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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