I spent a few hours this weekend reading Joseph Campbell’s Baksheesh and Brahman, which is Campbell’s journals from a year in India from 1954-55 (I’m now about a third of the way through). Campbell writes that he went to India to find Brahman and instead found politics. He approached his visit from the perspective of a mythologist. In contrast to Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, who went to India to find God, Joseph Campbell went to observe religious practices. Although the journals evidence his own perspective and prejudices, he makes cogent observations on the difference between religiosity and spirituality (not all that dissimilar to the distinctions made in the Bhagavad Gita about the difference between rigidly practicing ritual and truly believing). He also makes very interesting and still timely and cogent comparisons between the relationship of Hinduism and to the then rather new Indian nationalism and American Protestantism to democracy.
Ultimately, though, it is evident that this year was important for Campbell’s life path and work, as it was for the Beats, and has been for many of my friends who have gone, though not for all. I think about going to India. It will be when I have several weeks and don’t have a venerable and ancient cat who cannot be left behind for a long stretch of time. In the meantime, reading of such journeys can stimulate thought and can be applied to other aspects of my life, though reading and studying (especially in the yoga tradition), is never a substitute for experience. Just reading of spiritual experiences, but not doing the practices to open the door to one’s own experience is like reading cooking or gardening books, but never going into the kitchen or the garden.