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Tiger King MythBlast

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    Toby Johnson

      In the Myth Blast for this week, John Bucher writes about The Tiger King, Joseph Campbell’s story of the tiger cubs raised as a goat who then has to discover his true Tiger Face.

      Tiger on cover of Finding Your Own True MythI associate the Tiger Face with Campbell. My book about what I learned from him has a tiger on the cover. (Here’s the image from a Tibetan silk scarf.)

      One of those things I learned was from him was to say about the state of things, “It’s great the way it is”

      Joe had a slight stutter which came out, paradoxically, as part of his eloquence, as part of the drama in his voice. It was occasionally noticeable in words beginning with the letter “G.” I can hear him saying, “People ask me. ‘What about all the evil and suffering in the world?’ And I say, ‘It’s great just the way it is’ ” (The Power of Myth, p. 80). That slight stutter of his on the word “great,” and the force with which he spoke behind it, have the word sound almost like the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes advertising cartoon Tony the Tiger: “They’re grrrrreat!” And that’s precisely the meaning of Joe’s spirituality of joyful participation.

      As the epilogue of  The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, editor and filmmaker Phil Cousineau cites the story of the Tiger and the Goat. Says Joe:

      “There’s a moral here, of course. It is that we’re all really tigers living here as goats. The function of sociology and most of our religious education is to teach us to be goats. But the function of the proper interpretation of mythological symbols and meditation discipline is to introduce you to your tiger face.” (p. 271)

      When you look at the world with all its suffering and pain and lashing about, what you say is “Yes, it’s great just the way it is.” And you throw yourself into life like a tiger going after its prey.


      Astute observation and associations arising from John Bucher’s Tiger King entry in JCF’s MythBlast series (in fact, since John’s essay opened the door for this, I tried to give your post it’s own topic in the MythBlast forum; something went awry and your post opens a new topic here in the Works of Joseph Campbell forum – which is just as appropriate, since the story of the Tiger and the Goats Campbell shares provides the foundation).

      This also might be a good place to share a link, if you have one, to info for the book of yours, Toby, that you reference above with the tiger on the cover, about what you learned from Joseph Campbell.


      Toby and Stephen,

      It seems a great force of strength that would allow for an embrace of the world as it is.  I find the words by Campbell -“say, “yes, it’s great just the way it is” to be difficult to incorporate into real everyday life  when what we see is indifference to suffering, mocking of the great forces of nature-[that microscopic virus is powerful] by the behaviour of so many young people who appear to have a death wish, and a physical, social and economic distancing from the world.

      Are we to retreat as a way of self preservation? Deny the world?  What are we living as,  really?-or better yet are we living? Campbell’s story. The Tiger King while true [we need to discover who we are] does not say much to what we are all experiencing at this moment -how do we live an authentic life in the midst of a pandemic? I am finding this rather all overwhelming-I have questioned recently why we are trying to “get back it normal”.  Furthermore, what is the purpose in doing so? I fear this all sounds cynical, but it is a question to offer in response to Campbell’s statement about acceptance of the world as it is. This is a kind of existential position -we are alone in a hostile world that gives us no assurance that anything can be really affected by our presence. There have been good people who have tried to respond to the virus, to injustice, to a feeling of utter defeat and yet I see no real and pervasive change. The cases of the virus multiple everyday with no turn in sight.

      I know as suggested in this week’s,  Myth Blast that we must find the myths that compel us to say yes to life and will provide as Campbell states in Myths of Light, with the strength to “…this glorious approach to life. What has to be done you do with such a will that you play with it.” {pg88]. How to recapture what Nietzsche expresses as “amor fati.” I guess this is the greatest of challenges.


      That is indeed a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around, Johanna.  Elsewhere Campbell refers to this as the bodhisattva formula: “Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.”

      It sounds calloused and uncaring when taken out of context, but even those familiar with Joseph Campbell’s body of work can find this a difficult principle to absorb, especially in light of personal or collective tragedy. Some critics complain Campbell is  encouraging passive acceptance of poverty, injustice and catastrophe. But it’s not so black and white, not an either/or – definitely more nuanced and complex than that.

      When we remove humans from the equation and focus on the natural world, it’s a little easier to understand Campbell’s point. Here he expands on the concept in response to questions at the end of a lecture on Hinduism and Buddhism:


      CAMPBELL: I saw a picture several years ago in an issue of National Geographic of three cheetahs eating a gazelle. The gazelle was still alive. They were at his belly, and the gazelle’s head was lifted. And I said to myself, “Do we say yes to that?” We do⁠.

      Q: The way you are talking about “saying yea” to it all – doesn’t that risk condoning immorality?

      Sure. That’s what’s tough about it; it’s the essence of the problem. How long can you look at it? How deeply can you see? What can you take? Or are you going to play a little game: “Listen to the birds, aren’t they just sweet? Don’t look at the gazelle being eaten by three cheetahs.⁠”

      You make your choice. If you want to be a moralist, go ahead. If you want to go love life, do – but know that life is nasty⁠. And it will involve death. Sorrow is part of the world.

      Q: So we participate in life’s violence?

      CAMPBELL: No, you don’t participate in it, but you can’t condemn it; this is part of life⁠.

      It takes an awful lot of guts really to say yes all the way. Do you have the energy and strength to face life? Life can ask more of you than you’re willing to give. And then you say, “Life is something that should not have been. I’m not going to play the game. I’m going to meditate. I’m going to pull out.”⁠

      Through life and lust one comes to know something. And then there are two ways of knowing it: one, simply in its sensational aspect, and the other in the way of the mystery that is speaking to you through these. It’s the same mystery, birth and death, and this is the way life works⁠.

      Then there are two ways of participating. One is compulsively. The other, after you’ve got something of the experience, is to gain control of your dealing with life and death. It’s a delicate walking on the edge. If you do too much to control life, you kill it. The other option is to let life move.


      When it comes to cheetahs eating a gazelle, that’s the way of nature – it’s easier to accept that. Disturbing as the sight may be, there is no moral calculus to it: we don’t expect gazelles to go to heaven while all cheetahs rot in hell.

      But “saying yea to it all” doesn’t apply exclusively to the natural world (or maybe it does, when we remember that humanity itself is a part of nature). Campbell even singles out sinister examples of man’s inhumanity to man – Hiroshima, Auschwitz, the firebombing of Dresden, the rape of Tibet.

      “Joyful participation” is not simply adopting a Pollyanna perspective, jollying one’s way through catastrophe and ruin: rather than retreating into denial, one instead fully embraces the experience. Campbell points to Victor Frankl losing his wife, and nearly his own life, in a German concentration camp, and to a Buddhist monk and colleague of Campbell’s who had seen family and friends slaughtered during the Chinese annexation of Tibet. These are individuals who “joyfully participated” by fully experiencing what life presented them, and who emerged from these experiences not harboring bitterness and hatred, but with compassion for all – even for those who injured them most!

      Campbell isn’t saying we have to acquiesce in evil, accept it as inevitable and resign ourselves to being victims. But as the Wheel turns, wherever we are – whether tasting Paradise, or enduring Hell – we are best off if we embrace each moment and experience the full range of emotions, the ecstasy and the agony of life. It is this that Campbell means by “joyful participation.”

      Does this perspective lead to passive acceptance of evil and suffering, fostering a victim mentality? Hardly …


      There are two aspects to a thing of this kind. One is your judgment in the field of time, and the other is your judgment as a metaphysical observer. You can’t say there shouldn’t be poisonous serpents – that’s the way life is. But in the field of action, if you see a poisonous serpent about to bite somebody, you kill it. That’s not saying no to the serpent, that’s saying no to that situation.”

      (Campbell, Power of Myth, p. 83)


      Yes, Campbell does observe, “We cannot cure the world of sorrows . . . When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It’s always been a mess. We are not going to change it,” he is speaking from the perspective of that metaphysical observer. But he also notes that doesn’t mean you don’t go out and march against the atom bomb (or racism, social injustice, etc.); doing so is not saying no to the world, but “saying no to that situation.”


      In other traditions, good and evil are relative to the position in which you are standing. What is good for one is evil for the other. And you play your part, not withdrawing from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but seeing that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder: a mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

      “All life is sorrowful” is the first Buddhist saying, and so it is. It wouldn’t be life if there weren’t temporality involved, which is sorrow – loss, loss, loss. You’ve got to say yes to life and see it as magnificent this way; for this is surely the way God intended it …

      It is joyful just as it is. I don’t believe there was anybody who intended it, but this is the way it is. James Joyce has a memorable line: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” And the way to wake from it is not to be afraid, and to recognize that all of this, as it is, is a manifestation of the horrendous power that is of all creation. The ends of things are always painful. But pain is part of there being a world at all …

      I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera – except that it hurts.

      (Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, pp. 80-81)


      I have yet to meet anyone who perfectly embodies this concept – just not that many living bodhisattvas in my neighborhood, I guess – but I do notice the more I’m able to consciously cultivate this attitude, the less likely I am to either magnify or deny the suffering I do encounter. Ironically, the conscious acknowledgment and embrace of the pain inevitable to living and dying actually dissipates much of my unnecessary, self-generated suffering, leaving me better equipped to deal with what life throws at me.

      Toby Johnson

        Johanna, you are right that it is terribly difficult–and maybe impossible and maybe wrong–to just accept things the way they are when they are the way they are now in this crisis of the coronavirus and imminent ecological collapse of the Earth.

        I think Joe’s saying has to be understood as forcing you to speak from the God-within-you. And the reason for doing that is to exercise your mystical, enlightened identity. And that is the real function of religion.

        Within the last couple of weeks, I came upon this wonderful quote from Campbell made up as a Facebook slide–maybe originating here in the site. I have been sharing it on Facebook. It’s the answer to the dilemma you confound us with–and that I certainly share with you.

        Campbell on Eternity here and now

        Toby Johnson

          Stephen, thanks for asking about the book. Here’s a link to a page on my website with an extended description:

          Finding Your Own True MythFinding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

          Here’s the cover with the tiger image–see the tiger is presenting the double dorje, as a symbol of enlightened wisdom.





          In case you are interested, Toby, John Bucher, who penned the MythBlast essay that inspired this thread on “the Tiger King,” just published a new MythBlast essay called Merlin, Mythic Master of Warrior Princes, and the Lost Art of Mentorship (which is related to that story of the older tiger and little one learning how to be a tiger). We have just started a dedicated discussion thread with him on that essay, which you’ll find here. Feel free to jump in and share your thoughts if you are so inclined . . .

          Toby Johnson

            Hi Stephen

            thanks for the heads up about John Bucher’s essay.

            I am actually a step ahead of you. I had read the essay earlier this morning as I was working my way through email.

            I started to sign in and crow that I’d had Joe himself for my “mentor” and wise old man. But thought that would just be boasting.

            I did like the discussion of Merlin. Just last week I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’s novel THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH and looked up the book and reread the passage where Merlin is “resurrected” and then comes to the front door of Dr Ransom, the protagonist, and pays obeisance when he sees that Ransom is the current “Pendragon.” In Lewis’s 1945 novel, Merlin has come out stasis to assist Ransom fight against military/industrial materialism. Maybe it’s about mythological/spiritual consciousness up against technocracy.

            I’ve been completing my project of rereleasing my various books in updated, revised editions. I was just writing a paragraph about Campbell’s idea that the way to read a myth is to understand that the central character is a metaphor/stand-in for you. You are always the hero. And all the myths are about you.

            I remember as a teenager reading C.S. Lewis and coming upon that passage ab0ut Merlin bowing before Ransom and even back then wanting to be Ransom and be “the Pendragon” as the novel calls the spiritual descendant of Arthur. I guess I wanted to be Merlin too, and possess powers.

            Campbell then was saying, yes, we’re all Pendragons. We’re all continuing to act out the great battles between the spirit and the world. And we’re all Merlins with powers to make the world better.

            I wondered about the red and white dragons beneath the tower that John Bucher wrote about.

            So Merlin has been in my mind.


            Hi Toby


            I started to sign in and crow that I’d had Joe himself for my ‘mentor’ and wise old man. But thought that would just be boasting.”

            Maybe so, but I doubt it would be taken that way. John would likely appreciate hearing from someone who had a direct Campbell connection (indeed, in our conversation I referenced “The Tiger King,” and he noted the personal mentor he was referring to is Bob Walter, who was similarly mentored by Campbell).

            Plus there’s the other end of the spectrum – I imagine you’ve had the opportunity to mentor others yourself over the years, and might want to share a little about that. Seems to me one of the ways we pay back mentors is by sharing the lessons we’ve learned with others, and you definitely do that (reminds me of something a wise man said that I read just moments ago: “And we’re all Merlins with powers to make the world better.”)


            On Stephen’s quote of Campbell

            “All life is sorrowful” is the first Buddhist saying, and so it is. It wouldn’t be life if there weren’t temporality involved, which is sorrow – loss, loss, loss. You’ve got to say yes to life and see it as magnificent this way; for this is surely the way God intended it …

            It is joyful just as it is. I don’t believe there was anybody who intended it, but this is the way it is. James Joyce has a memorable line: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” And the way to wake from it is not to be afraid, and to recognize that all of this, as it is, is a manifestation of the horrendous power that is of all creation. The ends of things are always painful. But pain is part of there being a world at all …

            I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera – except that it hurts.

            (Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, pp. 80-81)”

            Thoughts on this quote:

            In this respect, even a birth hurts. It is “welcome to this wonderful opera” as Campbell has called it an opera, yet we know it’s all temporary, and that “the ends of things are always painful.” The end and the pain is built-in, and already! it is already there!–“all ready,” in other words. Participating in the sorrows of life joyfully for me means to find joy in the little moments of beauty and peace and what is most near and dear to our hearts, whether a moment of laughter or a hug with our grandchildren or a warm cup of coffee with a good friend, or enjoyment of a good book despite the sorrows. The joy is contained within the sorrows of the opera or soap opera–you find them, the moments of joy, or the joy life is, between the most sorrowful most painful lines or measures of song. You can only go so long feeling deep sorrow before a smile cracks open across a face–pain leads to the gentle acknowledgement of joy nonetheless in some mysterious weird way.

            It seems to me an enantiodromia: “the tendency of things to change into their opposites, especially as a supposed governing principle of natural cycles and of psychological development,” as defined by Google dictionary, and also on Wiktionary goes one step more definitive and says, “The principle whereby the superabundance of one force inevitably produces its opposite, as with physical equilibrium” [emboldened emphasis mine]. Also,

            Enantiodromia is a principle introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung that the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. It is similar to the principle of equilibrium in the natural world, in that any extreme is opposed by the system in order to restore balance. However, in Jungian terms, a thing psychically transmogrifies into its Shadow opposite, in the repression of psychic forces that are thereby cathected into something powerful and threatening. This can be anticipated as well in the principles of traditional Chinese religion – as in Taoism and yin-yang. Though “enantiodromia” was coined by Jung, it is implied in the writings of Heraclitus. In fr. 126, for example, Heraclitus says “cold things warm, warm things cool, wet things dry and parched things get wet.” It also seems implicit in other of his sayings, like “war is father of all, king of all”, “they do not know that the differing/opposed thing agrees with itself; harmony is reflexive, like the bow and the lyre”. In these passages and others the idea of the coincidence of opposites is clearly articulated in Heraclitus’ characteristic riddling style, as well as the dynamic motion back and forth between the two, generated especially by opposition and conflict.

            (Retrieved from

            Why when I am very angry do I sometimes smile? Enantiodromia.Why when I cry (when intensely in anguish) does my face scrunch up the same way as a very intense smile does–making it like a very pained smile? Enantiodromia. Why when we are at our deepest depth of depression or sorrow do we suddenly get up and out when we have “no where else to go but up?” Enantiodromia. Enantiodromia, it seems, or yin and yang, it seems, the waves of the Tao at the shore going back and forth into one another like the waxing and waning moons, it seems.




            I so totally appreciate the honesty and forthright expression. I hear you–I end up sounding very negative sometimes when I say “That damn covid, I hate it!” It is because I hate what it has done that my mother is sitting more isolated then ever in a nursing home  and for all the elderly people who are losing their memories of loved ones and their touchstones to other memories about their lives since they cannot visit them. It makes me get teary eyed for infants and very young children whose first impressions of their parents is often as people wearing masks and who are introduced to a world of isolation of social distancing. For all the children losing parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings, and their teachers at school, sometimes I cannot stand the thought and have to force myself to think of something else (which I do also when I turn off the news). I try to remain optimistic that this will be temporary and that the children of the world will grow up finding a better world soon.  Yet I immediately think now how my daughter had hoped covid would go away by now so that she could host her first Thanksgiving at her own new house, but cannot do so since it is all Red Zone around here in Ohio and because there are 18 Covid patients currently where she works. She does get tested 3x per week with a rapid test. But yet I go back to hope: perhaps next year she can do so. And when I say that I mean that for all of us–that perhaps next year we can ALL have a more normal Thanksgiving and holidays–hope that this vaccine helps alleviate the issues we have at hand. I also think of how many people live with the isolation of illness all their lives in various ways/forms, and that perhaps they are more used to it than those who have never had a lengthy illness–thinking of that boy in the bubble story about the boy who had such awful auto-immune allergies that he had to live in a “bubble.” Right now most of us are experiencing that bubble to an extent.


            Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts and your book with us, Toby! I am going to put it on my wish-list! The holidays are coming, and maybe while shopping for others I will be able to add to an order a gift for myself!

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