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Kannon (Guan Yin)

A Working Model of the Psyche

Zen's Practical Approach to the Psychology of C.G. Jung

Anything that's rare or mysterious is fascinating, particularly so when when the health of the body, mind or spirit is involved. Then, exotic information has an irresistible allure. More than commanding our attention, it saturates our consciousness.

In medical school, for example, when studying tropical diseases - diseases which are virtually unknown in the U.S. - students often become so intrigued with the strange symptoms that they'll give them undue consideration when making diagnoses in the course of their clinical training.

When presented with the symptoms of a chest cold, they wonder about the possibility of psittacosis... parrot fever. They see a case of malnutrition, and stop to rule out leishmaniasis... a jungle parasite.

Med School professors must repeatedly caution: When you hear the sound of hoofbeats, think horses... not zebras!

We all tend to process information that is too specific, with details that far exceed our need.

If a foreigner asks, "What is 'cow'?" It may be true to answer, "a quadruped, mammalian bovine." But if the fellow doesn't know 'cow' he's not likely to know bovine. A better answer is, "It's the animal that goes Moooooo." This the foreigner will likely understand and this, unless we be zoologists or dairymen, is probably all we're qualified to answer.

In Zen, when we approach the necessary subject of Jung's psychology, we are foreigners. We're in that "what is cow?" class. Giving us kingdom, phylum, class, order, etc., is more than we can handle and more than we require. We need a stripped-down version, one that is free of psychspeak. This "no frills" approach will not be sufficient for aficionados of exotic detail. In Zen we have our share of folks who when hearing the hoofbeats of those Four Riders of the Apocalypse would wonder if Death was riding a pale zebra. On the other hand, it's better to know more than you need and to risk being sidetracked than it is to try to proceed without the guidance of a good model.

The connection between Zen and Jungian psychology is longstanding. Zen's foremost exponent was the late, great, Professor Daisetz Suzuki. When Carl Jung read Suzuki he immediately saw how Zen dovetailed with his own system of psychology. Zen's goal of "non-attachment" was Jung's goal of "individuation". Zen practitioners likewise recognized the applicability of Jungian thought to their own spiritual insights. The two men, contemporaries, are said to have corresponded extensively with each other. Jung considered himself privileged to write a long and now famous introduction to Suzuki's work.

At the outset, then, it was evident that these two disciplines were complementary. Jung's Depth Psychology tells us why we are the way we are. Zen provides the methodology by which we can change the way we are. And in advanced spiritual states, the generic rationale, the "dramatic plot" of alchemy's androgyny as well as the gestation and delivery of the Divine Child or Lapis is supplied by Jung while the methodology, i.e., the various meditation disciplines such as Qi circulation and embryonic breathing, is supplied by Zen or Daoist techniques.

What we need, then, "to connect the dots" of the two disciplines, is a model of the psyche, a simple and workable model that, for example, doesn't purport to explain the present state of the human condition without accounting for the evolutionary dictates of natural selection. We cannot postulate behavior that fails to demonstrate survival value. We need a model of the normal - not a therapeutic regimen for the disturbed or pathologic.

In Zen or Chan Buddhism we strive to live the natural life, a life that brings har- mony to the melodies of our human nature. What, then, is this natural life? How has Nature fashioned us? What are we genetically preprogramed to do in order to survive? What instinctive behavior is characteristic of our species?

An instinct or Archetype is a natural, inborn and unacquired force which impels us to act in certain ways. The complex interactions between a mother and newborn infant, for example, do not have to be taught. Baby does not need sucking lessons any more than Mother needs to be advised of her part in the feeding process. Teenagers do not have to be directed to notice teenagers of the opposite sex. Command them not to and see what happens. Instinctive behavior is as automatic as it is universal. Its mechanisms are hormonally or chemically signaled and fueled and when conditions are normal, the results are virtually guaranteed for every classification of human being: primitive or sophisticated, equatorial or arctic, rich or poor, intelligent or dull-witted, gorgeous or homely. Each and all are subject to the same instinctual drives. Beauty, brains and wealth do not relieve their possessors of archetypal havoc.

Havoc? Well, yes. Archetypes or Instincts are strong-willed autocratic forces. Monarchal or godlike, they are despots who don't tolerate much in the way of opposition. Usually, they operate beneath the level of consciousness so that they get us to do what they want us to do without our ever really understanding why we act the way we act, or like what we like, or dislike what we dislike. We think that we know the sequence of events: we think that because something conforms to certain standards which we have already determined to be pleasing, we like it. In fact, the order of events is usually quite opposite. First, we like or dislike something; second, we determine a reason for liking or disliking it. Our ego fabricates and exaggerates in support of its choices.

The most difficult part of Zen is achieving the understanding that our ego is not a competent arbiter of reality. Our ego's judgmental powers are so thoroughly compromised that it is nearly impossible to look at ourselves objectively or even to consider the possibility that we're not in absolute control of ourselves. We do not suspect that, for the most part, we are simply running genetic programs, programs which, to varying degrees, have been altered by a long list of environmental factors.

For the purposes of our rudimentary model, we will consider nine basic instincts and how they specifically affect the course of our life. We'll call these nine instincts by the names generally given them by Jung:

1. Self or God, the instinct for order;

2. Mother, the clinging instinct;

3. Child or Adorable Little One, the protective instinct;

4. Shadows (both forms):

a. Friend - positive self-preservation via the herd instinct;

b. Enemy - negative self-preservation via the destructive instinct;

5. Anima/Animus, the reproductive instinct;

6. Persona, the instinct to conform socially;

7. Heroes, the instinct to excel and to lead;

8. Hunter, the instinct to pursue;

9. Transformation, the instinct for spiritual change.

Since evolution is such a slow process - biologically, we haven't really changed in 3,000 years - we can avoid the confusing complexities of modern urban life by using as our exemplar the life cycle of a boy born into a rural family living anywhere in the world in the year 1,000 B.C. (We could just as easily have chosen a girl, the dynamics would not be essentially different.)

1. Self or God

The moment our sample baby leaves the oblivion of the womb, he experiences the pleasures and pains, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches of a chaotic consciousness. Nature's first requirement, therefore, is order. Baby must organize these incoherent experiences.

The opposite of chaos is cosmos; and, like a god, a great cosmic principle, baby must create order out of disorder. His innate abilities enable him to work much magic. He can perceive and recognize. He can think and form new ideas and retrieve information from his memory banks. He can concentrate his attention and consider things or events objectively. Soon, he will not only see, he will examine; he will not only hear, he will listen. He will know 'pleasant' and 'unpleasant' and to gain the former he will be able to plan strategies, evaluate their results and repeat the successful ones. He will learn.

He also becomes aware of who it is who is learning. He develops an ego, an identity, a continuous self-awareness which empowers him to think, "I am now who I was yesterday and will be tomorrow." Associations, infinite in number and variety, begin to adhere to his ego. Qualities, ideas and recollections cling to his Self-reflection like gold dust in a miner's fleece. Before long he will acquire language and learn his name and place in his tiny universe.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 7: A Working Model of the Psyche, Page 1 of 5