In the late 1930s, Carl Jung visited India for the first time. While on his trip, Jung visited various historical landmarks as anyone else would and even paid a visit to several major cities. Everywhere he went, people were only interested in knowing about one thing. People wanted to know whether he had met the great Indian mystic and saint Shri Ramana Maharshi. When Jung told people that he had not met Ramana Maharshi, it often shocked them. They thought that being a pioneer in the field of psychiatry his itinerary must include a meeting with this Spiritual guru. Ramana Maharshi was looked up to by the whole country as an enlightened person. He was thought of as the man who knew himself. Most scholars made it a priority to meet this mystic when they visited India. But Jung did not visit Ramana Maharshi.
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Even when Card Jung returned home, the questions did not stop. People kept asking him whether he met Ramana Maharshi. Everybody was pointing to just one man. A few years later, Carl Jung wrote this about his visit to India and not meeting Ramana Maharshi:
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Heinrich Zimmer had been interested for years in the Maharshi of Tiruvannamalai, and the first question he asked me on my return from India concerned this latest holy and wise man from southern India. I do not know whether my friend found it an unforgivable or an incomprehensible sin on my part that I had not sought out Shri Ramana. I had the feeling that he would certainly not have neglected to pay him a visit, so warm was his interest in the life and thought of the holy man. This was scarcely surprising, as I know how deeply Zimmer had penetrated into the spirit of India. His most ardent wish to see India in reality was unfortunately never fulfilled, and the one chance he had of doing so fell through in the last hours before the outbreak of the second World War. As if in compensation, his vision of the spiritual India was all the more magnificent. In our work together he gave me invaluable insights into the Oriental psyche, not only through his immense technical knowledge, but above all through his brilliant grasp of the meaning and content of Indian mythology. Unhappily, the early death of those beloved of the gods was fulfilled in him, and it remains for us to mourn the loss of a spirit that overcame the limitations of the specialist and, turning towards humanity, bestowed upon it the joyous gift of “immortal fruit.”
The carrier of mythological and philosophical wisdom in India has been since time immemorial the “holy man”—a Western title which does not quite render the essence and outward appearance of the parallel figure in the East. This figure is the embodiment of the spiritual India, and we meet him again and again in the literature. No wonder, then, that Zimmer was passionately interested in the latest and best incarnation of this type in the phenomenal personage of Shri Ramana. He saw in this yogi the true avatar of the figure of the rishi, seer and philosopher, which strides, as legendary as it is historical, down the centuries and the ages.
Perhaps I should have visited Shri Ramana. Yet I fear that if I journeyed to India a second time to make up for my omission, it would fare with me just the same: I simply could not, despite the uniqueness of the occasion, bring myself to visit this undoubtedly distinguished man personally. For the fact is, I doubt his uniqueness; he is of a type which always was and will be. Therefore it was not necessary to seek him out. I saw him all over India, in the pictures of Ramakrishna, in Ramakrishna’s disciples, in Buddhist monks, in innumerable other figures of the daily Indian scene, and the words of his wisdom are the sous-entendu of India’s spiritual life. Shri Ramana is, in a sense, a hominum homo, a true “son of man” of the Indian earth. He is “genuine,” and on top of that he is a “phenomenon” which, seen through European eyes, has claims to uniqueness. But in India he is merely the whitest spot on a white surface (whose whiteness is mentioned only because there are so many surfaces that are just as black). Altogether, one sees so much in India that in the end one only wishes one could see less: the enormous variety of countries and human beings creates a longing for complete simplicity. This simplicity is there too; it pervades the spiritual life of India like a pleasant fragrance or a melody. It is everywhere the same, but never monotonous, endlessly varied. To get to know it, it is sufficient to read an Upanishad or any discourse of the Buddha. What is heard there is heard everywhere; it speaks out of a million eyes, it expresses itself in countless gestures, and there is no village or country road where that broad-branched tree cannot be found in whose shade the ego struggles for its own abolition, drowning the world of multiplicity in the All and All-Oneness of Universal Being. This note rang so insistently in my ears that soon I was no longer able to shake off its spell. I was then absolutely certain that no one could ever get beyond this, least of all the Indian holy man himself; and should Shri Ramana say anything that did not chime in with this melody, or claim to know anything that transcended it, his illumination would assuredly be false. The holy man is right when he intones India’s ancient chants, but wrong when he pipes any other tune. This effortless drone of argumentation, so suited to the heat of southern India, made me refrain, without regret, from a visit to Tiruvannamalai.
Nevertheless, the unfathomableness of India saw to it that I should encounter the holy man after all, and in a form that was more congenial to me, without my seeking him out: in Trivandrum, the capital of Travancore, I ran across a disciple of the Maharshi. He was an unassuming little man, of a social status which we would describe as that of a primary-school teacher, and he reminded me most vividly of the shoemaker of Alexandria who (in Anatole France’s story) was presented to St. Anthony by the angel as an example of an even greater saint than he. Like the shoemaker, my little holy man had innumerable children to feed and was making special sacrifices in order that his eldest son might be educated. (I will not enter here into the closely allied question as to whether holy men are always wise, and conversely, whether all wise men are unconditionally holy. In this respect there is room for doubt.) Be that as it may, in this modest, kindly, devout, and childlike spirit I encountered a man who had absorbed the wisdom of the Maharshi with utter devotion, and at the same time had surpassed his master because, notwithstanding his cleverness and holiness, he had “eaten” the world. I acknowledge with deep gratitude this meeting with him; nothing better could have happened to me. The man who is only wise and only holy interests me about as much as the skeleton of a rare saurian, which would not move me to tears. The insane contradiction, on the other hand, between existence beyond Māyā in the cosmic Self, and that amiable human weakness which fruitfully sinks many roots into the black earth, repeating for all eternity the weaving and rending of the veil as the ageless melody of India—this contradiction fascinates me; for how else can one perceive the light without the shadow, hear the silence without the noise, attain wisdom without foolishness? The experience of holiness may well be the most painful of all. My man—thank God—was only a little holy man; no radiant peak above the dark abysses, no shattering sport of nature, but an example of how wisdom, holiness, and humanity can dwell together in harmony, richly, pleasantly, sweetly, peacefully, and patiently, without limiting one another, without being peculiar, causing no surprise, in no way sensational, necessitating no special post-office, yet embodying an age-old culture amid the gentle murmur of the coconut palms fanning themselves in the light sea wind. He has found a meaning in the rushing phantasmagoria of Being, freedom in bondage, victory in defeat.
Even though Jung may not have explicitly admitted it, somewhere deep inside he harboured a regret of not meeting the Indian mystic. Psychologists and psychiatrists work within the confines of the mind. Whether it is the conscious mind or the subconscious mind, the penetration into these mental layers is still relatively superficial. But a realized mystic breaks all superficial barriers of the human construct to such an extent that he penetrates deep into the soul, beyond the body or the mind. This is why a mystic will understand every layer of the human realm as well as the realm beyond.
Carl Jung knew this. He knew that meeting an Indian mystic would have changed him forever. He just couldn’t bring himself to look into the eyes of a man who had realized himself. Some have suggested that meeting a realized saint would have brought him to such a great understanding of his own self and psyche, that he might even have turned to monkhood. Carl Jung would have become enlightened in the presence of Ramana Maharshi.
Carl Jung never openly admitted to any labels or accepted mysticism as the way. He saw a stark difference between what mystics tried to achieve and what he tried to study. He thought of mystics as people who are interested in expanding consciousness, negating the ego, and achieving oneness. On the other hand, Jung was interested in the psyche, which included transcending our cognitive limitations and our tendency to act unconsciously. He was disinterested in the dissolution of the ego, which he saw as regressive. He believed in the confrontation with the unconscious mind. Jung’s main teaching was individuation. This, in Jung’s view, was the understanding of the “central archetype” or the totality of the conscious and unconscious. To be fully individuated would include understanding and transcending the archetypal impulse.
Jung conceived a method of imagination as a means of interacting with his unconscious. He could allow the entities from deep within his psyche to rise to his conscious mind and purposefully interacted with them. Through such interactions, Jung finally arrived at what he called the ‘wisdom figure’ which he described as the guardian to deeper mysteries of the self.
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People working in mental health today generally have a proclivity towards understanding the mind. Very few have tried to explore consciousness or try to know themselves. Even though Carl Jung was never openly a mystic or a believer in God, somewhere deep inside, he knew that the way of the mystic had penetrated this reality at a much deeper level than what he could explore. He once famously said that God was indeed real beyond dispute despite calling himself an agnostic empirical scientist. Perhaps like many others, he was just trying to avoid a backlash from the scientific community for openly endorsing Spiritual mysticism as the absolute path. In the end, it does not matter what one admits. Jung had realized that the path towards the absolute oneness was the way and the mind can only take you so far.