Jung’s Obsession With Mandalas

When you look closely at Jung it becomes clear that he doesn’t always use terms according to dictionary definitions. Because my main concern in this discussion is with the relationship between the four functions I will endure Jung’s sometimes idiosyncratic definitions.  Later we can deal with the meanings of the individual functions.

Here is the problem:

“I (Jung) had to abandon the idea of the superordinate position of the ego. … I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the centre. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation.

… I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.” – C. G. Jung. Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Jung fell victim to “box” thinking.  He was searching for any figure that would systematize the four functions.  Jung grabbed the most obvious geometric form available to the western mind .  He naturally thought of the square.  This is about as enlightened as saying “cat” when asked in the word association game “what comes to your mind when you hear the word dog?”  Jung believed the mandala was the best expression of the relationships between the four functions. Even though we tend to think of a  mandala as a square it can vary culturally.  For instance the Yin- Yang symbol (Taijitu) is a kind of harmonizing of four dimensions. Actually mandala is sanscrit for “circle”.  For whatever reason (probably a tendency toward dichotomous thinking) Jung chose the cross as the main figure for illustrating the relations of the four functions.  The diagram below ends up as Jung’s definitive structure.


A square may be an obvious choice when picking a figure to represent four basic elements but it creates a big question.  That question concerns the meaning of the middle of the square.  What happens when a person is balanced on all four functions.   Jung apparently felt that individuation ought to move a person to the center of the square where a person would achieve equal strength in all four functions.  No such person can possibly exist.  We are individuals to the extent that we present an imbalance in our function preferences.  It is this imbalance that is best utilized in the context of a group with “gifts differing” for the enrichment of the whole. The real job for a human is not to see how they can be complete by themselves but how they can, by understanding their assets and limitations, form a synergy within their community.

The even distribution of energy is death.  There is no value- no energy to homogenization. Wind is a good example.  Wind is the movement of air due to the inequality of temperature at two locations. At the point where the pressures equalize the flow stops.

Many psychological tests that are expressed as a score on various scales refer to “flat” or “tight” patterns.  These terms refer to the situation where all the scales are practically equal.  Whenever this kind of profile is encountered it raises a red flag.  Generally something is not exactly right when this happens.  A counselor uses this signal as a reason to probe for possible causes. The point here is to illustrate that individuation as a process of equalizing the four functions may not be desirable.  However, an awareness of the rank order of the strength of these functions is of utmost importance, because that’s what guides a person’s social preferences for vocation, mate, friends and understanding their enemies.

The problem with the “square” model is that once you explain the center you now have a “fifth” factor.  What are you going to do?  Are you going to conceive of a pentangular polygon to accommodate that “fifth” function? You have to stop somewhere.  The place to stop is at the beginning. There is quite a bit of agreement on the significance of four-ness. But is there a better way of conceiving four-ness using a geometrical figure?


Instead of thinking about a chair with four legs we need to think about the old-fashioned milking stool.  I don’t know if Jung ever met Buckminster Fuller but if he didn’t he should have. Both had a fascination with four-ness,but Fuller found the triangle to be the shape of preference if not necessity.

Consider the results if Jung and “Bucky” would have collaborated:

That’s as far as I care to go with this.  From this point on it is a matter of unraveling Jung’s poorly conceived labeling of the basic functions.  The solution is to understand that the functions need to reflect actual organismic systems.  There is almost a universal understanding that we are feelers, doers, thinkers and seers.  We feel, do, think and see.  So, we can map this as follows:

Jung was not uniquely blind to the possibility of a triangle representing his concepts.  Sheldon remarked that he looked repeatedly for a fourth dimension in constructing his scheme but was unable to find one.  It was hiding in plain sight.  In one of his books he included a chart wherein  he used a very large font to label the middle as “HUMOR”.  This is just a short step away from optimism, which is a principal trait of the Sanguine temparament

Whatever else may be true of humor, it represents a singular inclination to take life lightly, or whimsically, and a readiness to tolerate (indeed to enjoy) incompatible conceptions.  The person with a sense of humor does not put himself in too serious a light and does not desire to be taken too seriously.  He avoids the responsibility of exercising power [ mesomorphy (my note)] People with humor are not directly leaders in the world’s affairs.  But humor is in no sense a polar trait.  It involves both the relaxation of viscerotonia [endomorphy (my note)] and the restraint of cerebrotonia [ectomorphy (my note)]. Varieties of Temperament (W.H. Sheldon p. 53, 1942)


It is significant that somatotypes can best be expressed as a triangle or tetrahedron. This harmonizes perfectly with Jung’s view that the fourth or inferior function is not immediately apparent.  It is hidden.  It emerges from the relationship of the main three.









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