Cold Feet – Carl Jung’s Relunctance to meet Ramana Maharshi


Cold Feet

Demystifying Carl Jung’s avoidant behaviour in India

Wasyl Nimenko

The article above was first published in the Mountain Path in July 2010 as a shorter article.


Demystifying Carl Jung’s avoidant behaviour in India and his subsequent written explanations by understanding his mental state.


Summary: Cold Feet’ Part 1 is the first of an in-depth series of articles about Carl Jung, India and Eastern spiritual disciplines. Cold Feet is the first attempt to penetrate Jung’s defences to show how and why Jung concealed that he was deliberately avoidant in meeting any of the ‘Holy men of India’ when he was in India in 1938. It uses modern psychological tools to reveal precisely what drove Carl Jung. Although Jung was the first psychologist to introduce us to the East, he was also deluded as he believed he was a prophetic guru.

In late autumn 1937, Carl Jung travelled to India at the invitation of the British government to attend celebrations of the University of Calcutta, where he would be awarded an honorary degree. Earlier in the same year he had received two visitors from India: V. Subramanya Iyer, spiritual advisor to the Maharajah of Mysore, and his student Paul Brunton., the author of ‘A Search in Secret India.’[1] This meeting may have stimulated Jung’s desire to visit this ancient land of wisdom.

Jung had become aware of Ramana Maharshi through his friend, the great Indologist Heinrich Zimmer whom he met in the 1930’s. Jung wrote an introduction to Zimmer’s book on Ramana Maharshi ‘The Way to ‘the self’ [2] which later appeared in Jung’s Collected Works under the title of ‘The Holy Men of India.’[3]   Essentially the essay is about why Jung didn’t visit Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai when he was in India during 1937-38. With the benefit of access to Jung’s later writing and correspondence it is worth re-examining why he didn’t meet Ramana Maharshi.

Ramana Maharshi was seen at that time as an exemplary person who transcended the limitations of identification with the body and mind and immersed himself in the atman, ‘the Self’. He advised those who sought his wisdom to look within and to practice Self- enquiry. Essentially his advice was to ‘just be’, and remain in the sense of ‘I’. He was a recognized phenomenon then and is still today regarded as a unique sage.

Jung sailed from Marseille and landed in Bombay. He visited Delhi, the Taj Mahal, Sanchi, Allahabad, Varanasi and then onto Calcutta. The Himalayas near Darjeeling impressed him deeply. He also visited the sacred sun temple at Konark in Orissa. He was hospitalised for ten days in Calcutta after a bout of dysentery and after recovery, sailed to Madras and thence on to Colombo where he explored the Buddhist temple of Kandy and nearby Buddhist ruins. After a stay in Trivandrum he returned to Europe. The journey stimulated his groundbreaking study of alchemy that he had been struggling with for years. He became so absorbed in his new alchemical approach that he never left the ship at Bombay on the return leg.

During his travels in India Jung could not but be aware of Ramana Maharshi, particularly during his stay in nearby Madras. He could not have avoided making a decision whether to visit him or not because Jung had borrowed his fundamental idea of ‘the Self’ from the east and especially the Upanishads, of which Ramana Maharshi was a living exemplar. Jung was at the time one of the world’s most influential psychiatrists, and his proposed interaction with or comments about the east are still important today.

Jung’s comments about can probably be best understood by reflecting on the origins of Jung’s mental state which sheds new light on why he didn’t visit Tiruvannamalai.  With this new insight we will see that the actual reason for Jung not visit is quite different from the reasons he gave at the time.

In the essay, The Holy Men of India, Jung gave an unclear and confusing picture of why hed didn’t visit Tiruvannamalai, which also contains a degree of ambivalence.

My research has lead to the hypothesis that Jung was not just hesitant but was actually duplicitous. If we learn more about the people who knew Jung and his own later writing this should enable us to penetrate Jung’s defences and reveal the truth about why he deliberately avoided Ramana Maharshi and then tried to conceal it.

One apparent obstacle to a clear understanding is that Jung, who was without any doubt an extraordinarily bright man, suffered from profound and prolonged mental illness. At first it seems difficult to understand him but this is really only because he concealed so very much about himself in the Holy Men of India and in his autobiography. However, Jung left a trail of evidence in his other later correspondence. My criterion to try and understand Jung is rather like trying to understand a multifaceted precious stone the size of a car. The only way to understand it is to slowly walk around it so that you see a different view through each facet. Perhaps this approach will enable us to not criticise Jung but understand him and his legacy and why he behaved the way he did.

Jung’s early childhood experiences had a profound effect on him. He came from a deeply religious family. His mother was the daughter of a theologian and his father was a pastor. Two of his paternal uncles and eight of his maternal uncles were ministers in the Protestant church. But Jung’s family environment was very troubled and his mother had serious and enduring mental health problems. Today the child Jung would be on the ‘at risk’ register for children.’

I was suffering, so my mother told me afterwards from general eczema. Dim intimations of trouble in my parents’ marriage hovered around me. My Illness in 1878 must have been connected with a temporary separation of my Parents. My mother spent several months in a hospital in Basel and presumably her illness had something to do with the difficulty in her marriage.” [4]

Jung’s mother had a nervous breakdown when he was three years old which resulted in a long separation while she recovered in hospital. Later, he suffered a series of anxiety dreams whose terrors would frequently wake him in the night. He also described visual hallucinations similar to those experienced by schizophrenics in a psychotic episode, D. W. Winnicott a paediatrician and psychoanalyst who specialised in child analysis reviewed Jung’s autobiography in the Journal of Psychoanalysis and described Jung as being a recovered case of infantile psychosis. [5]

When he was a young boy he had already begun rebelling against Christianity. In his autobiography Jung described an important fantasy when he was eleven or twelve. This seems to be the first evidence of him rejecting Christianity.

“I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky. God sits on his golden throne, high above the world-and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder.”

“It was as though I had experienced an illumination. A great many things I had not previously understood became clear to me. That was what my father had not understood, I thought; he had failed to experience the will of God, had opposed it for the best reasons and out of the deepest faith. And that was why he had never experienced the miracle of grace which heals all and makes all comprehensible. He had taken the bibles commandments as his guide.” [6]

Although this seems to be Jung just rejecting Christianity, it is also the first rejection of a male father figure whom he looked up to. But this was to happen twice more. In one of his letters to Freud, Jung admitted that he was sexually abused as a young boy by a middle aged close friend of the family whom he worshiped.

“Your last two letters contain references to my laziness in writing…Actually-and I confess this to you with a struggle…my veneration for you has something of the character of a “religious” crush. Though it does not really bother me, I still feel it is disgusting and ridiculous because of its undeniable erotic overtones. This abominable feeling comes from the fact that as a boy I was the victim of a sexual assault by a man I once worshipped. This feeling which I still have not got rid of, hampers me considerably.” [7]

Freud neither acknowledged this sensitively written surprising confession, nor validated Jung being sexually abused, which might have been the first step in healing Jung’s area of obvious distress. Freud demonstrated an appalling lack of compassion, not just as a doctor but as a colleague and friend. Jung’s reaction is unknown but knowing how sensitive he was he would probably have been outraged and massively disappointed and perhaps Jung began to see that Freud, like his father and the trusted abuser, was flawed.

Jung had looked up to Freud not just as a father figure but almost like a god-like father. His acrimonious split with Freud after their last meeting on 8th September 1913 resulted in a four year period 1914-1918 of mental illness which he describes as a psychotic breakdown. During his illness Jung had a vision which he interpreted as being prophetic and not psychotic. 

“Towards the autumn of 1913, the pressure which I had felt was in me seemed to be moving outwards, as though there was something in the air. The atmosphere actually seemed to me darker than it had been. I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands Between the North Sea and the Alps. When I came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realised that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rube of civilisation, and the drowning bodies of countless thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. The vision lasted about one hour.” [8] 

Jung chose to interpret the dream as a precognition of the First World War when it was obviously a psychotic episode. Jung was operating the simple defence mechanism of intellectualising what had happened. But surprisingly he took this even further because he began to think that his special insight and his understanding of the unconscious processes enabled him to prophesy the future.

My psychotherapy teacher at Oxford, Anthony Storr, interviewed Jung on 14th April 1951. Storr was a respected English psychiatrist and author who was well known for his piercingly accurate psychoanalytical portraits of historical figures. He was convinced that Jung’s experience during this four year period was a severe and prolonged psychotic illness:

“Although I wrote earlier that I did not accept R.D Laing’s theory that psychosis is a path to higher wisdom, there are a few cases of rather acute episodes of psychotic illness from which the patient emerges changed and perhaps enriched, and this sequence of events appears to be particularly common in those who become gurus because the revelation which enriches them forms the basis of their subsequent teaching. Jung certainly suffered from hallucinations and episodes of depersonalisation.” [9]

A large part of Jung’s four year mental illness and recovery involved healing and re-inventing himself. This obviously meant developing a functioning ego which was acceptable to the wider world. In his healing, Jung strived to achieve meaning. His salvation was to develop his own theory of reality known as Analytical Psychology. He had broken away from not only his father’s religion, but also from Freud. His life and work was an attempt to find a substitute for religion, a secular form of salvation and perhaps from the distress of his parent’s wounds. He understood all too well the fact that ‘what is not resolved will be repeated.’

Storr said when he met and interviewed him; Jung clearly believed that he was a prophet and a guru. Storr was fascinated by gurus and in his book Feet of Clay; he examines with humane insight several gurus such as Jim Koresh, Georgei Gurudjieff, Rudolph Steiner, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Jung, Sigmund Freud, Ignatius Loyola, Paul Brunton and Mother Meera. He is particularly explicit that Jung was a guru. 

‘What I’m writing now,’ he told me ‘is pure poison. But I owe it to my people.’ I was taken aback by this remark at the time, for I knew that no ordinary psychiatrist would talk like that of ‘my people’: that is the statement of a guru. Jung’s disciples might be few, but he had no doubts about his position. [10] 

Jung’s behaviour as a prophetic guru would have made it very difficult if not impossible for him to meet Ramana Maharshi, who as a genuine guru would have seen through Jung’s claim to be a prophetic guru. It seems that Jung only intellectually understood the practice of self enquiry resulting in the displacement of the ego by the atman ‘the Self’. 

“The goal of Eastern religious practice is the same as that of Western mysticism: the shifting of the centre of gravity from the ego to ‘the self’, from man to God. This means that the ego disappears in ‘the self’ and man in God. It is evident that Shri Ramana has either really been more or less absorbed by ‘the self’, or has at least struggled earnestly all his life to extinguish his ego in it.” [11] 

Jung’s error was to question Ramana Maharshi’s state by using psychological analysis. But psychology is a subject limited to the study of the mind. What Ramana Maharshi practically demonstrated transcends psychology because the atman ‘the self’ is not the mind.  Jung admits this in his own way. 

“The equation self=God is shocking to the Europeans. As Shri Ramana’s statements and many others show, it is a specifically Eastern insight, to which psychology has nothing further to say except that it is not within its competence to differentiate between the two. Psychology can only establish that the empiricism of the ‘self’ exhibits a religious symptomatology, just as does that category of assertions associated with the term ‘God’. “[12] 

Jung is saying that his own field of psychology is not competent to understand the atman in which Ramana Maharshi was merged. But what Jung doesn’t say is very important. Jung never admits that he made any attempt to merge himself in the atman as Ramana Maharshi did and this may explain in part, why he deliberately avoided meeting him. Jung was in some way the complete opposite to him because he was a man of the mind, of expansive thinking, of new ideas. His thinking mind was everything to him. Jung literally spoke volumes about this in his Collected Works and in his correspondence. 

From a psychological view, it is highly unlikely that Jung ever tried to actually practice self enquiry and maybe he could never have even entertained the thought of doing this because this involved ignoring his ego which would have been very threatening to his new intellectual belief system and secular form of salvation. 

I have always suspected that Jung probably couldn’t have afforded another long episode of psychosis and that he most likely got cold feet about meeting Ramana Maharshi. He had built up not just a reputation but a whole international following of disciples with him as the guru of a new age psychology. This was the glue that held his ego together. With his history Jung wasn’t going to lose that sense of certainty again.Ramana Maharshi’s message could be seen as a simple and practical way of immersion in the ‘the Self,’ without all the apparatus of the new intellectual Analytical psychology Jung described.  In the early days of psychology, Jung stated that he wasn’t the sort of man to support anything he hadn’t discovered himself. In his autobiography this is the fundamental reason for him taking a stand against the ‘holy men’ in India. 

“I studiously avoided all so-called ‘holy men’. I did so because I had to make do with my own truth, not accept from others what I could not attain on my own. I would have felt it as a theft had I attempted to accept their truth for myself.” [13] 

Jung was very serious about deliberately avoiding the ‘holy men’ especially one who may jeopardise his life’s work. He seemed closed to anyone else’s vision of the truth. This is in keeping with Anthony Storr‘s assessment of him being a guru. Jung was not only arrogant and rigid about truth but also about what he claimed to actually know. 

“Although Jung referred to his ideas as a subjective confession and said that he did not want to force them on others, there is no doubt that he believed that he had privileged access to a realm beyond consciousness. When John Freeman interviewed Jung he asked him: ‘Do you believe in God?’ Jung famously replied: ‘Now? Difficult to answer. I know. I don’t need to believe. I know.’ When talking about dreams Jung said to me: ‘Every night you have the chance of the Eucharist’; and I have been told that the coterie of close disciples who knew him well waited hopefully every morning to hear if the great man had had another significant message from the unconscious.”[14] 

There is another person I knew who like myself had an indirect connection with Jung and this was a long term Dutch resident of Tiruvannamalai, Hamsananda Reede or Hamsa as he was known. His mentor Dr Gualthernus Mees was a Dutch sociologist and a friend of Jung. I rented a house from Hamsa on the lower slopes of Arunachala from the early 1980s and spoke several times with him. I remember well our first conversation. 

“You told me that a friend of yours knew Jung very well.” 

“Yes. I was tortured in a POW camp in Java during the Second World War and   was brought to the mountain to recover by another Dutch man called Dr Mees. Jung stayed at Dr Mees’s house in Trivandrum during his visit to India. Jung kept in touch with Dr Mees after returning to Europe. I was the only beneficiary of Dr Mees estate and of course the house on the lower slopes of the mountain.” 

“Why do you think Jung didn’t visit Tiruvannamalai? 

“Well… apparently there was a lot of thought that he may have been overcome by Ramana, by his authenticity. You see Jung was a mystic and Ramana was ‘an ordinary man’.  Jung was fundamentally a psychological guru and a mystic.” 

Curiously Jung is very critical of Ramana Maharshi in his letter to Dr Mees. Like Zimmer, Dr Mees strongly encouraged Jung to visit Ramana Maharshi but was probably left surprised and disappointed by Jung’s avoidant behaviour.  In his letter to Mees Jung refers to Raman Pillai, who wasn’t a disciple of Ramana Maharshi. It is very uncharacteristic of Jung to get such an important detail wrong but what is worse is that he doesn’t seem to care and just rationalises it by a sweeping generalisation. 

“I’m sorry that I was under the impression when we met in Trivandrum that you introduced your friend Raman Pillai as a remote pupil of Shri Ramana. This however doesn’t matter very much, since the basic coincidence of most of the Indian teaching is so overwhelmingly great that it means little whether the author is called Ramakrishna or Vivekananda or Shri Aurobindo, etc.” [15] 

Jung not only generalises but he repeatedly uses the excuse that Ramana Maharshi was just the same as any other Indian teacher to explain why he avoided meeting him. 

“For the fact is, I doubt his uniqueness; he is of a type which always was and will be. Therefore it was not necessary to seek him out. I saw him all over India, in the pictures of Ramakrishna, in Ramakrishna’s disciples, in Buddhist monks, in innumerable other figures of the daily Indian scene, and the words of his wisdom are the sous-entendu of India’s spiritual life.” [16] 

In describing Ramana Maharshi Pillai, Jung is saying that Ramana Pillai had surpassed Ramana Maharshi and that nothing better could have happened to Jung by meeting him. Yet again here is another excuse for Jung not meeting Ramana Maharshi. 

“Be that as it may, in this modest, kindly, devout, and childlike spirit I encountered a man who had absorbed the wisdom of the Maharshi with utter devotion, and at the same time had surpassed his master, notwithstanding his cleverness and holiness, he had “eaten” the world. I acknowledge with deep gratitude this meeting with him; nothing better could have happened to me.  The man who is only wise and only holy interests me about as much as the skeleton of a rare saurian.” (a lizard). [17] 

In his letter to Dr Mees, Jung seems not to know much, if anything, about Ramana Maharshi’s teachings. 

“I wonder wherein his self-realization consists and what he actually did do. We know this running away business from parents etc. with our saints, too! But some of them have done something tangible–if it was only a crusade or something like a book or the Canto di Sole. I had a chance, when I was in Madras, to see the Maharshi, but by that time I was so imbued with the overwhelming Indian atmosphere of irrelevant wisdom and with the obvious Maya of this world that I didn’t care anymore if there had been twelve Maharshis on top of each other.” [18] 

This will be surprising to anyone who has practiced self enquiry and knows that Ramana Maharshi never advocated doing anything other than just being, residing in the sense of ‘I’. Jung’s wonder at who Ramana Maharshi was in The Holy Men of India is essential in attempting to understand Jung’s ambivalent comments because it is the only time Jung openly admits he doesn’t understand Ramana Maharshi at all. This is compelling evidence to prove that Jung’s approach to the atman ‘the self’ was purely intellectual and not based on experience 

Jung’s hazy intellectual understanding of Ramana Maharshi’s immersion in the self is important to see because Jung was almost certainly misguided by fear of a mental breakdown. The fundamental Eastern realisation is that the atman, ‘the Self’ is Sat Chit Ananda (being -consciousness – bliss), and can only be understood by practical experience. Yet Jung talks about realisation of the self in the same way someone who has never flown a plane describes what a plane looks like and what it does but cannot give any guidance on how to fly it. Later comments by Jung confirm that he could not have afforded to try and experience realisation of the self by bliss-consciousness-being, for fear of a relapse of his previous psychotic illness after his split with Freud. 

We shall see in Part Two the role of others, particularly Paul Brunton, who may have influenced Jung’s decision, not to visit Ramana Maharshi. 

1. A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton  (London: Rider & Co., 1934). 

2. Der Weg Zum Selbst: The Way to ‘the self’ by Zimmer, Heinrich Lehre und Leben des indischen heiligen Shri Ramana Maharshi aus Tiruvannamalei (Zurich: Rascher, 1954). 

3. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol 11 (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1969), p.576 

4. Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.J. Jung recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), p.23.

5. Vincent Brome, Jung: Man and Myth (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 301. 

6. Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.J. Jung recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) p 56-57. 

7. The Freud /Jung letters,  edited by Williman MCGuire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), pp. 94-95 

8. Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.J. Jung, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) p 199 

9. Feet of Clay. A study of Gurus by Anthony Storr. (HarperCollins Publishers ,1996) ,p 91 

10. Feet of Clay. A study of Gurus by Anthony Storr. (HarperCollins Publishers ,1996), p 96 

11. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol 11 (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1969), Para 958 

12. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol 11 (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1969), Para 957 

13. Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.J. Jung recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) p.305. 

14. Feet of Clay. A study of Gurus by Anthony Storr. (HarperCollins Publishers ,1996) p 97 

15. Letter from C.G. Jung to Gualthernus H. Mees, Sept. 15, 1947. C.G. Jung: Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler (Princeton, 1973), Vol. I, p. 477. 

16. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol 11 (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1969) para. 952 

17. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol 11 (Princeton: Princeton University Press          1969), para. 953 

18. Letter from C.G. Jung to Gualthernus H. Mees, Sept. 15, 1947. C.G. Jung: Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler (Princeton,1973), Vol. I, p. 477. The article above was first published in the Mountain Path in July 2010 as a shorter article.


Part 2:- Other influences on Carl Jung, his later writings and their importance today in removing obstacles and doubts about the path we take.

Jung’s decision not to visit the holy man of India he most wrote about may have been strongly influenced by Paul Brunton. Although Paul Brunton extolled Ramana Maharshi in his 1934 book ‘A search in Secret India,’1 Brunton may well have had a strong influence in ensuring that Jung did not visit Tiruvannamalai because Brunton had most likely already fallen out with him.

In Talks ‘With Ramana Maharshi,’ Ramana Maharshi was asked about someone who had clearly made unfavourable comments about either himself or the ashram. Brunton had been at Sri Ramanasramam earlier in 1936. Later in September 1936 Ramana Maharshi made very light of the criticisms.

“27th September 1936. A certain devotee asked about some disagreeable statements made by a certain man well known to Maharshi. “27th September 1936. A certain devotee asked about some disagreeable statements made by a certain man well known to Maharshi.

“He said, ‘I permit him to do so. I have permitted him already. Let him do so even more. Let others follow suit. Only let them leave me alone. If because of these reports no one comes to me, I shall consider it a great service done to me. Moreover, if he cares to publish books containing scandals of me, and if he makes money by their sale, it is really good. Such books will sell even more quickly and in larger numbers than the others. Look at Miss Mayo’s book. Why should he not also do it? He is doing me a very good turn.’ Saying so, he laughed.”2

Ramana Maharshi was unaffected by the negative publicity. It seems that he could not only see the bigger picture but also knew the essence of the power of negative media reporting…bad news is always the most read news.

In another of his books The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, which was published in1941; Brunton complains that he didn’t get the guidance he wanted from Ramana Maharshi. He also seemed very disgruntled with everything to do with Ramana and Sriramanasramam.

“But during my last two visits to India it had become painfully evident that the institution known as the Ashram which had grown around him during the past few years, and over which his ascetic indifference to the world rendered him temperamentally disinclined to exercise the slightest control, could only greatly hinder and not help my own struggles to attain the highest goal, so I had no alternative but to bid it an abrupt and final farewell.” 3

However there was a major shift in his perceptions earlier in 1936 when he returned to Sri Ramanasramam and it is very likely indeed that he made the disagreeable statements which Ramana Maharshi found so amusing. In his book about Paul Brunton, Jeffery Masson describes how Brunton spoke with Indian journalists about Ramana Maharshi.

“What exactly happened between P.B., the Maharshi and the Maharshi’s brother is not known. But whatever it was-evidently P.B. gave interviews in the Indian papers that the brother did not find satisfactory-it soured the relationship between all three men.”4

If Brunton made the disagreeable statements in 1936 then he had permanently terminated his relationship with Ramana Maharshi and he would have almost certainly discouraged Jung from visiting him.  Jung met Brunton in 1937 with Brunton’s new guru V. Subrahmany Iyer. But instead of Jung meeting Ramana Maharshi when he visited India the following year, Jung visited Brunton’s new guru, Iyer who was the guru of the Maharajah of Mysore. After returning from India Jung continued to write to Iyer who had a similar intellectual approach which Jung probably favoured over the more simple approach or Ramana. It is perhaps with a wry smile we read that Jung in his autobiography Memories, Dreams and Reflections mentioned an observation that given the choice between going to heaven and talking about it, mostly people would prefer to talk about it.

Paul Brunton is another guru whom Storr describes in his book ‘Feet of Clay.’ If Brunton’s predicament with Ramana was the main cause of Jung not meeting Ramana Maharshi then his mental state is also worth looking at to see how he might have influenced Jung. Brunton’s real name was Raphael Hurst and he claimed a false Ph.D. Storr describes many of Brunton’s traits and behaviour as typical of gurus in that he was very secretive about his origins and revealed nothing of his personal life.

“Brunton exhibited many of the traits and forms of behavior characteristic of gurus. He was secretive about his origins and revealed nothing of his personal life in any of his books. If one claims, as he did to have had many previous lives and to have come to earth from another planet, the less that is known about what the actual circumstances of one’s birth and childhood the better. Brunton’s claim to wisdom largely rested upon memories derived from his previous incarnations and upon his assertion their higher beings residing in other parts of the universe had passed on their esoteric knowledge to him.”5

Uncharacteristically for such an eminent psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Storr shows an astonishing deliberate lack of interest in the circumstances of Brunton’s birth and also his childhood, which he doesn’t need to explain. Essentially, Storr was rather bluntly saying that there are some things best left unsaid. Did Ramana Maharshi or Sri Ramanasramam come across something similarly very wrong with Brunton which led to the falling out? Storr is characteristically perceptive about Brunton’s thinking. Storr shows humane insight into Brunton in the closing words of his chapter on Brunton’s mental state. Although I respect Storr’s perception of Brunton and I admire Storr for trying to redraw the lines of sanity and insanity in ‘Feet of Clay,’ perhaps he was just a little too kind on Brunton.

“Although Brunton narcissistically claimed that he was particularly spiritually advanced, and that he possessed an aura of such strength that it protected him against evil assaults, he was also frightened of insanity. However, his paranoid delusions of persecution served to explain how it was that such a gifted and important person had not been even more successful, and thus preserved his self esteem.”6Jeffrey Masson was much more critical about Brunton’s claim to know Sanskrit because Masson not only had a PhD in Sanskrit from Harvard but he was also professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto. Brunton lived in his parent’s household for some considerable time and years later was unable to find enough negative words to describe Brunton.

“The more I learned about India, the more I realized how little P.B actually knew. This began to enrage me. I felt I had been taken in, duped. It was all a trick. P.B knew no Sanskrit, knew no texts, invented things, lied, cheated and stole, intellectually speaking. How could I have been so stupid? In spirit, P.B might have been like the Indian sages he idolized. His ideas may have been similar to theirs. But he did not really represent any tradition, any body of knowledge, any other person-in fact anything at all. He was just a hodgepodge of misread and misunderstood ideas from an ancient culture he did not know or understand. In this sense he was a phony, a charlatan, a mountebank, an imposter, a quack. I couldn’t find enough words to describe my disappointment.”7

I would temper the above observations of an author who has colored his memoir with the bitter animus of one whose childhood dreams were shattered when he realised his mentor had feet of clay. We need to view this disillusionment with some degree of equability. Brunton was primarily interested in the ability of yoga and other traditional disciplines in the transformation of consciousness and whether he knew Sanskrit and understood the intricacy of Hindu dharma is in the end, beside the point. The proof as they say is in the pudding and one can observe in the later photographs of Brunton and in his later jottings, an uncommon degree of sensitivity and sagacity.

Storr once again shows humane insight into Brunton in the closing words of his chapter on Brunton’s mental state.

“The diagnosis of mental illness should not be made on the evidence of beliefs alone, however eccentric they may appear. I have tried to demonstrate that a new belief system whether it is considered delusional or not, is an attempt at solving problems. Striving to make sense of strange mental experiences is only one example of the universal human desire to bring order to chaos.”8

In the 1930s Brunton had a major influence in the West about Eastern spirituality and his ‘A Search in Secret India’ inspired many to visit Ramana Maharshi. Among them was Alan Chadwick who became a stalwart in the ashram from the mid 1930s. Today, his books continue to inspire many on the spiritual path. If would indeed be ironic if this same very author had in some way helped dissuade Jung from seeing Ramana Maharshi.A curious fact in respect to Brunton which has never been properly explained is the extensive use he made of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings without specific acknowledgment, particularly in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga 9 where he lifts wholesale the core teaching ‘The Forty Verses on Reality’ (Ulladu Narpadu).We also have yet to read a comprehensive biography of Brunton. His son Kenneth Hurst did write a hagiography a few years after his demise but the facts were highly selective and raised more questions in a reader’s mind than it answered.

Returning to re-focus on Jung’s avoidant behaviour. I have already mentioned that what Jung wrote about Ramana Maharshi in his chapter “The holy men of India” was originally used as an introduction to Zimmer’s book The Way to ‘the self.’  However this essay was heavily edited before it was used as the introduction to ‘The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi’. This was almost certainly edited because certain people who were really aware of Ramana Maharshi’s authenticity could obviously see that what Jung wrote about was unacceptable because Jung’s hesitancy seemed uncharacteristically ambivalent.

It is now time to try and summarise what we have seen so far about Jung before we explore in more depth Jung’s actual thinking. There is compelling evidence which shows there were several powerful forces influencing Jung at that time of his visit to India which discouraged him from visiting Ramana Maharshi and understanding these explain his apparent ambivalence in “The holy men of India.”

First, Jung’s mental state. Jung had suffered a childhood psychotic breakdown which resulted in him having hallucinations. He was sexually abused by a male family friend whom he worshipped and he also lost his father’s faith. His sexual abuse was totally ignored by one of the world’s most famous therapists whom he subsequently had an acrimonious split from, which resulted in a further severe prolonged breakdown from which nearly all of his psychological material emerged. Jung was clearly deluded and believed he was a guru and a prophet with his own form of secular salvation which was now everything to him. The glue holding his ego together was his new belief system Analytical Psychology.

Second, Jung’s understanding of the self was only from an intellectual stance not from one of experiencing the atman ‘the self’ through bliss-consciousness-existence, (Sat Chit Ananda).Jung borrowed ideas from the east about the atman ‘the self’ but when he was faced with the task of meeting Ramana, the person known and honoured as an authentic guru, he studiously avoided meeting him.

Third, Jung was probably partly put off meeting Ramana Maharshi by Brunton who was not only a deluded guru and prophet but who had most likely already fallen out with Ramana Maharshi and Sri Ramanasramam. As a consequence Brunton possibly put pressure on Jung not to meet Ramana Maharshi. Instead, Jung met with Brunton’s new guru Iyer, who like Jung had an intellectual approach to ‘the self’.

Fourth, Jung’s repeated criticisms of the holy men of India and his generalisation that they were all the same is completely out of keeping with his level of intelligence in just about almost everything else he talks about. He describes Ramana Maharshi as being absorbed in ‘the self’ but admits to not understanding Ramana Maharshi’s self realisation or what he actually did do. He also admits that his field of psychology is not competent in understanding the eastern insight of the atman ‘the self’.’ This begs the question, ‘Why exactly is Jung who is a psychologist being so critical?’  When we look at his later correspondence, it will show that Jung was deliberately deceptive in concealing the truth about why he didn’t meet Ramana Maharshi and this will explain why Jung’s description of Ramana appeared to vacillate in the “Holy men of India.”

Finally, Jung’s severe mental illnesses had left him in a deluded mental state as a prophetic guru and it is very likely that once again he felt vulnerable. He must have felt terrified at the thought of being in the presence of a man such as Ramana Maharshi. Jung’s excessive criticism and all kinds of excuses for not meeting Ramana Maharshi strongly suggest he was using the defence of intellectually over rationalising to mask his fear and knowledge of a very likely further breakdown if he met him.

The actual proof of this is seen very clearly in his much later correspondence to Countess Elizabeth Klinckowstroem where for the first and only time Jung is actually honest and confesses that he was aware of the profound danger he would be in if he delved further into the east. It is only logical to extrapolate this to the person who posed the greatest risk to Jung of losing his roots again. This was the person he wrote the most about in the east; Ramana Maharshi.

“Eastern philosophy fills a psychic lacuna in us but without answering the problems posed by Christianity. Since I am neither an Indian nor a Chinese, I shall probably have to rest content with my European presuppositions, otherwise I would be in danger of losing my roots for a second time. This is something I would rather not risk, for I know the price one has to pay to restore continuity that has been lost.”12

So here we have it. This strongly suggests that Jung was fully aware that he was too frightened of what could happen to him if trod the inner path of the East and met Ramana Maharshi. The only conclusion that can be made is that Jung heavily defended himself in his Collected Works by clever deliberate deception which we have just now seen through and which we will return to. This overcompensation may have been a natural self regulating way of the mind protecting itself, but in doing so Jung was dishonest and misleading about another person and this immediatly raises the question of Jung’s integrity.

Many of Jung’s comments about why he didn’t visit Ramana seem so uncharacteristically overcritical and unbalanced that they leave you wondering if Shakespeare’s perception of people might be appropriate here, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”13 This means that one can insist so passionately about something being true that people suspect the opposite of what you are saying. That has always been my suspicion about Jung. My conclusion is that Jung regrettably got cold feet, which might have been appropriate, but which sadly may have resulted in him not having found the atman ‘the self’ and missing a golden opportunity. It is possible that Jung may have also delayed other people’s search for the atman ‘the self’ by his deception, but this was almost certainly not the case because as we have already seen, even Ramana new the positive value of bad press.

Jung was a psychiatrist who behaved like a prophet and was a guru, who made advantageous use of his psychotic illness to deepen his experience and make valuable contributions to psychology. He also brought attention to Ramana Maharshi through his essay ‘The Holy Men of India,’ which in the future may turn out to be much more important than we realise and more important than his contributions to psychology.

Lastly, in comparing the two the final proof lies in simply looking at how the two men were when their lives ended. Did they die happy? Despite the excruciating pain of the sarcoma Ramana Maharshi left this world serene. There were tears in his eyes of joy and appreciation as his devotees chanted ‘Arunachala Siva’. But sadly it seems rather tragic that Jung did not appear to have found that elixir, the permanent transformative happiness. This is most clearly seen in Claire Dunne’s compassionate account of Jung’s life. In his last few days, Marie-Louise von Franz visited Jung and confirmed that he was still having visions.

“When I last saw him he had a vision. “I see enormous stretches devastated, enormous stretches of the earth. But thank God it’s not the whole planet.”14

His final mental state and the path he died travelling on are also penetratingly described by someone else who knew him at that time. Miguel Serrano, a Chilean writer who formed a friendship late in Jung’s life commented.

“Up until the last moment Jung still seemed to be searching. Perhaps his was the road of the magician who, unlike the saint, did not yearn for fusion or for peace of God, but preferred the eternal highway with all its unhappiness.”15

It is important to understand that both Carl Jung and Ramana Maharshi were pioneers who revivified ancient teachings that had either been lost or corrupted. Both rediscovered in their own inimitable ways treasures which can heal and guide us.

Fundamental to his Analytical Psychology is the paradigm of the four functions. Jung exposed the significance of the four elements in the oldest form of namely psychology: air, earth, fire and water. He reinvigorated this typography with the four associative functions of thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition, as well as the concepts of complexes, Introversion/Extroversion. He was the father of a new science which has opened, through dream psychology and research into alchemy and astrology, new avenues in the eternal quest for self knowledge. He arrived on the scene when the myths of the gods were no longer given credence and the Western soul was dying from the insidious power of disbelief and cynicism. One could say he was the new Parsifal in search of the Holy Grail. The final success was not in his hands because he did die wondering. He was a magus who dedicated his heart and mind to the eternal search.

Ramana Maharshi on the other hand, through discrimination and detachment dedicated his life to ‘just being.’ In this he recharged the noble tradition of Advaita Vedanta with a razor-sharp intellect free of all pre-conceptions and with single pointed devotion. It is more than likely that in the future Ramana’s legacy will yield a far greater understanding of the nature of ‘the self’ than we have at this time. Meanwhile many benefit from absorbing his teaching and practicing his method of ‘self enquiry’ of just being. Many also benefit from visiting him at his shrine at Sriramanasramam.

What would have transpired if Ramana Maharshi and Carl Jung had met remains in the realm of speculation, perhaps this is something to be discussed elsewhere. But this we do know that even though their paths did not cross, the impact of India and the threads of thought which permeate India profoundly influenced Jung and the development of his insights into human consciousness.

1. A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton  (London: Rider & Co., 1934).

2. Talks with Ramana (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1994, first published 1955), p 204-205, para.250

3. The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga by Paul Brunton (London: Rider & co.,                 1969, first published 1941), pp. 16-18.

4. My Father’s Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion by Jeffrey Masson (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1993), p.25

5. Feet of Clay. A study of Gurus by Anthony Storr. (HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), p 163

6. Feet of Clay. A study of Gurus by Anthony Storr. (HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), p 165

7. My Father’s Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion by Jeffrey Masson (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1993), p.160

8. Feet of Clay. A study of Gurus by Anthony Storr. (HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), p   171

9. The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga by Paul Brunton (London: Rider & co.,                    1969, first published1941), pp. 16-18.

10. Der Weg Zum Selbst: The Way to ‘the self’ by Zimmer, Heinrich Lehre und Leben des indischen heiligen Shri Ramana Maharshi aus Tiruvannamalei (Zurich: Rascher, 1954).

11. The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi by Ramana Maharshi (Boston: Shambhala, 1988).

12. Letter to Countess Elizabeth Klinckowstroem L2, p.121 C.G Letter Voume 2, selected  and edited by Gerhard Adler in collaboration with Aneila Jaffe (Bollingen Series: Princeton: Princeton University Press,1953).

13. Hamlet Act III, scene II by William Shakespeare.

14. Carl Jung: Wounded Healer of the Soul. An Illustrated Biography by Claire Dunne (Continuum,2000),p203

15. Jung and Hermann Hesse: A record of two friendships by Miguel Serrano (Taylor Francis Books Limited),p.112

The article above was first published in the Mountain Path in October 2010 as a shorter article.