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The Pros and Cons of Mythology - Dhamma Wheel

The Pros and Cons of Mythology

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 02, 2009 9:21 am

Greetings,

I thought it might be interesting to start a thread on the pros and cons of mythology.

One of the things that attracted me to Theravada as opposed to other Buddhist traditions was that the associated mythology was by-and-large believable. In many other traditions I saw things that seemed superstitious in nature and initially I felt quite negatively towards them thinking, "The Dhamma is so great, so effective, yet you are turning people away from the rational and straightforward teachings of the Buddha". In time I came to see that Theravada had its own mythology too, and some of it (though certainly not all) was embedded within the Pali Canon itself. I found it a little disconcerting but by this stage I had enough faith in the Dhamma that such things no longer had the power to turn me away.

How do you relate to the mythology of Theravada Buddhism? What do you believe is the most productive way to respond to scriptural mythology? How does the presence of mythology complement or distort your understanding of, and appreciation for Buddhist teachings?

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby Cittasanto » Fri Jan 02, 2009 10:25 am



He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby appicchato » Sat Jan 03, 2009 12:22 pm


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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Jan 03, 2009 9:58 pm

Hi Appicchato,
you are probably right I was quoting from memory of a story I have been told is in the suttas, so may of misquoted!
the story goes a king asks the buddha what is the root of suffering?
the buddha replies Love
the king asks again and gets the same reply so asks again
this time the buddha asks how the king would feel if his son were to be kidnapped? the king replies distrought!
then the buddha asks how the king would feel if the son of a king in the neigbouring kingdom was kidnapped?
the king replied not happy but concerned!
so the Buddha responded so you see the root of suffering is love!

I believe the story is set on the top of a tower but don't know which king and not been able to find it to look at it properly!
but you may know where it is for the correct quote?


He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby Jason » Sun Jan 04, 2009 1:43 am

Last edited by Jason on Tue Jan 27, 2009 12:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby fig tree » Wed Jan 14, 2009 6:35 am


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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:36 am

Hi Retro,

I'm curious where you think "mythology" starts? At Rebirth? At Planes of Existence? ... ?

Metta
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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:45 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Jan 14, 2009 9:25 am

Thanks Retro,

I guess my view is that if one accepts rebirth, the Buddha's knowledge of past live and the arising and passing away of beings, and that the Path is the way out of Samsara then why would anything else in the Canon be a problem?

Metta
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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 14, 2009 9:53 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby Ben » Wed Jan 14, 2009 11:27 am

My attitude is that I don't know, and for now it doesn't really matter for most of the 'mythological' stuff. I anticipate that I will be clearer about the truth of things as I develop wisdom on the path, or it is placed into its proper perspective.
That is not to say that one should not avail oneself of the diversity of opinion and scholarly interpretation in an attempt to better understand the Dhamma.
Just on the subject of alegory and metaphor in the suttas, I recommend two excellent essays by RF Gombrich in 'How Buddhism Began: the conditioned genesis of the early teachings, titled 'Debate, skill in means, allegory and literalism' and 'metaphor, allegory, satire'. They provide a thought provoking point of view.
Kind regards

Ben
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in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby genkaku » Wed Jan 14, 2009 11:57 am

Dear retro -- Perhaps you will forgive me for knowing next to nothing about Theravada approaches to mythology, but I like the questions that mythology -- which I translate as meaning suggestive stories -- pose. And so, for what it's worth ....

Everyone loves a good story. Or maybe what I mean is, I love a good story. Stories, like music, open the heart and mind. They are relaxing and that relaxation can allow the message of the story to find an easier access to anyone's life. Stories, when they are any good, are a comfortable and indirect way of seeing wider possibilities. A good story doesn't say, "You jerk! Be a Buddhist!" but instead lays out possibilities for consideration... and all from the comfort of your easy chair. This comfortable opening-up makes it easier for anyone to consider doing something about the wider possibilities in their lives. This, to my mind, is a positive development.

The downside of stories/mythology (or even religious texts, I'd say) is that anyone might try to find perpetual comfort in them ... comfort without action. In Zen Buddhism, for example, this finding of comfort is sometimes called "nesting" -- finding a secure home with secure boundaries. These boundaries lead to righteousness and bloodshed because 'my' securities will always depend on keeping 'you' and your mythologies at bay... I must protect my mythologies, my stories. When this happens, the openness that stories can provide in the first place gets stymied and stale for anyone who might simply believe them ... and then go on believing them.

Sorry if this is off-topic. It's just what I thought of.
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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby Will » Wed Jan 14, 2009 3:35 pm

A bodhisattva does not become weary of evil beings nor does he commit the error of bringing forth thoughts inclined to reject them and cast them aside. Avatamsaka Sutra, ch. 25

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby Individual » Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:49 pm

The best things in life aren't things.


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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 14, 2009 9:00 pm

Greetings all,

Genakaku and Will ~ I'm sure I'm in the minority here because I'm not usually too fussed by 'a good story'. I don't watch movies unless I can help it. I don't read fiction any more (other than the odd bit of Buddhist fiction). I'm not really a big one for 'idle chatter' and the opportunity that gives for hearing stories. I'm not too fond on telling stories either. For all that though I don't feel I'm missing out on anything either generally, or in a Buddhist context. Much for the reasons Individual mentioned in his post... I don't really have aversion to this mythology, I just have to work out what to make of it, and if I can't get anything meaningful from it I just put it to one side. My concern though is more for newbies/skeptics who may be tired/skeptical of the stuff churned out by other religions.

Individual ~ Excellent post. I wholeheartedly agree with you. All of it.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby genkaku » Wed Jan 14, 2009 9:48 pm

Dear retro -- I agree with your caution about tale-telling. Many have been stung unnecessarily by the demand that they take various mythological tales as the god's honest truth.

But I guess I would argue as well: Everyone tells themselves stories, whether they watch TV or not. What is this ordinary mind, after all, if not a great story-teller? And to the extent that the tales told open the heart and mind to a wider landscape -- a landscape that might be worth actualizing -- then this old fabricating mind may do us a great kindness.

Still, going back to what I take as your frequency, I agree that myths as reality can cause some pretty deep wounds. As you say, perhaps it's the ego-investment that defines the scene.
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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 14, 2009 9:55 pm

Greetings Genkaku,

In Pali there's a word called "papanca", which means mental or conceptual proliferation. Telling one's self stories would fall into the category of papanca. I've seen the dangers of papanca. When you get really agitated about something, you realise it's because your mindfulness has been lost and you've been telling yourself stores. For example... "Damn Mrs. X calling me such-and-such when she doesn't know what she's talking about. I had nothing to do with what happened, it was Mr. Y who had been doing all those things etc.etc." When the stories take over, in conjunction with negative mindstates, it's a sure road to sadness, if not depression.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby genkaku » Wed Jan 14, 2009 10:10 pm

Dear retro -- ... and simultaneously, the same mind that whines and complains and blames others is the very mind that may find comfort and sense and inspiration in The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path ... which, at the moment of admiring their wonders, would qualify as stories, I imagine... stories that may lead to a wonderful effort ... and in that effort, the story/myth/wonder drops away. If, by contrast, no effort were exerted on behalf of such stories, then the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path would remain a myth ... and we'd all be hip-deep in another religion.

Just my take obviously.
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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby Will » Wed Jan 14, 2009 10:19 pm

Retro gave a couple of examples of "myths" in the Dhamma - invisible beings like devas etc. and psychic powers.

How about more specific items that anyone else feels are "mythological" ie. just plain false or highly improbable.
A bodhisattva does not become weary of evil beings nor does he commit the error of bringing forth thoughts inclined to reject them and cast them aside. Avatamsaka Sutra, ch. 25

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Re: The Pros and Cons of Mythology

Postby genkaku » Wed Jan 14, 2009 11:04 pm

Dear Will -- Well, I think it is said that Shakymuni Buddha was born from his mother's armpit or side and that after birth he took seven steps in each of the cardinal directions and then said, with his right index finger pointed to the sky and his left index finger pointed at the ground, "Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one." I think there are variations on the tale, but it seems likely that it would qualify as a myth.
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