I usually blog three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Those readers who have been paying attention will have noticed that there was no Monday post this week. That’s because I was completely beside myself, on pins and needles awaiting the Royal Birth. Now that the baby has finally arrived, and has made his first appearance, it’s time to get back to business, while at the same time anticipating our next public obsession (not that this one is quite over). The nice thing about the Royal Baby hoopla, to paraphrase Stephen Colbert, is that with all the depressing stories out there, it is refreshing to be reminded that the idle rich can procreate.
Speaking of royalty, most of you are aware that in the traditional story of the Gautama Buddha, he was a Royal Baby too, the son of a wealthy and powerful King. And as I have mentioned a number of times on The Endless Further, this story is almost certainly an exaggeration. There is no mention of this Royal Birth in the early accounts of the Buddha’s life. The appellation of Prince did not even appear until the Mahavastu (“Great Event”), a text composed between the 2nd century BCE and 4th century CE.
The Great Event would be perhaps the greatest event, if it were true, far surpassing this latest rather mundane and routine royal birth, for the traditional story tells how the Buddha entered his mother’s womb and then emerged from her side to be received in a net held by four angels of the great Brahma. And as Paul Carus described in his rendering of the story, based on ancient records,
All the worlds were flooded by light. The blind received their sight by longing to see the coming glory of the Lord; the deaf and dumb spoke with one another of the good omens indicating the birth of the Buddha to be. The crooked became straight; the lame walked. All prisoners were freed from their chains and the fires of all the hells were extinguished.” *
In the annals of royal births, I would say that one is hard to top.
As far Buddha’s royal life is concerned, I have previously quoted Prof. Trevor Ling, who in his book, The Buddha, offers a realistic and credible look at early Buddhism. Ling notes,
It is more probably that his father was the elected head of an aristocratic hereditary ruling class, having some of the rank, status, and prestige of the ruler of a small kingdom, but nothing more.”
The Shakya clan, to which Gautama belonged, did not have a monarchy, but rather a republican form of government, where “the common life was regulated by discussion among the elders or noblemen of the tribe meeting in a regular assembly.”
The story of the Buddha spending his life is royal splendor, and probably most of the other accounts of his life, may have been embellished quite a bit, but it does not dilute the value of the teachings attributed to him.
Buddhist mythology is an issue for some individuals, especially those seeking an alternative to the supernatural laden Abrahamic relgions. Buddhism at first seems reasonable and practical, but then as one delves further into it and encounters some of the same kind of mythological and supernatural elements, it can be confusing, and discouraging. It’s a topic I continue to write about because on one hand, it is important that we not take myths literally, but on the other, it is a mistake to simply dismiss these stories without making an effort to understand their underlying meaning and significance. We need myths, and we can learn from them. In The Power of Myth, the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell, said,
The myth is for spiritual instruction . . . The Sanskrit name for that is marga, which means “path.” It’s the trail back to yourself. The myth comes from the imagination, and it leads back to it. The society teaches you what the myths are, and then it disengages you so that in your meditations you can follow the path right in.”
Myths are untrue but they are gateways to truth. Through allegory they provide wisdom. These often beautiful and entertaining stories help explain our existence, and they inspire us to love, to quest, to empty the stables of suffering, to battle the dragons of evil, to dream impossible dreams.
In fact, myths come from the same part of the brain as dreams.
Personally, I tend to disparage the public’s fascination with the British Royal Family. Yet, I realize that this is a sort of modern myth making. It doesn’t rise to the same level as spiritual mythology, but myth making is fundamental to human nature, a process critical to civilization.
I can think of some modern myth making I’d be more interested in, but as they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and even though I could really care less, I’ll be waiting with bated breath to learn the Royal Baby’s name. I think Kate and William should choose something quirky, just to be different. You know, like David Bowie named his son Zowie. Or Frank Zappa, who named one of his kids, Moon Unit. And, of course, who can forget Blanket Jackson? Since the Royal Baby shares his birthday with Selena Gomez (who is famous for something but I’m not sure what), that might be a way to go. Prince Gomez, future King of England. I like that.
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* Paul Carus, The Gospel of Buddha, Open Court Publishing Company, 1894