Myths To Live By II


To become – in Jung’s terms – individuated, to live as a released individual, one has to know how and when to put on and to put off the masks of one’s various life roles. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and when at home, do not keep on the mask of the role you play in the Senate chamber. But this, finally, is not easy, since some of the masks cut deep. They include judgment and moral values. They include one’s pride, ambition, and achievement. They include one’s infatuations. It is a common thing to be overly impressed by and attached to masks, either some mask of one’s own or the mana-masks of others. The work of individuation, however, demands that one should not be compulsively affected in this way. The aim of individuation requires that one should find and learn to live out of  one’s own center, in control of one’s for and against. And this cannot be achieved by enacting and responding to any general masquerade of fixed roles. For, as Jung has stated: “In the last analysis, every life is the realization of a whole, that is, of a self, for which reason this realization can be called ‘individuation’. All life is bound to individual carriers who realize it, and it is simply inconceivable without them. But every carrier is charged with an individual destiny and destination, and the realization of this alone makes sense of life.”

Which is precisely the opposite to the ideal enforced upon everyone – even the greatest saints and sages – in the great East, where the only thought is that one should become identified absolutely with the assigned mask or role of one’s social place, and then, when all assigned tasks shall have been perfectly fulfilled, erase oneself absolutely, slipping (as one famous image has it) like a dewdrop into the sea. For there – in contrast to the typically West European idea of a destiny and character potential in each one of us, to be realized in our one lifetime as its ‘meaning’ and ‘fulfillment’ – the focus of concern is not the person but (as in the modern communist tyrant states) the established social order: not the unique, creative individual – who is regarded there as a menace – but his subjugation through identification with some local social archetype, and his inward quelling, simultaneously, of every impulse to an individual life. Education is indoctrination, or, as described today, the brainwash. The Brahmin is to be a Brahmin; the shoemaker, a shoemaker; the warrior, a warrior; the wife, a wife: nothing other, nothing less, and nothing more.

Under such a dispensation the individual never comes to the knowledge of himself as anything but the more or less competent actor of a perfectly standard part. Whatever signs of a personality may have been promising in infancy will in a few brief years have disappeared , to be replaced by the features of a social archetype, a general standard mask, a mirage personality, or – as I think we should say of such a one today – a stuffed shirt. The ideal student in such a society is the one who accepts instruction without question and, blessed with the virtue of perfect faith in his authorized instructor, is avid to assimilate not only his codified information but also his mannerisms, criteria of judgment, and general image of the persona that the student is to become – and when I say “become”, that is what I mean; for there is to be nothing else remaining, no ego in our Western sense at all, with personal opinions, likes, dislikes, and unprecedented thoughts or aims.


In the old Sanskrit law books, The Laws of Manu, The Institutes of Vishnu, etc., detailed descriptions are given of the types of study proper to each caste, the kinds of food to eat, the kind of person to marry, when to pray, to bathe, in what direction to face when sneezing or when yawning, how to rinse the mouth after meals, and so on, ad infinitum. The assigned punishments are appalling. And in the Far East also, where, although the Way or Order of Nature is described in terms that are not exactly the same as those of India, they amount to pretty much the same as far as the government of one’s life is concerned. For there too there is a cosmic order made known through the social order to which it is one’s duty, as well as in one’s nature, to conform. And there again the so-called sumptuary laws will tell in exact detail precisely how each is to live: in what size room to sleep (according to one’s social status) and on a mattress of what material, how long one’s sleeves are to be and of what material one’s shoes, how many cups of tea one must drink in the morning, and so on. Every detail of life is prescribed to an iota, and there is so much that one has to do that there is no chance at all to pause and ask, “What would I like to do?”

In short, the principles of ego, free thought, free will, and self-responsible action are in those societies abhorred and rejected as antithetical to all that is natural, good, and true; so that the ideal of individuation, which in Jung’s view is the ideal of psychological health and of an adult life fulfilled, is in the Orient simply unknown. Let me quote just one example, a passage from the Indian Laws of Manu, concerning the regulations for the whole life long of an orthodox Hindu wife:

Nothing is to be done, even in her own house, independently, by a girl, a young or even an aged woman. The female in childhood is to be subject to her father; in young womanhood, to her husband; and when her lord is dead, to her sons. A woman is never to be independent. She must not attempt to free herself from her father, husband, or sons. Leaving them, she would make both her own and her husband’s families contemptible. She must always be cheerful, clever in the management of her household affairs, careful in cleaning her utensils, and economical in expenditure. She shall obey as long as she lives him to whom her father (or, with her father’s permission, her brother) has given her; and when he is dead, she must never dishonor his memory… Even a husband of no virtue, without any good qualities at all, and pursuing his pleasures elsewhere, is to be worshiped unflaggingly as a god… In reward for such conduct, the female who controls her thoughts, speech, and actions, gains in this life highest renown and in the next a place beside her husband.


Source: Joseph Campbell – Myths To Live By

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