Baby Ganesha: divine child as image of enlightenment

 Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesha as Divine Child by Raja Ravi Varma. UNknown date (about 50 years old). US public Domain via wikimedia.
Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha as Divine Child by Raja Ravi Varma. Unknown date. US public Domain via wikimedia.

In the image above, we see the Divine Child in the form of Ganesha. The Sanskrit word Ganesha is from gana meaning “multitude” and isha  meaning lord “lord” [1]. Ganesha is half elephant and half human. In the image, Ganesha sits on his mother’s lap. She is Parvati the goddess of love, strength, and spiritual power. Ganesha’s father is Shiva, the great destroyer of ignorance and the image of the supreme Self. The Divine Child Ganesha is born of a divine polarity: the cosmic father and mother as the two poles of the comic Self.

In Tantric Shaivism, the initiate mediates on the nature of Shiva and Shakti (Parvati), so as to realize the unity of their nature, as the cosmic Self. Those nearing enlightenment take Ganesha as their inner Guru, in an emergent identification with the cosmic Self.

Ganesha is an archetypal image of the divine child, as image of the potential for enlightenment. From a Jungian perspective, the Divine Child symbolizes a spiritual potential. The Divine Child image appears in dreams and imagination as the harbinger of the emergence of a new idea and a promise of psychical transformation. In the form of Ganesha, the new idea is the eternal truth of the Self.

In Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung says that the Child expresses “futurity” (para 278).  Dreams, art and mythic images of the child may represent “an anticipation of future developments” (ibid). On a psychical level: “The child is potential future” (ibid).

When Jung is speaking of ‘future developments,’ he is speaking of psychical development, of the emergence of new ideas within psychic life. These ‘future developments’ can express a synchronicity as well: psychic developments can be meaningfully co-incident with developments in worldly life. Nonetheless, the Divine Child most often represents the emergence of a new idea.

It is quite natural for the child image to represent a ‘third thing’. In biological life, the child is a ‘third thing’ which arises from the sexual union of the parental couple. The Divine Child archetype may appear in a dream as a sign that a synthesis is occurring or that psychic wholeness is emerging. Jung says:

“the solution of the conflict through the union of opposites is of vital importance, and is moreover the very thing that the conscious mind is longing for, some inkling of the creative act, and of the significance of it, nevertheless gets through. From this comes the numinous character of the “child” (ibid).

One of the central themes of Self-realization is an integration of the dualities which make up psychic life. The object world tends to present in binary oppositions: mother and father, female and male, down and up, etc. Our object representation are often tainted with binary oppositions: love and hate, awe and envy, greed and gratitude, etc.

These binary oppositions create emotional conflict. We might love someone and hate them. Jung speaks to such conflicts. He notes: “In the psychology of the individual there is always, at such moments, an agonizing situation of conflict from which there seems to be no way out-at least for the conscious mind” (CW 9i, para. 286).

In response to psychical conflict, a living synthesis may emerge: a new idea, offering a resolution to the conflict or a new perspectives. New ideas may appear first in dreams and imagination. In such forms they tend to have what Jung calls ‘an irrational nature’, or we might say the new ideas may appear irrational to ego consciousness. Jung says:

“out of this collision of opposites the unconscious psyche always creates a third thing of an irrational nature, which the conscious mind neither expects nor understands. It presents itself in a form that is neither a straight “yes” nor a straight “no,” and is consequently rejected by both.”

Jung understood that the child archetype signifies the integration of opposites. We might say that the child archetype emerges in dreams and imagination to signify the integration of object representations or feelings regarding object representation.

The totality of psychic life does not necessarily fit into the predefined conceptual categories through which the ego knows the world. The child archetype is an image of a psychical resolution of psychic polarity; the integration of polarity appears as a ‘third thing.’

The divine child signifies such integration on a more spiritual level. The divine child can signify the emergence of the psychic wholeness of the Self, insofar as it expresses the unification of the more the more spiritual polarities in consciousness.

For Jung, Self-realization is a horizon, a movement in psychic life, guiding integration of the conscious and unconscious aspects of psychic life. The transcendent function appears as the primary means through which this unification is accomplished.

Ganesha takes on cosmic significance in this regard. Ganesha is an image of the unification of cosmic forces (or cosmic ‘object representations’): god and goddess, eternal and temporal, infinite and finite, Self and form. As image of the divine child, Ganesha represents the potential for Self-realization through the unity of cosmic opposites as they reside within the microcosm of our self. 

Jung understood the God image and the mother image to be ‘formative factors’ within psychic life. Self-realization is wholeness of the Self, the integration of cosmic polarities occur as a ‘third thing.’ Ganesha as divine child offers an image of Self-realization, as the unification of the divine polarity. The cosmic father and mother give rise to a ‘third thing’: an individual self (microcosm) which contains within itself a realization and unification of cosmic forces. This is the archetypal realization which Ganesha offers.

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  1. Narain, A. K. “Gaṇeśa: A Protohistory of the Idea and the Icon”. Brown, pp. 21–22.
  2. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)