“Mythology, literature, and folklores often share a common theme: the protagonist embarking on a quest, facing challenges, and achieving transformative victory. Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero with A Thousand Faces’ describes this as the hero’s journey – a cyclical adventure of self-discovery. Religious texts echo this, depicting figures like Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad on journeys driven by purpose, testing faith in deserts and gaining revelations.
Hindu mythology presents Rama and Buddha, who made sacrifices for honor and enlightenment. Bahá’u’lláh, founder of Baha’i Faith, endured opposition while spreading unity. Prophets, despite divine roles, learned from mistakes and challenges. Buddha found ‘The Middle Way’ through experiences, while Confucius discovered wisdom in rejection.
Life’s essence lies in its journey, not the uncertain destination of birth and death. Prophets’ trials teach us to navigate our own paths. Personal development arises from overcoming inner doubts and fears. The hero’s journey transcends external obstacles, guiding us to become our best selves.”
Mythology, literature, and folklores often share a common motif about the protagonist of the story embarking on a quest, facing challenges and ultimately achieving a transformative victory.
Joseph Campbell in his book ‘The Hero with A Thousand Faces’ refers to ‘the hero’s journey’ as a cyclical journey that involves setting out from home to go on an adventure of truth-seeking and self-discovery, only to return right back where we started, but with greater knowledge to share with others.
Many religious texts contain similar stories of prophets and central religious figures who, driven by a sense of purpose, were willing to go against their own self interest to embark on the hero’s journey in order to fulfill their destiny.
The thirst for answers led Moses, Jesus as well as Mohammad, into the wilderness of the desert where their faith was tested and rewarded with awe inspiring divine revelations. They went through internal purification and transformation to perform tasks beyond the capability of others raised with similar backgrounds. Moses led one of the biggest Exodus in human history delivering Israelites out of the bondage of the Egyptian Pharaoh to the promised land. Jesus sacrificed himself paving the way for salvation for others. His resurrection was a symbolic representation of the hero’s ultimate triumph over death and transformation into a higher being offering a message of hope to his followers. The life of Prophet Mohammad also included many of the elements of the classic hero’s journey described by Joseph Campbell. He too faced significant opposition spreading the message of Allah but eventually established Islam as a major world religion.
Hindu mythology is full of the classic hero’s journey archetypes as well. Lord Rama, willingly went to live in the forest for 14 years to uphold the honor of his father’s vow instead of agreeing to be crowned as the next king. Buddha left his privileged life as a prince embarking on an ascetic and auster quest to find a way to end all human sufferings. He attained enlightenment and taught his disciples the Eightfold path to attain liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Baha’i Faith endured significant opposition in his effort to spread the message of the oneness of humanity and unity of religion. Seen as a threat by the leaders of the Ottoman empire, he was imprisoned and exiled numerous times, but he continued to write books and shape the direction of the Baha’i faith.
We all hope that our journeys in life will bring us closer to knowledge, but along the way, we make mistakes and have to confront our own shortcomings. However, we can find comfort in knowing that is true even of the prophets. The Buddha, for instance, settled upon teaching ‘The Middle Way,’ only after learning from his personal experiences. Similarly, Confucius traveled extensively trying to meet various political and military rulers with a desire to see a unified and more peaceful China. Faced with repeated rejections of his knowledge, he gave up and returned home. But it was only once he returned that the Confucius we know really emerged—the one who taught lessons to his students which were codified as his famous Analects, and formed the backbone of the Chinese Education system for the past several millennia.
It has become a bit of a cliché to say that ‘life is about the journey, not the destination,’ but it contains a lot of truth. After all, the destination of life is death, which is uncontrollable and unknowable, as is our birth and its circumstances. It is the part in between called life that we can wield some control over.
The narratives of these journeys that we find in the religious scriptures show us that even divine beings and prophets had to face many trials and tribulations. Their stories are meant to give us the guidance necessary for us to navigate our own journeys of self-discovery but because we are all different and make meaning in different ways, we will benefit more from certain teachings over others.
As we move through our lives with intention, we take ownership of our personal development and realisation that comes along with it. Hero’s Journey is not only about overcoming external obstacles, but also about overcoming our inner doubts, fears and limitations to achieve our ultimate destiny to become the best version of ourselves.
“You shall remember all the way which Yahweh your god has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”
—Deuteronomy(8:2), Fifth book of the Old testament
“To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open Way. If God had so willed He would have made you a single people but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute.”
—Qur’an (5:48), Muslim text
“As one’s own hands and feet act without permission of the head, so do heroes act without permission of their own selves.”
– Bhagavata Purana, Hindu Religious text
“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.”
“Normally, if a traveller fails to find home when his journeys are over, everyone will agree that this person has lost his way. However, in the journey of life, many travelers only know how to wander but do not know how to return home. And yet people do not see that these travelers have likewise lost their way.”
—Lieh Tzu, Daoist sage
“Briefly, the journey of the soul is necessary. The pathway of life is the road which leads to divine knowledge and attainment. Without training and guidance the soul could never progress beyond the conditions of its lower nature, which is ignorant and defective.”
– Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i leader