By Joseph Campbell: “The idea of the reincarnating principle is thus of two orders:

first, the reincarnating principle that puts on bodies and puts them off as the Moon puts on and puts off its light body; and the other is that principle of sheer light that never dies, the light that is incarnate and immanent in all.

“Now one of the aims of all of the high-culture religions on the Oriental side of the line is to realize one’s own identity with that solar light.

“Once, when I was teaching a lecture hall full of teenage boys, I was struggling to find a metaphor that would make sense of this idea. I looked up for inspiration, and there it was. I asked the boys to look up at the lights on the ceiling. Each bulb carries the light. We can think of this totality as many bulbs; this is the lunar world of multiple entities. On the other hand, we can focus on the one light that emanates from all the bulbs. This is the solar consciousness. What are we focusing on, the light or the lights? Which way of looking at things is correct? If one bulb breaks, we take it out and put in another one––is it the bulb that’s important or is it the light? Then I said to the boys, ‘Now I look down here and I see all your heads like bulbs and within them is consciousness. What’s important: this particular head or the consciousness that’s in it?’

“If we are interested in the bulb, in the head, we are affirming the individual. In Japanese the world of individuals is called the ‘ji-hōkai,’ or ‘individual universe,’ and the world of the one light is called the ‘ri-hōkai,’ or ‘one universe.’ These are simply two different ways of talking about the same thing. The goal of religions in the east is to get you to shift your focus from the phenomenal to the transcendent. So that you identify yourself not with the bulb, the head, the body, but with the consciousness, and when you have identified yourself with the consciousness, you have identified yourself with solar existence, what Kant called the noumenal world, and you were never born and will never die.”

Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p.14
(courtesy of the Joseph Campbell Foundation)
Source: Joseph Campbell