Covering, revealing, inhabiting the Self: Isha Upanishad, mantra 1

Isa upanisad.
Sanskrit of the Isha Upanishad. Creative commons.

The heart of the Upanishads is the Self, expressed as both a path of Self-knowledge and a realization of the fullness and potential of an eternal Truth discovered within the innermost Self (Atman).  In the Isha Upanishad, Isha is the eternal Truth of the Self.

The first mantra of the Isha Upanishad expresses, within its compressed form, a profound insight into the nature of the Self. The eternal truth is expressed in a few mantric syllables, as is a complete path to enlightenment. One only need meditate on the words, recite the words, come into a full understanding of the meaning of the mantras. The Self reveals itself within these sacred syllables, inviting us to inhabit the mantra: Om Isha vāsyam idam sarvam…

Mohandas K. Gandhi said, “if only the first verse in the Ishopanishad were left in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would live for ever.”[1] The first verse expresses a fundamental insight not only of Hinduism, but of a universal awareness. The verse offers a religion, a philosophy, a psychology, and a transformation in our very modes of seeing and perceiving, our means and modes of being.

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Samantabhadra: Syzygy in the form of divine union

Adi Buddha Samantabhadra, Unknown artist, unknown date, via Wikimedia Public Domain.
Adi Buddha Samantabhadra, Unknown artist, unknown date, via Wikimedia Public Domain.

As a basic principle, archetypes are not realized in static form but present in dynamic form, expressing transformations in consciousness. Archetypal images transform as awareness transforms. Or said another way, archetypes appear in various forms as consciousness shifts.

In terms of enlightenment, sacred images represent transformations in consciousness, expressing a movement from duality to integration and wholeness. Archetypes are therefore expressed in symbols of transformation: representing transformations in consciousness; transforming as consciousness transforms. [1].

The syzygy is a potent symbol of transformation, representing core transformations in the phenomenology of the Self [2]. The transformations in the syzygy archetype emerge along with transformations of the self, movements from duality to integration.

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Mother World: splitting, integration & evolution in the mother archetype

Whore of Babylon, Russian engraving, 19th Century, US Public Domain
Whore of Babylon, Russian engraving, 19th Century, US Public Domain

Recently, I have been writing on the aims and instincts of the human soul. Carl Jung speaks of the human soul’s “longing to attain rebirth through a return to the womb, and to become immortal like the sun” (CW5, para. 312). In biblical terms, rebirth is associated with entrance into Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the holy city, an image of the divine mother.

Jung says, “the Old Testament treats the cities of Jerusalem, Babylon, etc. just as if they were women” (para 303). While Jerusalem is an image of the holy mother, Babylon is the unholy mother. In Jung’s words: “Babylon is the symbol of the Terrible Mother” (Jung, para 315). In Revelation 17 it is written:

Continue reading “Mother World: splitting, integration & evolution in the mother archetype”

The Self and its corresponding figures and symbols

Carl Jung calls the totality of our being the ‘Self’. The Self includes the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious mind is represented by the ‘ego.’ The Self includes the unconscious, but is more than just the unconscious. Jung used the word ‘supraordinate’ to describe the Self. The Self, in this sense, includes the totality of the conscious and the unconscious. Jung says:

“I usually describe the supraordinate personality as the “self,” thus making a sharp distinction between the ego, which, as is well known, extends only as far as the conscious mind, and the whole of the personality, which includes the unconscious as well as the conscious component. The ego is thus related to the self as part to whole. To that extent the self is supraordinate.” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 314-315)

Jung further says that the Self is felt or experienced as an object of our consciousness and not as the subject of awareness. He says:

“Moreover, the self is felt empirically not as subject but as object, and this by reason of its unconscious component, which can only come to consciousness indirectly, by way of projection.” (ibid)

This implies that we have some distance from our ‘Self’. Because of this distance we cannot experience the Self directly, instead it becomes the object of our contemplation. Jung felt that the Self was not necessary directly accessible or subjectively experienced. Instead, it is the aspect of our being that we have to get to know ‘by way of projection.’ That is, unconscious images of the Self are projected outward, appearing in imagination, dreams, art and our everyday idealizations.

This is a different approach than we see in Vedanta, where the Self is given as immediately present. In Vedanta one knows the Self as far as one experiences the Self through meditation and spiritual practice.

At the same time and on another level, this direct awareness is not available to all beings. Many are far from directly experiencing the Self as ground of awareness. In this case, the Self is known through symbols and figures that are projected outward into the field of awareness. This is where Jung is a great guide in knowing the Self. Jung showed how the Self appears to the conscious mind (ego) as archetypal images and forms. Jung says:

“Because of its unconscious component the self is so far removed from the conscious mind that it can only be partially expressed by human figures; the other part of it has to be expressed by objective, abstract symbols. The human figures are father and son, mother and daughter, king and queen, god and goddess. Theriomorphic symbols are the dragon, snake, elephant, lion, bear, and other powerful animals, or again the spider, crab, butterfly, beetle, worm, etc. Plant symbols are generally flowers (lotus and rose). These lead on to geometrical figures like the circle, the sphere, the square, the quaternity, the clock, the firmament, and so on.” (ibid)

From the perspective of the conscious mind, the self is always incomprehensible, unassimilable. Archetypal images emerge as representations of that which is inarticulable. Jung says:

The indefinite extent of the unconscious component makes a comprehensive description of the human personality impossible. Accordingly, the unconscious supplements the picture with living figures ranging from the animal to the divine, as the two extremes outside man, and rounds out the animal extreme, through the addition of and inorganic abstractions, into a microcosm. These addenda have a high frequency in anthropomorphic divinities, where they appear as “attributes.” (ibid)


  1. Jung, C. G., The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – CW 9i  (1934–1954) (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1)

Notes on Jung: objective & subjective dreaming

Carl Jung understood that dreams have both an objective and subjective level. That is, when we dream, we dream both about ourselves and our representations of the world. Jung discusses the objective level of the dream:

“I call every interpretation which equates the dream images with real objects an interpretation on the objective level… Interpretation on the objective level is analytic, because it breaks down the dream content into memory-complexes that refer to external situations. (CW 7, para. 131)

The subjective aspects reflects the dreamer. Jung continues:

 “In contrast to this is the interpretation which refers every part of the dream and all the actors in it back to the dreamer himself. This I call interpretation on the subjective level….  Interpretation on the subjective level is synthetic, because it detaches the underlying memory-complexes from their external causes, regards them as tendencies or components of the subject, and reunites them with that subject.” (CW 7, para. 131)

The Stuff that Dreams are made of by John Anster Fitzgerald -1858. US Public Domain
The Stuff that Dreams are made of by John Anster Fitzgerald -1858. US Public Domain