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The Anima and Animus in Buddha Dharma by Alan Gregory Wonderwheel

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My intellectual goals regarding psychology and Buddhism are to harmoinze Buddha Dharma with archetypal depth psychology, as the truth of mind is necessarily both the basis of Buddha Dharma and of anything that can be called modern psychology (not to be confused with modern neuro-science masquerading as psychology).

In his archetypal depth psychology, Carl Jung presented the psychological view of the structure and function of consciousness that is remarkably similar, and I would say virtually identical, to the Buddhist analysis of the Five Skandhas and Eight Consciousnesses. That is, in looking at a zebra, it might be described by some as a horse with stripes or as a donkey with painted lines, but though the words differ the description indicates the same thing is being viewed. Likewise, though Jung's archetypal psychology uses a different framework and language, it is absolutely clear to me that he is observing the same mind and the same structure and function of consciousness that the Buddhist masters have observed. This is what makes it clear to me that mind is not something culturally conditioned, though cultural conditions may lead us to argue about our observations of the mind.

    Question: I wonder how the Jungian anima and animus reflect in the five skandhas. It does look as though patriarchy reflects in both Buddhism and Jungian thought quite well. A hero with a thousand faces, sure, but all the faces are male. Zeus is a male. God is a male. Mohamed is a male. Brahman is male. And of course Buddha is male.

Okay, let's see.

Gyalpo Protector.JPG

    Q. How does the Jungian anima and animus reflect in the five skandhas?

Anima and animus are primary functions in relation to the ego complex, and I see them as aspects primarily of the fourth skandha. To speak of the full complexity of the situation means to acknowledge that the anima and animus also rely on the first three skandhas, but their primary expression is as configurations of the fourth skandha upon which self-consciousness is constructed.

The anima or animus is the reflective image of our ego-complex that takes our identity beyond the personal into the impersonal. It is the vital aspect of our feeling our life to be "animated" and filled with life. We come to know this aspect of our psyche throught the image of the "other", but it is the "other" that we are drawn to through the psychic energy called libido. As this "other" is the one that draws out our libido from being wrapped up in our personal self-image to move toward the world, it is met or felt through the image of the contra-sexual personification. Thus the male imagines the feminine anima, and the female imagines the masculine animus. This is why sexual energy is the physical(ized) aspect of the psychic energy of libido, that is why we encounter the libido first as sexual energy.

Appreciation of the function of polarity and opposites that is expressed in the anima-animus analysis is also integral to the analytic framework of the skandhas. This is made clear by Great Master Huineng in the Platform Sutra when he discusses the opposites in the context of teaching about the 5 skandhas and 18 Realms (dhatus). Though he doesn't mention the specific pair of opposites of "male and female" he mentions pairs like "sun and moon," and "shady and sunny" (the synonyms of Yin and Yang") which are common images for male and female. It is the polarity function of the skandhas that is the point of how the opposites of consciousness arise from the skandhas and manifest as opposites which confuse us and become false thinking when we disjoint the opposities and believe they can exist independently of the other.


The anima and animus is the function of consciousness that entices us out of the defensive position of the ego into engagement with the world. For example, using some of the opposites used by Huineng, if we see the world as cruel, the anima or animus can draw us into engagement through the anima or animus appearing compassionate. If we see the world as muddy, the anima or animus can draw us out by appearing clean or pure. Form and emptiness are likewise like this.

    Q. A hero with a thousand faces, sure, but all the faces are male. Zeus is a male. God is a male. Mohamed is a male. Brahman is male. And of course Buddha is male.

Sure, we can't argue aginst the fact that patriarchy took over most of the world's societies. But that does not mean that patriarchy is the truth, or that Buddhism is limited to patriarchy. Over the years, the recognition of the problem of one-sided patriarchy became apparant.
Of course, Zeus was accompanied by the goddess Hera, and only a partisian of the patriarchy would dare to undervalue Hera and the other goddesses.

In [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], the mother Goddess was indeed missing in the Garden of Eden and only appears through her earthly messenger the serpent, who then becomes vilified by the father God, but this is rectified by the development of the Madonna image to take the place of the missing mother in the Garden.

In Buddhism, the the importance of and reintegration of the feminine arose in several ways. One way was the designation of the Prajna-paramita as the mother of the Buddhas. Another way was in the Sutras such as the Vimalakirti Sutra and Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar Sutra that explicitly portrayed women as every bit the equal of men.


So, strictly speaking all the faces are not male. But admittedly, in Buddhist countries the cultural patriarchy has been slow to respond (if at all) to the equality of opposites that Buddhism teaches. This is largely due to Buddhism usually taking a nonconfrontational approach to such cultural politics, or in some countries actually turning a blind eye to the problem of patriarchy.

    Q. How does the anima and animus function in relation to the defensive position of the ego?

The most important example of this within the context of the Buddha story is the appearance of the maiden Sujata. If we view the life story of Buddha as an embodied archetypal story of the journey of awareness to awakening, then the anima appears in a most pivotal and crucial role, that of the milk maid who rescues Buddha from the impending death caused by his own asceticism.

While Buddha remained in the castle, he was still within the domain of family and tribe and so could not develop the individuation necessary for awareness to awaken. The ego must be developed for this. When Buddha left the palace this was the necessary initial stage of individuation of the ego. Buddha initially developed the ego by study of the Dharmas of any teacher he could find. However, this is not sufficient on its own because the development of the ego under the sway of the fight or flight instincts creates the defensive position vis a vis the environment, i.e., the world, or an attack position. Thus the ego either defends against the world or wants to become a world conqueror. Study becomes a way of trying to conquer the world. Modern science shows us how this path turns out. Thus for a conscientious ego, it becomes clear that the world cannot really be conquered by study, only more questions arise with every one answered, Only more ways that we are conquered by the world are shown to us, for example, DDT, radiation poisoning, global warning, as the humbling responses of the world to our attempts to conquer it.


In the Buddha’s story the ego-complex is played out by Buddha adopting the ascetic approach in which the world is simultaneously both defended against and attempted to be conquered by the same ascetic practices. The ascetic believes the world can be conquered by not allowing it to attack oneself through the desires and needs of the flesh, The ascetic believes that the impure, dirty, confusing, and entangling world cannot conquer oneself if one literally removes oneself from the world’s influences. However, this is where the conscientious ego, though necessary in the developmental scheme of awareness, also comes to the limit of itself and the anima and animus are necessary to be constellated for the journey to continue to fruition.

The Buddha’s extreme indulgence of asceticism is the perfect example of the ego’s self aggrandizement and defending itself against the world by creating an image of the world’s muddy, impurity, ignorance, etc. and the ego-based idea that to overcome the world one must separate oneself from all of that muddiness, impurity, ignorance, etc. Here the story of Buddha engaging in asceticism with five fellow ascetics is noteworthy because it show Buddha as the sixth consciousness of thinking attempting to remove himself from the world along with the five sense consciousnesses. However, because Buddha carries this to the extreme, he is able to come to realize the hopelessness of this one-sided approach of the ego. At this stage then the anima is constellated first in the form of a lute, then in the form of the milk maid.


At first the anima comes to us in odd ways that we don’t necessarily recognize in anthropomorphic images. Buddha at the edge of his despair is roused from his anguish by the sounds of the lute being played. From this experience he comes to understand the embodied meaning of the Middle Way. If the strings are too loose they cannot make the melodious sound, if they are too tight they will break and not make any sound. Only the Middle Way of tuning between too loose and too tight will allow the string to vibrate and make music. In the life story of Buddha, this is the first recognition of the Buddha that can truly be called Buddha Dharma. From this awareness of the Dharma activity of opposites heard in the vibrations of a lute string, the Buddha Dharma is born. Some versions of the story say that it was Indra who appeared in the passing boat playing the lute. This obviously points to the archetypal or mythic aspect of consciousness as the source of the experience. The lute itself is the anima image that through its sweet voice has drawn Buddha back to engagement with the world by the recognition of melody, tone, sweetness, etc. as playing their role and that the Way is to be found not by defending against or attempting to conquer the world.

However, at this point the Buddha is so weak that he cannot even walk, so this means that the ego, if left only to its own resources will starve itself to death. Something deep in the psyche is moved to rescue the ego from this predicament, and the Buddha story portrays this next anima movement (animation) by the milk maid. There are several versions of this story, as there should be with any truly archetypal story. One version has a passing goat herd boy come by and offer goat’s milk to rescue the Buddha, but this seems to be a version tinged with patriarchal aversion to the female image that is intended to erase the sexualized aspects of the anima from the story. This misunderstanding comes because the tree that Buddha was sitting under was called “the tree of the goatherd” (ajapala). Other versions just say “villagers brought him food.” The more archetypically authentic stories portray the milk maid version. Here’s one.


The young woman was named Sujata (“well born”). (Here it should be noted that Sujata also is one of the names or epithets of the Buddha himself, so this is another way of pointing to the archetypal context of the story where the maid Sujata is the anima figure of the Buddha Sujata.) Sujata the maid had been lamenting her inability to conceive a child. She goes to the village sage who tells her that in order for her to become pregnant that she must provide the tree [i]deva[/i] (or divinity of the tree) with a special mixture of rice milk. Sujata prepares the milk by using milking the best cows and feeding that milk to better cows and then feeding that milk to better cows until she has the best milk possible. Then she mixes is with the best rice and goes to the forest to offer it to the tree deity of “the goatherd tree.” Buddha happens to be sitting under this tree and in his completely emaciated state he is unrecognizable as a human and Sujata believes him to be the tree deva and offers her milk and rice mixture to Buddha in a golden bowl. . Buddha receives the rice milk and is saved from starvation and revived. The archetypal story continues with the golden bowl being tossed into the river and floating upstream with the involvement of the Nagas but that can be explored at another time. At this point it suffices to say that the involvement of the Naga here is the transition of the anima figure to the deeper imagery of the psyche.

What is the necessary food that the anima brings to us to save us from the starvation diet of the ego complex and aid us in our enlightenment? We learn something from Bodhidharma when he is asked about this in the work attributed to him called “The Discourse on Breaking Up Appearances” (破相論), loosely translated by Red Pine as “The Breakthrough Sermon.”

Ha Naropa.jpg

This discourse is historically important to Zen as it clarifies many points of differentiation between the Three Vehicles approach to Buddha Dharma already present in China when Bodhidharma arrived, and the perspective of the One Vehicle Lineage of Southern India that Bodhidharma brought to China. The Discourse is presented in the classical style as interrogatories on points of Dharma with Bodhidharma’s responses. The gist of the Discourse is that “Only the one Dharma of contemplating Mind unites and includes all Dharmas and is superlative for introspecting the essential.” After this point is made, the Discourse explores how the Buddha Dharma is perceived from this perspective.
At one point the interrogator asks about the story of Buddha having to receive Sujata’s offering before realizing enlightenment. This doesn’t make sense to the questioner if just contemplating Mind is the direct Dharma Gate to enlightenment.

Here’s Red Pine's translation:

    [Q.] But when Sbakyamuni was a bodhisattva, he consumed three bowls of milk and six ladles of gruel prior to attaining enlightenment. If he bad to drink milk before be could taste the fruit of buddhahood, how can merely beholding the mind result in liberation?

    [A.] What you say is true. That is how he attained enlightenment. He had to drink milk before he could become a Buddha. But there are two kinds of milk. That which Shakyamuni drank wasn’t ordinary impure milk but pure dharma-milk. The three bowls were the three sets of precepts. And the six ladles were the six paramitas. When Shakyamuni attained enlightenment, it was because he drank this pure dharma-milk that he tasted the fruit of buddhahood. To say that the Tathagata drank the worldly concoction of impure, rank-smelling cow’s milk is the height of slander. That which is truly so, the indestructible, passionless dharma-self, remains forever free of the world’s afflictions. Why would it need impure milk to satisfy its hunger or thirst?
    The sutras say, "This ox doesn’t live in the highlands or the lowlands. It doesn’t eat grain or chaff. And it doesn’t graze with cows. The body of this ox is the color of burnished gold." The ox refers to Vairocana. Owing to his great compassion for all beings, he produces from within his pure Dharma-body the sublime Dharma-milk of the three sets of precepts and six paramitas to nourish all those who seek liberation. The pure milk of such a truly pure ox not only enabled the Tathagata to achieve buddhahood but also enables any being who drinks it to attain unexcelled, complete enlightenment. (From [i]Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma[/i], translated by Red Pine, p. 91-93.

Here's my translation:

    Question. The Sutra says that at the time the Tathagata of the Sakyas was a Bodhisattva he had already drank three pecks (about 6 gallons) and six liters of milk and rice gruel just to complete the Buddha Way. Before, because he drank the milk, afterwards he could bear witness to the Buddha fruit. How could it be that merely contemplating mind attains liberation?!

    Answer: Truly know that which you declare is without falsehood! Certainly, because he ate the milk like that at first, he became Buddha. Of that which is declared to be “eating milk” there are two kinds. That which is the food of the Buddha was not indeed the worldly milk of impurity and actually was the clear and pure Dharma milk of True Suchness! That which was three pecks exactly was the three collected pure precepts. That which was six liters exactly was the six paramitas. At the time of completing the Buddha Way from eating the clear and pure Dharma milk like this, just then he could bear witness to the Buddha fruit. If it is declared that the Tathagata ate the worldly concoction that was the rank and malodorous milk of the ox of impurity, h1ow could it not be the extreme of the wrong of slander?!
    That which is true suchness itself is the indestructible diamond (vajra) without leakage, the Dharmakaya forever free from every and all sufferings of the world. How could it be necessarily so, that the milk of impurity is used to fill the hunger and thirst? It is like the (Mahaparinirvana) Sutra which articulates, “This ox does not dwell in the high plains and does not dwell in the low wetlands, does not eat unhulled rice, horse grain, chaff or bran, and doesn’t participate with the bull ox in common with the herd. The color of this ox body is made violet as burnished gold." That which is declared here as “the ox” is Virocana Buddha! Because of using great compassion and sympathy for everyone, from within the embodiment of the clear and pure Dharma is produced like this the subtle Dharma milk of the three collected pure precepts and the six paramitas to nurture everyone of those who seek liberation. So indeed the milk of clarity and purity from the ox of true purity is not only to complete the Way of the Tathagata’s drinking; for everyone of the multitude of beings, if they are those who are capable of drinking, then in all cases they attain unexcelled unified thorough enlightenment.

Here we see that Bodhidharma takes the story out of the literal to the archetypal level and explains that what Buddha received at the hands of Sujata was not common milk but the Milk of the Dharma of the Cosmic Buddha. This is important to understand because it is not the anima that provides enlightenment; the anima is the intermediary who brings the initial taste of enlightenment. The anima does not give us enlightenment but is the one who enables us to be fortified to find the place where we can realize enlightenment. Thus Buddha was able to rise from underneath the “goatherd tree” and move to sit under the Bodhi Tree by the nourishment provided by the anima.

There is an important point here in that when Buddha accepted the food from the anima Sujata, the five ascetic companions left him in disgust as if he had given up on the quest for awakening. This is the portrayal of the abandonment of the five sense consciousness as the sixth consciousness turns inward toward the eighth consciousness. More importantly, it shows that when the anima brings the ego out of the self-world opposition, the awareness now can either chose to re-engage in the world as ego or turn away form the world and ego to go further and deeper in contemplating the mind. As Buddha is the one who awakens, the Buddha story tells us the anima’s nourishment is to be used to continue the journey to the Bodhi Tree, not to return to the ordinary world. Thus the awareness that has transcended mere ego awareness by the help of the anima now turns from engagement with the five senses to engagement in direct contemplation of mind. At this point the seventh consciousness appears in the archetypal figure of Mara and attempts to dissuade, confuse, and scare us from the task of directly perceiving the eighth consciousness.

So the role of the anima (or animus for female practitioners) is crucial for awakening as awakening is told in the story of Buddha.