Joseph Campbell’s “Pathways To Bliss”.


What do the title of this post and the image above have to do with each other?  Please wait till you reach the last paragraph.  But to reach there, please do go through this brilliant story told by Joseph Campbell.

“I had a very amusing experience once lecturing in the Pacific North-west. I was talking about Dante’s view of the ages of man – he too, came up with an astrological schema for the great cycle of life.


“Unlike the Yeatses with their lunar metaphor, Dante likens life to the daily transit of the sun. He names four ages, each of which corresponds to a time of the day, and any of which has its proper set of virtues. The first is infancy, which goes to the age of twenty-five, would you believe. The qualities for infancy are obedience, a sense of shame, comeliness of appearance, and sweetness of conduct. This is the morning.


“Then you come, at the age of twenty five, to what he calls maturity, and this stage will last to year forty-five. You have reached the high moment of life, and for this stage he names the values of the medieval knight: temperance, courage, love, courtesy, and loyalty. When you have lived your life in terms of what the society asks of you , you will come to a moment at midcareer, at around thirty-five, when you will actually have the experience of what, formerly, you had simply been taught; then you are eligible to teach. This is the afternoon.


“Dante calls the age from forty-five to seventy the age of wisdom. In India, the wise get sent out to the forest; not here in the West. Here we expect the aged to stay in society, look around with a critical eye, and share the benefit of their experience. At this stage, the qualities are wisdom, justice, generosity, and humor or cheerfulness. After all, you have got nothing to lose. You’ve reached the evening.


“From seventy on he calls decrepitude, and the qualities are looking back over your life with gratitude and forward to death as a return home. Now it is night.

“This little schedule, this life pattern – this is mythos.

“In any case, when I’d finished my lecture up in Seattle, one young lady came up to me, and she said very seriously, “Oh, Mr. Campbell, you just don’t know about the modern generation. We go directly from infancy to wisdom.”

“I said, “That is great. All you’ve missed is life.”


PS.  Alas, in India too the wise do not get sent to the forests any more.  In fact, few of them want to any way and those who do want to are prevented from doing so by their near and dear ones.  Or at least that is the myth now here.  JC would love to hear about that myth.

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20 Responses to Joseph Campbell’s “Pathways To Bliss”.

  1. Nandu Pillai says:

    Brahmacharya ( Till 24 ) , Grihasta ( 24 – 48 ) , Vanaprastha ( 48 – 72 ) & Sanyaasa ( 72 till death ) ! Not very different .

    • JC spent a life time researching all myths and traditions from all over the world and found striking similarities in all of them. This particular aspect has been covered by him in is other works.

  2. Nandu Pillai says:

    Brahmacharya ( Till 24 ) , Grihasta ( 24 – 48 ) , Vanaprastha ( 48 – 72 ) & Sanyaasa ( 72 till death ) ! Not very different . As for the first pic one could say that Life gave them the infamous “missed call” !

  3. Big John says:

    A dictionary definition of decrepitude is … “The quality or condition of being weakened, worn out, impaired, or broken down by old age, illness, or hard use”, but at the age of 75 I’m looking forward to “80 being the new 60”, and I am certainly “looking back over my life with gratitude”, although I’m not so sure about looking “forward to death as a return home”. I’m more with Dylan Thomas on that one …

    “Do not go gentle into that good night
    Old age should burn at close of day
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

    BTW.. Luv the ZomB pic. 🙂
    Big John recently posted..They’re both bossy and barmy !

    • I love your attitude. On the other hand, I have another friend who responded via email that he would now like to read more from the Tibetan Book of the Dead to start disconnecting, Mind you, he is quite a bit younger too. I suggested that he should get himself a copy of The Tibetan Book Of The Living And The Dead so that he gets two for the price of one!

  4. Alan G says:

    Really enjoyed the post and that picture, sadly enough, does indeed speak volumes doesn’t it?

    It is unfortunate but here in America generally speaking the elders are not held in the same high esteem as in other cultures, with the exception being the American Indian population. The Asian culture probably tops the list with regard to their respect of elders, especially countries like Korea and China who are at the top of the list. I understand that India is right up there near the top also.

    As a culture, even as a country, as compared to those countries mentioned above America is still in its infancy. The fore mentioned cultures have been around for thousands of years where as America is less than 250 years old.

    On the other hand, one must understand that in the past, life was not so fast-paced where as today just as with my generation, the younger generations are on a completely different plateau than its elders so there is a huge communication gap along with fewer shared experiences than in times gone by. This in turn leads to distrust and doubts regarding the wisdom they claim to posses I think.
    Alan G recently posted..If Only Blogs Could Talk….

    • Alan, I am wiser about things that are not important to my son and he is wiser about things than I am about which are important to me but about which I am too lazy to learn. Like computer coding and even just trouble shooting. Wisdom is a highly subjective term. JC has used it in the context of the human condition. Yes, there is distrust and breakdown in communications due to generation gap here too but something that the older lot of Indians like me have accepted as part of the changing environment and the price we have to pay for progress.

  5. Cathy in NZ says:

    I think Joseph Campbell would be revising his pathway to include an inbetween age group in our later years as there seems to be a lot of people who in their 70s are still entitled to be in their 60s – with the advent of better medical intervention that seems the case.

    My elderly sister was recently stuck in hospital for 6 weeks and in her 4 bed room, there was an ever changing patient – she was always the youngest at 86!
    Cathy in NZ recently posted..Repairs done and then Bingo

  6. wisewebwoman says:

    I’m catching up with your Ramana. So sorry to hear about your friend but his timing was rather perfect. I remember loving that picture of you and he strolling, so evocative of dear friends.

    Ah the age we’re in my friend, they’re dropping around us like butterflies who have bloomed but briefly.

    wisewebwoman recently posted..Inspissated

  7. I’m 74 and Andy is 79. We’re more immersed in our projects than looking back. I am grateful, though!
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..Exploring Color

  8. Anna says:

    Looks that many of your readers are in the last of Dante’s age category. And this is not that easy even if wisdom is the gift of the mature age. The last chapter, however, is the time when we have capability to reflect, understand, learn and pass on the learning to those who are not likely to understand what we are talking about. Or maybe they will if we do our job well?
    Anna recently posted..YOUR CORE VALUES – PART 2

    • More important Anna, is that they should be interested! The kind of things that I can teach the young now are of little interest to them in the modern context. The value systems are vastly different.

  9. Looney says:

    Theoretically I am in the “Age of Wisdom”. Yet I am very content running around in the dark.
    Looney recently posted..The New Ghetto Music

  10. Grannymar says:

    I think that story by Joseph Campbell is very outdated for our modern world. ‘Childhood’ for today’s young folk seems to end when they reach double figures and the seniors live much longer (e,g: your father) than in past times. I prefer to to go with this version:

    Life is like a journey on a train…with its stations…with changes of routes…and with accidents! At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel on our side.

    However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone.

    As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant i.e. our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of our life.

    Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum. Others will go so unnoticed that we don’t realize that they vacated their seats!

    This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells.

    Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers…requiring that we give the best of ourselves.

    The mystery to everyone is: We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So, we must live in the best way – love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are.

    It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty — we should leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.
    Grannymar recently posted..Sunday One liners ~ 27

    • Simply brilliant. I doff my topi to you for this. I am trying to do precisely what you suggest in the last paragraph and my days of train journeys are more or less over and done with. But while I was on them, boy, did I have a ride!

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