Cecile, Shuma, Jeremy and I avidly watched the second episode of ‘The Power of Myth’ at the beginning of July.
We are now going to try meeting on the first Wednesday night of the month in Matua, Tauranga at 7.30pm in (our) the Mowbray-Marks home. We will watch episode 3 (August) and 4 (September). This will continue until September, upon which time (unless someone else takes up the mantle), our meet-ups will suspend until the New Year – 2013.
Some highlights from Episode 2 of ‘The Power of Myth’ – a documentary which involves interviews between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell.
“Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. There’s a wonderful formula that the Buddhists have for the Bodhisattva, the one whose being (sattva) is illumination (bodhi), who realizes his identity with eternity and at the same time his participation in time. And the attitude is not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it. ‘All life is sorrowful’ is the first Buddhist saying, and it is. It wouldn’t be life if there were not temporality involved which is sorrow. Loss, loss, loss.”
“History … is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake.” – James Joyce, Ulysses
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
The symbology and duality of the snake:
“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, as the moon its shadow to be born again. They are equivalent symbols. Sometimes the serpent is represented as a circle eating its own tail. That’s 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 is 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 is 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 that animal at all. Life lives by killing and eating itself, casting off death and 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 is watery, but its tongue continually flashes fire. So you have the pair of opposites together in the serpent.”
“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.”
“Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that’s what is threatening the world at this minute. …Certainly Star Wars has a valid mythological perspective. It shows the state as a machine and asks, “Is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?” Humanity comes not from the machine but from the heart. What I see in Star Wars is the same problem that Faust gives us: Mephistopheles, the machine man, can provide us with all the means, and is thus likely to determine the aims of life as well. But of course the characteristic of Faust, which makes him eligible to be saved, is that he seeks aims that are not those of the machine. Now, when Luke Skywalker unmasks his father, he is taking off the machine role that the father has played. The father was the uniform. That is power, the state role.”
“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.”
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!”
Cecile and I proceeded to question what Joseph Campbell means by “Nature” ?
I wondered did he mean purely the elements, the earth, the outdoors, the animals the plants… or could “Nature” encompass personality, sexuality, the senses, character, instinct?
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 of 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 it 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.”
When did so many of us disconnect ourselves from “Nature”, from our ancestory, from the place when we all started in a cellular fashion (as opposed to spiritual or philosophical) as ONE? We are all one?
The conversation sidestepped at some point close to home time and Cecile recommended Neale Donald Walsch’ s “Conversations of God” and I Pat Rodegast’s “Emmanuelle”.
We also talked of pain or suffering. I shared how in my twenties I felt relieved or reassured to find “All life is sorrowful” was acknowledged within Buddhist philosophy. I had been struggling as a young woman to uphold a sense of idealism. Instead I was facing the realisation life was more difficult, happiness was less attainable or sustainable than my childhood led me to believe. I expected to attain/sustain a state of content effortlessly and of course I wasn’t succeeding. We finished by questioning: “Where does the expectation, to not have pain, come from?” Do all cultures/peoples/religions/philosophies have this expectation?
We may see you Wednesday 1 August 7.30pm Levers Rd, Matua, Tauranga. E-mail for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org