The Kitchen

Jung, Alan Watts, and the Virtue of Ego

nondual therapy philosophy
I AM HERE - Conscious, Aware, Empty
Jung, Alan Watts, and the Virtue of Ego


Alan Watts on Carl Jung, Good, Evil and the Shadow.

[Transcript of the above talk from Alan Watts]

There are aspects of Jung's work far beyond us that I want to discuss, and first of all I want to call attention to one fundamental principle that underlay all his work and that was most extraordinarily exemplified in Jung himself as a person, and this is what I would call his recognition of the polarity of life. That is to say, his resistance to what is to my mind the disastrous and absurd hypothesis that there is in this universe a radical and absolute conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, that can never never, never be harmonized.

This conflict has come up to us in a very vivid way in recent days with the trial of Adolf Eichmann and with Arthur Kussler's passionate denunciation of any sort of philosophy of life... and he's thinking in my mind about particularly Eastern philosophers like Buddhism and Hinduism which so slur the absolute differences between good and evil - that in their name one could justify the sort of crimes which were committed in the concentration camps of Germany... and it's interesting too that certain people accused Jung also of Nazi sympathies because he too would not subscribe to the absolute state of a war between good and evil going down to the very roots of the universe.

Obviously, when certain crimes and catastrophes occur, human emotions are deeply and rightly aroused; and I would for myself say that were I in any situation where an Eichmann was operating, I would be roused to a degree of fury that I can hardly imagine in my present existence, but I know it would come out from me. I would oppose those sorts of villainies with all the energy that I have; and if I was trapped in such a situation, I would fight it to the end. But at the same time, I would recognize the relativity of my own emotional involvement. I would know that I was fighting a man like Eichmann in the same way shall we say as a spider and a wasp - insects which naturally prey upon one another and fight one another do so. But as a human being, I would not be able to regard my adversary as a metaphysical devil - that is to say as one who represented the principle of absolute and unresolvable evil - and I think this is the most important thing in in Jung. There he was able to point out that to the degree that you condemn others and find evil in others, you are to that degree unconscious of the same thing in yourself, or at least of the potentiality of it.

There can be Eichmanns, and Hitlers, and Himmlers, just because there are people who are unconscious of their own dark sides, and they project that darkness outward onto say Jews, or communists or whatever the enemy may be, and say:

"There is the darkness. it is not in me; and therefore because the darkness is not in me, I am justified in annihilating this enemy whether it be with atom bombs, or gas chambers, or whatnot."

But to the degree that a person becomes conscious that the evil is as much in himself as in the other - to this same degree he - is not likely to project it onto some scapegoat and to commit them as criminal acts of violence upon other people.

Now this is to me the primary thing that Jung saw: that in order to admit, and really accept, and understand the evil in oneself, one had to be able to do it without being an enemy to it. As he put it: you have to accept your own dark side. And he did this pre-eminently in his own character. I had a long talk with him back in 1958, and I was enormously impressed with a man who's obviously very great, but at the same time with whom everyone could be completely at ease.

There are so many great people - with great knowledge or great what is called "holiness", with whom the ordinary individual feels rather embarrassed, he feels inclined to sit on the edge of his chair and to feel immediately judged by this person's wisdom or sanctity. Jung managed to have wisdom, and I think also sanctity, in such a way that when other people came into its presence, they didn't feel judged, they felt enhanced, encouraged, and invited to share in a common life. And there was a sort of twinkle in Jung's eye. It gave me the impression that he knew himself to be just as much of villain as everybody else.

There's a nice German word "HINTERGEDANKE" which means a thought in the very far far back of your mind, You only had a hint at the HINTERGEDANKE in the back of his mind, which showed. It showed in the twinkle in his eye; it showed that he knew and recognized what I have sometimes called the element of irreducible rascality in himself, and he knew it so strongly and so clearly, and in a way so lovingly, that he would not condemn the same thing in others, and therefore would not be led into those thoughts, feelings, and acts of violence towards others which are always characteristic of the people who project the devil in themselves upon the outside, upon somebody else, upon the scapegoat.

Now this may be on a very integrated character. In other words, (here I have to present a little bit of a complex idea), he was a man who was thoroughly with himself, having seen and accepted his own nature profoundly, he had a kind of unity and absence of conflict in his own nature which had to it this additional complication that I find so fascinating.

He was the sort of man who could feel anxious, and afraid, and guilty, without being ashamed of feeling this way. In other words, he understood that an integrated person is not a person who simply eliminated the sense of guilt, or the sense of anxiety from his life, who was fearless and wooden, and a kind of sage of stone. He's a person who feels all these things, but has no recrimination against himself for feeling them.  And this is to my mind a profound kind of humor. You know, in humor there's always a certain element of malice. There was a talk given on the Pacifica Stations just a little while ago which was an interview with Alcap(?), And Alcap made the point that he felt that all humor was fundamentally malicious. Now there's a very high kind of humor which means humor at oneself. A real humor is not jokes at the expense of others. There's always jokes at the expense of oneself - and of course it has an element of malice in it. It has malice towards oneself.

The recognition of the fact that behind the social role that you assume, behind all your pretensions to being either a good citizen or a fine scholar, or a great scientist or a leading politician or physician or whatever you happen to be, behind this façade, there is a certain element of the unreconstructed bum - not as something to be condemned and wailed over, but as something to be recognized as contributive to one's greatness and to one's positive aspects, in the same way that manure is contributive to the perfume of the rose.

Jung saw this and Jung accepted this. And I want to read a passage from one of his lectures which I think is one of the greatest things he ever wrote and which has been a very marvelous thing for me. It was in a lecture delivered to a group of clergy in Switzerland a considerable number of years ago, and he writes as follows:

"People forget that even doctors had moral scruples and that certain patients confessions are hard even for a doctor to swallow. Yet the patient does not feel himself accepted unless the very worst in him is accepted. No one could bring this about by mere words. It comes only through reflection and through the doctor's attitude towards himself and his own dark side.

If the doctor wants to guide another or even accompany him a step of the way, he must feel with that person's psyche. He never feels it when he passes judgment, whether he puts his judgments into words or keeps them to himself makes not the slightest difference. To take the opposite position and to agree with the patient offhand is also of no use. Feeling comes only through unprejudiced objectivity.

This sounds almost like a scientific precept and it could be confused with a purely intellectual abstract attitude of mind, but what I mean is something quite different. It is a human quality: a kind of deep respect for the facts, for the man who suffers from them, and for the riddle of such a man's life.

The truly religious person has this attitude he knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass, and seeks in the most curious ways to enter a man's heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the Divine Will. This is what I mean by unprejudiced objectivity. It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor who ought not to let himself be repelled by sickness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it.

Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow sufferer. I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment when we desire to help and improve, but if the doctor wishes to help a human being, he must be able to accept him as he is, and he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is.

Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult in actual life. It requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one's whole outlook on life.

That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ - all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them, all the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself, that these are within me and that I myself stand in need of the arms of my own kindness, that I myself AM the enemy who must be loved, what then?

Then as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed. There is then no more talk of love and long-suffering. We say to the brother within a surâqa, and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world. We deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves...

...and had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed."

Well, you may think the metaphors rather strong, but I feel that they are not so needlessly. This is a very very forceful passage and a memorable one in all Jung's works, trying to heal this insanity from which our culture in particular has suffered of thinking that a human being can become healthy and holy by being divided against himself in inner conflict - paralleling the conception of a cosmic conflict between an absolute good and an absolute evil which cannot be reduced to any prior and underlying unity. In other words our rage - and our very proper rage - against evil things which occur in this world must not overstep itself, for if we require as a justification for our rage a fundamental and metaphysical division between good and evil, we have an insane and - in the southern sense schizophrenic - universe which no sense whatsoever can be made all conflict.

Hume was saying all opposition has its resolution in an underlying unity. You cannot understand the meaning of to be unless you understand the meaning of not to be. You cannot understand the meaning of good unless you understand the meaning of evil. Even Saint Thomas Aquinas saw this. So he said: "Just as it is the silent pause which gives sweetness to the chant, so it is suffering, and so it is evil which makes possible the recognition of virtue."

This is not, as Jung tries to explain, a philosophy of condoning the evil. To take the opposite position, he said, and to agree with the patient offhand ,is also of no use, but estranges the patient as much as condemnation.

Let me continue further reading from this extraordinary passage. Healing may be called, Jung says, a religious problem.

"In the sphere of social or national relations, the state of suffering may be civil war and this state is to be cured by the Christian virtue - the forgiveness and love of one's enemies.

That which we recommend with the conviction of good Christians as applicable to external situations we must also apply inwardly in the treatment of neurosis.

This is why modern man has heard enough about guilt and sin. He is sorely beset by his own bad conscience, and wants rather to know how he is to reconcile himself with his own nature; how he is to love the enemy in his own heart; and call the wolf his brother. The modern man does not want to know in what way he can imitate Christ, but in what way he can live his own individual life, however meager or uninteresting it may be.

It is because every form of imitation seems to him deadening and sterile that he rebels against the force of tradition that would hold him to well-trodden ways. All such roads for him lead in the wrong direction. He may not know it, but he behaves as if his own individual life were God's special will, which must be fulfilled at all costs. This is the source of his egoism which is one of the most tangible evils of the neurotic state. But the person who tells him he is too egoistic has already lost his confidence, and rightfully so, for that person has driven him still further into
his neuroses

If I wish to effect a cure for my patients I am forced to acknowledge the deep significance of their egoism. I should be blind. Indeed, if I did not recognize it as a true will of God, I must even help the patient to prevail in his egoism. If he succeeds in this, he estranges himself from other people. He drives them away, and they come to themselves, as they should, for they were seeking to rob him of his sacred egoism. This must be left to him, for it is his strongest and healthiest power. It is, as I have said, a true will of God which sometimes drives him into complete isolation.

However wretched the state may be, it also stands him in good stead. For in this way alone can he get to know himself and learn what an invaluable treasure is the love of his fellow beings. It is moreover only in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures."

This is a very striking example of Jung's power to comprehend and integrate points of view, as well as psychological attitudes that seem on the surface to be completely antithetical. For example, even in his own work, when he was devoting himself to the study of Eastern philosophy, he had some difficulty in comprehending let's say the Buddhistic denial of the reality of the ego. But you can see that in practice, what he was actually trying to get at: he was moving towards the same position that is intended in both the Hindu and Buddhist philosophy
about the nature of the ego.

Just for example as the Hindu will say that the "I" principle in man is not really a separate ego but an expression of the universal life of Brahman or the Godhead, so Jung is saying here that the development of the ego in man is a true will of God and that it is only by following the ego and developing it to its full extent that one fulfills the function which this - you might say temporary illusion - has in man's psychic life. For he goes on and says here: "When one has several times seen this development at work, one can no longer deny that what was evil has turned good and that what seemed good has kept alive the forces of evil."

The arch-demon of egoism leads us along the Royal Road to that ingathering which religious experience demands. What we observe here is the fundamental law of life: enantiodromia - or conversion into the opposite.

And it is this that makes possible the reunion of the warring halves of the personality and thereby brings the civil war to end. And of course in other words he was seeing that as Blake said, a fool who persists in his folly will become wise; that the development of egoism in man is not something to be overcome or better integrated by opposition to it, but by following it.

It's almost the principle of Judo - not overcoming what appears to be a hostile force by opposing it, but by swinging was the punch or rolling with the punch and so. By following the ego, the ego transcends itself, and in this moment of insight, the great Westerner who comes out of a whole tradition of human personality which centers it upon the ego, upon individual separateness - by going along consistently with this principle - comes to the same position as the Easterner.

That is to say to the point of view where one sees conflict which at first sight had seemed absolute as resting upon a primordial unity, thereby attaining a profound unshakable peace of the heart which can nevertheless contain conflict. Not a peace that is simply static and lifeless, but a peace that passes understanding.

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