Tuesday, December 23, 2008

comforted by Campbell

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) is one of the great spiritual master mythologists. He sees in myths the whole evolution of human race, its initiation into the world of strife, resolution of conflict and transformation of human existence. He feels that we already have the labyrinth of the hero path with us; it’s only up to us to take our own pathways to liberation.

Few amazing ways in which he transforms mythical figures into symbolic springs of wisdom… {From The Power of Myth, Pp 170-171}

The Hero in Jesus

Jesus goes to the “edge of consciousness” by getting baptized by John, the Baptist. Then, he departs into the desert and stays there for forty days. The number forty is “mythologically significant.” The children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness; so did Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Campbell delightfully delves into the “three temptations” Jesus undergoes in the desert.

The Economic Temptation

Satan asks Jesus to turn the stones into bread to conquer his hunger. Jesus replies: “Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word out of the mouth of God.”

The Political Temptation

Satan takes Jesus to the top of a mountain and shows him all the nations of the world. Satan lures Jesus that he can control the whole world if he bows down to him. Jesus refuses.

The Spiritual Temptation

Satan takes Jesus to Mt. Herod’s top and asks to him to jump down so that he could see if God rescues him. Jesus replies: “You shall not tempt the Lord, your God.”

These three temptations are “as relevant today as they were in AD 30.”

The Hero in Buddha

The Buddha too goes these temptations under the Bodh tree: Lust, Fear and Submission to public opinion.

The tempter Mara or the Lord of Lust parades his three daughters: Desire, Fulfillment, and Regrets – Future, Present and Past. But, the Buddha is unmoved.

Then, Mara turns into the Lord of death and hurls fatal weapons at the Buddha. Here, Campbell visualizes Buddha’s inward reaction to the outside danger. “But the Buddha had found in himself that still point within, which is of eternity, untouched by time.”

What a stunning way to talk about the tackling of the Enlightened One. The still point is an expression that TS Eliot also uses to point to the “still point of the universe” where eternity and time intersect and blend into a new pattern of existence called the Absolute Unknown.

But, Buddha was unmoved by his inward strength that turned the weapons into “flowers of worship.”

Finally, the Lord of the Lust and Death transformed himself into the Lord of Social Duty and argued: “Young man, haven’t you read the morning papers? Don’t you know what there is to be done today?” The Buddha responded by simply touching the earth with his right fingertips.

Then, the voice of the Goddess mother of universe was heard, like thunder rolling on the horizon, saying, “This, my beloved son, has already so given of himself to the world that there is no one here to be ordered about. Give up this nonsense.” Whereupon the elephant on which the Lord of Social Duty was riding bowed in worship of the Buddha, and the entire company of the Antagonist dissolved like a dream. That night, the Buddha achieved Illumination.


Campbell’s wonderful mythological insight: “Where you wish to slay another, you’ll slay yourself

Such a profound observation reflecting on the very nature of human experience. If we yield to hatred and plan to slaughter others, we ourselves would be inwardly slaughtered. One can dislike others, that’s a different matter. Because dislike is discounted by encountering some fine souls like Campbell.

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