Discussion of a passage of C.G. Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead, viewed through the Daoist lens

This post is an attempt to contextualize a section of Carl Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead in terms of Daoist thought. Seven Sermons is a profound spiritual and psychological treatise written by Jung in the 20th century and draws on mystical spiritual tradition in order to create the conclusion that the true answers of the spirit and eternity are contained within a complex natural network of primordial powers that are beyond our direct understanding and control, but that by giving them context, we may free our selves significantly of their potential destructive powers. Daoism also views the primordial as grand and beyond the scope of human control, but follows a path back to it and resting in it finds that the primordial is the chaos of creation, which ignites the spirit and is the salvation from the world of gradual death and decay. These two ideas converge and diverge and surely in order to accurately represent the relationship between the two, it would take many years of research and consideration, so this essay and ones to follow which also touch on this subject, should be seen as partial and simply a collection of thoughts which attempt to create a mosaic of meaning and divergence of meaning in order that we can come to better understand and use both perspectives to aid us in the gradual task of becoming embodied consciousness, rather than being drawn into confusion and death.

This is my commentary on the first two paragraphs of Jung’s document:

“The dead came back from Jerusalem, where they found not what they sought. They prayed me let them in and besought my word, and thus I began my teaching.”

Jung himself referred to the concept of the dead is anything which remained unresolved, unanswered, or unredeemed. In the sense of things that are unresolved, we can say that the dead can be considered as a factor of confusion of meaning for which we are still seeking an answer. Daoism works on the assumption that the most important answer, the unifying answer is not available to us in any intelligible form, but rather is only revealed to us by moving away from what Jung would have described as the “thought desire,” and what Daoists would have referred to as “personal motive.” In Daoism, personal motive leads to peril, since it always finds itself in opposition to the motive of nature, which is grand and all encompassing, thus, when our own goals are in conflict with nature, we are set on the path of destruction. The Dead in this case, are thus those who are still seeking an answer for the question of spirit in eternity. They are dead not because the corporeal form is dead, but rather they are made dead by their motivation being unsatiated by correct understanding. This particular place in Jung’s thinking cleaves a very sensitive line if compared with Daoist thought, since in the context of Daoism, the correct knowledge is not the knowledge which tangibly placates our curiosity, but rather the knowing of what is intrinsic and essential to the very being of nature, which is also our true being. This is further elucidated by Jung later in the essay.

“Harken: I begin with nothingness. Nothingness is the same as fullness. In infinity full is no better than empty. Nothingness is both empty and full. As well might ye say anything else of nothingness, as for instance, white is it, or black, or again, it is not, or it is. A thing that is infinite and eternal hath no qualities, since it hath all qualities.”

Nothingness as fullness and vice versa are comparable to the Daoist concept that emptiness is the root of something and something is the origin of what is empty, but that both empty and full are contained within the void of the Dao. Neither emptiness or fullness can possibly exist if they are not simultaneously accompanied by the other.
When Jung refers to nothing, it is the same as referring to “Wuji” the state of no polarity, and when he refers to having no qualities and all qualities simultaneously, he is referring to “Da Dao” the great way, which simultaneously contains all qualities and yet is not defined by any quality.

“This nothingness or fullness we name the PLEROMA. Therein both thinking and being cease, since the eternal and infinite possess no qualities. In it no being is, for he then would be distinct from the pleroma, and would possess qualities which would distinguish him as something distinct from the pleroma.”

This passage is comparable to the concept that the Dao has no individual being, so no being may have a nature which is distinct from anything, nothing, or all things, and be considered as being in the Dao. The being who becomes one with the Dao is the being who ceases having distinct characteristics from the world. Laozi said “the king who treats the country as his own body may hold the country in the palm of his hand,” and likewise, “Because I have a body, I am in great peril, but if I were to have no body, what peril could befall it?” The Dao and the pleroma have no body, so any aspect of the pleroma manifested as individual has already become distinct from it, and yet as we are bound to see, it also is the pleroma, since the pleroma encompasses all things. Our bodies are not part of the Dao, they are the Dao, even though as distinct, they leave the Dao. This is one of the great paradoxical mysteries of Daoism, as well as Jungian thought.

“In the pleroma there is nothing and everything. It is quite fruitless to think about the pleroma, for this would mean self-dissolution.”

Daoists also believed that it was useless to direct thoughts to the Dao, but instead, that is was possible to cultivate the Dao in silence. Where Jung sees self-dissolution as a negative act, Daoism views it as an ultimately positive act. The self is what stops us from being in harmony with nature, which is the create force behind all things.

“CREATURA is not in the pleroma, but in itself. The pleroma is both beginning and end of created beings. It pervadeth them, as the light of the sun everywhere pervadeth the air. Although the pleroma pervadeth altogether, yet hath created being no share thereof, just as a wholly transparent body becometh neither light nor dark through the light which pervadeth it. We are, however, the pleroma itself, for we are a part of the eternal and infinite. But we have no share thereof, as we are from the pleroma infinitely removed; not spiritually or temporally, but essentially, since we are distinguished from the pleroma in our essence as creatura, which is confined within time and space.”

Creatura in a sense refers to the same thing as the myriad beings. One point of conflict between Jung’s thought and Daoism is that Daoism introduces the concept of a system of nature by which beings may be in harmony and another system by which beings may be destroyed, with harmony as the entry point to the creative, which is close to the Dao. Jung also cites similar ideas later in the text, and it is perhaps fair to say that Jung’s degree of concept organization was not as total as the early Daoists, since he was essentially setting down a theoretical more than natural concept, whereas Daoism’s concept is natural more than theoretical, and thus, its communication is more consistent and total than that of Jung.
Daoists would have also disagreed that we are essentially removed from the pleroma, and instead posited that we may be brought back to the Dao through the observance of simplicity and our own basic nature. Our own basic nature is already of the Dao, and so that distinctness which puts us in conflict with the Dao is unneeded and can be altered simply by returning to non division.
This is a very important central difference between Jung’s thought and Daoist thought, because Jung’s thought pits us against meaning, metaphor, vision, and concept in order to help us grow into beings who are in ownership of themselves, whereas Daoism, at least in the forms which encourage return to the Dao, use negation of personal desires, silence, stillness, emptiness, and non duality as means by which to ignite that in our soul which may be returned to the Dao. In doing so, each school sees salvation as entirely different concepts. To Jung, salvation is in redemption from being “The Dead” incessantly searching for meaning through the confusion of ignorance and the division of the infinite into shattered images of reality which cannot be holistically totalized into one continuous being unseparated. The salvation of the dead is to put these questions to rest and occupy the higher place of a self who has realized what is intrinsic to him or her.
Daoism also seeks to shed death through the discovery of the intrinsic, but the intrinsic in Daoism is the same for all beings, it is the one constant which cannot be defined, touched, or felt, and yet is as palpable to all of us as consciousness itself. So the process of realizing in Daoism does not require abstraction of meaning, but rather an acceptance of the simplification of being to its fundamental root, which does not seek to construct, and is always created by nature itself.

This is where I’m going to leave this exploration, but I will catch up with it in later posts and go through each of the sermons of the Dead, contextualizing them according to my understanding of the central tenets of Daoist thought.

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