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On "Reality of Mind" - A comparison of Western Opinion with Abhidhamma

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A. Kell, D. Phil

Vol. III, No. 4, 1958

Western opinions on "reality of mind" disagree: to illustrate this diversity we have chosen two extreme points of view: Professor C.G. Jung's "Psychic Reality" and "Mind as behaviour" of the Behaviourists, a fairly modern and at present rather influential school of psychologists whose most radical representative is Professor Edgar Singer.

Jung prefers to use the term psyche instead of mind, "because 'mind and mental' are associated primarily with consciousness, whereas 'psyche and psychical' are used to cover both, consciousness and the unconscious." Based mainly on observations of his patients and some anthropological and mythological studies, he says:

"All that I experience is psychic. Even physical pain is a psychic event that belongs to my experience. My sense impressions... are psychic images and these alone are the immediate objects of my consciousness. My own psyche even transforms and falsifies reality, and it does so to such a degree that I must resort to artificial means to determine what things are like apart from myself. Then I discover that a tone is a vibration of air of such and such a frequency, or that colour is a wave-length of light of such and such length. We are in all truth so enclosed by psyche images that we cannot penetrate to the essence of things external to ourselves. All our Knowledge is conditioned by the psyche which, because it alone is immediate, is superlatively real. Here there is a reality to which the psychologist can appeal- namely psychic reality."

Mrs. F. Fordham in her excellent little book "An introduction to Jung's Psychology" sums up Jung's concept:

"To this one may add that psychic reality forces itself upon us in many ways; there are even psychically produced illnesses, which have all the appearance of being 'purely psychical' and yet can be proved to have no organic cause... Furthermore everything made by man had its beginning in the psyche.. . Our own hopes and fears may be grounded in 'realities' that are recognizable to others, or they may be 'purely imaginary', but the joy or anxiety they bring is the same in either case - what we experience is real to us, if not to other people, and has its own validity, equal to, though different from, the "reality that is generally acknowledged.

We shall first of all compare Jung's concept of psychic reality with that of generally acknowledged reality, and see where the difference lies. The differentiation between the two realities is based on two different modes of observations "which common sense readily discerns and rightly regards as making known to us facts of two different kinds..., introspection gives us access to the mind and perception of the kind called external, to nature, i.e. the material world;...mind and nature are two different, although to a certain extent connected, realms of facts." (1) Jung's psychic reality is based on facts gained by introspection, whose characteristic are that they are only known to the person itself who produces, perceives and observes them. Those facts can be made known to other's "made public" if the person wishes to do so by sound, language and behaviour.

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Reality that is generally acknowledge is based on facts gained by external observation, facts which are "publicly known". All those facts belong to nature, the material world which is the realm of the sciences. The later deny the validity of facts gained by introspection on the ground that they can not be publicly observed. The behaviourists, dazzled by the great achievements of the natural sciences, have adopted the criterion of the latter and their external means of observation by which one is able to observe under what is called laboratory conditions, by f.i. harnessing a person to such instruments as perhaps the pneumograph, the plethysmograph or the galvanometer, that changes happen in the substance of the brain and so on, if a person is angry or in any other emotional state. Nobody would deny that such changes can and do happen. The question is only, does this really prove the non-reality of mind ? All one can say is that physical changes and mental states appear to occur parallel to each other. But who is the father, mind or matter, is quite a different question. The natural sciences and the behaviourists insist that changes occurring in organic matter produce mental states; and based on the criterion that only "that is real which is publicly perceptible" the most eminent behaviourist, Professor Singer declares that "mind is behaviour. Or more accurately: Our belief in consciousness is an expectation of probable behaviour based on an observation of actual behaviour"

The facts gained by scientific means, direct external observation or indirect by using instruments which register, measure, etc. are all what the Abhidhammist knows as visible objects, Ruparammana. He certainly agrees with the scientists that these observations only yield facts of a material kind; but he wholeheartedly disagrees with the statement that mind, which belongs to a totally different realm of facts - inaccessible to any mode of external observation - does not exist as such, or that its reality is behaviour.

Jung's psychic reality, based on introspection seems nearer to the concept of the Abhidhammist. But is it? What are Jung's facts on which his theory of psychic reality is based and above all, what does he and for that matter the West, understand by introspection?

Jung's fact are the menial states of his patients, their emotions, feelings, dreams, likes and dislikes and so on; but only in so far as the patient himself is aware of them, and moreover only as far as he is willing to confess them and Jung, either verbally, or in writing, or in the form of drawings and sometimes (unknown to himself) during association tests. The first thing that strikes one is that Jung's "evidence" for the reality of psyche is based so to speak on hearsay and is therefore even less reliable, less real than the material facts of the sciences which can at least be directly or indirectly observed. To the Abhidhammist, Jung's facts are only evidence for the presence of matter produced by mind, Cittaja Rupa, in particular bodily and verbal expression, Kaya - and Vacavinnatti; as such they are only certain parts of the corporeality and modes of expression of the formation known by the conventional term human being, the reality of which in this case is still lobe found.

However, Jung, contrary to the behaviourists acknowledges the reality of the influence of one kind of psyche or Nama on the mind and body of a person. This all-powerful part of psyche is the famous "unconscious". Jung takes the influence of the unconscious as cause for the mal-adjustment of people to their surrounding; people whose relation to their family and fellow beings is disharmonious and causes them and others to experience great "real", i.e. publicly perceptible suffering and misery; people with criminal tendencies, so-called mis-fits and people suffering from ailments for which no physical reason can be found. One must never forget that Jung and his group of psychotherapists as well as others who share his view on the reality of psyche, i.e. its influence on mind and body, have become benefactors to thousands of people which modern medical science based on the criterion of the natural sciences neither could help nor cure.


But it is most important to notice that Jung only acknowledges the reality of the influence and not the reality of psyche itself. Psyche, consciousness and unconscious, the Nama of the Abhidhammist are to him as well as to the behaviourists a derived fact which can only be present where there is a being, a living organism with brain, either human or animal. Thus from the point of view of an Abhidhammist, the difference between psychic and general acknowledged reality lies only in the size of the realm in which confusion rules as to what are, and what are not mental or physical facts. In the case of Jung and his followers the size of the field of confusion has shrunk a little because he declares: "even physical pains are psychic experiences." The behaviourists and a great many others would insist that the bodily reaction of a living organism to f.i. external stimuli are evidence that the body feels.

The point of view from which a Abhidhammist declares "this is reality" becomes clear if we turn to the problem the Bodhisattva set out, to solve.

He was not exclusively interested in the material world, nature, as the natural sciences are; nor did he share their practical aim which is: how to make nature serve man's needs and how to protect him against the uncontrollable powers of nature, draughts, taifuns, earthquakes, etc.; neither was it his problem how to help mal-adjusted people; nor was he concerned with the ethical and metaphysical problems of philosophy. The Bodhisatta's problem is concerned with Existence in the universe, - not with the origin of Existence or of the universe, but with Existence as such as it is to day, was in the past and will be in the future. This problem goes far beyond the narrow realm of the "publicly perceptible" and 'introspectively perceptible" facts of our minute human world; it is the all-embracing problem of individual existences as parts of the dynamic of an eternal, universal process and the individual suffering which is inseparably connected with it; suffering here in its widest sense: that every existing thing is conditioned by something past and passes through continuous changes to dissolve finally, only to have produced during its life-span more, new existence producing forces. Existence here in the sense of incalculable re-occurrences of individual life-spans, as one may call the periods from the moment of becoming to that of dissolution, including the force which is the link between one period of life span to the other.

To study relations of this kind is to study the properties, capacities and characteristics of the factors of the process; specifically the various relations between the factors and their influences which are the dynamic of the process itself, and the possible change of the direction of the process, or the in - or decrease of its existence producing forces and so on, if certain factors are present. We anticipate here, that Reality, Paramattha Dhamma to the Abhidhammist are just those capacities and properties of the factors; not the factors themselves which are transient and conditioned. Those who do not understand, that not the factors themselves but only their properties and capacities are the reality, easily mistake the Abhidhamma for a "primitive, materialistic pluralism like f.i. Professor Murti.