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Robert G.
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Post by Robert G. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Here is a section of the transcript of an interview with Campbell by Michael Toms and an unknown (to me) interviewer on New Dimensions Radio. The interview is available from the New Dimensions website and titled Myths, Personal Dreams and Universal Themes

Unknown interviewer: What is your anticipation of what happens after death then? Do you have any experience or anticipations?

Campbell: Well now, the whole problem of eternal life … eternity has nothing to do with time. Temporal thinking shuts out the dimension of eternity. And to ask, “Am I going to live after death?” you’re thinking in temporal terms. The dimension of eternity is ‘now’. It’s a dimension of here and now. So I’m not worried about ‘after’ death. I’m worried about getting in touch with those eternal dimensions now.

Toms: That is one of the clearest answers I’ve ever heard to that question. I must tell you that.

Campbell: Thank you. It’s not an easy question.

Toms: No, it’s a very ….

Campbell (referring to an earlier question): That’s, to say it again, that’s one reason why the reincarnation thing doesn’t trouble me. I think it’s a symbol to help you realize what the deep, timeless dimension of your own being is.

And something else I love that I think relates
O Friend, hope for Him whilst you live, know whilst you live, understand whilst you live; for in life deliverance abides.
If your bonds be not broken whilst living, what hope of deliverance in death?
It is but an empty dream that the soul shall have union with Him because it has passed from the body;
If He is found now, He is found then;
If not, we do but go to dwell in the City of Death.
- Kabir, 1440-1518, Indian mystic and poet
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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi nights watch, ivor orr, Bodhi Bliss, Robert G, ruffles899, and bobby T!

bobby T, a warm welcome!

I'm having trouble feeling the zeal you seem to be experiencing. What your describing seems like the effects of a metaphor that have been taken to heart. Isn't what your describing just a suggestion or possibility?

Robert that was a great quote you provided.

Let's take a really good look at it and see if Joseph Campbell is speaking metaphorically or literally.

He sounds like he's speaking literally to me thus confusing us again as to how we should interpret mythic metaphors.

So what is the eternity that Joseph Campbell is talking about?

It's that aspect of the universe that never changes but always remains the same.

Temporal forms come and go but the process which seems to give and take away their forms is always there. Time is not important to a process that always was and always will be; it's an eternal now process.

When we see the universe from such a perspective we get the feeling that that eternal now process is in some sense alive and conscious. After all it certainly produces conscious aware beings such as ourselves.

It just has to be alive!

In reality we just don't know! It's beyond human understanding. But the suggestion is there.

Here is where I'm left with only a metaphor to describe what I see. I can't say there literally exists a conscious eternal being of some sort that is constantly throwing up forms and taking them back but I can suggest that it sure does seem "as if" there is such a consciousness.

It's "as if" we are all the outward temporal manifestations of an eternal being that expresses itself by throwing up effects of all sorts like the fireworks at a Fourth of July celebration. (each and everyone of us being an effect)

(Oh my that effect is over! All life is sorrowful! The eternal perspective would enjoy the neverending eternal now fireworks and not care about any particular display.)

nights watch, it's the same principle when it comes to the light bulbs example Joseph Campbell used to teach prep school boys. (the example you mentioned in your post)

Joseph Campbell is "suggesting" that we are all aspects of a being of some sort that never dies but is constantly throwing up forms and taking them back.

The reason Joseph Campbell is not afraid of death is because he really believes that he is a manifestation of such an eternal being or consciousness.

I would be too if only I knew it wasn't a METAPHOR!


<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Ruiz on 2004-10-25 01:56 ]</font>
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Post by Bobby T. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am


Love and gentle kindness is no myth nor is it a mere metaphor. Buddha spoke of the compassionate path and Jesus eloquently presented agape love through his life and teachings. There is, after all, nothing "new under the sun". What is different about the "Now" now, is mankind's ability to destroy itself and, with that, all life on Earth. That should be enough of a "wakening" for even the coldest of the cold who walk erect in this plane of existence. To put things in "perspective", if I haven't already mentioned this in other posts, my "satori" occurred some twenty-three years ago (and I so do tire of telling this story and, believe me or not, I do not cling to it but merely offer it up as a living "metaphor") while I was a third year graduate student at UConn studying biophysics. Many "stories" surround that time of my life but I will make this as short as possible. I found myself living and working off campus to help support myself at an institute for the mentally retarded, Mansfield Training School. When I first went to work there, I was horrified to witness how brutal this society and its people were in the care and habilitation of the mentally retarded in an institutional setting. I set off, right from the beginning, at playing a mental chess game with the system, both to survive until my noble task was through as well as to remain true to my innate nature of a loving and gentle kind human being. After a year and a half of this "chess game", I ended up as "King of the Hill" and I had chess mated the whole system, and, as a greater metaphor, the society as a whole. I will not go into specifics, now, as to how this was accomplished nor my "moves" along the way. But, in the end, I gave three speeches, one before Gov. Grasso at the time and two before the Conn. State Legislature. In my final speech, composed the night before I delivered it, I ended my speech with this very, very sincere and wise warning to ALL...

"If we don't learn to love and respect the mentally retarded as equal human beings, we will never learn to love and respect each other naturally and, if we don't do this, gentle people, we will end up destroying ourselves and the beauty that life on earth can be if allowed to be".

So, in a way, yes, my life has indeed been a very living metaphor, full of passion and vitality. Knowing what I intuitively came to know back then, I have lived a life of perfect love and gentle kindness for, even if no other person believed in my "prophecy", I did, and I have lived a life according to this understanding. AND, in living such a life of love and gentle kindness, I have become both the oberved as well as the observer, and I know fully the truth and metaphysical power of love and gentle kindness like no other could possibly know, for I have followed this path perfectly. This is why I am a living boddhissatva, in service and friendship to my fellow man. I do not ask for anything in return, only that others may know and follow the path that I have followed, for their sake and the sake of their loved ones and their loves ones to come.

Bobby T.
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Post by Robert G. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Ruiz, perhaps it doesn't come through in the transcript, but it's perfectly clear listening to the interview that JC is not confusing the literal and metaphorical senses here. What is also clear is that he did not answer the question that was asked. I submit that at least part of the reason for this is that the answer would be a simple "No." I personally think his response as to whether or not there is any continuation of the individual (in whatever sense that might be conceived) after death would be that it is "far outside the field of my scholarship" and "something I can neither affirm or deny."
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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi Bobby T and Robert G!

Bobby T, thanks for the clarification! Now I fully understand how you were using your metaphors such as the bodhisattva and chess metaphors. In your circumstance they fit perfectly!

I was reminded in reading your wonderful story of a technique that Joseph Campbell mentioned in the videos "Transformations of Myth through Time" while discussing the Tibetan book of the dead. The technique is called "idam" which means "chosen diety." By choosing a patron diety such as the bodhisattva of infinite compassion or any image that is to be your guide in life you are led to spiritual realizations that wouldn't have been achieved in any other way. It was your path to enlightenment.

I can see that your path has given you insight that I can only glimpse at!

Thanks for sharing! I learned something valuable from your story regarding love and compassion. I remember reading in a book I think called "Why bad things happen to good people" or something along those lines that the god of love and compassion only existed in the human realm. It was up to man to manifest this god because otherwise the universe would be devoid of it. When you mentioned "agape" you reminded me that on earth it seems as if only man has that potential waiting to be awakened.

Bobby T, I would personally like to thank you for your efforts in bringing relief to what was definitely a situation of hell on earth. In the Catholic Apostles Creed prayer we find a reference to Jesus descending into hell as part of his resurrection.

It seems that metaphor fits you too!

Robert G, what you describe about Joseph Campbell makes sense. He seemed to keep his personal beliefs separate from his scholarship. I remember in the "Power of Myth" Joseph Campbell telling Bill Moyers what myths were telling him to do all the time suggesting that his scholarship was one thing and their guidance if he chose to apply them another.

He speaks from his scholarship most the time and then every once in awhile he mentions their benefit if we choose to apply them which includes himself.

Thanks for pointing that out! You made me reflect on Joseph Campbell's style when presenting myths and metaphors. It's as if he is presenting us with a spiritual treasure chest full of wonderful myths and metaphors that he has discovered and it's up to us which ones we want to apply to our lives. Every once in a while he dips into the treasure chest himself and picks one out for himself.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Ruiz on 2004-10-25 14:05 ]</font>
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

This is indeed a very fruitful conversation about death - and an inspiration to contemplate about it.
On 2004-10-12 13:27, nights watch wrote:
Mortality has been on my mind as of late, and it has the power to simply overwhelm me. The notion of coming to a point where there is simply NOTHING ELSE is mind boggling, and though i accept the fact that i will one day die, the notion is somthing that is slightly unsettling. I love that it gives the moments i experience now tremendous meaning, as it does, but when thinking about the severing of consciousness...what IS that, you know? When I contemplate it deeply I feel almost as if i can indirectly see it, and again it just overwhelmed me. Have any of you deeply contemplated this? do you have any good campbell quotes regarding this? thanks
Nights Watch was asking for Campbell quotations that may allow a deeper insight (both in death and in Campbell’s viewpoint), and furthermore asking for others who have deeply contemplated the severing of consciousness. It seems that you all have – myseld certainly included.

Ruiz, Bodhi Bliss and others have mentioned Campbell’s talking about undifferentiated consciousness, and Ruiz and Robert G. have raised the interesting question, if undifferentiated consciousness may be nothing else but Campbell’s literal belief. You know, Campbell taught, that we tend to think about our own religion being factual, and other’s religions being metaphorical. That's why he suggested to look at other people's mythologies. Was he making the same mistake, litteral bible believers do, only in a more advanced, a more sophisticated - way? The equisite way of a genius to fail? To fail by replacing a mask of god, that has become useless for him as a well-educated contemporary in the age of science, with just another mask, one that still has powers to hypnotize us (to borrow Ruiz' great expression)?

Undifferentated conscousness points to the whole, not to a part of it. It is a metaphysicle concept, because the whole is beyond any possible understanding. If there’s, on one hand, someone to understand and, on the other hand, something to be understood, then we are not talking about the whole anymore. Who's hands? "god" is beyond!

Campbell gives some hints in Reflections on the Art of Living. A Campbell Companion. There he talks about nature being full of consciousness, and he is also talking about the ultimate rapture that brings forth the forms we do experience as the “sensual world” (which is nothing more than an image in our brain). The ultimate rapture is not experienced, because there’s nobody there to experience. There’s only experience as long as there is a subject that experiences, and an object to be experienced. That's why the mystical tries to relate to the whole, that he finds in the abysses of his own psyche (and everywhere else, since there is no bottom of the abyss - the abyss discharges into the whole).

Without separation, there is no time and space, nothing happening, nothing to develop, nothing to create or eliminate. This is why “Eternity is in love with the apparitions of time”.
On 2004-10-21 12:27, ruffles899 wrote:
My favorite Joseph Campbell quote is "Eternity is in love with the forms of time and space". I don't know where the quote is from.
If "Eternity" always was, doesn't it follow that "time and space" also always was?
This is from William Blake’s Marriage of heaven and hell, and the correct quotation is “Eternity is in love with the apparitions of time” (but it doesn’t really make a difference).

I think the point, Ruffles, is that eternity is not before, but [/i]beyond[/i] time and space. Since Einstein we know, that there is no factual room with time and space as constants. Time is dependent on velocity. A photon, a physicist told me at our last roundtable meeting, moves so fast, that from it’s viewpoint the long history of the universe would be just a brief moment. If there’s no body, no subject anymore, does it make sense to speak about time?

In death, Campbell says in Power of Myth, the individual consciousness rejoins the undifferentiated consciousness.

Undifferentiated consciousness, somewhere in this thread, was interpreted as an entity “outside”. If this was a proper interpretation, it would be indeed just another name (or “mask”) of god.

To illustrate my own understanding of undifferentiated consciousness, I compared it, in another thread, with random noise. Random noise is also called white noise. This is indeed an interesting term.

Like white light is the sum of all kinds of colourful light (or can be separated – differentiated - in different colours), white noise is the sum of sounds on all possible frequencies (and can be differentiated in separated "individual" sounds).

So you might say, that individual consciousness is like a melody in the symphony of life. The melody has a beginning and an ending, but it’s part of a symphony and, more than that, like every tone or melody, a part of the white noise, that is beyond all ears and sound waves.

Eternity is not a raisin in the cake of the universe. It is the cake as a whole. WE are the raisins. And, at the same time, we are the cake as a whole. All the raisin has to do, to recognize that, is to contemplate about the essence of the raisin. One day it will recognize, that it is not just the raisin, but the cake. That's what the mystical experience is about. And as well, what the idea of identifying with the light instead of the bulb is about.

Now, is undifferentiated consciousness an abstract idea, brought forth by a genius of metaphors, and hence, other than the metaphors of the past, is still able to hypnotize us (as Campbell readers), like Ruiz suggests? Is the white noise a product of all tones sounding together, or is the individual tone a product of the white noise? Is consciousness the product of large biological molecules, we do call brains, or is, like Campbell suggests (in the, already mentioned, Campbell Companion) the brain only a machine that transforms unlimited consciousness in an individual personality?

A fascinating question indeed, and it’s not possible to give an ultimate reply. Everybody has to prove his own imagination, everybody has to contemplate the question of severing or rejoining of consciousness himself honestly and diligently.

My own honest and diligent reply is different from the one that has been given before, somewhere in this thread, saying that the universe feels love for us: To attribute the emotion of “love” to the universe in the sense of an emotion, would mean to create an antropomorphic image of god.

Eternity or undifferentiated consciousness is the essence of the universe, and since it’s undifferentiated, and hence is emotionless. To have emotions menas to refer to something. It means, to be in the state of separation. That’s probably why Campbell said that god is beyond love and hate.

To become alive, the undifferentiated has to differentiate into forms, from hydrogen molecules to human brains. To be undifferentiated means, to have no qualities: If you want everything, you get nothing. Eternity is a quite boring state. That’s why eternity (or undifferentiated consciousness) loves the apparitions of time and space (or differentiated consiousness).
On 2004-10-22 14:18, Ruiz wrote:
nights watch, the image of undifferentiated consciousness and differentiated consciousness is just another metaphor similar to the one ruffles899 mentioned of eternity being in love with the forms of time and space.
From a Campbell lecture about Gottfried von Strasburg and the medieval ideal of amor:
I had a very interesting experience, two weekends ago, lecturing on this same subject in New York. The words that Gottfried uses when he’s speaking about the experience of love, the one heart that is two, two hearts that are one and all that sort of thing. And there was a lady in the audience who raised her hand and said "Oh, but that's just a metaphor". And I said, "it’s not a metaphor when you’re having the experience". When you have the experience that’s the best way to talk about it.

Joseph Campbell
So let's try to have the experience - than we can talk about it!

Draw a straight line and follow it - La Monte Young, Composition No. 10 (1961)

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Post by Bobby T. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

The prevelent theory on the creation of the universe is the "Big Bang". Approximately 15 billion years ago it is postulated that the entire matter of the universe was created in a microsecond out of the Void, nothingness. I have long considered that one must acknowledge either the existence of a Creator, an uncaused cause, or, on the other hand, the whole universe of matter came into existence from its own volition. Take your pick, I suppose, either a Creator referred to as God or the whole universe as God and human consiousness the final desitination of the Universe's "intention". But, given the higher consiousness of Buddha and, even higher, that of Jesus Christ, I tend to consider the need for a Creator. In any case, whether God exists independently of the Universe or the Universe, itself, is God dispersed and focalized through mankind, the Ultimate state of Being and existence is love and gentle kindness and our common "dilemna" of mankind's power of self destruction still looms before us, almost beckoneing us one way or the other.

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Post by dmc » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

What can one add to such thoughtful and profound discussions we have been given by all of you? Thank you.
Just a couple of things spring to mind.
I accept the "Big Bang" theory to explain all that is physically present in the now, but I have to ask, what was there exactly before the Big Bang that went "Bang!"?

To my mind, we must believe that there is a Presence beyond all imagining of a Nature we can never even guess at , but is a lover of Beauty of all things to the extent of capturing the attention and devotion of the human heart. Call this Being what you may - the Uncaused Cause, Undifferentiated Consciousness, God, the Brahmin nature, Atman - Joseph Campbell is not using metaphors when he speaks about the Transcendence and the Immanence of this Being, I prefer to call God.(A word which comes from the Sanskrit words meaning "The One Who Calls".)
And I am in total agreement with the wager of Blaise Pascal who preferred to bet on the probability of the existence of God than that God did not exist. If he was right in his wager, all was well. If not, there was no hope but oblivion. "If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing."
(From "Pensees", #233.)

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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hello again to Night’s Watch, Ruiz, Ivor Orr, Ruffles, Bobby, Robert G, and anyone else I may have missed, including those silently participating in the conversation, reading and pondering what’s been said.

And what has been said? Words of wonder and wisdom, which trigger further thought and reflection.

Thank you, Night’s Watch for raising the question. Clearly this isn’t just an intellectual exercise, for, as you point out in your initial post, the awareness of one’s own mortality can be overwhelming and unsettling. As Jim Morrison sings, “no one gets out of here alive” – or, as Clint Eastwood puts it so succinctly in Unforgiven, “We all got it coming.” Death approaches, even picks up its pace the older we get – and no matter how much we might intellectualize, bandying about terms like “consciousness” and “metaphor” and such, that does little to quell the queasy, uneasy pang in the pit of the stomach when contemplating the gaping maw that stalks us …

Everyone offers fascinating questions and insights, all of which ring true: Robert’s and Ruiz’s discussion of confusion and ambiguity as to whether Campbell is at times speaking in literal or metaphorical terms; Night’s Watch allusion to being enmeshed in time, which makes understanding of time difficult, as we can only examine this concept from within the field of time; Ruffles’ mention of the possibility of different truths able to stand side by side; Bobby’s expression of his personal truth; Ruiz’s reminder about Campbell’s proposition that mankind’s awareness of death gave rise to mythology; and so many other remarks that expand the mind, which should fuel this conversation for some time to come.

My approach here is to simply have fun with the question. There is no one I really disagree with – if there are differences, they are at best questions of vocabulary, or variations in personal experience - so what I have to offer isn’t intended as either correction or opposition, but, at most, maybe a different take on some aspects – another layer, perhaps. There is, after all, no answer we can look up in the back of the book, no “gospel according to Campbell” that reveals the objective truth; if there were, Death would not be the preoccupation it is.

I point this out because I notice a tendency in myself to pontificate from time to time, make sweeping statements as if I’m some sort of authority – but I’m only an authority when speaking from my own experience (and who isn’t?). Apart from that, I’m just thinking out loud, as are we all, reflecting on and processing my own thoughts and reactions to what others have said, expressing my understanding of the moment.

We are speaking here of great mysteries, and I admit I’m groping in the dark just like everyone else –

so feel free to assume there is plenty of wiggle room in my words, no matter how definite a declaration might sound. If I quote an earlier post and then suggest a different possibility, I am merely offering another perspective; even where there seems a sharp contrast between views doesn’t mean one or the other need be wrong. Could be just my Gemini nature, but I’m not in the least opposed to holding two, three, or a dozen apparently conflicting positions all at once

… but then, those who study myth should be used to embracing paradox.

The other major caveat i'd like to emphasize when discussing such a big subject comes to mind as I read this remark from Ruiz:
“Bodhibliss, I see that you too interpret Joseph Campbell as actually believing in the literal existence of a Consciousness with a big ‘C.’”
I can certainly see from the post in reference how easy it is to arrive at that conclusion - but I don’t necessarily believe Campbell believed that.

And yet, didn’t I suggest Campbell believes something survives Death, and that “something” is uppercase Consciousness? What gives? Are these word games we play? Well, in one sense, yeah …

This highlights one of the greatest frustrations when discussing such concepts as death and consciousness and eternity and even metaphor, a difficulty Campbell warns us about in a formulation borrowed from his friend and mentor, Heinrich Zimmer:

The best things cannot be told; the second best things are misunderstood; and the third best are everyday conversation.

Zimmer’s “best things” are mysteries transcendent of all human concepts – that which is beyond conscious and unconscious, beyond light and dark, beyond life and death, beyond being and nonbeing – that which cannot be put into words because it is beyond words.

The “second best things” are misunderstood because they use the “third best” – the language of everyday life – to discuss the “first best,” which is beyond language.

Our conversation here is an example of these second best things – as is the entire body of Campbell’s work – with a tendency toward vagueness and misunderstanding built right into the words, guaranteeing a certain measure of frustration in communication no matter how precise and exact we try to be. These second best things are words with usually concrete references, employed instead as metaphor. Even when we are aware of this usage, it’s hard to overcome linguistic programming and completely ignore the concrete reference – especially when that concrete reference is germane to the metaphorical comparison.

I try to keep this caveat in mind when reading Joseph Campbell, but it’s not always easy to do. Though he chooses his words carefully, language lends itself to concrete interpretation.

This is why Campbell points to the power of myth as primarily visual (arising out of vision?) rather than verbal. Images, whether in myth or art, bypass the qualifying limitations imposed by thought and word, affecting us on a deeper, more immediate level. Moving from visual to verbal shifts emphasis from the immediate experience of the dreamworld of myth to the logical constructs of philosophy, theology, and metaphysics. It’s the difference between the rapture of creating/experiencing a work of art, and a critic’s review of the same piece of art (or, as Alan Watts and Marshal McLuhan used to say, “the menu is not the meal”).

Sometimes Campbell strikes me as making bold, brash declarations about Yahweh or Vishnu or Zeus and their motivations and actions, as if they’re actually sitting around in a Great Hall of Archetypes somewhere in the vast Out There, still getting angry, still hurling thunderbolts, still playing dice with human lives and actively involved in the ongoing creation/dissolution of the universe.

Of course, it’s easy to understand these images as metaphors, but it takes a little more effort on my part to recognize some of the concepts Campbell employs as mythic images and metaphors in their own right: Consciousness, Void, Being, Nonbeing, Emptiness, Suchness, Thusness, Satori, Illumination, Transcendence – these are all congruent terms that nevertheless suggest specific, often contradictory references in my mind. For example, because I have a sense of what consciousness is, being conscious myself (more-or-less), I can’t help but project that into upper case Consciousness as sort of a transpersonal, expanded consciousness – gets hazy, but it’s still a concept I can wrap my brain around

and so is ultimately inadequate to express what’s intended, as a mythic metaphor should point to what is beyond the brain …
Ruiz wonders, “Did Joseph Campbell commit an error in interpretation because he so wanted to believe in the literal existence of a Consciousness with a big ‘C’? … Maybe Joseph Campbell was just stressing the metaphor too strongly and it ‘appeared’ as if he actually believed in its literal interpretation.”
At the risk of sounding like a Campbell apologist (one of the strengths of this site is that individuals are willing to voice questions, criticisms, and differences with Campbell’s work), I lean toward the latter.

When Campbell speaks of identifying with either the light bulb – i.e., the body which is the vehicle of consciousness – or with the light - “and to think then of consciousness as the one presence here made manifest through us all” –

he is presenting one metaphysical metaphor

(upper case Consciousness)

to explain another mythic metaphor


to a group of middle school students.

He repeats this story in many interviews and lectures. In the selection “Zen,” from Myths to Live By, Campbell points out
These are but two ways of interpreting and experiencing the same set of present facts. One way is not truer than the other. They are just two ways of interpreting and experiencing: the first, in terms of the manifold of separate things; the second, in terms of the one thing that is made manifest through the manifold. And as, in Japanese, the first is known as ji hokkai, so the second is ri hokkai, the absolute universe.
Campbell certainly speaks of undifferentiated consciousness permeating all that is, just as he also speaks of the void and all the other terms mentioned above, and many more besides – but he doesn’t stop there. None of these are the ultimate term – not even transcendence, as that which transcends all that is and all that isn’t, that which transcends all concepts, is in itself yet a concept …

… and here we are again, trying to touch our right forefinger with our right forefinger, bite our right eyetooth with our right eyetooth.

As Nights Watch points out, we are ensconced in time so haven’t the ability to examine it from the outside – hence, our knowledge remains fragmentary and inadequate here in the dayworld where this conversation takes place. The same is true when we discuss the transcendent from an ego perspective - and it is impossible to adequate describe the experience, as attested by those who have had an experience that transcends ego, transcends human consciousness, transcends life and death, being and nonbeing, god and man - whether that experience comes from meditation, or shamanic chanting and drumming, or ingesting entheogens, or a spontaneous kundalini rising, or some such other portal into the unknown.

(It's like describing the color red to someone blind from birth – all a sighted [or insighted] person can do is talk around the experience, as have mystics for millennia in the language of myth, metaphor, and oxymoron – "a finger pointing to the moon.")

I appreciate the reference Robert offers from Michael Toms’ New Dimensions interview, where Campbell declares:
Temporal thinking shuts out the dimension of eternity. And to ask, "Am I going to live after death?" you’re thinking in temporal terms. The dimension of eternity is "now." It’s a dimension of here and now. So I’m not worried about "after" death. I’m worried about getting in touch with those eternal dimensions now.
That quote expresses it best – at least, for me. Campbell steps outside the linear framework imposed on us by our experience of the sequence of time: to think in terms of what happens “after death” is to ignore the experience of what transcends Life – and Death – in the here and now. I believe that was a mistake in my post – I stuck with the linear framework – “after death."

I do believe there is something (a vague, inadequate, open-ended metaphor intended to be fuzzy) that transcends life, though it’s certainly not something confined to after death – and, if I am to experience this something transcendent, whatever we want to call it, I must find it here and now, in this moment, in this life.

What purpose do such metaphors serve? I think another Ruiz comment sheds light here:
Since this topic is about death it matters to me psychologically whether I believe that I’m going to join a universal consciousness or whether I’m ultimately going into the unknown of which nobody knows anything.
Campbell suggests in his Historical Atlas of World Mythology that the mythological perspective emerges in response to our apprehension of death. We seem the only species conscious of our own mortality. Mythologies of death, no matter how varied each culture, how distant from one another in time and space, are remarkably parallel in their description of Otherworld/Underworld experiences. Is this because they are true – or is it simply the way the human mind, the human brain, and/or the human psyche is shaped?

Ultimately these mythic images help us confront and embrace the inevitability of Death

(much better than myths help us face life’s other great certainty – don’t see much in either Ulysses or the Upanishads about Taxes).

There is comfort here, reassurance -

though it takes more than comforting platitudes to quell the fears of dissolution, of losing me, of ceasing to be, of might as well never having been, not even a lingering memory of having been – a preoccupation that preys on us whether we want to think about it or no, especially after a certain age.

It takes an experience, to which the metaphor points - but as to what that experience is, there are simply no words ...

I feel for you Night’s Watch, for I too – like all of us – feel pangs of existential angst when I contemplate the snuffing out of my existence – it’s a pit of the belly thing, often kicking in late at night, but sometimes in broad daylight, when struck by the temporal nature of all existence … especially my own. Those are the moments when ego – “I,” “me,” my sense of myself, how I experience me – is in possession of my soul.

Myth helps us understand and assimilate that approaching endpoint.

Campbell gauges a myth not by how accurate its depiction, but by whether or not it is effective - and affective.

For some, Heaven is a powerful, living myth that accurately portrays where Death takes us. So was the Underworld for the Egyptian Pharaohs, or the afterlife experience described in the Bardo Thodol for a Tibetan Buddhist.

Unfortunately, the Judeo-Christian afterlife doesn’t speak to everyone in our culture anymore – in fact, it speaks to very few people in my immediate circle. It’s not an effective metaphor – so, to address the emptiness I feel in the pit of my stomach when pondering what will happen when I die, I need a new metaphor, a new myth, one that effectively engages my Imagination. Campbell helps here, for he has turned me on to a world of mythic imagery, from dream states to mystical realizations and more, which speak to my experience.

Some work better than others, depending on the individual. As Ruiz pointed out, it matters psychologically whether he is going to dissolve into a universal consciousness, or dissolve into the unknown of which no one knows anything;

on the other hand, to me these both describe the same condition – “I” dissolve, am extinguished, simply cease to be as a separate entity with separate experiences and memories: in that sense, dissolving into an all-encompassing impersonal Consciousness strikes me as experientially no different from dissolving into Nothingness, into the Void, or into the Unknown

(all of which are metaphors, but metaphors with slightly different accents. This sometimes leads to tremendous misunderstandings - much like the English, Canadians, Americans, and Australians, all "separated by a common language").

From the position of the “I,” of the “me” that does not come through this intact, this is an horrific prospect. But when I am able to shift my identification from the “me” to that which transcends me – in those moments I am transparent to the transcendent (which in my life has been midwifed most often through meditation, entheogens, and the occasional spontaneous satori in waking reality).

Ideally one should be able to hold both these perspectives at once, identifying in the same moment with the personal and the transcendent, but in practice i find that's a balance not so easy to maintain.

Nevertheless, I don’t fear Death as once I did, at least not to the same degree and with the same intensity as before, though those pit of the belly moments do still pop up.

Campbell discusses these two approaches with Bill Moyers:

"In Buddhist systems, more especially those of Tibet, the meditation Buddhas appear in two aspects, one peaceful and the other wrathful. If you are clinging fiercely to your ego and its little temporal world of sorrow and joys, hanging on for dear life, it will be the wrathful aspect of the deity that appears. It will seem terrifying. But the moment your ego yields and gives up, that same meditation Buddha is experienced as a bestower of bliss."

There is much more to say but I do tend to ramble at length, so I’ll draw to a close for the moment. There are, though, many ideas floating around this conversation I’d like to address

– particularly the concept of “as if” in relation to metaphor (which is more than just pretend, though it does begin with an act of Imagination – but can affect substantial changes in our experience of the world ... healing rituals come to mind)

…and, with that, the question of “hypnosis” (not exactly hypnosis, but there does seem a related mechanism at work in effective, affective symbols).

I believe it’s Robert who also raises an interesting question, about whether when Campbell strays from the strictly academic he might be revealing his personal mythology

… but it’s time for bed.

What a rich conversation!

blessed be


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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2004-10-26 08:36, Martin_Weyers wrote:

From a Campbell lecture about Gottfried von Strasburg and the medieval ideal of amor:
I had a very interesting experience, two weekends ago, lecturing on this same subject in New York. The words that Gottfried uses when he’s speaking about the experience of love, the one heart that is two, two hearts that are one and all that sort of thing. And there was a lady in the audience who raised her hand and said "Oh, but that's just a metaphor". And I said, "it’s not a metaphor when you’re having the experience". When you have the experience that’s the best way to talk about it.

Joseph Campbell
So let's try to have the experience - than we can talk about it!
Right on, Martin!

I notice that there is sometimes a tendency to interpret Campbell's use of the term metaphor as simply some sort of linguistic device, referring to something completely made up ... but Campbell speaks of it as having one foot in mundane reality, and one foot in the Unknown

... but "the Unknown" is simply (now there's a loaded word - nothing simple about it) a reference to an experience which is beyond human concepts, words, and experiences common to the world of consensus reality we inhabit.

A metaphor is a comparison - it borrows a concept with which we are familiar to point to something "beyond"

... which doesn't mean that which is beyond is a made up, pretend something.

An example i often use revolves around one of my students a few years back. Stephanie was bright, had a beautiful voice, but was blind from birth. One day, when discussing the use of metaphor, i challenged the rest of the class - with Stephanie's permission - to convey the meaning of the color "red" to her.

Fascinating exercise - the class grew increasingly frustrated, as they had no common reference to convey the experience of the color red to Steph.

As for Stephanie, she knew that the sighted world believes in something called "red" and they behave as if it's real - not crossing the street against a red light, for example - but she had to take the existence of "red" on faith alone.

Meanwhile, the other students in the class found whatever they offered didn't work: they could say apples are red - but not all apples are red - or that red is hot - but not everything that is hot is red. Their words fell into the category of "a finger pointing at the moon," to borrow from a Zen koan. Stephanie could only focus on the "finger" - apple, red light, etc. - but was incapable of experiencing "the moon."

Soon the entire class sounded like mystics, falling back on metaphor-s to try to describe the experience of red to someone who had never had the experience.

In Steph's world, "red" did not exist - in the same way "God" or "Cosmic Consciousness" or "the Transcendent" does not exist for someone who has never had the experience - though clearly there are people who believe they have experienced these things, just as Steph knows sighted people "believe" in red.

Myths exist as a metaphor pointing to an actual experience of something transcendent. This is different from "concretizing" the myth, which brings the transcendent into this realm of mundane, consensus reality (God as a historical figure, for example).

I know i'm only scratching the surface here, expressing myself in wholly inadequate terms - but the next class is streaming into the room, so i must close for now.



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Post by vhhancock » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

There are so many threads in this interesting discussion--I wanted to highlight one brought up by Ruiz:
On 2004-10-21 02:18, Ruiz wrote:

I think we are in deep trouble because we might have stumbled onto something that is not going to go very well with other associates.

A myth or metaphor has to finally be accepted as fact to really work!


In a way metaphors are like the suggestions of a hypnotist. They work if we take the suggestion to heart. (pushing the suggestion to the point of it seeming like fact)

What do you think? If one is aware that an act or object is symbolic, how much value can it still hold? Can one participate as fully--and have the same intensity of experience--while possessing that knowledge?

Campbell once said that he probably couldn't have the same depth of experience as a devout follower of one religion or another. Is the trade-off worth it?

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Post by Bobby T. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

A metaphor or myth has already appeared on the radar scope of the United States and few are acknowledging it as a metaphor or myth realized, and I believe realized through Divine Providence. I am speaking of the Red Sox and their one game away from the World Series after being one out from elimination seven games ago. Much, much can be written about this metaphor of the sublime but I am curious as to how others may view what they know or have witnessed to date and the particular events surrouding this mythic metaphor almost completed.

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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I'm not sure i follow you, Bobby. Certainly one could use the Red Sox as an analogy, but of what? What would be the reference for this metaphor? Does their victory point to transcendent truths about love, or beauty, or the nature of eternity?

Their comeback tale makes a darn good story, but strikes me as somewhat contrived to make a metaphor out of them. A metaphor for what?

Perhaps a myth will emerge out of the public's collective unconscious and we will embrace a pantheon of pitcher deities in bloodied stockings - but right now, i'd say we are flirting more with legend than myth.

Then again, perhaps there is religous significance here for Red Sox fans ...

blessed be
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Post by Bobby T. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

To witness the sublime is to peek into the Divine nature of the world. Concepts such as perfection and nobility come to mind. The legend of "The Curse", embedded metaphors such as 1918 was at the end of WWI and now we are looking at the real possibility of the beginning of WWIII, not as imagined during the 50's and 60's, but updated into the present. Many aspects of their journey over the past 7 games show a whimsical fortune that appears beyond coincidence. A Lunar eclipse tonight, the first ever in a World Series game. Being played at Bus(c)h stadium with a team from Massachusetts where Senator Kerry has been the senator for the past twenty years and is now running neck to neck with Bush in the polls, with the election next week. And, on a personal note, I post the following poem that was copyrigted in 2002 with the title "A Cardinal View", filled with sublime metaphors galore concerning 9/11, a metaphor itself, and its impact and message to mankind. In the end, it is not hard to identify a sublime occurrence for, in the affairs of mankind these days, they are truly rare, not due to the absence of God but mankind's overall rejection of his Divine Will, if you will.

A Cardinal View

Twin towering infernos, minimized
To naught by metamorphosed faith despised,
Demonically spiral round the beams
As though from merged apocalyptic dreams.

The suicidal eagles’ grisly blow,
Which brightens the horizon’s gruesome glow,
Imprints itself on stilled and stifled shock
As misanthropic crows regale and mock.

In quantized grief that elevates sublime
Within poetically rhythmic rhyme,
Humanity transudes to smoke inhaled
By the Divinity’s purpose unveiled.

As tentacles entwine lungs thirsting air,
Sound spirits simmer in forlorn despair;
Revealing the eleventh as a sign
Imposed upon your destiny and mine.

With quickening homage from soul bestowed
Within Divine celestial abode,
Mankind’s creation’s realized,
As Love is beckoned, heavenly disguised.

In resurrection, absent swaddling clothes,
Agape quivers as dark void it loathes;
And rises somberly as wings unfold
Majestically, blinding to behold.

To suffer not would likely tender, too,
Compassionate love, nobler of the two;
Thus, the Divine Plan’s mystic management
Throughout the gallows of the firmament.

Now, with humanity at bay, in sight,
Yet, humbled by His meditative might,
He banishes importance far away
To herald in the Final, Lasting Day.

copyright Robert Tremblay @2002

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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi nights watch, ivor orr, Bodhi Bliss, Robert G, ruffles899, bobby T.

Welcome Martin, dmc, and vhhancock!

Wow! So many great ideas. I'll make a quick point in this post and return to some ideas that are just too good to pass up such as Martin's notion of the brain being an organ that encapsulates consciousness and points it in a certain direction or vhhancocks suggestion that metaphor can lose it's force if it's not tied into an experience that truly grounds it in reality; Or Bodhi Bliss and bobby's........etc

On further reflection on this topic there is one point that we all may have missed. dmc suggested the point.

dmc said:

"To my mind, we must believe that there is a Presence beyond all imagining of a Nature we can never even guess at... Call this Being what you may - the Uncaused Cause, Undifferentiated Consciousness, God, the Brahmin nature, Atman - Joseph Campbell is not using metaphors when he speaks about the Transcendence and the Immanence of this Being, I prefer to call God..."

The key statement is:

"Joseph Campbell is not using metaphors when he speaks about the Transcendence and the Immanence of this Being"

The reason this is a key statement is because of something Martin and Bodhi-Bliss said. They both suggested that mythic metaphors were preceded by spiritual experiences. One had an experience first and then tried to capture that experience through metaphor.

Well what is that experience?

It's our experience of the mystery of life and existence. We are the whole universe in the sense that the laws of physics and chemistry are so integrated that to alter one law would unravel our present mode of existence.

What is the difference between the oxygen inside and outside our body? What about iron? We really are a piece of earth that just got up and walked away. We are made of the same stuff.

Can one really separate say a beaver from it's environment? It's design is a reflection of it's environment as are we. The forces of nature are always shaping us. Change our environment and change us too.

All of Alan Watts books are about recognizing that we are all that which we read in Physics and Chemistry class.

We are the energy of the universe whose existence though transcendent of our knowledge is immanent everywhere.

We are magical!

oops here comes those metaphors that naturally suggest themselves. It's true that myths or metaphors are not invented. They naturally occur.

It's only when we quench the thinking mind from thinking conceptually that we see the immanence that dmc suggested. It's not a metaphor; it's existence itself in all it's wonder or transcendence. We are that!

This is the eternity that Joseph Campbell is talking about. It's the experience of "Now" which thinking shuts out!

I think the metaphors we have been discussing are pointing to this experience it's just that some do it better than others.

nights watch, this experience does make me fear death less. This "thing" inside and outside me is amazing!

It "as if"....... oh oh there I go again!

OK just one!

It's "as if" that piece of earth that got up and walked away came back from where it got up and lay down again.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Ruiz on 2004-11-09 23:00 ]</font>