One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.
MOYERS: Someone asked me, "Why are you drawn to these myths? What do you see in what Joseph Campbell is saying?" And I answered, "These myths speak to me because they express what I know inside is true." Why is this so? Why does it seem that these stories tell me what I know inside is true? Does that come from the ground of my being, the unconscious that I have inherited from all that has come before me?
CAMPBELL: That's right. You've got the same body, with the same organs and energies, that Cro-Magnon man had thirty thousand years ago. Living a human life in New York City or living a human life in the caves, you go through the same stages of childhood, coming to sexual maturity, transfor mation of the dependency of childhood into the responsibility of manhood or womanhood, marriage, then failure of the body, gradual loss of its powers, and death. You have the same body, the same bodily experiences, and so you respond to the same images. For example, a constant image is that of the conflict of the eagle and the serpent. The serpent bound to the earth, the eagle in spiritual flight - isn't that conflict something we all experience? And then, when the two amalgamate, we get a wonderful dragon, a serpent with wings. All over the earth people recognize these images. Whether I am reading Polynesian or Iroquois or Egyptian myths, the images are the same, and they are talking about the same problems.
MOYERS: They just wear different costumes when they appear at different times?
CAMPBELL: Yes. It's as though the same play were taken from one place to another, and at each place the local players put on local costumes and enact the same old play.
MOYERS: And these mythic images are carried forward from generation to generation, almost unconsciously.
CAMPBELL: That's utterly fascinating, because they are speaking about he deep mystery of yourself and everything else. It is a mysterium, a mystery, remendum et fascinans-tremendous, horrific, because it smashes all of your ixed notions of things, and at the same time utterly fascinating, because it's of your own nature and being. When you start thinking about these thing' about the inner mystery, inner life, the eternal life, there aren't too man images for you to use. You begin, on your own, to have the images that ar already present in some other system of thought.
MOYERS: There was a sense during medieval times of reading the world as if the world had messages for you.
CAMPBELL: Oh, it certainly does. The myths help you read the messages. They tell you the typical probabilities.
MOYERS: Give me an example.
CAMPBELL: One thing that comes out in myths, for example, is that a the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. A the darkest moment comes the light.
MOYERS: Like Roethke's poem, "In a Dark Time, the Eye Begins tSee." You're saying that myths have brought this consciousness to you.
CAMPBELL: I live with these myths, and they tell me this all the time This is the problem that can be metaphorically understood as identifying with the Christ in you. The Christ in you doesn't die. The Christ in you survives death and resurrects. Or you can identify that with Shiva. I art Shiva-this is the great meditation of the yogis in the Himalayas.
MOYERS: And heaven, that desired goal of most people, is within us.
CAMPBELL: Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us. This is the great realization of the Upanishads of India in the ninth century B.C. All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other. That is what myth is. Myth is a manifestation in symbolic images, in metaphorical images, of the energies of the organs of the body in conflict with each other. This organ wants this, that organ wants that. The brain is one of the organs.
MOYERS: So when we dream, we are fishing in some vast ocean mythology that-
CAMPBELL: -that goes down and down and down. You can get all mixed up with complexes, you know, things like that, but really, as the Polynesian saying goes, you are then "standing on a whale fishing for minnows. We are standing on a whale. The ground of being is the ground of our being, and when we simply turn outward, we see all of these little problems here and there. But, if we look inward, we see that we are the source of them all.
MOYERS: You talk about mythology existing here and now in dreamtime. What is dreamtime?
CAMPBELL: This is the time you get into when you go to sleep and have a dream that talks about permanent conditions within your own psyche as they relate to the temporal conditions of your life right now.
MOYERS: Explain that.
CAMPBELL: For example, you may be worried about whether you are going to pass an exam. Then you have a dream of some kind of failure, and you find that failure will be associated with many other failures in your life. They are all piled up together there. Freud says even the most fully expounded dream is not really fully expounded. The dream is an inexhaust ible source of spiritual information about yourself.
Now the level of dream of "Will I pass the exam?" or "Should I marry this girl?"-that is purely personal. But, on another level, the problem of passing an exam is not simply a personal problem. Everyone has to pass a threshold of some kind. That is an archetypal thing. So there is a basic mythological theme there even though it is a personal dream. These two levels-the personal aspect and then the big general problem of which the person's problem is a local example-are found in all cultures. For example, everyone has the problem of facing death. This is a standard mystery.
MOYERS: What do we learn from our dreams?
CAMPBELL: You learn about yourself.
MOYERS: How do we pay attention to our dreams?
CAMPBELL: All you have to do is remember your dream in the first place, and write it down. Then take one little fraction of the dream, one or two images or ideas, and associate with them. Write down what comes to your mind, and again what comes to your mind, and again. You'll find that the dream is based on a body of experiences that have some kind of significance in your life and that you didn't know were influencing you. Soon the next dream will come along, and your interpretation will go further.
MOYERS: A man once told me that he didn't remember dreaming until he retired. Suddenly, having no place to focus his energy, he began to dream and dream and dream. Do you think that we tend to overlook the signifi cance of dreaming in our modern society?
CAMPBELL: Ever since Freud's Inteipretation of Dreams was published, there has been a recognition of the importance of dreams. But even before that there were dream interpretations. People had superstitious notions about dreams-for example, "Something is going to happen because I dreamed it is going to happen."
MOYERS: Why is a myth different from a dream?
CAMPBELL: Oh, because a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society's dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.
MOYERS: So if my private dreams are in accord with the public mythol ogy, I'm more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my private dreams are out of step with the public-
CAMPBELL: -you'll be in trouble. If you're forced to live in that system, you'll be a neurotic.
MOYERS: But aren't many visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to the edge of neuroticism?
CAMPBELL: Yes, they are.
MOYERS: How do you explain that?
CAM PB EL L: They've moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you've got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can't. You don't have to go far off the interpreted. path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience-that is the hero's deed.
MOYERS: You say dreams come up from the psyche.
CAMPBELL: I don't know where else they come from. They come from the imagination, don't they? The imagination is grounded in the energy of the organs of the body, and these are the same in all human beings. Since imagination comes out of one biological ground, it is bound to produce certain themes. Dreams are dreams. There are certain characteristics of dreams that can be enumerated, no matter who is dreaming them.
MOYERS: I think of a dream as something very private, while a myth is something very public.
CAMPBELL: On some levels a private dream runs into truly mythic themes and can't be interpreted except by an analogy with a myth. Jung speaks of two orders of dream, the personal dream and the archetypal dream, or the dream of mythic dimension. You can interpret a personal dream by association, figuring out what it is talking about in your own life, or in relation to your own personal problem. But every now and then a dream comes up that is pure myth, that carries a mythic theme, or that is said, for example, to come from the Christ within.
MOYERS: From the archetypal person within us, the archetypal self we are.
CAMPBELL: That's right. Now there is another, deeper meaning of dreamtime-which is of a time that is no time, just an enduring state of being. There is an important myth from Indonesia that tells of this mytho logical age and its termination. In the beginning, according to this story, the ancestors were not distinguished as to sex. There were no births, there were no deaths. Then a great public dance was celebrated, and in the course of the dance one of the participants was trampled to death and torn to pieces, and the pieces were buried. At the moment of that killing the sexes became separated, so that death was now balanced by begetting, begetting by death, while from the buried parts of the dismembered body food plants grew. Time had come into being, death, birth, and the killing and eating of other living beings, for the preservation of life. The timeless time of the beginning had been terminated by a communal crime, a deliberate murder or sacrifice.
Now, one of the main problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don't kid yourself by eating only vegetables, either, for they, too, are alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself! Life lives on lives, and the reconciliation of the human mind and sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of some of those very brutal rites in which the ritual consists chiefly of killing-in imitation, as it were, of that first, primordial crime, out of which arose this temporal world, in which we all participate. The reconciliation of mind to the conditions of life is fundamen tal to all creation stories. They're very like each other in this respect.
MOYERS: Take the creation story in Genesis, for example. How is it like other stories?
CAMPBELL: Well, you read from Genesis, and I'll read from creation stories in other cultures, and we'll see.
MOYERS: Genesis 1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep."
CAMPBELL: This is from "The Song of the World," a legend of the Pima
Indians of Arizona: "In the beginning there was only darkness everywhere-darkness and water. And the darkness gathered thick in places, crowding, together and then separating, crowding and separating. . .
MOYERS: Genesis 1: "And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light."
CAMPBELL: And this is from the Hindu Upanishads, from about the eighth century B.C.: "In the beginning, there was only the great self reflected in the form of a person. Reflecting, it found nothing but itself. Then its first word was, 'This am I.'
MOYERS: Genesis 1: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply.'
CAMPBELL: Now, this is from a legend of the Bassari people of West Africa: "Unumbotte made a human being. Its name was Man. Unumbotte next made an antelope, named Antelope. Unumbotte made a snake, named Snake. . . . And Unumbotte said to them, 'The earth has not yet been pounded. You must pound the ground smooth where you are sitting.' Unumbotte gave them seeds of all kinds, and said: 'Go plant these.'
MOYERS: Genesis 2: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done
CAMPBELL: And now again from the Pima Indians: "I make the world and lo, the world is finished. Thus I make the world, and lo! The world is finished."
MOYERS: And Genesis 1: "And God saw everything that he had made and behold, it was very good."
CAMPBELL: And from the Upanishads: "Then he realized, I indeed, am this creation, for I have poured it forth from myself. In that way h became this creation. Verily, he who knows this becomes in this creation creator."
That is the clincher there. When you know this, then you have identified with the creative principle, which is the God power in the world, which means in you. It is beautiful.
MOYERS: But Genesis continues: " 'Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?' The man said, 'The woman whom thou gave' to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.' Then the Lord Go said to the woman, 'What is this that you have done?' The woman said 'The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.'
You talk about buck passing, it starts very early.
CAMPBELL: Yes, it has been tough on serpents. The Bassari legend continues in the same way. "One day Snake said, 'We too should eat these fruits. Why must we go hungry?' Antelope said, 'But we don't know anything about this fruit.' Then Man and his wife took some of the fruit and ate ii Unumbotte came down from the sky and asked, 'Who ate the fruit?' The answered, 'We did.' Unumbotte asked, 'Who told you that you could eat that fruit?' They replied, 'Snake did.' "It is very much the same story.
MOYERS: What do you make of it - that in these two stories the principal actors point to someone else as the initiator of the Fall?
CAMPBELL: Yes, but it turns out to be the snake. In both of these stories the snake is the symbol of life throwing off the past and continuing to live.
CAMPBELL: The power of life causes the snake to shed its skin, just as the moon sheds its shadow. The serpent sheds its skin to be born again, - the moon its shadow to be born again. They are equivalent symbol' Sometimes the serpent is represented as a circle eating its own tail. That an image of life. Life sheds one generation after another, to be born again The serpent represents immortal energy and consciousness engaged in the field of time, constantly throwing off death and being born again. There something tremendously terrifying about life when you look at it that way. And so the serpent carries in itself the sense of both the fascination and the terror of life.
Furthermore, the serpent represents the primary function of life, mainly eating. Life consists in eating other creatures. You don't think about that very much when you make a nice-looking meal. But what you're doing eating something that was recently alive. And when you look at the beauty of nature, and you see the birds picking around-they're eating things. You see the cows grazing, they're eating things. The serpent is a traveling alimentary canal, that's about all it is. And it gives you that primary sense of shock, of life in its most primal quality. There is no arguing with the animal at all. Life lives by killing and eating itself, casting off death an being reborn, like the moon. This is one of the mysteries that these symbolic, paradoxical forms try to represent.
Now the snake in most cultures is given a positive interpretation. In India, even the most poisonous snake, the cobra, is a sacred animal, and the mythological Serpent King is the next thing to the Buddha. The serpent represents the power of life engaged in the field of time, and of death, yet eternally alive. The world is but its shadow-the falling skin.
The serpent was revered in the American Indian traditions, too. The serpent was thought of as a very important power to be made friends with. Go down to the pueblos, for example, and watch the snake dance of the Hopi, where they take the snakes in their mouths and make friends with them and then send them back to the hills. The snakes are sent back to carry the human message to the hills, just as they have brought the message of the hills to the humans. The interplay of man and nature is illustrated in this relationship with the serpent. A serpent flows like water and so i
is watery, but its tongue continually flashes fire. So you have the pair of opposites together in the serpent.
MOYERS: In the Christian story the serpent is the seducer.
CAMPBELL: That amounts to a refusal to affirm life. In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulse is sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized. The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world. And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man. This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus of life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the whole story in the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.
MOYERS: Does the idea of woman as sinner appear in other mythologies?
CAMPBELL: No, I don't know of it elsewhere. The closest thing to it would be perhaps Pandora with Pandora's box, but that's not sin, that's just trouble. The idea in the biblical tradition of the Fall is that nature as we know it is corrupt, sex in itself is corrupt, and the female as the epitome of sex is a corrupter. Why was the knowledge of good and evil forbidden to Adam and Eve? Without that knowledge, we'd all be a bunch of babies still in Eden, without any participation in life. Woman brings life into the world. Eve is the mother of this temporal world. Formerly you had a dreamtime paradise there in the Garden of Eden-no time, no birth, no death-no life. The serpent, who dies and is resurrected, shedding its skin and renewing its life, is the lord of the central tree, where time and eternity come together. He is the primary god, actually, in the Garden of Eden. Yahweh, the one who walks there in the cool of the evening, is just a visitor. The Garden is the serpent's place. It is an old, old story. We have Sumerian seals from as early as 3500 B.C. showing the serpent and the tree and the goddess, with the goddess giving the fruit of life to a visiting male. The old mythology of the goddess is right there.
Now, I saw a fantastic thing in a movie, years and years ago, of a Burmese snake priestess, who had to bring rain to her people by climbing up a mountain path, calling a king cobra from his den, and actually kissing him three times on the nose. There was the cobra, the giver of life, the giver of rain, as a divine positive figure, not a negative one.
MOYERS: But how do you explain the difference between that image and the image of the snake in Genesis?
CAMPBELL: There is actually a historical explanation based on the coming of the Hebrews into Canaan and their subjugation of the people of Canaan. The principal divinity of the people of Canaan was the Goddess, and associated with the Goddess is the serpent. This is the symbol of the mystery of life. The male-god-oriented group rejected it. In other words, there is a historical rejection of the Mother Goddess implied in the story of the Garden of Eden.
MOYERS: It does seem that this story has done women a great disservice by casting Eve as responsible for the Fall. Why are women the ones held responsible for the downfall?
CAMPBELL: They represent life. Man doesn't enter life except by woman, and so it is woman who brings us into this world of pairs of opposites and suffering.
MOYERS: What is the myth of Adam and Eve trying to tell us about the pairs of opposites? What is the meaning?
CAMPBELL: It started with the sin, you see-in other words, moving out of the mythological dreamtime zone of the Garden of Paradise, where there is no time, and where men and women don't even know that they are different from each other. The two are just creatures. God and man are practically the same. God walks in the cool of the evening in the garden where they are. And then they eat the apple, the knowledge of the opposites. And when they discover they are different, the man and woman cover their shame. You see, they had not thought of themselves as opposites. Male and female is one opposition. Another opposition is the human and God. Good and evil is a third opposition. The primary oppositions are the sexual and that between human beings and God. Then comes the idea of good and evil in the world. And so Adam and Eve have thrown themselves out of the Garden of Timeless Unity, you might say, just by that act of recognizing duality. To move out into the world, you have to act in terms of pairs of opposites.
There's a Hindu image that shows a triangle, which is the Mother Goddess, and a dot in the center of the triangle, which is the energy of the transcendent entering the field of time. And then from this triangle there come pairs of triangles in all directions. Out of one comes two. All things in the field of time are pairs of opposites. So this is the shift of consciousness from the consciousness of identity to the consciousness of participation in duality. And then you are into the field of time.
MOYERS: Is the story trying to tell us that, prior to what happened in this Garden to destroy us, there was a unity of life?
CAMPBELL: It's a matter of planes of consciousness. It doesn't have to do with anything that happened. There is the plane of consciousness where you can identify yourself with that which transcends pairs of opposites.
MOYERS: Which is?
CAMPBELL: Unnameable. Unnameable. It is transcendent of all names.
CAMPBELL: "God" is an ambiguous word in our language because it
appears to refer to something that is known. But the transcendent i.' unknowable and unknown. God is transcendent, finally, of anything like the name "God." God is beyond names and forms. Meister Eckhart said that the ultimate and highest leave-taking is leaving God for God, leaving your notion of God for an experience of that which transcends all notions.
The mystery of life is beyond all human conception. Everything we know is within the terminology of the concepts of being and not being, many and single, true and untrue. We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is beyond the pairs of opposites, that is all there is to it.
MOYERS: Why do we think in terms of opposites?
CAMPBELL: Because we can't think otherwise.
MOYERS: That's the nature of reality in our time.
CAMPBELL: That's the nature of our experience of reality.
MOYERS: Man-woman, life-death, good-evil-
CAMPBELL: -I and you, this and that, true and untrue - very one of them has its opposite. But mythology suggests that behind that duality there is a singularity over which this plays like a shadow game. "Eternity is in love with the productions of time," says the poet Blake.
MOYERS: What does that mean, "Eternity is in love with the productions of time"?
CAMPBELL: The source of temporal life is eternity. Eternity pours itself into the world. It is a basic mythic idea of the god who becomes many in us. In India, the god who lies in me is called the "inhabitant" of the body. To identify with that divine, immortal aspect of yourself is to identify yourself with divinity.
Now, eternity is beyond all categories of thought. This is an important point in all of the great Oriental religions. We want to think about God. God is a thought. God is a name. God is an idea. But its reference is to something that transcends all thinking. The ultimate mystery of being is beyond all categories of thought. As Kant said, the thing in itself is no thing. It transcends thingness, it goes past anything that could be thought. The best things can't be told because they transcend thought. The second best are misunderstood, because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can't be thought about. The third best are what we talk about. And myth is that field of reference to what is absolutely transcendent.
MOYERS: What can't be known or named except in our feeble attempt to clothe it in language.
CAMPBELL: The ultimate word in our English language for that which is transcendent is God. But then you have a concept, don't you see? You think of God as the father. Now, in religions where the god or creator is the mother, the whole world is her body. There is nowhere else. The male god is usually somewhere else. But male and female are two aspects of one principle. The division of life into sexes was a late division. Biologically, the amoeba isn't male and female. The early cells are just cells. They divide and become two by asexual reproduction. I don't know at what levels sexuality comes in, but it's late. That's why it's absurd to speak of God as of
either this sex or that sex. The divine power is antecedent to sexual separation.
MOYERS: But isn't the only way a human being can try to grope with this immense idea to assign it a language that he or she understands? God, he, God, she-
CAMPBELL: Yes, but you don't understand it if you think it is a he or a she. The he or a she is a springboard to spring you into the transcendent, and transcendent means to "transcend," to go past duality. Everything in the field of time and space is dual. The incarnation appears either as male or as female, and each of us is the incarnation of God. You're born in only one aspect of your actual metaphysical duality, you might say. This is represented in the mystery religions, where an individual goes through a series of initiations opening him out inside into a deeper and deeper depth of himself, and there comes a moment when he realizes that he is both mortal and immortal, both male and female.
MOYERS: Do you think there was such a place as the Garden of Eden?
CAMPBELL: Of course not. The Garden of Eden is a metaphor for that innocence that is innocent of time, innocent of opposites, and that is the prime center out of which consciousness then becomes aware of the changes.
MOYERS: But if there is in the idea of Eden this innocence, what happens to it? Isn't it shaken, dominated, and corrupted by fear?
CAMPBELL: That's it. There is a wonderful story of the deity, of the Self that said, "I am." As soon as it said "I am," it was afraid.
CAMPBELL: It was an entity now, in time. Then it thought, "What should I be afraid of, I'm the only thing that is." And as soon as it said that,
it felt lonesome, and wished that there were another, and so it felt desire. I swelled, split in two, became male and female, and begot the world.
Fear is the first experience of the fetus in the womb. There's a Czechslovakian psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof, now living in California, who ft years treated people with LSD. And he found that some of them rexperienced birth and, in the re-experiencing of birth, the first stage is that of the fetus in the womb, without any sense of "I" or of being. Then short before birth the rhythm of the uterus begins, and there's terror! Fear is t
the first thing, the thing that says "I." Then comes the horrific stage of getting born, the difficult passage through the birth canal, and then-my God, light! Can you imagine! Isn't it amazing that this repeats just what the myth says-that Self said, "I am," and immediately felt fear? And then when realized it was alone, it felt desire for another and became two. That is the breaking into the world of light and the pairs of opposites.
MOYERS: What does it say about what all of us have in common that:
many of these stories contain similar elements - the forbidden fruit, the woman? For example, these myths, these creation stories, contain a "thou shalt not." Man and woman rebel against that prohibition and move out their own. After years and years of reading these things, I am still over whelmed at the similarities in cultures that are far, far apart.
CAMPBELL: There is a standard folk tale motif called The One Forbidden Thing. Remember Bluebeard, who says to his wife, "Don't open that closet And then one always disobeys. In the Old Testament story God points 0 the one forbidden thing. Now, God must have known very well that m:
was going to eat the forbidden fruit. But it was by doing that that man became the initiator of his own life. Life really began with that act disobedience.
MOYERS: How do you explain these similarities?
CAMPBELL: There are two explanations. One explanation is that t human psyche is essentially the same all over the world. The psyche is t inward experience of the human body, which is essentially the same in human beings, with the same organs, the same instincts, the same impulse the same conflicts, the same fears. Out of this common ground have cot what Jung has called the arc he types, which are the common ideas of myth
MOYERS: What are archetypes?
CAMPBELL: They are elementary ideas, what could be called "ground ideas. These ideas Jung spoke of as archetypes of the unconscious. "Archetype" is the better term because "elementary idea" suggests headwo:
Archetype of the unconscious means it comes from below. The differer between the Jungian archetypes of the unconscious and Freud's complexe' that the archetypes of the unconscious are manifestations of the organs the body and their powers. Archetypes are biologically grounded, wher the Freudian unconscious is a collection of repressed traumatic experien from the individual's lifetime. The Freudian unconscious is a perso unconscious, it is biographical. The Jungian archetypes of the unconsciare biological. The biographical is secondary to that. All over the world and at different times of human history, the differences in the costumes are the results of environment and historical conditions. It is these differences that the anthropologist is most concerned to identify and compare.
Now, there is also a countertheory of diffusion to account for the similarity of myths. For instance, the art of tilling the soil goes forth from the area in which it was first developed, and along with it goes a mythology that has to do with fertilizing the earth, with planting and bringing up the food plants - some such myth as that just described, of killing a deity, cutting it up, burying its members, and having the food plants grow. Such a myth will accompany an agricultural or planting tradition. But you won t find it in a hunting culture. So there are historical as well as psychological aspects of this problem of the similarity of myths.
MOYERS: Human beings subscribe to one or more of these stories of creation. What do you think we are looking for when we subscribe to one of these myths?
CAMPBELL: I think what we are looking for is a way of experiencing the world that will open to us the transcendent that informs it, and at the same time forms ourselves within it. That is what people want. That is what the soul asks for.
MOYERS: You mean we are looking for some accord with the mystery that informs all things, what you call that vast ground of silence which wall share?
CAMPBELL: Yes, but not only to find it but to find it actually in our environment, in our world-to recognize it. To have some kind of instruction that will enable us to experience the divine presence.
MOYERS: In the world and in us.
CAMPBELL: In India there is a beautiful greeting, in which the palms are placed together, and you bow to the other person. Do you know what that means?
CAMPBELL: The position of the palms together-this we use when "' pray, do we not? That is a greeting which says that the god that is in you recognizes the god in the other. These people are aware of the divine presence in all things. When you enter an Indian home as a guest, you a greeted as a visiting deity.
MOYERS: But weren't the people who told these stories, who believe them and acted on them, asking simpler questions? Weren't they asking, f example, who made the world? How was the world made? Why was the world made? Aren't these the questions that these creation stories are trying to address?
CAMPBELL: No. It's through that answer that they see that the creator is present in the whole world. You see what I mean? This story from t Upanishads that we have just read-"I see that I am this creation," says t god. When you see that God is the creation, and that you are a creator you realize that God is within you, and in the man or woman with who you are talking, as well. So there is the realization of two aspects of the o divinity. There is a basic mythological motif that originally all was one, a then there was separation - heaven and earth, male and female, and forth. How did we lose touch with the unity? One thing you can say is that the separation was somebody's fault-they ate the wrong fruit or said I wrong words to God so that he got angry and then went away. So now 1 eternal is somehow away from us, and we have to find some way to get b
be in touch with it.
There is another theme, in which man is thought of as having come from above but from the womb of Mother Earth. Often, in these stories there is a great ladder or rope up which people climb. The last people want to get out are two great big fat heavy people. They grab the rope, snap!-it breaks. So we are separated from our source. In a sense, because of our minds, we actually are separated, and the problem is to reunite t broken cord.
MOYERS: There are times when I think maybe primitive men and women were just telling these stories to entertain themselves.
CAMPBELL: No, they are not entertainment stories. We know they are not entertainment stories because they can be told only at certain times of the year and under certain conditions.
There are two orders of myths. The great myths, like the myth of the Bible, for example, are the myths of the temple, of the great sacred rituals. They explain the rites by which the people are living in harmony with themselves and each other and with the universe. The understanding of these stories as allegorical is normal.
MOYERS: You think that the first humans who told the story of the creation had some intuitive awareness of the allegorical nature of these stories?
CAMPBELL: Yes. They were saying it is as if it were thus. The notion that somebody literally made the world-that is what is known as artificialism. It is the child's way of thinking: the table is made, so somebody made the table. The world is here, so somebody must have made it. There is another point of view involving emanation and precipitation without personification. A sound precipitates air, then fire, then water and earth-and that's how the world becomes. The whole universe is included in this first sound, this vibration, which then commits all things to fragmentation in the field of time. In this view, there is not someone outside who said, "Let it happen."
In most cultures there are two or three creation stories, not just one. There are two in the Bible, even though people treat them as one story. You remember in the Garden of Eden story of Chapter 2: God is trying to think of ways to entertain Adam, whom he has created to be his gardener, to take care of his garden. That is an old, old story that was borrowed from ancient Sumer. The gods wanted somebody to take care of their garden and cultivate the food that they needed, so they created man. That's the background of the myth of Chapters 2 and 3 in Genesis.
But Yahweh's gardener is bored. So God tries to invent toys for him. He creates the animals, but all the man can do is name them. Then God thinks of this grand idea of drawing the soul of woman out of Adam's own body-which is a very different creation story from Chapter 1 of Genesis, where God created Adam and Eve together in the image of himself as male and female. There God is himself the primordial androgyne. Chapter 2 is by far the earlier story, coming from perhaps the eighth century or so B.C., whereas Chapter 1 is of a so-called priestly text, of about the fourth century B.C., or later. In the Hindu story of the Self that felt fear, then desire, then split in two, we have a counterpart of Genesis 2. In Genesis, it is man, not the god, who splits in two.
The Greek legend that Aristophanes tells in Plato's Symposium is another of this kind. Aristophanes says that in the beginning there were creatures composed of what are now two human beings. And those were of three sorts:
male/female, male/male, and female/female. The gods then split them all in two. But after they had been split apart, all they could think of to do was to embrace each other again in order to reconstitute the original units. So we all now spend our lives trying to find and re-embrace our other halves.
MOYERS: You say that mythology is the study of mankind's one great story. What is that one great story?
CAMPBELL: That we have come forth from the one ground of being as
manifestations in the field of time. The field of time is a kind of shadow play over a timeless ground. And you play the game in the shadow field, yo enact your side of the polarity with all your might. But you know that your enemy, for example, is simply the other side of what you would see - yourself if you could see from the position of the middle.
MOYERS: So the one great story is our search to find our place in th drama?
CAMPBELL: To be in accord with the grand symphony that this world is to put the harmony of our own body in accord with that harmony.
MOYERS: When I read these stories, no matter the culture or origin, feel a sense of wonder at the spectacle of the human imagination groping to try to understand this existence, to invest in their small journey these transcendent possibilities. Has that ever happened to you?
CAMPBELL: I think of mythology as the homeland of the muses, the inspirers of art, the inspirers of poetry. To see life as a poem and yourself participating in a poem is what the myth does for you.
MOYERS: A poem?
CAMPBELL: I mean a vocabulary in the form not of words but of acts an adventures, which connotes something transcendent of the action here, 5 that you always feel in accord with the universal being.
MOYERS: When I read these myths, lam simply in awe of the mystery it all. We can presume, but we cannot penetrate.
CAMPBELL: That is the point. The person who thinks he has found the ultimate truth is wrong. There is an often-quoted verse in Sanskrit, which appears in the Chinese Tao-te Ching as well: "He who thinks he know doesn't know. He who knows that he doesn't know, knows. For in this context, to know is not to know. And not to know is to know."
MOYERS: Far from undermining my faith, your work in mythology has liberated my faith from the cultural prisons to which it had been sentenced.
CAMPBELL: It liberated my own, and I know it is going to do that wit anyone who gets the message.
MOYERS: Are some myths more or less true than others?
CAMPBELL: They are true in different senses. Every mythology has to d with the wisdom of life as related to a specific culture at a specific time. integrates the individual into his society and the society into the field nature. It unites the field of nature with my nature. It's a harmonizing force. Our own mythology, for example, is based on the idea of duality: good an evil, heaven and hell. And so our religions tend to be ethical in their accent. Sin and atonement. Right and wrong.
MOYERS: The tension of opposites: love-hate, death-life.
CAMPBELL: Ramakrishna once said that if all you think of are your sin then you are a sinner. And when I read that, I thought of my boyhood going to confession on Saturdays, meditating on all the little sins that I ha committed during the week. Now I think one should go and say, "Bless me Father, for I have been great, these are the good things I have done this week." Identify your notion of yourself with the positive, rather than with the negative. You see, religion is really a kind of second womb. It's designed to bring this extremely complicated thing, which is a human being, to maturity, which means to be self-motivating, self-acting. But the idea of sin puts you in a servile condition throughout your life.
MOYERS: But that's not the Christian idea of creation and the Fall.
CAMPBELL: I once heard a lecture by a wonderful old Zen philosopher, Dr. D. T. Suzuki. He stood up with his hands slowly rubbing his sides and said, "God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature-very funny religion!"
MOYERS: Well, I have often wondered, what would a member of a hunting tribe on the North American plains think, gazing up on Michelangelo's creation?
CAMPBELL: That is certainly not the god of other traditions. In the other mythologies, one puts oneself in accord with the world, with the mixture of good and evil. But in the religious system of the Near East, you identify with the good and fight against the evil. The biblical traditions 0 Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all speak with derogation of the so-called nature religions.
The shift from a nature religion to a sociological religion makes ii difficult for us to link back to nature. But actually all of those cultural symbols are perfectly susceptible to interpretation in terms of the psychological and cosmological systems, if you choose to look at them that way. Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets' stuck to its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.
MOYERS: What is the metaphor?
CAMPBELL: A metaphor is an image that suggests something else. For instance, if I say to a person, "You are a nut," I'm not suggesting that I think the person is literally a nut. "Nut" is a metaphor. The reference of the metaphor in religious traditions is to something transcendent that is no literally any thing. If you think that the metaphor is itself the reference, would be like going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak written there, and starting to eat the menu.
For example, Jesus ascended to heaven. The denotation would seem tbe that somebody ascended to the sky. That's literally what is being said But if that were really the meaning of the message, then we have to throw away, because there would have been no such place for Jesus literally to go We know that Jesus could not have ascended to heaven because there is nphysical heaven anywhere in the universe. Even ascending at the speed o light, Jesus would still be in the galaxy. Astronomy and physics have simply' eliminated that as a literal, physical possibility. But if you read "Jesus ascended to heaven" in terms of its metaphoric connotation, you see that h has gone inward-not into outer space but into inward space, to the place' from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of al things, the kingdom of heaven within. The images are outward, but their reflection is inward. The point is that we should ascend with him by going inward. It is a metaphor of returning to the source, alpha and omega, 0 leaving the fixation on the body behind and going to the body's dynamic source.
MOYERS: Aren't you undermining one of the great traditional doctrine of the classic Christian faith-that the burial and the resurrection of Jesus prefigures our own?
CAMPBELL: That would be a mistake in the reading of the symbol. That is reading the words in terms of prose instead of in terms of poetry, reading the metaphor in terms of the denotation instead of the connotation.
MOYERS: And poetry gets to the unseen reality.
CAMPBELL: That which is beyond even the concept of reality, that which transcends all thought. The myth puts you there all the time, give you a line to connect with that mystery which you are.
Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that's what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images o mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference tyourself, you have misread the image.
The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies anyour structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That's where you are. You've go to keep both going. As Novalis said, "The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet."
MOYERS: So the story of Jesus ascending to heaven is a message in bottle from a shore someone has visited before.
CAMPBELL: That's right-Jesus did. Now, according to the normal way of thinking about the Christian religion, we cannot identify with Jesus, w have to imitate Jesus. To say, "I and the Father are one," as Jesus said, blasphemy for us. However, in the Thomas gospel that was dug up in Egypt some forty years ago, Jesus says, "He who drinks from my mouth will become as I am, and I shall be he." Now, that is exactly Buddhism. We are
manifestations of Buddha consciousness, or Christ consciousness, only we don't know it. The word "Buddha" means "the one who waked up." We are all to do that-to wake up to the Christ or Buddha consciousness within us. This is blasphemy in the normal way of Christian thinking, but it is the very essence of Christian Gnosticism and of the Thomas gospel.
MOYERS: Is reincarnation also a metaphor?
CAMPBELL: Certainly it is. When people ask, "Do you believe it reincarnation," I just have to say, "Reincarnation, like heaven, is a metaphor."
The metaphor in Christianity that corresponds to reincarnation purgatory. If one dies with such a fixation on the things of this world that one's spirit is not ready to behold the beatific vision, then one has tundergo a purgation, one has to be purged clean of one's limitations. The limitations are what are called sins. Sin is simply a limiting factor that limit your consciousness and fixes it in an inappropriate condition.
In the Oriental metaphor, if you die in that condition, you come back again to have more experiences that will clarify, clarify, clarify, until you are released from these fixations. The reincarnating monad is the principal hero of Oriental myth. The monad puts on various personalities, life after life. Now the reincarnation idea is not that you and I as the personalities that we are will be reincarnated. The personality is what the monad throws off. Then the monad puts on another body, male or female, depending on what experiences are necessary for it to clear itself of this attachment to the field of time.
MOYERS: And what does the idea of reincarnation suggest?
CAMPBELL: It suggests that you are more than you think you are. There are dimensions of your being and a potential for realization and consciousness that are not included in your concept of yourself. Your life is much deeper and broader than you conceive it to be here. What you are living is but a fractional inkling of what is really within you, what gives you life, breadth, and depth. But you can live in terms of that depth. And when you can experience it, you suddenly see that all the religions are talking of that.
MOYERS: Is this a chief motif of mythological stories through time?
CAMPBELL: No, the idea of life as an ordeal through which you become released from the bondage of life belongs to the higher religions. I don't think I see anything like that in aboriginal mythology.
MOYERS: What is the source of it?
CAMPBELL: I don't know. It would probably come from people of spiritual power and depth who experienced their lives as being inadequate to the spiritual aspect or dimension of their being.
MOYERS: You say that elites create myths, that shamans and artists and others who take the journey into the unknown come back to create these myths. But what about ordinary folks? Don't they create the stories of Paul Bunyan, for example?
CAMPBELL: Yes, but that is not a myth. That doesn't hit the level of myth. The prophets and what in India are called the "rishis" are said to have heard the scriptures. Now anybody might open his ears, but not everyone has the capacity actually to hear the scriptures.
MOYERS: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
CAMPBELL: There has to be a training to help you open your ears so that you can begin to hear metaphorically instead of concretely. Freud and Jung both felt that myth is grounded in the unconscious.
Anyone writing a creative work knows that you open, you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds itself. To a certain extent, you become the carrier of something that is given to you from what have been called the Muses - or, in biblical language, "God." This is no fancy, it is a fact. Since the inspiration comes from the unconscious, and since the unconscious minds of the people of any single small society have much in common, what the shaman or seer brings forth is something that is waiting to be brought forth in everyone. So when one hears the seer's story, one responds, "Aha! This is my story. This is something that I had always wanted to say but wasn't able to say." There has to be a dialogue, an interaction between the seer and the community. The seer who sees things that people in the community don't want to hear is just ineffective. Sometimes they will wipe him out.
MOYERS: So when we talk about folk tales, we are talking not about myths but about stories that ordinary folks tell in order to entertain themselves or express some level of existence that is below that of the great spiritual pilgrims.
CAMPBELL: Yes, the folk tale is for entertainment. The myth is ft spiritual instruction. There's a fine saying in India with respect to these two orders of myths, the folk idea and the elementary idea. The folk aspect called desi, which means "provincial," having to do with your society. That is for young people. It's through that that the young person is brought into the society and is taught to go out and kill monsters. "Okay, here's a soldier suit, we've got the job for you." But there's also the elementary idea. The Sanskrit name for that is marga, which means "path." It's the trail back yourself. The myth comes from the imagination, and it leads back to it. The society teaches you what the myths are, and then it disengages you so that in your meditations you can follow the path right in.
Civilizations are grounded on myth. The civilization of the Middle Ages was grounded on the myth of the Fall in the Garden, the redemption on cross, and the carrying of the grace of redemption to man through the sacraments.
The cathedral was the center of the sacrament, and the castle was the center protecting the cathedral. There you have the two forms of government-the government of the spirit and the government of the physical life both in accord with the one source, namely the grace of the crucifixion.
MOYERS: But within those two spheres ordinary people told little tales leprechauns and witches.
CAMPBELL: There are three centers of what might be called mythology and folkloristic creativity in the Middle Ages. One is the cathedral and that is associated with monasteries and hermitages. A second is the cast The third is the cottage, where the people are. The cathedral, the cast and the cottage-you go to any of the areas of high civilization, and y will see the same-the temple, the palace, and the town. They are differgenerating centers, but in so far as this is one civilization, they are operating in the same symbolic field.
MOYERS: Same symbolic field?
CAMPBELL: The symbolic field is based on the experiences of people a particular community, at that particular time and place. Myths are intimately bound to the culture, time, and place that unless the symbols the metaphors, are kept alive by constant recreation through the arts, life just slips away from them.
MOYERS: Who speaks in metaphors today?
CAMPBELL: All poets. Poetry is a metaphorical language.
CAMPBELL: Yes, but it also suggests the actuality that hides behind the visible aspect. The metaphor is the mask of God through which eternity is to be experienced.
MOYERS: You speak of the poets and artists. What about the clergy?
CAMPBELL: I think our clergy is really not doing its proper work. It does not speak about the connotations of the metaphors but is stuck with the ethics of good and evil.
MOYERS: Why haven't the priests become the shamans of American society?
CAMPBELL: The difference between a priest and a shaman is that the priest is a functionary and the shaman is someone who has had an experi ence. In our tradition it is the monk who seeks the experience, while the priest is the one who has studied to serve the community.
I had a friend who attended an international meeting of the Roman Catholic meditative orders, which was held in Bangkok. He told me that
the Catholic monks had no problems understanding the Buddhist monks but that it was the clergy of the two religions who were unable to understand each other.
The person who has had a mystical experience knows that all the symbolic expressions of it are faulty. The symbols don't render the experience, they suggest it. If you haven't had the experience, how can you know what it is? Try to explain the joy of skiing to somebody living in the tropic who has never even seen snow. There has to be an experience to catch the message, some clue - otherwise you're not hearing what is being said.
MOYERS: The person who has the experience has to project it in the best way he can with images. It seems to me that we have lost the art in oof society of thinking in images.
CAMPBELL: Oh, we definitely have. Our thinking is largely discursive verbal, linear. There is more reality in an image than in a word.
MOYERS: Do you ever think that it is this absence of the religion experience of ecstasy, of joy, this denial of transcendence in our society that has turned so many young people to the use of drugs?
CAMPBELL: Absolutely. That is the way in.
MOYERS: The way in?
CAMPBELL: TO an experience.
MOYERS: And religion can't do that for you, or art can t do it?
CAMPBELL: It could, but it is not doing it now. Religions are addressing social problems and ethics instead of the mystical experience.
MOYERS: So you think religion's great calling is the experience?
CAMPBELL: One of the wonderful things in the Catholic ritual is going to communion. There you are taught that this is the body and blood of the Savior. And you take it to you, and you turn inward, and there Christ working within you. This is a way of inspiring a meditation on experiencing the spirit in you. You see people coming back from communion, and they are inward-turned, they really are.
In India, I have seen a red ring put around a stone, and then the stone becomes regarded as an incarnation of the mystery. Usually you think things in practical terms, but you could think of anything in terms of mystery. For example, this is a watch, but it is also a thing in being. You could put it down, draw a ring around it, and regard it in that dimension That is the point of what is called consecration.
MOYERS: What do you mean? What can you make of the watch you' wearing? What kind of mystery does it reveal?
CAMPBELL: It is a thing, isn't it?
CAMPBELL: Do you really know what a thing is? What supports it? It something in time and space. Think how mysterious it is that anything should be. The watch becomes the center for a meditation, the center the intelligible mystery of being, which is everywhere. This watch is now the center of the universe. It is the still point in the turning world.
MOYERS: Where does the meditation take you?
CAMPBELL: Oh, it depends on how talented you are.
MOYERS: You talk about the "transcendent." What is the transcendent? What happens to someone in the transcendent?
CAMPBELL: "Transcendent" is a technical, philosophical term, trans lated in two different ways. In Christian theology, it refers to God as being beyond or outside the field of nature. That is a materialistic way of talking about the transcendent, because God is thought of as a kind of spiritual fact existing somewhere out there. It was Hegel who spoke of our anthropomor phic god as the gaseous vertebrate-such an idea of God as many Christians hold. Or he is thought of as a bearded old man with a not very pleasant temperament. But "transcendent" properly means that which is beyond all concepts. Kant tells us that all of our experiences are bounded by time and space. They take place within space, and they take place in the course of time.
Time and space form the sensibilities that bound our experiences. Our senses are enclosed in the field of time and space, and our minds are enclosed in a frame of the categories of thought. But the ultimate thing (which is no thing) that we are trying to get in touch with is not so enclosed. We enclose it as we try to think of it.
The transcendent transcends all of these categories of thinking. Being and nonbeing-those are categories. The word "God" properly refers to what transcends all thinking, but the word "God" itself is something thought about.
Now you can personify God in many, many ways. Is there one god? Are there many gods? Those are merely categories of thought. What you are talking and trying to think about transcends all that.
One problem with Yahweh, as they used to say in the old Christian Gnostic texts, is that he forgot he was a metaphor. He thought he was a fact. And when he said, "I am God," a voice was heard to say, "You are mistaken, Samael." "Samael" means "blind god": blind to the infinite Light of which he is a local historical manifestation. This is known as the blasphemy of Jehovah-that he thought he was God.
MOYERS: You are saying that God can't be known.
CAMPBELL: I mean that whatever is ultimate is beyond the categories of being and nonbeing. Is it or is it not? As the Buddha is reported to have said: "It both is and is not; neither is, nor is not." God as the ultimate mystery of being is beyond thinking.
There is a wonderful story in one of the Upanishads about the god Indra. Now, it happened at this time that a great monster had enclosed all the waters of the earth, so there was a terrible drought, and the world was in a very bad condition. It took Indra quite a while to realize that he had a box of thunderbolts and that all he had to do was drop a thunderbolt on the monster and blow him up. When he did that, the waters flowed, and the world was refreshed, and Indra said, "What a great boy am I."
So, thinking, "What a great boy am I," Indra goes up to the cosmic mountain, which is the central mountain of the world, and decides to build a palace worthy of such as he. The main carpenter of the gods goes to work on it, and in very quick order he gets the palace into pretty good condition.
But every time Indra comes to inspect it, he has bigger ideas about how splendid and grandiose the palace should be. Finally, the carpenter says "My god, we are both immortal, and there is no end to his desires. I art caught for eternity." So he decides to go to Brahma, the creator god, and complain.
Brahma sits on a lotus, the symbol of divine energy and divine grace The lotus grows from the navel of Vishnu, who is the sleeping god, whose dream is the universe. So the carpenter comes to the edge of the great lotus pond of the universe and tells his story to Brahma. Brahma says, You go home. I will fix this up." Brahma gets off his lotus and kneels down to address sleeping Vishnu. Vishnu just makes a gesture and says somethin like, "Listen, fly, something is going to happen."
Next morning, at the gate of the palace that is being built, there appear a beautiful blue-black boy with a lot of children around him, just admiring his beauty. The porter at the gate of the new palace goes running to Indra and Indra says, "Well, bring in the boy." The boy is brought in, and Indra the king god, sitting on his throne, says, "Young man, welcome. And what brings you to my palace?"
"Well," says the boy with a voice like thunder rolling on the horizon, have been told that you are building such a palace as no Indra before you ever built."
And Indra says, "Indras before me, young man-what are you talking about?"
The boy says, "Indras before you. I have seen them come and go, corn and go. Just think, Vishnu sleeps in the cosmic ocean, and the lotus of the universe grows from his navel. On the lotus sits Brahma, the creator. Brahma opens his eyes, and a world comes into being, governed by an Indra. Brahma closes his eyes, and a world goes out of being. The life of a Brahma is four hundred and thirty-two thousand years. When he dies, the lotus goes back and another lotus is formed, and another Brahma. Then think of the galaxies beyond galaxies in infinite space, each a lotus, with a Brahma sitting on it, opening his eyes, closing his eyes. And Indras? There may wise men in your court who would volunteer to count the drops of water the oceans of the world or the grains of sand on the beaches, but no or-would count those Brahmin, let alone those Indras." While the boy is talking, an army of ants parades across the floor. TV boy laughs when he sees them, and Indra's hair stands on end, and he says to the boy, "Why do you laugh?" The boy answers, "Don't ask unless you are willing to be hurt." Indra says, "I ask. Teach." (That, by the way, is a good Oriental idea: you don't teach until you are asked. You don't force your mission down people's throats.) And so the boy points to the ants and says, "Former Indras all. Through many lifetimes they rise from the lowest conditions to highest illumination And then they drop their thunderbolt on a monster, and they think, 'What: a good boy am I.' And down they go again."
While the boy is talking, a crotchety old yogi comes into the palace with a banana leaf parasol. He is naked except for a loincloth, and on his chest a little disk of hair, and half the hairs in the middle have all dropped out. The boy greets him and asks him just what Indra was about to ask. "Old man, what is your name? Where do you come from? Where is your family? Where is your house? And what is the meaning of this curious constellation of hair on your chest?" "Well," says the old fella, "my name is Hairy. I don't have a house. Life is too short for that. I just have this parasol. I don't have a family. I just meditate on Vishnu's feet, and think of eternity, and how passing time is. You know, every time an Indra dies, a world disappears-these things just flash by like that. Every time an Indra dies, one hair drops out of this circle on my chest. Half the hairs are gone now. Pretty soon they will all be gone. Life is short. Why build a house?"
Then the two disappear. The boy was Vishnu, the Lord Protector, and the old yogi was Shiva, the creator and destroyer of the world, who had just come for the instruction of Indra, who is simply a god of history but thinks he is the whole show.
Indra is sitting there on the throne, and he is completely disillusioned, completely shot. He calls the carpenter and says, "I'm quitting the building of this palace. You are dismissed." So the carpenter got his intention. He is dismissed from the job, and there is no more house building going on. Indra decides to go out and be a yogi and just meditate on the lotus feet of Vishnu. But he has a beautiful queen named Indrani. And when Indrani hears of Indra's plan, she goes to the priest of the gods and says, "Now he has got the idea in his head of going out to become - a yogi."
"Well," says the priest, "come in with me, darling, and we will sit down, and I will fix this up."
So they sit down before the king's throne, and the priest says, "Now, I wrote a book for you many years ago on the art of politics. You are in the position of the king of the gods. You are a manifestation of the mystery of Brahma in the field of time. This is a high privilege. Appreciate it, honor it, and deal with life as though you were what you really are. And besides, now I am going to write you a book on the art of love so that you and your wife will know that in the wonderful mystery of the two that are one, the Brahma is radiantly present also."
And with this set of instructions, Indra gives up his idea of going out and becoming a yogi and finds that, in life, he can represent the eternal as a symbol, you might say, of the Brahma.
So each of us is, in a way, the Indra of his own life. You can make a choice, either to throw it all off and go into the forest to meditate, or to stay in the world, both in the life of your job, which is the kingly job of politics and achievement, and in the love life with your wife and family. Now, this is a very nice myth, it seems to me.
MOYERS: And it says much of what modern science is discovering, that time is endless-
CAMPBELL: -and there are galaxies, galaxies, galaxies, and our God-our personification of God and his son and the mystery-is for this little set of time.
MOYERS: Culture, though, has always influenced our thinking about ultimate matters.
CAMPBELL: Culture can also teach us to go past its concepts. That is what is known as initiation. A true initiation is when the guru tells you, "There is no Santa Claus." Santa Claus is metaphoric of a relationship
between parents and children. The relationship does exist, and so it can
experienced, but there is no Santa Claus. Santa Claus was simply a way 0 clueing children into the appreciation of a relationship.
Life is, in its very essence and character, a terrible mystery-this whole business of living by killing and eating. But it is a childish attitude to say no to life with all its pain, to say that this is something that should not have been.
MOYERS: Zorba says, "Trouble? Life is trouble."
CAMPBELL: Only death is no trouble. People ask me, "Do you have optimism about the world?" And I say, "Yes, it's great just the way it is. An you are not going to fix it up. Nobody has ever made it any better. It is never going to be any better. This is it, so take it or leave it. You are not going to correct or improve it."
MOYERS: Doesn't that lead to a rather passive attitude in the face of evil?
CAMPBELL: You yourself are participating in the evil, or you are no alive. Whatever you do is evil for somebody. This is one of the ironies of the whole creation.
MOYERS: What about this idea of good and evil in mythology, of life a. a conflict between the forces of darkness and the forces of light?
CAMPBELL: That is a Zoroastrian idea, which has come over into Judaism and Christianity. In other traditions, good and evil are relative to the position in which you are standing. What is good for one is evil for the other. And you play your part, not withdrawing from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but seeing that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder: a mysterium tremendum et fascinans.
"All life is sorrowful" is the first Buddhist saying, and so it is. It wouldn't be life if there were not temporality involved, which is sorrow-loss, loss loss. You've got to say yes to life and see it as magnificent this way; for this is surely the way God intended it.
MOYERS: Do you really believe that?
CAMPBELL: It is joyful just as it is. I don't believe there was anybody who intended it, but this is the way it is. James Joyce has a memorable line "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." And the way to awake from it is not to be afraid, and to recognize that all of this, as it is, i. a manifestation of the horrendous power that is of all creation. The ends 0 things are always painful. But pain is part of there being a world at all.
MOYERS: But if you accepted that as an ultimate conclusion, you wouldn't try to form any laws or fight any battles or -
CAMPBELL: I didn't say that.
MOYERS: Isn't that the logical conclusion to draw from accepting every. thing as it is?
CAMPBELL: That is not the necessary conclusion to draw. You could say. "I will participate in this life, I will join the army, I will go to war," and so forth.
MOYERS: "I will do the best I can."
CAMPBELL: "I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera - except that it hurts." Affirmation is difficult. We always affirm with conditions. I affirm the world on condition that it gets to be the way Santa Claus told me it ought to be. But affirming it the way it is-that's the hard thing, and that is what rituals are about. Ritual is group participation in the most hideous act; which is the act of life-namely, killing and eating another living thing. We do it together, and this is the way life is. The hero is the one who comes to participate in life courageously and decently, in the way of nature, not in the way of personal rancor, disappointment, or revenge.
The hero's sphere of action is not the transcendent but here, now, in the field of time, of good and evil - of the pairs of opposites. Whenever one moves out of the transcendent, one comes into a field of opposites. One has eaten of the tree of knowledge, not only of good and evil, but of male and female, of right and wrong, of this and that, and of light and dark. Everything in the field of time is dual: past and future, dead and alive, being and nonbeing. But the ultimate pair in the imagination are male and female, the male being aggressive, and the female being receptive, the male being the warrior, the female the dreamer. We have the realm of love and the realm of war, Freud's Eros and Thanatos.
Heraclitus said that for God all things are good and right and just, but for man some things are right and others are not. When you are a man, you are in the field of time and decisions. One of the problems of life is to live with the realization of both terms, to say, "I know the center, and I know that good and evil are simply temporal aberrations and that, in God's view, there is no difference."
MOYERS: That is the idea in the Upanishads: "Not female, nor yet male is it, neither is it neuter. Whatever body it assumes, through that body it is served."
CAMPBELL: That is right. So Jesus says, "Judge not that you may not be judged." That is to say, put yourself back in the position of Paradise before you thought in terms of good and evil. You don't hear this much from the pulpits. But one of the great challenges of life is to say "yea" to that person or that act or that condition which in your mind is most abominable.
MOYERS: Most abominable?
CAMPBELL: There are two aspects to a thing of this kind. One is your judgment in the field of action, and the other is your judgment as a metaphysical observer. You can't say there shouldn't be poisonous serpents-that's the way life is. But in the field of action, if you see a poisonous serpent about to bite somebody, you kill it. That's not saying no to the serpent, that's saying no to that situation. There's a wonderful verse in the Rig Veda that says, "On the tree"-that's the tree of life, the tree of your own life-"there are two birds, fast friends. One eats the fruit of the tree, and the other, not eating, watches." Now, the one eating the fruit of the tree is killing a fruit. Life lives on life, that's what it's all about. A little myth from India tells the story of the great god Shiva, the lord whose dance is the universe. He had as his consort the goddess Parvathi, daughter of the mountain king. A monster came to him and said, "I want your wife as my mistress." Shiva was indignant, so he simply opened his third eye, and
lightning bolts struck the earth, there was smoke and fire, and when the smoke cleared, there was another monster, lean, with hair like the hair of lion flying to the four directions. The first monster saw that the lean monster was about to eat him up. Now, what do you do when you re in a situation like that? Traditional advice says to throw yourself on the mercy of the deity So the monster said, "Shiva, I throw myself on your mercy." Now, there are rules for this god game. When someone throws himself on your mercy, the you yield mercy.
So Shiva said, "I yield my mercy. Lean monster, don't eat him."
"Well," said the lean monster, "what do I do? I'm hungry. You made m hungry, to eat this guy up.
"Well," said Shiva, "eat yourself."
So the lean monster started on his feet and came chomping up, chomping up this is an image of life living on life. Finally, there was nothing left of the lean monster but a face. Shiva looked at the face an said, "I've never seen a greater demonstration of what life's all about than this. I will call you Kirtimukha-face of glory." And you will see that mask that face of glory, at the portals to Shiva shrines and also to Buddha shrines. Shiva said to the face, "He who will not bow to you is unworthy to come t me." You've got to say yes to this miracle of life as it is, not on the condition that it follow your rules. Otherwise, you'll never get through to the metaphysical dimension.
Once in India I thought I would like to meet a major guru or teacher face to face. So I went to see a celebrated teacher named Sri Krishna Menon and the first thing he said to me was, "Do you have a question?"
The teacher in this tradition always answers questions. He doesn't tell you anything you are not yet ready to hear. So I said, "Yes, I have a questior. Since in Hindu thinking everything in the universe is a manifestation c divinity itself, how should we say no to anything in the world? How should we say no to brutality, to stupidity, to vulgarity, to thoughtlessness?"
And he answered, "For you and for me-the way is to say yes.
We then had a wonderful talk on this theme of the affirmation of a:
things. And it confirmed me in the feeling I had had that who are we t judge? It seems to me that this is one of the great teachings, also, of Jesus.
MOYERS: In classic Christian doctrine the material world is to b despised, and life is to be redeemed in the hereafter, in heaven, where our rewards come. But you say that if you affirm that which you deplore, you are affirming the very world which is our eternity at the moment.
CAMPBELL: Yes, that is what I'm saying. Eternity isn't some later time Eternity isn't even a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off. And if you don't get it here, you won't get it anywhere. The problem with heaven is that you will be having such a good time there, you won't even think of eternity. You'll just have this unending delight in the beatific vision of God. But the experience of eternity right here and now, in all things, whether thought of as good or as evil, is the function of life.
MOYERS: This is it.
CAMPBELL: This is it.