Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Campbell as Mystic

Joseph Campbell is the type of teacher one would read if one has travelled to many countries, experienced different cultures and religions and would like to get an understanding of the things he had seen. He seemed to be that gifted teacher who happened to be at the right time at the right place, meeting the right person. Based on his biography, he has travelled extensively in the Orient to countries like India, Japan and China with the appropriate learning in comparative mythology, religion and ancient cultures. He also met people like Krishnamurthy, Carl Jung (possibly even Sigmund Freud), Zen Suzuki, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and other famous people who could help in his quest to achieve an understanding of world culture and mythology. He is much better than those ancient sages because he brings scientific and empirical methods to his learning. Hence, he is exactly the kind of educator one would read if one has had a similar journey. But it’s a mistake to consider him as one of those mystical teachers like Eckhart Tolle or Krishnamurthy as he has the impeccable background of a scholar and social scientist.

He is more like Werner Erhard, a teacher who strives for scientific and empirical knowledge but steeped in Eastern religion like Buddhism in his effort to teach people self-transformation. But in a significant way, Joseph Campbell is not overtly like Erhard, who strives to make money via his seminars, but more as an educator whose teaching can lead to transformation. Campbell was a big influence to modern filmmakers like George Lucas who structured his epic ‘Star Wars’ on Campbell’s ideas on the hero’s journey. Campbell is also influential to writers who seek to find a theme in their works, by following the arc of the hero’s journey. His ideas are evident in software like ‘Novel Writer’ that helps writers outline a plot following Campbell’s ideas. Significantly, his last interview with Bill Moyer’s was conducted in George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in California. I have watched Moyer’s series on Campbell as well as the 3 DVD series ‘Mythos’ which featured his lectures. All these confirm a convergence towards a world culture all the more important today to increase understanding and tolerance.

This morning I read that George Lucas wanted Toshiro Mifune to be Obi Wan Kenobi, being his first choice before he asked Alec Guinness, another actor I also admire. But Mifune would have been a fantastic choice, highlighting a world culture by creating a modern myth in his Star Wars epic.  It’s like we are turning around a circle by combining all these different strands into a global narrative like one of those mandalas that Campbell often shows in his lectures. It’s fitting that I would rediscover Campbell, I writer I read after college, before I travelled extensively in Asia and beyond, but through my book readings was exposed to a wider world in my inner mind. Now I have lived and visited places like Thailand, Japan, China, India, Malaysia, France, Algeria, Singapore and USA, plus observing close hand Indian cultures and religion as well as Buddhism and Islam. I have seen many foreign lands and read many books that re-discovering Campbell is like attending a finishing school where all my travels and learning is better understood for Campbell is a great synthesizer of world culture.

I re-discovered his work when I found Erhard who himself trying to implement the Buddhist teachings of self-transformation via a seminar that is both brutally honest and though provoking. One can say he has created a formula of ‘transcending self’ by provoking a re-assessment of one’s life, by combining elements of philosophy, logic, Buddhism and transcendental meditation plus Western do-it-yourself psychology popular with the self-help movement. Perhaps he is a beneficiary of Campbell’s work by combining elements of East and West to breakthrough one’s self-imposed restrictions. It’s a reflection of a world culture when one combines all this learning to achieve a practical result, which makes such knowledge a dangerous threat to entrenched religions because it breaks boundaries. Perhaps this is why Erhard was prosecuted that he resorted to self-exile. But this action could not be done to Joseph Campbell because he possessed all the academic qualification of the erudite scholar.

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