The Sacred Thread is an ancient symbol of the invisible tie that links all living beings among each other as well as with their transcendental source of origin (sfitratman). In the Eastern tradition, women and men are considered to be mature personalities only if they not only fulfil their practical everyday duties, but also orient their lives towards a cosmic spiritual reality.
Rudolf Flogger, a Swiss psychologist who has spent much time of his life in Nepal and India, has accompanied a seven years old Hindu boy on his path of initiation (upanayan) into this spiritual realm. In the present account, he not only describes a number of symbols and rituals which were instrumental in the process, but also draws parallels to many elements from the Buddhist, Jewish, Christian as well as Muslim traditions and offers respective interpretations in the light of Jungian psychology. Thus, the book builds helpful bridges between different cultures and religions, between East and West, between modernity and tradition. It ecourages the reader to discover new meaning in his own religious practice and cultural environment.
Combining his deep knowledge of Hindu and Buddhist traditions with his equally extensive experience in psychology, Dr Hoggers has over the last two decades made a major contribution by bringing analytical psychology to a wider audience in South Asia. His latest book, on the Sacred Thread, comes to us at a very particular moment in history. It is a time in which our understanding of the sacred is being remained both inside and outside of traditional cultural and religious forms.
All who have met him, here and elsewhere in the region have been struck not only by what he has said, but also by what he has conveyed through his being. Some of the expressions of Dr Hogger 's deep and sustained engagement with the human psyche in this part of the world can be seen through his earlier presentations. The range of his explorations is vast: from a psychological interpretation of Sakuntala, the symbolic understanding of the threshing floor, the myth of the descent of the Ganges, a psychological approach to Chinnamasta, as well as contemplating various images, Buddhist and Hindu, from a variety of psychological perspectives.
Several decades ago, Jung wrote, "[T]he East can appreciate my ideas better because they are better prepared to see the truth of the psyche." This appreciation, developed over centuries, has become an endangered species in modern Asia which has also "raised reason to a seat above the Gods", and in so doing subjected itself to the alienation and loss of meaning that can afflict those who live in a desacralised world.
Therefore, The Sacred Thread comes at a time of profound crisis and questioning in the East about the role of myths, rituals and other containers of the sacred, and of psychic life itself. These questions, however, are not ours alone; they belong to "the thronging dead of human history" as Jung called them in the Red Book, to which Dr H6gger makes reference in his text.
This time and its task seems to be about a recognition of the importance of the dead, of their lives lived and unlived, and of course the lives of the living. It is a Bhagirath moment in the collective, with the restless and unredeemed ashes of our ancestors calling for a redemptive stream of consciousness to bring life to all that has not been made fully conscious in our past.
Extensive research in many different fields of psychology attests to the existence of trauma being carried over across several generations. The present book articulates with great clarity and delicacy the painful and indeed traumatic questions we have been struggling with for centuries now, in our political as well as our deeply personal universes. Among these, the most important question to the present generation is: how do genuine religious experiences turn into petrified doctrines, and from there to systems of social discrimination, which then become perpetrators of emotional and physical violence? And, based on this, would it be possible to discover — behind the excesses of caste discrimination — a psychic impulse that in its origin was not destructive but animating, inspiring and creative?
In addressing these questions, Dr Hogger calls on a lifetime of study of Hindu and Buddhist texts, and his equally long experiences as a depth psychologist and development professional. He does not claim to offer final, conclusive answers. Instead, the book creates a space where questions are not accusations, but the starting point of a genuine dialogue between the living and what has come before.
At the heart of this book is a study of the individuation process in all its complexity, as it is addressed in Hindu ritual and depth psychology. It is therefore for all those who are in search of themselves, and a truth particular to themselves. Amid the urgency to establish new values, the book reminds us that we have to first understand the old before we can decide what to do with it. The author invites readers to inhabit both old and new mindsets as a step towards the development and maturation of their being.
This book builds bridges between several cultures without doing harm to their uniqueness. By turning to the archetypal background and symbolic truth of rituals, the author shows us how contemporary dreams and Vedic sacrifice are expressions of similar if not identical processes in the psyche. Weaving together myth, ritual, and contemporary dream material, the author has created a tool with which to repair the unravelling of the human soul.
The matter to be communicated and the symbols to be employed are no more peculiarly Indian than peculiarly Greek or Islamic, Egyptian or Christian.
In February 2010, my Nepali friends Krishnakumar and Sharada Panday informed me by e-mail that her son Somi would enter school in April and would receive the Sacred Thread shortly before that. They invited me to participate in the ceremony, called upanayan, and they even offered me to cover my travel expenses. According to their proposal, I was to take the role of mama, the maternal uncle, because, in fact, Sharada has no brother. Mama, however, has an indispensible role to play during upanayan.
The word upanayan is of Sanskrit origin and means introduction" or initiation" (from upa-ni = to lead close to or into something). It is one of various terms used by Hindus to denominate the age-old religious initiation of boys or young men belonging to the higher castes. From upanayan onwards, they are supposed to wear the Sacred Thread around the upper part of their body, and they are considered as dvija, „twice-born". Upanayan has to do with the renewal of life. It points to the birth of a spiritual being, which is larger and more important than physical man.
I sensed from their letter how important it was for Sharada and Krishnakumar to include me as mama and as a friend among their guests at this important family event. At the same time, I felt very curious. This seemed to be a unique occasion for me to participate actively in an important Hindu ceremony and — by doing so — to obtain at least glimpses of its profound meaning. Upanayan probably is the most important transition ritual in the life of an upper caste male Hindu, and its bearing on the man's life seems to be more profound than that of any other sathskara. Having myself been active for many decades in International Cooperation, and having been trained as a Jungian analyst, I am genuinely interested to learn more about such an event. Thus, I decided to accept the invitation from Nepal. A few weeks later, I flew to Kathmandu.
Nevertheless, my decision to undertake this journey was not without doubts either. I was aware of the fact that the Sacred Thread, in present day South Asian Hinduism, is not purely a religious symbol, but — in many cases - a sign of social discrimination between members of high and low castes as well. Would my participation in the rituals give further legitimating to such discrimination? For a long moment, I hesitated to take the respective risk. But at the same time, I could not imagine to refuse the warm-hearted invitation of my Nepali friends. In addition, there was good reason to hope that — during my stay in Nepal - we would find many opportunities to engage in sincere and deep discussions about the positive and the negative sides of religious traditions and social customs. During four decades of professional collaboration with Krishnakumar, I had profited many times from such enlightening discussions.
Consequently, from March 29th through April 2nd 2010, I was a guest in the house of Krishnakumar and Sharada Panday, situated in the village of God Nail-to the South of Kathmandu. During this time, I never left the homestead of my friends except for occasional walks in the company of Krishnakumar. Apart of these escapes, I spent my time as a participating observer within the Panday family, and I enjoyed the feeling to be welcome at any moment with all my ingenuousness and many questions.
It was mostly during the morning or afternoon walks with Krishnakumar that my hope for substantial discussions was fulfilled. In a joint effort, my friend and I tried to understand the difference between what might have been the original religious meaning of upanayan and what later obviously has turned into social misuse. In doing so, we both realized again that — like in so many earlier discussions — we were indeed standing on very similar ethical and psychological ground, permitting us - across all obvious religious and cultural differences - to find mutual understanding with regard to some of the fundamental questions of our lives.
Every now and then I was entrusted specific roles in a ceremony or in the preparation for it. This gave me the feeling to be a member of the family or even of a larger community. I made efforts to note down as many observations as possible and to keep track in my diary of the kind explanations which I received from my hosts.
During and after my one-week visit, I reflected intensively about what I had observed and heard. A few weeks later, I started to broaden and deepen my understanding by reading respective literature in the fields of religious studies and analytical psychology. Above all, I drew parallels between the many Hindu symbols and rituals alive in upanayan with similar symbols and rituals from the Buddhist world, but also from the Judaic-Christian and the Islamic Traditions. With this, my view gradually went beyond the religious and social context of a single Nepali family. It opened up into a much broader spiritual and psychological world.
In other words : Behind a caste-bound ritual and a specific Hindu symbolism, there gradually appeared religious images of a more general nature. Their significance seems to extend beyond any specific religion or creed, and they can be found in the most distant cultures of our globe. In the analytical psychology of C.G. Jung, such images and rituals are called archetypal . They do not belong to one single tradition, but may show up in any culture and at any time of history — even in the dreams of contemporary people who do not consider themselves as adherents of any religious belief.
Therefore, what I try to present in the various chapters of this book is not confined to upanayan. It is not an interpretation of a Hindu ritual in the narrow sense, but rather an elucidation of the archetypal images lying behind it. These images play an equally important role in other religions my own (christianism ) included. Thus, in consonance with my Nepali hosts, I am not ready to accept the Sacred Thread as a means of social discrimination , as practiced by many Hindus, but as a precious symbol reflected a very old inner experience of human bings, independent of the specific conditions of their specific caste or culture or creed. The same is true for all the other symbols which shall be discussed in the following chapters.
Inspired by the words of Ananda K . Coomaraswamy, which are quoted at the beginning of this introduction, I should like a formulate my concern with the Sacred Thread as follows:
The matter to be communicated here, and the symbols to be discussed , are no more peculiarly Hindu than they are Buddhist, Jewish , Christian or Islanic, Upanayan is not originally meant to be a ritual of eparation or discrimination . Rather it opens up as wealth of Images which constitutes a common heritage of all human kind . To reveal some of its meaning and unifying power is the concern of this book.
I wish to take the opportunity to thank m friends Krishnakumar, Sharada and somi Panday. Who were my hosts during my visit to Nepal and are the primary subjects for this next . I also wish to thank Colin Cooper for his copyediting , proofing and advisory role, and Bidur Dangol from my publisher , vajra Books for his time and support . Finally I express my sincere thanks to the Jung Centre in Bangalore, from where I have received much encouragement and valuable suggestions for the present work. All photographs were taken by the author, unless otherwise stated.
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