Posted by: religionthink | April 4, 2008

The Battle Within: Embarking On The Hero’s Journey.

The Battle Within: Embarking On The Hero’s Journey.

By: A. D. Wayman

It is interesting for sure on what sort of situation people find themselves in when they realize they are caught in the metaphor and either wile embarking on a mission or finding themselves in the middle of one. Here we will view such an example from Hindu, Judaism and Christianity. Each responds in a different way and each will count the costs of embarking on the Hero’s journey some will be successful and others will not, but all will in the end learn from the experience. Such a journey can be a fair and foul thing.

One of my favorite lines written in the Juan Mascaro’s english translation of the Bahagavad Gita publish by Penguin Classics starts as follows

“On the field of Truth, on the battle-field of life, what came to pass, Sanjaya, when my sons and their warriors faced those of my brother Pandu.”

It seems that all such battles with-in start in such a way and here even at the start of the first lines of the Gita it takes us directly to the place where conflicts arise. Arjuna, sitting between the two lines of friends and family on both sides and one looks this way and that across the divide and falls into despair. For one realizes that the mission you were consumed by or found yourself on will cause great consequences for everyone who meet on such a field. In 1:28-29 of the text we can feel the distress of Arjuna at being in the center of such a conflict, a conflict that we may have found ourselves in at some point in our lives.

“When Arjuna thus saw his kinsmen face to face in both lines of battle, he was overcome by grief and despair and thus he spoke with a sinking heart. When I see all my Kinsmen, Krishna, who have come here on this field of battle, Life goes from my limbs and they sink, and my mouth is sear and dry: a trembling overcomes my body, and my hair shudders in horror.”1

Jumping across the spectrum of heroes we find a text about one who seems something other then such, but it speaks volumes on the different reaction to the journey and the trials that face us. Unlike Arjuna, who is distressed and finds himself in the middle of a conflict we find one who decides that running might be an option. Even though he runs, he is still consumed and is forced to take the journey. The task at hand was only delayed for a short time. In the account of Jonah, from the Hebrew Tanakh, we read of the distress of Jonah from the belly of the Whale that again many of us have found our selves in at some point in our lives. Whether it is represented as death or a whale in literature, it is a long, hard, dark, and frightening path to walk.

“Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish. He said: In my trouble I called to the LORD, And He answered me; From the belly of Sheol I cried out, And You heard my voice. You cast me into the depths, Into the heart of the sea, The floods engulfed me; All Your breakers and billows Swept over me. I thought I was driven away Out of Your sight: Would I ever gaze again Upon Your holy Temple? The waters closed in over me, The deep engulfed me. Weeds twined around my head. I sank to the base of the mountains; The bars of the earth closed upon me forever. Yet You brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God! When my life was ebbing away, I called the LORD to mind; And my prayer came before You, Into Your holy Temple. They who cling to empty folly Forsake their own welfare, But I, with loud thanksgiving, Will sacrifice to You; What I have vowed I will perform. Deliverance is the LORD’s” Jonah 2:1-9 NJPS-TNK

And as we know from this beautiful piece of literature Jonah then completes his mission, although he is unhappy with the results, which in its self might be a great lesson about what, or how we interpret the outcome of our journeys. It may not always make us happy or turn out the way one expects.

Crossing into more modern times we come to the beginning of the text Dante’s Inferno.

“Midway the path of life that men pursue

I found me in a darkling wood astray,

For the direct way had been lost to view.

Ah me, how hard a thing it is to say

What was this thorny wildwood intricate

Whose memory renews the first dismay!

Scarcely in death is bitterness more great:

But as concerns the good discovered there

The other things I saw will I relate.

In the midway of this our mortal life,

I found me in a gloomy wood, astray

Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,

It were no easy task, how savage wild

That forest, how robust and rough its growth,

Which to remember only, my dismay

Renews, in bitterness not far from death.

Yet, to discourse of what there good befel,

All else will I relate discover’d there.” 2

Many other texts would qualify for such a place here, the Epic of Baal, the Decent of Ishtar, the Decent of Ra, the Odyssey of Homer and many more. What is interesting about Dante however as he presses on to the lower depths, he seemingly becomes less and less afraid of the horrible sights he encounters. Possibly he is becoming immune to the horrors of the under world and is becoming desensitized to its horrors? We find a moving passage near the end of the epic poem when Dante climes out of the pit, after scaling Satan himself. Which at times is where such a journey might lead us.

“I clipp’d him round the neck; for so he bade:

And noting time and place, he, when the wings

Enough were oped, caught fast the shaggy sides,

And down from pile to pile descending stepp’d

Between the thick fell and the jagged ice.

Soon as he reach’d the point, whereat the thigh

Upon the swelling of the haunches turns,

My leader there, with pain and struggling hard,

Turn’d round his head where his feet stood before,

And grappled at the fell as one who mounts;

That into Hell methought we turn’d again.”3

And finally we read of the assent into light, the end of the journey.

“To the fair world: and heedless of repose

We climb’d, he first, I following his steps,

Till on our view the beautiful lights of Heaven

Dawn’d through a circular opening in the cave:

Thence issuing we again beheld the stars.” 4

In other literature some heroes are not so lucky and neither are those heroes in the here and now. Each one of us will have a different outcome; each will have a different wars, whales, or Satans to scale. Some never return and we who are left behind only can say they were brave enough to at least start such an epic journey and be inspired by such acts of heroic deeds. Others after having gone so far to find what we are looking far have it stolen along the way such as in the text of Gilgamesh when the serpent steals the plant of everlasting life. But no matter the outcome we may all be heroes one way or another. But we first have to start the journey.

  1. Mascara, Juan. The Bhagavad Gita. Penguin Classics, New York, NY 1962.
  2. Cary, Henery F. The Divine Comedy of Dante. Canto I
  3. Cary, Henery F. The Divine Comedy of Dante. Canto 34
  4. Cary, Henery F. The Divine Comedy of Dante. Canto 34

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