Carl Gustav Jung on Ramana Maharishi

This following is extracted from Carl Jung’s long introduction to Heinrich Zimmer’s book on the life and work of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi in German

The carrier of mythological and philosophical wisdom in India has been since time immemorial the ‘holy man’ – a Western title which does not quite render the essence and outward appearance of the parallel figure in the East. This figure is the embodiment of spiritual India, and we meet him again and again in literature. No wonder, then, that Zimmer* was passionately interested in the latest and best incarnation of this type in the phenomenal personage of Shri Ramana. He saw in this Yogi, the true Avatar of the figure of the Rishi, Seer and Philosopher, which strides, as legendary as it is historical, down the centuries and the ages.

Shri Ramana is, in a sense, a hominum homo, a true ‘son of man’ of the Indian earth. He is ‘genuine’ and on top of that he is a ‘phenomenon’ who, seen through European eyes, has claims to uniqueness. But in India he is merely the whitest spot on a white surface (whose whiteness is mentioned only because there are so many surfaces that are just as black). Altogether, one sees so much in India that in the end one only wishes one could see less: the enormity and variety of countries and human beings creates longing for complete simplicity. This simplicity is there too: it pervades the spiritual life of India like a pleasant fragrance or a melody. It is everywhere the same, but never monotonous, endlessly varied. To get to know it, it is sufficient to read any Upanishad or any discourse of the Buddha. What is heard there is heard everywhere; it speaks out of a million eyes, it expresses itself in countless gestures, and there is no village or country road where that broad-branched tree cannot be found in whose shade the ego struggles for its own abolition, drowning the world of multiplicity in the All and All-Oneness of Universal Being. I was then absolutely certain that no one could ever get beyond this, least of all the Indian holy man himself; and should Shri Ramana say anything that did not chime in with this melody, or claim to know anything that transcended it, his illumination would be false. The holy man is right when he intones India’s ancient chants, but wrong when he pipes any other tune.

Shri Ramana’s thoughts are beautiful to read. What we find here is a purest India, the breath of eternity, scorning and scorned by the world. It is the song of the ages, resounding like the shrilling of crickets on a summer’s night, from a million beings. This melody is built up on a great theme, which, veiling its monotony under a thousand colourful reflections, tirelessly and everlastingly rejuvenates itself in the Indian spirit, whose youngest incarnation is Shri Ramana himself. It is the drama of ahamkara, the‘I-maker’ or ego-consciousness, in opposition and indissoluble bondage to the atman, the Self or non ego. The Maharshi also calls the atman the ‘ego-ego’ – significantly enough, for the Self is indeed experienced as the subject of the subject, as the true source and controller of the ego, whose (mistaken) strivings are continually directed towards appropriating the very autonomy that is intimated to it by the Self. This conflict is not unknown to the Westerner: for him it is the relationship of man to God.

To the Indian it is clear that the Self as the originating ground of the psyche is not different from God, and that, so far as a man is in the Self, he is not only contained in God but actually is God. Shri Ramana is quite explicit on this point. The goal of Eastern religious practice is the same as that of Western Mysticism: the shifting of the centre of gravity from the ego to the Self, from man to God. This means that the ego disappears in the Self, and man in God. It is evident that Shri Ramana has either really been more or less absorbed by the Self, or at least has struggled earnestly all his life to extinguish his ego in it. If we conceive the Self as the essence of psychic wholeness, i.e., as the totality of conscious and unconscious, we do so because it does in fact represent something like a goal of spiritual development. This formula shows the dissolution of the ego in the atman to be the unequivocal goal of religion and ethics, as exemplified in the thought of Shri Ramana. The same is obviously true of Christian Mysticism, which differs from Oriental Philosophy only through having a different terminology.

Shri Ramana’s words, which Heinrich Zimmer has bequeathed to us, in excellent translation, bring together once again the loftiest insights that India has garnered in the course of the ages, and the individual life and work of the Maharshi illustrate once again the passionate striving for the liberating ‘Ground’. The wisdom and mysticism of the East have, therefore, very much to say to us, even when they speak their own inimitable language. They serve to remind us that we in our culture possess something similar, which we have already forgotten, and to direct our attention to the fate of the inner man, which we set aside as trifling. The life and teaching of Shri Ramana are of significance not only for India, but for the West too. They are more than a document humane: they are a warning message to a humanity that threatens to lose itself in unconsciousness and anarchy. It is perhaps, in the deeper sense, no accident that Heinrich Zimmer’s last book should leave us, as a testament, the life work of a modern Indian Prophet who exemplifies so impressively the problem of psychic transformation.