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The Ninety-Sixth Thesis: The Mandate of Heaven

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When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster.
—Lao Tsu

One of my teacher/mentors once told me that I reminded him of Martin Luther, so in honor of him, the ninety-five theses, and this Easter time of year, I’m going to nail this piece of writing to the internet door.

It’s come to this time of renewal. As I sit writing I can hear the house finches and song sparrows singing in the Chinese elm in front of the house announcing their spring mating time has come. It has been unusually rainy and cold for months, so their cycle has been delayed. Two clownish finches have mounded an outsized nest on the beam over the porch I built a few years ago. The nest is tucked into a small cavity between the beam and the roof. Their straw debris is everywhere, salvaged from the dried waste from the sweet alyssum that grows around the yard. The finches act as if they’re frantic to get the nest built and move on to the business of mating, the urge to extend life in all its inexact complexity forward.

The Buddha once gave a sermon to an assembled multitude in which he wordlessly held a flower aloft. That was all. That’s all that is ever needed. Anyone who could was free to suddenly See. For my part I would hold aloft these finches, but because I don’t want to entrap them, I can only point in their direction.

Joseph Campbell once said that the goal of our spiritual quest, our “hero’s journey,” is to get to the point where we can just say “Yes!” to life. He told of watching a film of an African lion bringing down a gazelle and beginning to consume it, even as the gazelle still lived. Campbell’s message was that we needed to look at nature, at life, in all its complexity, say “Yes!” and move forward, embracing the totality and holding to awe.

The finch nest is right outside the front window. There was a nest built in the same exact spot last year. One day I watched out the window as a Stellar’s jay hung on the side of the beam, craned its neck around the top into the small cavity where the nest was, plucked an egg from the nest, glanced furtively around, then flew away. It was a shocking end to the dance, but the finches returned this year to sing, mate, and carry on with life.

I point to the finches.

I think Jesus was probably aware of the flower the Buddha held aloft and also observed the birds, maybe swallows, nesting in the desert cliffs. He said, “Look at the lilies of the field, neither do they toil nor do they sow….” He also said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to go to heaven.” I don’t think he was disparaging money, but instead was commenting on money’s inherent power to distract, to blind to the true nature of life. I’ve taught many rich kids, and I know that many of them existed in extreme pain. They could not sense the awe of life because they were too distracted by the multiplicity of their things.

If you were to rationally make a list of all Jesus’ attributes, especially as put forth in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount and then take their opposite, you might come up with the portrait of an entity that you could call the anti-Christ. If you compared that negative list to known entities, you could quickly see that global corporations pretty much fit that description. Corporate leaders bow to the bottom line and feel that it is the arbiter of human destiny.

I once read where a state senator here in California said, “I love greed; it’s what makes the world go ‘round.” There is nothing in this posture that speaks to awe, that speaks to life, that speaks to the human need for love, compassion, and community. There is no sense of our attempt to embrace infinity. There is only the desire to embrace the infinity of greed.

Their way of life is extractive and does little to give back to the process of life itself, does not compost itself to bring forth new growth. It blinds itself to awe, to the mystery that moves through us all by gouging out its own eyes for profit, by strip mining its own consciousness. It has no eyes to see, no ears to hear. It simply makes excuses for its actions and its existence, then points to all its things, hoping we will be distracted. I cannot say “Yes” to this. It is not life. It is anti-Life, anti-Christ.

I point to the clownish finches, to Buddha’s flower, to Christ’s lily of the field.

In ancient China the emperors ruled by t’ien ming, the “Mandate of Heaven”. The ruler held a sacred responsibility to look after the welfare of his people and create a world wherein each person could work out their moral and spiritual destiny. If the emperor failed to do this, it was cause to rise up and remove him.

We are almost at the point where the devastation of our moral and spiritual landscape is so complete that our only spiritual destiny is to be a blind consumer of the remaining carcass. We have gone to sleep, rolled over, and allowed this to happen to our lives and Life itself.

Here is the ninety-sixth thesis. “Wake up, rise up!” Take back your life, take back Life. The bottom line is not Life, Life is the bottom line. Let rivers flow clearly. Let seas be abundant with fish. Let skies darken with thundering flights of life nurtured in the wetlands of our profound imagination. Take it back. It is the Mandate of Heaven.

Here is the flower. Say “Yes!” It’s yours, take it. We are almost dead and it’s time for our rebirth.

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About John Spivey

  • gonzo marx

    for your Consideration…

    “they call me the Seeker…
    I been searching, low and high…
    I won’t get to Get what I’m after,
    till the day “I” die.”

    the Who

    but i digress…

    it’s good to “hear” a Voice that also notices the Metaphysical dichotomy inherent within the current cultural dynamic, and is able to articulate It so eloquently

    the last line of the Post is priceless…


  • :::speechless:::

    This is absolutely brilliant, John.

    Global corporations as the anti-Christ–what a metaphor! And so incredibly true, it’s time for the rest of the world to open their eyes and see the Truth.

  • That Joseph Campbell story has to be the most bone-chilling piece of advice I’ve ever heard. Who was he teaching? A classroom of serial killers?

  • gonzo and Chantal,
    Thanks. I hope we can take back our world.

    I think you missed Campbell’s point. Religions have demonized life in way or another, whether to make everyone who is born automatically a sinner or to think of life as an illusion to rise above. Campbell (and myself) is trying to say embrace all of life, even the parts which you want to demonize and push away. In not accepting the natural order of life and treating it with respect, we create people like serial killers, people who have never been shown a degree of love and respect in their formative years. We also create Enrons. Lions are not evil, people can be. Viewing life as a sin helps create sin.


  • Sounds like Campbell would make a nice side-by-side study with the Marquis de Sade, who more or less believed people had as much right to act on instinct as any animal.

  • gonzo marx

    Rodney..it sounds like you shoudl read some Campbell and know what you are talking about before spouting off

    on that note, read de Sade as well…

    as for Campbell, he was mostly known for his work in comparative mythologies

    his “message”, if any, from a lifetime of study was simple ..”don’t hurt each other, and follow your Bliss”

    real seditious stuff, eh?

    /end sarcasm


  • Gonzo — Or maybe you should. All I said was the two side by side would make an interesting study in contrasts — what’s there to deny?

    For your info, I’ve read enough of Campbell and De Sade to know I don’t much care for either. I also saw every episode of Campbell’s interview with Bill Moyers — which is interesting and illuminating — and read a wretched hagiography of Campbell some years ago by a couple of his acolytes. It regurgitates most of that New Age babble Campbell was known for, but it also has a lot of stuff Moyers would have never mentioned, mainly involving Campbel’s naive attitude toward Nazi Germany, which brought a personal rebuke of sorts from Thomas Mann.

    Ever read Brendan Gill’s attack on Campbell in the New York Review of Books? Rough stuff. He knew Campbell and said he was an anti-Semite. Gill thought all that “Follow Your Bliss” stuff was just a dolled-up version of rampant Reagan Era greed.

  • Here’s something Mr. Spivey may find interesting.

    After Gill’s initial article appeared in the NYROB, several correspondents wrote in with their own horror stories about Campbell. Gill summarized one such letter thus:

    A correspondent, Carol Luther of San Anselmo, California, writes to say that she once attended a lecture in which Campbell recounted what he called a popular Indian fable (a favorite of Campbell’s in old age), the gist of which was that we are not all mere mild grass-eating goats but, instead, are blood-thirsty, carnivorous tigers, who do well to prey upon whatever lower species of animal makes up our natural diet. When she heard Campbell tell this story, my correspondent was so upset by its ethical implications that, she writes, “I rose shaking from my chair and shouted, ‘What about the six million who were gassed during World War II?’ In response, Mr. Campbell simply shrugged and said ‘That’s your problem.'”

  • gonzo marx

    interesting take on it Rodney..and i stand rebuked for any hasty diatribe…

    still…i find your comparison demeaning to both Authors, but that is only my own subjective viewpoint

    the one sided feud of Gill’s is well documented, and rebuffed by others….not mentioned by Campbell to my knowledge…and tis is not the place for such

    my bit here was basically astonishment at your take on the original Post

    but of course, that is also subjective opinion

    fair enough, i say…my Sorrow is that you seem to have either missed, or do not care about the main point

    and i find no need to gild the “lily”

    nuff said?


  • Rodney,
    Having not known Campbell personally I can only offer my own perspective that was generated by watching and reading him. As you are probably aware our brain is composed of many layers that are relics of our evolution. At the core is a reactive reptile’s brain, and at the core of that, who knows? By saying yes to all the various complexities of life, appealing and unappealing, I am saying yes to all the many layers of my own brain and mind. Acknowledgment is not the same as indulgence. By saying yes to life and my own evolutionary layers, I gain a certain mastery, a certain unity of being and action that is not afforded by a view of life and my own being as something inherently sinful. My life is not perfect and is not free of pain, but it has integrity. I will not take advantage of others and seek no rationalization to do so. Please read the post with that in mind. Campbell is a mere bit player in that little drama. As the main player I would hold my life up for scrutiny, despite its imperfections, and I would be willing to sit down with Moyers any time.

  • Bliffle


    Interesting citations on Campbell. I watched Campbell a couple times and thought he was just too airy for my taste. I’m not fond of that type of esoterica. Never could understand what people thought was profound about him. Maybe I’m just dumb.

  • Baronius

    You don’t have to dig to find reasons to dislike Campbell. His reading of mythology was a mile wide and an inch deep. He made all myths tell the same story by dropping, and criticizing, any discrepancies. If he couldn’t make a tradition fit his mold, he’d complain that it strayed from its authentic teachings. Thus, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were misunderstood by their three billion followers, but fortunately Campbell was there to clear things up. And the authentic religion that he found at their cores, surprisingly, corresponded with Campbell’s mythological tale.

    “Follow your bliss” is not seditious in the least. Faith is supposed to be seditious. It’s supposed to be rough. Campbell kept polishing away its rough spots until he was left with something amazingly dull. “Follow your bliss”?! What a feeble, castrated code of belief! What a dishonor!

  • Bliffle


    Well, I don’t know if I’d have been brave enough to say that, but I can see your point.

  • It’s too bad that this had to become a referendum on Campbell. It diverts from the main point of the post, almost as if to obscure it. As for faith, I have little faith in faith. Three billion “seditious” faithful have gotten all of us into a shitload of trouble. I practice sedition by examining all my thoughts and actions too see if they do indeed benefit myself, those around me, and larger humanity. Faith generally precludes critical examination and is generally too rigid to accomodate the dynamic nature of life.