Following a chance meeting with Jiddu Krishnamurti on a transatlantic steamship in 1924, Joseph Campbell became fascinated in the religions and philosophies of Asia, and in particular with those found in India. Later on, from late 1954 through to 1955, he took a sabbatical and travelled to India, Southeast Asia, and Japan studying their cultures and traditions at first hand.
Throughout his time abroad he kept an extensive and detailed handwritten journal/personal diary with the intention of it possibly being published at a later date. Campbell’s journals were indeed published but in two parts;Baksheesh & Brahman and Sake & Satori and only after his death in 1987. They have now been made available as a complete body of work along by the Joseph Campbell Foundation who have included additional endnotes, redrawn versions of Cambell’s original sketches, and several relevant maps of Campbell’s route.
Book One of the Asian Journals covers the first six months of the journey Campbell and his wife took through Asia. They primarily focus upon their experiences whilst travelling through Hindu India.
Book Two covers the final six months of his trip which took him into predominantly Buddhist territory including Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and Japan.
Although the journals form a comprehensive account of his travels and experiences Campbell did not keep a daily account of the places he visited. Sometimes he would complete his account at the end of a trip and often he would dedicate a whole day to catching up on a weeks worth of entries.
This enabled Campbell to make additional footnote to his entries and to include parenthetical notes, quotations, and citations. Although these have been included in this edition the editors have part-edited the work so as to preserve the flow and interest in Campbell’s narrative. Cut from the original text are tentative itineraries, times of missed appointments, names of strangers met in passing, newspaper quotes, and other sundry details.
Our Review of Asian Journals by Joseph Campbell
Our evaluation of Asian Journals covers two different aspects. Firstly, we look at the book’s actual content and secondly, given its overhaul of previously-published material, its overall presentation.
Travel diaries, like home videos, have the reputation for being rather dull compositions of only real interest to their authors. This is somewhat justified but in the case of Campbell his intention to later publish his material caused him to be more descriptive and inclusive of detail than might ordinarily be the case. Keeping the diaries alive and interesting throughout is aided by the fact that during his travels he met with many notable dignitaries from different spheres of society – all of whom add their own expression of colour to an already colourful continent.
From the moment that Campbell arrived by plane in New Delhi on August 30, 1954 through to his return back in New York on September 7, 1955 he applied himself with total dedication to the task of absorbing as much as he could of what he saw and to recount it later on in as much detail as he could. Although the diaries occasionally give the impression of a man whom, took this task a little too seriously at times, it is clear that in the main Campbell enjoyed his trip. This is reflected throughout his journals along with his desire to get under the spiritual skin of the countries he visited. This was clearly a middle-aged man who was searching for a deeper spiritual meaning to his life although his opinion of the many gurus, beggars, and government officials who crossed his path during this time is often somewhat highly entertaining.
As with all of the edited versions of Campbell’s work that have been published through New World Library by the Joseph Campbell Foundation this is a well thought-out and respectfully treated compilation of Campbells two earlier diaries. The edits are sympathetic to the narrative and the additional material adds greatly to the work. Coming in at over 750 pages this work must have been a sizeable undertaking.
As a reflection on Joseph Campbell, his interests and passionate nature Asian Journals is a fascinating publication. Die-hard fas of his work will thoroughly appreciate and enjoy this intimate portrayal of the man as he moved through environments that challenged him on many levels. Those readers who are simply looking for a good travelogue – one that reflects a different time and era, when Asia was not as Westernised as it is today, will equally enjoy this work. Either way this publication is a significant literary work of which I am sure Joseph Campbell would be justifiably proud.