A dream and a fable



From January 1996 until March 2000 I underwent analysis with Tom Kelly, a Jungian analyst in Montreal. As is common in Jungian analysis, we spent much of the time analyzing dreams. During that period I kept a record of many of the dreams that came up for discussion. Many of them dealt with religious and philosophical issues, and through the process of analysis I became more aware of just how complicated my own relationship with Buddhism had become over the three decades that I had been casually reading about Buddhism, studying it academically, practicing it clandestinely on my own and then openly with a couple of different organizations. I also became aware of how ambivalent I had become about almost every conceivable Buddhist doctrine to which I had been exposed. Working with all these issues with a gifted analyst was one of the most fascinating and, I would claim without being able to substantiate it, useful undertakings of my life.

As the practice of Jungian analysis progressed, I eventually took to reading something about the theory on which that practice is based. One issue that particularly intrigued me was Carl Jung's notion of the persona or ego, and especially his claim that the persona is a complex of the collective unconscious. Although much has been written on this topic, and I have no new or original insights, let me try to say just enough to give some indication of one of the many things I found interesting to reflect upon in the context of Buddhist practice.

As I understand it, Jung became increasingly convinced that there is much more at work in a person's unconscious than those emotionally charged unresolved issues (known as complexes) that can be traced back to events in his or her personal history. In addition to all the complexes that can be easily traced to significant events in childhood, there seem to be a variety of complexes that a person inherits. It is as if certain very general and amorphous elements of the unconscious are genetically transmitted. These elements that shape one's thinking and behaviour in ways that an individual does not fully understand are often called instincts. What many previous people had called instincts, Jung called complexes in the collective unconscious, the collective unconscious itself being a convenient name for the totality of all these instincts that have been inherited from all our innumerable ancestors, both human and pre-human. The collective unconscious is collective in the sense that many of the elements in it are shared by most people, regardless of their personal histories and regardless of their specific cultural conditioning. It is also collective in the sense that this part of one's psyche is socially mediated; it represents that part of us that takes the shape it takes because of our interactions with other people.

One of the specific complexes in the collective unconscious, said Jung, is the persona. Jung chose this term, because the word originally referred to the mask worn by actors in ancient Greek drama. An individual's persona, then, is the role that he or she is consciously playing. As Jung pointed out, this role that one plays feels very much as if it is one that the individual has deliberately chosen to play, but in fact it becomes apparent when one thinks more deeply about it that the script for the role that one decides to play has been written by many other people: parents, siblings, teachers, mentors, peers and society at large. This leads to the interesting paradox that what feels most intimately personal and individual about ourselves is in fact not individual at all, but collective. Moreover, what feels most deliberately planned about ourselves is in fact largely arbitrary and accidental. Our individuality, in other words, is a pretense; we play at having a self; we make believe we are individuals. The person, or ego, is, in a sense, a sham, a bit of a humbug like the Wizard of Oz. Jung himself expressed the matter as follows-in words that are likely to conjure up in a Buddhist recollections of the doctrine of anātman:

When we analyze the persona we strip off the mask, and discover that what seemed to be individual is at bottom collective; in other words, that the persona was only a mask of the collective psyche. Fundamentally the persona is nothing real: it is a compromise between individual and society as to what a man should appear to be. He takes a name, earns a title, exercises a function, he is this or that. In a certain sense all this is real, yet in relation to the essential individuality of the person concerned it is only a secondary reality, a compromise formation, in making which others often have a greater share than he. The persona is a semblance, a two-dimensional reality, to give it a nickname.

It would be wrong to leave the matter as it stands without at the same time recognizing that there is, after all, something individual in the peculiar choice and delineation of the persona, and that despite the exclusive identity of the ego-consciousness with the persona the unconscious self, one's real individuality, is always present and makes itself felt indirectly if not directly. Although the ego-consciousness is at first identical with the persona-that compromise role in which we parade before the community-yet the unconscious self can never be repressed to the point of extinction. Its influence is chiefly manifest in the special nature of the contrasting and compensating contents of the unconscious. The purely personal attitude of the conscious mind evokes reactions on the part of the unconscious, and these, together with personal repressions, contain the seeds of individual development in the guise of collective fantasies. (Jung, 1966, p. 158)

In my own experience with Jungian analysis, the unmasking was relative painless and at most times even joyful. Like most people, I suspect, I discovered that I had several masks, or at least remnants of them, that I had worn at various times in my life: Zen Buddhist, Bodhisattva-yāna Buddhist, logician, champion of scientific method, rational skeptic, objective scholar, rigorous academic, demanding teacher and so forth. What these masks had been covering up, or forcing into the Shadow, were those parts of myself that had been of vital importance during my youth but killed in the process of getting an education in Sanskrit language and Indian and Western logic and then buried by the post-graduate career in Zen and vipaśyanā practice. As these terribly serious masks came off, the poet, the story-teller, the comedian, the satirist, the clown and the mythologist were resurrected and given their places on the stage. Perhaps most important of all was the discovery that even in my officially skeptical personality there was plenty of room for faith, and for tears of both joy and gratitude. At times I was overwhelmed with a flood of positive and joyous mental states that my stoical Buddhist persona had quickly upstaged each time they tried to sneak into the act. My experience with Jungian analysis was a confirmation of the observation by David N. Elkins (1998, p. 167) that “Psychology is a powerful path to the sacred. At their best, counseling and psychotherapy are ways to nurture the soul, roads to a deeper spiritual life.”

The present chapter contains only two items. The first is the report of a very vivid dream that I had about eighteen months before beginning Jungian analysis. I now forget what prompted me to share this dream with the readers of buddha-l. Perhaps it was just another of the many manifestations of my unfortunate tendency towards exhibitionism and the asmitā that led me to think that everyone would surely be as fascinated with the workings of my unconscious mind as I was. Whatever the motivation for making it public then, I have chosen to make it public a second time just because I think it is an interesting dream that illustrates a good many aspects of both Buddhist and Jungian psychology.

The second item is purely playful. One of my favorite types of exercise during my first undergraduate career as a student of creative writing was imitation and parody of the literary styles of others. This second item was an attempt to capture some of the tone of a Buddhist sūtra. Like most playful writing, it was aimed at making a serious point that for some reason seemed to me at that time important to make. I cannot help wondering how many Buddhist sūtras that eventually worked their way into various canons began their life in the same way, as playful exercises in creative fiction.

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Oneiromancy, anyone?

8 July 1994

Those of you who have read Carol Zaleski's wonderful book, Otherworld Journeys, will have had some exposure to the literature on (and by) people who have the experience of dying and traveling to the world beyond death and reporting back to the living on what they found there. Well, since there has been some clamoring for “real life experiences” rather than dry old scholarship on this list, I feel compelled to report on a dream that I had early this morning in which the Truth about life after death was revealed to me in full. No need to start a major world religion around this experience. I merely present it for you to use as you will. But I really did have this dream.


I die. To my great surprise (since I have spent my whole life denying the possibility of the continuation of any kind of consciousness after death), I find myself in a place called heaven. I am met there by a guide, who explains to me the ground rules. “Heaven is here for eternity,” he explains, “and you can stay here for as long as you like-forever, if you wish. But you may also leave whenever you wish. If you wish to leave, you need do no more than tap your left wrist with the index finger and the middle finger of your right hand. Just tap it at the point where you can feel your pulse, and you will leave heaven. I should warn you, however, that once you leave heaven, you can never return.” I ask what happens to someone who leaves heaven, and my guide says “We really have no idea what happens after heaven, because those who leave never return to tell us. You may go into eternal oblivion, or you may go to some other realm. No one knows.”

The guide then takes me to a huge banquet table, filled to overflowing with all kinds of wonderful food. Seated at the table are dozens of ravishingly beautiful women. My guide explains that I can eat as much as I want without worrying about getting full or fat. So I sit down and eat a bit of salad, and it tastes incomparably delicious, and I eat some fruit and it too is indescribably delightful to my palate. After a while, however, I get bored with eating. I ask one of the women at the table what else there is to do in heaven. She explains that what most people do is take drugs. But the drugs in heaven are not dangerous like the drugs on earth, because heaven's drugs just make people euphoric without causing any addiction or physical disabilities. One simply becomes blissful and has all kinds of wonderful sensations. I say that taking drugs sounds very boring to me, not much of an improvement over eating. Then it is explained to me that in heaven one can also have unlimited amounts of sex with anyone of one's choice, and there is no risk of disease or pregnancy or guilt or jealousy. I say that having sex sounds as boring as eating and taking drugs. What I want to do is to talk to some great philosophers. Suddenly the guide reappears at my side and says “We never allow philosophers into heaven. They would spoil all our fun.” I quickly tap my wrist.

Upon leaving heaven, fully expecting to be ushered into eternal oblivion, I am surprised to find myself still conscious. But this time I am surrounded by stinking filth and the sight of all kinds of people beating each other up and tearing one another's bodies to shreds. People are roaming around the streets eating garbage and filth. There are no trees anywhere, nothing of beauty. The people are like caged animals whose captivity has eradicated all traces of kindness and generosity. There are women, but they are ugly, aggressive and mean. It finally dawns on me: I am in an American city.

As soon as this thought is formed, a guide appears at my side. He explains to me that I am in hell. “Hell,” he explains “is where people go who do not wish to live in heaven.” My guide shows me to my living quarters. It is in an old deserted ramshackle high-rise apartment building that reeks of human waste and dead and dying animals; I live on the top floor and must climb twenty flights of dark, mephitic stairs to get to my room. I ask if there is any way to leave hell, such as by tapping my wrist or something. My guide smirks tauntingly and says there is a way, but I must find it myself. The guide disappears. I see an old derelict man lying in the hallway and ask him whether there are any philosophers to be found. He looks up at me and sneers “We're all philosophers here, you stupid ass-hole!” Finding a philosopher to talk to suddenly becomes less important to me than finding a way out.

I go to an abandoned elevator and push the button to summons the car. I hear hundreds of voices raucously laughing at me and jeering at me and telling me not to waste my time. “The elevator hasn't worked for years,” they tell me. But then the doors slowly open. There is no car there, just a dark and empty shaft. It is impossible to see how far down it goes, but I decide to take the risk of stepping into it.

As soon as I step forward into the dark unknown, I find myself engulfed in beautiful light and I am overcome with a feeling of bliss and well-being unlike any I have ever experienced. A disembodied voice tells me “This is a Pure Land. This experience will last forever, but it will never become tedious or boring like sensual pleasures. You will never have the faintest desire to leave it. There is only one thing you must remember: if you even once form the desire to remain here or ask yourself what you must do to make this experience last, it will vanish instantly.”

I enjoy the blissful experience and the radiant light for a few more seconds. Then the thought forms in my mind: “This is wonderful! I wonder what I have to do to make this bliss last.”

I blink my eyes and find myself in my own bed. One of my cats is curled up on my legs, sound asleep. Her whiskers are twitching. She is evidently having a dream. I feel happy to be home.

Clearly the Muse who serves me my dreams has a delightful sense of humor. Maybe she teaches comparative religions on the side (probably with a Jungian twist).

Richard P. Hayes

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The two travelers

31 August 1997

Thus have I heard. At one time the Lord was staying at the Squirrels' Feeding Ground, where he was attended by about two hundred monks and members of the laity. On this occasion it so happened that a great dispute broke out among his followers. Some claimed that a true follower of the Tathāgata must believe some things, and others claimed that a true follower must believe other things, and yet others claimed that a true follower should believe nothing at all without sufficient evidence. Some claimed that theirs was the most efficient and sure method of reaching the goal, and others claimed that theirs was the most efficient and sure method and yet others said that there was no method at all to follow, since everyone has already reached the goal. The more they argued, the more they argued. And the more they argued, the more they all wished to find an authority to resolve the issue for them. Not wishing to disturb the Lord with these disagreements, the monks and householders asked Ānanda to settle the dispute for them.

Ānanda listened to all sides of the dispute with care. And when he had heard all sides, he found that he was unable to decide among them. He had no idea how to go about deciding which faction of disciples were the most genuine. Upon admitting that he was unable to decide the matter, Ānanda suggested that he go to the Lord in person and put the question to him.

After the Lord listened carefully to Ānanda's report of all sides of the dispute, he said “It is well, Ānanda, that you were unable to decide this dispute. But this is not the first time such a dispute has taken place. Many centuries ago, on the periphery of a far-off kingdom, two travelers happened to meet in a miserable little town of wattle and daub on the edge of an enormous desert in the back of beyond. As they spoke to one another, each discovered that the other was about to try to cross the desert.

“One of the travelers carried nothing but what would fit into a small knapsack on his back. The other was outfitted with many trunks laden with food, water, tents, extra clothing and other supplies. So many trunks did he have, that he required camels to carry them. And because the camels needed food, he had other camels just to carry food for the animals. And because all these camels required drivers, he had a team of camel-drivers, who also needed food, water, tents, clothing and other supplies. And because the value of the goods being carried by the caravan was so high, all the men were provided with weapons to be used against bandits in case they were attacked.

“The well-furnished traveler looked at the other one in astonishment. He said, 'You will never make it across the desert if all you carry is that small knapsack.'

“The traveler with the knapsack looked at the other one in astonishment. He said 'You will never make it across the desert encumbered by all those heavy burdens and all those animals and men who are going with you.'

“ `But you will have nothing to eat and drink,' said the well-provided traveler. `You have no medicines in case you fall ill. You have no extra clothing in case the clothes on your back become badly torn or worn out. You will have no one to help you in case you become injured. You are really exceedingly foolish to set out across the wasteland without adequate supplies.'

“ `I have my two legs,' said the other. `I will not be encumbered with unnecessary provisions, so I shall be able to walk swiftly from one oasis to another. If I travel at night, when there is little heat, I shall be quite all right. I shall just travel as long as I can each night. During the day, I will burrow into the sand and protect myself from the direct rays of the sun. Because I carry nothing of value, I shall have no fear of bandits. I shall enjoy my own thoughts and I shall take delight in the journey itself, whether I ever reach the other side of the wasteland or not. And if I die, then my body will feed the carrion-eating birds. So my venture will not have been entirely in vain, for at least the vultures will benefit from it. It is you, I fear, who are in for a most unpleasant journey. Before many days, your camels will grow weary of the burdens they carry, and they will spit and grumble every step of the way. The camel drivers will become irritated with these unpleasant beasts, and they will begin to quarrel with one another, and you will find no way to make peace among them. Because there are many of them, they will have different opinions about which way to go, and you will lose precious hours each day as they are discussing the best route and the number of hours to travel. Your team will waste much precious time and energy quarreling over these matters. And the quarrels may become very hazardous, for all your men carry weapons.'

“Neither traveler was able to convince the other of his own sanity or the other's recklessness. So they agreed not to discuss the matter any further. They each wished the other success, even though each was quite sure the other would not succeed, and they set out on their respective courses.

“During the next several weeks, each traveler discovered that it was much more difficult than he had imagined it would be to cross the wasteland. The lone traveler discovered that oases in the desert are few and far between, and he nearly died of hunger and dehydration. Many times along the way, he thought of merely giving up and letting himself die and be eaten by the vultures. But he kept going, taking one step after another, relying only on his own body.

“The well-provisioned traveler had all the difficulties the other had predicted. Constant strife among the camel drivers eventually resulted in a rift; some went one way, others went another. Even after the caravan had split into two, the drivers in each faction continued to quarrel and mistrust one another. Some camels died. The drivers quarreled and fought over who was at fault. Eventually one quarrel grew so heated that one driver killed another. Then the friend of the fallen driver took revenge and killed the killer. Before the week was out, all the drivers but one had been killed, and the one who was left went mad and left the caravan. All the remaining provisions that the traveler had with him had to be abandoned along the route, because no one was left to carry them. But the well-provisioned traveler kept going, taking one step after another.

“Eventually, after many struggles and sorrows, both travelers made their respective ways across the wasteland. By the time they arrived at their destination, each had nothing left but the tattered and well-worn clothing on his back. When they met each other on the other side of the wasteland, they both laughed. Neither laughed at the other. Each laughed at his own former folly. But most of all, they laughed together in celebration, for they had both, each in his own way, managed to cross the desert.”

As Ānanda listened to the ending of the preceding story, he felt puzzled. He asked the Lord, “Which of these travelers was the wiser?”

“Which traveler is more present at the destination, Ānanda?” asked the Lord.

“Neither can be said to be more present than the other,” replied Ānanda. “Both crossed the desert.”

“Just so, Ānanda,” said the Lord. “Just so. Both suffered many a discomfort along the way, but both reached the destination. In the end, then, one cannot say which was wiser than the other.”

“But tell me now,” asked Ānanda, “how this story of the travelers applies to quarrels among the monks and the householders on the topic of the religious life as taught by the Lord.”

The Lord replied: “The man with nothing but a knapsack and the clothing on his back is like the monk or the householder who begins the religious life with no piety, no doctrines, no creed, no rituals and no teachers. As he travels the path, he takes up only such beliefs as he needs for the next leg of his journey. And when he arrives at his destination, he still has no piety, no doctrines, no creed, no rituals and no teachers. He has neither gained anything nor lost anything, except successful passage across the desert of samsāra. And this he has achieved with nothing but his own body.

“The man who started off with the large caravan, Ānanda, is like the monk or the householder who begins the religious life with great piety, many doctrines and creeds and rituals, and many teachers. As he travels the path, he finds that his teachers disagree so much that eventually he is forced to rely only on his own judgment. By the time he has finished his journey, he has lost all his piety and doctrines and rituals. But he also discovers that he has in fact lost nothing of value, for he no longer has any need for them. For he too has made a successful passage across the desert of samsāra. And he has arrived with nothing but his own body.”

“Which is the better disciple of the Tathāgata, Lord?” asked Ānanda.

“Do not ask such a question,” said the Lord. “Do not ask such a question. Ask only which kind of traveler you are. And then make the journey in whichever way you find best suits the kind of traveler you find yourself to be.”

From the Kaiyotika Sūtra of the Kṣudraka-nikāya of the Kannada Sauntrāntika canon. Translated from the Buddhist Hybrid Kannadian language by Tarkavimukta Upāsaka.

Richard P. Hayes

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[Elkins 1998]
Elkins, David N. Beyond Religion: A Personal Program for Building a Spiritual Life Outside the Walls of Traditional Religion. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 1998.
[Jung 1966]
Jung, C. G. Two Essays on Analytic Psychology. Second, revised and expanded, edition. Volume 7 of The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966.
[Zaleski 1987]
Zaleski, Carol. Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.00.
On 6 Feb 2006, 13:45.