One of my favorite intellectuals of the 20th century is the late Joseph Campbell. A mythologist, he had the gift of oral story telling (sadly, a dying art in this age of technological wizardry). Campbell was legendary for his ability to crystallize obscure stories from a distant past - stories that precede the written word - by drawing trenchant parallels to the world in which we live in now. In 1988, he sat down for what would become a memorable and profound series of interviews with the journalist Bill Moyers. The two talked for hours about the power of myth, the hidden meanings behind symbols and ceremonies, and the ability of ancient stories to manifest themselves in different forms, reappearing centuries later in completely different cultural contexts, yet still possessing the same fundamental meanings. Here is a very brief excerpt from one of the interviews. Enjoy.
Moyers: In all of these journeys of mythology there's a place everyone wishes to find. What is it? The Buddhists talk of nirvana; Jesus talks of peace. There's a place of rest and repose. Is that typical of the hero's journey? That there's a place to find?
Campbell: There's a place in yourself, of rest. Now this I know a little bit about from athletics. The athlete who is in championship form has a quiet place in himself. And it's out of that that his action comes. If he's all in the action field, he's not performing properly. There's a center out of which you act. And Jean, my wife, a dancer, tells me that in dance this is true too - that there's the center that has to be known and held. There it's quite physically recognized by the person. But unless this center has been found you're torn apart; tension comes. Now, the Buddhas word is nirvana. Nirvana is a psychological state of mind. It's not a place like heaven; it's not something that's not here; it is here in the middle of the turmoil, whats called samsara - the whirlpool of life conditions. The nirvana is what? Is the condition that comes when you are not compelled by desire or by fear... or by social commitments. When you hold your center and act out of there.
Moyers: And like all heroes the Buddha doesn't show you the truth - the illumination - he shows you the way too...
Campbell: The Way, but its got to be your way too. I mean how should I get rid of fear. The Buddha can't tell me how I'm going to do it. There are exercises that different teachers will give you, but they may not work for you. And all a teacher can do is give you a clue of the direction. He's like a lighthouse that says, "There are rocks over here and steerclear."