Preparing a moka pot of coffee this morning, I decided to continue my reading of Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The primary thrust of the book is to show the world-wide correlation of all holy texts from tribal tales to what we consider canonized texts of antiquity. There is indeed a unifying theme of the human experience, the drive toward religion and the seeking of a personal quest for enlightenment.
Terence McKenna once spoke of what he referred to as the transcendental object at the end of history as the unifying vision that all seekers see in the hallucinations of mushrooms, LSD, DMT, Mescaline and Ayahuasca. He described this object as the same thing, book looking different. In describing this monolithic object, he cited the mathematical concept of a free floating cone in blank space. He added that if we were to imagine this simple object viewed by many, we would see that no two people would see it in the exact same light, shape and form. In fact the view of that simple object would not be the same for any two people. It’s almost as if they were not seeing the same object at all.
And so, we understand that our views are very different even though we may bear witness to the same experience.
In my psychedelic and spiritual visions, I have often seen a massive rolling curtain of eyes, holy and mystical, floating in an endless sea of stars and bejeweled with every fine thing the eye can view. It was not a view of god per se, but a view of things as they are in a way the the two natural eyes cannot perceive. I’ve thought this for a long time now, that the objects we envision are metaphors to help us along in our path.
I wanted to see god, but instead I saw the whole universe bursting with galaxies swirling and mathematical theorems played out like a symphonic movement of sound and light. It took some time for me to realize that I was indeed seeing god, because god is everything.
Joseph Campbell says this about the matter of god and our perception of it:
“We do not particularly care whether Rip van Winkle, Kamar al-Zaman, or Jesus Christ ever actually lived. Their stories are what concern us: and these stories are so widely distributed over the world—attached to various heroes in various lands—that the question of whether this or that local carrier of the universal theme may or may not have been a historical, living man can be of only secondary moment. The stressing of this historical element will lead to confusion; it will simply obfuscate the picture message. What, then, is the tenor of the image of the transfiguration? That is the question we have to ask. But in order that it may be confronted on universal grounds, rather than sectarian, we had better review one further example, equally celebrated, of the archetypal event.”
In other words, to be hung up on the religious event as an historical fact is to miss the point entirely. See again his quoting from the Bhagavad Gita and compare it to my description of my own psychedelic experience:
The following is taken from the Hindu “Song of the Lord,” the Bhagavad Gita. The Lord, the beautiful youth Krishna, is an incarnation of Vishnu, the Universal God; Prince Arjuna is his disciple and friend.
Arjuna said: “O Lord, if you think me able to behold it, then, O master of yogis, reveal to me your Immutable Self.”
The Lord said: “Behold my forms by the hundreds and the thousands- manifold and divine, various in shape and hue. Behold all the gods and angels; behold many wonders that no one has ever seen before. Behold here today the whole universe, the moving and the unmoving, and whatever else you may desire to see, all concentrated in my body.—But with these eyes of yours you cannot see me. I give you a divine eye; behold, now, my sovereign yoga-power.”
Having spoken thus, the great Lord of yoga revealed to Arjuna his supreme form as Vishnu, Lord of the Universe: with many faces and eyes, presenting many wondrous sights, bedecked with many celestial ornaments, armed with many divine uplifted weapons; wearing celestial garlands and vestments, anointed with divine perfumes, all-wonderful, resplendent, boundless, and with faces on all sides. If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst forth at once in the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One. There in the person of the God of gods, Arjuna be- held the whole universe, with its manifold divisions, all gathered together in one. Then, overcome with wonder, his hair standing on end, Arjuna bowed his head to the Lord, joined his palms in salutation, and addressed Him:
“In Thy body, O Lord, I behold all the gods and all the diverse hosts of beings—the Lord Brahma, seated on the lotus, all the patriarchs and the celestial serpents. I behold Thee with myriads of arms and bellies, with myriads of faces and eyes; I behold Thee, infinite in form, on every side, but I see not Thy end nor Thy middle nor Thy beginning, O Lord of the Universe, O Universal Form! On all sides glowing like a mass of radiance I behold Thee, with Thy diadem, mace, and discus, blazing everywhere like burning fire and the burning sun, passing all measure and difficult to behold. Thou art the Supreme Support of the Uni- verse; Thou art the undying Guardian of the Eternal Law; Thou art, in my belief, the Primal Being.”
It is as if we see things like god in whatever way we will best understand, though we see it so differently, it is the same object at the end, timeless and wonderful. Campbell provides further detail:
“The disciple has been blessed with a vision transcending the scope of normal human destiny, and amounting to a glimpse of the essential nature of the cosmos. Not his personal fate, but the fate of mankind, of life as a whole, the atom and all the solar sys- tems, has been opened to him; and this in terms befitting his human understanding, that is to say, in terms of an anthropomorphic vision: the Cosmic Man. An identical initiation might have been effected by means of the equally valid image of the Cosmic Horse, the Cosmic Eagle, the Cosmic Tree, or the Cosmic Praying-Mantis.
“The Song of the Lord” was made in terms befitting Arjuna’s caste and race: The Cosmic Man whom he beheld was an aristocrat, like himself, and a Hindu. Correspondingly, in Palestine the Cosmic Man appeared as a Jew, in ancient Germany as a German; among the Basuto he is a Negro, in Japan Japanese. The race and stature of the figure symbolizing the immanent and transcendent Universal is of historical, not semantic, moment; so also the sex: the Cosmic Woman, who appears in the iconography of the Jains.
Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference. no matter how attractive or impressive they may seem, they re- main but convenient means, accommodated to the understanding. Hence the personality or personalities of God—whether represented in trinitarian, dualistic, or Unitarian terms, in poly- theistic, monotheistic, or henotheistic terms, pictorially or verbally, as documented fact or as apocalyptic vision—no one should attempt to read or interpret as the final thing. The problem of the theologian is to keep his symbol translucent, so that it may not block out the very light it is supposed to convey. “For then alone do we know God truly,” writes Saint Thomas Aquinas,” when we believe that He is far above all that man can possibly think of God.”
“To know is not to know; not to know is to know.”
Mistaking a vehicle for its tenor may lead to the spilling not only of value- less ink, but of valuable blood.
Finally, we see that the transcendental object at the end of history is indeed another version of this story; a newer form of the old revelation that continues to carry us without our former religious trappings into a vision of the eternal and divine.
These are wondrous confirmations that can unify humanity if properly understood. If we truly understand that dogma is cement trying to float in the sea of all that is ever changing. The key is to float with the change and know that it is still the experience to be envisioned, the thing to know, the thing to believe. Breaking apart the cement that we are in and stepping away from dogma in this sense draws us closer to the transcendental object, the mono-myth, the one true God.
Just as Krishna revealed himself to Arjuna as Arjuna would best understand, so does the future God reveal itself unto us in whatever form we may receive best.
This to me is a miracle and a fine example of the endless love that the universe (a term I interchange with God) has to share with us.
What a marvelous experience this life is, what a great chance we have to learn from each joy and sorrow, understanding that we are a part of God just by nature of our very existence. Though we may see things so differently, we are all viewing the same timeless event unfolding.