Second, I came across Joseph Campbell's talk on how this stuff is not meant to be read like a newspaper (largely metaphor) and that to Buddhists (well, at least Mahayana/Vajrayana) it would not matter in the least if the Buddha was a true historical person or not.
Jung, Psychological Types, 1943, p.33 wrote:
An expression that stands for a known thing always remains merely a sign and is never a symbol. . . . Every psychic product, in so far as it is the best possible expression at the moment for a fact as yet unknown or only relatively known, may be regarded as a symbol, provided also that we are prepared to accept the expression as designating something that is only divined and not yet clearly conscious.
Coomaraswamy, Hinduism and Buddhism, 2011, p.11 wrote:
It is one of the prime errors of historical and rational analysis to suppose that the "truth" and "original form" of a legend can be separated from its miraculous elements. It is in the marvels themselves that the truth inheres: "Wonder for this is no other than the very beginning of philosophy," Plato, Tbeatetus 1550, and in the same way Aristotle, who adds, "So that the lover of myths, which are a compact of wonders, is by the same token a lover of wisdom" (Metaphysics 982 B). Myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words.
Watts, Myth and Ritual in Christianity, 1960, p.20, 24-25, 81, 186-187 wrote:
the Church's official doctrine confuses its own position by trying to include within the myth, the dogma, statements which define the myth as that the events described therein are historical or metaphysical facts, or that this myth is the only true myth. Now a statement which attempts to state something about Itself is always a meaningless vicious circle like trying to think about thought A while you are thinking thought A It is thus that, on the authority of the Church or the Bible, one believes that this is the only true authority.
Anyone who has visited the great mediaeval cathedrals of Europe or studied the pages of the illuminated manuscripts will have noticed an entire absence of historical realism in the mediaeval mind. The patriarchs and prophets as well as the figures of the New Testament wear the clothes and live in the dwellings characteristic of Western Europe between 900 and 1400. Incidents from the Old and New Testaments are juxtaposed according to the theory of "types", wherein the Tree of Knowledge stands opposite the Tree of the Cross, the Exodus opposite the Resurrection, the assumptions of Enoch and Elijah opposite the Ascension, and so forth. All this goes to show that the primary interest of the mediaeval mind was not so much the history as the symbolism of the Christian story. The Feasts of the Church in which the faithful relived the events of this story were not mere historical commemorations, but rather ways of participating in the rhythm, the very actuality, of the divine life. Of this life the historical events were the earthly manifestations, the doing of the will of God on earth as it is per omnia saecula saeculorum through all the ages of ages in heaven.
Yet, with rare exceptions, the theologians insist that the Godhead is incarnate in one man only: the historical Jesus. This confinement of the Incarnation to a unique event in the historical past thus renders the myth "dead" and ineffective for the present. For when myth is confused with history, it ceases to apply to man's inner life. Myth is only "revelation" so long as it is a message from heaven that is, from the timeless and non-historical world expressing not what was true once, but what is true always. Thus the Incarnation is without effect or significance for human beings living today if it is mere history; it is a "salvific truth" only if it is perennial, a revelation of a timeless event going on within man always.
The Ascension of Christ and the carrying of manhood into heaven with his own Body involves, of course, an extension of the truth already signified in the Resurrection that what has hitherto been known as the material* bodily universe of "things", is, in the light of the Eternal Now, divinity itself. But this transfiguration of the world is not realized while it remains "in symbol" only that is to say, so long as the myth is not realized, so long as the Resurrection and Ascension seem to have happened only to Jesus of Nazareth. It is for this reason that the Spirit, the real understanding, cannot come until Jesus departs. The mission of Christ is not, therefore, fulfilled until the historical Jesus has vanished into eternity, until man finds God supremely revealed in the Now, and no more in the mere record of the Gospels.
So long as the Buddha remains a historical figure, the Dharma remains the vocalisations of his voice box, and the Sangha remains a bunch of people wrapped in colourful rags, you will not find any refuge.
But when you see them as the eternal and ultimate essence of all mind, speech, and body, then you will find a refuge.
And at the same time, of course, you will find there is no refuge to be had,
Uttaratantrasastra, 23 wrote:
That those three, excellent, rare and supreme arise from the suchness, polluted and unpolluted, the qualities of immaculate Buddhahood and the victor’s deeds – such is the knowledge’s domain for those who the ultimate perceive.
The three jewels are merely a manifestation of Buddha Nature when wrapped in defilement, when free from defilement; a manifestation of the Buddha's qualities, and activities.
Uttaratantrasastra 24-25 wrote:
The potential for these three rare and supreme gems is the domain of knowledge of the omniscient. In respective order there are four reasons for these four aspects being inconceivable. They are:
1. Pure yet accompanied by defilement, 2. completely undefiled yet to be purified, 3. truly inseparable qualities, 4. total non-thought and spontaneity.
This is beyond ordinary thought, and it is difficult to expect it to be carried around mindfully constantly, but when we really look within us, when our mind is calm, we will know. In our intuition, we always know, and we playfully avoid it.