Make the Darkness Conscious


This post was inspired by a quote I read on another blog, attributed to Carl Jung which went as follows: “To become enlightened you must make the darkness conscious”. I thought it was a very interesting and insightful statement and was somewhat surprised that it apparently came from Carl Jung. From a Zen point of view this statement certainly hits the mark. What then is it’s meaning?

This statement is actually referring to the non-conscious side of the dualism inherent in man’s make-up, to the “unconscious” as Zen might call it. This unconscious is present in us and around us at all times and we plunge into this unconscious when we sleep at night. We become “dark” when we sleep, dimly aware of existing but not conscious of an external world. Clearly some form of intelligent activity still functions within us when we sleep, else we would not wake from our sleep. Something “knows” that it is time to wake up.

This unconscious is interesting because as previously stated, it exists both within and without us. It is a continuum, spreading out from an apparent source at the centre of our being and into the external world. It has it’s seat at the base of the spine in the human body and certain people are aware that the source of their consciousness is indeed this area as opposed to the head. The consciousness which appears to reside in the head looks out onto the unconscious which it perceives as the external world.  This is the fundamental dualism inherent in a human being. The unconscious self forms the “ground” which we perceive to be reality, that is the world of physical objects. But it also constitutes the real mind of a person and this mind is the source of our intelligence and our perceptive abilities. It is the intuitive mind that has direct access to knowledge and does not need to go through the intellectual reasoning process in order to know things. It knows things directly and instantaneously.

If you want understand this instantaneous functioning then a good example to study is the act of reading. When we look at a page of text, we see the whole page instantaneously. The words are spread out before us and we can see them all at once. Since these words exist in our own minds, that is in the unconscious or the “darkness”, often referred to in it’s external manifestation as a “dark light” (you can see it, yet you can’t see it), then theoretically we should be able to comprehend the whole page instantaneously. The reason an unenlightened person cannot comprehend the whole page instantaneously is because they are not consciously aware of the unconscious. They are separated off from the unconscious by an intellect that can only process facts in a serial manner, one after the other, in a way that it assumes is logical. It is this intellectual limitation of only being able to process facts in a serial manner that prevents instantaneous perception. The intellect usurps the more powerful direct perception and feels itself to be the dominant intelligence. The intellect is like a bubble in reality that perceives itself to be real and separate from the ground from which it arises, that is the unconscious. It is this illusion that creates the idea of a separate self.

This self imposed separation prevents the unenlightened person from perceiving the unconscious and separates them from direct perception of reality. To put this another way, it is not possible to perceive something that is outside of mind itself, therefore all that is perceived is within ones own mind. Your intelligence is not merely the thoughts in your head, it is the whole three-dimensional spectacle that you see in front of you. You are the world and the world is you. Theoretically then, a person should know all things as there is no separation within reality. Oddly enough, a person does know all things but this knowledge could be classed as occulted or hidden. A part of our being “knows” but we are not consciously aware of this because we are not consciously aware of the unconscious. An example of this hidden and yet dynamic knowledge would be the picking up of an object for instance. We do not go through a deliberate intellectual process in order to pick up an object but we know the object is there, we move our hands and it all happens as if by magic. But who or what perceives the object and moves the hand? It is as if there is something that knows and yet we do not fully cognise this knower. We are trapped in an intellectual bubble that is itself  an emanation of this hidden intelligence but being an emanation it cannot directly know it’s own source. That sense that we have of consciousness emanating from the head is the bubble itself. To quote Zen teacher Alfred Pulyan “The ego is like a penny blocking out the sun”. I have written previously on this hidden intelligence in the post “The Hidden Hand“.

We may look into the unconscious or what Jung referred to as the “darkness” by looking within. It is indeed dark when we look within but this darkness is really a form of consciousness. As already stated, externally this darkness manifests as a dark light, illuminating the external world. It truly could be called “the light of the world” and those who have reached a certain stage of development are able to see this light as the bright aspect of reality. It remains bright and illuminating in both the waking and sleeping states and is present when looking without or within. We might say that it is an inverted consciousness with regard to our normal consciousness or better still it is an extreme intuition, an extreme knowing, something that perceives our very being because it is our very being and yet from a consciousness standpoint, keeps itself hidden, apparently? But is it hidden? It appears hidden because the unenlightened person wants to examine it with their intellect whilst not realising that it manifests right in front of them as themselves. This is the conundrum. It is there and yet it is apparently not there. A Zen Master might shout in exasperation “What is this”? And on getting no reply he says “What a dull fellow”. If you can see through to the idea that in order to perceive something it must exist within mind then you will be part of the way there.

If we look within, we see darkness. If we look intently enough we might sense that we are looking into the very ground of our being, our very source. However, looking within in this way will not lead us to enlightenment. This is because the process of looking within is inherently dualistic in nature. To look within we must maintain a subject/object relationship. There is a viewer and there is the viewed. But if there is no separation within reality who is the viewer and what is the viewed? Clearly we can not get to a state where the viewer and the viewed become one by maintaining two apparent entities, the viewer and the viewed. Indeed, the more we look within in this way the greater the tendency to think along the lines of “Now I see my real being” or “I am going to incorporate this perception into my view of myself”. What is really going on here is subtle intellectual analysis. The person thinks they are going to incorporate these new perceptions into their existing conception of themselves and yet it is the existing conception of themselves that is the problem. Enlightenment is not an add-on to your existing state, it is a transcendence of the existing state.

Returning to the original quote from which this post began, the question then is “How do we make the darkness conscious”? or alternatively “How do we plunge into the unconscious whilst still in the waking state”? In order to do this without engaging in endless dualistic dead ends we need to wrest the consciousness from it’s fixity on the external world. The tendency of the intellect to view the world as a separate object cannot be overcome from the intellect itself because the intellect is itself the problem. The intellect is nourished by the external world because the external world beguiles it and provokes it to thought and analysis. To quote Zen teacher Richard Rose, “Do we think or are we caused to think”? We must therefore fix the attention on something other than the external world and keep it there. The idea is to deprive the intellect of the food that sustains it whilst at the same time causing the mind to act more in line with it’s real nature, which is ultimately non-discriminating intelligence, or in other words direct intuitive knowledge. Buddhists of the past devised methods to do exactly this and one that springs immediately to mind is the exhortation to “Set the attention upon nothing”. Many people think that such an exhortation is too simple and therefore ignore it or try it for a short while and then give up. This is a mistake however. This simple method will work if practised for sufficient time and by that I mean it must become an integral part of your life. You must maintain it until it produces results.

I will propose a similar method but with a slightly different twist. This practise is a cross between a Koan and the exercise mentioned above. It at once both silences the intellect and directs the attention away from the physical world. The idea here is to ask a question or series of questions about the universe that are puzzling in nature and whose subject directs the mind in an outward direction. The questions are as follows:


Is the universe infinite or finite in extent ?

If it’s infinite in extent, in what space does infinity sit ?

If it’s finite in extent, what lies outside ?


If you think about these questions carefully while picturing the contradictions inherent in them,  you should find a calm stillness and feeling of expansiveness come upon you. For example, when you repeat the question “If it’s infinite in extent, in what space does infinity sit”? you should try to picture an infinite universe and the contradiction of it existing in a space. Most people find it extremely difficult to envision an infinite space because it is counter intuitive. Try as we might we can’t quite get rid of the idea of an ultimately finite space. But of course, what lies outside the finite space? Is it counter intuitive because the solution lies in another dimension?

Your attention should fix upon nothing and expand infinitely, wrenching your  attention from the physical plane. Let the feeling of expansiveness become joyful and allow it to silence the intellect. When you find your intellect silenced don’t interfere, simply maintain the attention in it’s outward direction. This is the state you need to maintain at all times, whether walking, talking, shopping or watching tv. It is possible to maintain this state at all times but it requires vigilance and a continual returning to the questions when you find your perceptions waning. If you can maintain this state on a continual basis it will bear fruit but you must incorporate it into your very being. It must become your natural state of being.



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