Excerpts from The Power of Myth
by Joseph Campbell
Eisenhower went into a room full of computers. And he put the question to those machines, "Is there a God?" And they all start up, and the lights flash, and the wheels turn, and after a while a voice says, "Now there is."
He who thinks he knows, doesn't know. He who knows that he doesn't know, knows. For in this context, to know is not to know. And not to know is to know.
Time and space form the sensibilities that bound our experiences. Our senses are enclosed in the field of time and space, and our minds are enclosed in a frame of the categories of thought. But the ultimate thing (which is no thing) that we are trying to get in touch with is not so enclosed. We enclose it as we try to think of it.
Don't you think that modern Americans have rejected the ancient idea of nature as a divinity because it would have kept us from achieving dominance over nature?
The serpent bound to the earth, the eagle in spiritual flight - isn't that conflict something we all experience? And then, when the two amalgamate, we get a wonderful dragon, a serpent with wings.
We want to think about God. God is a thought. God is a name. God is an idea. But its reference is to something that transcends all thinking. The ultimate mystery of being is beyond all categories of thought.
You think of God as a father. Now, in religions where the God or creator is the mother, the whole world is her body. There is nowhere else. The male God is usually somewhere else.
Eternity isn't some later time. Eternity isn't even a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off.
The earliest evidence of anything like mythological thinking is associated with graves.
[Regarding a sacred place] You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don't know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don't know who your friends are, you don't know what you owe anybody, you don't know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.
You have to go past the imagined image of Jesus. Such an image of one's God becomes a a final obstruction, one's ultimate barrier. You hold on to your own ideology, your own little manner of thinking, and when a larger experience of God approaches, an experience greater than you are prepared to receive, you take flight from it by clinging to the image in your mind. This is known as preserving your faith.
The difference between a priest and a shaman is that the priest is a functionary and a shaman is someone who has had an experience. In our tradition it is the monk who seeks the experience, while the priest is the one who has studied to serve the community. I had a friend who attended an international meeting of the Roman Catholic meditative orders, which was held in Bangkok. He told me that the Catholic monks had no problem understanding the Buddhist monks, but that it was the clergy of the two religions who were unable to understand each other.
The person who has had a mystical experience knows that all the symbolic expressions of it are faulty. The symbols don't render the experience, they suggest it. If you haven't had the experience, how can you know what it is? Try to explain the joy of skiing to somebody living in the tropics who has never even seen snow. There has to be an experience to catch the message, some clue - otherwise you're not hearing what is being said.