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Baksheesh and Brahman: Indian Journal 1954-1955 Paperback – January, 1997

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Years before he became a mythology expert and household name, Joseph Campbell journeyed to India. He was nearly 50, at a career crossroads, and after 10 years studying Indian art and philosophy he was finally going to India seeking the transcendent (Brahman), the mysteries of India. Instead he found the stark realities of baksheesh culture. His journal of those six months is the closest Campbell ever came to an autobiography. It's a diary of his adventures, insights, and ponderings; it's a window into the India of 1954 and the Joseph Campbell of 1954--both are intriguing places to visit.

From Publishers Weekly

Campbell argued that each religion's myths were simply different versions of one archetypal myth residing in the collective unconscious of humankind. This collection of journals shows how he arrived at his conclusions. In the fall of 1954, when he was 50, Campbell traveled to India in hopes of experiencing firsthand all the elements of Indian religious practice that he had been studying for a decade. From the beginning, he struggles with ambivalence: "when you look at India from the outside it is a squalid mess and a haven of fakers; but when you look at it from the inside... it is an epiphany of the spirit." These journals chronicle Campbell's meetings with holy men, his management of his wife Jean's dance tour through the country, and his meeting with Nehru. The climax of his visit is his meeting with Sri Krishna Menon in Trivandrum. The guru confirms Campbell's understanding of the Indian scriptures that the goal of the Self is to become one with the Universal. In these journals, Campbell also lays out an ambitious research plan for a project in comparative mythology that would eventually become his four-volume The Masks of God. Although sometimes arrogant and condescending, Campbell interrogates his own prejudices, dismantles them and builds the foundations of what has become an influential way of thinking about the world's religions.15)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper San Francisco (January 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060924772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060924775
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,443,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on November 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Before I read Baksheesh and Bramhan, all I knew of Campbell was that he was an author of formidable intellect and also engaging wit (if the print version of Moyers series is to be believed)with a deep understanding of Oriental faiths. Campbells' account of his encounter with the land of these faiths - India - is at once insightful of the man and India in the 1950s. Confronted by the actual India - ancient, prudish, theieving, an emerging nation seeking a semblance of pride, low on self esteem, spiritual - Campbell is all at once the fastidous Westerner at odds with a culture he has admired from afar, charmed by its exoticism and occasionally getting bang on and incisively the actual reality of India. This book is an easy read and essential for anyone who has ever admired Campbell's work. Also a must read for anyone who wants to hold up a mirror to the new Indian nation and how far and how less that nation has travelled in the 50 odd years since. Campbelll's acerbism on fellow American travellers make for marvelous diversions.
One small observation and this must stem from being an Indian - that India is a hospitable nation is clear from this book. I am sure a lot of Indians would attribute it to Campbell being white, but there is something in here of hearts and houses being thrown open to a stranger.
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Format: Hardcover
"Baksheesh and Brahman" consists of diary entries chronicling Campbell's six month stay in India in 1954-55. The work is divided chronologically into three periods: The first two months are spent more or less in the company of Swami Nikhilananda and reach their climax when Campbell witnesses the great Durga Puja, as he meditated upon the theme of the Sacrifice that was so essential to his later works. During the following two months, he encountered in Bombay the art historian Alfred Salmony, who led him through a series of Buddhist and Hindu temple caves. Finally, Campbell's wife, Jean Erdman toured the country with her popular dances, performances that led him through a labyrinth of artistic circles.

What will most surprise readers familiar with Campbell's veneration of Eastern wisdom is his disillusionment with its modern culture. By 1954, Campbell had become so saturated with Indian culture that, as he would later say, he practically felt like an Indian. Until he actually visited the country: "Nothing is quite as good as the India I invented at Waverly Place, in New York," he wrote to Jean. Campbell claims early on in the diaries that he had come to India seeking spiritual instruction, or at least confirmation of his own interpretations of its philosophy, but that he had found only politics instead. "We are witnessing the birth of a new, patriotically oriented religiosity," he wrote.

We must recall that India, during the period of Campbell's visit, was undergoing a crucial epoch of transformation. The British had been chased out by Gandhi scarcely ten years before Campbell arrived there, leaving the country in a condition somewhat analogous to that of a drug addict who has recently broken the habit, but still suffers withdrawal.
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Format: Hardcover
This book comprises Joseph Campbell's private journals during his first visit to India. Before Campbell set off for India, he had already established a worldwide reputation in the field of Indian mythology through translating the works of Heinrich Zimmer. In 1954, he was awarded a fellowship to travel and conduct research in India for future publications on Indian mythology. In this book, which was not written for publication, but intended to be solely Campbell's private record of his journey, Campbell is confronted with the realities of India for the first time, and he is shaken to the core by how different India is from what he had been led to expect.

Campbell's stay in India lasted approximately 6 months, during which time he traveled extensively throughout the country. He started off the journey in the company of Swami Nikhilananda and several female devotees. Together with this troop, Campbell visited various Ramakrishna Missions and temples. Before long, however, he began to lose interest in this party, as he observed that the Ramakrishna Missions seemed to play a much smaller role in Indian society than he had ever imagined. He began to travel independently, visiting temples and talking to people he met along the way (mainly intellectuals, who were able to discuss philosophy in English). He also struggled to book a dance tour for his wife, Jean Erdman, a well-known artist of modern dance.

For the first three months of his journey, Campbell is so affected by culture shock that he is practically incapacitated. Although he had traveled widely in Europe, from the descriptions in these journals, he had no experience traveling in the Third World.
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If you're a Joseph Campbell fan, you'll want to read this book. If you're new to Campbell, I would recommend reading a few of his more well-known books first. Hero with a Thousand Faces would be a good place to start. This is a travel narrative and is not good introduction to Campbell's thought. This is a book for those who want to get a more intimate picture of the man.
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