The Jungian Model of the Mind

Jung, like all yogis, based his concepts of mind on personal experience: his was not a theoretical model void of any practical reality. Through his own crises and mental breakdown and his long climb back to wholeness, he observed the landscape of the psyche up close and personally.

Simply stated, Jung's model of the psyche has three main parts:
  1. the ego which is the home of our consciousness,
  2. the personal unconscious into which we stuff everything we have seen and forgotten or would like to deny exists within us
  3. the collective unconscious, which we share in common with all human beings and which holds the many archetypes that are symbols of life situations
The ego must exist, according to Jung, for without an "I" to witness, there can be no consciousness. Unlike the Eastern models where the ego presents a false "I" that needs to be shown as a sham or an illusion, to Jung, the ego needs to continue. It is an unavoidable part of the psychic landscape, and has as much right to be recognized as the unconsciousness aspects of our psyche.

The personal unconscious is the "matrix of all potentialities." Jung believed the unconscious is able, just like the conscious mind, to think and feel, to have purpose and intention. He described its contents as

… everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want and do… [1]

Jung's recognition of the collective unconscious was a crowning achievement, and one often misunderstood and rejected by other psychologists of the time. The collective unconscious is hereditary, not personal. It is not created by the individual's experiences in this life, but is shared as a repertoire of instincts across every human being. These instincts take the shape of archetypes or images that arise in cultural myths or personal dreams; they are the demons and angels within but reflected or projected outside onto events and people around us. These are the images that the Tibetan Book of the Dead [2] warns will appear in the first few moments after death. Unless we recognize them as simply parts of our own mind and do not fear them, we will panic and rush foolishly into our next cycle of birth and death.

According to Jung, archetypes are only alive when they are meaningful to us. Since the symbols of another culture have little meaning to us, those images do not awaken the archetypes in our Western psyche. [3] Just take note of your dreams, the ones that are most vivid, disturbing, or memorable, to find how your archetypes are clothed.

There is a fourth part of the psyche not mentioned above: the Self. This can be considered just one of the many archetypes Jung introduced us to, but this is the ultimate archetype. It is the organizing principle within each of us that guides us and gives us a direction to follow. In Jung's own words:

It might equally well be called the "God within us." The beginning of our whole psychic life seems to be inextricably rooted in this point, and all our highest and ultimate purposes seem to be striving toward it. [4]

Jung's description of the Self sounds distinctly Eastern. He claims it is both unitemporal and unique, just as the yogis described purusha. The Self is universal and eternal, just as the Tantrikas believe. It expresses both our human image and god's image.

With this model in mind, let's turn to look at what Jung wanted us to achieve through his work.



1 -- Jung: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche - page 185.
2 -- The Bardol Todol.
3 -- Hindus and Buddhists in India and the Daoists in China used metaphors based on their culture. Jung was adamant that people in the West should stick to the images of the West in order to understand their own situation. Of what value to a Swiss bricklayer is an image of Shiva dancing on top of a dwarf named Avidya?
4 -- Jung: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, page 67.


(Next: The Goal of Jungian Psychotherapy )







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