C. G. Jung: Is it good to be in the current of life, or is it bad?
Now, the question is of course: Is it good to be in the current of life, or is it bad? I mean morally. And that is difficult to say.
As a rule, it is good for others when I am not in the river of life because then I do nothing.
I simply look on, and that might be better for others.
But if I am outside, if I only look on, it is not so good for myself.
Perhaps sometimes it is also good for certain reasons to be safe on the bank and not to touch the current; and usually those people who are onlookers, who have left the main current, are less offensive because they are inactive.
You see, this is so in Buddhism.
They try to leave the current of life because it is all illusion, and so they become inoffensive, and the evil they work is merely evil by deprivation—that they don’t build hospitals, don’t observe public hygiene, etc.
They are chiefly concerned with their spiritual welfare.
So whatever evil they work is simply the evil of deprivation, the absence of good; and that may be better than doing good like the active Europeans, for an active person is more likely to do damage, even if it is meant to be good.
The worst people always have good intentions.
They are just awful because the devil is behind their talk, all the time whispering, “Now do the good thing.”
And because they believe in it, they force other people to do the same and that is of course tyrannical, with a lot of power instinct in it.
So one could hold that for other people the good thing would be for me to withdraw from life.
But for myself it is not good. In order to prosper it is perhaps better to be in life, though the others will suffer because as soon as I step I crush the beetle upon the road; if I eat a certain loaf of bread nobody else can eat that loaf; if I take a seat nobody else can sit there.
I am a nuisance right and left, and if I had great compassion I would withdraw from the current of life.
Now of course, one could ask, “But should one never withdraw?”
Of course when the river begins to ebb low, it naturally ceases to flow, and then you cannot tell whether you are in the main current or in a by-water, in a swamp or a lagoon-or whether you are in the sea.
Then you can and you naturally will withdraw, for if you depend on the movement of the river, what would be the use of trying to navigate a boat in a river that doesn’t flow any longer?
Then you might as well be on the shore.
You see, when you begin to be static, when the world looks as it always has looked for all eternity, as soon as you see that in your own heart, then you can be on the mountain: you don’t need the current.
But this is only good teaching to older people.
For the young people it is wrong; then the main current is everywhere and in everything, and then they should be everywhere and in everything.
So if a Buddhist should withdraw into solitude as a very young man and live a passive life, unless he is called by God to be a particular saint, he surely would be making a mistake.
But if he slowly goes out of life as Buddha himself did, I should say that was natural and reasonable and good.
Buddha really was good for other people, because he was no longer active.
Inasmuch as you are active you are not so good for other people, and you will get your hands dirty; you cannot remain good.
If you think you can be good and active, it is a great illusion: it is simply impossible.
~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Pages 818-820
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