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Monday, December 6, 2010


The word "myth" makes people extremely sensitive.

Try telling someone who believes in the Bible that the flood story of Noah is a myth and they will likely tell you that it really happened, it is true, history will show it or else the devil did something to mess with historical evidence.

In this world of concrete proof that we live in, only things that "really happened" seem to matter.

Did Krishna really lift a mountain with his finger? Did Hanuman really build a bridge to Lanka? Did Draupada perform a ritual to get his children? Was Arjuna cursed by Urvasi? Did any of it really happen?

It may seem strange to you, but I don't care if it "really" happened.

I get a lot of emails and messages about new proof that this or that thing happened, basically to say "see? it's real, it matters, you should believe in the gods." I find it sad when I see shows on TV that use scientific and historical methods to "prove" that various miracles took place. There's all these ideas about how the red sea might have parted because of this or that weather condition. To me, it does not need to be proven. None of these things need to be proven. Their great power and beauty comes from the unlikeliness of them. Where is the place for faith if we can prove every piece of story?

Why is a story or a myth not a valid part of our lives?

I find myths to be extremely valuable. They can express and show truths better than things that really happened.

To me, it does not matter at all whether these stories happened. They are no more or less powerful either way. My faith and belief does not depend at all on whether or not archaeologists can prove that Rama was born in Ayodhya or any of the rest of it.


  1. This post reminds me of this song ( that I think you would like.

  2. My husband and I were just discussing this very topic the other day. I'm really not interested in proving whether or not Jonah was swallowed by the whale, or what happened to Noah's ark. The importance comes from the meaning of it all. Similarly, I just finished reading a book called "Myths of the Asanas", which tells not just the myths behind many popular yoga asanas, but also the greater meaning behind it all. Myths are nice to hear, but their greatest value is in providing a vehicle for a greater truth or moral that we can carry in our hearts.

  3. I think that in many cases, the search for "proof" comes from a lack of faith; that is, if I can see it, touch it, smell it, it's real. Faith makes God real, and the rest is instructional, but not necessarily the point. That is to say, for somebody with strong faith, it doesn't matter if the stories actually happened. The lesson in the stories is what's important.

    I like your comment that "their great power and beauty comes from the unlikeliness of them." I'll have to remember that! It's pretty much what's awesome about faith.

  4. Its strange,but I don't think this is an American way of doing things.

    One should question myths,but with respect
    it is better to accept that something is written about myths and is believed so.

    One should never give up the scientific temperament

  5. I often wonder if myths describe ancient events, customs or technologies that we can no longer comprehend. For example, consider this partial history of the mid 20th century:

    "The war between the Axis and the Allies took place over most of the world. Both sides flew over each other's countries to make bombing
    raids. The war ended when the Americans dropped a bomb, slightly larger than a person, which incinerated an entire city ...

    ... Telephones became widespread, meaning that people could talk to friends hundreds of miles away, with their voices carried as signals on a wire ...

    ... Two Americans spent four days flying to the moon and then the entire world watched them walk across its surface."

    Now we all have a rough grasp of powered flight, nuclear weapons and telecommunications, so those paragraphs make sense. However a medieval person would find the stories unbelievable. Likewise, people living a few thousand years in the future, long after our technology has disappeared, will probably treat the history of the twentieth century as a myth.

    We might be in the same position. The myths from several thousand years ago may well be true, but we lack the context to understand them.

  6. @ Edward , your thought provoking post reminds me- off top of my head:
    Over 5 K yrs ago : Hanuman’s Sanjivini shrub medicine (from Himalayas) reviving Laxmana from coma.
    Pushpak Vimana (aeroplane)used by Indra and others. Teleportation by Narada muni.
    Inter species Organ transplantations (Ganesha stands out).
    Missiles spewing fire storms (special arrows of Rama) and creating rain (arjuna’s varuna (rain) arrow).
    Crystal ball gazing is very popular myth and transcends many civilizations across the planet.
    However, the COSMIC or universal form of Brahman is a scientific theory only painted in myth…. and the jury is still out there on this - Surya.

  7. Very interesting discussion! Edward, that is a new way of thinking about it that I had not considered before, I like it!

    Don't worry, Anonymous, I am still mostly a scientist at heart!

    I have simply never needed everything to make sense or to be explainable. I'm okay with uncertainty and mystery.

  8. I think that there are multiple levels that we can understand things. When I hear a myth or story I try to understand its significance at these different levels.

    Literal: "I walked up a mountain".

    Poetic: "As I climbed the mountain my heart soared high above the peaks, and my burdens left in the valley below".

    Symbolic: "The ape remembered being told to listen to his own heart. Surrounded by the chattering of other apes he could scarcely hear himself shout. Having fulfilled his daily duties he left the others and walked out into the wilderness. At first, though he had left the others far behind their chattering continued in his mind. As he walked on these voices subsided until he could hear a gentle 'dum, dum, dum'. This was the sound of his heart. As he continued to listen he realised that it was also the sound of Shiva's damaru, the constant eternal beat that measures time, creation, and destruction."

    Of the Literal meanings, things may be literally true in this world, true but on other worlds, true but in previous cycles of the universe, or true but in the Antarloka or spiritual plane. I think that many things that have great significance to a lot of people do really exist on other planes.

    So, as you say whether something is true or not is not really important. Also, it is not a straightforward question.
    Aum Shivaya

  9. good one Tandava--Surya

  10. Great point, Tandava. I also agree that it is not a straightforward question as to whether something is true or not.