Note: This article was originally published as the editorial in the Australian quarterly journal 'The Vedic Light' (Jan-Mar 2002).
Parrots, Hexagrams And Numbers
Synchronicity- An a-causal connecting principle
------ © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary
It happened many times to me. It happens to all of us sometimes. For no reason, I remembered a friend who was my junior at the dental school, with whom I had lost all contact since four years. He was on my mind the whole day. The phone rang. And guess what! It was the same friend! Synchronicity, a term originated by the famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, is used to explain a parallelism of events which cannot be related causally. The 'connectedness' between non-causally related events is termed as 'synchronicity. Meaningful coincidences had always fascinated me. I had observed this phenomenon since childhood. But its significance became more apparent once I started learning various divination and oracular systems of different cultures in my late teens. The various experiences and insights that a seeker on the spiritual path goes through do not have appropriate English words to describe them. Often there is this lack of communication, especially between the mystic and the scientist. Carl Jung's work has helped in furthering the dialogue between the mystic and the scientist. I rejoiced when I discovered that Carl Jung had words that could partly fill the lacunae in scientific vocabulary in English. His contribution to modern psychology is immense, and becomes evident when one looks at the rich vocabulary that he had left behind. Today the terms that he had designated, such as synchronicity and archetypes, are often used as well as misused. What is 'Synchronicity'?
Synchronicity is a phenomenon where an event in the outside world coincides meaningfully with a psychological state of mind. Jung looked for a theoretical concept that would account for such paranormal 'chance' phenomena. The origin of the principle of synchronicity is linked with Jung's limited acquaintance with the I Ching. In 1930, he first used the term 'synchronicity' to describe an "a-causal connection between psychic states and objective events". Let me hasten to add that Jung carefully distinguishes "synchronicity" from the mere "synchronism" of events occurring simultaneously but unconnected in meaning.
Jung's initial attempts to understand synchronicity seem to have been influenced by the classical idea of astrology too- "the objective time moment". This supposes that certain quality exists in a moment of time itself- "To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the heavens; a time to be born and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to breakdown and a time to build up; a time to Dance; a time to get and a time to lose; A time to keep and a time to cast away", as the Eccelesiastes states. This concept of a certain quality to time, is fundamental to Vedic astrology, which has its roots in the ancient Vedic practice of timing their rituals according to this quality of time, in fact so much so that in the post Vedic times, Time was even personified as a mighty Being- Mahakala the Lord of Time.
Qualitative time seems to explain why astrology and other forms of divination work. But synchronicities are not always dependent on such a moment of time. Precognition, for instance, does not occur in "same-timeness". Nimitta , that wonderful division of Jyotish (Vedic Astrology), also requires a better explanation than qualitative time theory, if one in search of a theory that can account for all the divisions of jyotish. Jung gradually gave up the supposition of qualitative time. He concluded that since qualitative time is nothing but the flux of things, and is as much "nothing" as space, this hypothesis ends up in a vicious circle- "the flux of things and events is the cause of the flux of things, etc".
Jung thought that it would be possible to link his "a-causal principle" of synchronicity to new ideas emerging in physics. Things happen both in physics and biology according to Quantum logic of uncertainty. After Heisenberg's discovery of the uncertainty principle, most quantum physicists like Niels Bohr and Max Planck were concerned with demolishing the principle of Causality. Heisenberg had experimentally proved that things may happen without any cause. Planck says that even the rationalists have to admit of mysteries and miracles that do happen without any causal relationship. He wrote, "Though the order of nature is admitted as inevitably predetermined by the Supreme Cause, yet the causal chain in the world itself may at any time be interrupted by the intervention of a supernatural power."
Jung's close friend, the Nobel prize winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, was one of the several scientists interested in Jung's views. While Jung held that "a union of psychology and physics seems entirely possible", Pauli "discovered the presence of Archetypes in the scientific theories of Kepler"! Jung and Pauli agreed that the trinity of classical physics- time, space and causality- could be turned into a quaternity by adding synchronicity as a fourth term. Of course this conflicts Einstein's theory of General Relativity, that the structure of space-time is smooth and continuous. God doesn't play dice! I can almost hear Jung asserting, "Maybe he does. But we don't know by what rules"!
Synchronicity was defined by Jung as an "acausal connecting principle," an essentially mysterious connection between the personal psyche and the material world, based on the fact that at bottom they are only different forms of energy. "It is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. The synchronicity phenomena point, it seems to me, in this direction, for they show that the non-psychic can behave like the psychic, and vice versa, without there being any causal connection between them" (On the Nature of the Psyche," CW 8, par. 418.).
Jung associated synchronistic experiences with the relativity of space and time and a degree of unconsciousness. "The very diverse and confusing aspects of these phenomena are, so far as I can see at present, completely explicable on the assumption of a psychically relative space-time continuum. As soon as a psychic content crosses the threshold of consciousness, the synchronistic marginal phenomena disappear, time and space resume their accustomed sway, and consciousness is once more isolated in its subjectivity. . . . Conversely, synchronistic phenomena can be evoked by putting the subject into an unconscious state" (On the Nature of the Psyche," CW 8, par. 440).
Jung hoped to establish synchronicity as a law equal in status to causality. To this end he even devised carefully planned statistical investigations into birth charts. Of course eventually his original experiment parted company with orthodox statistical methods. In searching for an objective law, he had found the reflection of the subjective psyche of the observer in the apparently objective material! He discovered that "synchronistic events draw the observer into what is happening and make him an accessory to them".
Jung had succeeded in proving (?) that "A secret, mutual connivance exists between the material and the psychic state of the astrologer. This correspondence is simply there like any other agreeable or annoying incident, and it seems to me doubtful whether it can be proved scientifically to be anything more than that." But Jung seems to be ambiguous about the degree of subjectivity or objectivity of synchronicity. "Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers."
This is a bit ambiguous. The relationship between the observer and observed remains confused, giving rise to two understandings of synchronicity. In the first version there is already an "interdependence of objective events amongst themselves" (say, planets and an event), observed objectively. Yet the second version involves the subjective participation of the observing psyche. In other words the experimenter's psyche is also involved. Again sounds like an echo of Quantum physics!
The first version (Synchronicity O), with its objectivity, could be examined for an inherent theory or law. The second one (Synchronicity S), with its secret, mutual connivance, is unique and lawless. It depends on, and even brings to light, the psyche of the observing subjects so that the individual's own psyche is mysteriously reflected in the objective material.
Jung moves ambiguously between these two versions of synchronicity. If synchronicity in its broadest sense has to be meaningful, then it must have a subjective component, because it is impossible to separate "meaning" from subjective psychic activity. Yet in suggesting a form of synchronicity based on an "interdependence of objective events amongst themselves", Jung also has to posit the existence of a psychoid level of reality, existing prior to human consciousness. This implies an order and pattern in the cosmos, a transcendental meaning inherent in the collective psyche. Synchronicity postulates a meaning, which is a priori to human consciousness and apparently exists outside of man.
This is perhaps the principle or phenomenon that is behind all oracular and divination systems. This is the basis of the Indian Horary ( Prasna ) method of fixing the ascendant by a number given by the client. While one method ( Uttarakalamrita ) uses 108 numbers, another modern method (KP) uses 249! The same number indicates a different ascendant in both the methods. So could we rely on such methods? Why not? The basis here is not the numbers, but synchronicity. In fact synchronicity is at the root of all oracular systems. The most important and least understood of such methodologies, is 'Nimitta' or 'Shakunam' , a branch of Vedic astrology that deals with the interpretation of so called 'omens' based on the phenomenon of synchronicity.
In India it is quite common to see parrots trained to pick the card, in a very common native Tarot methodology. I still remember that day vividly. Many years back, on a Sunday morning, during the hot summer days in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India where I did my BDS, as I sat under the cool shade of a wonderful tree reading a book on birds, I saw this colorfully dressed man with an umbrella and a wooden box which was both a box that held the tarot cards and a cage for the parrot. I was always fascinated or at least interested in all such people. So I called him more to know more about him and to amuse myself, than anything else. He said that he would charge a rupee for one tarot reading. I paid him five rupees and got ready for my 'reading'. He carefully spread his cards on a red cloth and opened the door of the wooden cage. The little green parrot hopped out strutting towards the cards. It pulled each card aside and eventually picked one with its tiny beak and gave it to the man. He took the card in his hand and gave the parrot its reward with the other- a rice grain. The parrot strutted back obediently into its cage with the grain in its beak. The man now opened the card and proceeded to interpret the symbol on the card.
In the afternoon another tarot reader came along singing the familiar tune. I guess they walk the streets more on Sundays than any other weekday. People recognize them by their tune and call them. I opened the gates and called him in. As usual the parrot picked a card. It was the same symbol again! My mind was alert now. Was this man related to the other reader? Had he sent this second reader? Could they have trained their parrots to pick a card of their choice somehow? I was very skeptical, to say the least. I knew that some of the readers were unscrupulous and made money by trying to sell talismans after drawing cards that symbolized bad times. I sent him away after a few minutes, almost convinced that he was trying to trick me. In the evening, I was coming back from an ashram in a nearby village, after my regular Sunday discussions with a monk. I was riding back through the busy streets and happened to notice the row of tarot readers sitting on the footpath near the bus stand. I parked my motorbike and walked to one of them, an elderly looking reader with compassionate eyes and big whiskers. I paid him the customary rupee and squatted on the straw mat. The parrot came out and picked a card as usual. I held my breath and waited for him to open the card. THE SAME SYMBOL AGAIN! Not one. Not two. Three times! Synchronicity, a-causal meaningful coincidences!!! Needless to say the relevance of the symbol became clear in the next few days.
Going by the phenomenon of synchronicity, if the mechanisms behind oracular prognostications are none other than synchronicity and the holographic nature of reality, then pushing a computer button at a moment thus and generating a Hexagram is perhaps no different than throwing coins. Whether one picks a card, or throws dice, or cowries, or asks for a number, or uses york sticks, the result is the same. All these methods are equally effective.
Let me narrate an incident to you. I was sitting in a business meeting in India . We were assessing the viability of a particular project. Normally I allow myself as well as others, to assess any business situation by the usual assessment methods first. Any astrological methods are done as a final check. At one stage, both the business partners sitting there suggested that I should check what was indicated through some form of divination as they knew that I was conversant with some forms of divination. I decided to use the I Ching on this occasion. Sometimes I draw a hexagram by a very unconventional method instead of using coins or york sticks. I close my eyes and let a number appear in my mind. This happens passively without one having to try really. Let me also clarify that this does not involve any psychic abilities and that anybody can try this as long as one is capable of letting a number come up naturally without any efforts - psychic or rational. On this occasion I could visualize the number 34. I had noted it down. But on the insistence of one member there, we called an employee who was conversant with the I Ching (he had learnt it under my influence) and asked him to draw a hexagram. Using three coins, he drew a hexagram. The final hexagram was the 34 th ! Two different methods of arriving at the symbol by two people gave the same result!
Let me quote Jung here. "Synchronicity . . . consists of two factors: a) an unconscious image comes into consciousness either directly (i.e., literally) or indirectly (symbolized or suggested) in the form of a dream, idea, or premonition. b) An objective situation coincides with this content. The one is as puzzling as the other" ("Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle"," CW 8, par. 858.).
What he says is clearly illustrated in the above-narrated incident. Jung speaks of two factors:
a.) An unconscious image comes into consciousness either
directly i.e. literally (the number 34 visualized in the mind in this case),
or indirectly symbolized or suggested (the 34 th hexagram drawn by the coin method, being the symbol here) in the form of a dream, idea, or premonition.
b.) An objective situation (the viability of the project) coincides with this content.
One thing should be remembered here- the significance of symbols. A symbol is the best possible expression for something unknown. Tools like Astrology, Tarot and the I Ching, all afford us symbols rich with meaning. Of course astrology affords the most comprehensive system of symbols, symbols that serve as a guide to the human psyche. It gives us a symbolic description of the individual's mind, the various forces that lie within the psyche and within the universe, and their manifestations. Thus astrology can help us to understand what the individual is like inside. External events arise out of these psychological roots. Predictions are interpretations based on these psychological symbols. Most predictive texts explore the probable manifestations of such symbols. Hence the student should remember that the predictive guidelines are secondary, occupying only a second place, with the symbols rightfully occupying the first place. Originally there were no words, only symbols. Ultimately words were appended to the symbols. After that, people relied more on the words and neglected the symbols. Gradually the profound significance of the symbols became obscure to the people. Yet symbols and words are equally important. They are like 'form' and 'essence'. Only by relying on both of them can the mystery of any divination system be fully revealed. Moreover each separate symbol is related to all the others in the system, emphasizing the interconnectedness of everything. Right interpretation of these symbols comes with right understanding.
It all depends on the level of understanding of the astrologer or practitioner. To one person the answer appears as clear as day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night. The longer one practices, the deeper becomes one's understanding of the symbolism of the particular method employed, and there is no end to it. No practitioner or user can see in a spiritual tool, anything beyond his own level of thinking at that stage. One has to agree with Dane Rudhyar that, "No astrologer- and as well no psychoanalyst- can interpret a life and destiny at a level higher than that at which he himself functions". Only the user can decide upon the importance and meaning of a particular method for him or her.
Nichola Tesla, an eminent physicist opined that, "The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence." Quantum physics has already opened a dialogue with other arts and sciences. Art, philosophy, poetry, physics, psychology, medicine and astrology, are all beginning to meet again as they did in the ancient times. Multidisciplinary studies into the cross roads between some of these fields will interest more and more seekers, eventually leading us 'Back to our Cosmic Roots'- the One Source of all.
What will be its impact on Astrology as an academic subject? Astrology will sooner or later have to be ready for its new (?) role. A strong influence of Humanistic and/or Transpersonal psychology is increasingly evident on a large number of intellectuals during the modern times. Carl Jung's works have begun to influence some in the Jyotisha camp too, while most western astrologers are already looking at astrology through the eyes of modern psychology. Yet one should not mistake the superficial approach to psychology that some western astrologers adopt in the name of "psychological readings". Likewise one shouldn't mistake the fatalistic approach to life that some eastern astrologers adopt in the name of karma . Most vedic astrologers feel that psychological astrology is for lesser brains who dare not predict, while most tropical astrologers are wary of and look down upon "fortune telling", as they refer to predicting. As an astrologer who studied and practiced both the approaches, I feel that both are wrong. How can one predict without understanding the psychological roots? On the other hand how would one be sure that all these psychological readings are right unless one is able to predict fairly well based on one's understanding of such psychological roots. After all, any science does try to predict, though in a different sense. One has to pay tribute to Indian astrology for keeping alive the tradition of predictive astrology in tact. Nowhere else in the world is astrology a continuous living tradition as it has been in India .
I feel that the primary purpose of astrology is not fortune telling, but an exploration of consciousness, a journey into the psyche, into the unconscious forces which stem from the past vasanas , into the 'shadow' (a term used by Carl Jung which comes close to the tantric papa purusha ), into the universe that we have within us, into the conflict between the opposing forces and the process of attaining equilibrium. Of course these forces manifest as our (as well as others') reactions to situations, situations that we attract to ourselves because of these unconscious drives ( vasanas and samskaras ), which thus indirectly influence our life path. Fortune telling based on such symbols of the psyche like the horoscope, dreams, omens etc is the most ordinary usage of this knowledge, albeit an application prone to error due to various factors. Nevertheless astrology can help us understand our karma, especially the hidden or unseen factors that shape our life as our own karmic forces, and thereby encourage us to take responsibility for our actions. But the highest benefit of a study of this kind of a subject is Self-actualization or individuation- a process that assists the individual in an expression of one 'self', taking one to the final stages of Nirvana. Astrology can help an individual in integrating the many facets of the psyche to become "'ONE'-'SELF'". When this happens the individual feels a sense of psychic "wholeness", which is a natural state of equilibrium. Don't the ancient texts promise that anyone who studies and teaches astrology is assured of final liberation ( moksha )? Perhaps that is the ultimate goal of a spiritual system like astrology.