The drum speaks the ancient language of the belly and solar plexus…

Dear all,

Here are some thoughts in response to Evangeline and Scott (and Peter as well) which seemed to fit together.

Evangeline, thank you for your appreciative words, and for the wonderful photograph of the temple in Bhubaneswar, which re-connects me with one of the places my soul calls home. Your post emphasizes the ethical concerns with which Jung was struggling during his 1938 journey to India and Ceylon. It is good to be reminded of his report of the scene he witnessed in the old Buddhist temple in Kandy, describing the lush, fragrant floral offering and the young women and men chanting softly the mantra, “This life is transitory as the beauty of these flowers. May my deva share with me the merit of this offering.” Then he describes the drum ceremony, commenting, “The drum speaks the ancient language of the belly and solar plexus; the belly does not ‘pray’ but engenders the ‘meritorious’ mantram or meditative utterance. . . .one of the many acts of self-redemption performed by the awakened human being” (MDR 283-84).

Given Jung’s concerns at the time, I wonder whether he found these rituals suggestive as to how psychological disciplines and spiritual practices can prepare us for ethical action in this transitory world. There is first of all an attitude of sacrifice; then of asking that the deva or guardian angel or daimon share in the merit of the offering. This places the ego in an appropriate posture: ready to serve and to learn, guided by the deva. The “merit” being asked for is not, I suggest, a form of cheap grace. Rather, through ritual the person is nourished, educated, and strengthened; the ego refines its relation to the guiding spirit and accepts its mortal limits — a process we might describe as individuation. The drumming brings the whole body into ritual action in a “self-redemptive” way. In European and North American cultures it can be difficult for us to realize how much a well-tuned body and disciplined physical activity (including musical and ritual performance) can support the individual’s spiritual and ethical capacity. The “awakened” human being for us is often unconscious below the neck and dissociated from the belly!

I wonder whether this passage might have relevance to some specific questions raised in Peter’s paper and Scott’s response to them. Peter would like for us Jungians, as Jungians, to become change agents; Scott, based on his understanding of Krishnamurti and Jung, questions “whether a group working from a system of thought can influence the world without contributing to separation and conflict.” A system of thought is not in itself healing; ideologically-based treatments and political actions can oppress and wound the body and the spirit. Ritual practices and spiritual exercises, though they may be related to systems of ideas, are in a different category. Nonviolence training, for example, could be grounded in Biblical principles or in the Bhagavad-Gita (or both!); the very fact that it doesn’t rely on a single text or ideology makes it highly mobile and adaptable. It is a discipline that can be learned by all sorts of people and applied in many situations. The example of nonviolent action campaigns such as Gandhi’s Satyagraha in India and the civil rights movement in the USA seems to me to argue against Jung’s notion that large groups are bound to exhibit a low level of consciousness (and conscience).

Psychotherapy too is a practice rather than a system of thought, and as Scott points out, Jung often spoke of working with each patient in a unique way rather than on the basis of predetermined theories. Perhaps being grounded in this practice is a sound basis for some of us to undertake political or group action. I don’t mean to suggest that we should have no theory or political philosophy, only that praxis (which keeps us close to the edge of the unknown) should be the real foundation of group and political action.

Scott, thank you also for your kind words and penetrating reflections.

Best to all,
Jean Lall

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