Sushuri Novaryana wrote:

Some members of a Western Hindu group recently raised objections to the teaching of Hindu sacred stories as “myths”. This was presumably because the word “myth” in modern Tellurian terminology is often used as a synonym for “something untrue” – truth being here defined as correspondence to material or factual realities.

Sri Ananda Coomaraswamy, on the other hand, begins his essay “The Vedanta and Western Tradition” with the words: “There have been teachers such as Orpheus, Hermes, Buddha, Lao-tzu and Christ, the historicity of whose human existence is doubtful and to whom may be accorded the higher dignity of mythical reality.”

No doubt this was intentionally provocative to his Western readers. Its aim is to challenge them to consider an important truth. Myths are not mere factual inveracities. To quote from The Feminine Universe:

“We may say that history tells of events that might or might not have happened, while myth tells of ‘events’ (or rather transcendent Realities couched in the form of events) that cannot not be.”

A pupil recently asked me “But why do we need to be told things in the form of myths? Why don’t traditions come right out and say what they mean?”

Now this question really brings us to the crux of the whole question, and to the problem of modern (i.e. Rajasic) rationalism. The question firstly confuses myth with allegory, or parable. An allegory is a story which tells us – in narrative and parabolic form – things that could just as easily have been stated by discursive explication. It has its uses and has been used by great teachers, including those mentioned by Sri Coomaraswamy, but it is something quite different from myth.

Allegories and parables are of human creation. Myths are not. Allegories and parables put into story form things that can be paraphrased in “plainer” words. Myths tell of things that cannot be paraphrased. Things that are not prehensible to discursive reason.

The reason that the modern world finds this so difficult to understand is because of its underlying doctrine of rationalism. When one criticises rationalism, people sometimes suppose that one is speaking against reason. Quite the contrary. Reason is of the utmost importance, and we can do little without it. But the doctrine of rationalism goes much further than this. It states – or assumes that only those things that can be grasped by the reason exist. That anything we can know must be possible to be stated in discursive words. Hence the assumption that if myths tell us something, we should be able to “come right out and say” that something.

Myths and Archetypes are, as Plato taught, and as every tradition teaches, pointers toward the Truth that lies beyond the sensible world: and even such a statement as that risks being undervalued by the modern mind. Until we are realised beings, until we reach final Enlightenment, Myths and Archetypes are the closest approach we have to Truth. And even when we are Enlightened we shall not cast aside those Myths: we shall see them in their true Reality.

Thus, when patriarchal religions return to the Vision of the Mother in the precise forms in which She has always manifested Herself (for example, when Mary is hailed by the title Queen of Heaven – the very name against which Jeremiah inveighed against the Hebrew women for honouring with prayer and ritual), we are seeing the inexorable return of names and forms that are in the very fabric not only of our consciousness, but of the cosmos itself: and ultimately are the name and form of She from Whom the cosmos proceeds and to Whom it will return in the fullness of time.

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