Jun 16, 2014

Jung Writes Against Theosophy

The German-Speaking Thinker Did
Not Believe in Ethics or Eastern Wisdom

Carlos Cardoso Aveline

Unlike C. G. Jung (left), Sigmund Freud (center)
and Erich Fromm were ethical and humanistic thinkers

The writings of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) are not compatible with universal ethics, or with spiritual knowledge.

Jung’s worldview is not in harmony with theosophy. His “philosophy” opposes an authentically humanitarian attitude towards life. A few texts published in our associated websites help clarify the issue.[1] In order to investigate further ways to separate the wheat from the tare in the world of ideas, we are now going to examine what Jung himself wrote in his personal correspondence.[2]

1. Considering Eastern Yoga Incompatible With the West

Defending ideas directly opposite to the teachings of theosophy and universal wisdom, Jung wrote that Eastern philosophies are not useful and cannot be put into practice in the West.

In a 1923 letter addressed to Oskar A. H. Schmitz, he said:

“Permit me a few remarks: to the extent that I regard the psychoanalytic and the psychosynthetic method as an instrument for self-improvement, your comparison with the method of yoga seems to me extremely plausible. But I feel it necessary to emphasize that this is merely an analogy, because nowadays far too many Europeans are inclined to accept Oriental ideas and methods uncritically and to translate them into the mental language of the Occident. In my view this is detrimental both to ourselves and to those ideas. The products of the Oriental mind are based on its own peculiar history, which is radically different from ours. Those peoples have gone through an uninterrupted development from the primitive state of natural polydemonism to polytheism at its most splendid, and beyond that to a religion of ideas within which the originally magical practices could evolve into a method of self-improvement. These antecedents do not apply to us.” (p. 39)

2. Promulgating a German, Demon-Based Primitivism

In the same letter Jung defends the racist and irrational ideology which was already dominant in Germany of the 1920s. He confronts every theosophical idea, and says exactly the same as the Nazis in his rather delirious conception that there is a “German race”. Arguing against the study of Yoga, he says:

“The Germanic tribes, when they collided only the day before yesterday with Roman Christianity, were still in the initial state of a polydemonism with polytheistic buds. There was as yet no proper priesthood and no proper ritual. Like Wotan’s oaks, the gods were felled and a wholly incongruous Christianity, born of monotheism on a much higher cultural level, was grafted upon the stumps. The Germanic man is still suffering from this mutilation. I have good reasons for thinking that every step beyond the existing situation has to begin down there among the truncated nature-demons. In other words, there is a whole lot of primitivity in us to be made good. It therefore seems to me a grave error if we graft yet another foreign growth onto our already mutilated condition. It would only make the original injury worse. This craving for things foreign and faraway is a morbid sign. Also, we cannot possibly get beyond our present level of culture unless we receive a powerful impetus from our primitive roots.” (pp. 39-40)

3. Defending an Anti-Evolutionary View of History

C. G. Jung wants to “come back” from the cultural point of view, and in this, too, he supports the Nazi primitivism. He prefers to completely ignore the fact that the roots of human being are not material, but are above, in Spirit, in his immortal soul. Therefore he tries to deny Reason: 

“But we shall receive it only if we go back behind our cultural level, thus giving the suppressed primitive man in ourselves a change to develop. How this is to be done is a problem I have been trying to solve for years. As you know, I am a doctor, and am therefore condemned to lay my speculations under the juggernaut of reality, though this has the advantage of ensuring that everything lacking in solidity will be crushed. Hence I find myself obliged to take the opposite road from the one you appear to be following in Darmstadt. It seems to me that you are building high up aloft, erecting an edifice on top of the existing one. But the existing one is rotten. We need some new foundations. We must dig down to the primitive in us, for only out of the conflict between civilized man and the Germanic barbarian will there come what we need: a new experience of God. I do not think this goal can be reached by means of artificial exercises.” (p. 40)

Later on in the same text, Jung theorizes in a Nazi style and attacks theosophy. An apostle of “primitivism”, he thinks it would be a sign of weakness not to appeal to the most animalistic, instinctive and aggressive feelings of human beings. He rejects theosophy because it evokes noble and elevated feelings, and because its view of human being is built from above and from the immortal soul.  Jung writes:

“Though it would be wrong to draw a parallel between Darmstadt and theosophy, it does seem to me that the same danger exists in both cases: of a new house being built on the old shaky foundations, and of new wine being poured into old bottles. Though the old damage is covered up, the new building does not stand firm. Man must after all be changed from within, otherwise he merely assimilates the new material to the old pattern.” (p. 40)

For Jung, the “within” in humanity dwells in the lower self or mortal soul. He does not know anything else.

4. Attacking Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy

The anthroposophical movement originated within theosophical circles. German author Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of Anthroposophy, was initially a theosophist. Anthroposophical philosophy has many important points in common with the basic ideas of esoteric philosophy. Steiner is an example of an ethical, universalistic and humanitarian thinker.

In a 1935 letter, Carl Jung makes it clear that from his perspective Steiner’s ideas are useless. Jung prefers to stick to the materialistic point of view, and again says he sees nothing positive in the wisdom of India:

“I have read a few books of Rudolf Steiner and must confess that I have found nothing in them that is of the slightest use to me. You must understand that I am a researcher and not a prophet. What matters to me is what can be verified by experience. But I am not interested at all in what can be speculated about experience without any proof. All the ideas that Steiner advances in his books you can also read in the Indian sources. Anything I cannot demonstrate in the realm of human experience I let alone and if someone should assert that he knows more about it I ask him to furnish me with the necessary proofs.” (p. 203)

5. Saying Theosophy And Anthroposophy Are Baseless

In the same letter, Jung says theosophy is not based on any true knowledge. He accuses it of not being sufficiently dense and physical to be “confirmed” on the plane of material reality. Although he says he read much about theosophy, it is easy for readers to see that such an effort was fruitless.

Jung writes:

“I have read a few books on anthroposophy and a fair number on theosophy. I have also got to know very many anthroposophists and theosophists and have always discovered to my regret that these people imagine all sorts of things and assert all sorts of things for which they are quite incapable of offering any proof. I have no prejudices against the greatest marvels if someone gives me the necessary proofs. Nor shall I hesitate to stand up for the truth if I know it can be proved. But I shall guard against adding to the number of those who use unproven assertions to erect a world system no stone of which rests on the surface of this earth. So long as Steiner is or was not able to understand the Hittite inscriptions yet understood the language of Atlantis which nobody knows existed, there is no reason to get excited about anything that Herr Steiner has said.” (pp. 203-204)

6. Trying to Deny the Law of Karma

The Law of Karma says that “as one sows, one harvests”. It is the law of equilibrium, of justice, and of the constant harmonizing of all things.

In contrast with the Law, an essential characteristic of anti-evolutionary views of life lies in the fact that they all try to deny the existence of an inevitable responsibility for one’s actions and for their consequences. Whenever they can, those who defend anti-evolutionary views of life make an effort to postpone the effects of the law of karma - or to personally escape from them.

While the correct and dynamic perception of the Law of Causes and Effects leads one to an ethical view of life and a feeling of confidence in the future, the anti-evolutionary “philosophies” - among them Nazism and “Jungism” - insist in avoiding the clear acceptance of Law.

In 1937, Jung was more than 60 years old when he wrote a letter to Swami Devatmananda. In it he shows the same enthusiastic, irrational primitivism which inspires him since the 1920s. He starts by saying that it makes no sense to search for an understanding of the infinite:

“Why there are people who have the will or a striving for the limitless I don’t know. I’m not a philosopher, I’m an empiricist. But I admit there are such people.” (p. 227)

Jung then attacks the Law of Karma, and defends his materialistic views: 

“I know that in the East one explains the particular form of individual character by the doctrine of karma. This is a doctrine which one can believe or disbelieve. Being not a philosopher but an empiricist, I’m missing the objective evidence. Science has no answer to questions which reach beyond human possibilities. We have no evidence for the objective functions of the psyche apart from the living brain. At all events there is no possibility whatever of examining such a psychological condition supposed to exist outside the human brain. We can think all sorts of things about such a hypothetical condition, but the answer is unavoidably a mere assumption which may satisfy the human desire for a faith but not the desire for knowledge.” (p. 227)

It is true that Jung made a constant use of a political trick: deliberate ambiguity. The tactics was also used by the main Nazi leaders. Such an astute resource allowed him to write on other occasions texts with an appearance of sympathy - certainly baseless and superficial - for yoga. This can be seen, for instance, in a letter written in 1942. (see pp. 310-311)

7. Refusing to Support the Movement for Peace

Most thinkers working in the fields of Science and Psychology tend to defend harmony among nations and to support the creation of a peaceful culture inspired by humanistic and nonviolent principles.

Jung, however, opposed the idea of education for peace. In January 1941, the second world war was at it bloodiest moment. German Nazis had high hopes for victory, and Jung refused to take part in an international conference whose aim was to promote brotherhood and cooperation among nations. He wrote to the General-Secretary of the “World Union of Women for International Harmony”, in Geneva:

“I agree with you entirely that it would be desirable if we could make humanity more reasonable simply by instruction and by good intentions. But are good intentions enough to impress men? If they were impressionable, the last war with all its atrocities should have served as a lesson. Yet we have to assume that it produced no effect since hardly a generation later everything is forgotten. That is why it seems to me useless to try to educate men by talking to them and instructing them. Men have to be gripped, because only those who are gripped can grip others. Spirit cannot be learned, it is given to us by God’s grace, which cannot be had by force or reason. But if men of good will applied themselves to the solution of the conflicts and the causes of the conflicts in their own vicinity, and tried to free themselves from outside influences, they could at least set an example. As we know, example is more effective than admonition. In ten lectures I could not add anything at all to what I have just said. I know that this way of looking at things is neither brilliant nor inspiring, and that - precisely because of its simplicity - it would not have any popular effect. But since it is my conviction, I could not say anything else in speaking publicly. This point of view being doubtless out of key with the aim of your organization, it seems to me that you would do better not to receive me among your lectures.” (p. 293)

Hiding behind deliberate ambiguity, Jung has his own way of saying he does not believe in the creation of a culture based on peace. For him, it is “useless to try to educate men by talking to them and instructing them”. One cannot say that such a demonstration of spiritual ignorance was due to Jung’s lack of personal experience, or young age. He was 65 years old.

8. Constant Use of Deliberate Ambiguity

It may seem strange to see Jung referring in the above quotation to the would-be gifts of “God’s grace”, while at the same time he presents himself as a materialist and empiricist who is apt to deny even the law of karma, a law whose workings can be easily seen in every aspect of daily life. This obvious contradiction must be ascribed to the conscious use of ambiguity in order to attain political profit. A few days after the letter quoted in the seventh item above, Jung clarifies in a letter to another person that he always talks about God referring but to the psychological and human process involved, and is indifferent regarding the existence or not of such a deity.

This is the political trick of deliberate ambiguity, and Jung writes:

“So when I say ‘God’ I am speaking exclusively of assertions that don’t posit their object. About God himself I have asserted nothing, because according to my premise nothing whatever can be asserted about God himself. All such assertions refer to the psychology of the God-image. Their validity is therefore never metaphysical but only psychological. All my assertions, reflections, discoveries, etc. have not the remotest connection with theology but are, as I have said, only statements about psychological facts. This self-limitation which is absolutely essential in psychology is generally overlooked, whereupon this disastrous confusion arises, with the result that it looks as if I were presuming to make metaphysical judgments.” (p. 294)

Indeed, the non-ethical primitivism of which Jung was an apostle would not allow him to approach universal issues in any clear or sincere way.

9. Blind Scepticism Thinks There Is
Nothing Higher Than the Lower Self

Modern theosophy agrees in a central point with the classical philosophies of East and West, and with the mysticism present in every great religion around the world. It says that the understanding of true reality is attained when human being transcends the “ego”, or personal self. Thus, the individual obtains a higher consciousness and develops the impersonal, transpersonal, universal intelligence of the Higher Self. 

Such a view of life is seen as Eastern by Jung. And he shows he is completely incapable of understanding it, in a letter dated December 1938. In a confusing and contradictory paragraph, he says:

“The Eastern idea which Mr. Sturdy [3] seems to share is that what I call the unconscious is consciousness, even superconsciousness. This is a metaphysical assumption of course. I remain within our ordinary Western consciousness, the only kind of consciousness I know. The nature of that psyche which reaches beyond my consciousness is essentially unknown to me. Therefore one aptly calls it the unconscious. Of course I wouldn’t know of it if there were not parts of it that reach my consciousness, but the main body of this psyche is essentially unconscious to me, as its origins are equally unknown to me. We know of no consciousness that is not the relation between images and an ego. But unfortunately we have no means to ascertain that every living organism is equipped with what we call an ego. We even know of dim states of consciousness where our own ego becomes equally dimmed, yet the state is definitely psychic. From such an experience we may conclude that there is an enormous mass of psychic functioning which is not exactly conscious to an ego, or which is altogether without an ego. The latter condition would be utterly ‘dark’, i.e., deprived of the light of consciousness.” (p. 249)

Buddhism, Eastern philosophies and theosophy teach precisely the opposite. The personal self or “ego” is illusory; the enlightenment consists in transcending the personal self; selfishness, not spirituality, is deprived of the light of consciousness. True consciousness is Metaphysical, id est, transcendental. Jung of course, refused to accept Metaphysics.

10. “Psychoanalysing” Kant In Order to Deny Ethics

In his work “The Metaphysics of Customs” (1885), German philosopher Immanuel Kant writes about his famous categorical imperative, a moral principle which can be expressed thus:

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

This is a central tenet in universal ethics. It constitutes a modern expression of the New Testament’s “golden rule”, which says:

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew, 7: 12)

Carl Jung tries to deny Kantian ethics and human reason. Since he has no arguments with which to attack the moral precept, he tries to disqualify the very Immanuel Kant as a philosopher and completely avoids the topic by saying the following absurdity:

“A complete elucidation of this phenomenon in Kant would be possible only if we had sufficiently authentic material on his relation to his mother. This also hangs together with the fact that he never married.” (p. 305)

Jung makes an attempt to disqualify the ethical view of life by attacking, with no logic or foundation, the thinker who promulgates it. The tactics could work with naïve individuals if the moral precept defended by Kant did not transcend every personal situation or did not belong to every great cultural tradition, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western.

Five centuries before Christian era, Confucius taught the same universal idea in ancient China [4]. Sextus, the Pythagorean, teaches in his “Sentences” that you should be to your neighbour what you would like your neighbour to be to you.[5] Diogenes Laertius, the ancient biographer, ascribes the same idea to Aristotle.

This is, therefore, a universal principle, and not a Christian one. Its importance is self-evident to every human being who possesses a degree of common sense. If Carl Jung preferred ignoring it, it is probably due to a very simple reason. Unlike Sigmund Freud and Erich Fromm - two deep thinkers who were against Nazism -, Carl Jung insisted in disqualifying every idea of ethics, and confessed he did not accept the existence of a universal truth.


[1] See “Freud, Jung, And Ethics”, by Erich Fromm; “Theosophy and the Bardo Thodol”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline; “Psychology and Ethics Are Inseparable”, by Erich Fromm; “Tibetan Book of the Dead Is Ningma”, by John Garrigues; and “Theosophy on Dogmatic Religions”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.

[2] All of the following quotations are taken from volume one of “C.G. Jung Letters”, selected and edited by Gerhard Adler in collaboration with Aniela Jaffé; translations from the German by R. F. C. Hull. The edition has two volumes. Volume I: 1906-1950; Princeton University Press, 1973, 596 pp. The number of page is indicated at the end of each quotation.

[3] E. T. Sturdy, Evans-Wentz’s collaborator (cf. The Great Liberation, p. viii). (Note from the English edition of   “C.G. Jung Letters”, volume I)

[4] “The Analects”, Confucius, Book 5, paragraph 11.

[5] “The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library”, Kenneth Sylvan, Phanes Press, Michigan, EUA, 1987, 361 pp., see p. 268, sentence number 20.


On the future of mankind and the victory of truth over falsehood in the esoteric movement, see the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”, by Carlos Cardoso Aveline.

Published in 2013 by The Aquarian Theosophist, the volume has 255 pages and can be obtained through Amazon Books.