More Precious than a Wish-fulfilling Jewel

Chiron was a centaur, and if you know your Greek mythology, you’ll recall that centaurs are half-human, half-horse. Chiron, however, was a something special. He was extremely wise, and he was an immortal god to boot. One day he was accidently struck by Hercules’ arrow. The wound was so agonizingly painful, Chiron wanted to die. But he couldn’t, because he was immortal. One of the downsides to being a god, I guess.

Eventually, he was able to renounce his immortality and before he went off to Elysium (the afterlife), he taught the art of medicine to man, and to gods, including Askelpios, who became the god of medicine. For this, Chiron is known as the “father of medicine” and the “wounded healer.”

Carl Jung borrowed “wounded healer” to describe an archetype he saw in the relationship between an analyst and patients. An analyst, or doctor, is able to treat others because “The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the wounded physician heals.”

If we unpack that idea a bit, then we can say that generally speaking, as we are all wounded in some way, for we all experience pain and suffering, and because each of us has the capacity to help others to alleviate their pain and suffering, we are all healers. Furthermore, as the myth of Chiron represents the ideal of compassion and selfless service, it is similar to the ideal of the Bodhisattva; so, we can be Bodhisattvas, too.

Jung, in outlining his concept of the wounded healer in Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy (1951), said he believed disease was the best training for a physician.

Jihi (Compassion): “to care, to cry: to remove the cause for suffering.”
Jihi (Compassion): “to care, to cry: to remove the cause for suffering.”

There is no doubt that the experience of sufferings is beneficial training for the practice of altruism, but in Buddhism the prime cause for helping others is much more fundamental. In Supplement to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti wrote, “Compassion alone is seen as the seed . . . as water for its growth, and as ripening into a lasting source of usefulness. And so, first, I pay homage to compassion.”

He’s talking about Bodhicitta, the wish to realize awakening for the benefit of all living beings. There are two kinds of bodhicitta: “aspiration bodhicitta”, generating the thought, and “action bodhicitta” or putting the thought into practice.

Year ago, at a meditation class I was leading, a first time visitor, a rather cynical young man, wanted to know why we should practice compassion. He thought there should be a reason for it. I must admit that I failed at making him understand that compassion does not need a reason. It is a kind of vicarious identification, you see the suffering of living beings and you feel empathy, you feel compassion. I realize now that he suffered from an acute sense of separation from others and consequently, he thought he needed some rationale for practicing compassion.

That is why it is important for us who understand the inseparability, the interdependence of all things to reflect on thoughts like the one we find expressed in Geshe Langri Thangpa’s Eight Verses of Training the Mind:

By thinking of all sentient beings
As more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.

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Jung at Heart

Today is the birthday of Carl Gustav Jung, who if still alive would be 136 and no doubt one of the oldest people in the world. The famed psychologist is, as you may know, the subject of a famous song by Bob Dylan, in which the singer expresses the sentiment, “May you stay forever Jung.”

Which has no connection whatsoever to the Mott the Hoople song, “All The Jung Dudes.”

There is, however, a connection between Jung’s work and Buddhism. Jung himself once said, “The goal in psychotherapy is exactly the same as in Buddhism.” There are those who feel that Jung misunderstood Buddhist philosophy, but it is certainly clear, as Polly Young-Eisendrath writes in The Cambridge Companion to Jung: Second Edition, that

C. G. Jung was the first psychoanalyst to pay close and serious attention to Buddhism and to write commentary on his own careful readings of Buddhist texts . . .beginning with Jung’s 1939 “Foreword” to Suzuki’s Introduction to Zen Buddhism . . . Jung wrote about and commented on writings from Japanese, Tibetan, and Chinese sources. Bringing in both original insights and important questions, Jung’s essays formed an early backdrop for various conversations to develop between Western psychology and Buddhist practices.

The correlations between Jung’s work and Eastern philosophy (he was interested in Hindu Yoga, particularly Vendanta, both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, and Taoism, especially the I Ching) is too vast a subject to handle in a blog post. My own feeling is that while he was occasionally off the mark, in general Jung’s interpretation of Eastern philosophy was, if nothing else, interesting. For example, his take on several core concepts, such as karma, that he saw as archetypes. In “Psychological Commentary on Kundalini Yoga,” Jung wrote,

There is a rich world of archetypal images in the unconscious mind, and the archetypes are conditions, laws or categories of creative fantasy, and therefore might be called the psychological equivalent of the samskara.”

Samskaras are generally regarded as “karmic formations” or karma-formed states. In Buddhism, samskara is the the fourth skandha (aggregate) and the second link in the twelve Nidanas (links), the chain of dependent arising.

Today is quite a day for birthdays: Mick Jagger (68!), Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Dorothy Hamill, Susan George, Helen Mirren (unforgettable as Jane Tennison in the “Prime Suspect” series), Dobie Gray (song “Drift Away”), Bobby Hebb (song “Sunny”), Brenton Wood (song “Gimme Little Sign”), Darlene Love (song “He’s a Rebel”), film director Stanley Kubrick (“Dr. Strangelove”, “2001”, “A Clockwork Orange”), director Blake Edwards (“The Pink Panther”), comedian Gracie Allen (Burns and Allen), author Robert Graves (“I, Claudius”), Irish English novelist Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”), Pearl Buck (“The Good Earth”), George Bernard Shaw (“Pygmalion”) and Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, who wrote the following, entitled Cantares or “Songs [Machado’s Testament]”:

All goes, and all remains,

but our task is to go,
to go creating roads
roads through the sea.

My songs never chased
after glory to remain
in human memory.
I love the subtle worlds
weightless and charming,
worlds like soap-bubbles.

I like to see them, daubed
with sunlight and scarlet,
quiver, under a blue sky,
suddenly and burst…

I never chased glory.

Traveller, the road is only
your footprint, and no more;
traveller, there’s no road,
the road is your travelling.

Going becomes the road
and if you look back
you will see a path
none can tread again.

Traveller, every track
leaves its wake on the sea…

Once in this place
where bushes now have thorns
the sound of a poet’s cry was heard
‘Traveller there’s no road
the road is your travelling…’

Step by step, line by line…

The poet died far from home.
Shrouded by dust of a neighbouring land.
At his parting they heard him cry:
‘Traveller there’s no road
the road is your travelling…’

Step by step, line by line…

When the goldfinch can’t sing,
when the poet’s a wanderer,
when nothing aids our prayer.
‘Traveller there’s no road
the road is your travelling…’

Step by step, line by line.

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