Carl Gustav Jung and the Buddhist Mandala

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Carl Gustav Jung and the Buddhist Mandala

A one-time disciple of Sigmund Freud's, Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) is credited with contributing significantly to the burgeoning field of psychotherapy by formulating some of the first ideas regarding dream analysis, psychological complexes and archetypes (paradigmatic images or instinctive impulses to action). As part of his search for universal keys to the human psyche, Jung also studied and wrote numerous commentaries throughout his career on Eastern religious texts and practices. His reading of Buddhism however, is fundamentally faulted as evidenced by his misunderstanding and misrepresentation of mandala symbolism.

Originally, Buddhist mandalas1 aide-mémoires that helped meditators keep focussed during long elaborate visualizations. They were two-dimensional circumscribed square floor plans that represented three-dimensional palatial constructions. Each mandala palace was equated in meditation with the psycho-spatial complex of the meditator himself, so that any Buddha or2 depicted within his projected self-construction was understood to be a personification of his own enlightenment potential. The meditator would then mentally circumambulate his own palatial self-projection and consciously identify himself with the palace's (i.e. with his own) resident bodhisattvas. After effecting this transformative deity yoga, the meditator would then dissolve the entire edifice into emptiness. He thereby constructed, transformed and dissolved his own psycho-physical complex into the empty nature of Buddhahood.

According to Carl Jung however, mandalas expressed the deep-seated universal archetype of the completely whole Self which balanced and integrated its conscious and uncon...

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Russel, Elbert W. "Consciousness and the Unconscious: Eastern Meditative And Western Psychotherapeutic Approaches." The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology18.1 (1986): 51-72.

Waldron, William. "A Comparison of the Alayavijnana with Freud's and Jung's Theories of the Unconscious." Annual Memoirs of the Otani University Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute 6 (1988): 109-150.

Wayman, Alex. "Contributions on the Symbolism of the Mandala Palace." Etudes Tibetaines, Dediées à la Mémoire de Marcelle Lalou. Paris: Librairie d'Amerique et d'Orient, Adrien Maisonneuve, 1971.
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