The tiger and the goat
April 2, 2010
Good story from Joseph Campbell’s “The Occult in Myth and Literature”, p219 of The Mythic Dimension:
The Tiger and the Goat The story I’d like to give is that of a tigress who was pregnant, and starving hungry. She came upon a little flock of goats. And in pouncing upon them, with the energy that she expended, she brought on the birth of her little one and her own death. So she died giving birth to a little tiger. The goats, meanwhile, had scattered, and they finally came back to their little grazing place, and they found this just-born little tiger and its dead mother. They had very strong parental instincts, and they adopted the little tiger, who grew up thinking he was a goat. He learned to bleat, he learned to eat grass, but the grass was very bad for his digestive system. He couldn’t handle the cellulose. By the time he was an adolescent he was a pretty miserable specimen of his species.
At that time a male tiger pounced on the little flock, and they again scattered. But this little fellow was a tiger, he wasn’t a goat. So there he was, standing. The big fellow looked at him, And he said, “What, you living here with these goats?”
The little tiger goes Maaaaa and begins nibbling grass in a kind of embarrassed way. The big fellow is mortified, like a father coming home and finding his son with long hair; something like that. So he swats him back and forth a couple of times because the little fellow could only bleat and nibble grass. Then he takes him by the neck and carries him to a pond. There was no wind blowing; it was perfectly still.
Now the Hindus say of yoga that yoga is the art of making the mind stand still. The intentional stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind itself. It’s as though a pond was to be made to stand still. When the wind is blowing, the waters are rippling and all these little broken reflections come and go, come and go, come and go, and that’s the way we are in our lives. We identify ourselves with one of these coming and going reflections, and we thin, Oh dear, here I come, there I go. If you make the pond stand still, then the image stands still and you see your eternal presence, and identifying with that, you’re relatively indifferent to the world.
So this little tiger is now being introduced to the principles of yoga. And the big fellow says. “Now look into that pond.” And the little one puts his face over it. And for the first time in his little life he sees his actual face. The big tiger puts his face over there, and he says, “You see! You’ve got the face of a tiger, you’re like me, Be like me!” (Now that’s guru stuff. I’ll give you my picture to wear and you’ll know who you are.)
Anyhow, the little tiger’s beginning to sort of get the message. The big fellow’s next discipline is to pick him up and take him to his den, where there are the remains of a recently slaughtered gazelle. The big fellow takes a chunk of this bloody stuff, and he says to the little one, “Open your face.”
The little one backs off. He sways, “I’m a vegetarian.”
“Well,” says the big one, “none of that nonsense.” And he shoves it down his throat. And the little one gags on it, as the text says, “As all do on true doctrine.”
So, gagging on the true doctrine, it’s nevertheless getting into his system since it is his proper food, and it activates his proper nervous system. Spontaneously moved by his proper food. he gives a little tiger roar, sort of Tiger Roar 101. Then the big guy says, “There we are. Now we’ve got it. Now we’ll eat tiger food.”
There’s a moral here, of course, It is that we’re all really tigers living here as goats. The function of sociology and most of our religious education is to teach us to be goats. But the function of the proper interpretation of mythological symbols and meditation discipline is to introduce you to your tiger face.