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Reply To: Why I Disagree with Joe Campbell


James and Stephen –

I have gone through your comments, and I feel that I have not made myself as clear as I would like to.

Firstly – what Joe Campbell, and other Westerners thought of a “Indian” philosophy, was largely a manufactured one, gathered from various sources. The monolithic Vedic civilisation actually didn’t exist. Dorothy M. Figueira, in her book Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority Through Myths of Identity, talks about how a largely mythical India had been constructed by the Enlightenment intellectuals as a reaction to Christian fundamentalism. (You can read my review of the book here.) This is not to deny that the Upanishads existed – just to point out that these thoughts applied most probably to a very small portion of the society, while the majority lived ignorant (and largely miserable) lives, believing blindly in the karma of their previous births as the reason for their current station in life. (It made a remarkably stable system. Even now, the caste lines are being shamelessly exploited by politicians. Here is an example of the social function of myth resisting all attempts at democratic reform!)

Secondly – all the symbols, I feel, are highly personal. We approach myth through the filters of our own personas. They are remarkably similar, but all said and done, it’s just a way of firing one’s imagination. I subscribe to the concept of the Anatman, the non-soul, that the Buddha propounded – more in tune with the modern concept of self-awareness than the Brahman of the Upanishads.

Thirdly – I find the manufactured Vedic myth being used more and more by the Hindu right, in frightening similarity to what Hitler did with the Teutonic myth – and it’s very easy with a population which is extremely relgious. Unless the concept of Indian religiosity is rescued from the Vedic straightjacket and taken back to its scattered pagan roots, I am afraid we may seem something very like Nazi Germany in India in the future.