concepts section: copyright Robert Ellis 2009


The concept of archetypes in Middle Way philosophy is derived from Jung. Jung regarded archetypes as innate features of the universal unconscious, an explanation that may or may not be correct. However, Middle Way philosophy makes use of the archetype as part of a moral explanation of the relationship between symbols and psychic integration, not in a way that necessarily involves any claims about the universal unconscious, or innate features of the human mind.

Although Jung identified a variety of archetypes, and classified in them in different ways, there are four specific archetypes identified by Jung that can be seen to have a clear moral role in the integration process. These are the shadow, the young hero, the wise old man/great mother and the anima/animus. Any of these archetypes could potentially take male or female forms, and their gender is not central to the moral role they play. All four of these archetypes can be readily identified with psychic functions: the young hero with the ego; the shadow with the feared aspects of the psyche beyond the ego, which are within our total identifications but beyond our current ones; the anima/animus with the attractive aspects of the psyche beyond the ego; and the wise old man/great mother with the integrated psyche.

Our experience of these archetypes, then, is an emotional experience either of our lack of integration, or of our potential for integration. The power of stories containing these archetypes, and of visual representations of them, can be understood in terms of what "I" am in one sense, but not in another. For example, the shadow gives rise to fear because it is the rejected part of my "self". If it was not part of my psyche it would have no power over me, but if my ego identified with it now I would no longer fear it.

Moral advance in relation to the shadow is not found through defeating it, nor through ignoring it, but through stretching one's ego-identifications to include it. In this process one's responses to every person or object in the world projected as "evil" simultaneously change. Such love of the villain cannot be bought superficially or quickly: an overnight conversion to hugging one's monsters is likely to be unconvincing and be followed by a reversion. Nevertheless, conditions are increasingly addressed through stretching one's relationship to the archetypes. This means not running after the attractive anima/animus, not prematurely identifying with the wise old man or great mother, and being aware of the limitations of the young hero. We tread the Middle Way by relaxing our initial response to these archetypal forms (whether we meet them in art, fantasy or everyday life), accepting them, and extending our identification to them gradually. Thus a more meaningful, non-alienated understanding of "love" can be found.

For more information see 'A Buddhist theory of moral objectivity' 5.e.iii and 'A New Buddhist Ethics' chapter 11.

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