Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saying "YES" to Life

The following is a clip from Joseph Campbell's, "The Power of Myth":

.. So Jesus says, "Judge not that you may not be judged." That is to say, put yourself back in the position of Paradise before you thought in terms of good and evil. You don't hear this much from the pulpits. But one of the great challenges of life is to say "yea" to that person or that act or that condition which in your mind is most abominable.

… There are two aspects to a thing of this kind. One is your judgment in the field of action, 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.

There's a wonderful verse in the Rig Veda that says, "On the tree" -- that's the tree of life, the tree of your own life -- "there are two birds, fast friends. One eats the fruit of the tree, and the other, not eating, watches." Now, the one eating the fruit of the tree is killing the fruit. Life lives on life, that's what it's all about. A little myth from India tells the story of the great god Shiva, the lord whose dance is the universe. He had as his consort the goddess Parvathi, daughter of the mountain king. A monster came to him and said, "I want your wife as my mistress.'' Shiva was indignant, so he simply opened his third eye, and lightning bolts struck the earth, there was smoke and fire, and when the smoke cleared, there was another monster, lean, with hair like the hair of a lion flying to the four directions. The first monster saw that the lean monster was about to eat him up. Now, what do you do when you're in a situation like that? Traditional advice says to throw yourself on the mercy of the deity. So the monster said, "Shiva, I throw myself on your mercy." Now, there are rules for this god game. When someone throws himself on your mercy, then you yield mercy. So Shiva said, "I yield my mercy. Lean monster, don't eat him." "Well," said the lean monster, "what do I do? I'm hungry. You made me hungry, to eat this guy up." "Well," said Shiva, "eat yourself." So the lean monster started on his feet and came chomping up, chomping up -- this is an image of life living on life. Finally, there was nothing left of the lean monster but a face. Shiva looked at the face and said, "I've never seen a greater demonstration of what life's all about than this. I will call you Kirtimukha -- face of glory." And you will see that mask, that face of glory, at the portals to Shiva shrines and also to Buddha shrines. Shiva said to the face, "He who will not bow to you is unworthy to come to me." You've got to say yes to this miracle of life as it is, not on the condition that it follow your rules. Otherwise, you'll never get through to the metaphysical dimension.

Once in India I thought I would like to meet a major guru or teacher face to face. So I went to see a celebrated teacher named Sri Krishna Menon, and the first thing he said to me was, "Do you have a question?" The teacher in this tradition always answers questions. He doesn't tell you anything you are not yet ready to hear. So I said, "Yes, I have a question. Since in Hindu thinking everything in the universe is a manifestation of divinity itself, how should we say no to anything in the world? How should we say no to brutality, to stupidity, to vulgarity, to thoughtlessness?" And he answered, "For you and for me -- the way is to say yes." We then had a wonderful talk on this theme of the affirmation of all things. And it confirmed me in the feeling I had had that who are we to judge? It seems to me that this is one of the great teachings, also, of Jesus.


  1. Precisely, there are rules. Perhaps we need the narratives to sustain and enrich our understanding of them.

  2. Psi,
    however, I would suggest:

    The rule[s] belong to the narrative, not the God's themselves - of course the God's don't exist per se, and certainly the Hindu's don't believe they do.

    It's a bit akin to, there are rules which belong mathematics (a sort of narrative you could argue), but those rules don't belong to a world in itself.

    In this way I would suggest that it's not the rules the narratives help us to understand (that's mistaking the finger for the moon), rather it helps sustain and enrich our understanfing of life, pupose, meaning, so on. Rules (like language in general) are just the tools we use along the journey.

    ultimately I take a rather mystical stance with regard to this, and allow you to interprit it as you will.

  3. Andrew,
    I think the narrative helps us articulate to ourselves some aspects of how we experience the world, including on an emotional level. The rules that belong to the narrative codify some of the rules of our lives.

    Part6? Why not!