nature of the Self: theory, image & archetype
“God is a psychic fact of immediate experience.“
Carl Jung speaks of the immanent aspects of God when he says “God is a psychic fact”. In Carl Jung’s view, God is first and foremost a subjective experience of the Self. Religious images (archetypes) are products of the Self, spontaneously produced within dreams and imagination.
This insight presents a shift in perspective. God is no longer seen solely in terms of an objective and transcendent otherness toward whom I must have faith. A new horizon opens in which I realize God as a subjective, immanent truth. This truth is realized through dreams, imagination, and visions– as well as through direct awareness. Jung says:
The “God-image [coincides] with the archetype of the Self” (CW 11, par. 757, in Answer to Job).
To know God as Self is to shift from a transcendent and idealized image of ‘God’ toward an immanent self-relating with the divine. As immanent, the God image forms the psychic depth and ground of our awareness. The Upanishads say that God is the ‘supreme Self,’ and that Self-realization is the realization of God as Self. Jung understood this:
“The goal of psychological, as of biological, development is self-realization or individuation. But since [we] know [the self] only as an ego, and the self, as a totality, is indescribable and indistinguishable from a God-image, self-realization . . . amounts to God’s incarnation [in the Self]” (CW 11, par. 233 emphasis added)
For some,Self-realization is a difficult journey. Jung called it a “heroic and often tragic task, the most difficult of all.” He felt “it involves suffering, a passion of the ego.” The reason being that “the ordinary empirical [self] we once were is burdened with the fate of losing one’s self in a greater dimension.” (Jung, CW 11, par. 233).
For others, Self-realization is as simple as realizing the nature of one’s own being and awareness (read Shankara’s commentary on the Upanishads). In the Upanishads, Self-realization is spoken of as Sat-chit-ananda: ‘being-consciousness, bliss.’ This is anything but suffering.
Jung saw this side of the dialectic as well. Jung spoke of “the secret immanence of the divine spirit of life in all things.” Here, he is not only speaking of the divine within the world around us, but also the divine spirit as immanent to the human psyche, discovered within the depths of our being– as the Self.
Discovering the nature of the Self as divine is a journey into sacred imagery and archetypes. Carl Jung’s writings reveal this path toward Self-realization as it appears in archetypal imagery. This path is far from straight and narrow. It is more of an imaginal journey that winds its way through the hills and valleys of our inner worlds, spiraling around the truth so that we may begin to understand and articulate the nature of the Self in symbolic and spiritual terms. For some this will be a ‘tragic’ and ‘difficult task,’ for others ‘bliss’– as an encounter with ‘the divine spirit of life in all things.’