Asia Society presents; 32
No society present this is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and by ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster Lee Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. You probably noticed in recent years that many people in this country both young middle aged and elderly have been coming to India and thought in philosophy is if they might find some answer there which they somehow don't seem to find in their own country. Whether they do find it and why they find it in what this does to change them I don't know. But if anyone knows I think our guest would know because he is steeped in the philosophy in the legend in the myth of many parts of the world and he is Joseph Campbell. I think his name is synonymous with wisdom and knowledge and I don't say that lightly.
Mr Campbell is professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College has written a number of books which mean a great deal to many people. I suppose his major work will be considered the four volume series called The Masks of God which is a study or a history of world mythology. We have a new book called The Flight of the wild gander and I think he will tell you a little bit about what that consumes. But for this program which is part of our aging society series we would like to ask him what Indian philosophy has to offer which we may be lacking. So Professor Campbell first of all what is it that people think they are lacking in this country. Is it a dissatisfaction with their own religion as in their own education. Well I think that in the tradition of the Western religions there has been a great emphasis on the ecclesiastical aspect. The tradition and in contrast to that the Oriental traditions as we
receive them come as open those of a way to inwardness they represent different approaches to a discovery of one's own spiritual depths without the intrusion you might say of an ecclesiastical organization. And in the sensually ethical system of thought the oriental religions are I think one might say metaphysical in their ultimate reference psychological metaphysical whereas the western traditions are essentially ethical in their emphasis ecclesiastical social and often also political. I think with the great transformations in our political and social life people have totally different traditions coming together. They claim this traditions to supernatural Mazzara they have been somewhat shaken and youth seeking its own knowledge of itself is finding great help I would
say in the numerous Oriental traditions that are coming to us. Do you think people or especially younger people are finding an answer rather the exoticism of the Far East especially India. Isn't it the intricate rhythms of Indian music. Let's say the curfew and all the things which make this exciting. Is that not what appeals to them and after a while that wears off and they didn't find anything after all. Well I think the exoticism is a temptation and it's a distraction and it does work on a superficial level. On the other hand I've known many who starting in interest in that they have come to realize something of the real tangible and substantial gift that these religions can render. Ultimately one who goes through with these things sees the alien element dropped away one loses you might say the Oriental costume.
But as you said the exotic It's a distraction and it can carry you altogether in the wrong direction because the aim is not to become a Hindu or a Japanese or even to think in those terms but to lead to that terms introduce one to ones own depth. And we do have in our own tradition. The car spun doing mystical and inward ways. Only they've been covered over for us largely with attitudes and concerns that are not essentially of this order. You think it's that I ask you that because there is that kind of spiritual quest in any religion. And so I wonder if it's that the grass you know being very hackneyed is always greener in the other person's garden and the spirituality of a nice religion somehow seems more exciting and desirable. Well the essential problem in the Western mystical tradition is that the imagery of the personality of the God remains
firm and fixed and final in all of our Orthodox additions. God is as it were a transcendent power. A personality a sort of father image. Whereas in the oriental traditions the image of God is is the least important of it all and the image of God is supposed to lead you past that image to a realization of your own divine dimension you might say. But there has been a certain disenchantment on the part of Westerns Westerners with eastern philosophy. Take the Beatles as an example they were very enthusiastic and Indians stayed in study and sat at the feet of their guru. But then came back it all seemed to disappear and I don't know exactly what they doing these days except perhaps singing or making a film. But that whole influence seems to have evaporated. Does not happen to many Western people in India. Well I don't know what's happened to the Beatles spiritually but I would say they are young people.
Echoes of their doings to be heard all around us. The transformations of much of the popular American music at this time. Have been affected by Oriental influences particularly the Indian influences which the Beatles brought in. I think also that this is a part that I don't think this is particularly edifying but I see a good deal of Indian costumer around even to the extent of this how the Krishna movement where the young men actually shave their heads as though they were Brahmins and Don are Antal garb Indian boaties and jackets and so forth and go about as mendicants. I believe they have given themselves up for at least a certain stage in their life to be out of meditation. Now this is all an echo of the presence of the Beatles. Yes but still does that take the fall of a vote because these people are small in number. And again I question how lasting this influence
is upon them. I don't know how many people around this country were in their teens and early 20s. Maybe what you know 40 million. I'm not going to get the boys. How many of them really influenced you to this extent I could speak for another. Field of experience namely in my teaching where I'm ideal with comparative religions in my courses and there the choice the students make to study Oriental philosophies is I would say about 60 percent of the student. And I've known I've been teaching a long time. I'm known some of these people now for a long while that I've formerly had the privilege of teaching and this has stuck and it's stuck not in the way of making them arre ental in their direction but of opening up the dimensions in their own religious heritage in a new way. This is the Indian philosophy can do and this Zen can do. The Japanese inflection of Buddhism is still when you were in
India you light much of it some you didn't like. Not that that has changed your appreciation of Indian religion and so forth but what about the Indian people. Did you not like maps as tactless but we might as well discuss it. Well of course they are the result of a not of their thought. That's right. And one sees there what the real lack in the Orient is and it's a lack in political institutions. The development in the Orient of the political institutions remains at about the level of the old bronze age. The native Oriental. Political traditions are on the level of despotism. The only way anyone can change of regime is by a powerless revolution. And this is the way it works to this day. As a result the condition of the people economically politically and so forth is simply a function of the
benevolence of our Mal Evelyn's of the ruling power and they can do nothing about it. Still India is a democracy. There's universal suffrage an attempt at. Unity National Education but have none of this had any effect. Well this has had quite a fact it has. It was introduced However by the British and it is playing along with the very great contribution of the West to the Orient to the disintegration of their own heritage there's a very disturbing and highly important collision between the traditions of Indian traditional life and the Western ideas of the humanistic inheritance that we've received from the Greeks and the Romans. Well then why is the superiority of their tradition since it has not let them do any great personal benefit at least maternally course it may have spiritually but it hasn't led to the humanism of the West it has led to this regard for each
person as an individual. Then what is the value. I think the value is what you said a minute ago on the spiritual one. Two aspects to the human nature. And I would say that in the West the social tradition the political tradition and the tradition of the human free self-responsible intellect and individual has been highly developed in the Orient. This has not happened. On the other hand what we have closed over because of this humanistic campuses has been a dimension of mystery within which our scientists tend to occlude and close to us which they aren't. Does open I've just see it from one student to another how a few weeks with this Indian material and zing everything's going they're just buzzing with it and finding out what their own religious tradition can say. I don't want to sound chauvinistic about the West although I no doubt am
not because I'm brought up in the West but because if examination was limited as they are I've made Western and Eastern thought I find much of importance in the West and mass even of greater benefit. It was after all Christ too who was the original communist. The man who said all men are equal we are all brothers. We must all share in the eyes of God we are the same. I don't find that coming through in Eastern religions am I wrong. Yes that comes through in Eastern religions. Not only are all men brothers but we're brothers with the animal world in the plant world and even a star world. We are all manifestations of this same spirit our product. But as brothers I'll be all entitled to equal opportunity and equal benefit. I think that comes you know that absolutely does not come through. And that's what I'm speaking of as the negative side here. You have the idea of the unit as a society. And in a society as in any organism there are heads and shoulders
and feet and and the torso and the different castes or classes of people are assigned to these different categories and they function each doing his duty that this motif of Duty is the prime thing in the Orient. And the idea of duty is really that of performing certain ritual routines the whole the whole society. It intact. Now when a new concept of society the democratic idea comes in that organism tends to disintegrate and this is what I was being a bit for. India's great problem in the contemporary world to try to hold at the same time the ideas of democracy and the ideas of the hieratic state you know and they are haps incompatible and then I gather. And they're not being held together. Which would you prefer to see. Oh I prefer to see the humanistic democratic system than what will happen to the eastern philosophy.
I think the religious philosophy can stand up against any of these threats. I'm not you know so if I say lots of things give me an incompatibilities between between the social philosophy of marriage and the new social order of the West. But the metaphysical philosophy for this Take for example Gandhi who accepting the inspiration of earlier Indian sage and Saint Sri Ramakrishna proposed to eliminate the caste principle. In the early to punish odds. You don't get cast. Furthermore in Buddhism which stems from India there is no concept of caste at all Buddhism does not suffer from these problems that Hinduism is suffering from. That was really a social and political convenience to create a caste system. That's what it was. Yes it happened automatically with the introduction of the agricultural economy into a society automatically get a caste
system. I mean not that one doesn't exist everywhere but it's not as pronounced and rigid. That's right. What has happened in India as a result of this lack of. Progressive social thinking is that the old concepts have become petrified they became petrified as about the 5th century A.D. And if we could go back. Professor Campbell Do your students which are after all a good example of what you mean you say after exposure to indoctrination with this material. You noticed I think you said something you notice the change in them. What kind of change. It works this way. It's my belief and I'm quite. Firm in this now after a number of years of experience that the imagery of religion the imagery of the mythological traditions which we all inhabit from the past is an imagery that stems from the very depths of the human spirit. The imagery of the unconscious to use young in terms these are
the archetypes of the unconscious. And it's through the knowledge of these and the communication with these that once consciousness is kept in touch with one's own spiritual and psychological depths. Now in that folk can be Larry is interpreted officially as referring not to eternal principles in the individual's spirit but to historical events. The imagery is shifted in emphasis and it loses its power to communicate. Just for example when we think for example of the virgin birth which is a mythological image of the case of all mythologies and it has to do with spiritual birth. And when that is turned into a biological problem as to whether the Virgin Mary could have conceived. Virgin birth. It loses its communication. When we think of the resurrection as a historical event
instead of as a spiritual symbol it loses its power to communicate. When we think of all of these symbolic forms in terms of historical events they are as it were short circuited for us and the individual loses his own symbology communicating with his own debt. Now what they are Yentl systems do is teach us how those things can be read in psychological terms and our own symbolic heritage comes to life. I've seen it happen time and time again. Whether my students are Christian or Jewish are infidels. They just wake up to the world of symbolic communication which is talking to them of their own spirit and the arts and the literature as if they've been reading take on brand new life and the only thing to watch is it then that they are learning how to interpret things. Thank you to flee rather than literally. Yes and it is very hard now to
make that transition. For example if the Catholic Church teaches that the virgin birth is a dogma and that it you know you just take it without questioning it then it would be hard for some people to question the detail and say well it's just figurative. Yes you know if one is taught that it's literal. So when you learned about the virgin birth of the blood you understand what the variation birth is because you're not taught to take it literally then you cannot re read your own traditions virgin birth do you see what I mean. Yes I do and when one after another the symbols that we have interpreted literally is interpreted for us in another tradition where we don't care about the possible literal and yes may only hold good how am I to read these things come to life. I'm saying that even this week in my teaching this week for students I can name who are just coming in as though all the lights are going on because they were studying Indian thinking and it wasn't the Indian thinking that turned that was now illuminated it was their
own tradition which had been illuminated by the Indian light. They are getting an insight which they didn't have before which they can use upon what they were brought up to the light. It happens almost automatically. They don't even have to work on it. Is there a similar course planting or what. Of course polarization between west and east and east and west. It is Americans thinking all of a Western religion Western religion having much of an effect upon Indian thought. Do you see anything of that nature. I haven't taught enough Oriental students to answer that question really but my impression in the Orient is that the answer would have to be no that what they think they're getting from us are essentially technical and mechanical and material gains. The new book but with just a collection of pieces that you have written and did you select them for inclusion in this book with your publisher. And it's titled The Flight of the wild
gander. That's a very poetic title and I wondered what you meant by it. Well the wild gander this is an Indian concept. It is that the Wild Goose gander is at home. On the waters on the land and in the air. And so in a way symbolizes the three worlds. The image of the bird has always represented for man the free flying Spirit. Angels have wings for the exactly that reason. The wild gander furthermore is imagined to have the capacity when drinking water mixed with milk to extract the milk from the water and leave the water. Thus in our spiritual life we are to extract the spiritual substance from the world's benefit the world's blooms and giving to us and leave the material. So the gander becomes a symbol of the Spirit. Not
in my personal spirit but whole spiritual principle the the breath of God we would say in that tradition. Now they sent it word for it. This while gander is hung up. And when one breeds one is to hear that word you breathe in and you hear. Her and you breathe out you hear our. Socks. And pretty soon you're hearing so ha ha ha ha ha and that means that my I have that eternal spirit that great gander that flies beyond the worlds of time and space and represents the ever present released free spirit of the universe. Do you think then following through with that. That Eastern thought gives western people who are supposed to be educated or lacking a sense of identity or wondering who on earth they are. Do you think it gives them a feeling that they do belong to someone someplace somewhere. Is that what so you think you do them.
Well I think there are three things that one can say in the conclusion that happened here one is that as I've said before one's interpretation one's own tradition is awakened. Second as one feels that all human beings share this wisdom there is a kind of sense of harmony and participation in the universal wisdom and knowledge of mankind. And finally there is this discovery of one's own steps and one's own identity with that. It's really a great experience. Were you drawn to Indian or eastern thought before you went to India or did your trips there rouses interest in you and I had been studying Indian thought for something like 35 years before I went to India as a child. No I was a youngster didn't. I started in interested in Sanskrit as a purely philological matter and then I began to recognise what the texts were telling me and became interested in the message. So in closing you would say that you feel Indian thought is having a definite and in
your opinion continuing impact upon American youth. I believe so and it's something for the better. I had my opinion that you know so much like to end a program on a note of something. Which is better than words although I could be very enthusiastic about that. Well it's always a great joy to have you at a microphone. Thank you Larry I've always liked having you as my interlocutor. Thank you. And our guest on this edition of the Asia Society presents has been the noted gap scholar Joseph Campbell Campbell is professor of literature at Salman on's college is the author of a remarkable series a kind everywhere called The Masks of God. It comes in four volumes and it is something you study and you have in your library. And his latest book the flight of the wild Ganda is something I think you might want to look into. This is Lee Graham saying goodbye. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. The series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to
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