|A Bit of West Meets East, of Jung and Campbell, of Psychology
by Cindy Bias
published on May 20, 2010
Cindy Bias has been a JCF associate since 2005 and a working associate since 2010. Her knowledge of and expertise in Jungian analytical psychology has enriched the forums by enhancing our associates's understanding of Jung's work and ideas. Cindy currently works as an outpatient therapist in a community mental health center.
Might you be a Westerner new to the works of Campbell or to the psychospiritual insights of the Orient? If so, a basic familiarity with Western depth psychology may ease the way when it comes to translating East into West, so to speak. The reader whom I have in mind is interested in learning more about the Western psyche primarily, along with various Western psychological concepts that Campbell incorporated into his thinking, specifically those of Jung. Jung was the first depth psychologist to explore the differences and similarities between the Oriental and Occidental mindsets, and his excursions into the spirituality, metaphysics, and mythologies of the Orient influenced certain aspects of his Analytical Psychology. We’ll consider, then, a few general differences and similarities between the Occidental and Oriental mindsets, and for the sake of convenience I’ll use the terms “West” and “East.” My own point of view will be Western.
To start, we Westerners live from within a collective mindset that entails a dualistic (subject-object) relational paradigm. This dualistic relational paradigm is intrinsic to the Western psyche, and please note that there is nothing inherently “wrong” with this dualism, a frequently voiced view among some in the West; it simply is, and this mental paradigm is a naturally occurring expression of the human psyche just as is the complementary expression of the traditional Eastern mind that tends toward monism and idealism. For the Westerner, this dualistic paradigm permeates our experiences and interpretations of ourselves and the world, and when we come into contact with other mental paradigms and give consideration to adopting aspects of them, we have little choice but to adjust our understanding and perspective from within the bounds of this pre-existent mindset, one that has shaped our modern Western cultures and societies, our ways of living, our sense of ourselves, others, God, the universe…
…and this includes the typical Western experiences of mind and spirituality. When traditional Eastern ideas were introduced into Western culture, the general public was also introduced to a similarity of terminology, and many assume that certain terms and concepts are interchangeable when they are not. Another common assumption by some is that traditional Eastern ways are somehow superior to psychological and/or spiritual ways of the West, when in actuality both aim for the same thing—a meaningful experience of unity. True, the subject-object dualism inherent in the Western mindset necessitates a circuitous route to this state of being and understanding, yet the psychospiritual goal is the same. So in what follows, I’ll clarify certain terms and concepts in the hope that a clear familiarity with our Western psychological roots may help when considering or incorporating traditional Eastern insights.
First, in the West, the terms mind and its equivalent psyche are inherently dualistic and refer to consciousness + unconsciousness. (The single term “consciousness” is used in the East and conceived in ways particular to them, but, as we’ll see, shares various experiential commonalities to Western mental experiences.) The Western metaphorical terms ego, self, and Campbell’s hero each refer to the same thing (Note lower case spellings.), and do differ from Eastern conceptualizations of these terms. So what is the Western referent in this case? That would be the center of consciousness (as conceived in opposition to unconsciousness), and the organizer of conscious psychological and spiritual experiences and contents as we are shaped to conceive mind in the West. (Please take special note that we are referring to an organizing structure and associated processes within the psyche, and not whether a person might be deemed “egotistical” or “selfish” in some way.) Of particular importance is that within the Western mindset, the ego/self/hero fulfills a crucial role in our psychospiritual lives, and when it comes to personal growth and personal understanding, the aim over time is to enhance this aspect of individualized conscious functioning and thereby expand consciousness. The traditional Eastern mindset takes the complementary stance wherein the aim is to diminish this sort of mental functioning. Also inherent in the Western mindset is both the desirability and the necessity to interact with and affect the world of others, society, and culture, and the part of the mind that we directly put to use in accomplishing this is the ego/self/hero. Again, the traditional Eastern mindset takes a complementary stance to the outer world of people and things. Last, a derivative of the Western dualistic relational paradigm includes an individual’s psyche and the relationship of consciousness and unconsciousness within oneself, and at the level of consciousness the ego/self/hero gives expression to this psychic relationship. (I’ll address this further when we consider the concept of Self.) Some will recognize that what I’ve written so far also reflects the general observation that the Western mindset tends toward an attitude of extraversion (an outer orientation), while the Eastern mindset tends toward an attitude of introversion (an inner orientation).
And back to consciousness and unconsciousness, two of the most slippery concepts humans have yet to come up with thus far. From within the Western mindset and the bounds of our psychological theories (and science), consciousness refers to those aspects of mental life that can be directly known by the ego/self/hero as described above. When we in the West use the terms “self-awareness” or “ego-awareness,” for example, the typical reference is to conscious elements of our minds and ourselves of which we are directly aware at any given time; everything else that makes up our mental lives is then considered to be unconscious and current aspects of unconsciousness. Certain elements of Western unconsciousness are relatively easy to access and to become aware of by the conscious ego/self/hero, and common terms for this metaphorical layer of unconsciousness are personal unconscious (Jung), subjective unconscious (Freud), and what Campbell often called the shadow, an alternate Jungian term for unconsciousness. Now, another important concept in Campbell’s thinking was the collective unconscious, a metaphorical term coined by Jung to differentiate the deepest layer of unconsciousness comprised of universal (collective) aspects of inherited psychic functioning common to all and the realm of instinct and archetype. For those of us raised within a Western mindset, herein lies the source of those transpersonal and numinous aspects of the psyche most closely connected to both Nature and the Transcendent; and herein, too, lies the realm of Tat Tvam Asi or Thou Art That for the Westerner, where “oneness” and “meaning” underlie and inform all experience. In Jungian depth psychology, the collective unconscious is the link to what Jung called the metaphysical unus mundus or “one world,” a borrowed alchemical term referring to a latent unified reality that both encompasses and transcends the world of opposites and dualism, and for the Westerner, here is where East most closely meets West. The traditional Eastern mindset conceives this reality and associated experience as “pure consciousness, transcendental consciousness, Divine Consciousness,” etc. As I’ve indicated, the Western and Eastern minds express complementary ways of interpreting and assigning meaning to experience and being, and our associated terminologies often reflect this, and this includes those aspects of psychospiritual experience that we in the West have typically conceived as “deeper,” i.e., personally or collectively unconscious, in comparison to similar aspects of psychospiritual experience in the East that tend to be conceived as “higher” in some way. Also, while Jung encouraged us to “make the unconscious conscious” via the process of individuation and thereby enhance ego functioning and expand consciousness, something that in part Campbell’s hero’s journey also accomplishes, the Eastern way essentially addresses what has been “conscious” all along, so to speak, as characterized by particular gradations of awareness and associated mental experiences, and excludes any notion of “unconsciousness”; that is, the Eastern mind conceives solely in terms of “consciousness.”
Next we come to the Jungian Self, the central archetype of the collective unconscious, and generally conceived as “the archetype of wholeness” and as “the archetype of meaning.” The Self (Note capitalization.) is among Jung’s most important insights for the Westerner as well as one of his most intricate concepts. First, I mentioned above that the collective unconscious is the source of those transpersonal and numinous aspects of the Western mind most closely connected to Nature and to the Transcendent and ultimately to a latent unified reality recognized by both East and West; yet as the deepest layer of unconsciousness underlying Western consciousness, the collective unconscious and Self are also paramount in shaping the perceptions and experiences of the conscious ego/self/hero. The Self, therefore, has metaphysical and psychological connotations, and in its totality Jung conceived Self as “the essence of the psyche.” Second, and psychologically speaking, in the same way that the ego/self/hero is at the center of Western consciousness and organizes conscious functioning, the Self is at the center of the collective unconscious and organizes unconscious functioning and the expression of all archetypes, so here we have that previously mentioned psychic relationship between an individual’s conscious and unconscious, such that the ego/self/hero functions as an extension of Self. The relationship between Self and ego/self/hero is reciprocal in certain ways and changes over time, yet the prime mover is always Self. On occasion Jung characterized the Self as the essential “true self,” and given that the conscious ego/self/hero expresses but part of whom we are in our totality as psychic beings, as the archetype of wholeness and meaning it is the Self that moves us to pursue psychospiritual growth and wholeness in the way most meaningful to us. Campbell’s encouragement to heed the heroic call and to “follow your bliss” is related in this sense, in that what ultimately stirs us into action at the conscious level is an intuitive message from the unconscious Self. Of course what I’ve presented here reflects a modicum of Jung’s thinking and insights into the Western Self, but what will be taken away, I hope, is the recognition that both Eastern and Western minds are naturally predisposed to seek a meaningful sense of unity.
Last, I want to share a personal observation about Campbell. My experience so far with his work is that he tended to make general use of the terms “ego” and “self” whether referring to East or West, consciousness or unconsciousness, ego/self/hero or Self, etc. I offer this not as criticism but to highlight the importance of considering the given context within which Campbell used these terms in order to differentiate among their conceptual nuances.
Before I close, I’m going to return to an issue that I mentioned at the outset: There is nothing inherently “wrong” with the dualism intrinsic to the Western mindset. This variation of psychic expression and being in the world is a creation of Nature just as is the traditional Eastern variation, and if Nature is anything, that is creative and ever evolving. Jung said, “All the true things must change and only that which changes remains true” (Mysterium Coniunctionis, 1955), and as a particular manifestation of Nature this includes mind; indeed many believe that today we are experiencing and witnessing significant change within the collective human psyche. So to those of you seeking psychospiritual growth, note that the Western path is as equally meaningful and valuable as the Eastern path, and should you find that this way most speaks to you, do follow it. At the same time, should you find that traditional Eastern insights resonate with you, be creative on your own behalf and discover that way which best enables you to incorporate a bit of East into your West. As many pathways exist as there are people in the world to journey along them, and no one can better know than you which path to take and how to travel it.