Upon making it through the father’s trials and becoming one with the father (or atonement with the father), the hero breaks through the threshold that separates time from eternity. He sees them as two sides of the same thing: time and no-time. This essentially opens his eyes to the experience of non-duality. Apotheosis means elevation to divine status, and it’s the experience of nirvana or enlightenment.
Spirit Is Love
In this section, Campbell gives an extensive discussion of religious intolerance that sounds mostly very modern (except when he refers to psychoanalysis). Violence and hate based on differences of worldview, beliefs, practices, or indeed anything are acts of blindness. They ignore the fundamental core of human existence, which is rooted in that “umbilical point” that the hero transcends.
The good news, which the World Redeemer [one form of the hero] brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealous to preach, but reluctant, apparently, to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children.
Campbell quotes Ramakrishna in saying that different religious paths exist because different paths appeal to different people. Ramakrishna also reminds us that the path isn’t the Divine. “Indeed, one can reach God if one follows any of the paths with whole hearted devotion.”
Campbell feels that the messages in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures are so over-laden with aggressive combativeness that the message that Spirit is love can only clearly be heard in Buddhism. We are all Spirit, and the meeting with the father makes us realize this. Whomever we hurt, we’re really hurting ourselves and the divine Spirit.
We’re born into a world of duality such as male/female, me/not-me, good/evil, and joy/pain. Uniting with the father and experiencing apotheosis takes the hero (and us) beyond duality. The world no longer becomes as black-and-white as it’s always been.
This is perhaps more difficult for us in the West to really understand. We’re used to being taught that evil can be annihilated by following some doctrine. To hold in our minds the idea that good and evil are of the same nature is very strange.
Campbell tells us that this concept is represented in myths by the androgynous god. We even have this in the Old Testament. The Midrash (Hebrew commentary) tells us that Adam was androgynous, and Campbell tells us that when Eve was created, this was essentially the transformation from non-duality to duality.
Duality is useful to us in everyday life. It’s one of the ways we sift through information and acquire knowledge. A thing can often be better understood through its opposite. For instance, when I tutor students on definition essays, I remind them that a good way to explain to someone what peace (for example) is is to explain what it’s not.
But spiritually, duality divides us from each other. When we’re born, we don’t have a good concept of what’s us and not-us. It takes time for our brain to understand the boundaries that mark our bodies and more time to identify our likes, dislikes, values, and so forth. All of this is natural and healthy. But once we start to gain power over our actions, this duality can cause serious destruction in the world on a large and small scale (as we well know). Seeing beyond that simplistic duality of me/not-me leads to greater social harmony because we can feel the suffering of others as our own.
Even seeing beyond the duality of good and evil can help us rise to a higher level of consciousness. It goes along with the acceptance of joy and suffering we learned in the meeting with the goddess and acceptance of the creativity and destruction in atonement with the father. In the material world, both exist and help us understand what the other is.
As two sides of the same coin, we can fully understand how easy it is to go one way or another. It’s as easy to be kind and encouraging to someone over whom we have authority as it is to be over-critical and put them down (and thus elevate our Ego). When we think of this as a choice, we understand the power we really have in bringing harmony or destruction into our lives.
In discussing apotheosis, Campbell writes about nirvana or enlightenment because the experiences are one and the same. In nirvana, we give up desire, hostility (or death), and delusion. These are again strange concepts for Westerners to appreciate sometimes. Our culture is built on desire (accomplishment, achievement, goals). Our culture is also built on competition or one-upping those around us. Though not necessarily hostile, it nevertheless separates us from each other and places us against each other. Nirvana breaks through the delusion of material existence and makes all that we think is true fall away.
Some heroes remain in a state of bliss for all eternity. Others, however, relinquish paradise and return to the world they left to pass on what they learned. Those who return to the world to function, however, aren’t the same. Because their eyes have been opened to the true nature of existence, life on earth also becomes nirvana. They experience what Campbell calls “the identity of eternity and time.” In other words, they see the eternal in the world of time and live within the eternal moment, not within time.
Campbell writes that within all of us is a memory of bliss (Paradise). The story of the Garden of Eden is just one version of a myth where time comes out of eternity (the one becomes two and then many). At the end of the Hero’s Journey, the hero essentially remembers that blissful state by returning to eternity or choosing to return to the world of time but always aware now of eternity underlying it.
The goal of the Hero’s Journey is not to find and unite with the Divine; it’s to remember that he himself is divine. The desire and fear that pops up in myths towards the goal the hero is pursuing is really towards the realization of his divinity. The Hero’s Journey is about going from ignorance to knowledge of our divinity.
Campbell also refers to apotheosis as the second birth. This is the birth into eternity. We’re first born through the Great Mother into the world of time. Upon atonement with the father, we’re born through the father into the world of eternity.
The wise realize, even within this womb [of time], that they have come from and are returning to the father; while the very wise know that she [the Great Mother] and he [the father] are in substance one.
This goes back to the concept of duality/non-duality. Time emerged from eternity and is thus eternity in another form. Likewise, the world of time (the material world in which we live) is another form of eternity (which we re-enter upon death). Apotheosis/nirvana/the second birth is the true understanding of this spiritual truth.
In spite of the spiritual nature of this section, I can also see a practical application when we view the Hero’s Journey as a journey of change. Real change always involves suffering, which opens the heart to the experience of others. Even something that’s meant to take us from a static situation to one of greater potential involves hardship (getting a degree, changing jobs, moving to a new place, etc.) because it tears away our security blanket and opens us up to a wider worldview. Along the way, we’re made vulnerable, and in turn we understand that kind of vulnerability better.
I remember reading an essay from an ESL (English as a Second Language) student. She had to talk about how she gives in her life. She was in her second year of college and had completed ESL English courses from the first year. She tutored first-year ESL students in this course because, she said, she understood how difficult it was for these students in all of their classes because of the language barrier. On her Hero’s Journey to a new country, a new culture, and a degree, her worldview had opened up to admit empathy for others who were further behind on the same Hero’s Journey.
Apotheosis, then, is not only unity with the Divine (although it’s certainly that). It’s also unity with all of humanity and all of nature. It brings a deeper understanding of what’s really important in life and moves us beyond superficial separation. And that, ultimately, is better for the world.