Inklings Of The Psychic Commons
Carl Jung’s descriptions of a “collective unconscious” are strikingly similar to ancient Vedic descriptions of the Supersoul.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone.
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
As a student at the Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio. from 1956 to 1964, I sang this hymn many times. From fourth grade on we all had to attend morning and afternoon services in the school chapel. Grade by grade, in alphabetical order by name, we twice daily filled the pews, fourth graders up front by the stage and lectern, eighth graders in back beneath the organ loft. In five years of chapel services I gradually progressed from low-man-on-the-totem-pole status in the front row to a position with far greater prestige and a much better view about thirty feet back, all the while sitting, alphabetically, between classmates Roland Crawford and Skip Fazio. As we rose again and again, opening our worn hymnals to sing verses hinting at peace and permanence. Skip’s peach fuzz turned into stubble, Roland’s voice dropped an octave, and I grew at least a foot.
I believed in God, the almighty white-haired patriarch in whose honor the chapel services were held, and I didn’t want to begrudge Him the daily offerings of hymns and prayers. But over the years the words “A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone” nourished in me an inkling that there was something higher and more powerful than even God-on-High. If God’s evenings lasted a thousand ages, that meant He lived a lot longer than I. But it also meant that His evenings—and therefore His days, years, and life—eventually ended. If He was enjoying Himself, maybe time passed too quickly, like it always does when you’re having a good time. And if He wasn’t enjoying Himself—if angelic harp music and schoolboy hymns bored Him—then what was the advantage of His longevity? In any case, time, the all-pervasive, impersonal force that was sweeping me through Hawken and through life, was apparently sweeping God too.
Coincidentally, while I was serving my pew term in Cleveland, Carl Gustav Jung, then in his eighties, was at home in Zurich, Switzerland, composing his autobiography. Writing of his own school days, Jung, the great psychologist who broke with Sigmund Freud to found the school of analytic psychology, revealed that he too had early on developed an impersonal inkling. Jung recalled picking up a book in his father’s library and reading that God was a “personality to be conceived of after the analogy of the human ego: the unique, utterly supramundane ego who embraces the entire cosmos.”
God a personality? Jung wouldn’t buy it. Ego and personality, he reasoned, were by nature limited and fault- ridden. If God is unlimited, if He is everything and therefore spread out everywhere, then how can He have a personality? And if He is perfect, then how dare we endow Him with an ego? Schoolboy Jung had experienced that his own ego was “vain, self-seeking, defiant, in need of love, covetous, unjust, sensitive, lazy, irresponsible,” and subject to “errors, moods, emotions, passions, and sins.” Certainly, he thought, the Supreme must be egoless.
Thus two twentieth-century thinkers—one from Cleveland, one from Zurich—came to question the supremacy of God-the-person by way of experiencing the flaws of man-the-person. How could anyone propose, both Jung and I wondered, that personality and supreme perfection are compatible?