Reflections: The Red Book by Carl Jung

This is one huge book.  The book is 16 inches tall and weighs nearly 8 pounds.  The size of this book conferred unto me a reverence, perhaps not unlike the reverence medieval scribes felt towards their books.  In fact, Carl Jung scribed the book himself in his own calligraphy, also illustrating it with striking artistic renditions of his visions.  Jung intended that the book communicate that his experiences contained something precious.  Therefore the book itself needed be a precious – that is to say – that it be a costly book.  The book was published two years ago (10/09) at a price of $125.  I could not have afforded it.  I had the good fortune of obtaining it from my local library on interlibrary loan.  Carl Jung died in 1961, and it was not clear what his intentions were for the The Red Book.  The family had prevented previous publication.  Interested parties maintained that he would not have put such care into the book had he not intended to publish.  

This book would not be considered easy reading.  At times I was awestruck by the commentary and corresponding illustrations.  At other times I struggled to keep up.  Call Jung was a very intelligent and well-read man.  The book describes his mythic journey.  While he was able to maintain his daily routine as a psychologist, the journey pushed Jung to the brink of madness. This period of Jung’s life is generally referred to as his confrontation with the unconscious.  Jung feels that without the alchemy achieved through the integration of apparent opposites, he would have gone mad.  Instead, this experience provided the wealth from which his major theories derived.

Where Nietzsche begins, “God is dead, because we have killed him.” (Nietzsche was referring to religion as having become frozen like a stone statue), Jung is in the process of resurrecting gods.  His conceptual framework of God becomes very complicated, and includes much differentiation between different aspects of God.  According to Jung, humanity naturally perceives and experiences God as duality; the wholeness of God is split at the level of humanity into the experience of opposites, such as good and evil (evil is the unintegrated shadow of God).  On a transcendent level, the all-knowing and ultimate God is remote and Good.  And there are many levels of gods in between, some of whom confuse and some of whom instruct.

Jung is thrust into a mythological quest through taxing dreams and visions, which he writes as dialogue with the characters of vision (archetypes).  In an effort to process his encounters he also provides commentary on those experiences.

At times, it is apparent that Jung is metaphorically bleeding.  He takes on the mantle of suffering as he hangs from the tree of life, as did Jesus and the mythological Odin.  His suffering is necessary as sacrifice, but a sacrifice does not guarantee deliverance.  He needs to listen to the right gods (in his case – Philemon), and work on the integration of his own shadow.  This can be difficult work.   Transformation achieved through the process of  integration (Jung called this process individuation) is work that takes time and effort to accomplish.  Expanding one’s personal View, incorporating a larger universe, is often threatening to the comfort zone of the ego.

I used to think that if Jung had acquired and practiced a spiritual discipline designed for the exploration expanded consciousness, such as shamanism, that his level of chaos would not have been so acute. I thought that the guidance and structure of the practice would have protected him.  Now I’m not so sure.  Maybe with a spiritual discipline he could have duplicated the depth of his teachers and ancestors.  But could he have achieved the discovery of new gods?  Jung was like an explorer in virgin territories mapping what is discovered for the benefit of future travelers.  The birthing of new gods (literally expanding Potential), like any birth, can be painful during its process and rewarding on its completion.  It appears that Jung was successful.

Here are some quotes from the book:
Page 230: Sacrifice is the foundation stone of what is to come.  You should carry the monastery within yourself.

Page 232: The wealth of the soul exists in images.

Page 233: You should say, “The life I can still live I should live.  And the thoughts I could still think I should think.”

Page 245: No one has my God, but my God has everyone.

Page 263: If no outer adventure happens to you, then no inner in adventure happens to you either.

Page 264: The soul demands your folly, not your wisdom.  (This statement by Jung was in response to an old scholar in his visions who became rigid in his thinking.)

Page 266: Your heights are your own mountain, then you are at your best.  At your low point you are no longer distinct from your fellow beings.  You are not ashamed and do not regret it.

Page 283: Bring your God with you.  Bear him down to your dark land where people live who rub their eyes each morning and yet always see the same thing and never anything else.

Paged 284: Your voice is too weak for those raging to be able to hear.  Thus do not speak and do not show the God, but sit in a solitary place and sing incantations in the ancient manner.

Page 316: I understand you Philemon, you are a true lover because you love your soul for the sake of men, because they need a king who lives from himself and owes no one gratitude for his life.  (I wanted to substitute “an individual” for the word king, thinking that the word king may be misunderstood.  But I decided not to change the quote.  Jung is referring to Philemon, a god he is trying to integrate as the archetype of the wise old man.)

I can understand why Carl Jung put off publishing this book within his own lifetime.  It could easily have been misquoted or misunderstood.  If you have not read Jung, I’d recommend beginning with his autobiography: Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

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5 Responses to Reflections: The Red Book by Carl Jung

  1. Joe says:

    Last year I gave myself a copy of “The Red Book” as a Christmas gift and have been dipping into it periodically ever since. It is quite an amazing work–huge in so many ways.

    I think Jung always had his conventional bourgeois side, and was concerned with his reputation. He did not relish being thought or labeled “crazy” by others. Plus, I think he had some of the shaman in him, in that–like the so-called “primitives” he studied and admired–he was reticent to disclose firsthand material of an intensely private nature, lest he lose the power that those encounters with the numinous had provided him all those many years. Even “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” was not published until after his death (which was his wish), and by his own request, it was not included as part of his collected works, the official canon.

    More to the philosophical point, Jung did not wish to be thought “imagining things” after our conventional notions of either the psychotic or the artist, for he was absolutely convinced of the objective reality of the collective unconscious, and equally convinced that no one could properly understand and appreciate this reality unless and until they had a direct experience of its power. He was re-imagining the very idea of what it means to be artistic and “insane”, and quite correctly did not want to become trapped in old and outdated categories.

    I agree with you that had Jung placed himself too solidly within the confines of a specific tradition, he would not have made the discoveries and arrived at the realizations that crowned his achievements. Religious symbols “always give man a premonition of the divine while at the same time safeguarding him from immediate experience of it,” Jung wrote. Or, in Joseph Campbell’s famous gloss of his mentor’s statement, “religion is a defense against a religious experience.”

    Like the archetypal Hero Campbell so exhaustively studied and catalogued, Jung journeyed, virtually defenseless, into the dark, mysterious realm of the unconscious depths in order to fight battles with dragons and bring back boons to the rest of us–which he did, in spades. I think we have yet to fully appreciate and acknowledge that singular contribution (not to mention fully understand it), but that is our fault and our responsibility, not his.

  2. mikeR says:

    I don’t know anything about Jung’s Red Book other then these comments about it. They did lead me to dig out a couple of books, one on Jung that I liked called: THE ARYAN CHRIST – The secret life of Carl Jung by Richard Noll. As far as I know the book generated a bunch of criticism, some even positive. It speaks of Jung’s mythology interests and the development of his mythic life. I couldn’t tell you what is and isn’t true about the book.
    My first encounter with Jung’s written work was his commentary in the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Dr. W.Y. Evans-Wentz which I believe happened in 1938. Jung’s commentary was really interesting to me back in the late ’70’s (uffda!). After that I read the commentary that followed by the Tibetan Lama (name?) in which I felt profoundly moved, and as well by the contrast that I was seeing to Jung’s perspectives as I understood him. It turned my head eastward from that point on for deeper direct experience based understanding. Even so, Jung’s ‘reality map’ body of works have been very helpful to me in different ways over the years.
    Bottom line for me on Jung is; western psychology, including Jung’s, is the young child of an Eastern Mother/Father, particularly from Buddhism. Buddhism seems to really get into psychology. It is very well mapped out with one major difference from western psychology in my non buddhist opinion – it shows the doorway out of ordinary and non ordinary relative realities and into an unbounded awareness reality, a Transcendence – with a large T, Nirvana or whatever you want to call total deconstruction, into an infinite largeness. Western psych. seems to like the smoke and mirrors of a “creative imagination kind of transcending – sm. t. I enjoy this too.
    Along with the above book that I dug out, I found REBELS & DEVILS – the Psychology of Liberation edited by Christopher S. Hyatt Ph.D. I would call this book the Left-hand Path of western psychology and see it as a progressive step in the right direction for the deconstruction of our individual and collective neurotic western mind.

  3. Joe says:

    Jung had an affinity for Taoism, but that, I think, is because of Taoism’s deep shamanic roots (which it never repudiated). On the whole, though, I would not agree that Jung’s analytical psychology, or even depth psychology in general, is the offspring of Eastern views (especially Buddhism), for it would have to be a bastard child. I would say that the two views are in some ways antithetical– at best, complementary, if viewed from a certain perspective.

    The Hindu-Buddhist otherworldly metaphysics of escape stresses the reality of the Transcendent One at the expense of the “illusory” immanent Many, and ultimately denigrates existence in the world and the physical as a kind of foolish, or perhaps necessary but ultimately rectifiable metaphysical mistake–an unfortunate “involution” or “devolution” of formless Transcendence. Hence the disdain for the merely “psychic”, the works of the creative imagination, the mythological, the individual self and its ego, etc. The aim of Buddhism is to break the cycle of rebirth and get out, to lose the “illusion” of individual selfhood and so forth. Even its guru-principle sees the individual surrender of their autonomy to a “master” as the necessary spiritual and ethical requirement–a dangerous move, in my view.

    Taoism (like its shamanic and animistic forebears) however, does not disdain the “10 Thousand Things”, or earthiness, or desire, or the manifestations of Tao in the world. The creative act of manifesting in the world is just as real, important, and valuable as the source potential which manifests. Thus, Jung once turned away a prospective patent by telling him he didn’t need analysis, just a good piece of sausage–a good meal, in other words. It was a spontaneous grounding move, and the gesture worked; the man snapped out of his blue funk. Jung expanded our sense of self by illustrating its underlying complexity and multiplicity, but he didn’t reject the notion of a real or perdurable controlling principle beneath all the permutations. I see this as altogether different than the Buddhist idealization of dissolution into the no-thingness of Nirvanic release.

    This notion of freedom from the self is very different from the western notion of freedom for the self. It strikes me that the implicit or explicit world-disdain of certain of the Eastern views essentially preserves the same old dualism of matter and spirit (albeit in a slightly different conceptual vocabulary) that one finds in conventional interpretations of Western religions like Christianity, and also that this split and its attendant fragmentation is exactly what Jung sought to heal, and what the shamanic/animistic traditions had always denied in the first place.

  4. mikeR says:

    …”Distinguishing what Buddha said from what is taught is reminiscent of the famous words of Carl Jung: “Thank god I’m Carl Jung and not a Jungian,” or as the Buddha might say if he were alive today, ” Thank god I am the Buddha and not a Buddhist.”
    from The Nirvana Sutras and Advaita-Vedanta – beneath the illusion of being
    by Stephen Wolinsky PhD also author of ‘Quantum Psychology’

    I’ll stick with some of my previous statements about parenting. I think in general Buddhism has depth psychology worked out so much more then western depth psychology because as I said they include the transcendence. Who knows if or how much Jung was influenced by Buddhism/Taoism and things of the east, but he was. In this regard I gave buddhism parental authority, but now not necessarily to Jung. I’m not a buddhist but I do know that the buddhist dharma of today has a lot of psycho-talk, much more then say Vedic Indian Yoga. There are thousands of meditation methods and not all with the goal of transcending as their purpose/function. I don’t lump Hinduism together with Buddhism. I don’t lump Hinduism with Indian yoga. Many do of course.

    I think Joe’s cue about the shamanic roots in Taoism is worth a look. It’s a good way to learn about energy – chi, and how that supports expansion of consciousness. It offers a growth pattern useful in shamanism. Taoist shaman-yoga also finds grounding in the transcendental Eternal Tao and can be downloaded within the finite earthbody/mind. The wu chi/wu wei of Taoism is perhaps like shakti/shiva of Indian yoga?
    check out: http://www.universal-tao.com/dark_room/index.html

    Joe’s 2nd paragraph above is a classic that I haven’t heard for a long time; “Hindu-Buddhism’s otherworldly metaphysics of escape…” Is that the description of “Core Shamanism” (ah sweet memories of a group from the old days)? ( or did I hear it from a psychotherapist?) Transcend and “escape” to the infinite inner silence of Being, the infinite consciousness, the source of infinite potential and all possibilities. Food for creative imagination! Yes! Escape! NO! remain finite thinking in the 3rd dimension! Perhaps a Buddhist might said to Nirvana/Transcendence – this is IT(or not IT)! and not do anything else with life. But a yogi – Taoist or Indian or a shaman would know themselves to be empowered by that experience. One doesn’t transcend in meditation and then stay ‘in there’, you come out and cut the grass, but imbued with ‘the glow’.
    “Established in Yoga, Perform Action” – Krishna/Bhagavata Gita.
    If in deep need, and with a choice, would you choose ‘a healing’ -from someone who was running off of his or her individual mind/body/ego as “the healer” or a healer who’s mind/body/ego was in alignment/harmony with the creative forces of nature/creation and in union/yoga with the infinite consciousness? Or someone who is at least plugged in to some degree? What/who is the healer? what is ‘a healing’?

    So far my replies on this topic have been intellectualized head-trippings. They’re not worth much in my opinion without the connection to their deeper subjective direct experience levels. I’m now realizing that I don’t want to disclose deeper subjective stuff on a blog. I’ve enjoyed the streaming regardless.
    Shiva OM

  5. Joe says:

    “The central problem in early Buddhism was how to escape the continuing cycle of birth and death. In Buddhist terms, this world of suffering and rebirth is called samsara, and the escape from it, nirvana. The question becomes: What is nirvana, and how can we reach it? . . . . The Buddhist view is that this life is but one of millions of continuous lives of suffering, destined to continue indefinitely until the cycle is broken. This necessitates a path of selflessness and discipline that leads to enlightenment and freedom from the wheel of rebirth.”
    —-Carl Becker, “Breaking the Circle: Death and the Afterlife in Buddhism”

    Now Becker is a respected scholar who has lived and studied in Asia (Kyoto) for many years–an active exponent, not a musty recycled critic, of the Buddhist view. “Escape” is his term, you see, not mine. Escaping from the wheel of woe–this earthly, physical life/sequence of lives–is the ultimate aim, the ultimate justification for transcending both desire and fear, pleasure and pain. Getting out, finally, once and for all, is where it’s really at. Even the compassionate Bodhisattvas who willingly stick around this old plane, “cutting the grass”, so to speak, are just biding their time, waiting until everyone has successfully egressed. Nirvana has no turf (astro- or otherwise) to mow.

    Whatever psycho-spiritual insights are packed away in these venerable traditions (and I would be the last to deny that there are many such insights) they are, I would nevertheless aver, fatally tainted by a psychological hue of deep, dark blue: a basically negative valuation of and feeling for embodied life (oh so sorrowful) that seeks its escape through an ostensible annihilation of individuality and a renunciation of ego and its unique peculiarities. Absolute selflessness is either seen as identical to the highest good and truth, or as the path to it. This is what yoga adept/teacher Joel Kramer dubs the principle of “renunciate morality” that is common to both core Hinduism and Buddhism, despite their other differences. (I’m just following Kramer’s own lumping here–along with his suspicion of such idealized perfect selflessness.)

    Yet I don’t find these same underlying attitudes or valuations in the shamans of the animistic traditions, or even in the Taoist view:

    The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth;
    The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
    Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to
    observe its secrets.
    But always allow yourself to have desires in order
    to observe its manifestations.
    These two are the same
    But diverge in name as they issue forth.
    Being the same they are called mysteries,
    Mystery upon mystery–
    The gateway of the manifold secrets.

    “These two are the same”: That is, the “ten thousand things,” the manifestations of nature, are no less real, important or valuable than their secret, un-manifest, supernatural source. Hence our desire for them isn’t evil, unfortunate, second best, or any less mysterious. Having is as good as ridding.

    When, say, I look at a Zuni fetish, I can sense the artist’s respect and affection for the animal being incarnated in that stone, just as I can feel the respect and affection for the stone itself, and for incarnation itself–not as something merely endured, or tolerated, or like being at a party conversing with someone who has one eye on you and another over your shoulder to check out the better action yonder.

    Yes, it’s all head tripping here in bloggerville; but after all, the head is what has to bring back the headless experience and make creative use of it in the here and now. How we interpret the experiences afterward, and how we share (or don’t share) them is as important as our having them in the first place. Or so I think.

    Although I am neither a Jungian nor a psychologist, I have long had great respect and admiration for Jung’s interpretations of inner phenomena, as they (and he) seemed to express and embody a certain salty earthiness, a wry humor, a respect for the human personality and its creativity, and above all a genuine love of life that I find largely missing from the mainstream religious traditions of both east and west. And it’s this missing element that I think we need the most–the earthy, flesh-toned, devilishly humorous transcendence. “Here, have a sausage.” Who else but Jung could have uttered such an apposite pearl of wisdom?

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