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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Gift of Myth

One of my favorite definitions of myth is "a story that is true, and may have happened that way." The so-called historical Jesus movement attempted to devalue myth, believing that there was some greater value in things that could be historically verified about Jesus that would somehow tell us more than the unique combination of fact and myth contained in the Bible. The problem is that while we can know a fair amount of general information about the time and culture in which Jesus lived, about all we can definitively verify from secular sources is that he lived and was crucified. The rest is all conjecture, and really even less reliable than myth because of its insistence on the rather dry and incomplete story we get when we apply the sterility of scientific method to the richness of myth. In the end we strip away everything of beauty and end up with stark slivers of speculation. We should be extremely thankful that myth cannot be reduced to post-Enlightenment sensibilities.

I don't know that there has ever been a historical Buddha movement. It seems that Buddhism is much more accepting of its mythology, and that's a huge asset. The mythos tells us that Buddha was born and raised in a palace. He also was born before people were capable of two story construction in a culture where the primary building material was mud, making "palace" a very relative term. No Buddhist seems terribly upset about this and there are no large groups of Buddhists saying that we have to throw Buddhism away because the Buddha's palace doesn't match our idea of what a palace should be. There are no Buddhists questioning the validity of the Buddhist Sutras even when they hear that the whole idea of the Buddha's birth to wealthy and royal parents may be the Buddhist equivalent of Jesus' virgin birth - a literary device used to indicate the person being written about was special and important but not an attempt to convey an historical truth.

Why not? I suspect it has a lot to do with the rejection of duality.

We have been packing our household and preparing to move for the last couple of weeks. We are taking the month of December to move. We took an extended period of time to move the last time, too. If you can afford the double rent or house payment it is an idea worth considering, especially if you are over thirty-five. It's much less brutal to have more than a day or two to move everything, and if you are using movers it helps reduce costs because you can move the light stuff yourself and leave the heavy lifting to the professionals. Over the last couple days I have been packing some of my home altar, including many of my statues and spiritual images. I still have quite a few icons to pack. Once of the reasons I love spiritual images is that they take me beyond words to a much richer place. It's not a place that can be measured or easily quantified - it's much richer than that. It's a place of spiritual depth more than of spiritual precision - in fact, to a large extent the idea of spiritual precision may be an oxymoron. To be spiritually precise is most often to miss the point entirely, and if anyone tries to be precise it is biblical literalists and the historical Jesus folk - strange bedfellows, indeed!

Myth takes us to that imprecise place, too. While the rationalists prefer black and white, myth not only provides shades of grey but it also offers hundreds of colors. The beauty of those mythological colors is that we are free to play with them, to change them up and look at the images from a new perspective to see what has been hiding within them. Myth both allows and requires us to surrender our fear that insists on the safety of perfection and so allows us to discover that spiritual truths are found in the imprecise and the imperfect - the last place the rational mind would think to look. "Is it true," and "Is it real," and "Can it be verified," and "Did it really happen," are all questions that myth answers with a resounding "who cares?" The real question in myth is whether or not we can allow ourselves the freedom to crawl inside and take a look around, leaving our cameras and tape measures at the door. If we can allow ourselves that freedom, then and only then will we find the truth - and we will also know we cannot give that truth to anyone else. The best we can do is to invite them to lay down their precision and go inside for a look themselves, for that is where we will see everything!"