The Inner Journey – Carl G. Jung’s Near-Death-Experience

I would like to share with you another more modern account of an Inner Journey, in what is now described as the Near-Death Experience of Carl Jung.

In a hospital in Switzerland in 1944, the world-renowned psychiatrist Carl G. Jung, had a heart attack and then a near-death experience. His vivid encounter with the light, plus the intensely meaningful insights led Jung to conclude that his experience came from something real and eternal. Jung’s experience is unique in that he saw the Earth from a vantage point of about a thousand miles above it. His incredibly accurate view of the Earth from outer space was described about two decades before astronauts in space first described it. Subsequently, as he reflected on life after death, Jung recalled the meditating Hindu from his near-death experience and read it as a parable of the archetypal Higher Self, the God-image within.[1]

The following account is from Jung’s book’ Memories, Dreams, Reflections, in a chapter titled Visions.[2]

‘The beginning of 1944 I broke my foot, and this misadventure was followed by a heart attack. In a state of unconsciousness, I experienced deliriums and visions which must have begun when I hung on the edge of death and was being given oxygen and camphor injections. The images were so tremendous that I myself concluded that I was close to death. My nurse afterward told me:

“It was as if you were surrounded by a bright glow,”

That was a phenomenon she had sometimes observed in the dying, she added. I had reached the outermost limit, and do not know whether I was in a dream or an ecstasy. At any rate, extremely strange things began to happen to me. 

It seemed to me that I was high up in space. Far below I saw the globe of the Earth, bathed in a gloriously blue light. I saw the deep blue sea and the continents.  Far below my feet lay Ceylon, and in the distance ahead of me the subcontinent of India. My field of vision did not include the whole Earth, but its global shape was plainly distinguishable, and its outlines shone with a silvery gleam through that wonderful blue light. In many places the globe seemed coloured or spotted dark green like oxidized silver. Far away to the left lay a broad expanse – the reddish-yellow desert of Arabia; it was as though the silver of the Earth had there assumed a reddish-gold hue. Then came the Red Sea, and far, far back – as if in the upper left of a map – I could just make out a bit of the Mediterranean. My gaze was directed chiefly toward that. Everything else appeared indistinct. I could also see the snow-covered Himalayas, but in that direction, it was foggy or cloudy. I did not look to the right at all. I knew that I was on the point of departing from the Earth. 

Later I discovered how high in space one would have to be to have so extensive a view – approximately a thousand miles!  The sight of the Earth from this height was the most glorious thing I had ever seen. 

In this extraordinary inner journey, Jung found himself in the farthest place from his normal existence in the world. He was at the farthest edge, in boundless consciousness. It was experienced by Jung, as being high above the earth, floating in space. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim was also described as being ‘Faraway’ or in the Land between the Rivers, Dilmun, or Paradise. In the story of Muhamad, he too found himself in ‘the farthest Masjid’. This place which Sufis describe as the Alam-al-Mithal is the Centre of All, a realm where we are united with the Divine, where all potentialities are possible and where we are not in our usual bodily ‘place’. It is at the extreme edge of consciousness and understanding.  The farthest Place.

The experience of flying, or travelling through the realms, is a common feature in Fairy Tales, myths and legends: like the Flying Horse or psychopomp as discussed previously. A few months ago, I experienced something similar in a dream. I found myself flying through ‘space’ and feeling totally free and ecstatic. I knew / remembered how to fly, even though I was a bit rusty at first, and realised that I hadn’t done it for a long, long  time. There was nothing around me and I was simply soaring higher and higher. It was wonderful to be free of the world, there were no attachments or even desires. This was so like Jung’s experience. I have realised that the ‘element’ that I was flying through was what Sufis would describe as ether – no colour or all colours, but experienced by me as a brightness. It is the highest and finest element. In our practice we move from the densest element earth which is yellow, through water which is green, then fire (red) and air (blue) until we soar off into the ether towards the stars.

To continue with Jung’s experience:

After contemplating it for a while, I turned around. I had been standing with my back to the Indian Ocean, as it were, and my face to the north. Then it seemed to me that I made a turn to the south. Something new entered my field of vision. A short distance away I saw in space a tremendous dark block of stone, like a meteorite. It was about the size of my house, or even bigger. It was floating in space, and I myself was floating in space. 

I had seen similar stones on the coast of the Gulf of Bengal. They were blocks of tawny granite, and some of them had been hollowed out into temples. My stone was one such gigantic dark block. An entrance led into a small antechamber. To the right of the entrance, a black Hindu sat silently in lotus posture upon a stone bench. He wore a white gown, and I knew that he expected me. Two steps led up to this antechamber, and inside, on the left, was the gate to the temple. Innumerable tiny niches, each with a saucer-like concavity filled with coconut oil and small burning wicks, surrounded the door with a wreath of bright flames. I had once actually seen this when I visited the Temple of the Holy Tooth at Kandy in Ceylon; the gate had been framed by several rows of burning oil lamps of this sort. [3]

Jung’s experience of the ‘tremendous dark block of stone, like a meteorite’, which was larger than his house, floating in space near him, is so mysterious. What could this mean? I am immediately reminded of the Kaaba which is described as follows: –

‘A mysterious dark rock rests in a corner of the Kaaba, a square black building found at the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Each year devout Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca, circling the Kaaba and giving a nod or a kiss to the meteorite that is said to rest inside. — The worship of the Black Stone goes back to pre-Islamic shrines, when Semitic cultures used unusual stones to signify sites of reverence. According to Muslim belief, the stone originates from the time of Adam and the Islamic prophet Muhammad set the Black Stone in place after it fell from the skies.’[4] Jung continues:

As I approached the steps leading up to the entrance into the rock, a strange thing happened: I had the feeling that everything was being sloughed away; everything I aimed at or wished for or thought, the whole phantasmagoria of earthly existence, fell away or was stripped from me – an extremely painful process. Nevertheless, something remained; it was as if I now carried along with me everything I had ever experienced or done, everything that had happened around me. I might also say: it was with me, and I was it. I consisted of all that, so to speak. I consisted of my own history and I felt with great certainty: this is what I am. I am this bundle of what has been and what has been accomplished. 

This experience gave me a feeling of extreme poverty, but at the same time of great fullness. There was no longer anything I wanted or desired. I existed in an objective form; I was what I had been and lived. At first the sense of annihilation predominated, of having been stripped or pillaged; but suddenly that became of no consequence. 

Everything seemed to be past; what remained was a “fait accompli,” without any reference back to what had been. There was no longer any regret that something had dropped away or been taken away. On the contrary: I had everything that I was, and that was everything. 

Something else engaged my attention: as I approached the temple I had the certainty that I was about to enter an illuminated room and would meet there all those people to whom I belong in reality. There I would at last understand – this too was a certainty – what historical nexus I or my life fitted into. I would know what had been before me, why I had come into being, and where my life was flowing. My life as I lived it had often seemed to me like a story that has no beginning and end. I had the feeling that I was a historical fragment, an excerpt for which the preceding and succeeding text was missing. My life seemed to have been snipped out of a long chain of events, and many questions had remained unanswered. Why had it taken this course? Why had I brought these particular assumptions with me? What had I made of them? What will follow? I felt sure that I would receive an answer to all the questions as soon as I entered the rock temple. There I would meet the people who knew the answer to my question about what had been before and what would come after.’[5] 

This is clearly a symbol of the most sacred, holy place that Jung could conceive of. He reveals his experience of this Divine Symbol, by comparing it with the massive stones of granite which had been hollowed out into a temple, that he had seen in Bengal. On the right of the anti-chamber sat a dark holy man wearing a white robe in a deep meditation, Jung knew that he was expected.  On his left was the gate to the temple, the holy of holies. As he entered he experienced a complete ‘sloughing off’ of everything related to his outer physical life. Everything was stripped away and he was left with a feeling of completeness. The annihilation did not matter at all. In his own words, he had everything that he was, and that was everything. He had an experience of Unity with the Divine, where everything is One, and One is everything. That the Hindu holy man was seated on the right of the anti-chamber symbolises the outer experience of the sacred in the first stage of transformation. He was described  as black which symbolises the ‘prima matria’ of alchemy – the first stage of turning base metal (lead) into gold. The Holy man was wearing a white robe, representing the undifferentiated, transcendent perfection – the final stage of alchemy bringing Light, Sun, and illumination. So the black holy man in his white robe represents the whole process of transformation from the base ‘element’ transformed and illuminated.

Jung felt that he was expected which is such a wonderful feeling. Knowing that he was on the right path and that everything was exactly as it should be. He was expected. What a wonderful and particular feeling it is to be expected.

We are told that we have to be able to journey through the realms while in this life, so that we know and understand the journey when our body dies, and we pass over.

There were two steps which led up into the anti-chamber. Two symbolises duality – All that is manifest in duality is in pairs of opposites. Everything is contained in its own opposite. So, it is through this duality that we enter the Temple. Inside and on the left was the gate of the temple. Left represents the inner world. The Temple is the Centre of All, it is the holy of holies – the place of Unity with the divine. We come from Unity into manifestation (duality) and return to Unity in the most numinous of experiences.  In this experience there is indeed a sloughing off of everything that is related to the outer life, into a feeling of completeness which is Unity. It is Fana fi Allah – an annihilation into Allah. It is interesting that Jung retained a sense of himself and his identity and history, while being detached from it.

Just as in the Prophet Muhammad’s inner journey, where The Prophet was raised with the Angel Gabriel beyond time and space, he spoke with the earlier prophets – Adam, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Aaron, John the Baptist, and Jesus. It is said that his vision of the heavens and of the beauty of those horizons permeated his being. Jung had the certainty that as he was about to enter the illuminated room, that he would meet, those beings that he ‘belonged’ to. In other words, beings like himself – fellow mystics perhaps. There he would discover his own meaning and purpose and how this was to fit with the Whole. He would know and understand his life from the perspective of the past, present and future, which in fact do not exist in that space. There is only the eternal now.

 ‘For it seemed to me as if behind the horizon of the cosmos a three-dimensional world had been artificially built up, in which each person sat by himself in a little box. And now I should have to convince myself all over again that this was important! Life and the whole world struck me as a prison, and it bothered me beyond measure that I should again be finding all that quite in order. I had been so glad to shed it all, and now it had come about that I –  along with everyone else – would again be hung up in a box by a thread.’ 

‘While I floated in space, I had been weightless, and there had been nothing tugging at me. And now all that was to be a thing of the past!’[6] 

Jung did not want to return to this world, of being separate and disconnected. Of being in a little box. But he knew that he had to return to fulfil his destiny and show his world and us, what the reality of inner life is about. He was a great mystic – and mysticism is at the core of all religions and belief systems.

Jung goes on to say:

‘I would never have imagined that any such experience was possible. It was not a product of imagination. The visions and experiences were utterly real; there was nothing subjective about them; they all had a quality of absolute objectivity’.

‘We shy away from the word “eternal,” but I can describe the experience only as the ecstasy of a non-temporal state in which present, past, and future are one. Everything that happens in time had been brought together into a concrete whole. Nothing was distributed over time, nothing could be measured by temporal concepts. The experience might best be defined as a state of feeling, but one which cannot be produced by imagination. How can I imagine that I exist simultaneously the day before yesterday, today, and the day after tomorrow? There would be things which would not yet have begun, other things which would be indubitably present, and others again which would already be finished and yet all this would be one. The only thing that feeling could grasp would be a sum, an iridescent whole, containing all at once expectation of a beginning, surprise at what is now happening, and satisfaction or disappointment with the result of what has happened. One is interwoven into an indescribable whole and yet observes it with complete objectivity.’[7]

I really think that Jung says it all here. What an amazing experience for us to contemplate.







[2] Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe. Collins and Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1963 p 270

[3] ibid


[5] Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe. Collins and Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1963

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

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