from being split apart by the unconscious. Moreover, the Chinese concept points a way towards lessening the disintegrating effect of the unconscious; it describes the ‘thought-figures’ or ‘separate thoughts’ as ’empty colors and shapes’, and thus depotentiates them as much as possible. This idea runs through the whole of Buddhism (especially the Mahayana form), and, in the instructions to the dead in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it is even pushed to the point of explaining favorable as well as unfavorable gods as illusions still to be overcome.

It certainly is not within the competence of the psychologist to establish the metaphysical truth or falsity of this idea; he must be content to determine wherever possible what has psychic effect. In doing this, he need not bother himself as to whether the shape in question is a transcendental illusion or not,
since faith, not science, has to decide this point. We are working here in a field which for a long time has seemed to be outside the domain of science, and which has therefore been looked upon as wholly illusory. But there is no scientific justification for such an assumption, for the substantiality of these things is not a scientific problem since in any case it would he beyond the range of human perception and judgment, and therefore beyond any possibility of proof. The psychologist is not concerned with the substance of these complexes, but with the psychic experience.

Without a doubt they are psychic contents which can be experienced, and which
have an indisputable autonomy. They are fragmentary psychic systems which either appear spontaneously in ecstatic states and, under certain circumstances, elicit powerful impressions and effects, or else become fixed as mental disturbances in the form of delusions and hallucinations, thus destroying the unity of the personality.

The psychiatrist is prone to believe in toxins and the like, and to explain schizophrenia (splitting of the mind in a psychosis) in these terms, and hence to put no emphasis on the psychic contents. On the other hand, in psychogenic disturbances (hysteria, compulsion neurosis, etc.), where toxic effects and cell degeneration are out of the question, spontaneous split-off complexes are to be found, as, for example, in somnambulistic states. Freud, it is true, would like to explain these as due to unconscious repression of sexuality, but this explanation is by no
means valid for all cases, because contents which the conscious cannot assimilate can evolve spontaneously out of the unconscious, and the repression hypothesis is inadequate in such instances. Moreover, the essential autonomy of these elements can be observed in the affects of daily life which obstinately obtrude themselves against our wills, and then, in spite of our earnest efforts to repress them, overwhelm the ego and force it under their control. No wonder that the primitive either sees in these moods a state of possession or sets them down to a loss of soul. Our
colloquial speech reflects the same thing when we say: Ί don’t know what has got into him today’; ‘He is possessed of the devil’; ‘He is beside himself’; ‘He behaves as if possessed’. Even legal practice recognizes a degree of diminished responsibility in a state of affect. Autonomic psychic contents thus are quite common experiences for us. Such contents have a disintegrating effect on the conscious mood.

But besides the ordinary, familiar affects, there are subtler, more complex emotional
states which can no longer be described as affects pure and simple but which are complicated fragmentary psychic systems. The more complicated they are, the more they have the character of personalities. As constituent factors of the psychic personality, they necessarily have the character of ‘persons’. Such fragmentary systems appear especially in mental diseases, in cases of psychogenic splitting of the personality (double personality), and of course in mediumistic phenomena. They are also encountered in religious phenomena. Many of the earlier gods have
evolved out of ‘persons’ into personified ideas, and finally into abstract ideas, for activated unconscious contents always appear first as projections upon the outside world. In the course of mental development, consciousness gradually assimilates them as projections in space and reshapes them into conscious ideas which then forfeit their originally autonomous and personal character. As we know, some of the old gods have become mere descriptive attributes via astrology (martial, jovial, saturnine, erotic, logical, lunatic, and so on).

The instructions of the Tibetan Book of the Dead in particular enable us to see how
greatly the conscious is threatened with disintegration through these figures. Again and again, the dead are instructed not to take these shapes for truth, and not to confuse their murky appearance with the pure white light of Dharmakaya (‘the divine body of truth’). The meaning is that they are not to project the one light of highest consciousness into concretized figures, and in such a way dissolve it into a plurality of autonomous fragmentary systems. If there were no danger of this, and if these systems did not represent menacingly autonomous and divergent tendencies, such urgent instructions would not be necessary. If we consider the simpler, polytheistically oriented attitude of the Eastern mind, these instructions would almost be the equivalent of warnings to a Christian not to let himself be blinded by the illusion of a personal God, not to mention a Trinity and innumerable angels and saints.

If tendencies towards disassociation were not inherent in the human psyche, parts never would have been split off; in other words, neither spirits nor gods would ever have come to exist. That is the reason, too, that our time is so utterly godless and profane, for we lack knowledge of the unconscious psyche and pursue the cult of consciousness to the exclusion of all else. Our true religion is a monotheism of consciousness, a possession by it, coupled with a fanatical denial that there are parts of the psyche which are autonomous. But we differ from the Buddhist yoga
doctrine in that we even deny that such autonomous parts are experienceable. A great psychic danger arises here, because the parts then behave like any other repressed contents: they necessarily induce wrong attitudes, for the repressed material appears again in consciousness in a spurious form. This fact, which is so striking in every case of neurosis, holds true also, for collective psychic phenomena. In this respect our time is caught in a fatal error: we believe we can criticize religious facts intellectually; we think, for instance, like Laplace, that God is a hypothesis which can be subjected to intellectual treatment, to affirmation or denial. It is
completely forgotten that the reason mankind believes in the ‘daemon’ has nothing whatever to do with outside factors, but is due to simple perception of the powerful inner effect of the autonomous fragmentary systems. This effect is not nullified by criticizing its name intellectually, nor by describing it as false. The effect is collectively always present; the autonomous systems are always at work, because the fundamental structure of the unconscious is not touched by the fluctuations of a transitory consciousness.

If we deny the existence of the autonomous systems, imagining that we have got rid of
them by a critique of the name, then their effect which nevertheless continues cannot be understood, and they can no longer be assimilated to consciousness. They become an
inexplicable factor of dist

This post first appeared on Carl Jung Depth Psychology, please read the originial post: here

Share the post

Commentary of The Secret of the Golden Flower by Carl Jung


Subscribe to Carl Jung Depth Psychology

Get updates delivered right to your inbox!

Thank you for your subscription