Saturday, July 19, 2008

An Explanation of Archetypes: Anthropomorphism and the Syzygy

In his letter posted to this blog, Christiaan asked a question about spiritual life and practice in general. In the second, he is more specific. At the end of his first paragraph, he spoke about cultural conditioning and objects of worship. He develops on this in the second paragraph:
Then there is Jung. Although considered a little outdated in the more modern cognitive field, it seems that the projection of love on a divine couple is a nice example of a Jungian archetype. Jung spent much time in India, even in Bengal. What would you say to a person like me to convince me to become a practitioner. I am neither a psychologist (as you might have guessed) nor a devotee or worshiper of Krishna. I am interested though in both.
As far as Jung is concerned, to say that he is not thought highly of by today's pundits just shows the bias of the particular schools of psychology with which you are familiar. Archetypal psychology is simply saying that our brains are predisposed to formulating complexes in symbolic form.

We are constantly generating ideal concepts of self and every kind of possible relationship in our minds; these ideal concepts are mapped onto preexisting archetypal categories that are hardwired into the brain, just as is the potential for language or sexuality, and the combination of all these "samskaras" creates the landscape of the individual and collective personality. And it is through these ideal concepts or archetypes that we perceive the world, often unconsciously projecting them externally.

To deny the existence of the archetypes is to deny the reality in our lives of what they symbolize, from the self, to love, to friendship, even to hate and fear.

Taken as a whole, the entire constellation of archetypes, inasmuch as it represents the total ideal concept of the self, takes on a separate archetype, which is called God. Since some of the individual archetypes (e.g. "Father") may dominate in the unconscious or conscious psyche, the God archetype is colored by those characteristics.

Though these archetypes are hardwired into the psyche, they take on conditioned factors as well. For instance, the archetype of the divine lovers pre-exists in the psyche, but it takes on the color of our experiences of our parents and other social contacts as well as the cultural material that we have consumed since our birth, from fairy tales to the tabloids. This is especially the case where one is preoccupied (or "possessed") by Animus and Anima, rather than the two as a pair.

The image of the Divine Couple is given the name "Syzygy" by Jung. As with all the archetypes, as you observed in your letter, there is cultural coloring given. So these archetypes appear in different forms in different cultures, though in the West they have been, for all intents and purposes, entirely eradicated by the Semitic religions (in the religious realm, though not in popular culture of course). Hinduism has a particular rich collection of living syzygy symbols--Lakshmi Narayan, Shiva-Shakti, Sita-Rama, Radha-Krishna, etc. And even though we may find flaws in Hindu cultural history, I find it intuitively cogent to think that these must have had some positive effects--though there is a flip side to every positive manifestation in existence.

This is a separate area of discussion, but to briefly state my position, I agree with Jung in that becoming conscious of the archetypes, both in their "pure" and "conditioned" forms is the clue to self-realization. Any understanding of the Syzygy in its pure form would necessitate a sexually-political attitude that transcended dominant/dominated dualities.

Now as far as Radha and Krishna are concerned specifically, is it really about projecting love onto an external symbol or archetype? That is a misunderstanding. Love is what we are seeking and it is symbolized by the Divine Couple. This symbolism (as with all archetypes) gives an overlay of ultimate meaning and sacredness to the phenomenon of love. That sacred quality is an indication of the existence of the Divine presence therein, and is thus a kind of "proof for the existence of God."

God is nowhere present more than in meaning. A life without sense is a life without God. Everyone thus has some kind of faith, as Krishna says in the Gītā: "A person is made of faith. Whatever a person's faith, that indeed is he." (17.2)

That faith may be in the modes of passion or ignorance, it doesn't matter. We sometimes jokingly say that a person worships the almighty dollar, but that is true. The elevated concept of life is one that purifies the values in which one finds meaning. Thus a fool finds meaning in the trivial, the great find meaning in the highest values of life. As we purify those values, we come closest to the concept of God.

The archetypes all have a numinous effect because they are all imbued with meaning on one level or another. But where belief in the existence of God itself is considered symptomatic of illusion and something that needs to be uprooted like a disease, how can we possibly find compatibility? Here we enter into the realm of philosophy, where heroism means to die without compromising one's commitment to empirical realism and rational atheism, and the conviction that death represents the total annihilation of your being, and cowardice to recant. The happiness of the fool is of no merit; give us the obstinacy of the wise.

Evidently, I have my own bias as to what happiness and the goal of life are. For starters, as I said above, I am a believer that the spiritualist has a different vantage point about happiness than the materialist:

yā niśā sarva-bhūtanānāṁ tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī
yasyāṁ jāgrati bhūtāni sā niśā paśyato muneḥ
"What is night for all beings, is the time of awakening for the self-controlled. When all beings are awake, that is night for the sage with vision." (Gita 2.69)
In the Gaudiya Vaishnava concept of God, the Divine is seen in human terms. In other words, there is no artificial separation of God from human experience. Even though God on one level has the various powers and attributes ascribed to Him in the various theistic religions, as well as the absolute transcendence that is ascribed to Him by the non-theistic religions, His "highest" conception is not in these attributes, but in the attribute of intimacy. In other words, whereas other religions try to eradicate any anthropomorphism in the Deity, the Gaudiya Vaishnava exults in it.

kṛṣṇera yateka khelā sarvottama nara-līlā
nara-vapu tāhāra svarūpa
gopa-veśa veṇu-kara, nava-kiśora naṭavara
nara-līlā haya anurūpa
Of all Lord Krishna’s transcendental activities, his earthly pastimes in the human form are most excellent, for this is His actual, eternal identity. In this form He dresses as a cowherd boy, plays the flute, blossoms with ever fresh youthfulness and dances expertly. His activities resemble those of a human being. (Madhya 21.101)
The result of this is what I call the double mirror effect. On the one hand, the various human experiences of love are elevated to sacredness and divinity. On the other, these human experiences inform an attitude of intimacy and love for the Divinity. The former is why some offshoots of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, like the Bauls, tend to a kind of humanism, which in Rabindranath becomes "the religion of Man."

But this is only a partial understanding of the process and neglects the traditional emphasis on bhakti to our eternal partner, the Soul of our soul, who accompanies us from body to body, through eternity as the Supersoul, and who in transcendence appears externally as the most intimate friend, lover, etc. Nevertheless, the Bhāgavatam does not look highly upon the latter without the former, calling it a lower level of accomplishment on the path of devotional realization.

I express the combination of both above ideas by the term "personalism," where understanding and love of God as person necessitates appropriate recognition of the human being as person and object of love.

In other words, some may call God with attributes a projection. And indeed, we are not altogether opposed to the term, since the Bhāgavata and the Gītā themselves speak of "God taking on a form in accordance with the mood and desires of the devotee." Even so, calling it a projection does not help much, in the final analysis, if we adopt the other side of the circular argument (used in "intelligent design" thinking also) that the creation is so arranged that the conscious entities are predisposed to thinking of, understanding, and ultimately realizing God in His various forms.

In other words, God is projecting Himself into our psyches, and we are, through our impure states of consciousness, imperfectly comprehending Him. But the potential to do so purely is part of our innate being.

Jung has gone beyond simply seeing the Syzygy as a projection of sexual love, etc. The Syzygy is the symbol of the "coniunctio oppositorum," i.e., of the harmonization of the contradictions in the individual psyche. In other words, the Divine Couple symbolizes psychic wholeness and self-realization. In this respect it simultaneously incorporates the eroticism of the sexual imagery and the romance of the unity of opposites.

This is an extremely significant insight that was intuited by the acharyas in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradāya, who identified service to the Divine Couple as the highest spiritual ideal. In order to fully understand this, we have to synthesize everything that has been said above.

Those who reject mañjarī-bhāva, thinking that it does not capture the erotic aspect of madhura-rasa sufficiently well, have not only misread the Vaishnava acharyas like Rupa and Raghunath, Kaviraj Goswami, Narottam and Vishwanath, but have totally missed the point of their teachings, especially those connected to rasa theory.

As I am trying to explain, admittedly rather incoherently still, is that all these things have significance both on the level of sādhanā as well as siddhi. But naturally it will look a bit like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to those who wish to look at life in a perfectly naturalistic manner. To each his own.

1 comment:

christiaan said...

It seems I put my questions to the right person. You clearly have a passion and a preference, but your arguments are reasonable and not without fact.
Maybe 'positive psychology' will bring some similar insights in days to come.

Thanks