Creativity, Insanity, Spirituality
SPIRITUALITY, 4 Sep 2017
Reflections of a Humanist Psychotherapist on the Spiritual Autobiographies of Ghazali, Tolstoy and Jung
Part One: Introduction
Being a psychotherapist and a humanist, I have a keen interest in those human experiences traditionally known as mystical and spiritual encounters. To have a psychological understanding of those experiences, I chose three famous personalities from different cultural and religious backgrounds who had had those experiences. One reason for choosing those personalities was that they had written their own spiritual autobiographies.
Path to Sufism by Abu Hamid Al Ghazali
A Confession by Leo Tolstoy
A Red Book by Carl Jung
I thought that studying those spiritual autobiographies would give me an opportunity to assess the similarities and differences in their spiritual experiences and also reflect on their own interpretations of them.
In the following essays I will summarize the spiritual journeys of these three scholars, highlighting what meanings they gave to their spiritual encounters. After the description of their struggles and successes, I will share my own reflections. I hope that reading these essays will help you develop a psychological understanding of spiritual encounters and the relationship between scientific and spiritual truths. Reading these spiritual autobiographies and reflecting on their insights in life was a profound and meaningful experience for me. I hope you enjoy reading these essays as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Part Two: Ghazali’s Spiritual Conversion and the Muslim World of Science and Philosophy
Abu Hamid Al Ghazali is one of the most controversial philosophers of the Muslim world. Some love him, others hate him. Some admire him, others despise him. Some believe he guided Muslims to the heights of spiritual enlightenment; others are equally convinced that he misguided them to the depths of philosophical despair. He is the only Muslim philosopher who challenged all other philosophers.
Ghazali was born in Tabaran, Iran in 1058 A.D. He was still quite young when his father died, and he was brought up by his father’s Sufi friend. Ghazali was fortunate to study philosophy with the eminent philosopher Al Juwaiyni. When Al Juwaiyni died in 1085 A.D. Ghazali went to Naishapur to join the court of Nizam ul Mulk who recommended him to the most prestigious school of the time, Nizammiya Madrassa in Baghdad.
By the age of 37, in 1095 A.D., Ghazali had reached the heights of his academic, literary and philosophical career. He had become a professor and a philosopher. He had published a book titled Maqasid-e-falsafa [Goals of Philosophy]. He was well-respected by students, teachers, the public at large, and the Sultan.
Then at the height of his fame and fortune Ghazali experienced an existential crisis. Over a period of a few months he gradually realized that he was not doing the right things for the right reasons in his life. He became aware that he was not fully honest with himself. Because of this painful realization he developed an emotional and intellectual conflict. He realized in the depths of his soul that he was teaching Quran and Hadees [sayings of the Prophet] and other religious books, not to please God but to satisfy his own ego. He was doing holy things to achieve unholy goals. He began to feel guilty as he considered his reasons impure. Years later, he wrote in his spiritual autobiography titled al-Munqidh min al-Dalal [Path to Sufism], “I reflected on my intention in my public teaching, and I saw that it was not directed purely to God, but rather was instigated and motivated by the quest for fame and widespread prestige. So I became certain that I was on the brink of a crumbling bank.…” (p 52)
Ghazali’s guilt increased with the passage of time and his emotional crisis led to a breakdown. He became physically and mentally sick. He could not eat solid foods or even drink fluids. He endured sleepless nights as his troubled mind and guilty conscience kept him tossing and turning in bed. The more he tried to recover, the worse he felt. He found himself emotionally paralyzed, and then this most articulate professor of philosophy became totally mute. Finally he collapsed, unable to continue with his academic lectures and philosophical career. His condition deteriorated to the point that the doctors declared his condition incurable. He wrote in Path to Sufism, “For God put a lock upon my tongue so that I was impeded from public speaking. As a result that impediment of my speech caused a sadness in my heart accompanied by an inability to digest food…I could neither swallow broth easily nor digest a mouthful of solid food. That led to such a weakening of my powers that physicians lost hope of treating and said, ‘This is something which has settled in his heart and crept from it into his humors; there is no way to treat it unless his heart be eased of the anxiety which has visited it’” (p 54). From Ghazali’s description it seems that he suffered from melancholia.
To avoid private embarrassment and public humiliation in the eyes of students and teachers and especially the Sultan, he announced that he was going to Mecca. But that was a public façade. In his heart he had no intention of performing a pilgrimage. His plan was to leave Baghdad and secretly go to Damascus, away from his students, teachers, family and friends. He wanted to hide from the world, isolate himself in a corner, do some soul-searching and resolve his emotional conflict, his intellectual dilemma and existential crisis.
He left for Damascus with the intention of never returning to Baghdad. For a long time Ghazali lived in a dark place in his heart. With the passage of time, that darkness, that depression, became deeper and his desperation more entrenched. He could not find a way out on his own and there was no friend or teacher to support and guide him. Ghazali stayed in that dark place for a very long time. His suffering was profound.
Finally in the depths of his darkness he saw a glimmer of light and experienced a spiritual conversion. To heal himself he decided to leave the realm of philosophy and follow a spiritual path. During his depression, isolation and seclusion, Ghazali read the books of saints and mystics like “the writings of al-Harith al Muhasibi, and the miscellaneous items handed down from al Junayd and al Shibli and Abu Yazid al Bistani” (p 51). Through reading those books he “knew with certainty that the Sufis were masters of states, not purveyors of words” (p 52). He also discovered that there were “two kinds of knowledge, revealed and rational” (p 52). After much reading and reflection he decided to follow the path of Sufis because Ghazali “knew with certainty that the Sufis are those who uniquely follow the way to God Most High, their mode of life is best of all, their way the most direct of ways and their ethic the purest” (p53). Thus, by choosing the spiritual path a scholar became a saint and a philosopher transformed into a mystic.
When Ghazali found his salvation in Quran, Hadees and a mystic lifestyle, he resolved his emotional, intellectual and spiritual conflict by choosing revelation over reason, prophesy over philosophy. He surrendered his logic to faith in God. So for a decade Ghazali became a mystic and lived in seclusion, hidden away from the pomp and show of the academic life, the fame and fortune of the political life, and the regard, respect and reverence of his students and admirers. During that time he transformed his emotional breakdown into a spiritual breakthrough.
Then Ghazali received an unexpected invitation from the Sultan to return to Baghdad and resume teaching. Ghazali reflected on leaving his private life as a mystic and re-entering public life as a scholar and philosopher. After much deliberation and consultation with learned friends and holy men, he decided to go back. He convinced himself that the Muslim umma, the Muslim nation, needed a leader, a savior, a Messiah. He had heard that at the beginning of each century a Messiah comes to the Muslim world and he began to believe that he was The Chosen One. It was at this point that the mystic transformed into a reformer and decided to return to public life to reform the Muslim nation. He wrote in Path to Sufism, “Subsequently I consulted on that matter a number of those skilled in discerning hearts and visions and they were of one mind in advising me to abandon my seclusion and to emerge from my religious retirement. In addition to that, certain godly men had many recurrent dreams attesting that this move of mine would be a source of good and a right procedure, and that it had been decreed by God—Praised be He—for the beginning of this century. For God—Praised be He!—has indeed promised to revivify His religion at the beginning of each century. So my hope was strengthened and I became quite optimistic because of these testimonies” (p 71).
When Ghazali went back, there was a change not only in his lifestyle, but also in his attitude towards philosophy and philosophers. As a mystic he had simply withdrawn from the philosophers; but as a reformer he turned against them. He began to believe that there was a serious conflict between philosophy and prophecy, reason and revelation. He firmly believed that revelation was right and reason was wrong, that prophesy was based on truth and philosophy on evil. He wrote, “Because of this evil the perusal of the philosophers’ books must be prevented on the score of the deceit and danger they contain” (p 41).
In his spiritual autobiography Ghazali discusses three kinds of truth:
- Sensory truth of ordinary people based on their five senses
- Rational truth of philosophers based on logic and reason
- Mystical truth of saints and prophets based on revelation
When Ghazali was a philosopher he believed in rational truth based on reason, but when he became a mystic he discovered mystical truth based on revelation. He believed that it was a higher form of truth. But when he became a reformer, he rejected the idea of rational truth. He not only rejected it, but also started preaching that it was dangerous for Muslims as it could lead them astray and take them away from their faith. He exhorted Muslims to surrender:
Rational truth in favor of mystical truth
Reason in favor of revelation
Philosophy in favor of prophecy
Blind faith in prophets and scriptures.
When we study the stories of Muslim scholars we realize that there was a long list of Muslim philosophers including Al Kindi, Al Razi, Al Farabi and Avicenna, who did not see any conflict between revelation and reason, philosophy and prophecy, God and science, but Ghazali did. On that basis Ghazali started preaching that Muslims should completely reject science and philosophy and accept prophecy and revelation based on Quran and Hadees. He was fully convinced in his heart and mind that if Muslims studied science and philosophy, especially mathematics, they would lose their faith in God and become atheists. That is when he wrote his famous/infamous book The Incoherence of Philosophers [tahafat e falasifa] in which he challenged not only Al Farabi and Avicenna but also Plato and Aristotle. He urged Muslims to distance themselves from those philosophers as they were misguiding humanity.
After publishing Incoherence of Philosophers and a number of other books including kimmiy-e-saadat [The Alchemy of Happiness], ihya-ulum-id-din [Revival of Religious Learning ] and al-Munqidh min al-Dalal [Path to Sufism] , Ghazali regained his fame and fortune as a Muslim scholar, philosopher and reformer. Because he himself had been a supporter of philosophy at one time, his attacks on philosophy and philosophers were harsh and brutal. With the passage of time he regained his following, and his students and disciples began to call him hujj-a-tul-Islam [Proof of Islam] and considered him the greatest supporter of Islam after Muhammad. His dream of becoming the new Messiah came true. The same students and disciples who had learnt to love philosophy were now learning to hate it, led by their teacher Ghazali.
While many Muslims considered him a great blessing for Islam, many others believed he was a curse. They believed that rather than guiding Muslims, he had misguided them and led them away from science and philosophy. They held him responsible for the decline of Muslims. One such Muslim philosopher who was much distressed by Ghazali’s role in Muslim history was Averroes. To nullify the negative effects of Incoherence of Philosophers he wrote a rebuttal to Ghazali’s every question and objection and called his book Incoherence of Incoherence. But by that time the damage was already done. So in the battle between reason and revelation, philosophy and prophecy, religion and science, in the Muslim world religion, revelation and prophecy won; and reason, science and philosophy lost.
It is interesting to note that while Muslims chose to follow Ghazali, Christians chose to follow Averroes. By translating Greek books into Arabic, which were later translated into Latin, Averroes became a philosophical bridge between Greek and European philosophers. In the Western world the battle between science and religion, God and philosophy, continued for the next few centuries. Finally Frederick Nietzsche declared, “God is dead”. In the Christian world, God and religion died and science and philosophy survived and thrived; in the Muslim world, God and religion survived and thrived while science and philosophy died. Mexican Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz wrote in his book Alternating Current, “Islam has experienced difficulties similar to those Christianity has undergone. Finding it impossible to discover any rational or philosophical ground for belief in a single God, Abu Hamid Ghazali writes his Incoherence of Philosophy, and a century later, Averroes answers with his Incoherence of Incoherence. For Moslems too, the battle between God and philosophy was a fight to the death. In this instance God won, and a Muslim Nietzsche might have written ‘Philosophy is dead, we all killed it together, you killed it and I killed it.’” (Ref 1 p 114)
No wonder Muslims stopped producing scientists and philosophers for centuries as they followed Ghazali’s mystical teachings. They produced more poets than philosophers, more mystics than scientists. Pakistani scientist Pervez Hoodbhoy in his book Science and Islam articulated that collective tragedy in these words: “About 700 years ago Islamic civilization lost the will and ability to do science. Since that time apart from attempts during the Ottoman period and in Mohammad Ali’s Egypt, there have been no significant efforts at recovery. Many Muslims acknowledge and express profound regret at this fact. Indeed this is the major pre-occupation of the modernist faction in Islam. But most fundamentalists feel no regret—in fact many welcome the loss because in their view, keeping a distance from science helps preserve Islam from corrupting secular influences” (Ref 2 p 1).
Ghazali died in 1111 A.D. but his legacy lives on. Whether his influence was positive or negative, whether he guided or misguided, there is no doubt that Ghazali was a major influence on the Muslim psyche and that he played a significant role in changing the direction of the Muslim world. The greatness of Ghazali lies in the fact that one can like him or dislike him, love him or hate him, admire him or despise him, but no serious student of Muslim history can ignore him.
- Paz Octavio Alternating Current Arcade Publishing New York USA 1967
- Hoodbhoy Pervez Islam and Science Zed Books Ltd London 1991
- Ghazali Abu Hamid Path to Sufism Fons Vitae KY USA 2000
Part Three: The Spiritual Journey of Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy was one of the most popular fiction writers of the 20th century. His novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina are two of the great literary favorites of all time.
Tolstoy grew up in a traditional Christian family. He followed the Christian rituals without understanding their significance and deeper meaning. When he was a teenager he heard a student named Vladimir Milyutin saying, “There is no God and all we are taught about him is a mere invention” (p 5). Hearing that, Tolstoy was amused and amazed. He paid little attention to God and religious matters. He did not consider believers to be better people than non-believers because in his day-to-day life he found that “Ability, honesty, reliability, good nature and moral conduct were often met with among non-believers” (p7).
Tolstoy realized that many believers who had studied science and philosophy and had learnt from their life experiences had lost their faith in their hearts, but still followed the rituals in order to be part of the social activities of their family and community. There were others who stopped following even those rituals as they found them meaningless and senseless.
At the age of sixteen Tolstoy stopped praying, fasting, and going to church, and began to study philosophy. Rather than becoming a good Christian, he focused on becoming successful. But his concept of success had a worldly focus. He developed “a desire to be stronger than others: to be more famous, more important and richer than others” (p 9). He had a dream of becoming a well-known writer, scholar and philosopher, and with his hard work and good luck his dream came true.
And then at the age of 50, at the height of his fame and fortune, he experienced an existential crisis during which he reflected on his life and did some soul-searching. What he discovered, he described in his spiritual autobiography, A Confession. When he reflected on his past, he realized that his fame, fortune and success were not based on solid moral and ethical foundations. He recognized that “Every time I tried to express my most sincere desire, which was to be morally good, I met with contempt and ridicule, but as soon as I yielded to low passions, I was praised and encouraged. Ambition, love of power, covetousness, lasciviousness, pride, anger and revenge were all respected” (p 11).
Tolstoy realized that his success was morally bankrupt. He indulged in activities about which he later on felt embarrassed and ashamed. He could not live with his own conscience. “I cannot think of those years without horror, loathing and heartache. I killed men in war and challenged men to duels in order to kill them. I lost at cards, consumed the labor of the peasants, sentenced them to punishments, lived loosely, and deceived people. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, murder—there was no crime I did not commit, and in spite of that, people praised my conduct and my contemporaries considered and consider me to be a comparatively moral man” (p 12).
Tolstoy also discovered that his profession as a writer was based on lies, deceit and hypocrisy. He realized that he was presenting lies as truths. But he was not the only one. He was part of a group of writers, part of a cult, where all of them did the same thing. He was part of a community where lies were admired and truths were despised. He wrote, “I, artist and poet, wrote and taught without myself knowing what. For this I was paid money; I had excellent food, lodging, women, and society, and I had fame, which showed that what I taught was very good” (p 13).
Tolstoy realized that he was part of a cult, a religion, where artists and writers were priests and “almost all the priests of that religion, the writers were immoral, and for the most part, men of bad, worthless character” (p 13). This realization made Tolstoy very sad and regretful. He became aware that his community of writers was no better than a lunatic asylum where everyone considered others lunatics. He was one of them who “simply called all men lunatics except myself” (P 15).
Tolstoy gradually became disillusioned with art and literature and the modern concept of progress.
Tolstoy had two emotionally charged experiences: he saw a public execution in Paris and he experienced the death of his brother. Those two events, alongside his disillusionment with himself and other writers, precipitated an emotional crisis. He wrote about the beginning of the crisis in these words: “At first I experienced moments of perplexity and arrest of life, as though I did not know what to do or how to live; and I felt lost and became dejected. But this passed and I went on living as before. Then these moments of perplexity began to recur oftener and oftener, and always in the same form. They were always expressed by the questions: What is it for? What does it lead to?” (p 21)
Tolstoy experienced a conflict. With the passage of time the conflict became more intense and one day he could not continue with his life. He became emotionally and creatively paralyzed. He had to know why he was doing what he was doing. It created ontological insecurity and existential despair. He wrote, “As long as I did not know why, I could do nothing and could not live” (p 21). Finally that conflict, that sadness, that desperation led to a breakdown. “I felt what I had been standing on had collapsed and that I had nothing left under my feet. What I had lived on no longer existed, and there was nothing left” (p 22). Tolstoy felt his life had become meaningless and worthless.
Tolstoy’s sadness, despair and depression reached a point where he became suicidal. He wrote, “…hid a chord from myself lest I should hang myself from the crosspiece of the partition in my room where I undressed alone every evening, and I ceased to go out shooting with a gun lest I should be tempted by too easy a way of ending my life” (p 24). He realized that all his fame and fortune, wealth and success were “all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud” (p 25).
Tolstoy could not live a meaningless life. He needed a meaning, a purpose, a goal, an ideal, to live. And when he could not find a purpose, his suicidal ideas became more frequent and more intense. “It was indeed terrible. And to rid myself of the terror I wished to kill myself…. The horror of darkness was too great, and I wished to free myself from it as quickly as possible by noose or bullet, that was the feeling which drew me most strongly towards suicide” (p 28).
At this point, Tolstoy turned to scientists and scholars and their books and philosophies to find meaning in life. He asked them the question: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” (p 30) Tolstoy realized that that there were two types of sciences: experimental sciences and abstract sciences. One did not acknowledge the question of meaning in life; the other acknowledged it but did not offer a satisfactory answer.
In general the relation of the experimental sciences to life’s question may be expressed thus:
Question: Why do I live?
Answer: In infinite space, in infinite time, infinitely small particles change their forms in infinite complexity, and when you have understood the laws of those mutations of form you will understand why you live on the earth. Then in the sphere of abstract science I said to myself: “all humanity lives and develops on the basis of spiritual principles and ideals who guide it. Those ideals are expressed in religions, in sciences, in arts, in forms of government. Those ideals become more and more elevated, and humanity advances to its highest welfare. I am part of humanity, and therefore my vocation is to forward the recognition and the realization of the ideals of humanity.” (p 33)
Tolstoy was not satisfied with the abstract and generalized answers science and philosophy were providing him. They did not decrease his depression and desperation. He tried many times but each time he came back dissatisfied. He made one last attempt.
“What is the meaning of my life?”
“There is none.”
“What will come of my life?”
“Why does everything exist that exists and why do I exist?”
“Because it exists.” (p 38)
These scientific and philosophical answers, rather than decreasing, increased his existential despair. He was looking for a personal, concrete and intimate answer to his question of meaning in life; but science and philosophy were providing him abstract, generalized and impersonal answers that he found highly unsatisfactory.
After his disillusionment with science and philosophy and abstract ideas and theories, Tolstoy looked to real and concrete life and began to study the common people around him—the laborers and the farmers. “Not finding an explanation in science I began to seek for it in life, hoping to find it among the people around me. And I began to observe how the people around me—people like myself—lived, and what their attitude was to this question which had brought me to despair” (p 47).
When he studied ordinary folk, he realized that they had found different intuitive ways to cope with the challenges of life. He discovered that they just lived, and kept on living, without engaging in philosophical dialogues and intellectual debates about meaning in life. They were so busy living that they had no time for idle abstract discussions. They considered it a luxury that only scientists, scholars and intellectual elites could afford. They had faith in themselves, their family and their community, and that faith provided them with their meaning in life. Tolstoy discovered that they “do not doubt the meaning of life” (p 52).
Focusing on the illiterate and uneducated workers, peasants and laborers, Tolstoy found some answers to the question of meaning in life that he could not find in the scholarly writings of scientists and scholars, poets and philosophers, writers and professors. After much reflection and introspection Tolstoy came up with a new insight, a new insight that was also a new dilemma, a new contradiction. “A contradiction arose from which there were two exits. Either that which I called reason was not so rational as I supposed, or that which seemed to me irrational was not so irrational as I supposed. And I began to verify the line of argument of my rational knowledge” (p 59).
Tolstoy discovered that the rational and logical thinking of scientists and philosophers had its limitations. They could discover the laws of nature of the physical universe but they could not answer the question of meaning in life. On the other hand, faith provided the answer to the question of meaning in life. “And I understood that, however irrational and distorted might be the replies given by faith, they have this advantage that they introduce into every answer the relation between the finite and the infinite, without which there can be no solution” (p 61).
So Tolstoy embraced faith to find his meaning in life and his peace of mind. His faith saved him and brought him back from the brink of suicide. “Whatever the faith may be, and whatever answers it may give, and to whomsoever it gives them, every such answer gives to the finite existence of man an infinite meaning, a meaning not destroyed by sufferings, deprivations, death” (p 62).
It is interesting to note that when Tolstoy found a personal meaning in life through faith, he generalized it. He began to believe that all human beings need a faith to create a meaningful life. But Tolstoy’s faith became a religious faith, a Christian faith, as it was the faith he had inherited from his family, his community and his ancestors. Tolstoy came to the conclusion that he had rejected God and Christianity as a young man without understanding and appreciating its deeper meaning and wisdom.
It was not easy for Tolstoy to accept faith based on revelation and reject reason, as he had deep respect for science and philosophy. To resolve that dilemma, he studied different religions and religious leaders. “I understood this, but it made matters no better for me. I was now ready to accept my faith if only it did not demand of me a direct denial of reason—which would be a falsehood. And I studied Buddhism and Mohammedanism from books, and most of all I studied Christianity both from books and from the people around me” (p 67).
Finally Tolstoy came to the conclusion that religious scholars were not much different than scientific scholars as they also focused on abstract theories and beliefs. He became more convinced that truth lay with common people who lived it rather than discussing it.
Tolstoy finally discovered his own truth, his own meaning in life, his own goals, his own dreams, his own ideals. But that answer to his own question had a problem. It was a partial answer. And he saw it as a mistake. He wrote, “The only mistake was that the answer referred only to my life, while I had referred it to life in general” (p 69). That was a profound realization for Tolstoy. He had a dilemma—to become a mystic and focus on his own truth, or become a prophet, and try to reform his community and humanity, as he believed he “must obtain an answer not for himself but for all” (p70).
When Tolstoy recovered from his existential crisis, his ontological insecurity, his desperation, his depression, he embraced God. His search for God gave him his meaning in life. He also resolved the conflict between scientific and spiritual truth. He realized that we discover scientific truth through thinking and spiritual truth through feeling. Scientific truth is the objective truth while spiritual truth is the subjective truth. He wrote, “I say that search for God was not reasoning, but a feeling, because that search proceeded not from the course of my thoughts—it was even directly contrary to them…but proceeded from the heart” (p 78). He discovered that we use our head to find scientific truths and our heart to find spiritual truths.
When Tolstoy was searching for God, he realized that God was not an idea nor a concept; it was an experience, an encounter, a living experience, a lived encounter. He wrote, “The conception of God is not God…I only lived at those times when I believed in God…. To know God and to live is one and the same thing. God is life” (p 80).
Searching for God, finding God and living God performed a miracle in Tolstoy’s life. He wrote, “I was saved from suicide” (p 82). Tolstoy believed he had been swimming from one shore to the other and had been lost in the middle of the storm. Finally he realized that “that shore was God” (p 82) and he started to swim towards God wholeheartedly and earnestly. Thus, a scholar became a saint and a writer a mystic.
After finding God, Tolstoy decided to serve the children of God—the poor, the needy and the forsaken. He adopted socialist ideas and humanist ideals and took care of the farmers and laborers. Serving poor people gave him his meaning in life. After becoming a dedicated Christian, Tolstoy started preaching love. He believed we can discover truth through love, through serving others. He wrote, “I told myself that divine truth cannot be accessible to a separate individual, it is revealed only to the whole assembly of people united by love” (p 98).
Alongside becoming a socialist Tolstoy also became a peace activist. He was horrified to find out that Christians were killing other human beings and that their religious and political leaders were justifying it.
At that time Russia was at war. And Russians, in the name of Christian love, began to kill their fellow men. It was impossible not to think about this, and not to see that killing is an evil repugnant to the first principles of faith. Yet prayers were said in the churches for the success of our arms, and the teachers of the Faith acknowledged killing to be an act resulting from the Faith. And besides the murders during the war, I saw, during the disturbances which followed the war, Church dignitaries and teachers and monks of the lesser and stricter orders who approved the killing of helpless, erring youths. And I took note of all that is done by men who profess Christianity, and I was horrified. (p 97)
Tolstoy wrote books and gave speeches supporting peace and opposing war. He asked Christians to follow Christ’s path of peace and refuse to join the army. He exhorted Christians to become pacifists. Tolstoy in his later years became as famous as a pacifist and peace activist as he had been as a novelist in his earlier years. He had a large following all over the world including leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Tolstoy who started his life as a novelist became a mystic, and then transformed into a prophet of love and peace of the 20th century. He believed that we can create a peaceful world by serving our community and humanity with love. Tolstoy practiced what he preached and preached what he practiced.
Tolstoy Leo A Confession Aegypan Press USA
Part Four: Jung’s Encounters with His Soul and God
Carl Jung is one of the most well respected psychologists and psychotherapists of the 20th century. He is considered one of the inspirations for the New Age Movement. His concepts of Introversion, Extroversion, Anima, Animus and Collective Unconscious have become part of mainstream psychology.
Jung was born in 1875 in Switzerland. His father was a priest in the Swiss Reform Church. As a young man he was impressed by the writings of Goethe, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. In 1896 he became interested in mediums and would visit meetings to study mediums in their trances. In 1899 when he studied the Textbook of Psychiatry written by Richard von Krafft Ebing, he decided to become a psychiatrist. In 1906 he began to correspond with Sigmund Freud and later on met him. They had passionate dialogues and discussions about human psychology as both had a keen interest in the unconscious mind. They had as many differences as they had similarities. Jung believed Freud was preoccupied with sexuality while Freud believed Jung was obsessed with spirituality. Jung believed Freud was too scientific in his approach to human psychology while Freud thought Jung was not scientific enough. Finally they parted in 1913.
Soon after Jung’s break-up with Freud, he had a number of unusual experiences and visions that he found very disturbing. He described one of them in these words: “In the following winter I was standing at the window one night and looked North. I saw a blood-red glow, like the flicker of the sea seen from afar, stretched from East to West across the northern horizon. And at that time someone asked me what I thought about world events in the near future. I said that I had no thoughts, but saw blood, rivers of blood” (p 18).
Jung feared that he might have a nervous breakdown and go mad. He was afraid that he might be “menaced with a psychosis” (p 18).
Jung was at the height of his professional career when he experienced those visions, auras of a breakdown. He wrote, “When I had the vision of the flood in October of the year 1913, it happened at a time that was significant for me as a man. At that time, in the fortieth year of my life, I had achieved everything that I had wished for myself. I had achieved honor, power, wealth, knowledge, and every human happiness. Then my desire for the increase of these trappings ceased, the desire ebbed from me and horror came over me. The vision of the flood seized me and I felt the spirit of the depths, but I did not understand it” (p 127).
When the First World War started, Jung believed that his dream had been a prophecy of the war and that he was in touch with a Collective Unconscious. For the next few months Jung had a series of unusual dreams in his sleep and visions during his waking hours. He was also engaged in active visualizations of imagination as he believed that dreams were the passive visualizations. Gradually Jung believed that his dreams were connecting him with his soul and later on with God.
During those spiritual encounters Jung discovered that dreams are not only reflections of our past, they are also prophecies of the future. They guide us to make wise choices in life. He wrote, “The spirit of depths even taught me to consider my action and my decision as dependent on dreams. Dreams pave the way for life, and they determine you without you understanding their language. One would like to learn this language, but who can teach and learn it? Scholarliness alone is not enough; there is a knowledge of the heart that gives deeper insight” (p 133).
Jung realized that by becoming a psychotherapist he had become arrogant, and his spiritual encounters were guiding him to learn humility. “I learn above all the most extreme humility, as what I most need” (p 134).
When Jung encountered God in his visions and dreams, he realized that he was not the traditional God he had learnt about in Sunday School. It was a different God that was revealing himself to him. He realized:
“If you are boys, your God is a woman
If you are women, your God is a boy.
If you are men, your God is a maiden.
The God is where you are not” (p 135).
Jung also learnt that every human being has his/her own unique truth that needs to be discovered. People need not follow Christ as they can themselves become Christ and discover their own truth. “…you should be he himself, not Christians, but Christ, otherwise you will be of no use to the coming God” (p 137).
When Jung started having those unusual experiences, he was full of fear and doubts. He could not trust his heart and mind, his rationality and his judgment. He asked himself:
Is it real or unreal?
Is it fact or fiction?
Is it reality or mythology?
Jung’s encounters connected him with his deeper truth. He was originally reluctant but then he followed the lead, the guidance. He wrote, “During six further nights, the spirit of the depths was silent in me, since I swayed between fear, defiance and nausea, and was wholly the prey of my passion. I could not and did not want to listen to the depths. But on the seventh night, the spirit of the depths spoke to me, “…look into your depths, pray to your depths….” (p 140).
During his dreams and visions Jung was introduced to a number of images and he painted many of them. While he was writing about his encounters, he was also painting. One such image was a desert. “Sixth night. My soul leads me into a desert, into the desert of my self” (p 141).
Jung discovered the mysteries of words and images and their special connection with each other. He was impatient. He wanted to know the truth, the whole truth, as soon as possible; but his Soul told him to wait as he was not ready to receive the whole truth.
Jung’s concept of the Unconscious Mind led him to the concept of Soul and finally to the concept of God. He saw a spiritual connection between Unconscious Mind, the Soul and God. He started believing in an Unconscious God. After Jung had spiritual encounters he started adding his own meanings to his encounters, but he had to wait for deeper truths to be revealed to him. He was asked to experience them without rationalizing and intellectualizing them. God said, “Do you still not know that you are not writing a book to feed your vanity, but that you are speaking to me?” (p 145)
Jung stayed in that desert for 25 days and nights. He became tired and exhausted and drained. He could not wait any longer. His patience was running put. He was afraid that his spiritual dream would turn into a nightmare. And then the Spirit of Depths spoke, challenging the Spirit of Time. “The spirit of this time considers itself extremely clever, like every such spirit of the time. But wisdom is simpleminded, not just simple. Because of this, the clever person mocks wisdom, since mockery is his weapon. He uses the pointed, poisonous weapon, because he is struck by naïve wisdom…the mockery falls on the mocker, and in the desert where no one hears and answers, he suffocates from his own scorn” (p 145). And then the desert started to turn into a garden. “I was soon to see the desert becoming green” (p 146).
After the images of the desert turning green, Jung was introduced to the images of sun and serpents. “…in the deepest reach of the stream shines a red sun, radiating through the dark water. There I see…and a terror seizes me…small serpents on the dark rock walls, striving toward the depths, where the sun shines. A thousand serpents crowd around, veiling the sun” (p 148). Jung was again terrified. He was afraid of having a breakdown and going mad. But he had to trust his Unconscious, his Soul, his God, to lead him, to guide him to peace, even if it was through madness. He says to his Soul, “I am stunned, but I want to be stunned, since I have sworn to you, to trust you even if you lead me to through madness” (p 148).
And then Jung realized that even if he became mad, it would not be the madness of a schizophrenic, it would be madness of saints and seers. Since he was a doctor himself he wrote, “…if you enter into the world of the soul, you are like a madman, and a doctor would consider you to be sick. What I say here can be seen as sickness, but no one can see it is sickness more than I do” (p 150).
Gradually Jung started developing some insights into life. He began to acquire wisdom and see life in a different light. He discovered the relationship between events and meanings. “We create the meaning of events…. Events have no meaning” (p 152). He also learnt the meanings are not fixed. They change with the changing times. When life changes, meanings also change. “What is awful today is good in a hundred years, and in two hundred years is bad again” (p 155).
Jung also learnt that wise people learn to accept their disabilities and limitations rather than denying or fighting with them. “The one who learns to live with his incapacity has learned a great deal” (p 156).
There were times Jung felt frustrated with his dialogues with his Soul. He did not fully comprehend what she was trying to communicate so he confronted her and she asked him to wait and reflect and then respond. There was a time Jung was in conflict. A part of him trusted his Soul and the other part distrusted her. He gradually became angry with himself. He realized he was at war with himself. He realized he was in the middle of a civil war with himself. “It was civil war in me. I myself was the murderer and the murdered” (p 159).
Jung wanted things to make sense. But he was asked to accept the absurd. Jung resisted. His Soul insisted. Finally Jung had a breakthrough when he discovered that “The highest truth is one and the same with the absurd” (p 161). Jung also learnt the deeper meanings of dreams. “We also live in our dreams, we do not live only by day. Sometimes we accomplish our greatest deeds in dreams” (p 162). Jung also learnt the relationship between meaning and absurdity. “So, meaning is a moment and a transition from absurdity to absurdity, and absurdity only a moment and a transition between meaning to meaning” (p 163).
As Jung recovered from his existential crisis, he embraced God, as God made his life more meaningful. He witnessed and experienced the rebirth of God in himself.
Jung was impressed and inspired by Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra in which Nietzsche declares that “God is Dead”. Jung in The Red Book declares that God is Reborn. But it is a new God, very different than the traditional Christian God. Traditional God is full of love and harmony, peace and mercy. Jung’s new God has a duality. He has a bright side as well as a dark side. “I understood that the new God would be in the relative. If the God is absolute beauty and goodness, how should he encompass the fullness of life, which is beautiful and hateful, good and evil, laughable and serious, human and inhuman?” (p 166)
Jung realized that we have to descend into the depths to ascend to our heights. “…if we do not have the depths, how do we have the heights?” (p 167) Those spiritual encounters helped Jung get in touch with his deeper and higher truths.” He traveled from certainty to ambiguity. “That is the ambiguity of the God: he is born from dark ambiguity and rises to a bright ambiguity….But ambiguity is the way of life…Nothing is easier to play at ambiguity and nothing is more difficult than living ambiguity” (p 170).
During his spiritual encounters Jung realized that first he was symbolically pregnant and then he delivered and discovered the mysterious relationship between his Soul and God. “But when the mother, my soul, was pregnant with the God, I did not know it. It even seemed to me as if my soul herself was the God, although he lived only in her body” (p 171).
Jung discovered that every human being has to create and deliver his/her own God. It was a mystical truth that took Jung a long time to realize, understand and cherish.
Jung also discovered that in the human personality there needs to be a balance between thinking and feeling. Unfortunately some think and do not feel, while others feel but do not think. Jung was guided to integrate thoughts and feelings in one’s personality. He discovered that Introverts think more than they feel and Extroverts feel more than they think. “May the thinking person accept his pleasure and the feeling person accept his own thought. Such leads one along the way” (p 183). Jung introduced those spiritual insights through his lectures and books on human psychology and personality.
Jung discovered that every human being has a unique goal and purpose in life. Those who discover and follow it create a meaningful life for themselves. They start from the lowest and go to the highest. That is how they create themselves. “Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. If you want to create yourself, then you do not begin with the best and the highest, but with the worst and the deepest” (p 189).
Finally Jung realized that living is different than thinking, and experiencing God is different than thinking about God. At the end of his spiritual journey Jung is told that he is a Prophet, a Messiah, a Christ.
“Salome says, ‘Mary was the mother of Christ, do you understand?’
I: “I see that a terrible and incomprehensible power forces me to imitate the Lord in his final torment. But how can I presume to call Mary my mother?”
S: “You are Christ”.
I stand with outstretched arms like someone crucified, my body taut and horribly entwined by the serpent. “You Salome, say that I am Christ.”
It is as if I stood alone on a high mountain with stiff outstretched arms. The serpent squeezes my body in its terrible coils and the blood streams from my body, spilling down the mountainside. Salome bends down to my feet and wraps her black hair round them. She lies thus for a long time. Then she cries, ‘I see light!’ Truly, she sees, her eyes are open. The serpent falls from my body and lies languidly on the ground. I stride over it and kneel at the feet of the prophet, whose form shines like a flame.
E: Your work is fulfilled here. Other things will come. Seek untiringly, and above all write exactly what you see” (p 198).
Jung’s spiritual journey ended when he said “I saw a New God” (p 193). Jung resolved his existential dilemma, his spiritual conflict. He found his peace of mind. He believed that his struggle was every man and woman’s struggle. Every human being has to carry his own cross and find his own meaning in life by following his own dreams and ideals.
Jung believed that our salvation is in loving our fellow beings. “Mighty is he who loves” (p 201).
After his spiritual encounters Jung was tempted to become the voice of God and declare that he was the new Messiah, the new Prophet, the new Saviour, but he did not follow that temptation. His student Cary Baynes, who had written her dialogues with Jung in her diaries wrote to Jung, “There were various figures speaking, Elias, Father Philemon etc but all appeared to be phases of what you thought ought to be called ‘the master’. You were sure that this latter was the same who inspired Buddha, Mani, Christ, Mahomet—all those who may be said to have communed with God. But the others had identified with him. You absolutely refused to. It could not be for you, you said, you had to remain the psychologist…the person who understood the process” (p 68).
Jung resisted the temptation of becoming a prophet and remained a psychologist. He kept the details of his spiritual encounters secret. They were published only a few years ago, nearly 100 years after they were experienced. But Jung shared a number of his spiritual insights in his essays on human psychology and personality. He believed that those spiritual encounters were so significant that it took him forty years to fully process and digest them. A few years before his death he wrote,
The years, of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then. (P 57)
Jung was a scientist. He knew that the subjective spiritual encounters had to pass objective scientific tests before they could be accepted by the wider public. He confessed, “…it has cost me 45 years so to speak, to bring the things that I once experienced and wrote down into the vessel of my scientific work” (p 88). Jung was afraid to share his spiritual encounters in his lifetime as he did not want to lose his credibility in the eyes of his scientific colleagues, students and admirers.
Jung Carl The Red Book A Reader’s Edition Edited by Sonu Shamdasani
Philemon Series Publications W.W. Norton and Company New York USA 2009
Part Five: Reflections of a Humanist Psychotherapist Existential Crisis
It was surprising for me to learn that before experiencing an existential crisis, all three scholars were at the height of their fame and fortune. Ghazali was a well-respected philosopher and professor, Tolstoy was a famous novelist, and Jung was a well-known psychotherapist. They started questioning the meaning of their lives. The more they questioned, the more disillusioned they became. They realized that their lives were not genuine, their fame was not authentic. They were respected by others but they were not true to themselves. They realized that the tall buildings of their fame and fortune were sitting on shaky foundations. They realized that their success was an illusion.
Such disillusionment created sadness in their hearts. They became depressed, and emotionally isolated themselves from others. Such disillusionment, sadness and isolation led them to do a lot of soul-searching. During that soul-searching they got in touch with some truth that they did not know before. Because of their religious backgrounds they considered those truths to be spiritual truths as they brought them closer to God. It was interesting for me to notice that while others might have considered that these people were having a nervous breakdown, they believed they were having a spiritual breakthrough.
During their mental breakdown or spiritual breakthrough they had two temptations.
The first temptation was to reject science and philosophy—knowledge based on reason—and accept spiritual knowledge based on revelation. Ghazali gave into that temptation and completely rejected science and philosophy. Tolstoy did not reject science and philosophy but discovered the limitations of intellectual knowledge. On the other hand, he rejected fiction and decided never to write another novel. Jung did not give into that temptation. He respected science and tried to explain his spiritual encounters in scientific language.
I found it interesting that after the spiritual crisis, all three scholars began using religious language to describe their life events, as they gave a spiritual meaning to their existential encounters.
All three of them had another temptation. It was a transcendental temptation. They were tempted to declare themselves a spiritual leader, a guru, a savior, a Messiah. Ghazali gave into that temptation and decided to become a reformer. He wrote a series of books titled Ihya e ulum ud din to reform the Muslim nation, the Muslim ummah. Tolstoy wrote a book The Kingdom of God is Within You and became a peace activist. He asked Christians to refuse to join the army, as Christians are supposed to follow the peaceful path of Christ. He started a movement that promoted peace and non-violence. Famous people who accepted him as a leader included Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. Jung resisted the temptation to claim that he was a Messiah. Publicly he remained a scientist, a psychologist, a psychotherapist. That is why he never published his spiritual autobiography A Red Book in his lifetime. He believed that by publication of that book he would lose his credibility in the eyes of his scientific colleagues. He presented his spiritual insights in psychological terms and introduced the concepts of Introversion, Extroversion, Anima, Animus and Collective Unconscious which became part of 20th century mainstream psychology.
Spiritual Truth / Scientific Truth
One of the philosophical questions all three scholars faced in their spiritual journey was: Is spiritual truth in conflict with scientific truth?
Ghazali believed that they were in conflict with each other. He believed that scientific truth was a rational truth, while spiritual truth was a revealed truth. Since he believed they were in conflict and he had to choose one, he chose the revealed truth. He accepted the revealed truth and rejected the rational truth.
I find it interesting that Ghazali’s point of view is not supported by other Muslim Philosophers like Al Kindi, Al Razi, Al Farabi and Avicenna who lived before him and Averroes who lived after him. They did not think they had to reject one to accept the other.
Tolstoy struggled with that dilemma too. But he insisted that he would not accept revealed truth if he had to reject rational truth. He could not embrace spiritual truth if he had to discard scientific truth. So he accepted both. He did not see any conflict between them.
Jung was very clear that both truths not only did not contradict each other, they actually complemented each other. Being a psychologist he was aware of the dynamics of the human psyche and realized that the human personality has two parts: a rational part and an emotional part. He believed that:
- Scientific truth deals with our thinking.
- Spiritual truth deals with our feeling.
- Scientific truth deals with our heads.
- Spiritual truth deals with our hearts.
- Scientific truth is an objective truth.
- Spiritual truth is a subjective truth.
Jung was aware that Subjective Spiritual Truth has to pass the scientific test to be accepted as Scientific Objective Truth. On that basis, he used his 45 years of spiritual encounters to develop his spiritual truth which he had discovered in 1913, in order for it to be accepted as Scientific Truth. He knew that a scientist creates a hypothesis, which is his subjective truth, and then tests it to see if it will pass the scientific test to become an objective truth.
I find it interesting that Muslim philosophers who were also physicians and scientists had a different approach than those who had a religious background and had studied theology but had no scientific background and had not studied science, medicine or psychology.
Many scientists believe that the laws of nature are universal and can be proved by objective tests. To accept those objective truths, people need not believe in any God or religious or spiritual tradition.
Faith and Meaning in Life
Like Tolstoy, many mystics feel that science deals with laws of nature but does not address the meaning in life question. So they rationalize and say that to create a meaningful life we need to have faith, and then they offer religious and spiritual faith as an answer to the meaning of life question.
Eric Fromm, a humanist psychotherapist, is of the opinion that faith is not related to religious belief. It is a personality characteristic. Irrespective of having a religious belief or not, some people are full of doubts while others are full of faith. He discusses Secular Faith as compared to Religious faith. People with Religious Faith believe in miracles, pray and wait for divine interventions. On the other , people with Secular Faith have faith in laws of nature. Many scientists have secular faith. A surgeon has faith that after the application of a cast, the bone will heal in a few weeks; and an obstetrician has faith that a baby will be born in nine months and a few days. Such faith is based on their experience, wisdom and knowledge of the laws of nature.
- Scientists have been discovering those laws of nature for centuries.
- Biologists discover biological laws of nature.
- Psychologists discover psychological laws of nature.
- Sociologists discover social laws of nature.
- Cosmologists discover cosmological laws of nature.
While religious and spiritual people believe that we need religious faith and spiritual beliefs to have a meaningful life, many humanist therapists, like Eric Fromm, Rollo May, Abraham Maslow and Victor Frankl are of the opinion that human beings can create a meaningful life without following any religious or spiritual tradition. Human beings can create meaningful lives by exploring their creativity, developing loving relationships and serving humanity. Over the decades, the number of people who have created meaningful lives without God and religion has been increasing.
- In 1900 their number was 1% world-wide.
- In 2000 their number increased to 15%.
- In Canada their number is 20%
- In Scandinavian countries their number has grown to more than 50%.
- In the 21st century, out of 7 billion people
- 4 billion follow religious traditions
- 2 billion follow spiritual traditions
- 1 billion follow secular and humanist traditions to create meaningful personal and social lives.
In my opinion those experiences that are traditionally known as mystical and spiritual encounters are unique encounters that need to be studied from a psychological point of view. We need to have a scientific understanding and a secular interpretation of those human experiences. As a humanist psychotherapist, I believe that spiritual autobiographies are goldmines that provide us with valuable information. Irrespective of whether we agree or disagree with their spiritual interpretations, these unique experiences provide us with special insights. These are the stories of creative people who follow the road less traveled. Their books are part of wisdom literature which provides profound insights into the human psyche as well as the transformation of the human personality. Such personalities are important because they can play a major role in the transformation of their community and all of humanity.
When we reflect on the social impact of these scholars we discover that:
Ghazali had a serious impact on the Muslim world. In the last several centuries his followers embraced spirituality but distanced themselves from science and philosophy. Tolstoy became a socialist and a peace activist and inspired leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. of the 20th century. Jung remained a psychologist, introduced his spiritual insights into main stream psychology, and became one of the inspirations of the New Age Movement.
Dr. K. Sohail, an author, a humanist and a psychotherapist has been sharing his humanist philosophy in his writings and his lectures for the last three decades. He has been working towards integrating the wisdom of the East and the West. He hopes that one day we can all grow to the next stage of human evolution and create a peaceful world together. He has delivered his professional and literary creations to a vast number of audiences at local, provincial, national and international workshops, seminars and conferences for a number of years.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Sep 2017.
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