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The I-Ching and C.G. Jung's Theories on Synchronicity and the Relativity of Space/Time By the Master of Mount Leigh

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The I-Ching is an acient book of wisdom that also can be used as an oracle. Its language is rather sober and one of its objective is to make the person consulting the oracle understand the connections between his individual actions and their consequences. Basically, this comes close to the Buddhist definition of Karma.

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However all this does not imply superstition - which I define here as the fatalistic dependence on the "will" of higher powers (i.e. God, Yahweh, Allah, gods, devas, etc) hoping that they stay well-disposed towards oneself. Also in this context it should be noted that the old Sanskrit word Karma means Action, and that it is often misunderstood as denoting some kind of predetermined fate.

In the Western hemisphere during pre-Christian antiquity (here I confine myself to ancient Greece, Italy and the Mediterranean basin west of the ancient Persian empire), oracular or divinatory literature was also very common.

Female oracles known as Sibyls - or priestesses - were its source. Usually they were prophetesses who uttered divine revelations in a frenzied state. Modern archeologists, toxicologists and geologists have confirmed that temples of many sibyllic oracles were often built over volcanic rock fissures or mineral springs. Intoxicated by vapors rich in hallucinogenic hydrocarbons (including ethylene) and other volcanic gases emanating from those fissures, the sibyls would fall into trance, allowing the tutelary gods to possess their spirit and communicate via their - often incoherent - utterances. Those were then interpreted by priests or aides, recorded and re-written into poetic verses which were later compiled into Sibylline books, one of the first appeared in the 5th century BCE. The 2nd century CE Greek historiographer Phlegon of Tralles entitled his compilation of Sibyllene prophecies as the Book of Marvels. In the late middle-ages a list of total of 12 (or 14) Sibylline books, classified as Christian, Jewish or Pagan, was widely acknowledged.

The oracle of Delphi in Greece was one of the most famed during antiquity. The priestess Phytia, dedicated to the Greek sun-god Apollo, her successors and various other Sibyls were active in the temple complex of Delphi from at least the 8th century BCE until the Christian Emperor Theodosius I of Rome closed them down around 395 CE - perhaps due to their long and "unchristian" relationship with those pagan Greek gods and godesses, such as Gaia, Themis, Apollo and Phoebe.

Roughly at the same time in Roman Italy, various Sibyls of Etruscan origin became famous for their (at the time politically correct) Christian apocalypic end-of-time visions. Noteworthy here is the Tiburtine Sibyl, who rose to fame and influence in Roman politics with her dire predictions. It is therefore not astounding that a widespread pejorative designation in Italy and Greece for the ancient Christians was: "Sibyl-culters" (Greek: Sibylliostai).

Purely Christian (meaning here non-Sibylline) oracle books did not exist, however Saint Augustine (354-430) considered the Psalms of David to be prophetic songs inspired by the Holy Ghost.

In the second Christian millenary, oracles remained essentially the exclusive domain of obscure spiritualistic circles or were centered on a few charismatic or prophetic individuals, who were quickly ostracised and persecuted by the church, such as:

The Italian mystic and Catholic theologian Joachim of Fiore (circa 1135 - 1202). He was the founder of the monastic order of San Giovanni, but was soon attacked as heretic by the church. Yet his oracle book with the unwieldy title Exposition of the great prophet Joachim on the book of the blessed Cyril about the greatest tribulations and the status of the Holy Mother Church (in Latin original: Expositio magni prophete Ioachim in librum beati Cirilli de magnis tribulationibus et statu Sancte Matris Ecclesie), was published in the Republic of Venice in 1516 and commanded a large following in that city-state.
The French visionary, alchemist and franciscan monk Jean de Roquetaillade (circa 1310 - 1366). Familiar with Joachim's prophecies, he authored numerous books such as the Book of the Secret Archana (Latin: Libro secretorum archanorum), the Book of Visions (Liber visionum), Book of Perfect Secret Events (Liber perfectum secretorum eventuum) and the Vademecum in Troubled Times (Vademecum in tribulationem). In his works, of which many originals are lost now, he formulates apocalyptic visions as well as future political constellations in Europe until the year 2347, the supposed year of the defeat of the Antichrist. Therfore the high clergy consulted him - even in prison- and eagerly sought his prognostics. Yet he also attacked the degeneration of the church and the Pope, who was then reigning from the French city of Avignon and was in rivalry with the Pope in Rome. Alarmed by his visionary fervor and outspokenness, the church had put him under house arrest in several monasteries starting 1344, and later kept him in prison until his death.
The most famous of them all was the French healer, astrologuer and writer Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566), better known as Nostradamus. His 1555 work entitled The Prophecies (Les Propheties) commanded the admiration of the French queen and several influential French catholic clerics. He had the luck of being not regarded as too dangerous to the church, so he was laregely left alone. Moreover his book remains a widely-read international best seller today.

As a conclusion we can deduct that ancient pre-Christian and Christian European oracular books or literature (here I do not include Runic or other pagan traditions of ancient northern, central or eastern Europe) was mainly compiled in Greek, Latin/Italian, French and Hebrew.

In contrast to that oracular literature, the text of the I-Ching must have appeared highly rational, sober, systematic and devoid of apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo to those Europeans, who had first contact with it. Perhaps it is no coincidence that knowledge of the the I-Ching reached Europe during the age of enlightenment (thanks to efforts of Jesuits based in China), a time when the power of the church began to wane.

The I-Ching's underlying mathematical and numerological system of the binary Yin/Yang (i.e. negative/positive; 0/1) and the Eight Trigrams had a profound influence on the mathematic theories of German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibnitz (1646-1716). As a sinophile person, he was deeply impressed with the Chinese inventing a binary number system several thousand years before him.

Now fast-forward to the late 19th and early 20th century; it was again German-speaking psychoanalysts, scholars and writers, who were instrumental helping the I-Ching gain wider acceptance in the sceptical and rationalist Europe. In addition to the Lutheran missionary Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930; the translator of the I-Ching and the Tao Te Ching from Chinese into German), the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) and the German-born poet Hermann Hesse (who had emigrated to Switzerland when Hitler and his thugs took over Germany in 1933 - Hesse was awarded the 1946 Nobel prize for literature) are all worth mentioning in this context.

Other noteworthy guests and regular interlocuteurs of C.G. Jung were the 'father of Quantum theory' Albert Einstein, Austrian quantum physicist and 1945 Nobel laureate Wolfgang E. Pauli (like Einstein he left his home country before the Nazi-takeover), the Franco-German physician and philantropist Albert Schweitzer as well as the Indian author and Nobel laureate R. Tagore. They all knew each other through regular get-togethers of intellectual circles based in Zurich (the home of C.G. Jung) starting 1921, and ten years later during the famed Eranos-lectures at the Monte Verita retreat in the picturesque alpine city of Ascona, situated in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

The German book Parapsychologie, Individuation, Nationalsozialismus: Themen bei C.G. Jung (translated here as: "Parapsychology, Individuation, National Socialism: Issues at C.G. Jung"), written by German psychoanalyst and former Jung-assistant Aniela Jaffé (1903-1991), states that Jung's notion of Synchronicity was directly inspired by the I-Ching and that he coined the term after he began to immerse himself in studies of the I-Ching under the guidance of Richard Wilhelm. In 1930, during a laudatio in honor of the deceased Wilhelm, he mentioned the term for the first time, but only in 1952 did Jung fully elaborate on the topic of Synchronicity. Moreover Jung found his theory of the 'universal archetypes' mirrored in the 64 Hexagrams of the I-Ching. It also provided the inspirational background for Hesse's 1943 utopian magnum-opus The Glass Bead Game (Das Glasperlenspiel), for which he revceived the 1946 Nobel prize.


In his book Synchronizität, Akausalität und Okkultismus (translated here as: "Synchronicity, Acausality and the Occult") Jung offered a convincing (in European eyes) and rationally founded explanation for the functioning of oracle systems (executed by simply tossing three coins), based on his findings in psychoanalysis.

It is mainly thanks to Jung's and the Eranos circles endeavors, that the I-Ching gained increased acceptance as an oracle book in certain social strata of Europe and America.

To most Western rationalists during the mid 20th century, who were deeply influenced by the mechanistic Newtonian world-view, the link between a series of coin tosses and a corresponding oracle remained obscure and incomprehensible.

Jung however was convinced that in such circumstances both causal and acausal links were coming into play. He believed that crucial evidence for his theory was provided by the (controversial) Zener-card experiments of Prof. Joseph B. Rhine, which he had undertaken earlier during the 1930ies at the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University in North Carolina, USA.

Rhine's experiments were rather simple. Subjects referred as "Senders" focused on randomly shuffled cards marked with symbols: star, cross, circle, wavy lines or square. "Receivers" guessed at the symbol in the sender's mind. By 1940, after 33 experiments and nearly a million trials, Rhine said that he had found an overall effect. But the evidence was inconsistent, and mainstream scientists were not convinced.

Jung however classified the results of Rhine's experiments as 'synchronistic phenomena' (in original German: synchronistische Phänomene). In his 1930 laudatio for Wilhelm, C.G. Jung said of the I-Ching:

"The science of the I-Ching does, however, not rest on the principle of causality, but on a principle still unnamed - because it is not prevalent here [in the West] - that I have tenatively designated as synchronistic principle". (translation mine)

In German original this reads: Die Wissenschaft des I Ging beruht nämlich nicht auf dem Kausalprinzip, sondern auf einem bisher nicht benannten - weil bei uns nicht vorkommenden - Prinzip, das ich versuchsweise als synchronistisches Prinzip bezeichnet habe."

Jung's experiments with the I-Ching intensified and he used it in his analytic sessions. A method - like Rhine's experimets - that was considered highly controversial at the time. In the following paragraph he defends using the oracle of the I-Ching (for the benefit of his patients) against critics who saw his methods as arbitrary and not rational/scientific enough:

"How many mental phenomena, for example, do we declare as 'random', where the knower sees only too clearly that it is nothing less than a coincidence! I just want to point out all those cases of slips of the tongue, mis-readings and forgetting, which have been already clarified by Freud as not occurring entirely by accident. I am therefore inclined to be skeptical in relation to the so-called fluke of the I-Ching. It even seems to me that the number of matches reaches a significant percentage, well above the statistical odds. I think that this is not about chance but about regularity. The method itself is simple and easy. The difficulty begins, however, as I said, when evaluating the outcome. Above all understanding the symbolism is no easy thing - even with the help of the excellent comments by Richard Wilhelm. The more knowledge the reader has in the psychology of the unconscious, the easier this work will be." [translation mine]

This is the German original, from the book C.G. Jung und der östliche Weg, Walter Verlag 1997:

"Wie viele psychische Phänomene zum Beispiel bezeichnen wir als "zufällig", wo der Wissende nur allzu deutlich sieht, daß es sich um nichts weniger als einen Zufall handelt! Ich erinnere nur an alle jene Fälle von Versprechen, Verlesen und Vergessen, die schon Freud als keineswegs zufällig aufgeklärt hat. Ich bin daher in bezug auf die sogenannten Zufallstreffer des I Ging zur Skepsis geneigt. Es scheint mir sogar, daß die Anzahl der deutlichen Treffer eine Prozentzahl erreicht, die weit über aller Wahrscheinlichkeit liegt. Ich glaube, daß es sich überhaupt nicht um Zufall, sondern um Regelmäßigkeit handelt. Die Methode selber ist leicht und einfach. Die Schwierigkeit beginnt aber, wie schon gesagt, bei der Auswertung des Resultates. Vor allem ist das Verständnis der Symbolik auch mit Hilfe der trefflichen Kommentare Wilhelms keine ganz einfache Sache. Je mehr Kenntnisse der Leser in der Psychologie des Unbewußten besitzt, desto leichter wird ihm diese Arbeit fallen."