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Thread: Understanding myth

  1. #1

    Understanding myth

    I came across this article on Piya Tan's website and wondered if anyone had any thoughts about what he has to say (bearing in mind there's a copyright):


  2. #2
    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Hi, Aloka. Thanks for sharing this link regarding myth and superstition:

    Since we are a Buddhist website I will focus on Buddhist mythology.

    Unlike the author, I don't see samsara as a myth. Life is clearly a cycle of suffering almost exactly as Buddha portrayed it in The 31 Planes of Existence. Buddha seemed to be a little bit short of the mechanics of reality, but so are we scientifically modern folks. Buddha explained this with his sutta regarding the simsapa leaves:

    Simsapa Sutta: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipi....031.than.html

    ...which summarizes a modern axiom regarding the relationship between teacher and student, "I taught him (the student) everything he knows, but I didn't teach him everything I know."

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Olderon

    Unlike the author, I don't see samsara as a myth
    The author doesn't say that samsara is a myth. What he says is that the samsaric cycle is a common pattern in ancient thought, and he uses an example of the Greek myths.

    In general, I think its definately worth reading "The Buddha and Omniscience" by Bhikkhu Analayo. He observes how we have psychological tendancies to deify the Buddha, whereas if we recognise that need, we can find refuge in ourselves rather than externally.

    https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamb...mniscience.pdf

    ....and this is also briefly addressed in the concluding sentence of the Piya Tan article, where its suggested that we look within.



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    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    "A very common mythic pattern of conduct is the samsaric cycle."
    The above is a direct quote first line of para. 2: http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-...myth-RB201.pdf

    'Didn't know how else to interpret his meaning. And then he went on to compare and contrast Buddhist concepts with Greek Mythological writings, which seemed to solidify the idea. Rather than using the cycle of samsara as a comparison and in contrasting it with "mythology", perhaps it would have been better for him to use the word "cycle" or better yet given examples of sidereal astrological periods instead of the samsaric cycle.:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidereal_year

    However, as you say, after researching the authors background, he, being an ordained Theravadan experienced monk for over twenty years, a Buddhist lay teacher,and Buddhist studies author, it is not likely that he would consider the samsaric cycle as "mythic". Yet, he did write what he wrote. :

    Pinya Tan Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piya_Tan
    Last edited by Olderon; 13 Mar 18 at 09:30.

  5. #5
    "A very common mythic pattern of conduct is the samsaric cycle."

    Hi Ron,

    He's not saying specifically that the Buddhist "samsara" is a myth.

    After the sentence you quoted above, he goes on to say that its a well known theme in Greek mythology and then he begins to discuss the myths of Prometheus and Sisyphus. He's talking about cyclic conduct in myths, which he describes as a "samsaric cycle".

    To quote bhikkhu Thanissaro:


    Samsara literally means "wandering-on." Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live the place we leave when we go to nibbana. But in the early Buddhist texts, it's the answer, not to the question, "Where are we?" but to the question, "What are we doing?" Instead of a place, it's a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. As one world falls apart, you create another one and go there. At the same time, you bump into other people who are creating their own worlds, too.

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/...o/samsara.html

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    For many years, when teaching English, I taught the differences between myths, legends and fables, and between similes and metaphors and so on. As I came to study Buddhist writings, I couldn't help but apply that stuff to what I read. Armed with these and the knowledge that Buddhism has been a mostly oral tradition, things make more sense.

    It's pretty obvious that mythological explanations for how things came to be is inevitable in pre-scientific societies, and that they will still be there when read with a modern background. You then have to decide for yourself the consequences of removing such things from the whole. If you can't take the whole without it, then either leave the whole or accept the myth as part of it. Likewise with fables and legends, and with the powerful oral traditions' use of other linguistic strategies such as similes and metaphors.

    I've spent a lot of time de-mything and de-metaphoring Buddhist writings. Some stand the test and others diminish to practically nothing but an exhortation to believe one idea, such as the Bodhisattva ideal. Stripping out Buddhism in this way was good practice for me as it is what I've done to texts my whole life as a teacher, and still do. It left enough for me to still be a Buddhist, so I'm not overly concerned. On the other hand it rather annoys a lot of Buddhists if I talk of such things, which is why I left the Sangha in the end.

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    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    For many years, when teaching English, I taught the differences between myths, legends and fables, and between similes and metaphors and so on. As I came to study Buddhist writings, I couldn't help but apply that stuff to what I read.
    Yes, our cultures in which we were raised and/or trained leave us with communication behaviors and skills that grind against those of others to whom we are attempting to communicate. Consequently, our psychological filters inhibit our openness to the meanings others are attempting to communicate to us. For this reason, we have to ask for confirmation from the ones to whom we are communicating that we are truly being understood.

    Armed with these and the knowledge that Buddhism has been a mostly oral tradition, things make more sense.
    We "think" they make more sense, but meanings from twenty-five hundred years ago are never spot on. And, given the oral tradition of communication and reproduction leaves much to be desired. At best such communications are rife with communication errors.

    It's pretty obvious that mythological explanations for how things came to be is inevitable in pre-scientific societies, and that they will still be there when read with a modern background. You then have to decide for yourself the consequences of removing such things from the whole. If you can't take the whole without it, then either leave the whole or accept the myth as part of it. Likewise with fables and legends, and with the powerful oral traditions' use of other linguistic strategies such as similes and metaphors.
    My approach has been to follow both of your alternatives and to assess the outcomes of each, comparing these results to what I know to be reality, just as advised by Buddha in his message and tutorial to the elders of the Kalamas:

    "So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.
    source: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ati/....065.than.html

    Philg: On the other hand it rather annoys a lot of Buddhists if I talk of such things, which is why I left the Sangha in the end.
    As an engineer and an educator of adults in very diverse industrial and R&D environment, I have experienced the same issues as you reported, and for this reason have chosen to spend my time in ecumenical Buddhist communities, which share translations / interpretations from widely diverse sets of traditions, including those of the secular and atheistic bents such as where we are now: "Buddhism without Boundaries".

    My guess is you have landed in the right forum and website here. I look forward to reading your thoughts, interpretations, perspectives, and reasoning.

    Thanks for sharing openly and honestly.

    _/\_Ron

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