Table of Content IntroductionThe Call to AdventureCrossing of the Threshold (Entering the Unknown)Trials and Tribulations of the JourneyAttainment of EnlightenmentReturn of the HeroConclusion
Table of Content
The Call to Adventure
Crossing of the Threshold (Entering the Unknown)
Trials and Tribulations of the Journey
Attainment of Enlightenment
Return of the Hero
when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north roomDance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-
Who shall say
I am not
the happy genius of my household?
-- William Carlos
in his epochal book 'The Hero with a
Thousand Faces,' emphasizes that the
essential trait of a hero in the making
is his restlessness. Not at ease with
his immediate environment and circumstances,
a constant unease gnaws at his heart,
prompting him to question the very nature
of his existence. This inner strife
is the first inkling that a greater
destiny lies ahead of the potential
the evolution of the hero into five
1). The Call to
2). Crossing of the Threshold (Entering
3). Trials and Tribulations of the Journey
4). Attainment of Enlightenment
5). Return of the Hero
The Buddha's journey
to spiritual awakening or 'Nirvana,'
as it is popularly called, perfectly
mirrors the above mentioned progressive
development of a hero.
Shakyamuni Buddha Thangka (Brocadeless Thangka)
Gautam Buddha was
born as Prince Siddhartha, in the lap
of luxury. Exposed to an overdose of
riches and comfort right from the beginning,
the prince, while still relatively young,
exhausted for himself the fields of
fleshly joy, thus becoming ripe for
a higher, transcendent experience. The young prince
remained glued to his pleasure chambers
and had no contact with ground reality.
His palace, and the sensual pleasures
which it contained, were his only limiting worlds.
Once, after a particularly
hectic schedule of sensual frenzy, Siddhartha
was suddenly awakened from his blissful
sleep, in the middle of the night. Surrounding
him were the remnants of last night's
debauchery and revelry. The sight of
the shameless naked flesh and the overflowing
wine pitchers jarred him into the unreality
of his own reality. He felt suffocated
in those very environs which had once
given him what he thought were the pleasures
of paradise. He immediately arose form
his gold-gilded bed, descended the stairs
and asked his favorite charioteer to
take him to an open space where he could
breathe more freely.
He had traveled only
a few miles when he came across a sight
which was totally new to him in terms
of the distressing emotions it stirred
up in the innermost depths of his heart. Right in front of
him was an old man, tottering on a stick,
his physical frame entirely ravaged
by the trials of time. Never having
been exposed to such an image, Siddhartha
asked his charioteer who that individual
was, and why he was the way he was?
When he heard that
the man had deteriorated due to his
advancing age, the next natural question
was whether he himself, Siddhartha,
the prince of the mighty Shakya clan,
and all those whom he loved would one
day be exposed to the same degradation?
Confronted with the truth, the reply
completely shattered him, and he asked
to be taken back to the comforting environs
of the palace.
24" Wooden Buddha Preaching His Dharma
In the journey of
the hero, a figure suddenly appears
as a guide, marking a turning point
in the biography. This symbolic figure
is somehow profoundly familiar to the
unconscious, but is unknown, and even
frightening to the conscious self. Thereafter,
even though the hero returns for a while
to his familiar occupations, he finds
them unfruitful. A continuing series
of signs of increasing force will then
become visible. According to Campbell,
"The Four Signs," which appeared
to the Buddha, are the most celebrated
examples of the call to adventure in
the literature of the world. These are
signals from a higher domain, summons,
which can no longer be denied.
Here it is also significant
to note that being awakened in the midst
of his blissful sleep was another call
of destiny. Modern psychoanalysis has
confirmed that when we are asleep, we
travel to realms unavailable to our
waking moments. These are the depths
of our consciousness, which is but a
part of the combined heritage of humanity.
To quote the words of Jung, in a dream:
"man is no longer a distinct individual
but his mind widens out and merges into
the mind of the mankind - not the conscious
mind, but the unconscious mind of mankind,
where we are all the same." Jolted from his subliminal
dream state, the immediate horror of
his temporal circumstances made Siddhartha,
the future Buddha, realize his own cutting
of from this eternal dimension of life.
Thus a feeling of rootlessness gripped
him and he felt himself disjointed and
lonely, even amongst the multitude of
those who loved him. The hero's journey
almost always begins with such a call.
According to Campbell,
the moment the hero is ready for the
destined adventure, the proper heralds,
or callers to his destiny appear automatically,
as if by divine design. We have already
noticed the first such herald, namely
the old man above. The Buddha later
came across three more such signs: a
sick man, a dead man and a monk. His mind greatly
agitated by the first three disturbing
views, Buddha at last came upon his
final call, when he laid his eyes upon
the monk. The confident spiritual calm
he perceived within the monk emboldened
him to the fact that amidst the inevitability
of suffering and distress, there was
still ground for sufficient optimism,
Thus the first stage
of the mythological journey, which is
the 'call to adventure,' signifies that
destiny has summoned the hero, and transferred
his spiritual center of gravity from
within the pale of his society to a
33'' Buddha In Bhumisparsha Mudra With Life Story Engraved | Brass Statue
Your real duty
is to go away from the community
to find your bliss.
is following your bliss pattern,
quitting the old place,
starting your hero journey,
following your bliss.
You throw off
as the snake sheds its skin.
Its by going
down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.
The hero feels off-center,
and when one is off-center, it's time
to go. The hero leaves a certain social
situation, moves into his own loneliness
and finds the jewel. This departure
occurs when the hero feels something
has been lost and goes to find it. It
is the crossing of the threshold into
a new life. It is a dangerous adventure,
since one is moving out of the known
into the unexplored, unknown sphere.
prince Siddhartha believed that he was
setting out on an exciting adventure.
He felt the lure of the 'wide open'
road, and the shining, perfect state
But even then, it
was not easy enough for him to leave
behind the structured space of his home
for the untamed forests. Texts mention
that before finally leaving his palace,
he could not resist the temptation to
take a last peek at his wife and son
sleeping upstairs. But his resolve was
strong enough to bear the emotional
brunt of the separation. Not looking
back again, he went directly to his
When he set about
on his journey, the Buddha did not know
what lay in store for him. What he did
know was that:
The goal of life
is to make your heartbeat
match the beat of the universe,
to match your nature with Nature.
The joy of the hero's
adventure lies in exploring the unknown,
through which nature unfolds and reveals
its hidden treasures. The Buddha too
experimented with various unexplored
avenues, before coming to the ultimate
first tried asceticism. Since he believed
his disillusionment to stem from the
cravings of his body, his first reaction
was to negate it totally, even to the
extent that he stopped eating. Consequently,
his bones stuck out like a row of spindles,
and when he touched his stomach, he
could almost feel his spine. His hair
fell out and his skin became withered.
But all this was in vain. However severe
his austerities, perhaps even because
of them, the body still clamored for
attention, and he was still plagued
by lust and craving. In fact, he seemed
more conscious of himself than ever.
Finally, Buddha had to face the fact
that asceticism had failed to redeem
him. All he had achieved after this
heroic assault upon his body was a prominent
rib cage, and a dangerously weakened
was still optimistic. He was certain
that it was possible for human beings
to reach the final liberation of enlightenment.
And at that very moment, when he seemed
to have come to a dead end, the beginning
of a new solution declared itself to
him. He realized that instead of torturing
our reluctant selves into the final
release, we might be able to achieve
it effortlessly and spontaneously, as
What you have
you have to do with play.
to find deeper powers
come when life
seems most challenging.
was a momentous event in Buddha's journey
towards herohood. Rather than relying
upon external discourses or props, he
awakened to the fact that he would have
to delve into the infinite depths of
his own inner being to come up with
the Eternal Truth.
Having thus resolved,
he accepted the bowl of milk-rice offered
to him by Sujata, the milk-maiden.
After eating this
nourishing dish, the texts tell us,
he strode majestically towards the bodhi
tree (tree of life), to make his last
bid for liberation.
tree of life is said to be standing
at the axis of the cosmos, and is a
common feature of salvation mythology.
It is the place where the divine energies
pour into the world, where humanity
encounters the absolute, and becomes
more fully itself. We need only recall
the cross of Jesus, which according
to Christian legend, stood on the same
spot as the Tree of Knowledge of Good
and Evil in the Garden of Eden. The
hero as the incarnation of god is himself
the navel or axis of the world, the
umbilical point through which the energies
of eternity break into time. More than
a physical point, it is a psychological
state which enables us to see the world
and ourselves in perfect balance. Without
this psychological stability and this
correct orientation, enlightenment is
Hence, seated at
the spiritual center of the world, Buddha
dived into his own inner universe. As
he sat in isolated meditation, the potential
hero gave himself to the practice of
mindfulness. This practice consists
in observing, as a detached observer,
all our activities: eating, drinking,
chewing, tasting, defecating, walking,
standing, sitting, sleeping, waking,
speaking, and keeping silent.
He noticed the way
ideas coursed through his mind and the
constant stream of desires and irritations
that could plague him in a brief half
hour. He became 'mindful' of the way
he responded to a sudden noise or a
change in temperature, and saw how quickly
even a tiny thing disturbed his peace
of mind. This mindfulness was not cultivated
in a spirit of neurotic inspection.
Buddha had not put his humanity under
the microscope in this way in order
to castigate himself for his 'sins.'
The purpose here is not to pounce on
our failings, but becoming acquainted
with the way human nature works in order
to exploit its capacities. He had become
convinced that the solution to the problem
of suffering lay within himself and
deliverance would come from the refinement
of his own mundane nature, and so he
needed to investigate it, and get to
know it objectively. This could be achieved
most effectively through extasis, a
word that literally means 'to stand
outside the self,' and which is the
same as the practise of mindfulness.
As Buddha thus recorded
his feelings, moment-by-moment, he became
aware that the dukkha (suffering) of
life was not confined to the major traumas
of sickness, old age and death. It happened
on a daily, even hourly basis, in all
the minor disappointments, rejections,
frustrations, and failures that befall
us in the course of a single day. True,
there was pleasure in life, but once
he had subjected this to the merciless
scrutiny of mindfulness, he noticed
how often our satisfaction meant suffering
for others. For example, the prosperity
of one person usually depends upon the
exclusion of somebody else, or when
we get something that makes us happy,
we immediately start to worry about
As Buddha observed
the workings of his mind, he realized
how one craving after another took possession
of his heart. He noticed how human beings
were ceaselessly yearning to become
something else, go somewhere else, and
acquire something they do not have.
Blinded in our desires we almost never
see things as they are in themselves,
but our vision is colored by whether
we want them or not, how we can get
them, or how they can bring us profit.
These petty cravings assail us hour-by-hour,
minute-by-minute, so that we know no
rest. We are constantly consumed and
distracted by the compulsion to become
something different than what we are
'The world, whose
very nature is to change, is constantly
determined to become something else,'
Buddha concluded. 'It is at the mercy
of change, it is only happy when it
is caught up in the process of change,
but this love of change contains a measure
of fear and insecurity, and this fear
itself is dukkha.'
constant changing whirlpool of dynamic
flux characterizes our temporal existence
and dominates it so thoroughly that
we lose touch with the eternal essence
of our lives, remaining subsumed only
in the fleeting and passing moment of
current time. Buddha realized that he
just had to find that essential link
in his inner being, which bound the
transient to the eternal. Our existence
is defined by our mortal self, and also
an immortal divine spark underlying
it. When we have found the bridge that
links the two, we have attained salvation.
Brooding in this
manner, Buddha finally was on the verge
of enlightenment, when he was confronted
by Mara, Buddha's shadow self, or the
residual forces within him which still
clung to the old ideals he was trying
to transcend. Mara came out decked like
a Chakravartin (World Ruler), seated
on an elephant, and accompanied by a
Mara's name means
delusion. He symbolizes the ignorance
which holds us back from enlightenment.
As a Chakravartin,
he could only envisage a victory achieved
by physical force. Mara thus was convinced
that the spiritual throne, where Buddha
was sitting, belonged rightfully to
him. Accordingly he challenged Buddha
to vacate the seat. But the Buddha only
moved his hand to touch the ground with
his fingertips, and thus bid the goddess
Earth to bear witness to his right to
be sitting where he was. She did so
with a hundred thousand roars, so that
the elephant of the antagonist fell
upon its knees in obeisance to the rightful
owner of the throne. The army was immediately
dispersed and Mara vanquished.
posture, which shows Buddha touching
the ground with his right hand is a
favorite icon in Buddhist art.
It not only symbolizes
his rejection of Mara's sterile machismo,
but also emphasizes the profound point
that it is the Buddha who is a true
Chakravartin, since it is through the
heart that a lasting empire is won,
and not through the sword.
Having thus overcome
Mara, Gautama crossed the final obstruction
to his enlightenment, and won over to
Buddhahood. He called this blissful
state of immeasurable peace 'Nirvana.'
Nirvana literally means blowing out
or snuffing out (as a flame).
But Nirvana did not
mean personal extinction: what had been
snuffed out was not Gautama's personality,
but the three fires of greed, hatred
and delusion, which were once the basic
impulses governing his behavior. Through
his practice of mindfulness, Gautama
had come to the conclusion that it was
these three negative traits that were
at the root of all suffering in the world.
of a flame is invariably followed by
a certain coolness. It was this coolness
that descended into Gautama's heart
and permeated his each and every core.
The permanent retention of this feeling
is Nirvana, which is similar to the
cooling experienced when recovering
from a fever. Indeed in Buddha's time,
the related adjective 'nirvuta,' was
a term in daily use to describe a convalescent.
Having attained enlightenment,
the hero-quest has been accomplished.
The adventurer now has to decide what
to do with his life-transmuting trophy.
The full round or cycle of his adventure
requires that he now start the process
of bringing back to humanity the boon
of illumination granted to him. This
is the call which the mythical hero
often refuses. The Buddha too doubted
whether his message of realization could
be communicated at all. It is in this
context that he is given the title of
Shakyamuni. Shakya derives from the
fact that he was a descendent of the
Shakya clan, and muni is a Sanskrit
word for silent. The message here is
that Nirvana is something that could
not be described in words.
The Buddha further
thought that: 'If I taught the Dharma,
people would not understand it and that
would be exhausting and disappointing
But failing to heed
the call to return is not fulfilling
the complete requirements of the heroic
cycle. It is a part of the hero's evolutionary
destiny to knit together the world of
higher spiritual bliss with the mundane
world of everyday existence, as he had
bridged together transient time and eternity.
At this crucial moment
of uncertainty, the god Brahma intervened.
Like Mara, he too was a projection of
Buddha's subconscious mind, the only
difference being that he was a positive
Buddha to 'look down at the human race
which is drowning in pain and to travel
far and wide to save the world.' There
was no way in which the compassionate
Buddha could refuse this call. He understood
that staying locked away in his personal
Nirvana would be a negation of all that
he had achieved, it would be like entering
a new kind of pleasure palace, such
as that of his father which he had left
behind a long time back. The Buddha
thus carefully listened to Brahma and
gazed upon the world with his eyes full
of compassion, realizing that the gates
of Nirvana were wide open for all, and
he was the destined instrument to lead
The Buddha spent
the next forty-five years of his life
tramping tirelessly through the cities
and towns of Northern India. Indeed
there were no limits to his compassionate
The essential message of Buddha's life is that each of us (irrespective of sex or creed) is capable and deserving of Nirvana, having a potential Buddha hidden in us. Buddha was born an ordinary mortal. His path to fulfillment was not smooth and uneventful. Rather it was a journey full of exciting experiences and mistakes made. He learned from each of his mistakes, making it a springboard for all future, and finally the ultimate success. The day we realize and awaken the Buddha within, that would be our own Nirvana, which though personal, would bind us to all humanity like never before.
Key TakeawaysBuddha, also known as Gautama Buddha, was the founder of Buddhism and is considered as one of the greatest spiritual leaders in history.Buddha's teachings are based on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which emphasize on the attainment of enlightenment and the cessation of suffering.Buddha's life is divided into three major stages - his early life as a prince, his spiritual quest and enlightenment, and his teachings and establishment of Buddhism.Buddha's teachings have had a profound impact on various aspects of Indian culture, including art, literature, and philosophy.Buddha's teachings have also had a significant impact on other countries in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia and East Asia, where Buddhism is still widely practiced today.The images and depictions of Buddha in art are characterized by his peaceful and serene countenance, with elongated earlobes and a topknot of hair.The most common postures of Buddha in art are the meditative posture or the "Bhumisparsha mudra" (earth-touching gesture), which represents his enlightenment and victory over ignorance.The symbolism of Buddha has also been used in modern times to represent various ideas such as inner peace, mindfulness, and the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
Buddha, also known as Gautama Buddha, was the founder of Buddhism and is considered as one of the greatest spiritual leaders in history.
Buddha's teachings are based on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which emphasize on the attainment of enlightenment and the cessation of suffering.
Buddha's life is divided into three major stages - his early life as a prince, his spiritual quest and enlightenment, and his teachings and establishment of Buddhism.
Buddha's teachings have had a profound impact on various aspects of Indian culture, including art, literature, and philosophy.
Buddha's teachings have also had a significant impact on other countries in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia and East Asia, where Buddhism is still widely practiced today.
The images and depictions of Buddha in art are characterized by his peaceful and serene countenance, with elongated earlobes and a topknot of hair.
The most common postures of Buddha in art are the meditative posture or the "Bhumisparsha mudra" (earth-touching gesture), which represents his enlightenment and victory over ignorance.
The symbolism of Buddha has also been used in modern times to represent various ideas such as inner peace, mindfulness, and the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
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