By Stuart Light
Affiliate Faculty, Masters in Clinical Psychology Program Antioch University, Santa Barbara
In his essay, Mythologies of War and Peace (1967), Joseph Campbell wrote: “It is for an obvious reason far easier to name examples of mythologies of war than mythologies of peace; for not only has conflict between groups been normal to human experience, but there is also a cruel fact that killing is a precondition of all living whatsoever: life lives on life, eats life, and would otherwise not exist. To some this terrible necessity is fundamentally unacceptable, and as such people have, at times, brought forth mythologies as a way to perpetual peace. However, those have not been the people generally who have survived in what Darwin termed the universal struggle for existence. Plainly and simply: the nations, tribes, and peoples bred to mythologies of war have survived. Many a sensitive mind, reacting to this unwelcome truth, has found nature intolerable, setting up as a counter-ideal, the model of turning the other cheek and the true kingdom is not of this world. As so, finally, two radically opposed basic mythologies can be identified in the broad panorama of history: One in which this monstrous precondition that all temporal life is affirmed with a will, and the other, in which it is denied.”
Campbell went on to say that he found no examples of primitive people anywhere that either reject or despise conflict or conceive of warfare as an absolute evil. The great hunting tribes were killing animals all the time, and since resources were often limited there were conflicts and collisions constantly between members of contending groups. Battles and warfare were exhilarating, and in general there was no such thing as death, for the blood of all temporal beings was returned to the soil carrying “the life principle back to Mother Earth for rebirth.”
From Sun Tzu: “War is a matter of vital importance to the state; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin.”
To the Bhagavad-Gita: “For that which is born, death is certain, and for that which is dead, birth is certain. You should not grieve over the unavoidable….The Supreme Self, which dwells in all bodies, can never be slain. Weapons cut it not; fire burns it not; water wets it not; the wind does not wither it.”
It is within this form of Eastern thinking that proclaims the eternal, universal, unchanging, immovable, undying Self that is in all bodies, merged with the ancient mythologies that the ultimate foundation of all peace might be found.
Consider Campbell’s summation: “In the field of action – which is to say, in life – there is no peace, and there can never be. The formula then, for the attainment of peace is to act, as one must, but without attachment. Thus, paradoxically, in this context the mythology of peace and the mythology of war are the same. For after all, since the wisdom of the yonder shore is beyond all pairs-of-opposites, it must necessarily transcend and include the opposition of war-and-peace. As stated in the Mahayana Buddhist aphorism, ‘This very world, with all its imperfection, is the Golden Lotus World of Perfection.’ And if one cannot see it this way or bear to see it this way, the fault is not with the world.”
Carl Jung told us that the development of a healthy personality, of mental health itself, was possible only if we could bear and ultimately accept the tension of opposites: The Shadow and the Light. Is A Year without War possible? Is peace within?