Jung’s Blake part 4: Introduction to Zen Buddhism

The final reference to Blake in Jung’s published work occurs in his foreword to Suzuki’s book Introduction to Zen Buddhism, published in 1939. In this piece, Jung laments the backwardness of Western culture, which has failed to produce the conditions necessary for the “healing” or “making whole” of the self, which he takes to be the aim of Zen. Psychotherapy also aims for such a making whole, but its procedures take longer and face more resistance, precisely because of the adverse cultural conditions.

What are these adverse conditions? The root of the problem seem to lie in the lack of commitment to a deep transformation of the self, understood as a task which requires far-reaching sacrifice of time and energy. Such a commitment requires a “total experience”, but the most Western culture has attained in that direction has been either “magic” or “mystery cults” (among which Jung numbers Christianity), or purely intellectual efforts, including those of philosophers like Schopenhuaer.

More than religion or philosophy as conventionally understood, certain literary authors have come closer to expressing the “total experience” that Jung values. He mentions part two of Goethe’s Faust, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and, in a footnote, “the English mystic William Blake.” These are all also authors who fall within the category of “visionary literature” which we discussed in part two of this series.

Even these, however, are “overlaid” with the “materiality and obviousness” of our culture, so that we do not know what their longer-term significance may be. In the version reprinted in the collected works, the term “obviousness” is replaced by “concreteness”.

I certainly don’t want to comment on Zen. But it’s worth noting that for Blake there is nothing wrong with “materiality”. His vision of imagination is one in which objects are transformed by human creative effort: this means engraving and sculpting and painting as much as detached thought. (Note that Blake’s books of poetry are also art objects). The end of Jerusalem gives his vision:

All Human Forms identified, even Tree, Metal, Earth & Stone


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