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Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) Hardcover – May, 2003

5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this volume of previously unpublished lectures and articles, the late world folklorist and comparative mythologist Campbell extols the myths of Asian religions, though, as always, the whole of humanity is the author's intended audience. With jaunty, American optimism, Campbell delves into the stories and imagery, as he defines them, of Buddhism and Yoga and other "Oriental" systems of belief, to find a well of deep humanistic wisdom in each one, sharply in contrast to the anti-spiritual habits of the West. "You may have practical ethics and that kind of thing, but there is no spirituality in any aspect of our contemporary Western civilization," Campbell writes, suggesting that Western society "is disintegrating as a result" of the loss of religious myth. Campbell molds his stories into Jungian vessels of mystical awe, finding recurring archetypes and story lines embedded in large swaths of the Asian continent; sometimes a sort of fetishizing awe towards the object of his study creeps in: "When one goes to the Orient, of course, one may be physically shocked by the squalor and misery of the people and the life they're living there. Yet this coordinating principle comes shining through all the poverty in a strangely fascinating way, shining with the radiance of this mythic world." Campbell excels in telling the stories themselves-which feature brahmins and yogis, gods and monsters, as they disguise themselves as charioteers, eat themselves up and spy on mortals-and in his glancing descriptions of traditions foreign to us: Japanese "play language," an exceedingly polite mode of speech, for instance, or Jainism's insistence on quenching "all desire for life." His persistent, unifying interpretations cans sometimes deflate the power of these traditions, but this is nevertheless a solid primer.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

“Campbell excels in telling the stories themselves — which feature brahmins and yogis, gods and monsters, as they disguise themselves as charioteers, eat themselves up and spy on mortals — and in his glancing descriptions of traditions foreign to us: Japanese ‘play language,’ an exceedingly polite mode of speech, for instance, or Jainism’s insistence on quenching ‘all desire for life.’...A solid primer.”
Publishers Weekly


"Campbell has become one of the rarest of intellectuals in American life: a serious thinker who has been embraced by the popular culture." — Newsweek
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: New World Library; First Edition edition (May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1577314034
  • ISBN-13: 978-1577314035
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This book was a lovely, focused introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism, with a little Jainism and Taoism thrown in for good measure. I loved Cambpell's ability both to find the lovely, telling details in each of these traditions, and to find the overarching themes--especially the idea of Brahman, which he sees as underpinning all of them. I also particularly loved Cambpell's sense of humor--in one section he's describing the reincarnation of the soul, and says it's putting on and taking off bodies "like a shopper at Macy's trying on scarves"! That page is marked in my copy by the tea I sputtered because I laughed so loudly.
The only downside from my point of view was an emphasis in the sections on Buddhism on Mahayana as opposed to Theravada Buddhism. Though he does discuss the older branch of the Buddhist tradition, it is somewhat in passing. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this book enormously.
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Format: Hardcover
I heard about this book at the Campbell Foundations website and was very interested--I'd always wanted to learn more about Asian religions but had found the books I'd looked at either too hard-core academic or too new-agey or too obscure. I tried reading the Bhagavad Gita ten years ago, and thought it was cool, but couldn't really understand it.
This book really gave me an insight into the mindset that lies behind Buddhism and Hinduism. I'd always thought the emphasis on reincarnation was a little creepy, but now I have an idea of what its about. Campbell tells some wonderful stories and connects the dots between what seem like really random ideas. And the short section on the Bhagavad Gita was really eye-opening. I went back and reread the book and feel like I finally understand it.
This is a perfect book to start your exploration of Eastern Religion.
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Format: Hardcover
Having devoured Campbell's work in the nineties, I'd almost given up on his unpublished essays and lectures ever seeing the light of day. Then came Thou Art That and now Myths Of Light. These books are just perfect echoes of Campbell's comparative conclusions, only more concise. After a lifetime of work, his lectures honed his thoughts into great clarity. These two books are actually great introductions to Campbell's thoughts and work. They touch here and there on historical evidence, but mainly stay in the line of clarifying what occident and orient mythology entails.
If you've been waiting a long time to read more Campbell, you'll have bought these books already. And if you haven't, you'll be very surpised.
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Format: Hardcover
Having not much more background in Asian religion than a Zen Buddhism class I took to fulfill a distribution requirement in college 20 years ago, I approached this book with some anticipation and some anxiety. My main memory of those long-ago days in that lecture class was of reading and discussing religious texts that seemed to have been written by another species--the basic assumptions were beyond me, and my professor (who had spent his adult life immersed in the study of esoteric Buddhism) had a hard time understanding why we didn't just get it. But I'd been fascinated by what little I'd understood and always wanted to find a more accessible guide to the ins and outs of Asian myth. This book is it! Campbell, who I knew from Power of Myth, lays out the basic principles that underlie Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism (and he touches on Taoism too) with the same sort of humor and wisdom that I'd expected. What a fun book to start the summer reading season with!
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Format: Paperback
I'm a former Christian, I was raised in a fairly narrow view of Pentecostal Christianity. I had very firm ideas of not only what God is but what he wanted. That was then, I'm no longer theistic and don't believe in the literal existence of any gods. At one point I was told that to even understand what the word God means, and has meant in the past, I would have to do research in the form of books. There is enough information in secondary sources to understand even a question this daunting. At the time I dismissed the statement for I already knew everything I needed to know about God from the Bible, the rest of them were just made up stories. After my theism, when I began reading about Judaisms polytheistic roots it became clear to me that this man was right, I had no clue what the word meant nor do the majority of people around me. Since then I have been seeking to understand all the major ideas of God throughout the world and time, this was my first book on eastern myths.

This book gives a good introduction for far eastern mythology, how they see the concept of God and how it compares to western thought. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a beginner level introduction to their religion and myths.
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Format: Hardcover
Since Bulfinch, Campbell has long been the storyteller of myth and culture, sharing insights on themes of origin and eternity. Myths of Light draws from Campbell's unpublished lectures, edited to a flowing narrative that introduces Eastern thought to a Western audience. With books like this, I don't expect to have complete understanding, nor recall of everything Campbell shares. I read in bite-size pieces, so I can absorb what he's talking about. Then I keep coming back to get little pieces and think about them. I read Myths of Light over the space of a year, the same way I read books like The History of Ideas, 1001 Nights, and Boorstein's The Discoverers and The Explorers. Absorb the essence of the ideas, and don't worry too much whether they stick with you.
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