Structural parallels in Jungian theory and the Philosophy of Kundalini Yoga

In this essay I want to contribute to the perennial thesis that there is a process of development occurring globally and universally in every human being. A process which leads from an unconscious, primal or instinctive state of behavior to a more aware state of self- reflective conscious action. Methodologically I am going to rely on empirical transcripts of experience both from the tantric school of Kundalini Yoga and Carl Gustav Jung’s analytic Psychology. More precise, I do not want to discuss what this process is, but the empirical evidence from different cultures that well provide for a strong assumption that such a process exists. The method I am going to use is inspired by Jung’s method of archetypal comparison, which he applied to prove that there exist structural similarities between symbolic manifestations of the collective unconscious in different cultures. I will apply this method to seek out structural conformities in nature present in both systems. These conformities will be firstly the fundamental moment of realization of the presence of the unconscious impetus in Jungian theory and conditioned existence in the tantric corpus. Secondly, I will discuss similarities between Verdrängung and avidyā (Ignorance). Thirdly I want to argue that the intense teacher- student relationship in both systems is caused by projection of a religious archetype unto the teacher figure, to facilitate the process of healing. At last I will explore a key aspect of developmental transformation in both systems: the divine union between polar- opposites. Despite these structural/ archetypal similarities, I want to maintain that although there are these characteristic semblances between both systems, they are paradigmatically incomparable due to radically different outlooks on the nature of and purpose in life.

To begin with, clarity shall be raised concerning the framework my discussion will take place in and how it is to be legitimized instead of being unscientific squander. It is different to the modern scientific perspective on individuality, connectivity and consciousness. Jung had his own theory as to how the Psyche is structured: It is a dynamic totality of which the Ego or Persona, that content which the perceived center of self identifies with, is a limitation that is created by personal identification to certain factors in the natural/ societal environment (family, educational institutions, cultural habitus, religion). This limitation separates it from the personal unconscious which is limited to personal experience and the collective unconscious, which is unlimited insofar as it an impersonal, universal, evolutionary and hereditary source of personal consciousness. The nature of the human being is thus, according to Jung a general collective space of unconscious psyche. [1] As to the legitimacy: as a therapeutic practitioner his theory of the Psyche as microcosm in a psychic macrocosm, was strongly shaped by his empirical and experimental encounter with his patients and their mental maladies throughout his life. [2] Despite the esoteric elements in his Psychology, he proclaimed nothing that contradicted the natural sciences and based his perception of what counted as psychologically, not ontologically real to the phenomenological experience of the subject according to what worked in healing and development.[3] The fruit of his career, his theory of Individuation is besides philosophical, anthropological and psychological inspiration from the Chinese, Indian and western traditions assimilated to the development he experienced in his own patients and to his own introspective process of Individuation.[4]

As to Kundalini Yoga, it is one of a wide array of esoteric schools in the ancient Indian tradition according to which consciousness is the fundamental stuff of the Universe. Its methodology is based on mental and physical purificatory exercises the transformation of which cannot possibly be rationally comprehended but only experienced, in which sense it may be called internally empirical. The experiences of the practitioner are guided by scriptures, so called Sastras, transmitted over generations leading back to a cult’s root- guru and guidance by the teacher- guru. The teleological focus is set upon realizing the transitory and illusory nature of the external world of objects and its ultimate identity with the cosmic essence. As to the scientific nature of the tantric method: It is strongly interwoven with introspection, religious worship and ritual which are conducive to the experience of mystical union, therefore from a westerly perspective completely unscientific.  [5]

The turning point of an individual’ s life at which the conscious process of transformation begins, in the tantric system is the realization of māyā: the veil of illusion that traps the individual in cyclic, conditioned existence (saṃsāra), to which it is bound by karma (action). Karma is most easily to be explained by evoking certain predispositions of action or habitual patterns in which the individual is stuck. Being thus bound in saṃsāra, the psyche (jīva) is naturally ‘processed’ and moved towards the realization of unity with pure Being- Consciousness- Bliss. [6] The individual’s development happens at first naturally and without its doing, however when it becomes conscious of avidyā (ignorance) this process becomes aware. By transforming behavioral patterns and cleansing the nāḍīs (energy channels) of karmic impurity, kuṇḍalinī shakti (creative psycho- energy) is activated, transforming the individual’s consciousness in a process of purification in which the practitioner is said to realize ever more subtle sheaths of reality.[7]

According to Jung the process of Individuation too happens at first naturally, until the moment of Eingeständnis[8], in which the individual realizes that it’s actions are unconsciously driven. Here is a strict semblance between conditioned and unconscious action. Further in both thought- systems life is described as an inherently developmental process. Due to  Eingeständnis, through bringing unconscious, repressed content to consciousness and mastering it by transforming the unconscious content both passively (reflection, conversation with the therapist) and actively by responding consciously to an unconscious content’s manifestation in personal life, the individual moves towards flourishing, higher self- knowledge and the unification of character by integrating the unconscious into the conscious mind making it part of one’s identity.[9] The goal of analytic psychology is Individuation: ‘’Somit ist die Individuation ein Einswerden mit sich selbst und mit der Menschheit, die man ja auch ist.‘‘[10] One of its pillars is Erziehung by which is meant the general education of any human being, towards psychological fulfilment. [11] Thus, Jung’s psychology was only provisionally thought to act only as such but was according to Jung a way for the unfolding of any individual’s self- nature, transcending the boarders of Therapy.

Now the relation in structure between unconscious repression and (conditioned) karma may seem still too vague. I will now explore it in more depth. The Persona (ahaṃkāra) according to Jung, dependent on the socio- historical and institutional context (Sozietät), identifies with aspects and contents of its environment and thereby integrates them into a constructed personality, which is an arbitrary limitation of the collective unconscious. In the process of identification with aspects of the environment a sense of belonging is created and thus a separation of self and other in the sense of ‘’this is mine- that is not mine’’ emerges.  The content which is latent in the personal unconscious is information with which the Persona, on the ground of its identifications cannot deal with, because it is either not compatible with the content that it identifies with or because it causes mental pain/ discomfort. This is by Jung called Verdrängung.[12]  In the context of tantric philosophy avidyā comes interestingly close to Verdrängung: karmic seeds (bīja) which are implanted in the individuals psycho- body lead to habitual patterns of behaviour and suffering. These are not ignored by conscious will, since if the individual knew of them, it would necessarily be (consciously) aware of them and thereby not ignorant. Therefore, they must be unconsciously repressed (verdrängt). The definite parallel here is some sort of unconscious repression, about which awareness is awakened to and a process of transformation becomes a living reality.

Like the therapist in analytic Psychology it is a tantric disciple’s Guru, who brings to the disciple’s awareness these habitual patterns and desires with which the student (unconsciously) identifies. Conditioned karma is thus in Jungian terminology unconscious behavior in which drives take over the individual’s action, rendering it in the truest of senses unconscious. Niḥsaṅga, non- attachment or dispassion, the infamous Yogic term can in this synthesis between both frameworks be understood as de- identifying to compulsive or desirous objects and thereby enlarging greater psychic space by having less limitations (of thought- patterns).  Despite this parallel however, the methods which are applied in transforming karmic or unconscious dispositions paradigmatically differ. Only the aspect of disidentification and transformation is a shared identity between both systems. Healing, according to Jung takes place by consciously working with the unconscious through dream- interpretation, therapeutic conversation and encouraging the patient to master unconscious obstacles actively. ‘Problems’ are thus judged as a psychological matter, being rooted in the psyche and are to be cured by passive and active mental work. The yogic approach however, curiously enough is physical. In fact, the whole karmic problem is physical. This is so because of the tantric perspective towards physicality, in which the physical aspects of the world, are manifestations of (psycho) energy, which takes on ever more subtle forms, the material world of objects being the grossest form of those but still a manifestation of Śakti (creative, divine energy). Karmic impurities are seated in the prāṇa -maya-kosha (subtle body), which is somewhat equivalent to the totality of individual Psyche, only that it is present not in the mind only but throughout the whole body; a mind- body so to say. These impurities block prāṇa (life force) from flowing through the body. Purification is practiced by applying different asanas (body- postures), prāṇāyāma (breath control) and visualization in meditation.[13]  It needs to be mentioned however that the ‘active’ part of the process can be observed in both systems in that the tantric practitioner, identically to the Jungian patient transforms what is conditioned or unconscious by approaching its (unconscious) manifestations in the physical life process.


‘’The teacher is the first letter [of the alphabet]. The student is the last letter. Knowledge is the meeting place. Instruction is the link’’[14]

This quote signifies the necessity of a guru’s guidance through the process of psycho- energetic development, without whom the ordeal of transformation cannot be managed. The disciple is required to ‘’choose awareness over unconsciousness, responsibility over negligence and reality over self- delusion.’’[15] These requirements are almost identical to the efficacy- requirements of therapy in analytic Psychology. On the premise that self- awareness, responsibility and directedness towards reality are necessary factors for the individual’s independency this correlates perfectly with Jung’s ‘’Übergang zur psychischen Erwachsenheit’’.[16]

The relationship between guru and disciple or therapist and patient is a manifestation of an archetypal situation in which the disciple/ patient, gives himself with all his suffering into the hands of the guru/ therapist. In Jung’s terminology this is called ‘’Das Prinzip der Übertragung’’. The patient, after having established a trustful attitude towards the therapist, projects a father- like role unto the therapist and often develops an almost obsessive relationship towards him. He wrote about a female patient: ‘’Sie weiß, dass ich ihr als halbgöttlicher Geliebter erscheine […]‘‘[17] and ‘‘[…]die Person des Arztes mit übermenschlichen Attributen auszustatten- riesengroß, uralt, größer als der Vater, wie der Wind, der über die Erde streicht.‘‘[18]. These insights into Jung’s therapeutic experience show how the therapist’s figure is practically deified by patients and seen as a manifestation of the divine, not however only by religious people. In fact, the patient, from the therapy of which these quotes are inspired had an agnostic and thoroughly critical perspective on religious matters. Of course, for thorough prove of this, more evidence would need to be presented. The example should only explicate the apparent phenomena. As to concrete evidence I rely on Jung’s work and experience. This unconscious inclination towards divination shows the rooted-ness of such projective functioning in the Psyche.[19] In tantrism the Guru is by the disciple seen as the living embodiment of Śiva and is thus by projection able to guide the disciple’s journey towards liberation. The process of initiation, in which the disciple commits to following the word of his Guru is called Śaktipāta which translates as ‘’descent of the power’’ by which the disciple is able through the presence of divine power in the Guru to rid himself from the bounds of samsara.[20] According to the disciple’s reality, he/ she follows the divine by following the instruction of the Guru. In both system, the healing- transformation process is dependent on the power of the teacher figure, which is in both systems unconsciously deified.

The by far most profound archetypal expression found in both systems is the divine union between feminine and masculine principles in the individuating being. Jung adopted this principle and developed it as central to his psychology, inspired by the Yin- Yang symbolism of Daoist philosophy and his fascination for the symbolism of the Rosarium Philosophorum. This latter alchemical treatise originating in the 16th century was to him the manifestation of a


Yoga of union, having originated in complete independence of (Indian) Yoga but being a different symbolic expression of the same perennial principle. [21] This parallel symbolism is embodied in the disparity between ‘male’ and ‘female’- opposites that necessitate each other and become one. Another symbolism that is used in most traditions to communicate this fundamental polarity is by expressing the male aspect as solar and the female as lunar. This archetypal identity is illustrated in the three Figures above, which I will discuss so that clarity for my argument is established.

(Since it was not possible to add the graphics here, if you should be interested, search for ‘The Nadis in yogic philosophy’ and ‘Rosarium Philosophorum: Figure 2: the naked truth, Figure 3: the new birth’. They might be quite illustrative.)


In Figure 2 Sol (male, sun) says to Luna (moon, female): ‘’O Luna, gib mir dein Gemahl zu werden.‘‘ to which Luna responds ‘’O Sol, ich soll dir billich zu gehorsam stan.‘‘ Above the lovers embodying the two polar principles, Sol and Luna hovers a dove above which is written ‘’Spiritus est qui unificat’’ which Jung translates as ‘’Es ist der Geist, der einig macht.’’[22] The Philosophorum Romanun illustrates what Jung later called Individuation in a series of ten pictures. In ‘’the naked truth’’ (Figure 2) the process of unification is initiated by the marriage proposal. The requisites for this initiation are the pure and virtuous behavior and an inclination towards the secrets of existence in the one in whom this process shall take place. The marital agreement between Luna and Sol symbolizes the divine union. This union however would not be possible without the dove which symbolizes spirit as uniting force that sustains the energetic process of union.[23] Geist in this context comes from pneuma (breath) and is the archetypal equal to prāṇa in tantric philosophy.[24]In Figure 3 the unification has taken place, the product of the union between the solar and lunar aspect is Rebis: the Self which has been born through divine union. This Self is the primordial and perfect being- the cosmogonic man: ‘’Aus diesem Einen und durch dieses Eine ist alles geworden.‘‘ [25] The transformation described in Figure 3 symbolizes the fulfilment of the Psyche’s becoming, by being transformed into what was there from the beginning. In terms of Jungian analytic Psychology, the Rebis (divine hermaphrodite) is the self as complete through the integration of Animus and Anima, the male part of the female- that which protects the soul in its vulnerability and the female aspect of the man: the soul. Jung saw women as the physical manifestation of the Soul, according to the male tendency to project his female aspects into and thus experiences the woman as the soul, whilst the woman it is the woman’s tendency to look for a protective (father) figure and project protective wishes and needs unto the male. [26] Of structural importance is the union of polar opposites as a process that is energized by a psycho- energetic factor.

I will explain these important concepts for clearer understanding of the matter at hand. Psychologically speaking Jung did not talk of the reality of any divine soul qua divine soul, but about a semi- conscious part of a patient’s personality which functions autonomously- so about a phenomenological reality. This autonomous function manifests itself in such a way in an individual’s life that it symbolically expresses itself as female (Anima) in male patients and as male (Animus) in females, which means that it is perceived as such by the patient. I will illustrate this by explaining one of Jung’s central hypotheses.  He formulated the theory that every man has a female aspect latent in his character. This ‘female’ side however is culturally predicated as being female, whilst it is by nature indifferent. Indifferent however in so far as that it is the manifestation of a universally principal force, which is upon cultural encounter with its manifestations designated as female. The soul, de- mythologized is described as a complex of wishes and tendencies(psycho- energetic factors), that because of its designation as female are repressed and in unconsciousness assume the function of an independent part of the personality which the Persona has a strong attraction towards, because the man in the context of must cultures must show ‘manly’ attributes and is naturally ashamed upon encounter with his own female character.[27]

The whole cosmos, according to the tantric systems is made up of the interplay between Śakti and Śiva [28]the polar- opposites or male and female principles above mentioned. The principal aspect however is stressed stronger than in Jung’s system. Śiva is worshipped as consciousness, resting and unmoving- total equilibrium. Śakti as creative energy manifesting both as kundalini shakti and prāṇa. Kundalini shakti and prāṇa are both concepts for cosmic energy and inherently one and the same thing. Prāṇa refers to general life force which enlivens and energizes the body, it is that which gives life to the body. Kundalini shakti refers to the specific energetic process in which kundalini as energy is said to be coiled up in the lower part of the stomach and rises through the chakras. When the disciple finds his way to purity, kundalini shakti ascends, starting from the Mūlādhāra or root- chakra right up to Sahasrāra, the thousand petaled lotus or crown chakra, which is the energy center in which the individual enters unity with the cosmic absolute. There she embraces Śiva and in their unity the disciple reaches the realization of his identity with Śiva- Śakti, which in their embrace are one and the same Being- Bliss- Consciousness (Satcitānanda). Ahaṃkāra (‘’i-maker’’, ego) is then dissolved and what remains is the pure sensation of ‘’I’’, which is the accomplished adept’s identity with Śiva who in union is no different to Śakti anymore. [29]This pure ‘’I’’ is identical to the Rosarium’s Rebis- the primordial cosmogonic being, both becoming and being and structurally parallel to Jung’s Self. If it is true as I tried to show, that Śiva and Śakti, Luna and Sol having emerged in completely different cultural backgrounds are different concepts, embodying the same principles it should be safe to argue that these objects of worship are divine in that they represent ontic principles, not literal God- figures existing in a metaphysical plane in the form they are worshiped.

This parallel should illustrate the presence of archetypal/ structural patterns that are universally or collectively instilled in the collective unconscious and projected into the external world upon encounter with manifestations of these principles. These ‘archetypes’ which are to be understood as in their nature a priori- prior to the personal psyche, are metaphorical representations of experience which are (in a Jungian reading) clothed in the language of the unconscious as I have shown in the example of Anima, not metaphysically defined entities. By using the term ‘archetype’ to describe these similarities I mean that they are principal in the sense that they circumscribe a datum of experience, which by many subjects in different times and cultures has evoked strikingly similar (unconscious) portrayals/ circumscriptions. These archetypes are experiential and have no ‘metaphysical’, definite reality. This can be seen by looking at their different applications:  In both systems the individual is a microcosmic expression of the macrocosm, which in both systems is psycho- energetic process. The tantric vision, different to Jung’s perspective, is directed towards identity with the divine in which all sense of self is eradicated. Having attained identity with the absolute, physical existence in the world becomes unimportant. In both systems there is a definite proclamation of the Ego’s illusoriness. Nevertheless, for Jung the Persona’s fictionality is different to the tantric teachings in that Jung’s focus was directed towards life in a harmonious society in which the individual is part of a community. ‘’Im Gegensatz dazu bringt der natürliche Individuationsprozess eine Bewusstheit von menschlicher Gemeinschaft hervor, weil er eben das alle Menschen verbindende und allen Menschen gemeinsame Unbewusste zur Bewusstheit führt.‘‘[30]The divine union in a Jungian interpretation means realizing one’s true individuality and freedom from unconscious identification based on unconscious desires. Becoming one means becoming a whole, coherent and dynamic psychic system which is not limited by unconscious limitation by integrating it into consciousness and learning how to turn its influence and vast dimensionality into a strength.[31] Structurally similar again however also the advanced tantric disciple learns how to use karma for his own spiritual growth and to profit from conscious conditioning that facilitates the spiritual path.[32]

I have shown how spiritual transformation in both systems begins with the realization of Verdrängung or avidyā and how these concepts are related to the unconscious and karma. The student- teacher relationship, an archetypal pattern manifest in both systems shows that the practical process of development necessitates a teacher figure, which is given a divinatory position in the student- figure’s eyes. By investigating the parallels between the divine marriage in the Rosarium Philosophorum and the divine embrace between Śakti and Śiva, I discussed the archetypal occurrence of a unificatory symbolism between polar- opposites which occurs in almost every, if not in every philosophical tradition. Regardless of which of these two perspectives is closer to truth, it has been my interest to show the fascinating structural semblances and identical patterns of these two contextually vastly distant systems of thought. These parallels hint towards a process of evolutionary development which is in its structure timeless and universal and is experienced as a phenomenological reality. This naturally poses quite significant implications as to the shaping of a society and the purposive function of humankind, on objectivity and truth.


Bittlinger, A. (1998). Der Individuationsprozess im Spiegel der Chakrensymbolik. Analytische Psychologie, pp. 328-340.

Feuerstein, G. (1998). Tantra: The Path of Ecstacy. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Jung, C. G. (1958). Praxis der Psychotherapie. Zürich: Rascher- Verlag.

Jung, C. G. (1996). The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga: Notes of the Seminar given in 1932. Princeton: Priceton University Press.

Jung, C. G. (Second edition, 2015). Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten. München: dtv Verlagsgesellschaft.

Woodroffe, S. J. (1952). Introduction to Tantra Shastra. Madras: Ganesh & Co.



Figure 1:, 19.06.2018, 04:25pm

Figure 2:, 19.06.2018, 04:23 pm

Figure 3:, 19.06. 2018, 04:21 pm

[1] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015)

[2] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958)

[3] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958 p. 56)

[4] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958)

[5] (Feuerstein, 1998)

[6] (Feuerstein, 1998, p. 21-23)

[7] (Feuerstein, 1998 p. 169- 170)

[8] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958, p. 59)

[9] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015)

[10] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958, p. 115)

[11] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958, p. 59)

[12] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015)

[13] (Feuerstein, 1998)

[14] (Taittirīya Upanishad (3.1.1)

[15] (Feuerstein, 1998)

[16] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958, p. 52)

[17] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015, p. 18)

[18] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015, p. 18)

[19] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015, p. 21)

[20] (Feuerstein, 1998 p. 108)

[21] (Bittlinger, 1998, p. 331)

[22] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958, p. 252)

[23] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958, p. 253)

[24] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015, p. 21)

[25] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958, p. 329)

[26] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015, p. 85- 90)

[27] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015, p. 85- 90)

[28] (Feuerstein, 1998, p. 173)

[29] (Feuerstein, 1998, p. 180- 182)

[30] (Jung, Praxis der Psychotherapie, 1958, p.115)

[31] (Jung, Die Beziehungen zwischem dem Ich und dem Unbewussten, Second edition, 2015)

[32] (Feuerstein, 1998)


One thought on “Structural parallels in Jungian theory and the Philosophy of Kundalini Yoga

  1. Pingback: Yuan Ren Lun and Kundalini Yoga – FiloGang

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