|| Personality & Consciousness || Contact || TE Forum || Carl Jung ||

Becoming Whole: Applied Psychoses

(Analytical Psychology and Zen Buddhism)

by Eric Pettifor

Both the path of Zen and that of Analytical Psychology are considered transformational. The paradox in each of them is that the transformation is to becoming more oneself, one's true self.

Enlightened Folk are Without Personality;
Individuated Folk are Unique Unto Themselves

In analytical psychology's approach to personality there is a clearly articulated theory of personality types. If you could find a room of individuated people, there would still be extroverts and introverts, thinking types, intuitives, etc. Yet individuation involves a balance between ego consciousness and the unconscious, both personal and collective. The archetype of the Self is both the centre and totality of the psyche. The Self is collective. The individual is collective, except to the extent that ego and personal unconscious can be said to be separate and unique.

Reading Zen sources you may come across references to 'little self' and 'greater self', but usually the relationship is not explicit, and if one thing only is stressed it will be that there is no self. Does that mean that enlightenment represents an end to personality?

Two of the founding figures in Zen, Matsu (founder of the Rinzai sect) and Shih-tou (founder of the Soto sect) seemed to manifest different personalities. Matsu was noted for employing somewhat violent means in helping students on the verge; one punch from Matsu and they were enlightened. Shih-tou, on the other hand, was noted for his gentleness. Also consider the following story:

"A group of monks who were arhats, fully enlightened, were walking through the woods and came to a stream. All the monks walked through the water with great decorum, except for one of them, who just hiked up his robes, took a running start, and jumped over the stream.
"The other monks were upset -- insofar as enlightened beings can be upset. They went to the Buddha to complain to him about their colleague's indecorous behavior. He was, after all, supposed to be fully enlightened, too. The Buddha smiled and said that that monk had been a monkey for five hundred previous lifetimes. Jumping over the stream just expressed his personality after all those lifetimes of conditioning."
(Goldstein, 1993, page 96)

Here we have an almost Skinnerian take on personality - behaviour as consequence of reinforcement history.

But can there be personality without ego? Is there any such thing as a unique individual totally free of collective components? Or is there only something in between.

The biggest difference between Zen and analytical psychology on the question of personality seems to be that the latter includes a specific theory of personality types, whereas Zen doesn't address this question directly. These conceptual glasses are something of an imposition and not native to Zen itself.


Some might argue that from a Zen perspective any goal is a gaol, so some qualifications may be in order. Strictly speaking, the desire for enlightenment is exactly that; a desire, and therefore something to be free of.

Now there is a group of the lowest type of hearer, who repeatedly weary of life and death and hurriedly seek nirvana, arousing their determination on the basis of the idea of something really existing and something being attained. Adding religious greed on top of selfish conceit, their seeking mind never rests until they die. Teachers without perception praise them as good people of faith, so they take pride in egotistical clinging and possessiveness as diligent spiritual practice, eventually turning into ghouls.
(Zen Master Ejo, in Cleary, 1995)

However, there are others who hold a differing opinion:

Satori is the raison d’être of Zen without which Zen is no Zen. Therefore every contrivance, disciplinary or doctrinal, is directed toward satori. [. . .] But there is such a thing as too much attachment to the experience of satori, which is to be detested.
(Suzuki, 1964)

If there was no goal it would not be necessary to encourage it with a formal path. Perhaps the desire for enlightenment is only extinguished with its achievement.

Enlightenment (satori)

Enlightenment is a state in which one experiences the unity and wholeness of everything as it is. Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this was Buddha's flower sermon. He said nothing, he simply held up a flower.

This unity and interconnectedness of all things is, from a Buddhist perspective, objective reality. What we are used to as thinking of as objective reality is simply the illusion of the world of a thousand and one things. It is possible to perceive this true reality experientially. In fact, the only way to perceive it is to be it, which shouldn't be difficult, since we already are, but to waken from the illusion to the reality is difficult given our conditioning.


An individuated individual is one in whom the unconscious and conscious are harmonized, and ego is decentralized (prerequisite and consequence). This is achieved by getting in touch with the unconscious, without allowing the ego to be overwhelmed by it. Ego has an explicit value. Functions which exist below the threshold of consciousness need to be brought above that threshold, repressed shadow contents need to be acknowledged, and the major archetypes of the collective unconscious (shadow, anima/animus, self) need to be discovered and related to, so that their influence can be consciously mediated, their concerns addressed, since they are quasi-autonomous subpersonalities in their own right.

Individuation is a life long process which is never really finished, though minimum prerequisites are achievable.


Zen - meditation

posture - back straight. Can be in chair, cross legged, whatever, full lotus affords the opportunity to practice not being attached to pain, though those unaccustomed to this posture who wish to explore more than just not being attached to pain may choose a less challenging posture.

Beginner exercise - the breath, just try counting 10 of them, fully mindful of each breath, without extraneous thoughts intruding. If a thought occurs, such as 'my, this is going quite well', then return to the beginning and count from one.

Zazen - letting go of thoughts, images, reawakening to the moment. If a thought occurs don't pursue it. Return to the moment. If you suddenly realize you've been caught in a chain of thoughts, if you realize you've been 'thinking', then simply return to the moment without judging. It's returning to that state of mindful awareness which is the key. It isn't important how many or how few thoughts or images arise. No one is keeping score. On the other end of the scale, try not to fall asleep.

Analytical Psychology - several methods; talk therapy, dream interpretation, and active imagination preeminent

Active imagination.


STEPS (von Franz, 1993)

  1. Empty ego consciousness [akin to Zen meditation], get free of the flow of thoughts.
  2. Let image arise in mind, follow it through. Dialogue with imaginal figures common.
  3. What distinguishes active imagination from simple fantasy is the full participation of the ego, imaginatio vera versus imaginatio fantastica. An initial difficulty is thinking something like "Oh, I'm just making this up" (imaginatio fantastica). The ego consciousness which participates in active imagination is the full waking ego, not a fictive or dream ego.

    Let me illustrate with an example. An analysand recounted to Jung an imagination she had begun in the following terms: "I was on a beach by the sea, and a lion was coming toward me. He turned into a ship and was out on the sea -- " Jung interrupted her: "Nonsense. When a lion comes toward you, you have a reaction. You don't just wait around and watch until the lion turns into a ship!" We might say that the fact that the analysand had no reaction -- for example, fear, self-defense, amazement -- shows that she did not take the image of the lion entirely seriously, but rather in some corner of her mind was thinking, "After all, it's only a fantasy lion."
    (von Franz, 1993, page 147)

    The ego likewise operates with concern for ethics. For example, von Franz relates an active imagination of analysand who was having trouble with her landlady. A toad-like dwarf emerged from a river and asked to speak to the landlady. The analysand sensed something threatening in the dwarf and had to decide whether or not to allow it to speak to the landlady, since she sensed the possibility of it doing some harm. (von Franz, 1993, page 151)

  4. Give images/content of active imagination form through writing (most common), painting, sculpting, or dance (least common, make notes on dance). Don't be either obsessed with aesthetic or sloppy. Again honesty important.
  5. Apply what is learned to daily life. (Requirement of Jungian psychotherapy in general).

This is essentially von Franz' recipe as outlined in her book Psychotherapy (1993). Other descriptions vary, but they all have two things in common in order to qualify as active imagination:

  1. Full participation of the ego complex.
  2. No outside agencies, tools, effects.
  3. The relationship in active imagination is between ego-consciousness and the unconscious. The therapist does not 'guide' the analysand, there is no mantra, no soothing music playing in the background.

Dieckmann (1988) and others mention that the starting point for active imagination need not be a naturally occurring thought or image, but may be chosen (a figure in a dream, for example).

Due to the full participation of ego-consciousness in a relationship with the unconscious, the experience of active imagination can be a very powerful one. This is why one comes across warnings such as the one at the beginning of this section. The truth of the relationship can be uncanny and may potentially activate latent psychoses. Dieckmann (1988) notes that it should only be engaged in by persons who have a strong degree of ego stability. After active imagination Jung would use yoga exercises to calm himself before making his paintings (von Franz, 1993), and access to a technique such as yoga or Zen meditation would be a valuable asset to anyone setting out to do active imagination, especially without the guidance of a qualified professional (not advised).

Von Franz also warns of affects which go beyond the person practicing the imagination. In the aforementioned case of the toad-like dwarf, the analysand decided that it could speak to the landlady so long as she accompanied it so that she could intervene if need be to keep it from doing harm. It told the landlady risqué stories which amused the landlady very much. According to von Franz, there was also a corresponding mellowing of mood in the actual landlady subsequent to the active imagination. Von Franz advises avoiding figures of actual living people in active imagination if at all possible. She also notes that she has experienced somatic effects of a positive or negative nature depending on the quality of active imaginations.

Active imagination is a powerful tool which if used should be used with caution. Dieckmann's doesn't mention any 'supernatural' effects, but he does specify the need for ego-stability due to the potential for active imagination to activate latent psychoses.

According to the Jungian theory, psychoses occur when there is a build up of energy in the unconscious and a corresponding vacuum in the conscious, such that unconscious contents and complexes flood ego consciousness. In active imagination there's a balance ideally between the unconscious and ego-consciousness, but it is a meeting at the half way point and could be regarded as applied demi-psychosis.

Enlightenment as Applied Psychosis

Enlightenment results from the state where the conscious mind is depotentiated of energy through long practice and discipline, working with meditation of the form described above, concentrating on unsolvable koans, or contemplating emptiness, and the unconscious, itself inherently complete, the sum total of everything consciousness draws on, is correspondingly charged. The moment of enlightenment is the one where these unconscious contents flood consciousness (Jung, in Suzuki, 1964). Why is this enlightenment and not psychosis?

The psyche is a self-regulating system which seeks equilibrium. Consequently, one sided elements in consciousness have their corresponding opposites in the unconscious. For example, a shadow figure in the dream of an introverted thinking type will be an extroverted feeling type. The person with an inferiority complex will have elements in the unconscious which reflect superiority and power. You could say that the conscious situation conditions the unconscious.

How has the unconscious of a Buddhist who has long practiced been conditioned?

Putting your simple faith in this, discipline yourself accordingly; let your body and mind be turned into an inanimate object of nature like a stone or a piece of wood; when a state of perfect motionlessness and unawareness is obtained all the signs of life will depart and also every trace of limitation will vanish. Not a single idea will disturb your consciousness, when lo ! all of a sudden you will come to realize a light abounding in full gladness. It is like coming across a light in thick darkness; it is like receiving treasure in poverty. The four elements and the five aggregates are no more felt as burdens; so light, so easy, so free you are. Your very existence has been delivered from all limitations; you have become open, light, and transparent. You gain an illuminating insight into the very nature of things...
(Suzuki, 1964, page 47)


So what are enlightened and/or individuated people like?

The individuated human being is just ordinary, therefore almost invisible. . . . His feelings, thoughts, etc., are just anybody's feelings, thoughts, etc.-- quite ordinary, as a matter of fact, and not interesting at all. . . . He will have no need to be exaggerated, hypocritical, neurotic, or any other nuisance. He will be "in modest harmony with nature.". . . No matter whether people think they are individuated or not, they are just what they are: in the one case a man plus an unconscious nuisance disturbing to himself -- or, without it, unconscious of himself; or in the other case, conscious. The criterion is consciousness.
(Jung, in Fadiman and Fragar, 1994, page 82)

As for being enlightened: 'Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.'

So if enlightenment and individuation are so mundane, what's the point? In reply to a question as to what it would take for humankind to avoid destroying itself, Jung essentially replied that it could be avoided if enough individuals individuated. Likewise, if the bodhisattva vow of liberating all sentient beings from suffering were ever to be even 10% fulfilled the world would be a much better place. Personality can never exist in isolation, there is always the concern for the collective as well.


Cleary, Thomas. 1995. Minding Mind: A course in Basic Meditation. Shambhala.

Dieckmann, Hans. 1988. Methods in Analytical Psychology. Chiron Publications

Fadiman & Fragar. 1994. Personality and Personal Growth. Harper Collins.

Goldstein, Joseph. 1993. Insight Meditation. Shambhala.

Suzuki, D.T.. 1964. Introduction to Zen Buddhism. Grove Press.

von Franz, Marie-Louise. 1993. Psychotherapy. Shambhala.

|| Personality & Consciousness || Contact || TE Forum || Carl Jung ||