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Oriental Mythology: The Masks of God, Volume II [Paperback]

Joseph Campbell
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 3 1992 Masks of God (Book 2)
An exploration of Eastern mythology as it developed into the distinctive religions of Egypt, India, China, and Japan.

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Review

"It is impossible to read this startling and entertaining book without an enlarged sense of total human possibility and an increased receptivity—'open-endedness' as Thomas Mann called it—to the still living past."
—Robert Gorham Davis

About the Author

Joseph Campbell was interested in mythology since his childhood in New York, when he read books about American Indians, frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History, and was fascinated by the museum's collection of totem poles. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Columbia in 1925 and 1927 and went on to study medieval French and Sanskrit at the universities of Paris and Munich. After a period in California, where he encountered John Steinbeck and the biologist Ed Ricketts, he taught at the Canterbury School, then, in 1934, joined the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College, a post he retained for many years. During the 1940s and '50s, he helped Swami Nikhilananda to translate the Upanishads and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. The many books by Professor Campbell include The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Myths to Live By, The Flight of the Wild Gander, and The Mythic Image. He edited The Portable Arabian Nights, The Portable Jung, and other works. He died in 1987.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The myth of eternal return, which is still basic to Oriental life, displays an order of fixed forms that appear and reappear through all time. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Masks of God#2 Oriental Mythology. April 8 2011
Format:Paperback
Joseph Campbell writes with wisdom and understanding. His comprehension of his subject and his writing style make the book an interesting read, informative, and enjoyable as well. It shows also that ancient mythology in different countries has many common denominators. Doris Mae Honer..Author, A Tale of Spirit: Yours, Mine, and Lessons from the Universe.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Inscrutable Orient is Explained Oct. 3 2003
Format:Paperback
In this second volume of the "Mask" Trilogy, Campbell has moved from the perhistorical to historical. There is and has always been a great divide between the Occident and the Orient on matters of faith and Campbell thinks this has a lot to do with the mythical origins underlying all cultures and religions. Oddly, he begins in Egypt which eventually approached the Occidental viewpoint. But it is in the deserts of that ancient land that we begin with the ideas being set by the changeless seasons and the Nile.
Next a study of Buddhist, Hindu and other Oriental religions is undertaken. Somewhere along the line, East and West diverged on the issue of religious thought. One might say that Oriental belief systems harken back to the primitive in that multiple gods, representing various emotions, objects or ideas, were the norm. This was the way of ancient Greece and Egypt but both societies soon "evolved" toward a semi-monotheism or gave life to sects (ancient Judaism) that adopted the single god notion.
Of the three, this book was the hardest to comprehend, perhaps due to the foreign names. Still, it is a testament to the monumental research and innovative ideas of the author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Orient Feb. 17 2002
Format:Paperback
In this book Campbell has covered the entire field
from Ancient Egypt via pre-Buddhist, Buddhist & post-Buddhist
India to China, Japan & Tibet.
Apart from a multitude of references, citations and amusing
legends illustrating his nominal concern (Mythologies)-the
center of this book (a part of "The Masks of God" tetralogy)
lies elsewhere. Essentailly, all Campbell's work (and "Oriental
Mythology", with its chapter 1 "Signatures of the four great
domains", is a particularly good example) is a predominantly
Jungian (with a few Freudian insights assimilated) comparative
analysis of the dominant traditional mindsets.
For instance, he sharply differentiates between two
"Western" archetypes (Jung again) & "loyalties":
1.Promethean hero-the Greco-Roman legacy
of ever-expanding and conquering being
2.Job-the Levantine legacy transmuted into Christianity
Or, "Eastern" loyalties of:
3.Yogi- ascetic absorbed in transcosmic cataleptic trance, as the "trademark" of India
4.Sage-essentially the Chinese ideal of harmony ("flowing" with Tao, or realizing
one's tao in society (Confucians))
Be as it may, this is a treasure trove of ideas, associations & insights.
I haven't encountered any richer or profounder work of late.
And, as a ghastly surprise, book ends with factual report on Chinese
communist invasion of Tibet (mutilations, castrations, sterilizations,
public executions & humiliations), as all the horrors from the "Bardo Thodhol"
have descended on our earthly reality. A horrendous reminder that
mythologies are not dead, dated nor irrelevant.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing grace Oct. 18 2000
Format:Paperback
This is the most impressive book I've ever read about mythology.Just buy it, and let it introduce you in a new world,full of spiritual knowledge.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy reading Nov. 3 2003
By Erika Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is a massive summary, comparison of, and commentary on oriental mythology. It is divided into 3 major parts: Western Oriental mythology, Indian mythology, and the mythologies of the Far East. Campbell's incredible scholarship is very impressive, and rather overwhelming at times. He obviously had a great familiarity with the mythologies and religions of practically all areas of the planet. However, his explanations for general readers of foreign mythologies weren't always clear, as evidenced in this book. Much of this book focuses on developing the idea that Oriental mythologies had one major origin, in the Egypt of the Pharaohs. According to Campbell, traces of the religion and mythologies of the Pharaohs, as well as implements of their material culture, could subsequently be found in every major culture heading eastward, from Persia to India, from China to Japan.
This idea is not exactly clear in the beginning of the work, and the initial chapters about the Pharaohs start with a jerk, leaving some readers wondering "Why start here, so far west?" The idea is stated more and more explicitly as the book progresses, so that by the time we reach the Chinese section, Campbell writes about the "primacy of the West-to-East cultural flow". Later in the same section, Campbell writes "the question of the impact of sentiments and ideas carried from one domain to another, which is basic to our study, is ...well illustrated by the annals of the settlement of Buddhism in China..." Is there really enough evidence to support the idea of a single common mythology that spread from West to East? Is this theory accepted by modern specialists in mythology? A reader who comes to this book independently of a class or other mythology background can only speculate on these questions.
Campbell does a masterful job of laying out similarities across cultures, such as his description of the "archetypal Savior Biography", where he lists the following elements (among others):
--scion of a royal line
--miraculously born
--amid supernatural phenomena
--of whom an aged holy man prophesies a world-saving message
--whose childhood deeds proclaim his divine character
--engages in arduous forest disciplines
--which confront him with a supernatural adversary
He points out that this list applies to the Jains, Buddhists, as well as Christians, and, if I read him correctly, presents it as one piece of evidence for linkage between Western and Oriental mythologies.
The lucidity of Campbell's descriptions and summaries of myths vary. Sometimes he quotes stories or myths at great length. But other times, he passes over the details quickly with such statements as "We need not rehearse the legends of his miraculous birth..." in his haste to get to commentary about the stories in question. For newcomers to the topic, this can be somewhat of a disappointment, since the commentaries are difficult to understand if one is not already familiar with the stories, and it is to learn about the stories themselves that some readers pick up this book. The book itself seems to have developed from Campbell's notes. Thus, there is considerable explicit enumeration of points, as well as the occasional sentence fragment. This style of writing requires very active study from a reader who is determined to wrestle the kernel of meaning from Campbell's words.
The one disappointing chapter was the chapter on Tibet, which actually includes only a few paragraphs about the mythology of Tibet. The remainder of the chapter is a brief collection of ideas from Maoist communism, juxtaposed with stories of atrocities during the Chinese takeover of Tibet. While the story of Tibet is indeed extremely lamentable, perhaps these details would better fit in a political description of Tibet in order to make more room for an overview of Tibetan mythology.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uneven but fascinating commentary June 1 2006
By K.S.Ziegler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Oriental Mythology" is the second in the "Masks of God" series, the follow up to "Primitive Mythology". It covers more of the mind boggling extent of humankind's mythic past, material that is the basis for religion and philosophy. Campbell presents all sorts of details from artifacts dug up by archeologists and some rather long-winded quoted passages. Much of it is rather uneven and challenging to follow, but the payoff is usually Campbell's own commentary which often uses a soaring language to elucidate, to associate and connect different myths of different cultures.

The especially fascinating part of the book for me concerns the mystery of how yoga philosophy and practice came into being and evolved as it did to different forms such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Yoga philosophy defines a very different state of being than the Abrahamic tradition of the West. It does not situate humankind in a state of sin and guilt, stranded in a corrupt world, alienated from a transcendent God; but rather, in a state of ignorance with knowledge as the key to escaping from inevitable suffering caused by the delusion of living in a material world. The ancient civilization in the Indus Valley contains seeds of it's development, but it is far from clear just how it developed and what role the Aryans, who invaded and plundered India, played. In any event, Campbell concludes "tentatively" that yoga is "indigenous" to India.

The many different forms and manifestations of Buddhism follow from the ancient yoga tradition of asceticism. The book is not an good introduction to Buddhism, and it can be difficult to distinguish between the many sects and their different metaphysics and practices. It's influence burgeoned and then waned in India, but spread throughout the Far East, and combined with the Native nature religions of Tao in China and Shinto in Japan. Though Buddhism in whatever form mainly involves a turning away from the affairs of the world, from what is shown here, it has hardly ever failed to provide a civilizing influence.

I have to echo some of the criticisms of other reviewers. The inclusion of a chapter on ancient Egypt and also a section on the hieratic city states of Mesopotamia do not go the way of clarifying how Oriental myth grew as it did. The organization of the book would have been a lot more straightforward if he had gone directly from the introduction, in which Campbell compares East with West, to ancient India and directly to the mysteries of the Orient. He seeks to trace the influence of Egypt and Mesopotamia to the East, but the influences are so scattered and so relative, that it would have been better to have stuck with India, China, and Japan. Also, the final section on Tibet, although illuminating, departs in large measure from the subject matter.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Review For the Series Entire (& a Brief Review of This Volume) Dec 24 2006
By Unmoved Mover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A Myth is not a lie, but, like Art, a rendering of Truth. Subsequently, religion is the extension of myth through ritual. Despite the titles, these texts are as much about religion as myth, and the works are all the better for it. Campbell skillfully explores the Human experience, and what Man has made of it, over the course of these four seminal works. At times, one feels the influence of Toynbee, but Campbell has gone beyond the author of A Study of History and into a world all the more full of wonder.

Man is the most conscious participant in Nature, and, as the Image of God, the only creature capable of reshaping Nature according to his own interpretations of its meaning. These little shapings, which we call art, myth, religion, culture, and philosophy are the stuff a rich existence is made of.

Stated simply, this work dutifully charts the progress, derivations, and points of origin of these shapings. Campbell's prose is warm, friendly, compassionate, loving but stern, and creative. One could not ask for a better introduction to the Man's works.

Oriental Mythology is the second volume in the series, and probably the weakest. Campbell's familiarity with the subject is clear, but his ability to carefully balance his west-to-east/east-to-west thesis is a tad clumsy. The facts themselves are illuminating, as are his deductions, but the volume itself seems slightly awkward compared to the other three volumes. Don't start your reading of Campbell's work with this volume. (NOTE: You might also consider reading Volume Three: Occidental Myth BEFORE reading this volume. Such a reading might clue you into Campbell's style before delving into the depths of Oriental mythology.)

For those not familiar with some of the artistic themes discussed in this and other works, Campbell's Mythic Image (Illustrated Edition) makes a strong companion.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Orient Feb. 17 2002
By Mir Harven - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In this book Campbell has covered the entire field
from Ancient Egypt via pre-Buddhist, Buddhist & post-Buddhist
India to China, Japan & Tibet.
Apart from a multitude of references, citations and amusing
legends illustrating his nominal concern (Mythologies)-the
center of this book (a part of "The Masks of God" tetralogy)
lies elsewhere. Essentailly, all Campbell's work (and "Oriental
Mythology", with its chapter 1 "Signatures of the four great
domains", is a particularly good example) is a predominantly
Jungian (with a few Freudian insights assimilated) comparative
analysis of the dominant traditional mindsets.
For instance, he sharply differentiates between two
"Western" archetypes (Jung again) & "loyalties":
1.Promethean hero-the Greco-Roman legacy
of ever-expanding and conquering being
2.Job-the Levantine legacy transmuted into Christianity
Or, "Eastern" loyalties of:
3.Yogi- ascetic absorbed in transcosmic cataleptic trance, as the "trademark" of India
4.Sage-essentially the Chinese ideal of harmony ("flowing" with Tao, or realizing
one's tao in society (Confucians))
Be as it may, this is a treasure trove of ideas, associations & insights.
I haven't encountered any richer or profounder work of late.
And, as a ghastly surprise, book ends with factual report on Chinese
communist invasion of Tibet (mutilations, castrations, sterilizations,
public executions & humiliations), as all the horrors from the "Bardo Thodhol"
have descended on our earthly reality. A horrendous reminder that
mythologies are not dead, dated nor irrelevant.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Make Things Clear... March 13 2012
By Matt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I'm writing this review as much in response to the other reviews as I am in response to the book itself. I feel the other reviews are misleading as to what this book is and what this book isn't.

First of all, please be aware that if you wish to read this book, clearly marked volume two, then it only makes logical sense to read volume one first. You will not understand this book if you do not read the first volume, Primitive Mythology, beforehand. It's that simple. Campbell weaves an ornate tapestry with this series, and you have to start from the beginning of the thread to see how it all weaves together. Moreover, he introduces many invaluable foundational concepts in the first book that he uses in the second book without redefining, because he's assuming that you read the first book. If you didn't, then that's your burden to bear, and not Campbell's.

Second, this is a difficult book. I'll just put it out there right now. If you're expecting an easy-to-follow textbook on the basic stories and myths of these cultures, then you're reading the wrong book. This book is not an enumeration of major myths, but rather an anthropological and philosophical analysis of the flow of concepts and ideas that gave birth to those major myths. This is not a book merely of "what," but also of "why" and "how." I'm not saying that you have to be familiar with every major myth of every culture before reading this wonderful series, but it does help to have at least a cursory understanding of the major religions and mythologies. Campbell does a great job of concisely relating the basic points of the myths he's discussing, so there's really nothing to worry about, but just be aware that you're not always going to get the play-by-play, and if you're looking for that, you should consult a different book.

Continuing with the fact that this is a difficult book, I will also say that the language and the arguments are quite advanced, so be prepared for a book that's intellectually challenging, rather than summer reading. You get the hang of it after a while, but definitely skim some pages of the book before buying, to see for yourself if you'd feel comfortable with the reading level of this book. Personally, I'm OK with reading it in just about any season, but maybe that's just me.

Now that I'm done ranting, I can get to the fun stuff. The biggest reason why you should read this series? It will change your life. It will reveal new histories and modes of thinking to you that you never thought existed. It will show you firsthand the story of humanity, in all its victories and tragedies, and more importantly, in all of its interconnectedness. All of mythology is different variations on the same theme, as Campbell shows. You can also tell just from reading how excited Campbell is about the whole subject, and his sense of awe and wonder, present even after spending his entire life studying this strange story we call mythology, will definitely rub off on you. I've realized things about myself, about humanity, and about life that I never would have if I hadn't have read these books. Please, do yourself a favor and read these books, but just like the mythological hero as of old, proceed only if you're ready for the challenge and adventure! (And not to mention, if you're ready to buy volume one, first!)
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