Joseph Campbell on Fame and the Hero

If you have a mentor, hero, guru, master, guide, coach or wisdom teacher this blog was written with you in mind. Many of the guests that come to the Catskills B & B are looking for something. They are seekers.

We live in a world of polarities; the Polarities of living, the yin and yang of all things, the duality that defines our existence. All of these lead us to create extremely positive and extremely negative figures to worship and loathe. There are even secular slang terms to address these patterns – “He is Christ-Like” for instance, or “he is the anti-Christ. Have you embraced the hero or heroine within you?

This pattern permeates our culture in ways never imagined. Now it is common for people to be famous for doing nothing and being nothing other than famous. Cultural patterns are so persuasive that it is hard to find a person not concerned with the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Movie Stars, Super models, Rock Stars, Gurus, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, the next heir to the British Monarchy or some other individual to put on a pedestal and create larger than life myths about. Often these myths are unrelated to anything these people might have accomplished or represent.

Likewise, many people focus on Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Marcos, and Idi Amin and vilify them as a character of evil without exploring the complexity of their behaviors.

All this attention around fame, deification and demonization is superficial and acts as an obstruction for an individual on the Wisdom Path. Worshipping a Master, Sage or Guru or any spiritual teacher numbs us to the subtleties and complexities of one’s Wisdom Practice and to living life fully. There certainly are people in the world whose heroism or wisdom seems almost saint-like. There are others have committed evil, unspeakable acts. But these individuals usually have complex histories and influences that made them who they were and caused them to behave the way they did.

In one’s Wisdom Practice it is so important that one transcends the desire to deify and demonize others. This is done by remembering that we are all in one way or another on the Path. What all great people and evil doers have in common is that they are human. All humans have positive aspects and negative aspects. As evil as the reviled may be, the best among our heroes will have their own flaws. Even the greatest among us have expressed self-doubt, gotten fatigued, and were at times cruel and harsh while doing great works. Deification and demonization serves no one’s interests.

I’m not saying that it is not important to have a teacher, mentor or master on this path. Rather, I believe it is essential to have this type of guide. It is important to appreciate heroes and heroines for what they have risked and have accomplished. It is also important to keep in mind that in every journey there is undoubtedly some fear and darkness transcended. That is what makes our heroes special–that they have struggled with all that it is to be human and achieved greatness and wisdom by transcending the ordinary and darker impulses. This is the best of reasons to model someone’s being – not their fame.

When you meet a great teacher it is likely that you are speaking with someone who has transcended dark struggles and obstacles of one type or another. Some of the best among us have been victims of poor choices, including extreme moral and ethical lapses, substance abuse, heavy drinking, bigotry either explicit or implicit, sexism, racism, and a host of other isms. Some were tortured souls torn emotionally apart by various ambivalences and internal conflicts. Being a Master, Sage, visionary or a hero does not come without a price.

In the early stages the serious seeker on the Wisdom Path will find it confusing and upsetting to hear of the flaws of one’s hero or role model or teacher. It may pain us to read that our heroes are less than heroic in various aspects of their lives but that does not necessarily diminish or erase the contribution or contributions they can make for you..

Progress after all is a sluggish snail-like crawl to greater wisdom and self-knowledge. Some of our greatest teachers were deeply flawed during the early stages of their lives and their greatness comes from transcending these challenges. These controversial, flawed individuals are who they are. They may have said something at some time that was offensive or insensitive or done something that seems in hindsight to be unforgivable. Remember, the Wisdom path is not a program for Sainthood or hero worship. It is an exploration of personal transformation and self-actualization, among other things.

In order to build a strong practice one must understand intuitively the role of the Master or teacher. What is the most effective way to follow the example of a hero or someone we wish to mirror and model? Whatever you do, do not worship your heroes. Do not demonize the madman. Use them as an example of what you might accomplish as well as an example of what level your dark side may drag you to if your intentions are not of the highest level.

In the Zen, Monasteries and in many ashrams when teachers were deified rumors that would automatically spread magical claims, what is often called smoke and mirrors. In addition, a great Master might name a successor and this successor might behave badly or be a poor example of the teachings being transmitted.

In the end a great master of the Wisdom Path is driven not just by wisdom but by a sense of kindness and compassion

An Ancient Parable-Style Kōan is The Moon Cannot Be Stolen, from the Collection of Stone and Sand:

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.”

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryoken sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon.”

Here is a short 4 minute video of Joseph Campbell speaking on some of these issues.

Lewis Harrison, is the author of the ebook “That was Zen, This is Tao”. He is a speaker, consultant, and Contemporary Spiritual Teacher and is a pioneer in the personal development movement The author of nine self help books on human potential he offers a monthly retreat/seminar “How to Solve Any Problem”. He also and phone based coaching. He is creating a series of ebooks entitled “Ask Lewis…” which will be available on line

Lewis offers phone-based and on-line life coaching services and created the course on Life Strategies – a simple system for decision making based on Game Theory, the idea expanded on by John Nash, the Nobel Prize winning subject of the biopick “A Beautiful Mind”.

He also offers corporate stress management programs through

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