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East vs. West - the Myths that Mystify November 1, 2009

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In this talk, Devdutt Pattanaik tells us about the myths of the East and of the West. He differentiates both and explains their points of view. He states that the differences in these beliefs constitute the difficulty we have in understanding one another.


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To understand the business of mythology and what a Chief Belief Officer is supposed to do, you have to hear a story of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is the scribe of storytellers, and his brother, the athletic warlord of the gods, Kartikeya. The two brothers one day decided to go on a race, three times around the world. Kartikeya leapt on his peacock and flew around the continents and the mountains and the oceans. He went around once, he went around twice, he went around thrice. But his brother, Ganesha, simply walked around his parents once, twice, thrice, and said, "I won." "How come?" said Kartikeya. And Ganesha said, "You went around 'the world.' I went around 'my world.'" What matters more?

If you understand the difference between 'the world' and 'my world' you understand the difference between logos and mythos. 'The world' is objective, logical, universal, factual, scientific. 'My world' is subjective. It's emotional. It's personal. It's perceptions, thoughts, feelings, dreams. It is the belief system that we carry. It's the myth that we live in.

'The world' tells us how the world functions, how the sun rises, how we are born. 'My world' tells us why the sun rises, why we were born. Every culture is trying to understand itself, "Why do we exist?" And every culture comes up with its own understanding of life, its own customized version of mythology.

Culture is a reaction to nature, and this understanding of our ancestors is transmitted generation from generation in the form of stories, symbols and rituals, which are always indifferent to rationality. And so, when you study it, you realize that different people of the world have a different understanding of the world. Different people see things differently: different viewpoints.

There is my world and there is your world, and my world is always better than your world, because my world, you see, is rational and yours is superstition, yours is faith, yours is illogical. This is the root of the clash of civilizations. It took place, once, in 326 B.C. on the banks of a river called the Indus, now in Pakistan. This river lends itself to India's name. India. Indus.

Alexander, a young Macedonian, met there what he called a "gymnosophist," which means "the naked, wise man." We don't know who he was. Perhaps he was a Jain monk, like Bahubali, over here, the Gomateshwara Bahubali whose image is not far from Mysore. Or perhaps he was just a yogi, who was sitting on a rock, staring at the sky, and the sun, and the moon.

Alexander asked, "What are you doing?" and the gymnosophist answered, "I'm experiencing nothingness." Then the gymnosophist asked, "What are you doing?" and Alexander said, "I am conquering the world." And they both laughed. Each one thought that the other was a fool. The gymnosophist said, "Why is he conquering the world? It's pointless." And Alexander thought, "Why is he sitting around, doing nothing? What a waste of a life."

To understand this difference in viewpoints we have to understand the subjective truth of Alexander: his myth, and the mythology that constructed it. Alexander's mother, his parents, his teacher Aristotle told him the story of Homer's "Iliad." They told him of a great hero called Achilles, who, when he participated in battle, victory was assured, but when he withdrew from the battle, defeat was inevitable. "Achilles was a man who could shape history, a man of destiny, and this is what you should be, Alexander." That's what he heard.

"What should you not be? You should not be Sisyphus, who rolls a rock up a mountain all day only to find the boulder rolled down at night. Don't live a life which is monotonous, mediocre, meaningless. Be spectacular! -- like the Greek heroes, like Jason, who went across the sea with the Argonauts and fetched the golden fleece. Be spectacular like Theseus, who entered the labyrinth and killed the bull-headed Minotaur. When you play in a race, win! -- because when you win, the exhilaration of victory is the closest you will come to the ambrosia of the gods."

Because, you see, the Greeks believed you live only once and when you die, you have to cross the River Styx, and if you have lived an extraordinary life, you will be welcomed to Elysium, or what the French call "Champs-

Courtesy of TED

Martin Luther King Jr.: Rediscovering Lost Values

February 28, 1954 (over 66 years ago)

Martin Luther King delivered this sermon at the pulpit of the Second Baptist Church in Detroit. He urges the people to retrace their steps and go back to retrieve lost values that are important in making a better world. He reiterates the taken for granted truth that everything is anchored to morality and spiritual laws - both of which are God-centered processes.

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Source: Baptist Press

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East vs. West - the Myths that Mystify- November 1, 2009

- Devdutt Pattanaik
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