Sunday, November 20th
- Martin Goodson

A Myth To Live By

How Myths Shape Our Lives

Myths shape our lives either consciously or unconsciously. When we recognise this we can draw strength from the collective wisdom of humanity.

Hand making a flint axe



The American mythologist, Joseph Campbell, once said that we all live by myth and that myths shape our lives.

Campbell was a friend of Jung, the Swiss psychologist who also said that his work and the work of his patients was to discover the myth they were already living.

We often use the word 'myth' to suggest a story that is not true, but all this means is that a myth may not be historically true. This is not the same as saying that a story is not true in any way.

Those who have been around The Zen Gateway for a while will know that I've written a number of articles on the life of the Buddha saying that his life is the live we live when we take up a spiritual practice. This is because at root the human heart is the same both east & west; north & south and both ancient and modern.

Back in the day, Channel 4 TV ran an archaeology programme called Time Team. In one programme one of the archaeologists was making a flint hand-axe by using another piece of flint to knap the edge. this involved striking the edge of the rock he was shaping along its edge, turning it over and then repeating it on the other side. This makes a sharp smooth edge which can cut like a scalpel. In the programme he was demonstrating this skill. At one point he struck the edge too hard and a chunk was knocked out of it making the edge uneven as if a tooth had been knocked out of it. He sighed, turned to the camera and said: "Sometimes I dig up flints that have been knapped 10,000 years ago that have a chuck missing like this one and you know what? I know just how the fella who did that felt!"

When we share the common human heart, 10,000 years is nothing to our understanding. It is because we share this human heart that we can be moved by stories that are thousands of years old that tell of ambitions and love, loss, fears of death and tragedy. These are the truths that myths tell.

Spiritual stories, such as the Buddha's life story tell spiritual truths and can even point to that which cannot be fully put into words.

This is something that we can ponder at this time of the year as the first week of December is Rohatsu week, the commemoration of the Buddha's Enlightenment in the Zen schools.

This event is memorialised in Zen monasteries and temples as we approach the darkest time of the year, the winter solstice, and like Hanukkah the Jewish Festival of Light and Christmas which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, called the Light of the World, so we commemorate the Buddha's Enlightenment. So Rohatsu has a seasonal dimension that ties one man's story to the wider world, another function of myth.

Therefore, we will also be commemorating this central event that underpins the whole of Buddhism.

On 29th November, just prior to the start of Rohatsu we will have a live-streamed Zazen meditation in addition we will have a full Dharma talk on the mythic life of the Buddha up until the moment of his Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. This will take the place of the Thursday 1st December sitting as I will be at the temple for the start of Rohatsu.

The following Wednesday 7th December is the all-night sitting that takes place in Zen monasteries that culminates in the Buddha's Awakening when he saw the morning star at dawn on the 8th. For this we will have a live-streamed Zazen meditation on that evening for 90 minutes (three periods of 30 minute sitting). So, please make a note in your diaries and I hope you will be able to join in with this most important event in the Zen calendar.

Forthcoming Events

We have our regular live-streamed Zazen meditation this Thursday 24th November at 1900hrs GMT

And... fingers crossed, we have the first module of our new course going up before the end of this month as well. This new course is on the Mahayana Development and the transfer of the Dharma to China, the arising of the Chinese schools and also the development of Zen, its teachings and proponents.