- Religion and Philosophy
Buddha- Mythological Hero
It does not matter what culture people are from, it is human nature to ask why. Most people are burning with questions, which there really are no answers too. How did I get here? Why was I born? What is my purpose? What is going to happen to me after I die?
Creation myths provide answers to these questions, by putting everything in the hands of a God, Goddess, or Buddha. What is my purpose in life? Oh that is easy! According to the Bible; it is everyone's purpose to accept the savior, spread the word, and follow a righteous path. Doing this will ensure a place in Heaven.
According to the Dharma, each individual has a purpose to find their unique gifts, and use them to help others, which will create ultimate happiness. Pursuant to the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path, the purpose of life is to follow the right path, so that enlightenment can be achieved, ending the cycle of rebirths. This will end the suffering that is life.
Each culture passes down these myths, as a way to teach the younger generation about what their ancestors believed. In essence, creation myths serve two purposes. First, they help people answer, unanswerable, questions. In addition, they keep people connected to their ancestors.
This article, explores the mythical archetype of the Hero.This article is not arguing the existence of the hero, in the chosen creation myth. It is meant to explore the story of how he came to exist, and the characteristics that make him a hero.
An important aspect of a creation myth, is the mythological hero. A mythological hero helps make the myth seem more real, and has the added bonus of giving people someone to aspire to be like. Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) has many characteristics of a mythological hero. First, his birth was one of Immaculate Conception. Second, his birth was in a hidden place. Third, his life (spiritual path) is threatened by his father. Fourth, he embarks on a quest, because of a sign, and must face temptation, before he can reach his goal. Finally, he has a death and a rebirth, of a spiritual nature (Leeming, D. A., 1990).
It is said that Siddhartha Gautama impregnated his own mother, in a dream. He took the form of a white elephant, ran in circles around her, and then jumped into her womb (Leeming, D. A., 1990, p.228). This is a classic example of a mythological hero. When society looks for a hero, they are looking for someone that has come into existence in a divine way.
In addition, when his mother gave birth to him, she did so in a hidden grove. She was standing up. She also died soon after his birth. He was her one and only child. This not only connects his mother to the earth, but it also shows that she possesses a great deal of strength. Additionally, her timely death shows that the baby she carried was so special that the Gods decreed that he could not have any siblings (Leeming, D. A., 1990).
Even more, Siddhartha Gautama’s father, tried to prevent him from following a spiritual path. He wanted him to be a ruler, and tried everything he could to shield him from seeing pain and suffering. This may not have been a direct threat to his life, but it was a very real threat to the spiritual life that he was meant to lead. This characteristic is important in a mythical hero because it shows that the hero had to overcome something in order to begin their journey (Leeming, D. A., 1990).
Equally important, the journey that the Buddha went on is definitely reminiscent of a mythological hero’s quest. He received four signs of human suffering. His father had hid all human suffering from him since he was born. He did not want him to become a Buddha, he wanted him to become a leader, like him. So, when he finally did see these signs, they broke his heart. One after another he saw, an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man; in meditation. These signs lead him to contemplate the life that he was living. He decided to abandon everything and everyone to go on a quest, to end suffering (Leeming, D. A., 1990). During this quest he sat in front of the Bodhi tree of wisdom, where he sought enlightenment. Mara the fiend did not want him to obtain enlightenment, so he did everything he could to stop him.
First, he disguised himself as a messenger, and delivered to the Buddha a message that said his kingdom had been invaded, and his family was in danger. He resisted the temptation to go to his family, which strengthened his resolve. Next Mara sent winds and rain, but they did not touch the Buddha. He tried to command Buddha to get up, stating that it was his seat. Buddha defies Mara, telling him that he has not earned his seat. The Great God then comes down and asks them to show witnesses to their alms. Mara had many demons, and Buddha had no witnesses, but he compelled the Earth God to bear witness for him. Afterwords, all of the demons that were on Mira’s side fled. Next, he tried to tempt Buddha, with his daughters, but Buddha denied them. The women were then overwhelmed with shame, and offered him a prayer, to support his cause (Leeming, D. A., 1990). This journey is definitely one fit for a mythological hero. He faced temptation, and threat of death and pain, but he held steadfast to his resolve.
Finally, Buddha was left alone for the night. He slept, sitting up, in front of the tree of wisdom. As he slept, he obtained “Omniscient vision, understanding of good and evil, and perfect enlightenment, as he became enlightened; resentment faded, all lack was supplied, the sick were healed, chains of hell were loosened, and all creatures found peace, and rest” (Leeming, D. A., 1990, p. 254). The Buddha accomplished a spiritual death and rebirth, which is a common characteristic in mythical heroes.
In conclusion, the purpose of the mythological quest that Buddha went on, was supreme enlightenment. He was exposed to anguish, and realized that he needed to find out how to end the torment of the world. He set out to obtain enlightenment, so that he would be able to find the root of suffering. Once he obtained enlightenment, he discovered the root of suffering, which is desire. He then set out to teach the eight-fold path and the Four Noble Truths, so that others could end their suffering as well.
Four Noble Truths
© 2014 Lisa Williams