Monday, September 22, 2014

Ferries to the Shores of Transcendence

"The supreme aim of Oriental mythology, consequently, is not to establish as substantial any of its divinities or associated rites, but to render by means of these an experience that goes beyond: of identity with that Being of beings which is both immanent and transcendent; yet neither is nor is not. Prayers and chants, images, temples, gods, sages, definitions, and cosmologies are but ferries to a shore of experience beyond the categories of thought, to be abandoned on arrival; for, as the Indian Kena Upanishadstates: 'to know is not to know, not to know is to know'; and the Chinese Tao Te Ching: 'Those who know are still.
 "’Thou art that," declares the Vedic sage; and the Japanese: 'It is your true self.'"
 "'O thou,' states a basic Buddhist text, 'who art gone, who art gone, who art gone to the yonder shore, who at the yonder shore hast disembarked: Enlightenment! Hail!'" ……………….. Joseph Campbell, “The Masks of God”, Volume III: Occidental Mythology

There are two levels at which the path to transcendence is initiated. They are the sensory level and the level of the psyche. It is at the level of the psyche that mythologies play an important role. The problem with the sensory level is that as the grasping of the deeper reality is initiated through objective entities such as chanting (words and intonation), images (iconic and symbolic representation), places of worship (a sacred space), Gods (anthropomorphic Divine representations through attributes such as “Saguna Brahma”) and sages (teachers),the tendency of the mind as a perceptive tool is to reside in the objective representations rather than move beyond to the deeper realms beyond these portals. It is like some visitor to a grand palace who is so enchanted with the magnificence of the fort that houses the palace and the grandeur of the massive portal decorated with gold and rubies that he returns satisfied that he has visited the palace.
The sensory inputs are supposed to lead the seeker to the level of the psyche from where one have a personal experience of the Divine.

It is in the relationship to the object and not the object itself which is relevant. As Soren Kierkegaard beautifully put it in his writing:
“If someone who lives in the midst of Christianity enters, with a knowledge of the true idea of God, the house of the true God, and prays, but prays in untruth, and if someone lives in an idolatrous land but prays with all passion of infinity, although his eyes are resting upon the image of an idol – where, then, is there more truth? The one prays in truth to God although he is worshipping an idol; the other prays in untruth to the true God and is therefore in truth worshipping an idol.”

The beauty of mythology is that it leads the individual who witnesses a mythological symbolism or dramatization or the one who reads or listens to a mythological writings or recital, to a necessary realm of further seeking.

Joseph Campbell writes:
"In the long view of the history of mankind, four essential functions of mythology can be discerned. The first and most distinctive – vitalizing all – is that of eliciting and supporting a sense of awe before the mystery of being."  "The second function of mythology is to render a cosmology, an image of the universe that will support and be supported by this sense of awe before the mystery of the presence and the presence of a mystery." "A third function of mythology is to support the current social order, to integrate the individual organically with his group;" "The fourth function of mythology is to initiate the individual into the order of realities of his own psyche, guiding him toward his own spiritual enrichment and realization."

Though in Campbell’s definition there are four functions and defines only the fourth as ‘Spiritual’, the other three play the vital role of empowering spiritual experience. It is through the awe inspiring and mystical dimension that one is  prepared at the psychic level to grasp the ensuing deeper perceptions in a holistic manner. This holistic perception is symbiotically enhanced through the collective consciousness at the societal level. The mystery, awe and holistic approach are integral pathways to enlightenment.

To demonstrate the deeper meaning conveyed through a myth, the story of Ravana in the Hindu mythology of ‘Ramayana’ is a good example. Ravana abducts Sita, wife of Rama, who is the avatar of God Vishnu. But Ravana is a great devotee of Shiva and was engaged in the meditation on the Godhead for many years. It defeats logic why a great spiritual devotee engages in such an immoral act. But the iconic representation of the character of Ravana is the individual who seeks its liberation from Samsara or rebirth. Ravana knew that ultimately Rama will come to him to rescue his wife and kill him. It is only with the intention of redemption, through annihilation of his worldly self, that he can be elevated to a state of Divine union. Thus his long period of devotion to Shivais fulfilled through the Vishnu.

Every myth carries a hidden archetype which connects the waking consciousness of the individual to the universal unconsciousness. A spiritual experience can only be had at the deeper level of universal unconsciousness. As Joseph Campbell says it is the role of mythology “to render by means of these an experience that goes beyond: of identity with that Being of beings which is both immanent and transcendent; yet neither is nor is not.”

Love to you all

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