Jung on the Chakras

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.  Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.

 

 

Jung on the Chakras

 

 

According to this [Tantric] system, there are seven centers, called chakras or padmas (lotuses), which have fairly definite localizations in the body. They are, as it were, psychic localizations, and the higher ones correspond to the historical localizations of consciousness.

Jung (1937)[1]

 

… the chakras of the Tantric system correspond by and large to the regions where consciousness was earlier localized, anahata corresponding to the breast region, manipura to the abdominal region, svadhisthana to the bladder region, and visuddha to the larynx and the speech-consciousness of modern man.

Jung (1954)[2]

 

In Hindu literature you also find the terms padma (lotus) and chakra, meaning the flower-like centers of different localizations of consciousness.

Jung (1936)[3]

 

 

Every so often a question comes from a visitor to The Jungian Center web site. Some of these I field immediately, but some spark research. Such is the case here: A person emailed me asking if Jung was aware of the chakras. I knew he was familiar with, and had firm ideas about yoga, but the chakras? I wasn’t sure. This short essay is the result of my investigation.

In his Collected Works, there are 14 references to chakras,[4] most explicitly in volume 16, when Jung discusses Tantrism and Kundalini Yoga at some length. From this and other, scattered references, it is clear that Jung was aware of the chakra system, the locations and meanings of each, and their relation to psychology. Jung is most detailed in his discussion in paragraph 560 of CW 16, where he explains the Tantric system:

“According to this system, there are seven centers, called chakras or padmas (lotuses), which have fairly definite localizations in the body. They are, as it were, psychic localizations, and the higher ones correspond to the historical localizations of consciousness. The nethermost chakra, called muladhara, is the perineal lotus and corresponds to the cloacal zone in Freud’s sexual theory…. The next chakra, called svadhisthana, is localized near the bladder and represents the sexual center. Its main symbol is water or sea, and… symbolizes certain reciprocal actions between consciousness and the unconscious…. The third center, called manipura, corresponds to the solar plexus…. This third chakra is the emotional center, and is the earliest known localization of consciousness. There are primitives in existence who still think with their bellies. Everyday speech still shows traces of this: something lies heavy on the stomach, the bowels turn to water, etc. The fourth chakra, called anahata, is situated in the region of the heart and the diaphragm. In Homer the diaphragm (phren, phrenes) was the seat of feeling and thinking. The fifth and sixth, called vishuddha and ajna, are situated respectively in the throat and between the eyebrows. The seventh, sahasrara, is at the top of the skull.”

Note how Jung distinguishes the higher and lower chakras: the first and second chakras are not “localizations of consciousness;” only with the third chakra did Jung feel consciousness arises.[5] The above passage is in the context of a patient’s physiological and psychological symptoms, and Jung’s knowledge of the symbolism of the chakras was helpful to him; he notes that “its symbolism does much to explain the patient’s symptoms” related to her bladder and uterus (second chakra).[6] But clearly Jung had to work more on this case than usual, for he added:

“If you now recall that mutual ignorance means mutual unconsciousness and hence unconscious identity, you will not be wrong in concluding that in this case the analyst’s lack of knowledge of Oriental psychology drew him further and further into the analytical process and forced him to participate as actively as possible.”[7]

This patient had been born and brought up in the Orient, which Jung realized had to be considered in undertaking her treatment.

Perhaps his research for this case led Jung to learn about “serpent power”[8] and the phenomenon of kundalini, or perhaps he was familiar with it prior to taking on this patient. In any case, he describes “the fundamental idea of Tantrism,” i.e. how the “feminine creative force in the shape of a serpent… rises up from the perineal center… and ascends through the chakras, thereby activating them and constellating their symbols.”[9] Jung does not indicate whether his client had experienced the rising of the kundalini.[10]

Repeatedly in his references to the chakras Jung speaks of “the alchemical way of thinking,”[11] obviously seeing parallels between the medieval alchemists’ symbols and the “Tantric chakra system, or the mystical nerve system of Chinese yoga.”[12] The padma or lotus images in Hindu literature were “flower-like centers of different localizations of consciousness.”[13]

Given how much Jung appreciated alchemy, one might assume that he would encourage us to take up yoga or Tantric practices, but this was not so at all. Jung recognized that “Tantrism, and in particular Kundalini Yoga, is… an exceedingly complicated symbolical system which no one can understand unless he has been initiated into it or has at least made special studies in this field.”[14] Even a diligent student, if he or she were a Westerner, would be likely to misunderstand this Oriental system. Why? Because, Jung felt, we operate with a “split” in our Western minds:

“The West, … with its bad habit of wanting to believe on the one hand, and its highly developed scientific and philosophical critique on the other, finds itself in a real dilemma. Either it falls into the trap of faith and swallows concepts like prana, atman, chakra, samadhi, etc., without giving them a thought, or its scientific critique repudiates them one and all as “pure mysticism.” The split in the Western mind therefore makes it impossible at the outset for the intentions of yoga to be realized in any adequate way.”[15]

Given this attitude, it is not likely that Jung would appreciate the widespread popularity of yoga and Eastern religions. Most Western students of these Oriental disciplines “fall into the trap,” and take up the terms without thinking, making little or no effort to seek out masters who might offer the long-term training implied in initiation.

So, to answer the question posed by a visitor to our web site: Did Jung know about the chakras? Yes he did, and he used this knowledge in his healing work with those particular patients whose personal histories involved living in the East, and he used the chakra system in his alchemical studies, but he never encouraged Western people to take up the psychophysiological disciplines related to the chakras.

 

Bibliography

 

Jung, C.G. (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Krishna, Gopi (1993), Living with Kundalini: The Autobiography of Gopi Krishna. Boston: Shambhala.

________ & James Hillman (1997), Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man. Boston: Shambhala.

 

 

 

[1] Collected Works 16 ¶560. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] CW 9i ¶467, note 12.

[3] CW 18 ¶1331.

[4] CW 9i ¶s 81 & 467n; CW 11 ¶867; CW 12 ¶397; CW 13 ¶s 334 & 337; CW 16 ¶s 559-563; and CW 18 ¶s 139, 203 & 1331.

[5] CW 16 ¶560; cf. CW 13 ¶334, CW 9i ¶467, note 12, and CW 18 ¶203.

[6] CW 16 ¶559.

[7] Ibid. ¶564.

[8] Ibid., ¶561.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Foolish Westerners, and even careful practitioners of meditation in India who undertake to raise the kundalini without the careful supervision of a master risk illness, psychosis, even death; cf. Krishna (1993) and Krishna & Hillman (1997).

[11] CW 12 ¶397 & CW 9i ¶81.

[12] CW 9i ¶81.

[13] CW 18 ¶1331.

[14] CW 16 ¶559.

[15] CW 11 ¶867.

Leave a Reply