How sad is this? I honestly feel just awful. I seriously started this book review over 5 times. That’s right kids, OVER 5 TIMES! I was given a copy of “Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor” by Joseph Campbell. It’s collected from previously unpublished work. It does what Campbell does best, compares the Judeo-Christian faiths similarities and misrepresentations with scholarship that is authoritative, yet a dummy like me can understand.
What do I say about that besides I liked it? That I REALLY liked it! Here’s what I’d like to say, it comes from Eugene Kennedy, Ph.D., “Thou Art That’s” editor:
“Tat tvam asi” is a phrase that appears often in these collected spiritual reflections of the late Joseph Campbell. These words also inscribe a signature of celebration on his life and work. Translated from the Sanskrit as “thou art that,” this epigram captures Campbell’s generous spirit just as it does his scholarly focus. The great student of mythology not only understood the profound spiritual implications of the phrase but, quite unselfconsciously, lived by them as well.
Joseph Campbell was fond of asking Schopenhauer’s question, found in his essay “On the Foundation of Morality:” “How is it possible that suffering that is neither my own nor of my concern should immediately affect me as though it were my own, and with such force that it moves me to action?…This is something really mysterious, something for which Reason can provide no explanation, and for which no basis can be found in practical experience. It is not unknown even to the most hard-hearted and self-interested. Examples appear every day before our eyes of instant responses of the kind, without reflection, one person helping another, coming to his aid, even setting his own life in clear danger for someone whom he has seen for the first time, having nothing more in mind than that the other is in need and in peril of his life….”
Schopenhauer’s response, one Campbell delighted in making his own, was that the immediate reaction and response represented the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization best rendered as “thou art that.” This presupposes, as the German philosopher wrote, his identification with someone not himself, a penetration of the barrier between persons so that the other was no longer perceived as an indifferent stranger but as a person “in whom I suffer, in spite of the fact that his skin does not enfold my nerves.”
And I feel like that’s the real story this collection of previously unpublished works is trying to tell us. Christian, Jewish, whatever. You are a person that’s part of this crazy experiment called humanity. “Thou art that.”
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