The thoughts that occupy our minds may profitably be conceived as symptomatic of the mental context or perspective in which we are, for the moment (or, as the case may be, for decades), situated. Our thoughts are the fauna and flora native to that psychic ‘habitat.ʼ To pursue and to work up these thoughts is, at the same time, to further substantiate the enfolding context or perspective—thus making the perspective look and feel all the more solidly and compellingly established. Often, we unwittingly attribute causal status to these thoughts, although when regarded from the standpoint of their generative context or matrix, they are better regarded as symptoms or effects, just as whales, sharks, plankton, and starfish are ‘consequences’ of the life-generating sea, and not its cause.
Our efforts to ‘objectify’ and to extricate ourselves from these enfolding mental contexts or inherited perspectives will be thwarted if our attention remains engrossed in their enchanting or vexing fauna and flora. It behooves us to be mistrustful of the metaphysical pretensions of all bounded mental contexts, along with all the indigenous creatures spawned within their Garden-gates or horizons. Only thus—with such salutary and sobering mistrust as our loyal ally—are we able to wake up from the dream of the ʽmany worldsʼ and learn, at last, to imaginatively play, where before we moiled and toiled on various maintenance crews.
From this perspective we are granted a somewhat fuller view of the crucial differences between Jungian psychology and Ramana Maharshiʼs spiritual standpoint. Jung speaks on numerous occasions of the reality of the psyche. I think it is fair to say that what Jung is calling psyche Ramana Maharshi would call mind plus the vāsanās (the innate or residual tendencies of the mind). And more importantly, Ramana Maharshi does not dignify the mind or the vāsanās with ‘realityʼ status. Only the Self is held to be real and abolute. Everything else—including the psyche—being derivative, is less than real, since nothing but the formless Self is self-subsistent, and this self-subsistence is what constitutes reality in RMʼs book. At first, this may seem like a logical quibble or set piece, like Anselmʼs ʽproofʼ of God, but thereʼs more to it than this.
Before the reader is tempted to make a fateful choice between Jungʼs psychology and RMʼs spiritual teachings concerning the all-embracing Self, let us dive a little bit deeper into this subtle business—a region of deeply intriguing questions where mere words and general concepts are more apt to get in the way than to be of assistance to the diver. In order to begin properly, we would do well to place both Jung and RM within the contexts they were responding to in their seemingly different teachings.
As we know, Jung was up against the thick, proud wall of 19th century European materialism at its zenith, while RM was operating snugly within the well-established Indian spiritual tradition. He was, as Jung famously referred to him, ‘the whitest spot in a white space.ʼ In order for Jung to gain cultural relevance (in order to fulfill his fate?), he had to come to terms with the materialist context in which he was immersed. The generally embraced metaphysical presuppositions of materialism implicitly denied full reality status to immeasurable and intangible spiritual/psychic phenomena. Within the jealously guarded fortress walls of the empirical-scientific worldview, there were no entry visas for anything that was not demonstrably reducible to matter or energy in quantifiable terms. It was agreed that terms like ‘mind,ʼ ‘soul,ʼ ‘God,ʼ and ‘ideasʼ referred to intangibles that nonetheless meant something, however vague and confused, to human beings (even to clear-thinking, no-nonsense persons like inorganic chemists and physicists). Accordingly, these weightless, immeasurable, and immaterial factors could not simply be ignored or categorically dismissed as utter poppycock or ‘silly nothings,ʼ although more than a few ‘Positivist’ zealots advocated such a wholesale rejection of all non-quantitative ‘phantasms.ʼ Nonetheless, even among those who granted a kind of provisional reality status to these insubstantial elements (of intellectual-imaginative-moral-spiritual experience), there was a generally shared belief that eventually all of these features of consciousness would be adequately accounted for in material terms—e.g., electrochemical processes; stimulus response of the human organism within its environment; neural pathways; behavioral habits rooted in the brain; and so forth.
When Jung argued for the reality of the psyche he was not embarking on a philosophical-metaphysical quest or campaign. He was not attempting to credit intangible psychic contents with quite the same ontological or metaphysical status that material objects and processes had been endowed with by the ruling scientific establishment. Perhaps his move—his intellectual stratagem—was a bit tricky or super-subtle, but instead of trying to induct intangible, invisible psychic contents into the exclusive club of materialist metaphysics, he simply dismissed dogmatic metaphysics altogether as a standpoint having anything of real or authoritative value to say about the psyche as such. And he accomplished this bold, brazen maneuver by simply turning the whole question on its head. By inverting the order of priority—by making the psyche the primary datum of experience—Jung, in a single move, made metaphysics a dependent subset of the psyche, which for him became the precondition, the sine qua non, of all experience. Some critics of Jung have called this move ‘psychologism’—the undermining of all possibility of philosophical truths by exposing their roots in that protean, irrational datum: the unconscious psyche.
In this way, Jung—who was not a professional or trained philosopher (although he had read Kant on his own, and was deeply impressed)—had delivered as deadly a blow to Western metaphysics as Heidegger had done (from the phenomenological direction). Instead of painstakingly unraveling it, after the manner of Heidegger and his deconstructionist followers, he simply cut the Gordian knot in one fell swoop. To repeat: he argued, in effect, that because all metaphysical positions, claims, and assertions are generated by the psyche (just as dreams, myths, and symbols are), they can never be more comprehensive, more authentic, or more grounding than the matrix out of which they emerge spontaneously and autonomously. Basing his findings upon years of experience with the phenomena of the unconscious psyche (gathered from his patients, from himself, and from the myths, religious symbols, and other recurring motifs in human cultural history), Jung concluded that the psyche is ultimately opaque, mysterious, and irreducible to any of the categories and forms of thought that we have at our conscious disposal. But, he claimed, despite its ultimately unfathomable mysteriousness—despite its transcendence of all our rational categories and methods—it appears (again, phenomenologically, and therefore, in Jung’s perhaps idiosyncratic view of phenomenology, empirically) to operate in accordance with certain ‘heuristic principles’ or observable patterns. Like the interplay of yin and yang—or between various elements in chemical processes—the psyche, of which our consciously differentiated ego-standpoint is but an outgrowth, is not a merely chaotic mystery, but a mystery that holds out the promise of wise understanding and a fuller participation in life. And since the psyche is itself the matrix of consciousness, it provides us with the means with which to make some kind of meaningful sense of it: dreams, myths, ‘archetypal’ images, ‘Gods,’ etc.
So, now we can see that while Jung posits the reality of the psyche (as an immediately experienceable datum that is directly presented to us in the form of autonomously produced images and fantasy material, which constitute its natural language), this ‘reality’ has a very different status than we encounter in rational philosophy and traditional metaphysics. It is the ground or basis of all possible experience (a claim RM will make about the Self), but it resists all comprehension by necessarily limited human rationality. From one angle, this disqualifies the psyche from being a suitable object for traditional philosophical treatment or analysis—since, as we have noted, it transcends the very terms and axiomatic principles upon which rational philosophy is founded. And while the unconscious psyche is ultimately opaque and stumpingly enigmatic, it nevertheless appears to generate forms that invite (or elicit) meaningful interpretations from us. As Jung saw it, this need for meaning (and for the mental orientation it can provide) appears to be innate in human beings. Our languages, myths, rituals, religions, philosophies—and more recently, our rather threadbare ideologies—have served, with mixed success, to organize meanings and values into systems that mediate for us, collectively. They serve as cultural interfaces between human consciousness and the enigmas of the collective unconscious.
When viewed against the backdrop of his cultural-ideological milieu (namely, the scientific-materialistic-rationalistic modern Western worldview) Jung introduced both creative ideas and corrosive criticisms that left many of the ground-floor presuppositions of that worldview utterly untenable. By opening up the psyche as phenomenologically explorable territory—territory that is situated well beneath the cultural forms and artifacts acquired and assimilated by means of the best formal educations available to us—Jung not only greatly expanded the scope of the discernible and the intelligible. He also introduced more exacting standards of subtlety in treating these little-explored factors and phenomena—standards of subtlety that make former (reductive) methods seem ham-fisted and narrow by comparison.
In our efforts to better understand the points of difference between Jung and RM, then, we must first take note of these differences between Jung’s subtle, inner-directed, culturally assimilative depth psychology and the generally outer-directed, (largely) psychologically unreflective material science that still commands the most respect where questions about the nature of things are at issue, at least here in the West. So, how did the reality of the psyche—or its validity as a ‘scientificʼ hypothesis—become established? Due to a combination of cultural, educational, and other collective factors, the realm of the psyche (or soul) had been pretty much relegated to a marginal zone inhabited by impractical or ‘madʼ poets, the ‘innocent’ faithful, dubious charlatans, theosophists, and lunatics. It was only when members of the ‘normalʼ and ‘respectableʼ bourgeoisie began to suffer from troubling and embarrassing neurotic symptoms that serious attention started to be directed towards the mysterious source of these bizarre maladies of the mind.
Freud is generally credited with having discovered the subconscious—but the groundwork for his valuable theoretical and practical contributions to the new ‘scienceʼ of depth psychology had been prepared by dozens of pioneering minds before him. Jung, having worked closely with Freud as a young psychiatrist, inherited the best that his simultaneously celebrated and reviled mentor could offer him—and then carried the flickering candle deeper into the transpersonal realm of the archetypal unconscious. His theoretical writings on the structure and dynamics of the psyche—founded upon extensive clinical work with patients from around the world, and supported by his own life-altering, protracted encounter with the unconscious during the years before and during the First World War—stand proudly beside the most eminent and revered works of psychic cartography within the possession of Western humanity. Written in a prose style that reflects the scientific temper of the times in which they appeared (but which always points beyond the limits of that worldview), these works possess a lucidity and power that speak to the innermost depths of the attuned modern reader. Suffice it to say that Jung’s writings—along with those of the other genuine depth psychologists—have succeeded in communicating the strange but partially intelligible inner processes of the psyche. Today, for anyone who has been initiated into a dialectical relationship with the unconscious psyche, there is a new dimension of experience that is every bit as vast, complex, and mysterious as the outer universe is—but immediately accessible, unlike the outer universe. Speaking about the outer realm, the British evolutionary biologist, J.B.S. Haldane said: ‘The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.ʼ This observation certainly applies to the psyche, as well—that ever-present but perplexing source from which our angelic and demonic impulses, our transcendent and bestial yearnings, and our fate-shaping dreams and imaginings mysteriously arise.
 I suppose I don’t need to point out the fact that ‘irrational philosophy’ is simply an oxymoron.
 Physicists and biologists living today will no doubt insist that no one who fails to grasp the fundamental ideas of relativity and quantum mechanics, of molecular and evolutionary biology, can claim to be fully or adequately educated. With much the same brazen temerity, I would argue that any contemporary thinker who has not thoroughly assimilated Jung’s fundamental insights and perspectives is living at least a hundred years ‘behind the times.ʼ