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Part V: Individuation and De-Individuation as sacrifice

This is the final part of a five part excerpt from my book on the YiJing and DaoDeJing discussing the process of Ego sacrifice as the fundament of the dynamic between Individuation and De-Individuation.

It can be seen that every culture, in one way or another, produces a labyrinth of constraints (i.e. frameworks in the form of certain divisions) in which its inhabitants are trapped. Together with this labyrinth, however, it presents a set of "liberation doctrines" that can be employed to escape the labyrinth. The space into which one will escape (de-individuation) remains unknown and is only recalled in mythical stories. Some cultures may call it nirvana, others may call it paradise or Valhalla or simply the afterlife. In some cultures it may be possible to achieve such an "enlightened" or "liberated" state in one's lifetime, while in others one must suffer for an entire lifetime before being reborn into a paradisiacal world. It is important to point out that any form of liberation is tied to a belief system that necessitates this practice.

In this futile effort, it is absolutely bizarre to see people from Western cultures participating in practices such as yoga or meditation for two reasons: First, they are usually unaware that the practice they are engaging in is tied to a particular set of "chains" from which the practice is supposed to free the practitioner. The Western mind simply will not comprehend these chains, and the ritual being practiced remains a purely physical ritual without the possibility of making a connection between the somatic and the spiritual. Second, if the Western practitioner recognises that the practice is necessarily tied to an understanding of the cultural frameworks from which it arose, he or she might voluntarily take on these "chains" in order to engage in the practice. This leads to the interesting interlude between the belief systems in which their own culture holds them "captive" and those which they have voluntarily taken upon themselves. Nevertheless, in this process, theoretically, both any practice without the accompanying belief system remains without efficacy, and any additional belief system trained further restricts one's psyche, the great goal of all practices remains the liberation of the psyche from the "image" or "ego."

Interestingly, the process of detachment from the images, that is, both individuation and de-individuation deals with the images and the connection with the image itself, respectively: It is through the image that we individuate. Here one encounters a fundamental contradiction in Jung's liturgy of individuation that originates in the dichotomy of opposing conceptions of identity in Eastern and Western philosophy: The Western concept of ideology has been dominated by the idea that one is. This being is only possible in opposition to not-being, or more precisely, the other that is not (I). This notion of identity is grounded in the idea of separation between the self and the not-self (i.e., the other person or object) and is clearly seen in the foregrounding of personal qualities as determinants of situational end products: The sentence "The young girl who has just entered the room is very clever" attributes cleverness to the girl, which is opposed to the situational frame of the sentence. Looking at the same sentence in Chinese, it is clear that this focus shifts: 刚才屋子里来的小姐非常聪明. Literally translated, the sentence reads "Right now space in enter young girl very clever." The time and place of action are at the center of each attribution. The young girl may not even be smart, but the fact that she intervenes in the action of entering the room at this discrete moment makes her smart. In this linguistic, and therefore cognitive, framework, attributes - and with them identity - are inevitably tied to a particular place and time. The emergence and orientation of the cosmos at a particular moment and place creates the attributes that a particular actor exhibits at that moment. Identity, in this perspective, can be grasped as a dynamic body of response and relationship.

Fostering this dynamic is the goal of Eastern philosophy. Here, the development of "intimacy" as opposed to the pursuit of "integrity" in the Western mind is the core intention. "Growth" represents an increase in meaningful overlap between time and place - object and subject. In contrast, growth in the Western mind is conceived as continued ego formation: The cultivation of integrity as the distance between self and other and the development of a differentiated persona constitute the path of the Western individual. As a metaphor for this contrast, the symbol of yin and yang comes to mind. Here the two forces of light and darkness, strong and weak or day and night, are opposed to each other. Just like the image of the mountain whose two slopes (the light 阳 and the dark 阴) face each other, the integrity and intimacy of Western and Eastern identity are in a conceptual clinch. One could speak here (conceptually) of Western philosophy representing the process of individuation and Eastern philosophy representing that of de-individuation. This is, of course, a purely conceptual distinction and does not challenge the truth of the above description.

The process of de-individuation is evident in the Confucian (and Daoist) conception of the body as an illusory entity. According to this image, the body is "no more than a collection of physical entities" (Allison, 1983, p. 4). The self as an institution of reference is illusory in its permanence and emerges only contextually. The foundation of this idea is outlined by the Confucian proposal of change (hua) as an ontological principle of all human beings. As such, the principle of change is used as a noun rather than a verb. It represents an attribute and opportunity for the freedom of the individual in his relationship to the environment. This environment is the locus of change and the cosmic force at work that determines the individual's actions. Through this hua, the individual experiences absolute freedom and the self as illusory insofar as it exists only in relation to hua.

The idea of this freedom forms the basis for understanding its relationship to the egofication of the self. As long as someone is obsessed with the illusion of having a permanently existing essence, he is self-limited. This already illustrates the process from which freedom arises when one submits to hua. Here the startling closeness to Jung's concept of individuation as a process of de-individuation becomes apparent. To gain a deeper insight into this paradigm, it seems helpful to consider the nature of the process of individuation (which precedes it) in the context of the metaphor of the story of Adam and Eve:

Structurally, the Garden of Eden in which Adam and Eve are born has been described elsewhere (Kleinau, 2020). Here it is important to point out the events that force the 'first couple' to leave this paradisiacal place. It is these occurrences that Jung assumes are the starting point of the emergence of the ego. The moment when the two eat from the tree of good and evil can be described as the birth of consciousness. The ability to see (reflection), which they gain by eating the apple from the tree, enables them to perceive their own vulnerability, which is expressed in their nakedness. Although this interpretation is useful in some contexts, it does not seem to fully capture what is happening in the garden. This traditional interpretation explains the attainment of consciousness by Adam and Eve, while failing to account for the fact that this consciousness is specifically extended to the knowledge of good and evil. It is the consciousness of ideal behaviour as opposed to failed behaviour that facilitates their exit from paradise. Thus, it describes not only a metaphysical but also an epidemiological knowledge. The ability to see also means no longer only to experience and necessarily to move. It means that at this moment an image of the numinous nature, to which they were previously only blindly exposed, is created. Consequently, they become possessed by the ego, because the knowledge of good and evil, the image of idols on the horizon and the knowledge of the need to approach these idols makes them vulnerable, desirous and transfigures their vision of what is. Thus, the necessity of de-individuation (i.e. purification) arises as a consequence of the attainment of consciousness.

As we have seen in part in the discussion above, this process of de-individuation as a form of ritual purification forms the foundation of many religious currents and is additionally exhibited in several cultural dogmas. It is this idea of liberating the body from an obsession that drives Buddhist enlightenment, yoga practices, Sufi rituals, and is even evident in the initiation liturgies of the so-called primitive tribes. From a Western perspective, one may suggest that this need for purification is similar to the liturgy of Christ, so deeply rooted in Western philosophy and echoed in its literary canon. But all this liturgy can really be seen as the echo of many traditions that have spread before it: The idea of purification as a purpose in life, and of sacrifice as a fundamental means of achieving purification, goes back much longer than one might think. It is an idea that we find again, for example, in Egyptian death rituals, in which the priests essentially act as catalysts of purification of the body in preparation for the afterlife. Such statements about the afterlife and preparation for its costumes are, of course, also found in the Norse tradition of burning the dead. Burning the physical body to cleanse it of its sins (or its flesh or self-image, respectively) in order to free the soul that was trapped within it for its ascent to Valhalla is a practice that resonates in many contexts. For example, as detailed above, meditation aims to achieve the same effect as ritual burnings. Hindu traditions outline similar frameworks in which the dead are burned and then united with the river Ganges. Numerous examples of such quasi-religious acts and thought patterns can also be found in modern times. However, these must be considered in more detail elsewhere. All my books discuss some of these rituals, thus, for more information you can refer to An Always within a Never or my commentary on the YiJing and DaoDeJing.


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