Mythos is a PBS series that was culled from lectures given by renowned professor of mythology Joseph Campbell shortly before his death in 1987. In this second collection “Campbell explores the spiritual realm of the East, Hinduism and Buddhism” as host Susan Sarandon informs the viewer. The five programs are entitled “The Inward Path,” “Enlightened One,” “Our Eternal Selves,” “The Way to Illumination,” and “The Experience of God.”
In “The Inward Path,” Campbell discusses religions and philosophies of Asia. Beyond Hinduism and Buddhism, but he also touches on Zoroastrianism and Jainism. He opens the episode by discussing the elementary ideas that all religions and mythologies share. He illustrates that the same images and themes occur throughout, but folk or ethnic ideas have shaped them, which explains why there are different costumes, applications, and interpretations.
A very intriguing topic Campbell brings up is that “the main problem with symbols is that people tend to get lost in” them and lose the message. “The message always is of the spirit and when the symbol is taken to be the fact…you’ve mistaken the message.” It’s a difference of thinking the metaphoric teachings are literal.
“Enlightened One” finds Campbell explaining the mythology, history, and symbols of Buddhism. He also compares the stories of Buddha and Christ with the major difference being how we see ourselves in the story. The former is a myth of identification and the latter is a myth of relationship; a person tries to become like Buddha but they can’t be God. Campbell also talks about Confucius and Lao Tzu.
In both “Our Eternal Selves” and “The Way to Illumination” Campbell examines the spiritual disciple of yoga and how it is used to reach transcendence. He states, “The goal of yoga is to find that reality of consciousness, which is of you and everybody else.” He focuses specifically on kundalini yoga and details the philosophy and defines the terms.
The subject matter in these episodes get a little tricky to follow because as he says, “the transcendent transcends all thinking.” His friend had a great summation: “The best things can’t be said; the second best are misunderstood because they use objects of time and space to refer to transcendence,” so Campbell’s lecturing is a bit of a conundrum.
“The Experience of God” ends the series in a perfect place, focusing on death and “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” It’s fascinating to learn of the rituals of another culture and the illumination that is supposed to take place. However, listening to Campbell describe them, they appear to offer more for the living because they sound as if they are too late to apply to the dead. I may learn the validity of these practices, but I don’t think I will be able to verify it to anyone. At least, not on this plane.
For those interested in learning about Eastern cultures, Joseph Campbell’s Mythos II works as a great introduction and will offer many paths for further investigation. The program will no doubt work on repeated viewings as the viewer gains insight into the subjects and better understands questions and answers raised.