What exactly is meant by transcendence?

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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Joe the Dragon
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Post by Joe the Dragon » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

As i read through Campbell's works, i am stuck on the notion of transcendence.

In chapter one of the "Inner Reaches of Outer Space" he paints a pretty clear picture that myths and mythical creatures are meant to be revelatory for transcendence.

After reading the discussion on the vastness of the cosmos it seems to me that realization of transcendence is thus:

The energies of the Universe are infinte. I am of the energies of the universe, therefore i too am infinite.

Worlds rise and fall in infinite cycles. All temporal things are passing, but the energy of the universe is eternal. Thus death shall not be feared and material things shall not be coveted.

So my question is this:
If all we are to do is meditate silently and transcend into infinite than why do anything at all? What about progress? Technology? Challenge? Work? and Video Games?

If nothing i do will last why do anything at all? Why not just sit under the bodhi tree and wait to sink back into the ground from which i came?


I'm sure there's an answer, maybe i just have to finish the book. Perhaps my understanding of the concept is way off. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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

It is a hard question to answer, but perhaps it doesn't matter if one views one's self as being infinite. When I look at those select few who seemed to able to reach transcendence in the legendary sense, it took the experience of things to do so. Why do anyting? Because if we don't then how will we know any kind of transcendence at all? We are living creatures, infinite or not, and so we must live; we must experience.

Reading back over this, it doesn't seem like much of an answer, but for now, it's the only one I can give.
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Grumpy, I think your answer is a good one and it does not conflict with the one Prof. Joe probably would have given.

Joe, the ground out of which you came is infinite. No qualities can be attributed to the infinite. Where there is experience, there you have separated consciousness. And where there is separated consciousness, there you have death. So we have to accept the perishable to permit experience.

It's nothing less than the Schopenhauer/Campbell controversy about the question: Is the world something that should be or should not be? The eternal ground is not the place for life and experience; The recognition of the eternal ground is destined to change our view of our work and our games. What is special and has to be experienced is the finite, not the infinite. We have to know about transcendence to get composure; And with composure return to our actual and individual life. According to Campbell it's good to know the eternal is there, but then not to care about it too much.

_______________________________________
If there are no objections, I will move this thread to the CALL FOR ADVENTURE forum, where we are discussing concepts like the concept transcending concept of transcendance.

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

I have moved this topic from MYTHOS FOR THE CREATIVE COMMUNITY to CALL FOR ADVENTURE.

Joe the dragon, you wrote you are expecting an answer on the question "What is transcendence" by reading THE INNER REACHES OF OUTER SPACE. Depending on the progression of the discussion it could be continued in THE WISDOM POOL or CONVERSATION WITH A THOUSAND FACES also. Not easy to decide where the right place is to transcend the concept transcendening concept of transcendence!
Works of art are indeed always products of having been in danger, of having gone to the very end in an experience, to where man can go no further. -- Rainer Maria Rilke
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Post by Calaf » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I don't have a particularly substantial idea contribution to add to this thread, but I would like to point out something that's been bothering me: Joseph Campbell was not a prophet or preacher. Although I love and respect the man (and his work) dearly, I think these forums have an over-tendency to think he brought us an actual spiritual teaching. I can find no such real thing in his work.
"Dharma is the best thing for people, both in this life and in the next."<br>-The Buddha, from the Agganna Sutra
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Post by Clemsy » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Calaf, you said:
We have to know about transcendence to get composure; And with composure return to our actual and individual life.
I believe that to be very well said. Very well indeed. I will add that, where you find transcendance, is exactly where you happen to be.

You said in your next post:
I think these forums have an over-tendency to think he brought us an actual spiritual teaching.
Here and there, perhaps, and if so, so what? Spiritual teachings can be found in the most remarkable, or unremarkable, places. It is not surprising that one may find something of this nature in Campbell's work, as the random quote machine may show you when you log on.

That is not to say, however, that that was Campbell's intent. He was a teacher and scholar of the highest order, but not a prophet.

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

Joe,
I remember very clearly from the DVD "The Hero's Journey", that Campbell stated 'transcendence literally means transcendence" that beyond which words and thoughts do not reach. We need not have to meditate on the subject to know that it is a truth. We may have moments in our lives that expose us to the transcendent. The trick, as Campbell pointed out often, was to be fully awake to it, to be aware of the life you are living, and the experieces that you have coming before you.

I am a former NYC paramedic, and had several of these moments during the course of my 22 year career. When you dealt with life and death in the way I did, the experiences were of an intensity most people never experience. Sometimes it would hit me right away, other times not until I had thought about the situation, and had time to sort it out. The ones that I connected with immediately were the ones that stay in my memory most vividly. It is those experiences that I believe opened me up, even for the briefest of moments to the transcendent, though my own human brain could not fully recognize it for what it was.

I don't know if this makes any sense to you, but after reading several of Campbell's works, it did to me. It put certain experiences of mine into perspective.
"I have a very good understanding with God. I don't understand him, he doesn't understand me." - George Carlin
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Post by Calaf » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Clemsy,
You must have me confused. The first quote you attributed to me was never written by me. The second one was mine, but not the first.
And have no doubt about my feelings toward Campbell. I realize what he can teach us is spiritual, and that therefore he brought us some sort of spiritual teaching, and that I can reach a further state of transcendence by contemplating much of what he said and wrote. My main gripe in that post were thoughts that basically went: "Joe believed this...Joe tautht us this...Joe would have wanted it this way... I guess what I'm really trying to say, in my own confusing and convuluted way is: Joseph Campbell did not actually lay down a set of beliefs. If only I had said that in the first place, perhaps I could have saved myself a lot of typing.
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Post by Clemsy » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Calaf, sorry 'bout that. The first quote was from Martin's post, so, Martin, you too get a 'sorry 'bout that'. Must have been late. You are correct in that Campbell didn't define what his own beliefs may have been. (Although, personally, I think his enthusiasm in certain areas drop hints.) However, it is natural that in these forums associates will project their own inclinations onto what Campbell said. Easy to do.

Over time, it is to be hoped that one may learn that what one thought of as Campbell's thoughts, was actually one's own.

Clemsy


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

Calaf, it's difficult to reply on your criticism, because you are not referring concretely to what has been posted. Just for the case that you are referring to my reply on Joe the Dragon's original request: Joe (I'm talking about the dragon) was asking not only for our opinion but for help regarding his understanding of Campbell's point of view, especially like it has been articulated in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space.

I think Campbell didn't want to narrow down the symbols by talking too much about his beliefs. On the other hand, in The Joseph Campbell Companion - Reflections on the Art of Living (a book made from transcriptions from an Esalen seminar) he gives personal advice throughout the book.

In my earlier post I was referring to a quotation on p. 167:
When the physicist explores the depths of the atom or the outer reaches of space, he discovers pairs of opposites and mysteries that science hasn’t been able to penetrate. When it does penetrate to the next level, it’s still mysterious. They’ve got so many sub-atomic particles. One is named after Joyce’s ‘quark’. It seems to me that’s about as mysterious as you can get. There is the transcendent. Know it’s there, and then don’t worry about it. Simply behold the radiance everywhere.
It's the moderator's job to share information and knowledge, but we are not inerrable of course. So if anyone feels an urge to disagree we appreciate that.

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Post by Joe the Dragon » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

And so this discussion goes in a drastically different direction, but so it goes...

ON the Subject of Joseph Campbell being a spiritual teacher, i think it may be appropriate to call him a spiritual teacher or prophet of the highest order. For he has dedicated his life to exposing the unifying insight that beats beneath all of the World's mythologies.

It is concievable to call him the prophet of prophets, for he drew connections and parallels and connected the words of all the prophets to come before him. However, though this may a possible and perhaps even a true description of the professor, it is not appropriate. For his chief message is that the prophet is simply to means to an end, not the end itself.

And while Campbell exposed that end... calling him a prophet or spiritual guide would be anathema to all his endeavors. We can examine his life, ideas, and writings as we would examine those of one who is enlightened... but we must remember to do so in the spirit of academia, not worship. For at its core, all the insights that fill Campbell's pages flow from the academic field of comparative mythology... and so long as we keep our study of the professor in the academic perspective, we can use him and his works as a spiritual beacon and guide without running the risk of laanching "the campbellian crusades."

Curious to hear a moderator's response to that one. :smile:
Thanks,
Joe
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Campbell encouraged people to find their own own way, because "you can't play with my toys, you have to have your own." (Campbell Companion)

Phil Cousineau writes in the introduction to The Hero's Journey:
For years Campbell had shied away from film crews, deflecting the cult of celebrity by reminding people that, "It's not me, it's the myths," and the prying eyes of biography from audiences by insisting, "I've spent all my life trying to stay out of the way of this stuff.
However, we are happy to have those films, because to see and hear Campbell makes his words more alive. Fortunately, the typical kind of people you will find in these forums and among the associates are individuals with an own and unique personality, no worshippers. Worshipping is something for young people, not appropriate for adults. So I agree with most of what you wrote in your last post, Joe, though from my point of view the most interesting approach is neither an academic nor a worshipping attitude, but one that is combined with life and experience.

I understand every author who refuses delivery of any biographic information, though for a better understanding of an author biographic knowledge can be of use too.
On 2003-09-10 02:06, Joe the Dragon wrote:
I'm sure there's an answer, maybe i just have to finish the book. Perhaps my understanding of the concept is way off. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
I interpreted your original request as an effort to understand Campbell's concept of the transcendence better. - I think the endeavor to understand an author better is not to be confused with worshipping.


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Post by markmc03 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I would venture to guess Professor Campbell would be mostly amused but somewhat horrified by the direction this thread has taken. There IS a cult of celebrity and he has to some degree been sucked right into it. That is the world we live in. I may think the world of Joseph Campbell and his teachings but I am not prepared to create the Church of Campbell.

I fervently wished I had a professor with the enthusiasm and passion Joseph Campbell always displayed in his lectures. But I missed him by several years by the time I was first exposed to the Bill Moyers interview.

I would, however, include Campbell in the category of prophet or Teacher. His clarity in bringing together the common threads, his message of resolving conflict and letting go of a fundamentalist adherence to treating religious texts as facts instead of metaphors, earn him my deep respect and admiration.

The true new religion, perhaps, is Art which can be revelatory of transcendence - which is where this thread originally started. Art, whether graphic or performing, can blend the basic truths, and, without preaching, allow the individual to discern the elemental truths for themselves.

We do need a new paradigm, and I think Campbell offers us some unique tools which may help us create it. But where do we go from here? This is what we need to discuss.
Mark - <br><br>"To make an apple pie from scratch, first you must create the universe."<br>-Carl Sagan
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Post by Psyche » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi,

To address the first topic: Transcendence: I offer a quote from "An Open Life" in which Prof. Joe re-tells a story that was first told by Nietzsche:

"Nietzsche says there are three stages to the spirit. The first is that of the camel. The camel gets down on his knees and says, 'Put a load on me'. This is the condition of youth and learning. When the camel is well loaded, he gets to his feet and runs out into the desert. This is the place where he's going to be alone to find himself and he's transformed into a lion. And the function and deed of the lion is to kill a dragon, and that dragon's name is 'Thou shalt'. On every scale of the dragon, a law is written, some dating from 2000 BC, others from yesterday's paper. When the camel is well loaded, the lion is potent, and the dragon is killed. You see, there are two quite different things. One is submission, obedience, learning: the other is strong and assertive. And when the dragon is killed, the lion is transfored into a child. In Nietzsche's words, 'a wheel rolling out of its own center'. That is what the child represents in this mystical language. The human being has recovered that spontaneity and innocence..." p75-76.

I think this helps to begin to understand what transcendence might be. Transcendence is perhaps a shedding of ego structures that were useful at a stage in life when one is acquiring knowledge and social rules. But then there comes a point when one has grown enough to begin to validly question the demands and identities put upon him/her by society and others. Is one leading an Authentic life, the one that comes from the heart? Or is this life one of in-authenticity - that is to say - living someone else's life. One must take time away (metaphorical desert), confront oneself, know oneself, and like a snake, shed the old skin to bring forth the new self. According to the story, one then becomes a lion that (with skills acquired and knowledge understood) must break through the in-authenticies and impositions (slay the dragon), after which the lion then becomes an Authentic being, represented by the child who is honest, innocent, and full of wonder. But the added bonus is that, unlike most children, this Authentic being has a fully developed set of inner ethics and morals that allow for contributing positively to society and respecting others (and ourselves!). (Freud calls this sublimation, I think). Civility comes from within not without.

Transcendence involves dissolving egoistic drives and ends, for example, working only for the money to purchase the latest fashion or expensive car; or doing something for someone with only thoughts of wanting something in return as motive. and so on. With transcendence we can move past these self-serving motives and begin to enjoy doing something just because. In one of the other conversations, somebody brought up a good point (or quote?) refering to the other side of transcendence: one's goals are to help others reach their 'bliss' (or soul's raison d'etre; modus operandi(is that said correctly?)). Ego concerns are of no import anymore as they had previously been. This is not to say that one does not care about anything anymore - it is the opposite: one can now truly care. (Am I moving into a far too idealistic example??).
Towards this end, one may choose an occupation that services the community: eg. mental or physical health, environmental, etc. Or, this change may appear in day to day meetings and transactions; small kindnesses and thoughfulness.

Transcendence, I think, doesn't have to be passive and under a tree: it is active and dynamic. This is why Prof Joe reminds us that it just is, and leave it there. Once we are there, there is no egoism demanding to be noticed for its great 'transcendental' discovery.

And now over to topic 2: Campbell as prophet? I would agree with Mark's description of Prof. Joe being a Teacher, maybe a prophet: but a unique one in that he does not give the answers, only keys or guides. He does not tell us when or what. Just how. The rest is up to us. This is a great Teacher.

I also agree with Mark's comment about Art being a new 'religion' (though I shudder to use this word). There are strong possibilities here; and so much can be done with these disciplines. I would perhaps suggest that they can be moved into a category of Teacher as well. From Aristotle's catharsis and didacticisms in drama, to the meditations of a Pollock or Newman painting, to the healing and therapeutic properties of all the arts, there is still so much unexplored potential here.

I also agree that we need a new paradigm, a new mythology. This would be a good topic for discussion.

Cheers!
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Post by markmc03 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

You know, I'm not disagreeing with what you are saying about transcendance, but I have a completely different take on the subject.

Joseph Campbell talks about some things being "revelatory of transcendence" and this is what I fixate on. Transcendence to me is a feeling, an emotion, fleeting though it be, of being attached to something far greater than we can imagine. The whole concept of transcendence - that which passes our understanding - sets up our very limitation on being able to define it, much less understand it. All we do is label the feeling as best we can. Sublime is another word that comes to mind.

In my opinion, you do not experience that moment of transcendence with a diagnosis. Selflessness expressed through community service can certainly leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling but it cannot, in and of itself, lead to a sense of transcendence. We are creatures of symobollism. That is what speaks to us of things beyond our ordinary comprehension.

One of Joseph Campbell's favourite pastimes (or so I understood) was spending time in huge cathedrals looking up at the intricate stained glass designs. That provided him with that magical sense of transcendence.

Music that elevates. Visual art that lifts the spirit. A rivetting performance on stage, whether instrumental, or vocal, or simply theatrically inspired, lends itself to that moment of transcendence. Sometimes I feel it reading a well written poem. A speech. Religious texts fulfill this function for many.

This is why I made the rather brash statement last time that I saw Art as part of the new wave of religion.

The world is a fractured house, the foundation of which is being chipped and clawed away at in the search for consumables. More and more people are pushing through the doors imperilling the stability of the structure. The need for a new paradigm is critical.

The spirit of man grows gaunt even as the physical body stretches to bursting from its skin through the continual satisfying of an inexplicable and excessive hunger. This rapacious need for consumption, itself, threatens to consume all that is useful in this planet. And all life suffers, and ultimately dies, as a consequence.

People do not seem to care. I think they do - at some level. But on an ordinary conscious level, if it does not hold something for them, offer something to them, they grow bored and dissatisfied. Turn the page, change the channel, eat something, anything to distract the mind from the bothersome point being made. Reality can be quite annoying at such times.

What is it that galvanizes humanity? Usually a common threat from outside of the community. It can also be a common goal to alleviate a specific concern when it reaches the heart of the community. Media usually plays a huge role here. I think of the massive effort to help Ethiopia so many years ago. These disasters still occur, yet the public is not always moved to action. Sometimes they need a bunch of well known musicians singing a popular jingle to ignite that flame of concern.

Right now, the population is uniformly stirred - by fear of terrorism, and specifically, by fear of the current bogeyman, Al Qaeda. (Ah, for the good old days when it was the communist spectre of the KGB lurking in every dark corner. Now that the political war has been 'won', attention turns back to the classic religious battle of Christian/Jews vs Islam - ignoring the Asian altogether.)

I like the use of the word 'paradigm' as opposed to 'religion'. The emergence of another theology would only add kindling to the fire, another sword for son to use again Father, brother against brother (infer the gender opposites - I'm a horrible traditionalist when it comes to gender reference in prose - no excuse, my apologies). But a paradigm, a model or pattern of life, with a new principal focus, is something we need and something which the existing structure will fight tooth and nail against if it goes counter to the culture of consumption.

It might not even require re-inventing the wheel. There are movements already started, possibly well established, like embers buried deep beneath the ground, just waiting for the right combination of conditions to ignite and spread. I don't mean in a destructive physical way. I mean spread in a wave of consciousness that has the capacity to galvanize a critical mass of people so that change is ultimately effected.

But we may be talking about an event that is still years, if not decades or centuries away. Part of me fears that we do not have the luxury of decades or centuries. This house of ours could collapse at any time with unknowable consequences. Even now, I can see a jackass working with a little hand saw at one of the foundation beams, building up a sweat and scooping up the sawdust, stuffing it in his pockets, hoping to cash it in for some other advantage.

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