Joseph Cambell and the Sacred Function of Mythology
(an excerpt from The
Basket of Tolerance)
by The Ruchira Buddha, Avatar Adi Da Samraj
Life (from the point of view of body and mind) is the
experience of “difference”, duality, opposites, conflict, and
internal (subjective, or egoic) contradictions (or problems).
Religion (or sacred culture, in the broadest sense) is
the Quest (via the sacred Ordeal of self-transcendence) for the Realization
(or Samadhi) of non-duality (and, thus and thereby, Freedom from all “difference”,
all opposites, all conflict, and all internal, subjective, or egoic, contradictions).
Mythology (like art, ritual, philosophy, and the techniques
of ecstasy) is one of the primary languages of religion (or of sacred culture,
in the broadest sense). And the (inherently sacred) function of mythology
is to “picture” (rather than to “explain”) the Great
Means, the methods (or techniques), the processes, the stages, the obstacles
(or tests), the Helping encounters, the intermediary goals, and the Ultimate
Goal of the religious Quest (or the sacred Way).
The inherently sacred function (and reality) of myths
is obvious (and truly valued) only in the real practicing context of religious
(or sacred) cultures (wherein myths are always integrated with actual practice
of the religious or sacred Quest, whether in the exoteric or the esoteric
manner). However, in the secular (or non-sacred, and even anti-religious)
context of (especially) Western (or Occidental) culture, mythology (and
even all of religious or sacred culture) is (like every other artifact
and event of human experience) attached for analysis, and endless analytical
(rather than truly Revelatory) explanation, by (especially) academic and
Joseph Campbell was perhaps the most popular (and thoroughly
exoteric) of the recent analytical explainers of human mythologies. His
method of explanation was basically academic (or intellectual), but his
manner was relatively informal, generally enthusiastic, and appreciative.
He could even be described as a true fan of mythology. And his academic
efforts were rounded in an obvious true love of mythology. Indeed, he clearly
was touched by the sacred power of mythology, such that his appreciative
response to myths amounted to a kind of faith in (but not yet a Realization
of) the Divine (or Absolute) Reality that eternally transcends the world.
Like the mind itself (which is always built upon, or otherwise
concerned with, opposites and contradictions), Joseph Campbell’s study
(or academic rehearsal) of mythology had two sides (one positive, and the
other negative, or opposed to the first).
On the positive side, Joseph Campbell served to de-provincialize
the minds of conventional (or exoteric) adherents of the traditional “big”
(or more or less official) religions. And he also served to stimulate (or
open) the relatively closed minds of secular (and, generally, anti-religious)
“realists”, such that many were (like Joseph Campbell himself
enabled to begin to take the sacred seriously again.
On the negative side, Joseph Campbell made the common
error of the mind itself. He overestimated the significance (and the importance,
or the effective depth and power) of his own thoughts. That is to say,
for him, the study and appreciation of mythology was a substitute for the
actual practice of religion itself (or the total discipline of the self-transcending
sacred Ordeal Itself).
Mythology is one of the languages of ecstasy. And not
all myths are equal. Some represent the sacred ideas and lessons associated
with the earlier (or body-based) stages of life. Others represent the ideas
and experiences associated with the advanced (or mind-based and higher
psyche-based) stages of life. And yet others represent the Realizations
associated with the Ultimate (or “Radically” self-transcending)
stages of life.
Joseph Campbell was not a religious ecstatic. He was not
a practitioner of the sacred Way of the esoteric (advanced and Ultimate)
stages of life. He was not even a committed practitioner of the discipline
of any particular exoteric religion. However, Joseph Campbell was clearly
much inspired by mythology (especially, and perhaps even principally, by
the exoteric and the esoteric mythology and culture of India). Indeed,
he was so inspired even to the degree of a kind of faith (by means of mythological
Revelation) in the Reality that always already transcends the world. And,
thus inspired and faithful, he assigned to myths themselves a kind of power
and verity that does not truly (or Really) belong to them (in themselves).
For Joseph Campbell, the significance (and power) of myths
was in their capacity to restore the human feeling of the sacredness of
human (and otherwise conditional, and body-based) experience. Therefore,
his interpretations of myths (no matter what stage of life any particular
myth represented) were rather consistently exoteric (and most often consistent
with the humanistic, pragmatic, and generally non-mystical attitudes that
are typical, and even characteristic, of the Western academic mentality).
As an illustration of this point, Joseph Campbell told
of how he once met the Indian Jnani (or Advaitic Sage) known as Atmananda.
He asked Atmananda (in the manner of a rather academic question, or one
that he felt had already been answered by his own presumptions): If (as
Indian mythology proposes) the world is an appearance in the Divine (and
is, therefore, one with the Divine), must we not say “Yes” to
life and to the world (and not only to the degree of embracing the world’s
“good” aspects, but also to the degree of accepting, if even
while struggling with, its apparently “bad”, or “evil”,
aspects as well)? He claimed that Atmananda also said “Yes”,
and that Atmananda was even especially responsive to this question (and,
presumably, to Joseph Campbell himself), because it was, supposedly, the
first question that he (Atmananda) had asked his Guru (when he and his
Guru first met) years earlier.
In any case, this story illustrates Joseph Campbell’s
characteristic use of mythology. For him, the affirmation (by traditional
myths) of the sacredness (or even Divinity) of the world justified his
own preference for the positive affirmation of human bodily existence and
struggle (and this preference was not itself, or originally, based upon
his study of mythology, but it was based upon his own developmental and
characteristically Western cultural limitations, which bound him to the
body-based point of view associated with the first three stages of life).
As I have already said, mythology is one of the languages
of ecstasy. Therefore, the statements (or propositions) of mythology (and
even of religious and Spiritual philosophy) are not (if properly understood)
mere statements of fact (or of universal and, as mere matters of fact,
always the case “truths”). Rather, they are ecstatic Revelations,
or expressions of a state of Realization that (if actually Realized) presently
transcends the world, the body, and much (or, in the Ultimate case, even
all) of mind. Therefore, the proposition (via myths, or via ecstatic religious
Teachings) that the world (including the body) inheres in the Divine (and,
thus and thereby, Is Divine) is not a Call to embrace (or become further
identified with, or attached to) the world (or the bodily point of view)
itself. Rather, it is a Call to ecstasy, and (thus and thereby) to Divine
Realization (or Samadhi) Itself, and to the Recognition (and transcendence)
of all conditions in Samadhi (and, Thus, in the Realized Divine Condition
The common error associated with each and all of the first
six stages of life is the error of either separating the world (and the
body, and the mind) from the Divine (or the Absolute) or of identifying
the world (or the body, or the mind), in and of and as itself, with the
Divine (or the Absolute). Therefore, some, like Joseph Campbell, use a
mythological God-concept to justify the conventional (exoteric, body-based,
and naturally egoic, or self-fulfilling, rather than self-transcending)
orientation toward human existence, just as others use certain religious
(and even mystical) experiences to justify their attachment to the bodily
point of view (or some other form of the egoic point of view). However,
the Great Statements and Myths are not expressions made from the egoic
and bodily point of view (nor are they, Ultimately, even expressions that
originate from mental, or psychic, experience or activity). Rather, such
Great Statements and Myths are Spoken (or “Pictured”) in (or
else in the recollection of) an ecstatic state (or in one or another degree
of Samadhi). Therefore, such Great Statements and Myths cannot be properly
understood by the ordinary (body-based) mind, nor do they Communicate a
Truth that directly applies to (or intrinsically characterizes) either
the world itself or the body-based mind itself.
The Great Statements and Myths can be properly “understood”
only in ecstasy (or Samadhi). Therefore, they are a Call to ecstasy (or
to the truly self-transcending disciplines and practices that Realize the
degrees of Samadhi).
The Great Statement or Myth referred to by Joseph Campbell,
that Says (or Makes a “Picture” that “Shows”) the world
is arising in the Divine (or the Absolute), is not an ordinary statement
of fact. From the ordinary (egoic, or self-contracted, and naturally psycho-physical)
point of view, the world is entirely an experience of “difference”,
duality, opposites, conflict, and internal (subjective, or egoic) contradictions
(or problems). Therefore, it is not appropriate to merely affirm (or believe)
any Great Statement or Myth (and, thus and thereby, to use it to justify
egoic identification with and attachment to the world, the body, and the
mind). Rather, any Great Statement or Myth must be integrated with a total
(and necessarily religious, or sacred) culture, practice, and Ordeal of
life, whereby the conditional self is transcended in (and as a necessary
requirement of) the profound Quest for actual Realization of That
Which transcends the world, the body, and the mind.
Even all the Great Statements and Myths Proclaim (whether
implicitly or explicitly) that faith must become ecstatic (or self-transcending)
practice, and practice (or ecstasy) must Realize Samadhi, for, apart from
Samadhi (or direct Realization of God, or the Absolute), body, mind, and
world are the incarnations of “difference”, illusion, and bondage.
Therefore, faith is not an end in itself, or an excuse for the egoic life.
Faith is, properly, only the beginning of the Way of faith, ecstasy, and
(Ultimately, Perfect) Samadhi.
Joseph Campbell was a man of faith, but he was personally
resistive to the sacred discipline of self-transcendence that is inherently
a part of the religious (or sacred) culture in which myths (and especially
the Great Myths, and the Great Statements) appear. He preferred (and cultivated)
the “Mother-Side” of life (or the things that console and energize
and seem to promise fulfillment of the world, the body, and the mind),
and he resisted the “Father-Side” of life (or the influences
that demand the trial of discipline, and even of responsive obedience,
or sympathetic conformity). Like many other Western admirers of the East,
he was not willing to accept the trial (or Ordeal) of practice, but he
preferred to think, and to explain, and to indulge in the myths (and even
the fantasies) of the East (and even of the totality of human sacred culture).
Indeed, Joseph Campbell, like many others (including many
Westerners in the academic, scientific, and psychiatric professions), especially
enjoyed (and indulged in) the glamor he inherited by mere association with
the beautiful mythologies (and the Great Statements and Myths) of mankind.
Therefore, even though he denied (with expected modesty) any special sense
or privilege of his own sacredness (or heroism), he liberally played the
role of the Western academic “guru” (spelled with a small “g”).
He enjoyed. “playing” the role of a guide who points the Way
to others. And he would tell his academic students (now attracted to the
beauties and mind-healing powers of mythology) to “follow your own
bliss” (or go and do according to your most happily felt and wanted
purposes). However, Joseph Campbell was otherwise reluctant to affirm the
virtue of the actual practice of the religious (or sacred) Quest itself.
And he was reluctant to turn his students toward the Ordeal that goes beyond
the exoteric (or ordinary human) context of the first three stages of life.
And he (like so many other academic “gurus”) was reluctant (or
culturally and egoically unable) to direct and release his students toward
any actual Realizer (or true Guru, spelled with a capital “G”).
Therefore, his influence was limited to the lesser (or more ordinary) context
of human endeavor.
In the Great Tradition of mankind, teachers are sometimes
called “gurus” (spelled with a small “g”). Such “gurus”
are not men or women of Realization, but they instruct others in various
secular and sacred arts, crafts, and sciences, in order to equip them for
the ordinary human pursuit and struggle. And some of these “gurus”
may also constantly remind their students of the sacred itself. Joseph
Campbell was such an instructing and reminding “guru”.
However, in the Great Tradition of mankind, the sacred
Ordeal Itself is the province of Teachers who are actual Realizers (of
Samadhi). Of these, there are Gurus (spelled with a capital “G”)
who (in the context of any or all of the fourth, fifth, and sixth stages
of life) have (at one time or another) experienced Samadhi, and who, therefore,
can (in the context of their own stage or degree of Realization) give first-hand
Guidance (including Revelatory explanations, and, in some cases, a degree
of Spiritual Transmission) relative to the techniques, processes, stages,
obstacles, and goals of the self-transcending Way. And, beyond these Gurus,
there are Sat-Gurus (also often referred to by the simpler reference “Guru”),
or those who are presently (and constantly) in Samadhi (in the context
of any or all of the fourth, fifth, and sixth stages of life, and, especially,
or in the Ultimate case, in the context of the seventh stage of life),
and who are unique in their Ability to fully Transmit their own (uniquely
developed) Wisdom, Spiritual Power of Realization, and (in the Greatest
of cases) also their own State of Realization (or Samadhi) directly to
Joseph Campbell was not such a Guru or Sat-Guru, but he,
like many others (especially in the secular and anti-religious West, was
also reluctant to Resort to such a Guru or Sat-Guru (or to recommend that
anyone else, especially any Westerner, Resort to such a Guru or Sat-Guru).
And this reluctance to engage or to recommend real practice of the sacred
Ordeal (and in the Company of a true Realizer, of any degree) was Joseph
Campbell’s limitation (as it was and is also the limitation of many other
modern Western savants, including C.G. Jung, who, at least in the form
of his writings, also apparently functioned, among others, as a kind of
instructing and reminding “guru” for Joseph Campbell).
The Da Love-Ananda Samrajya Pty Ltd., as trustee for
The Da Love-Ananda Samrajya,
claims perpetual copyright to all photographs and the entire Written
(and otherwise recorded)
Wisdom-Teaching of Avatar Adi Da Samraj and the Way of the Heart.
©1999 The Da Love-Ananda Samrajya Pty Ltd., as
trustee for The Da Love-Ananda Samrajya.
All rights reserved.
Used in DAbase by permission.
note to the reader