Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.
So, as this fascinating conversation between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell continues, Joseph makes the statement quoted above. And what a fascinating statement it is! Isn’t it? Think about it.
Children and grown-ups hear stories. If we don’t hear them as folklore, our imagination implores us, behooves us to create those stories. And as some stories become ingrained into our way of thinking, and seep down into our beliefs, we acquire myths.
Once again, it is important to define what a myth is. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary gives the following definitons: “a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone.” And, by this simple understanding, one can easily see that we are all living and even creating our daily myths. Even science, one may say, though it investigates and seeks to establish with proofs, the truths about our material world, are not devoid of myths.
The rapture that is associated with being alive
During the conversation Bill makes an important observation. It’s more like redirecting the conversation, and getting the knowledgeable Joseph to elaborate with an example. Bill Moyers, says: “You changed the definition of a myth from the search for meaning to the experience of meaning.” To which Joseph Campbell gives the following response:
“Experience of life. The mind has to do with meaning. What’s the meaning of a flower? There’s a Zen story about a sermon of the Buddha in which he simply lifted a flower. There was only one man who gave him a sign with his eyes that he understood what was said. Now, the Buddha himself is called “the one thus come.” There’s no meaning. What’s the meaning of the universe? What’s the meaning of a flea? It’s just there. That’s it. And your own meaning is that you’re there. We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.”
Aren’t we thus, gifted with an insight? With a different way of viewing ourselves and reaching our understanding? One finds that Joseph Campbell, from time to time encourages looking inward for answers. This looking inward as one experiences living, not in some empty rumination or a compulsion with meditating seems to be what he is calling “the rapture that is associated with being alive.”
While the act of living continues, the mind is at work and understanding unfolds from within. What is happening is this, in my view: The inner man, or one’s consciousness is at work, constantly interacting with the outside world. The outside world, as so well exemplified by nature – the flower that Buddha lifts – is giving the inner man reason to respond. That pause, that admiration, that enjoyment of the fragrance and of the design of the flower, and then letting all this become a vigorous cause for living… that is the rapture.
Why do some wait for the rapture where heaven or those creatures in it are supposed to descend and lift fallen mankind from their plight? Isn’t there already sufficient cause for joy and happiness in the beauty, the diversity, the balance that nature provides? Surely there is! Actually, one of the sad things that has happened with the advancement of nihilistic thinking is the perversion of the human understanding of nature. When one views so many programs on Discovery or Animal planet, they focus on the predator-and-prey relationships among birds and animals. And because of this focus, gradually our very understanding of the natural world has gone through change. People – many people – have come to assume, as though, predators are hunting all the time and prey are constantly being pursued and killed. However, this is not how the natural world is. Even those we call senseless animals, driven by instinct, show the wisdom to focus on their and their families needs. Predator and prey live side-by-side in the same landscape, and the natural cycles keep everything in balance.
A lesson for us
We can take a good lesson from nature and how the entire web of life exists. If we are to acquire a myth – a means of understanding ourselves and our world – we have to honor hierarchies. We have to accept that human inequality is a fact. This, however, is not a bad thing. This hierarchy, though having become more complicated as human living has advanced in accord with the developing intelligence of humans, still allows for a place for every human being.
In a society, we would find some human beings higher up by virtue of their intelligence, their wisdom, their courage, and then also the virtues of being kind and discerning. The same society would also have a place for the aggressive and physically-minded to be assigned roles that utilize their energy, albeit in constructive ways. One can think of the world of sports as a good example. Even in the field of music or the arts, such ones can find a place, should they be so inclined. Can one not think of the artwork of Jackson Pollock, or Metallica as an example?
Discovering one’s own potentiality and finding the myth that harmonizes oneself with the larger world is the sensible approach today. It’s like what the mystic Rumi said: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Yes, that is the lesson, an empowering lesson. If each one determines to discover one’s own potential, is settled in his or her understanding, and then devotes this rapturous life to living, we are assured of that change. That change is personal. That change is ours. That change is internal. That change is the process of living. And may each one resolve to live!