Lee Ruth Robbins

Complex and Karma: Jung and Buddha on Release from Suffering

“It was neither the history of religion nor the study of philosophy that drew me to the world of Buddhist thought but my professional interest as a doctor. My task was the treatment of psychic suffering, and it was this that impelled me to become acquainted with the views and methods of that great teacher of humanity…the Buddha (from: “On the Discourses of the Buddha” (Jung: Psychology and the East, 209).

The paper links what appear to be widely separated subjects, Jung’s theory of the complex and Buddha’s understanding of karma. At different times and in different cultural contexts Buddha and Jung discovered strategies for healing the fragile nature of human life.

The core of the personal complex is an archetype feeding it with energy in the form of emotion and symptom.  The collective and cultural pattern of the archetype is differentiated in the individual life, illustrating the intimate relationship between microcosm and macrocosm. Jung acknowledges this when he writes, “Not my sorrow, but the sorrow of the world; not a personal isolating pain, but a pain without bitterness that unites all humanity. The healing effect of this needs no proof” (CW 8, para 316). What is rarely acknowledged is the potential source of healing resides in the complex from which we suffer.

Buddha also identifies world and person in his search to gain release from the cycle of birth, aging, illness and death. In the Legend of his Awakening, Buddha experiences his own karma, and with the divine eye, envisions the karma of all beings being reborn in different planes of existence according to skillful or unskillful mental actions. His radical insight into the end of karma is formulated in the Four Noble Truths.

Jung and Buddha both offer a “middle way” to ease our discontent.  In the Transcendent Function, Jung explains the gestation of a third region that is born after a long and courageous dialogue between ego and unconscious. He called this process individuation.  Buddha proclaims the Noble Eightfold Path, which is a refuge for the mind between indulgence and self-affliction. Following the path leads to release from suffering and contentment in the present life. Two examples from my practice will be presented to ground their insights.


Lee Robbins Ph.D, LCSW-R is an analyst at Jungian Psychoanalytic Association in New York City, where teaches, supervises and serves as Director of Admissions. Dr. Robbins is an adjunct professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized study teaching interdisciplinary seminars in Buddhist and Western Psychology and Jung and Postmodern Religious Experience.  Invited lectures include: "Archetypal Parenting, toward  a reverie of origins'' "Jung's Empty Self, a buddhist and postmodern perspective"  and "Beyond Enchantment and Disenchantment, the rebirth of the God image in The Red Book" presented at the IAJS London 2011.\

Professional Affiliations

  • Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, NYC

  • International Association for Jungian Studies

  • New York University

  • Barre Center for Buddhist Studies

  • Insight Mediations Society


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