Campbell on Life, Death, & the Afterlife

Who was Joseph Campbell? What is a myth? What does "Follow Your Bliss" mean? If you are new to the work of Joseph Campbell, this forum is a good place to start.

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

Nice story about the origins of your username, Tree Hugger! I agree, that we can not harm or save the goddess, but she could loose her patience. (Metaphorically spoken, of course.)

Philosophy has to be based on that what we know, but it is an attempt to embrace what we do not know. Talking about that what we know is no philosophy. But there's no commitment to talk in a philosophic way. There are several other satisfying sorts of conversation.

I don't like speculative philosophy or spirituality too. Maybe my point of view sounds speculative to you, because you have an agnostic point of view: You don't like to think about that realm of reality which is beyond knowledge. We learn in Power of Myth, that Mythology is only good for people who feel a need or bliss regarding mythological images. That's true for philosophy and metaphysics as well: If anyone does not want to think about it, it does not make sense to try to convince him of the importance. For me, philosophy and mythology are of the same importance. I'm a rational and transrational being at the same time. I try to develop my world view based on differents sources. I'm not talking about any ideological "Truth with a capital 'T'", but of the philosophical truth (with a small 't'). If truth with a small "t" can be found anywhere, we should start our research at the cut surface of different sources and approaches: Science, Mythology, Psychology, Metaphysics and experience, experience, experience.

Experience is of vital importance, but what we call experience is in general coloured by imprintings and preconceptions of all sorts. Is there a possibility of unwarped and impartial experience? To be honest: I don't know. The mysticals claim to have found a way to experience the world just the way it is, not the way we expect it to be. I'm not a mystical. I don't meditate. I have no Yogi. God does not speak to me. (Or if he ever did, he did not tell me who he is.) Experience is imprinted by expectations of all sorts. You can learn that from the different way, people experience the same thing: Mythinker saw dying people and dead bodies and felt confirmed that there is no consciousness without brains; I saw exactly the same and experienced a mysterious abyss in that what we call everyday reality.

I'm interested in philosophy and philosophy means traditionally (not as an academic research) to think about the world as a totality, based on the available knowledge. The mystical point of view is that one which regards the world as a totality, based on experience. Myths are images which describe the world as a totality. When I'm saying (in accordance with Campbell!), that everything is consciousness, and it's consciousness what appears as brains, thoughts, playgrounds, cemetaries, emotions and French fries, and when I'm furthermore saying that consciousness is not a function of the brain, but the brain is a transformer of undifferentiated consciousness, than this is not speculation but exactly that kind of philosophy which is in accord with facts, knowledge and experience.

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



I'm thinking of the Perennial Philosophy as it has been expounded particularly by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, and picked up, I think it was during the 1940s, by Aldous Huxley in that work of his, The Perennial Philosophy. I'm thinking of this as the translation into verbal discourse of the implications of the mythic images.

And that's why the same ideas can be found in the mystical philosophies throughout the world. The continuities that we can recognize in myth come over into philosophy.

And the basic idea of the philosophy is that deities are symbolic personifications of the very images of yourself.

And these energies that are of yourself are the energies of the universe. And so the god is out there and the god is in here. The
kingdom of heaven is within you, yes, but it's also everywhere.

Now just as the idea of deity in these perennial traditions is greatly different from our idea of deity, so does the idea of consciousness differ. In speaking of deities in terms that are proper to these mythologically grounded traditions, I say that the deity is a personification of the energy.

It's a personification of an energy that informs all life. All life, your life, the world's life. And the nature of the personification is folk: the energy is human. And so deities proceed from the energies.
And they are the messengers and the vehicles, so to say, of the energies.

And there's that wonderful passage in the Chandogya Upanishad. "Worship this god, worship that god, one god after another, those who follow this law do not know."

Because the source of the gods is in your own heart. Follow the footsteps to that center and know that you are that which the gods are born on.

Dream, vision, god. The gods of heaven and hell are what might be called the cosmic aspect of the dream. And the dream is the personal aspect of the myth. Dream and myth are of the same order. And you and your god are one. So don't try to push it on me. Everyone has his own deity and consciousness.

And this is what is known as the Perennial Philosophy.


~Joseph Campbell, in The Hero's Journey, pp. 127-9.







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

Let's see if I read that correctly, TH: This way of thinking leaves out, precisely, no one's point of view. Even those who would leave out everyone else's.

Works quite well for me.

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

Everyone can believe what he wants, of course. But I don't like that relativism. There are good restaurants and bad restaurants, there is good art and poor art, good philosophy and bad philosophy. We have to differentiate between art therapy and the fine arts. And, in the same way, we have to differentiate between symbols as psychological little helpers and symbols with philosophical relevance. William James was a great thinker, but he (like Campbell sometimes) was confusing terms when he taught, that truth is what brings us forward. A good philosophy is comparable to a map; A good map represents the real world in a correct way, no matter if we do like the landscape.

We are mortal, because our personal consciousness is the equivalent to our brain - if we like it or not; We are immortal, because our temporal existence is based on a timeless abyss - if we like it or not.

We are still using the term "consciousness" in a very different way, which has been the reason for many misunderstandings in several discussions. We have to recognize our total different use and comprehension of "consciousnous" - that old language problem nobody wants to talk about in the forums.

My own position and as well that of Campbell is related to the Perennial Philosophy. I think that of Clemsy, too. He indicated in the other thread, that his spirituality trusts in timelessness rather than in afterlife. Very Campbellian, very mystical. The Perennial Philosophy is the metaphysical equivalent to the mystical experience of timelessness.
Because the source of the gods is in your own heart. Follow the footsteps to that center and know that you are that which the gods are born on.
This is exactly the mystical way: To transcend your ego: not to smash it, but no longer to be at the mercy of your ego. Trust your experience - don't trust any mask of god. And if you want god to wear a mask (because, like we learned from Jung, his countenance is not necessarily pleasant), choose or create your own one, that fits best with your experience.
Dream, vision, god. The gods of heaven and hell are what might be called the cosmic aspect of the dream. And the dream is the personal aspect of the myth. Dream and myth are of the same order. And you and your god are one. So don't try to push it on me. Everyone has his own deity and consciousness.

And this is what is known as the Perennial Philosophy
The Perennial Philosophy is not an academic philosophy, but philosophy like I have defined it in my last post. (Some people think it's not philosophy at all.) It's not really speculative, because it's based on experience in a deeper way and at the same time much more concordant with modern physics than any other philosophy.

The last two sentences of the Campbell-quotation are misunderstandable. Perennial Philosophy is exactly the opposite of relativism. Relativ are the projected gods (= "masks"). Each one is a lie - or a psychological little helper; It depends on your point of view. That's why Campbell says "you and your god are one. So don't try to push it on me." Perennial is not the mask or the projected god, but that what is beyond all masks. But that one beyond all masks, egoes, beliefs and opinions - if we like it or not - is exactly one and the same: Thou art that





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



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

I like that post very much, TH! Though I think it's a circular argument to define consciousness as belonging to a living organism and afterwards tell us that there can be, in consequence, no consciousness after life! But it doesn't matter. First, because there's the circle of life. If you are eaten by the tiger, you will become the tiger. And second, the idea of the eternal is untouched by your definition. I am eternity. Eternity is eternal (how could it be different?), whether it's conscious or not. I can live with those two ideas, set in italics. No need to become conscious humus soil. :smile:

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

TH & Martin,

Interesting direction. I think that confusing consciousness with spirit is problematic. There seems to be much about ‘afterlife’ that is concerned with the continuance of the ‘me’ factor. You know, the body is dead but ‘I’, the ‘guy’ who misses the TV show Northern Exposure, reads science fiction, loves a good merlot with a rare prime rib and has a difficult time keeping his desk clean, floats on, bodiless, wondering if he’ll get a phantom headache from missing his morning dose of caffeine.

You see my problem.

My consciousness is the sum total of sensory input, body chemistry and molecular brain structure, no? My identity is contained within these factors. Taking these things with ‘me’ along a linear time stream after body death doesn’t sit quite right with me. I won’t repeat what I’ve written in the parallel thread in 1K, but HERE’s a link for reference, if you wish.

On the other hand, there’s the image of BECOMING ONE WITH THE COSMIC ALL; and a seeming loss of all sense of individuality as if the afterlife was some sort of ideal communist state (Wouldn’t Ronald Reagan be surprised!). This can’t be any more accurate as the other. This idea, by its very nature, is like talking about God. All we can do is select a comfortable metaphor and risk seeing the metaphor as a fact. We need to remember that language is very much a ‘this world’ thing. Campbell spent a lot of time discussing this very thing, did he not?

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

Ja, but Campbell confuses himself consciousness, mind and spirit on many occasions. When I began posting I liked to talk about spirit (Geist) rather than consciousness (Bewußtsein), as long I was talking about that which is beyond mind and matter, life and death, forms and formlessness, being and non-being, time and space, and maybe beyond experience as well. Then I was taught (by TH), that spirit is used by Americans rather in a dubious context, while Clemsy taught me that metaphysics is also associated with dubious beliefs. So I began to use the same word, Campbell uses: consciousness. That seems to be associated, too, with dubious beliefs about afterlife and reincarnation.

So maybe the dubious spiritualists have poisoned language and are making us spechless by this means? Maybe we should try to make a virtue of necessity and silence our tongues? I'm afraid I can't! I like those conversations too much. Where are the poets and philosophers who are revitalizing our metaphysical language? Can these forums make a contribution to this purpose?

TH, how about asking your German speaking & English teaching friend how Geist and Bewußtsein are related to spirit/mind/consciousness?



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

No, no, no! No silencing tongues! Refining the language, I think, may be of value. Also, bear in mind that we all attach ourselves to what we identify as the most meaningful metaphor. None are, necessarily, to be discarded.

When it comes to vocabulary, 'consciousness' and 'mind' are, for me, this world functions.

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

I wrote in another thread that I thoght Jung (and therefore Campbell) were dualist (mind/body), and that maybe both Campbell and Jung treated spirit as something else. In classical dualism (from Descartes) mind and spirit are the same.

I don't think Campbell was clear in identifying himself as a dualist because I think he found physicalism attractive...this difficulty is in pinning him down on the mind/spirit/consciousness aspect that is debated between physicalists and dualists. There are also property dualists as well as substance dualists. If he was true to Jung and Kant in his philosophy of mind, then Campbell was a substance dualist, where body and mind are distinct from each other. Mind can safely be equated with consciousness and spirit (or consciousness is an aspect of mind and spirit is informing mind in a metaphysical way...I can't help but notice that mind is used as a noun :???: ).

I think it has been shown that we project our own philosophy onto Campbell, but he did have his own. It would be good to figure out what that was/is.

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

I don't see significant clues to decide if Campbell was a representant of monism or dualism. A while ago we had a vivid discussion about David Kudler's comment, that Campbell was interested in the human experience, not in metaphysics, and that he used metaphysical terms with a psychological meaning. I think this was one half each correct and incorrect, because Campbell was indeed rather interested in experience than speculation, but he was very interested in the [/i]metaphysical[/i] experience, in general called mystical experience. He was fascinated by shamanic experiences (like those of Black Elk) and mystical experiences (like those of Ramakrishna). He was also a Kant and Schopenhauer enthusiast, but I can't remember him being enthusiastic about Descartes. In fact I think Descartes was an awful philosopher. His whole dualism was based on one big circular argument.

Campbell expressed his belief, that plants have consciousness, many times, and he called all processes of life, that take place in our body, our milt, our liver and so forth, processes of body consciousness. He said, it's no questions that plants are conscious and told Vegetarians people who are just eating something that can't run away. He said that nobody could tell him anything else but plants have consciousness and asked: How far down the line does that go?

My answer would be: There is no line. But there is a difference of course, to kill a man or a blade of grass. So everything is built on consciousness (or better, for Clemsy: on spirit), but there are different levels of consciousness of course. Same level of spirit, perhaps.

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


Now, the realms of the gods and demons -- heaven, purgatory, hell -- are of the substance of dreams. Myth, in this view, is the dream of the world. If we accept gods as objective realities, then they are the counterpart of your dream -- this is a very important point -- dream and myth are of the same logic.

~Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal
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Post by ALOberhoulser » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Martin,
He was also a Kant and Schopenhauer enthusiast, but I can't remember him being enthusiastic about Descartes. In fact I think Descartes was an awful philosopher. His whole dualism was based on one big circular argument.
Kant was a substance duaulist, and so was Jung...I was merely referring to the view of Descartes' on which dualism is based. Kant had his own metaphysics, and I think it's safe to assume that since Jung agreed with it regarding his philosophy of mind , then it would follow that Campbell agreed as well. I'm not saying that anyone has to agree with it for themselves. If I prefer physicalism and a phenomenological approach to the study of minds and consciousness, then I bear the burden of proof...Kant, Jung and Campbell are all dead, they can't answer my questions.

I think it's interesting, that out of the lot of them, Campbell was the least involved with science. His books are a wonderful blend of art and science, unlike anyone else that I've ever read.
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Post by David_Kudler » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I think--and I can point to a fair volume of data--that Campbell simply wasn't very fond of the French. :smile: Especially with regard to the Germans! :grin:

(His loss. I'm rather a francophile myself.)

So I can't find a real discussion of Descartes's ideas in Campbell's work.

It is VERY interesting that, in comparison to his philosophical forebearers, Campbell was much less a scientist. I think that is an interesting statement about Campbell, but also a sad statement about the growing divide between philosophy and what used to be called 'natural philosophy'--that is, science. Campbell spoke a number of times about the gap beween the worlds of science and myth in our society that has been growing wider and wider since the days of Copernicus.

Oh, and yes, TH, that quote is indeed from the soon-to-be-released new book, Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal. I uploaded a few quotes to the database last night. :smile: FYI, the book is due out in early June--keep an eye out!
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