Not all spiritual teachings are created equal. Some spiritual teacher speak of magical powers, others speak of prophecy. Some spiritual teaching preach a relation to a father God, others to a mother goddess. Some spiritual teachings encourage the phenomena of emptiness, others of fullness and truth. If we are going to choose a spiritual path among the many, it would be wise to choose a path which supports are psychological growth and development… a path that speaks to the highest potentials of psychic life.

Carl Jung borrowed from symbolism and archetypes to show that the highest potential of psychic life is Self-realization. There is only one spiritual teaching that directly speaks Self-realization.This spiritual teaching it is called Vedanta.

Vedanta means the “end” or the “goal” of the Vedas. The Vedas are the oldest spiritual teaching still in practice today, dating back over 3500 years. The Vedas were written by visionary Sages, called Rishi, capable of profound states of meditation. The Sages would look inside their hearts and there they would discover God, as one with the innermost Self.

The teachings of Vedanta seek to reveal the true nature of the Self. Theses ancient texts offer teachings on Self-realization in a form that is simultaneously direct and dialectical. There is a logic of the Self, that if understood, takes us directly into pure subjective awareness of our unity with not only God, but with all beings and the cosmos. In other words, Vedanta teaches nonduality.

In the 8th Century AD,  the philosopher Adi Shankara offered a commentary of several of the Upanishads that is quite helpful for our understanding. In a commentary on the Katha Upanishad, Shankara discusses the meaning of the Upanishads. He says,”the word Upanishad is formed by adding the upa (near)  and the ni (with certainty) to the root sad, meaning, to shatter or kill, to attain, to loosen.”

The knowledge offered in the Upanishads ‘loosens’ or ‘shatters’ the seed of illusion. The knowledge is obtained by those who meditate on the innermost Self (Atman). Understanding the true nature of the Self leads to a release from the bondage of illusion:”Knowing that, one becomes freed from the jaws of death”.

The Upanishads teach of the Unity of the Ultimate Reality (Brahman) and the innermost Self (Atman). The fruit of this knowledge is release from the bondage of illusion. Brahman as the supreme Self (and supreme God) is goal of human existence. The word Brahman is from the root bṛh- “to swell, expand, grow, enlarge”. Brahman, as that which swells, expands, grows, enlarges, is the ground of being. All things are conditional upon Brahman. Brahman gives rise to, underlies, and pervades all of existence. The world of name and form emerge from and return to Brahman.

As Spiritual Path, symbols guide the process of Self-realization. Brahman is at first known through meditation on the qualities of Brahman, often in the subtle forms of sacred symbols and mantras. Archetypal forms express the core patterns and motifs encountered on the path to enlightenment. Spiritual symbols encourage the spiritual seeker to contemplate and participate in the unformed, unmodified, immeasurable aspect of being.

For example take the spiritual symbolism of the heart. The heart is a paradigmatic sacred symbol. The Upanishads say that spiritual seekers should seek the lotus of the heart. In the lotus of the heart there is a cave. In the cave there is a space; and this space opens to reveal the limitless and supreme Truth of Brahman.

Or take the symbolism of the Sun, as spiritual light. Isa Upanishad tells us that the one subtle forms of Brahman is the eternal light, likened to an inner sun. One meditates upon the symbol of light as Self-effulgence and Self-illumination, as subtle form of one’s own Self-becoming.

The absolute truth of Brahman extends beyond path all-together. Brahman as the ground of being and of the Self, it is not objectifiable, and can never be known as an object. The Spiritual Path aims toward an object which can never be an object of consciousness, and therefore must be known through the bliss and truth of the Self. Bliss emerges as one experiences the qualities of Brahman.

Those that seek an experience of subtle nature of being are guided by inner symbols. The love and bliss of the heart– as well the light of the inner sun– offer inner images which guide awareness toward itself. Realization of the Self in the spiritual heart or inner sun is Sat-Chit-Ananda (love, bliss, limitlessness). Such a realization takes us beyond symbolism, as the truth and bliss of being.

Carl Jung spoke of the archetypes as contained in a collective unconscious. Jung believed the collective unconscious to be inherited, and to present itself in myth, dreams, and imagination. The Upanishads are not limited to an inherited model, but instead recognizes the archetypes as representations of the infinite and eternal Truth– of Ultimate Reality! This truth emerges in symbolic form from within the Innermost Self, and yet offers an opening to truth which extends beyond the human dimension, into the transpersonal dimensions of being– as Brahman.

Read more: Self-realization in the Work of Carl Jung