a r t i c l e s    o n    h i n d u i s m

By Joseph Campbell

I imagine that when one thinks of Indian philosophy the first thought is of yoga. The great classical text of yoga is that of the sage Patanjali: the Yoga Sutras, "Thread or Guiding Thread to Yoga." At the opening of this amazing work, we find the following definition-and I want to start with this, because it is a very important point:

"Yoga is the intentional stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff." Now it was the idea in ancient Oriental psychology that within the gross matter of the brain, within the grey matter, there is a very subtle substance, which is in continuous activity, taking the shapes of whatever we behold. This subtle matter is in a state of continuous activity, like the rippling of waves on a stirred pool. And when you shut your eyes, the mind stuff continues to operate that way. If you should try to make it stop, you would find the process very difficult. Just try this some time. Take into your mind an image-somebody that you care for, some image that you would care to contemplate-and try to hold this image still in your mind. You will find that you are immediately thinking of other images , associated with the first; for the mind continues spontaneously to move. Yoga is the intentional stopping of this spontaneous activity of the mind stuff. It is an intentional bringing to rest of this continuous action. But why should one wish to do this?

A favorite simile used in Indian discussions of this subject is that of the surface of a pond with its waves in action-a wind blowing over the pond and the waves moving. if you look at the surface of a pond moving in this way you will see the many reflections-many broken forms; nothing will be perfect, nothing complete; you will have only broken images before you. Butif the wind dies down and the waters become perfectly still and clear, suddenly the whole perspective shifts and you are not seeing a lot of broken images, reflecting things round about. You are looking down through the clear water to the lovely sandy bottom, and perhaps you will see fish in the water.

 The whole perspective changes and you behold, not a multitude of broken images, but a single, still, unmoving image. This is the idea of yoga. The notion is that what we see when we look around, like this, are the broken images of a perfect form. And what is that form? It is the form of a divine reality, which appears to us only in broken images when our mind stuff is in action. Or, to state the case another way: we are all, as we sit here and stand here, the broken images, the broken reflections, of a single divine perfection; but all that we ever see when we look around with our mind stuff in its usual state of spontaneous activity, is the broken rainbow-reflection of this perfect image of divine light. Let us now open our eyes, let the waters stir again, let the waves come into action-and we shall know that all these flashing sights before us are reflections, broken images, of that one divine radiance, which we have experienced.

And it will now be delightful to see them moving in this way; for we are no longer at a loss to know what they are. we shall have seen the source; we shall know that the source is within all of these broken reflections-including ourselves; and there will come a wonderful experience of a harmonious system: all things inflecting in various ways this one perfection. This is the realization that underlies the whole thought and sociology and action of traditional India. Now since we are all broken reflections of that image, that image is present within us. However, it is impossible to describe it in terms of its broken reflections. How would you possibly describe its form to someone who had not seen the complete image itself? It cannot be described in terms of its fragments.
The first principle of Indian thought, therefore, is that the ultimate reality is beyond description. It is something that can be experienced only by bringing the mind to a stop; and once experienced, it cannot be described to anyone in terms of the forms of this world. The truth, the ultimate truth, that is to say, is transcendent. it goes past, transcends, all speech all images, anything that can possibly be said. But, as we have just seen, it is not only transcendent, it is also immanent, within all things, Everything in the world, therefore, is to be regarded as its manifestation. There is an important difference her between the Indian and the Western ideas.

 In the Biblical tradition, God creates man, but man cannot say that he is divine in the same sense that the Creator is, whereas in Hinduism all things are incarnations of that power. There has been no "Fall." Man is not cut off from the divine. He requires only to bring the spontaneous activity of his mind stuff to a state of stillness and he will experience that divine principle within him which is the very essence of his existence. And this essence within is identical in all of us. We are, as it were, sparks from a single fire; and we are all fire. There is therefore an eternal revelation of the truth all around us, all the time, and we require only the proper focus of the eyes to experience this.

 Now let me give you a couple of basic terms: The divine principle within each of us is called tman. tman simply means "the self." And this "true self" is the same in all. However, each conceives of himself as being a special independent person, and this concept of oneself as an independent entity is called "ego," aham; also, aham-kara, "making the noise `I' ." "Making the noise `I' " is what we do when we set ourselves against each other. The name given to tman when it is experienced, not only within, but also in the world, is brahman; and brahman simply means "divine power."
Brahman, the divinity immanent in the world, and tman, the divinity immanent inyourself, are the same divinity; and so the great experience in Indian thought-indeed, the fundamental illuminating principle throughout theOrient-is this realization that all of these beings that seem so various are one. Now this realization that though we are many we are also one, is a magical realization. And what is the magic that transforms the one into the many? it is called my. My means the force that builds forth form. And this myh as three effects. The first one is to cut off our vision of the perfect unity of the immanent world power. This is called the "obscuring effect" of my. The second is, to project all of these broken reflection that we see around us; and this is called the "projecting effect" of my. But my holds the possibility of a third effect also; for by contemplating all of these forms with the feeling that they are one, and by going around with the thought in your mind that you are in essence one with all these beings, you may come to realize that this is true.

My thus can reveal, through the manifold, the one; and this is called the "revealing effect" of my.I have said that it is impossible to talk about brahman-tman. The goal of Indian religion, the goal of Indian philosophy, is to point people's minds toward the realization of this truth and then to let them suddenly have the experience in their own minds.

The images of Indian mythology and religion that we see on the beautiful Indian temples are called, in our language," gods." But they are not gods in the same way that the god of the Old Testament is a god. The god of the Old Testament is conceived to be the ultimate truth. There is said to be nothing beyond this god. But the Indian gods are only pointing toward truth; because it is impossible, according to the Indian view, to speak about truth or to picture truth, to personify truth. The personifications, the images, the forms, are only clues, merely guides. And now, to give you a notion of how some of these deities are pictured:
There are three very important deities in Indian worship, and they are Vishnu, Shiva, and Kl. Vishnu is pictured as the divine dreamer of the world dream. Vishnu sleeps on a great serpent, whose name is Ananta, which means "Endless." The serpent floats on the universal ocean, called the Milky Ocean. But this Milky Ocean and the Serpent and the sleeping God: these are all the same thing. They are three inflections of the same thing,, and that thing can be thought of also as the subtle substance that the wind of the mind stirs into action when the universe of all these shifting forms is brought into being. Vishnu, the God, sleeps, and the activity of his mind stuff creates dreams, and we are all his dream: the world is Vishnu's dream. And just as, in your dreams, all the images that you behold and all the people who appear are really manifestations of your own dreaming power, so are we all manifestations of Vishnu's dreaming power. We are no more independent entities than the dream figures in our own dreams.

Hence, we are all one in Vishnu: manifestations, inflections, of this dreaming power of Vishnu; broken images of himself rippling on the spontaneously active surface of his subtle mind stuff. Moreover, this sleeping god's divine dream of the universe is pictured in Indian art as a great lotus plant growing from his navel. The idea is that the dream unfolds like a glorious flower, and that this flower is the energy-or, as the Indians say. the shakti or goddess-of the god. I hope that some of you are recalling the counterparts of some of these images in the Biblical tradition. The waters that are stirred into action when creation takes place are comparable to those of the first verse of the Bible, where it is said that the wind or breath of god blew, or brooded, over the waters.

This metaphor represents the miracle of creation, bringing the world into being as a multiplicity out of the stillness of an unstirred sleep. And the bride of the divine being, coming forth in the Indian myth from the navel of a dreaming god, is drawn in the Biblical myth from the rib of a dreaming man. What was originally one has become two. And how delightful it is to see such an image-reflection of an aspect of one's own being-which was not present to consciousness before, and yet was there, nevertheless! So it is with Vishnu's dream. The god becomes aware of his own power and is delighted by the charms of his own power, as represented in the presence derived from him: the presence of his own dream, which is the universe. Thus, the universe is the dream-bride, or dream-goddess, of God.

Another image that appears frequently in Indian art is that of the god Shiva dancing. Shiva has four arms in this manifestation, and he is dancing on a prostrate dwarf. His first right hand holds a drum; and this drum beats; and that beat is the beat of time, which sends a ripple of movement over the face of eternity. The tick of time, then, is the creating principle, and this first right hand , therefore, is the hand of creation. It is bringing forth the world-dance just by beating the drum. But on the other side of the god, one of his two left hands holds a flame: the flame of illumination ,which destroys the illusion of the world. This, then, is the hand of destruction. But destruction so conceived is rather paradoxical; because what w all want, surely, is to know the truth, even though full knowledge may come only with the dissolution-or stilling-of the activity of the world. And so, whereas we have a deluding creation in the one hand, we have an illuminating destruction in this other, and between the two, flows the enigma of the universe.

The second right hand of the god Shiva is held palm outward in a posture known as abhya, which means, "don't be afraid." Nothing terrible is happening. Forms are breaking, your own form is breaking, death comes; yet nothing is happening. The eternal principle, which never was born, never will die: it is in all things: it is in you now. You are a wave on the surface of the ocean. When the wave is gone, is the water gone? Has anything happened? Nothing has happened. It is a play, a game, a dance. The second left hand of the god Shiva is held out before him in what is called the elephant posture. It is a posture suggesting the forehead and trunk of an elephant, and this is the teaching hand. For the elephant is likened to the teacher: where the elephant has walked, all animals can follow. It is a huge animal and where it has gone ahead, breaking down the forest, the other beasts can easily follow. This elephant or teaching hand points to the left foot, which is lifted; and that lift signifies release. Meanwhile, however, the right foot is driving down into the back of the dwarf, whose name is "Ignorance." This foot is driving souls into ignorance-that is to say, into the world, into creation, into this life that we are leading. But the other foot is lifted, yielding release. And so here is the god Shiva's image: one foot driving souls into life and the other releasing them, in a cycle of birth-into-ignorance and return-to-truth: Birth and illumination, One hand controls creation, another destruction, while a third is saying, "Don't be afraid; nothing is happening!" and a fourth, "Look at the cycle down there, and realize that your ego (aham) is but a wave rippling on the ocean of eternity, while your true self (tman), what you really are, is the water, which endures."

A third figure commonly seen in Indian religious art is the goddess Kl. For if you wish to personify divinity (according to Indian thought), it is no less proper to picture a mother than to picture a father. Why, indeed, should one attribute sex to a divine being who is transcendent; that is tosay, beyond all attributes? If beyond description, why attribute sex? So it is optional: you may decide for yourself whether you prefer to think of the divine principle as a mother or a s a father, as a dreamer , or as a dancer. Any image will do, so long as it will help you to collect the main principles of this realization and hold them in your mind. God as the mother is pictured in a very strange way. She gives birth to beings but then eats them; and so, she is a terrifying, frightening mother, represented with a great tongue hanging out to lick up the blood of her slaughtered victims. She is a horrendous thing. And this may give you a notion of the realistic seriousness of Indian imagery. Life is not all goodness, it is also frightful. So that, if we are going to assign to the creator only the qualities of benevolence, how shall we account for these other aspects of existence? Indian thought does not trouble itself as greatly as Western with the problem of evil; because there is no evil, really.

Forms come into being, forms go out of being. Of course they do; for time passes! And how do the forms go out? Some comfortably, some uncomfortably; but they all go. It is this passage and fluency of time that is the great thing: and if you realize that it is all divine, whether going or coming, there is then nothing to fear. The goddess, therefore, is depicted as a frightful consumer of all beings a s well as the mother of beings. She is the sow that eats her farrow, consuming her own children. Her upper right hand is in the posture of abhya, " do not fear! "; the lower is outstretched in a boon-bestowing posture; the upper left hand holds a swordand the lower left a head, which the goddess has just cut off. She is the deliverer of both life and death. Horrendous yet fascinating, she is the very image of the dual nature of life. These deities, these supreme beings, are held before the mind as objects of contemplation because they suggest the mysteries of this created world. It hurts the dwarf to be tread upon; and the dancer himself hurts his feet, dancing. But anyone with the power of creativity, the power to live, is not afraid of life's hurt. Therefore, if our consciousness is saying aham all the time, saying, "I, I, I am hurt, I and my friends are hurt, I and the principles I care for are being hurt, we're not getting on, the world's going to pot!".....if we begin thinking that way, we are out of touch with the creative principle and dynamics of the world, and we are already, from the standpoint of Indian thought, dead things.

The notion of the universe, then (for I want to move on, now, from the god, down to the universe itself); the notion of the universe in Indian thought is that it is a great organism, manifesting this divine dance, or this divine dream, in a harmonious, magnificent display. And every one of us is apart of that organism. Every one of us has a role to play in it. In their sacred books the Indians commonly represent this cosmic organism as a Great Man, with each class of humanity compared to a part. Now, in the old agrarian societies-societies of the sort fundamental to Oriental culture-there were primarily four classes of human beings: four social strata. The most important of these in India was the brahmin or priestly class, whose function it was to know the divine revelation, to know the truth and how to teach the truth, how to instruct the community and its governors in the way of truth.

The Brahmins are compared to the head of thereat Being; and the second class-that of the rulers, or Kshatriya-to the arms and chest. It is the function of the ruling class to administer the truth that the Brahmins teach, maintaining the society in the way of the cosmic order. And then we come to the merchant and land-owning class, who represent the middle of the Great Man: his trunk and viscera. These, the Vashiya, constitute, so to say, the backbone and guts of the social order.

They are the community that we call the Middle Class. And finally, the members of the fourth class, the Shudra, the workers and craftsmen, are compared to the feet of the composite being. The notion is that everybody has a fixed and proper function, just as the different organs of the body have, and that by performing his functions, each keeps the divine society in harmonious health. Suppose the moon were to say one morning, "I'd like to be the sun." Or suppose the sun one day were to think, "I'd like to get up a little later this morning," The whole universe would go out of gear. The Indian idea of the social order is that all of us are just as tightly fixed to our ways and laws of life as the sun and moon. Furthermore, when one reads the old law books-the Book of Manu, for example -one sees how, in ancient India, the life rules became more and more demanding as one proceeded up the social scale. The rules for the Brahmin are minute to a degree that can hardly be imagined; but the restrictions become less and less demanding as one goes down the scale to the Shudra level. For the notion is that there is a particular morality, or virtue, appropriate to each class, in accordance with its functions in the organism of the Great Man. For example, the morality proper to the worker, The Shudra, was simply to do as told. By doing as he was told he lost his sense of ego, and so was introduced to the great religious principle and experience of egolessness. He learned this on the simplest, crudest level.

 And then, it was thought, after this experience of egolessness had been assimilated on the obvious level of physical service, he would have gained a spiritual character rendering him eligible to be promoted, in his next life, to the merchant or land-owning, Vaishya class. For here the duties were more severe; but, also, the honors considerably greater, so that there was a greater temptation to egoism. It is harder to be egoless, harder to learn
how to be selfless, on this level of wealth and comfort than on the lower levels of obedient toil. And since, for India, the goal of life is to learn selflessness, it is important that people should be graded properly according to their capacity. But the ruling, aristocratic, or warrior class, of course, has more temptations than even the merchant to become egocentric. The members of this class have the power to do as they will, and so here the disciplines were extremely severe . And then, finally, for the Brahmin, who was worshipped as a god, the temptation to ego was prodigious, and the rules of life were almost incredibly constraining, Now everything that is described here implies the idea of reincarnation, and this idea is fundamental to all Indian thought. It is believed that through our experiences of life, we are gradually clarified in our vision, so that we become less and less the victims of ego and its systems of hope and fear. We learn more and more how to become egoless.

 In our Occidental, democratic society, we do not believe that people are born into precisely the social class for which their souls are ready. We believe in a loose social structure, with equal opportunities for all. The Indian view, on the other hand, has always been that people are born into the class for which they are ready, and so the system is designed to hold them there. It is important for us to realize, however, that the Indian system of caste is not associated primarily with wealth. People even of the very lowest caste may become wealthy; and a Brahmin priest in a little rural temple will almost certainly be very poor indeed. It is only on the level of the third, the Vaishya caste, that life is devoted primarily to the ideology of wealth. Hence the caste organization itself is not to be understood as an organization based on money, It is based on what is regarded in India as a spiritual principle: the idea that one must learn the lesson of life first on its lowest levels, and then return in later incarnations for more and more difficult lessons, until achieving, complete release from this school of rebirth.

 Let me tell you a story, to indicate something about the nature of this Indian idea of the spiritual value of the performance of duty. It is taken from a very interesting Buddhist text, The Milindapanha, which dates back to perhaps the second century A.D., and it tells of the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka, who lived in the third century B.C., in the city of Pataliputra (which is now called Patna). The river Ganges flows past this city, and the river, according to this tale, was rising at that time with such force that it was threatening the city with a flood. The Emperor was greatly troubled, and everybody in the town was greatly troubled, and so all-the Emperor included-assembled on the bank of the river to watch the waters rise. Now there is an Indian notion that if you have fulfilled your life duty to perfection, you may perform what is known as an Act of Truth. you can say (and this is magic now): "If I have performed my duty without any trace of ego, but, like the sun rising and the sun setting, have done just what I should have done, every hour of my life, then let such and such happen!" And such and such will happen. This is called an Act of Truth. For, since you are part of the organism of the universe, and perfectly so, you partake of the power of the universe. You have become a conduit of universal energy and can perform miracles.

 And so now, this story tells us, when all the city had gathered along the bank of the river Ganges, the emperor Ashoka, perceiving the danger, asked: " Can no one make as Act of Truth and cause the waters of the Ganges to flow back upstream?" Apparently the Emperor himself could not do so; nor could any of the members of his court: they stood around and looked embarrassed. The Brahmins hung their heads, the nobles hung their heads,, and the merchants hung their heads. But way down the way there was an old prostitute, and her name was Bindumat, and she belonged to what was regarded as the abyss of the social structure. She was the lowest of the low. And yet she said to those around her, "I have an Act of Truth." The old woman shut her eyes and presently the Emperor noticed that the waters of the vast river were slowing down, backing up: there was a roar, and the waters of the Ganges began to flow upstream. You may imagine the action of the people. "Who," asked the Emperor, "performed this Act of Truth?" But no one around him knew. He looked about, and no one within range of his eye gave any sign of either being or of knowing the person whose virtue had saved the city. In a little while, however, the rumor reached him, and the Emperor proceeded to Bindumat in amazement. "You!" he exclaimed. "Wicked old sinner! Disgrace of the community! Do you mean to say that you have an Act of Truth?" "Your Majesty," she answered, "I posses an Act of Truth by means of which, if I so desired, I turn the world of men and the worlds of the gods upside down."

The Emperor requested to be told this act of Truth, and the old prostitute replied: "Whosoever gives me money, your Majesty, whether he be a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Shudra, I treat him as any other. I make no distinction in his favor if he is Kshatriya; and if a Shudra, I do not despise him. free both from fawning and from contempt, I serve the owner of the money. And this your Majesty, is the Act of Truth by which I caused the mighty Ganges to flow back upstream." The obvious part of this remarkable tale is that any way of life whatsoever is a way to God, if followed faithfully, selflessly, in perfect humility. This woman had power as no one else in the community, because she had performed to perfection the duties of her coarse and humble role. But the second lesson of the story is that she did not rise in the social scale for having saved the city: she remained Bindumat, serving the owner of the money. Which indicates an important thing about Oriental thought-namely, its distinction between moral and spiritual judgment and its ultimate dedication to the latter. This is something a little difficult for us to understand, since practically all of our own religious emphasis is moral. The religious interest of the Orient, on the other hand, though moral in large measure, is finally metaphysical; and its main idea is this: that by some act, some
experience, some realization, some knowledge, we should achieve an effective relationship to our essential being, which is identical with the being that creates, supports, and annihilates the world.

When one reads the Bhagavad Gt, which is the most important single text of Hinduism, one comes across a very strange statement. The God there declares that he is the essence of all things: of the lion, he is the power and the fury; of thieves, the thievery; and of cheats and the cheating. "I am the victory of those who conquer," he declares, "and of those who die, the death." In other words, since divinity is the essence of every being, we must not let our moral judgments obscure from us the fact that God is shining through all things, even those of which we cannot approve; yet this should not disturb us in the performance of our own duties, according to the terms of our own system of ethics. There is a very nice paradoxical principle involved here, which, though it may be difficult for us to appreciate, is fundamental to the Indian point of view. Moreover, there are many means, or ways, by which we may learn to shift our perspective from that of the multiplicity of this world to that of the unity of all things; and all these ways are called yogas. A number of apparently contradictory teachings have therefore been developed in the great domain of Hinduism.

 Yoga, in the broadest sense of the word, is any technique serving to link consciousness to the ultimate truth. One type of yoga I have already mentioned: that of stopping the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff. This type of mental discipline is called Rja Yoga, the Kingly, or Great Yoga. But there is another called Bhakti Yoga, Devotional Yoga; and this is the yoga generally recommended for those who have duties in the world , tasks to perform, and who cannot, therefore, turn away to the practice of that other, very much sterner mode of psychological training. This much simpler, much more popular, yoga of worship consists in being selflessly devoted to the divine principle made manifest in some beloved form. One may dedicate oneself, for example, to the service of some god or goddess-one of those that I have just described-or any other, for that matter.

 Bhakti Yoga will then consist in having one's mind continually turned toward, or linked to, that chosen deity through all of one's daily tasks. But since divinity is present in all things, one may devote oneself equally to some living person as an incarnation or manifestation of the divine-or even to some animal or plant. In the Hindu marriage the woman is to be thus devoted to her husband. He is god for her, just as the deity of his caste or craft-guild, the deity of his particular system of duty, is God for him.

There is an illuminating story told of the deity Krishna, who, in the form of a human child, was raised among a little company or tribe of herdsmen. One day he said to them, when he saw them preparing to worship one of the great Gods of the Brahminical pantheon: "But why do you worship a deity in the sky? The support of your life is here, in your cattle. Worship these! " Whereupon, they hung garlands around the necks of their cattle and paid them worship. This wonderful art of recognizing the divine presence in all things, as a ubiquitous presence, is one of the most striking features of Oriental life, and is particularly prominent in Hinduism.

I have seen very simple people out in the country, climbing a hill, who, when they became tired and paused to rest and eat, set up a stone, poured red paint around it, and then reverently placed flowers before it. The pouring of the red paint set that stone apart. The idea was simply that those people were now going to regard it, not as a stone, but as a manifestation of the divine principle that it is immanent in all things. The pouring of the red paint and placing of the flowers were typical acts of Bhakti, Devotional Yoga: simple devices, readily available to anyone, to shift the focus of the mind from the phenomenal aspect of the object as a mere stone to its mystery of a miracle of being. And this popular form of yoga, no less than the very much sterner and more difficult discipline of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, to which I first alluded, is a technique to link consciousness to the ultimate truth: the mystery of being. The sense of the whole universe as a manifestation of the radiance of God and of yourself as likewise of that radiance, and the assurance that this is so, no matter what things may look like, round about, is the key to the wisdom of India and the Orient.

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Joseph Campbell - author of several books.  



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