Woodroffe, Zimmer, Jung - from Ferment Aug 03

Why did Jung advise his readers to study yoga but not to practise it?

What did Woodroffe mean by “a modern Chandi”?

Sir John Woodroffe, 1865 to 1936, writer on Tantra, editor of Sanskrit texts and translations.

Heinrich Zimmer, 1890 to 1943, researcher of India’s sacred art and translator of Sanskrit works.

Carl Jung, 1875 to 1961, psychologist who studied mandala symbolism emerging spontaneously in the West.

These three names are linked by a chain of inspiration and acknowledged debt.

Zimmer on Woodroffe:

The values of Hindu tradition were disclosed to me through the enormous life-work of Sir John Woodroffe, alias Arthur Avalon, a pioneer and a classic author in Indic studies, who...made available the extensive and complex treasure of late Hindu tradition: the Tantras...1

Jung on Zimmer:
In our work together he gave me invaluable insights into the Oriental psyche, not only through his immense technical knowledge, but above all through his brilliant grasp of the meaning and content of Indian mythology... a spirit that overcame the limitations of the specialist and, turning towards humanity, bestowed upon it the joyous gift of ‘immortal fruit.’ 2

Zimmer on Jung:
the mere existence of Jung... was, and is, one of the major blessings of my spiritual and my very earthly life...3


All three were interested in how the divine has been experienced in different times and places. All wrote about the interplay of eastern and western cultures.


In the present mingling of East and West, each is providing a ferment for the other, which, when all is said, is as much a divine product as the Revelations which it sometimes appears to threaten.4

There is some reason to think that the tantric scholar and devotee, Siva Chandra Vidyarnava, was Woodroffe’s guru. 5

If so, Woodroffe was an independent disciple, aware of the historical specificity of his teacher’s voice. He expresses the point with some delicacy, noting in Siva Chandra “a certain spacious splendour of imagery and feeling which belong to a passing world.” 6

As a westerner interested in India, Zimmer sought what he described as the “Middle Path” between two pitfalls. One pitfall was the “merely intellectual approach”. 7

This was the fault (as Zimmer saw it) of western scholars who
remained unrelated to the content of the material they handled... They posited and answered the question: What is the meaning of these terms, texts, doctrines, etc.? What are their interrelations, chronology, origin, migration? But they never asked the question: Are these sayings valid -- valid for us, valid for ever and apart from the context in which they figure?8

The other approach which Zimmer rejected was “simply to swallow Eastern wisdom hook and sinker, as did the Theosophists, Neo-Buddhists, etc.” What Zimmer wanted to do was “to transmute [eastern wisdom] so as to make it fit into the context of our own experiences and traditions: a process of mutual transmutation, assimilation.” 9

“Study but don’t apply”

Jung was addressing similar issues when he gave the following piece of advice to Europeans:

Study yoga -- you will learn an infinite amount from it -- but do not try to apply it...10

Yoga, as Jung studied it, was a broad field, encompassing “tantric yoga, lamaism, and Taoistic yoga”.11

Jung himself didn’t specialize in research of Indian, Tibetan or Chinese sources, but drew from the work of people who did: from Indologists such as Zimmer and J.W.Hauer, from the Sinologist Richard Wilhelm, from the English edition of the Tibetan Book of the Dead prepared by W.Y. Evans-Wentz and Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup.

In this literature Jung found “invaluable comparative material for interpreting the collective unconscious”. 12 He saw yoga as a “process of introversion” (turning inward) comparable to the methods developed by Sigmund Freud and by Jung himself. 13

Why, then, the advice to study but not apply?

Although Jung saw a universal (archetypal) level in human experience, he was also very conscious of the specificity of experience -- the differences between different times, different places, and different individuals. He quoted with approval a Taoist statement:
If the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way.14

He might equally well have quoted from Siva Chandra Vidyarnava:
Different diets have been prescribed in different cases, according to the nature of the disease. 15

Jung saw in yoga an emphasis on self-mastery, control of one’s own nature, which he did not consider the right medicine for the west.
Western man has no need of more superiority over nature, whether outside or inside... What he lacks is conscious recognition of his inferiority to the nature around and within him. He must learn that he may not do exactly as he wills.16

These words are from an article first published in 1936, several years prior to Zimmer’s abridged translation of the Siva-Sati story from the Kalika Purana. 17 In this narrative, the greatest of yogins, Lord Siva himself, discovers his inferiority to the nature around and within him, and learns he may not do exactly as he wills.

Looked at this way, the Kalika Purana supports Jung’s contention that the path of greater and greater self-control is not for everyone. However, it also suggests that Indian and western experience are less different than Jung thought. (It would be interesting to know whether Jung ever read the Kalika Purana material, and if so what he made of it.)

The line between studying and applying is not necessarily clear cut. If you are working with new ways of turning inward, while studying traditional eastern ways of turning inward, isn’t it both natural and desirable that your study will contribute something to your work?

In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung writes of a time when “I had to do certain yoga exercises in order to hold my emotions in check.” However, he goes on to distinguish between the way he used the exercises and the way he thinks they are used in India:
I would do these exercises only until I had calmed myself [then] I abandoned this restraint upon the emotions and allowed the images and inner voices to speak afresh. The Indian, on the other hand, does yoga exercises in order to obliterate completely the multitude of psychic contents and images.18

Jung’s generalization about the use of yoga in India may be open to question. Do all schools and traditions really seek to obliterate completely the soul’s images? What is beyond question is Jung’s determination to find methods of inner work appropriate to his own culture, his own time, and his own individual calling.

“A modern Chandi”

Sir John Woodroffe’s focus is on tradition and on the debates of his time rather than on the future. The following statement is exceptional:

Some day may be, when one who unites in himself the scientific ardour of the West and the all-embracing religious feeling of India will create another and a modern Chandi, with its multiple salutations to the sovereign World-Mother (Namastasyai namo namah).19

The Chandi is the work also known as the Devi Mahatmya -- “Magnificence of the Goddess”. It is not simply a piece of literature, it is a statement recited in ritual: in other words, a way of worshipping. To speak of “another and a modern Chandi” is to speak of a new way of worshipping.

Woodroffe’s statement is prophetic in that it identifies a developing possibility and a developing challenge. Can people who speak and think in European languages, whose minds have been shaped by an ardently scientific culture, develop a way of Goddess worship that is truly our own?

To tackle such a task is like building a new temple. Yet perhaps the foundations have already been laid.

Colin Robinson

1 Zimmer, Heinrich; Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India; Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1984; p 254.
2 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Volume 11; RKP, London, 1969; p 576 - 577.
3 Zimmer, Heinrich; Artistic Form and Yoga; p 260.
4 From Woodroffe’s introduction to Woodroffe, Sir John (ed); Principles of Tantra [English version of the Tantra-tattva of Siva Chandra Vidyarnava]; Ganesh and Co, Madras, 1986; Part I, page 28.
5 See Taylor, Kathleen; Sir John Woodroffe, Tantra and Bengal; Curzon Press, Richmond, Surrey, 2001; chapter 6.
6 Woodroffe, Sir John (ed); Principles of Tantra; p 27.
7 Zimmer, Heinrich; Artistic Form and Yoga; p 258.
8 Zimmer, Heinrich; Artistic Form and Yoga; p 256.
9 Zimmer, Heinrich, Artistic Form and Yoga; p 257.
10 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Volume 11; p 534.
11 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Volume 11; p 537.
12 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Volume 11; p 537.
13 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Volume 11; p 536 - 537.
14 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Volume 13; RKP, London, 1967; p 7.
15 Woodroffe, Sir John (ed); Principles of Tantra; Part I, p 186.
16 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Volume 11, p 535.
17 Zimmer, H. and Campbell, J.; The King and the Corpse; Princeton U.P., Princeton, NJ, 1971. (First published 1948)
18 Jung, C.G.; Memories, Dreams, Reflections; Fontana Collins, London, 1983; p 201.
19 Avalon, A. (Woodroffe, J.); Shakti and Shakta; Dover, NY, 1978; p 326.

The drawing reproduced at the head of this article expresses an individual vision influenced by the traditional Kali Yantra.

Drawing © Colin Robinson 1995
Article © Colin Robinson 2003

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