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The Four Functions of Myth: Tao Te Ching Essay Example

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The Four Functions of Myth: Tao Te Ching

According to Joseph Campbell, a renowned scholar on Mythology, a myth fulfills four fundamental functions: Metaphysical or Mystical; Cosmological; Sociological and Pedagogical. The first function is to arouse us to the wonder and miracle of creation and to awaken within us the awareness of something greater than ourselves, something mystical. The second function is to explain to us the shape and design of the ‘cosmos’ and give it a meaningful existence for us to be able to comprehend it. The ‘sociological’ function is to lay down the traditional law of that particular culture so that future generations may follow it. The ‘pedagogical’ function is to teach its readers about the various rites of passage that are required for them to pass from one stage of existence to another (Esch ‘Myth’).  The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu contains a few elements of myth, especially a kind of creation myth that fulfills all four functions laid down by Campbell. The Chinese creation myth as envisioned by the Tao philosophy is laid down in Tao Te Ching. The very first verse describes this creation myth. According to the J. Legge translation, this is as follows: The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name. (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things (Lao Tzu 1).This verse shows us that it fulfills the mystical or metaphysical function. By speaking of the paradoxical and intriguing nature of the universe, this verse of Tao Te Ching awakes within the reader an awareness of the mystical nature of Genesis. The reader is told that the true essence of Tao and the universe is the Tao that cannot be ‘trodden’ and the name that cannot be named. This kind of paradoxical logic confuses and intrigues the reader to continue reading about the ineffability of creation.  

Works Cited

Lao Tzu. Tao Te Ching. Trans. J. Legge. Sacred Books of the East Vol. 39. 1891. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.

Esch, Stacy Tartar. ‘Myth’. Topics in Literature: Mythology. Web. 28 Nov. 2011

preview essay on The Four Functions of Myth: Tao Te Ching
  • Pages: 3 (750 words)
  • Document Type: Essay
  • Subject: Literature
  • Level: Undergraduate
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