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Exemplars of bodhisattva Maitreya (continued)

Carl Jung

A modern example of the contemplative side of the Maitreya archetype is Carl Jung, who studied consciousness and psychology from the perspective of spiritual healing and awakening. Although he worked empirically as a scientist, Jung's concern with the inner psychic process, his own as well as that of others, was passionate. Jung articulated the archetypal approach within psychology. He saw the psyche as religious in nature, spontaneously producing images with spiritual significance. Alongside his allegiance to Christianity, Jung studied a variety of Eastern philosophies and religions, beginning the integration of Western therapeutic practice with Eastern disciplines.

Jung saw his psychoanalytic process as guided by the future. He promoted a method in which the analyst works with the client to create a container for the psyche to realize its full potential and future possibilities. This involves developing access to the collective unconscious as constellated in the client's particular psyche. Jung saw everyone as both inhabiting and containing this collective or universal unconscious, which contains the individual's potentialities for the future.

We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.

In the process that Jung called individuation, individuals fulfill their deeper selves, gradually free themselves from conditioning, and develop integration and wholeness in accord with their own potential, which was implicit in their lives all along. Jung came to believe in his later work that, with the personal maturing of the individuation process, the whole of society and of reality is integrated in Unas Mundas, the unified world, which fosters balance and harmony. This social aspect of Jung's vision resonates with the Maitreyan forecast of a harmonious new age of enlightenment.

Joanna Macy

American Buddhist scholar and teacher Joanna Macy is bringing Maitreya's contemplation of the future to bear on crucial dilemmas in our present world. She is a spokesperson for the Deep Ecology movement, and she has worked extensively on nuclear-related issues. She has led workshops to help people face the unconscious despair that has affected the human psyche because of the threat from nuclear weapons, seeking to heal our society's denial of this reality.

In examining the issue of nuclear waste, our generation's most lasting physical legacy to this planet and its beings, Macy discovered that the policy-makers responsible have planned burial of the wastes underground in unretrievable storage containers made of materials that will inevitably crumble and leak, long ages before the toxicity expires. This reckless disregard for future generations seems to be based on a failure to conceive of the durations of time involved, or even to care about the future. Contemplating the extents of Maitreyan future time, Macy, in consultation with scientists and social thinkers, has proposed that all nuclear wastes be buried in monitorable, retrievable storage, so that leaks can be spotted and repaired, and so that the nuclear materials can be retrieved should the technology ever be devised to neutralize the waste.

The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.

In accord with the fundamentally positive outlook of Maitreya and the promise of his future age of awakened harmony, Joanna Macy has used the dilemma of nuclear waste to offer a positive, hopeful vision of a long-term human future based on guardianship of our world with clear, spiritual awareness. Her insight and faith are that we can acknowledge and use this peril to our species as an opportunity for consciously taking responsibility for our world and our own garbage, and for living in a more caring, intentional manner.

Macy emphasizes the fact that every being who will ever live on earth is present here and now. This is true as a biological certainty, as all future life will be produced from the DNA of present creatures. We might also consider how the awareness of future beings will evolve in some fashion from our current thoughts, worldviews, and paradigms. Maitreya, as the potential buddha, demands that we consider the future spiritually, historically, and even practically. Joanna Macy is a clear contemporary example of such courageous, unflinching contemplation in her considerations of the future and in her activism on behalf of future generations.

The consideration of the future encouraged by the exemplars of the Maitreya archetype has important implications for the present, perhaps even more crucially than for the future. In the light of Vimalakirti's criticism of Maitreya as being attached to an illusory future realm, we can see that the interest in the future inspired by Maitreya really concerns our own present awareness and conduct. Maitreya's vast future is part of our present, and awareness of it enriches and deepens our present. The fullness of the future can inform our current contemplations, as it did for Thoreau and for Jung. The future can also inspire our present activity and practice, as it did for Johnny Appleseed, whose generous tree planting encouraged his contemporaries and bequeathed a guidepost for future generations.

Other Maitreyas?

What other modern exemplars of the Maitreya archetype can you think of? Who do you know that combines a loving concern for the future with patience and introspection?

Maitreya and you

How do these qualities express themselves in your own life?