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The riddle of the Sphinx

Théun Mares talks about the riddle of the Sphinx and the answer to our deepest questions about "what is man?"

 

It is impossible to address this question fully in one short answer, for it is vast! It is the story of HU-MAN, that is, of spirit-matter and the relationship between them!

 

But to keep it simple, I am sure you know the riddle, namely, "What goes on four legs in the morning, on two at midday and on three in the afternoon?" The answer is, of course, MAN! But what the myth refers to is NOT the face value riddle, but that unanswerable question, "What is man?"

 

To grasp what I mean you must realize that MAN is not a thing that can be DE-FINED! The only true knowledge we have of MAN is what we have learned from the relationship between spirit and matter, that is, between nagal and tonal! In other words, the REAL riddle concerns the fact that although we can and do learn about the RELATIONSHIP between the primal opposites, we are still no closer to being able to say with any certainty, THIS or THAT is MAN! People get so very carried away about all this "knowledge" they have about themselves, and they are so very convinced that they KNOW themselves that they never get in touch with the MYSTERY we term Life!

 

But for me personally, the riddle of the sphinx was verbalized so very beautifully, eloquently, profoundly and poignantly by Jung when he stated:

"The uniqueness of the psyche is of a magnitude that can never be made wholly real, it can only be realized approximately, though it still remains the absolute basis for all consciousness. The deeper "layers" of psyche lose their individual uniqueness as they retreat further and further into darkness. "Lower down," that is to say, as they approach the autonomous functional systems, they become increasingly collective until they are universalized and extinguished in the body's materiality, that is, in the chemical bodies. The body's carbon is simply carbon. Hence "at bottom" of psyche is simply "world."

 

What Jung explains is, of course, what is symbolized in the sphinx, having the head of man and the body of a lion, or in other words, the indwelling spirit utilizing the animal form, or the true self indwelling the little self, etc.

 

Erwin Schroedinger, a renowned physicist, agreed with Jung when he stated in his own way:

 

"....inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you - and all other conscious beings as such - are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: TAT TVAM ASI, this is you. Or, again, in such words as, "I am in the east and in the west; I am below and above; I am this whole world."

 

But Jung goes on to point out that implicit even within statements such as these is the fact that we are STILL not addressing the question or the riddle, "What is man," and goes on to suggest that in order to answer this question we have to see the SELF, not as a unit isolated from, or separated from the One Life, but as THE one and only nagal or spirit, for only in this way can we even BEGIN to understand who and what man really is. On this Jung says:

 

"The widened consciousness is no longer that touchy, egotistical bundle of personal wishes, fears, hopes, ambitions which always has to be compensated and corrected by unconscious counter-tendencies; instead it is a function of relationship to the world of objects, bringing the individual into absolute, binding and indissoluble communion with the world at large. The complications arising at this stage are no longer egotistic wish-conflicts, but difficulties that concern others as much as oneself. At this stage it is fundamentally a question of collective problems, which have activated the collective unconscious because they require collective rather than personal compensation. We can now see that the unconscious produces contents which are valid not only for the person concerned, but for others as well, in fact, for a great many people, and possibly for all."

 

But perhaps the closest Jung ever did get to verbalizing the question or the riddle of man, was when he stated:

 

"All opposites are of God, therefore man must bend to this burden; and in doing so he finds that God in his 'oppositeness' has taken possession of him, incarnated himself in him. He becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict."

 

On the essence of man, and his "burden," as Jung refers to it, Jung sums it up most poignantly when he stated:

 

"Complete redemption from the sufferings of this world is and must remain an illusion. Christ's earthly life likewise ended, not in complacent bliss, but on the cross. The goal is important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal; THAT is the goal of a lifetime."

 

And, yes, so the great work, the opus, continues, as we strive in our learning to honour the ancient admonishment, "Man know thyself!"

 

 

 

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