A 12-Hour Eastern Spirituality Playlist: Features Lectures & Readings by Joseph Campbell, Christopher Isherwood, the Dalai Lama & Others


Krish­na teach­ing Arju­na, from the Bha­ga­va­ta Gita, by Arnab Dut­ta, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Open­ing with 19th cen­tu­ry British Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Disraeli’s quote, “The East is a career,” Edward Said’s Ori­en­tal­ism traced the lin­eage of “the Ori­ent” as “almost a Euro­pean inven­tion.” Through dis­cours­es sci­en­tif­ic, polit­i­cal, philo­soph­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and oth­er­wise, Euro­pean thinkers, artists, and states­men, Said con­tend­ed, “accept­ed the basic dis­tinc­tion between East and West as the start­ing point for elab­o­rate the­o­ries, epics, nov­els, social descrip­tions and polit­i­cal accounts.” But at the root of a long aca­d­e­m­ic tra­di­tion of com­par­a­tive analy­ses of “East” and “West,”—a rela­tion­ship of dominance—there lay the recog­ni­tion, how­ev­er dim, that “The Ori­ent is not only adja­cent to Europe; it is also… the source of its civ­i­liza­tions and lan­guages.”

The cul­tur­al debts that Europe owed its colonies were not the kind of thing most politi­cians liked to dis­cuss, but many Euro­pean and U.S. writ­ers and schol­ars fas­ci­nat­ed with the East have long rec­og­nized reli­gious and philo­soph­i­cal con­ti­nu­ities between the two hemi­spheres. The num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions between so-called West­ern and East­ern tra­di­tions only increased as the 20th cen­tu­ry wore on and Euro­pean Empires crum­bled, giv­ing rise mid-cen­tu­ry to a whole soci­ety of com­par­a­tive East/West reli­gion­ists and writ­ers: D.T. Suzu­ki, Alan Watts, Her­man Hesse, Aldous Hux­ley, Allen Gins­berg.… Although many West­ern schol­ars’ pro­nounce­ments may have over­gen­er­al­ized or dis­tort­ed, inter­est in a dia­logue has only grown since the 50s and 60s, and sym­pa­thet­ic pre­sen­ta­tions of Bud­dhism, Tao­ism, Hin­duism, and oth­er “East­ern reli­gions” pro­lif­er­at­ed.

From this atmos­phere emerged the work of Joseph Camp­bell, famous for The Hero with a Thou­sand Faces, pub­lished in 1949, a work of com­par­a­tive reli­gion that adopt­ed a philo­log­i­cal approach to myth like that of Campbell’s own hero, Niet­zsche. Camp­bell may have seen East and West as dis­tinct cul­tur­al entities—titling one lec­ture “The East­ern Way” and anoth­er “The West­ern Quest”—but his the­o­ry did not allow for a strict cul­tur­al hier­ar­chy. In his many record­ed lec­tures, Camp­bell stress­es the sim­i­lar­i­ties and com­mon ori­gins of world tra­di­tions, which inhab­it, he says, a “sin­gle con­stel­la­tion.” We have a few of those talks in full in the 12 hour Spo­ti­fy playlist on East­ern Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty above, includ­ing lec­tures on “Imagery of Rebirth Yoga” and “Hin­duism,” deliv­ered in the late six­ties.

We also have Christo­pher Ish­er­wood read­ing selec­tions from his trans­la­tion with Swa­mi Prab­ha­vanan­da of the Bha­gavad-Gita. Isherwood’s famed embrace of Vedan­ta did much to fos­ter inter-reli­gious dia­logue, and he left behind a “tremen­dous cache of self-rev­e­la­to­ry works,” writes Amer­i­can Vedan­tist, “includ­ing essays, lec­tures, nov­els, his diaries, and the auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal My Guru and His Dis­ci­ple.” Next to Camp­bell and Ish­er­wood, we have Tibetan Bud­dhist author­i­ty the Dalai Lama giv­ing an intro­duc­to­ry lec­ture on Bud­dhism and a talk on “Cul­ti­vat­ing Hap­pi­ness.” Round­ing out the playlist is anoth­er intro­duc­tion to Bud­dhism by Emma Hignett, a read­ing of the Tao te Ching, and a read­ing by Robert Hamil­ton of his fas­ci­nat­ing com­par­a­tive study of world reli­gions, Caduceus.

While each of us could, of course, take it upon our­selves to learn San­skrit, or Pali, or Chi­nese, trans­late ancient reli­gious lit­er­a­ture and draw our own con­clu­sions, we can also par­take of the work of schol­ars and writ­ers who have invest­ed deeply in their sub­ject, per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly, and returned with a great deal of wis­dom about glob­al spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tions. The lec­tures on this playlist (if you need Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here) offer an excel­lent sam­pling of that wis­dom and schol­ar­ship. You’ll find much more on our site in work by Jorge Luis Borges, Alan Watts, Robert Thur­man, the Dalai Lama, Her­bie Han­cock, Son­ny Rollins, Leonard Cohen, and many more.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Reli­gion Cours­es

Mar­tin Hei­deg­ger Talks Phi­los­o­phy with a Bud­dhist Monk on Ger­man Tele­vi­sion (1963)

The Wis­dom of Alan Watts in Four Thought-Pro­vok­ing Ani­ma­tions

The Dalai Lama’s Intro­duc­tion to Bud­dhism

48 Hours of Joseph Camp­bell Lec­tures Free Online: The Pow­er of Myth & Sto­ry­telling

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • dav ant bar says:

    More shame­less pro­mo­tion of Spo­ti­fy. It may be free in terms of mon­ey, but it involves the down­load and instal­la­tion of an app, giv­ing away per­son­al details to have an account and expo­sure to often irri­tat­ing adver­tis­ing. Not OPEN in any sense of the word. Very dis­ap­point­ed with openculture.COM about this.

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