by Tim Spillane

(Note: the trials of achilles)

I came across a discussion by Joseph Campbell on the differences between the Western and Levantine interpretations of suffering- it’s a bit long but worth posting:

—“[In the Hellenic world] God is immanent throughout nature… science, therefore, deals with the material body of which God is the living spirit… God, the informing spirit of the world, is rational and absolutely good. Nothing, therefore, can occur that is not- in the frame of the totality- absolutely good. The doctrine… was reaffirmed by Nietzsche… where the word ‘good’ is read not as ‘comfortable’ but as ‘excellent,’ and a call is issued to each to love his fate: ‘amor fati’. Spengler also represents this view in his motto, adopted from Seneca… ‘The fates guide him who will, him who won’t they drag.’ It is a view derived rather from courage and joy than from rational demonstration: from a life of zeal and affirmation, beyond any kind of calculation. It leaves the Buddhist sentiment of compassion far behind; for compassion contemplates suffering. And Job’s problem also is left behind; for that too rests upon the recognition of suffering. In Seneca’s words: ‘Not what you bear but how you bear it is what counts.’ And again: ‘Within the world there can be no exile, for nothing within the world is alien to man.’

“’Great is God,’ declared the lame slave Epictetus: ‘This is the rod of Hermes: touch what you will with it… and it becomes gold. Nay, but bring what you will and I will transmute it to Good. Bring sickness, bring death, bring poverty and reproach, bring trial for life- all these things through the rod of Hermes shall be turned to profit… Thus should we ever have sung: yea and this, the grandest and divinest hymn of all- Great is God, for that he has given us a mind to apprehend these things, and duly to use them!’”

This is the incredibly optimistic response to suffering developed natively in the West, and it couldn’t be further from developments among the Abrahamics. Campbell goes on, “The ideal of indifference to pain and pleasure, gain and loss, in the performance of one’s life task, which is of the essence of this stoic order, suggests the Indian ideal of Karma Yoga described in the Bhagavad Gita… However, the Indian life task is imposed upon each by his class statues, whereas the Greco-Roman task is that recognized and imposed on each by his own reason: for God here is Intelligence, Knowledge, and Right Reason. Furthermore, the condition of ‘nirvana,’ disengagement in trance rapture, which is the ultimate goal of Indian yoga, is entirely different from the Greek ideal of ‘ataraxia,’ the rational mind undisturbed by pleasure and pain. Yet, between the two views there is much to be compared, and particularly their grounding in… ‘pantheism,’ which is fundamental… to India… and to the Classical world: against which the biblical view, whether in Jewish, Christian, or Islamic thought, stands in unrelenting, even belligerent, argument.

“Within a world that is itself divine… there is an epiphany of divinity in all sight, all thought, and all deeds, which- for those who recognize it- is a beginning and end in itself… Whereas within a world that is not itself divine, but whose creator is apart [as in the Abrahamic faiths]… one lives not simply to play the part well that is in itself the end, like the grapevine producing grapes, but, as Christ has said, ‘so that the Father may reward.’ The goal is not here and now, but somewhere else.” ––Occidental Mythology