Friday, November 2, 2012

#110. Mandala of Religious Experiences

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This post is the 10th in a series of blog entries beginning with #101-- a collection of notes and essays from my files all dealing in one way or another with the emerging new religious consciousness. They are mostly things I've written over the last decade to clarify my own thoughts but which I now want to make available for anyone who might be interested.

Post #110 is about the basic kinds of religious experience we may have when using one or other of the four-fold functions of our conscious minds. I'd promised friend Mary C. to write a one-page summary of these ideas; it ended up closer to 20 pages. It dates from February, 2005. 

If you have questions and think I might be of help, you're welcome to send me a note:


Dear Mary,

Here are some thoughts about Jungian functions in connection with religious experience.

Some background first. I was originally hired at St Joseph's University in Phila to teach a course called Nature of Religious Experience. I can not remember now whether there was any kind of course outline available. There must have been some write up in the course catalogue but I can't remember it. I was on my own. The basic text I selected was called Ways of Being Religious, by Frederick J. Streng (about whom I remember now only that he taught at Southern Methodist U). 

I remember well when I first discovered that book. I was looking at texts in the U of Penn's bookstore. I knew almost instantly that it was valuable. I can not remember when I first saw the book, but it was, I think, a number of years before I was teaching the course. I even remember thinking something along the lines of, "If I ever had a chance to teach a course about religion, this is one book I'd use." (That's a good example of the kind of long term guidance we sometimes get in pursuing our path.)

I do not think the author said the four ways of being religious as he described them were based on Jungian functions; but that they were clicked with me instantly. Streng's information was more along the lines of accumulated anthropological data but specifically oriented toward religious experience. I used the first edition every time I taught the course. Over the years, two or three additional editions appeared, but each one seemed to contain more and more data, and the clarity of the first edition got more and more blurred.

I just looked at the Amazon web site to see if the book is still available. They offer only a facsimile (from 1996, for $61!). Several additional authors are given and it's listed as 600+ pages! That's about three times what the original contained. I had the impression that the author continued to add more and more info in order to make everyone happy and in the process lost the basic outline of his thought. Something like the way politicians try to leave nobody out and so water down what the might have stood for that they eventually become totally ineffective.

In any case, here's some introductory thoughts about it all....

It's clear that we can't talk about ways of being religious without having some minimally clear working definition of religion to make use of. Streng's working definition was accepted by none of my responsive students at the beginning of the course, but each time I did the course, the attentive ones always ended up saying it was a good working definition.

Streng's wording isn't even very clear: "means for ultimate transformation.' He doesn't mean a transformation that's ultimate (as in death and resurrection) but a change for the better in terms of what a person considers to be of significance. Whatever helps a person change to in the direction of ultimate concerns, that is religion. You may feel as negative about that working definition as my students did; all I can say is, if you give it a chance you'll eventually see it's got some value.

Here's a trivial example that's helpful. There are all kinds of people in the world; and there's probably someone, somewhere, who really likes to grow marigolds to such an extent that they get a sense of their identity from growing marigolds. "I'm a person who grows marigolds." To the extent that growing marigolds gives that person a sense of meaning and purpose, it is a means of transformation in the area of ultimates [meaning, purpose, significance] and so is (at least an important aspect of) that person's religion. 

I heard a good example just recently on TV: Steve Erwin, the baby-faced Crocodile Hunter from Australia, was being interviewed; he said he believed that he was put on earth to help people learn to love crocodiles. He has a (divinely given) vocation; at least a significant aspect of his religion is being the Crocodile Hunter. Religion for him, then, is whatever helps serve as means to that end (for him). Streng's definition is obviously not exhaustive (there are, of course, hundreds of definitions floating around), but as a working definition is does in fact "work." It's useful.

A few words about the four functions in connection with one another. The perception pair, Sensation and Intuition, are apparently older by far than the judgment pair (Thinking and Feeling); we share the perception functions with 'higher' animals.

Sensation sees details, Intuition the whole picture: the trees or the forest. It seems we cannot do both at the same time; one excludes the other (just as sitting and walking are both operations of the body but exclude one another; we can't do both simultaneously).

The other pair is much later, apparently, in terms of the evolutionary development of the brain; they are evaluative or judgmental activities in the sense that they don't see (perceive) anything but react to what's being perceived. (People with a strong Feeling function often don't seem to like that Feeling is described as a judgment function, but it is.) Once something is in our consciousness we respond to it: Is it good? Useful? Helpful? Pleasant? Nice? I.e., Do I like it?

We also ask whether it conforms to reality as we understand it. The Thinking function says, Is this image valid? Is what I perceive correct? is it right? Is it true? And again, we apparently cannot judge both the truth (or validity) of a perception and whether it's pleasant (or not) at the same time, just as we can't see both the forest and trees simultaneously.

These are fundamental ways the human conscious psyche works. In modern religious-scientific terms, they are ways in which the Implicate Order operates via (or in) the human person as an emergent self-organizing system within the cosmos.

Jung says that all this may be based on the four-fold valence of the carbon atom. We know in any case that the mandala image is fundamental to the human mind and shows up everywhere in innumerable cultural forms. I don't doubt that the mandala is the image in which the primordial God-consciousness of the 3-month-old emerges in our brain, since the mandala seem to be inherently healing, as is that primordial Self-image. (An idea which you spell out so nicely in your book.)

The four directions, the four elements, the four seasons, the four times of day, even the four aspects of time itself (past, present, future and the sequence or flow of it), all seem to be connected with our minds' four ways of operating. So it doesn't seem surprising (at least to some of us) that if we can be human in four different ways, we can also be religious in four different ways.

That's enough introductory comments. Here's some specifics....

Opps... One more comment.... Just as we can't sit all the time or walk all the time, since in either case we would cease functioning altogether after a while, so we can not judge the truthfulness or the likeability of something all the time without doing the other, too, sometimes; and the same is true about perception: always looking only at details or always looking only at the whole picture quickly results in a lopsided view of things. We can only be balanced persons dynamically, not statically. Very much like the basic ideas of tai chi: we can only go with the flow of the cosmic chi when we are in balance within.

Native Americans say, with regard to the medicine wheel (if they talked Chinese they would call it the "chi circle") that we always have to keep moving around the wheel. We start out at one direction (one location on the circle), but we have to keep moving or we lose a major part of our reality. In Jungian language, Don't stay only with your primary functions or you will be a partial, incomplete, person. And, Most especially, work with your inferior function in order to become whole.

Now to those specifics.... I'll go through them in the usual order they're mentioned: Thinking, Feeling, Sensation and Intuition. "Fools rush in...." (I wouldn't do this if I didn't feel it was a valid response to a leading!) One more thing to keep in mind is that we are not religious in only one of these ways; just as we usually operate from one perception and one judgment function, so we usually are religious in one of each of these pairs of ways at once: "One from column A and one from column B."


Being Religious via the Thinking Function

Thinking asks (or judges) whether something which has been expressed conforms to the facts. It looks at things from a distance, always making separations, divisions and logical distinctions. The Native American animal for this function is the Golden Eagle of the Dawn, who flies high, sees from afar but over a large area; the direction is East, the time of day morning, the season spring.

The isolated Thinking function results in the rationalism of science and philosophy, especially, and more generally, of patriarchal dualism. It is heavy on law and order, institutional and organizational rules. Positively, the Thinking function's energy is oriented toward newness, growth and development: the evolution of the cosmos, of life, and of the person (via the individuation process). Its time-focus is neither past, present nor future but the sequential flow of time. The Thinking function really would like to be outside time, the way the eagle is high above the earth.

The primary way of being religious via the Thinking function is effort, doing all that one can to become who/what we feel we are called to be; the emphasis is on uniqueness (differentiation, individuation). This effort is asceticism in the classic sense. (In Greek, a trainer or someone in training is an ascetic. Today's gyms are filled with modern secular ascetics; and they jog through our streets daily.)

Autonomy, taking responsibility for one’s actions, doing what's difficult, is a key religious trait. Practices like fasting, being celibate, going without comfortable clothing, living without comfortable companions, following dietary laws, are known in almost every religion. Aberrations abound; for example the Hindu holy men who go about with knives in their tongues; the old Russian monks who stood naked in swamps at dusk to be bitten by mosquitoes; and, alas, Islamic suicide bombers.

It is very much ego-centered, and when unbalanced tends to identify itself as masculine. At its best, however, it drives persons to be all that they can be: to become, at whatever cost, one's true self. The emphasis is on change, movement, improvement, going with the flow, moving with-- not against, the way the world works-- incorporating into oneself the powers of the cosmos. It includes being an explorer or pioneer.

The clarity of the air at dawn on a spring morning is a good summing-up image, keeping in mind that "air" is breath in its profoundest sense (spiritus, pneuma). The divinity tends to be only-transcendent but there is also a major guiding aspect, too, which tends to have a trickster component: the need to face evil, death and tragedy as aspects of the cosmic flow, learning to accept one's vulnerability and even of being "befriended" by the divine trickster-guide.

A strong value for the Thinking function is courage: to be creative, to do everything, to go everywhere, to try every new thing, to leave nothing unexplored, to become all that one can be-- all seen as a response to the will of God for us. Probably its most fundamental practice is simply being attentive: "Pay attention." "Let us attend." "Be sober and watchful..." "Stay awake!" "Keep vigil." "Wake up and smell the coffee." As Swimme says well, being aware of what the present moment is, is the kairos.


Being Religious via the Feeling Function

The energy of the Feeling function is in total contrast to Thinking; here the emphasis is not on distancing but on relating, not separateness but togetherness, not isolation but "belonging to the universe," being part of it all.

The Native American animal is the Green Mouse. (The Celtic Green Man also belongs here.) The mouse is very close to the earth, has to jump to see distant mountains, and like all rodents is a pack-rat, saves everything, focused primarily on the past, not letting anything go. Conservatives generally, and the Jewish prophets especially, are good examples: "You have betrayed the past, you have gone against the agreement (covenant), etc."

The element here is not air but fire, the summer season with its noon-day warmth. "Connectedness" might be a good one word summary of what the Feeling function is all about.

What we call "devotional activities" (bhakti in India) are its primary way of being religious. A secular example of a devotional activity from one of my classes: a woman described ironing her husband's jockey shorts, simply out of love for him. A common traditional devotional action is leaving flowers in front of a statue of Mary or Buddha, or on one's mother's grave. Examples are innumerable. Anything done out of love, to express a loving relationship, would fit this category: saying long prayers, doing little acts of charity, whatever. Thérèse of Lisieux talks about picking up a piece of thread from a rug as a act of love for God.

All those activities are "symbols" in the literal sense of connecting devices. The divine is always imaged in some kind of personal terms: God is a Loving Father or Mother, but it could be Lover, Spouse, Sibling or Friend. Streng's name for this was something like "The way of the Holy Presence."

The key here is relatedness. So for the Feeling function, divinity is not transcendent but present, "God with us." And religion is social and down to earth; it's all about connecting with others and relating to all things, whether in terms of sexual love, friendship, or cosmic love for All. As Native Americans say often in prayers and speeches, "All my relations!"

This emphasis on sharing and belonging is exactly the opposite of the out-of-control Thinking function's need for manipulation, exploitation, competition, oppression of others. At its best, the emphasis here is on standing with all and ignoring no one. That's the Feeling function's balance to the hierarchal mind-set of the Thinking function. Similarly, the Thinking function's emphasis on clarity, distance and separateness is a balance to the Feeling function's tendency to degenerate into sentimental schmaltz and cuteness.


Being Religious via the Sensation Function

Sensation is the perception activity which sees the trees, but not the forest; it is primarily concerned with details. Its energies are oriented to the details needing attention in order to sustain life: providing food, shelter, protection, whatever is needed so that life can continue and perpetuate itself. The focus is details, but all of them: not leaving out or overlooking anything of significance.

The Native American animal here is the White Buffalo of the North . (All the parts of the buffalo are used in some way for food, shelter, tools.) Its element is earth; its season; winter; its time, night.

People with strong Sensation function commonly tend to become nurses or engineers, but they are attracted to any kinds of jobs and tasks that involve close attention to details. They love to keep moving, and so with some talent can become good musicians and/or athletes (because they don't easily get bored with repetitive practice). They're also good in emergencies.

The Sensation function's time-focus is the present, the fullness of life here and now, leaving out nothing. Streng calls it "the way of cosmic harmony." More accurately, it probably should be called something like the way of service, as an expression of cosmic harmony. It is social action, taking care of people in need of help, simply because that's the right thing to do.

Drug rehabs, hospital emergency rooms, food banks, houses of hospitality and soup kitchens, for example, are staffed by such people. They see God "in every hand and face." As Martin Luther said, "Ever, ever goes the Christ in stranger's guise." Mother Theresa describes a leper dying in the streets as "Jesus in a distressing form." As a way of being religious, Sensation takes literally the gospel's words, "A cup of cold water given in my name... is given to me." But it includes service to any and all who are in need, including animals, plants, the earth itself. We see much better in our day that ecological concerns take their place right next to work for social justice, peace and equality.

This way of service is also a redemption of patriarchy (in the original positive sense of using one's powers on behalf of the community): not only taking responsibility for others but also and especially tutoring and mentoring the young; specifically, providing them with a sense of affirmation that they are in fact able to ‘make it’ in life. All of this contrasts strongly with the Thinking function's tyrant (who lacks self-worth and thrives on power over others) and the puer (the “nice boy” who can’t commit, can’t lead, can’t accept responsibility for others).

Being religious via the Sensation function also has a powerful cosmic aspect; as Native Americans say in the sweat lodge, "We do this so that the people might live." The Byzantine liturgy says, "On behalf of all and for all." Although it seems simple and straightforward in its focus on the present, it attempts to see "the present-now" in its full-blown glory, in all its details. So it sees the whole universe as one cosmic-human-divine reality, with absolutely nothing left out. Teilhard expresses this well with his comment that, "In the end, nothing good will be lost." Other examples of this total inclusiveness are the Jewish Succoth image of the In-gathering of all things in God's Succoth Shalom, and the ancient Byzantine images of Pantocrator, the All-Embracing Lord of All.

It's here, with this emphasis on fullness, that primal Christianity's eschatological concerns make good sense: the Transfigured Cosmos or New Creation as completion and fulfillment of the first creation, the ultimate Omega, the goal of "God all in all." And it also includes the consequent religious stance of not being afraid of anything that threatens us. And, finally, this is also what traditional ecclesiology is all about: the church community as sacramental expression of "the very meaning and reality of our existence as persons brought forth out of the nothingness and darkness from which we come, to our manifestation and glory." (Given the pervasiveness of dualism, we have to keep reminding ourselves that "person" here means body no less than immaterial spirit-soul-consciousness.)


Being Religious via the INTUITIVE FUNCTION

Via Intuition we see the whole, the forest rather than individual trees. The focus is the "big picture," the future, the meaning of things, personal identity, the significance of the whole cosmos.

Its element is water, its Native American animal the Black Bear (the medicine animal, who digs up healing roots and herbs). The direction is West; the season, autumn; and the time, evening.

Jung says Intuition is a direct pipeline to the unconscious. Healing, wholeness, possibilities, the future, creativity, co-creative activity, being culture-bringing heroes as in the old stories-- all has to do with our meaning (significance, identity, purpose). So the primary emphasis in this way of being religious is on access to empowerment via those things which Merton, in his notes on Inner Experience, calls "common materials of the ancient cultural traditions with a religious and sapiential nature." He names them: "archetypal symbols, liturgical rites, art, poetry, philosophy and myth." Streng calls this way simply "Myth and Ritual." It is a way of seeing in the broadest, widest, most comprehensive sense. In Christian language, it is seeing the universe as sacramental (grace-filled); that "the world is a wedding" and that we're the invited guests.

This is the realm of not only of artists, musicians, and poets but of all creative individuals. It seeks to have an authentic ("wholistic") perception of reality, truth, and the meaning of life beyond the conventional. It is the very opposite of the institutional churches and governmental and educational organizations seeking to censor and silence creative individuals who depart from the conventional establishment norms in order to explore possibilities for the future.

Intuition is the capacity to be in touch with the good energies of the earth (especially in the form of animal powers and spirit ancestors, who are, as Native Americans say, "out there, wanting to help." It includes the shamanic power to “call in” those spirit-powers and archetypal energies, to make them available to others. As a way of being religious it especially includes a harsh antagonism toward all enemies of life and so includes an emphasis on the shamanic healing ability to get rid of destructive 'vibes' and replace them with positive life-giving energies of the cosmos.

In classical religious terms this is the unitive, contemplative realm where, in stillness and silence, we enter into the mystery of our non-duality with the Ultimate. It knows each human person to be a supreme creation and living portrait of God. We can’t put much of this into words, but we can in fact taste it, like food; we can know it by experience. And it's that tasting-knowing which is where religion and religious life starts and what it is moving toward in the end. This is religion's alpha and omega.

Jung calls Intuition "the religious function." Since Western culture's rationalistic emphasis hardly allows it to even acknowledge the reality of Intuition, this-- the most basic way of being religious-- is probably the most difficult for contemporary people to understand. Patriarchal religion favors ascetic effort or, in its fundamentalist forms, blind loyalty to a holy presence; and while it certainly includes service to others, it reduces such service to "good deeds." (And patriarchy would definitely not include plants and animals or the earth itself as legitimate recipients of such good deeds.) Religious ritual, in contrast, is generally considered nothing more than the superstitious practices of unevolved peoples. And yet, being empowered by the universe for participation in its life was known through most of human history as the very essence of what today we would call "religion." It is so basic to human life in surviving pre-patriarchal cultures that they don't even have a separate name for it.


I can hardly believe that I was dumb enough to say, a few weeks ago, that I could "fairly easily" do a one page summary! Anyway... as a final note, I just want to emphasize how critically important a recovery of the neglected perception functions is for the New Cosmology, since harmony with, and empowerment by, the cosmos is essentially what the New Cosmology is all about. -Sam

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