Thursday, February 14, 2013

Excerpts from Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth" (Part 1)

This is the first part of excerpts I took from Joseph Campbell's interview with Bill Moyers called "The Power of Myth." I added my own little additions or clarifications in brackets. I apologize in advance if they are a distraction in any way. I'll try to get the next part published soon. Enjoy.

The secret cause of all suffering," he said, "is mortality itself, which is the prime condition of life. It cannot be denied if life is to be affirmed. [We can't know the high quality of Kobe beef without McDonald's]

If this position were just a role, the judge could wear a gray suit to court instead of the magisterial black robe. For the law to hold authority beyond mere coercion, the power of the judge must be ritualized, mythologized. So must much of life today, Campbell said, from religion and war to love and death. [I dread the days I have to choke myself with a decorated noose for eight hours. Thankfully it's not everyday. Hopefully one day I can reduce those days to graduations, weddings, and funerals.]

The message that technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being. [But do we need technology of one kind or another -- computers, algorithms, drugs, medicine -- do aid our true being into the next phase of evolution?]

Luke Skywalker [or any one of a number of contemporary heroes (Neo is another)] was never more rational than when he found within himself the resources of character to meet his destiny.

The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others." One of the many distinctions between the celebrity and the hero, he said, is that one lives only for self while the other acts to redeem society.

You're talking about a search for the meaning of life?" I asked. "No, no, no," he said. "For the experience of being alive. ["I don't want to work for a living. I want to live!" -Oscar Wilde]

Early societies learned that "the essence of life is that it lives by killing and eating; that's the great mystery that the myths have to deal with. [The biosphere is a writhing, suffering entity that exists because birth, death and rebirth also exists. We aren't separate from this.]

Acts of atonement to the departed spirits of the animals, hoping to coax them into returning to be sacrificed again. The beasts were seen as envoys from that other world, and Campbell surmised "a magical, wonderful accord" growing between the hunter and the hunted, as if they were locked in a "mystical, timeless" cycle of death, burial, and resurrection.

The Koran: "Do you think that you shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you?

A spiritual man, he found in the literature of faith those principles common to the human spirit. But they had to be liberated from tribal lien, or the religions of the world would remain.

God assumes such different masks in different cultures, yet how it is that comparable stories can be found in these divergent traditions -- stories of creation, of virgin births, incarnations, death and resurrection, second comings, and judgment days. He liked the insight of the Hindu scripture: 

"Truth is one; the sages call it by many names." All our names and images for God are masks, he said, signifying the ultimate reality that by definition transcends language and art.

However the mystic traditions differ, he said, they are in accord in calling us to a deeper awareness of the very act of living itself. The unpardonable sin, in Campbell's book, was the sin of inadvertence, of not being alert, not quite awake.

There is a "point of wisdom beyond the conflicts of illusion and truth by which lives can be put back together again. [Even such exalted notions as illusion and truth are dichotomies. There is still something beyond them.]

The new discoveries of science "rejoin us to the ancients" by enabling us to recognize in this whole universe "a reflection magnified of our own most inward nature; so that we are indeed its ears, its eyes, its thinking. [Science will hopefully complete the circle. It will bring us back to the singular point that we came from.]

Myths are clues to our deepest spiritual potential, able to lead us to delight, illumination, and even rapture. [Let us revel in the creativity of the myth for it can layer our lives with texture.]

A philosopher from New York, [said] to a Shinto priest:

"We've been now to a good many ceremonies and have seen quite a few of your shrines. But I don't get your ideology. I don't get your theology." The Japanese paused as though in deep thought and then slowly shook his head. "I think we don't have ideology," he said. "We don't have theology. We dance."

People say that what we're all seeking a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

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