Enlightenment: insights from Carl Jung

In 2010, I started this blog as a creative space to dream on symbolic life from a spiritual perspective. This followed my PhD dissertation which addressed Carl Jung’s theory of the transpersonal. 

‘Transpersonal’ denotes consciousness beyond the boundaries of personal identity. Jung spoke of a “second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature” (CW 9i, para. 90). The transpersonal dimension of consciousness is symbolic in content, consisting of “pre-existent forms, the archetypes” (ibid).

Jung’s perspective on the nature of the transpersonal is ambiguous; sometimes he speaks in terms of genetic model and at other times he speaks in more numinous terms. My work address the numinous nature of the transpersonal, grounding the archetypes within the true nature of Being, or Real Being as I call it.

A core set of symbolic forms are seen in spiritual myth, art, and religious iconography. Jung showed that these archetypal forms are fairly consistent across cultures and throughout the span of time. I have traced these on this blog: God, Goddess (or divine mother), the divine child, demons, spirit guides, the spiritual hero, wise man, the opposition between light and dark, and the unity of opposites.

Jung felt these symbols offer a path toward Self-realization. It is quite clear to me that Jung was right in this regard. Yet, Jung often limited Self-realization to the idea of ‘individuation’. For Jung, individuation is “the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated” from other human beings (CW 6, para. 757). There is a larger meaning of Self-realization, as enlightenment. This is the meaning to which my work seeks to elucidate.

Enlightenment is a realization of the eternal, everlasting, unchanging nature of Being. One might say that there are two movements or moments in Self-realization. In the first moment, we transcend the eternal ground, becoming a distinct individual (individuation)In the second moment, we realize an eternal nature of the Being as it exists beyond our transitory individual existence (enlightenment).

My work borrows from the work of Carl Jung, yet starts where Jung left off– at the threshold of enlightenment. The core archetypes are the same, varying in name and form, but not concept, not idea. In the first movement, the archetypes guide the process of individuation or selfhood through identification and idealization of identity.  In the second movement, they guide us toward realization of a Supreme Identity. This is a spiritual identity grounded in Real Being.

Below are some of the central archetypes as related to Self-realization and enlightenment. Please note that this is not an attempt at a complete list, only an introduction to some symbols and images related as one might encounter them on the spiritual path.

Archetypes of Enlightenment

–The hero 

The hero represents the ‘urge and compulsion to self-realization’ (9i, para. 289).

–The God Image

Although the Self is represented in various symbolic forms, Jung stated that the true nature of the Self was ‘unknowable essence’, which he associated with the God image.

–Coincidentia Oppositorum-

The Self is the coincidentia oppositorum. The Self is realized in the tension and unification of opposites. In psychological terms, the unification is experienced in the tension of the Conscious and the Unconscious aspects of psychic life. It is through contact with the Inner Self that dialectics of Being and Becoming can be integrated.


The Self as image of wholeness appears in mandala images. Mandala images often include the unity of light and dark, as tension of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum).

–The Shadow

Jung tell us that the shadowy aspects of the unconscious are but a “shadow of the self.” (CW 9ii, para. 76) Through awareness of the shadow we may come into greater awareness of the nature of the illusions which bind. Spiritual liberation is liberation from shadows and illusions — both personal and collective.


For Jung, a central coincidentia oppositorum is the relation of the animus and anima. This syzygy represents the integration of the masculine and feminine poles of the Self.

–The Wise Old Man

The wise man archetype guides us on the path toward wholeness of the Self, speaking in riddles and offering the wisdom of the ages. Jung says that the ‘wise old man… symbolizes the pre-existent meaning hidden in the chaos of life” (9i, para. 74).