Zen Master Alan Watts Explains What Made Carl Jung Such an Influential Thinker

The twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry pro­duced a fair few thinkers on the human mind whose obser­va­tions still res­onate today. The Swiss psy­chi­a­trist and psy­chother­a­pist Carl Gus­tav Jung cer­tain­ly appears in that group, as does the British philoso­pher and inter­preter of Bud­dhism Alan Watts, and though not a week goes by when I don’t hear their words cit­ed, I sel­dom hear the words of both of them cit­ed by the same per­son. Though near­ly two gen­er­a­tions (among oth­er things) sep­a­rat­ed Watts and Jung, the two men did once meet, in 1958, as Watts trav­eled through Europe with his father. Three years lat­er, Jung passed on and Watts record­ed the lec­ture above.

What made Jung such an impor­tant observ­er of human­i­ty? Watts points to “one fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple that under­lay all his work and that was most extra­or­di­nar­i­ly exem­pli­fied in Jung him­self as a per­son,” which he calls Jung’s “recog­ni­tion of the polar­i­ty of life. That is to say, his resis­tance to what is to my mind the dis­as­trous and absurd hypoth­e­sis, that there is in this uni­verse a rad­i­cal and absolute con­flict between good and evil, light and dark­ness that can nev­er nev­er nev­er be har­mo­nized.”

He goes on to talk for a lit­tle under an hour about about Jung him­self, Jung’s influ­ence on his own work as a “com­par­a­tive philoso­pher,” and the con­tin­u­ing rel­e­vance of Jung’s ideas to the mod­ern world — all of which he ties togeth­er in an inte­grat­ed trib­ute to this “inte­grat­ed char­ac­ter.”

“There is a nice Ger­man word, hin­tergedanken, which means a thought in the very far far back of your mind,” says Watts. “Jung had a hin­tergedanken in the back of his mind that showed in the twin­kle in his eye. It showed that he knew and rec­og­nized what I some­times call the ele­ment of irre­ducible ras­cal­i­ty in him­self. And he knew it so strong­ly and so clear­ly, and in a way so lov­ing­ly, that he would not con­demn the same thing in oth­ers, and would there­fore not be led into those thoughts, feel­ings, and acts of vio­lence towards oth­ers which are always char­ac­ter­is­tic of the peo­ple who project the dev­il in them­selves upon the out­side, upon some­body else, upon the scape­goat.” And so, whether we enter into this field of thought through Watts, through Jung, or through any­one else, it always seems to comes back to the ancient Greeks: “Know thy­self.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Jung’s Hand-Drawn, Rarely-Seen Man­u­script The Red Book: A Whis­pered Intro­duc­tion

Carl Jung Explains His Ground­break­ing The­o­ries About Psy­chol­o­gy in Rare Inter­view (1957)

Carl Jung’s Fas­ci­nat­ing 1957 Let­ter on UFOs

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (11)
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  • Thomas Stück says:

    Why use a clip that has the first cou­ple of min­utes miss­ing, when it’s so easy to find a com­plete one?

  • Rudolf Root says:

    »“There is a nice Ger­man word, hin­tergedanken, which means a thought in the very far far back of your mind,” says Watts.«
    Sor­ry, but no.
    “Hin­tergedanken” means noth­ing of the sort, the trans­la­tion is “ulte­ri­or motives”.

  • Noah Lampert says:

    The YouTube uploader peo­ple just ripped an autho­rized upload of Alan Watts we had from Mind­Pod Net­work.

    Here’s the orig­i­nal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr_20uEVOiE

    They used the same pic­tures we uploaded. Bla­tant rip.

    We have per­mis­sion from The Alan Watts Foun­da­tion.

    Super not cool!

  • Ethalsar says:

    Let’s be clear… Alan Watts was no Zen mas­ter! He wrote about Zen — and lucid­ly at that — but did­n’t actu­al­ly *prac­tise* Zen, let alone get recog­nised as a trans­mit­ted Zen mas­ter.

  • Freeman Presson says:

    Much as I hate to be pedan­tic (waits for laugh­ter to sub­side) OK, at the risk of sound­ing pedan­tic, it is incor­rect to call Alan Watts a Zen Mas­ter. This has a very spe­cif­ic tech­ni­cal mean­ing, and does not apply to Watts.

  • Johnny says:

    Enjoyed the arti­cle :-D

  • Noah says:

    Appre­ci­ate it, Dan!

  • Dennis says:

    Alan Watts was a great Bod­hisatt­va but nev­er a Zen Mas­ter.

  • John Ephland says:

    Alan Watts was in love with exis­tence. My gods! He was­n’t inter­est­ed in iden­ti­ty, labels. Bug off with the nas­ti­ness! This is it!

  • brooke says:

    all of the neg­a­tive com­ments can­not see their ego, there­fore, prov­ing carl jung and alan watts cor­rect.

    great arti­cle

  • brooke says:

    all of the neg­a­tive com­ments can­not see their ego, there­fore, prov­ing carl jung and alan watts cor­rect.

    great arti­cle

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