Wednesday, August 31, 2011


This talk picks up more accounts of storybook happenings in the history of the Buddha. But first, a modern hot flash from the Internet. If you can’t put your faith in the Internet or in television news, what can you believe?

Jose Maldonado, a 22-year-old bricklayer in Guadalajara, found a live fairy.
“I was picking guavas and I saw a twinkling. I thought it was a firefly. I picked it up and felt that it was moving; when I looked at it I knew that it was a fairy godmother,” Maldonado said.
Sadly, it died, but he pickled it in formaldehyde and allows the curious to take a peek for a fee.

Now, back to the past.

According to folklore, after the Buddha’s awakening he continued to travel and speak of his experience. When he was age eighty his followers wondered if he would appoint an heir to carry on his teaching. The Buddha said he had never considered himself a counselor; therefore, there was no need for someone to step into his sandals.

“Instead of following someone like a pack of hungry dogs,” the Buddha said. “Think for yourselves. Do not blindly accept what you might hear. Weigh everything in your own mind. Be your own person, and concern yourselves with the well-being of all beings.”

And so, according to this story, Buddhism has no central source of authority.

Wait a minute, you say. What about the Dali Lama? Isn’t he the head of Buddhism?

No, the Dali Lama is the chief abbot and spiritual leader of the ritualistic Tibetan school known as the Gelugpa, or Yellow Hats.

That’s all. That’s more than enough.

Let’s stick with Zen, which urges meditation as the way to the realization of one’s true nature.

Getting back to mythology, the Buddha is alleged to have died lying on his right side. Today, many statues in Asia show him this way. True or false, what difference does it make? There is no record whether the Buddha was right-handed or left-handed.

His supposed last words were, “Decay is inherent in all things. Be sure to strive with clarity of mind for complete awakening.”

You may have heard of a pre-Buddhist legend called Radiance mythology. It’s a story that combines a sort of Biblical genesis account with the tale of Pandora’s Box. The Radiance version says the first thing to exist was white light and black light. Then the universe was filled with an enormous egg. From the egg, black light produced evils. However, white light, or Radiance produced happiness and prosperity.

Just trying to picture that boggles the imagination.

The scholar Joseph Campbell said myths are public dreams, and dreams are private myths. He also said that every religion is true when understood metaphorically. But if you interpret metaphors as facts, you run into snags.

One of Buddhism’s most stable legends concerns Bodhidharma, an Indian monk, who supposedly left his homeland to bring Buddhist teachings to China. Whether Bodhidharma actually existed is still a matter of conjecture.

In Bodhidharma’s time the Buddhism practiced in China was elaborate and fanciful, and it had countless gods and myths. There is a story that in the A.D. 600s a monk went to China to gather copies of official writings. The monkey god and the pig god joined him and helped him to fight various demons with a magic stick.

Can you picture that?

Other significant Buddhist deities of the time included the four kings of heaven, the four kings of hell, the kitchen god, and Mi-le, known in India as Maitreya. Mi-le is also known as the laughing god. Carved images of him are sold in Chinese schlock shops. He’s the little guy with the big belly and the jolly face.

Most Zen koans are stories of encounters between masters and monks. They are myths designed to bring about awakening, or to explain the meaning of existence by means of metaphor.

One master asked another master, “What does the golden fish that has passed through the net use for food?”

The other master answered, “When you come out of the net, I’ll tell you.”

A monk asked Master Yun Men, “What is talk that goes beyond buddhas and patriarchs?”

Does either of these koans open the meaning of life to you?

Myths can be entertaining as long as you realize they have about the same weight as fairy tales. Their purpose is to give humans something to believe in other than themselves.

I hesitate rattling anyone’s beliefs, but here are a few facts of life:

◊ George Washington did not have wooden teeth.
◊ Albert Einstein did not fail math in school.
◊ Searing meat does not seal in moisture.
◊ Swallowed watermelon seeds will not grow in your stomach.
◊ Sushi does not mean raw fish. Sushi refers to the vinegared rice used in it.

To wind this up, think for yourselves. Don’t blindly accept what you hear, or read, or are told. Evaluate everything in your own mind. Be your own person.

Dogen was not a myth. He was a real human being, He said:

To study the way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be awakened by all things.
To be awakened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.


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