After Gautama the Buddha was 'enlightened' under the Bo tree, he was said to have gotten up and gone about the business of lending others a hand. He had left his father's palace at 29, was 'enlightened' at 35 and died at 80.
Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not. Scholars may tweak the story this way and that, but the tale is pretty much the same through various schools of what is now called "Buddhism." Or anyway I think it is.
And within what can be a mythology fraught with curlicues of teaching and adventure, Gautama's tale and various attendant religiosities stick in my mind. Maybe they're true. Maybe they're not.
For example, it sticks in my mind that after Gautama's 'enlightenment,' he sewed himself a robe made of old rags he found here and there. Twenty-eight pieces of cloth sticks in my mind. Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not.
Institutions and expositors worried about their income may be hell-bent-for-leather that one thing or another is fact, is 'authentic,' is the truth, or is fershur. They've got axes to grind and they can't have their constituencies running off in all sorts of theological directions. They may have good intentions, but they can be pretty forceful with their theological arm-twistings.
This morning, I woke up thinking about Jizo, a popular bodhisattva (enlightened being) in a lot of Buddhist traditions, Zen included. Jizo (Ksitigarbha) is popular in part because he takes care of recognizable, walking-around and identifiably-flawed human beings ... people like you and me. It's nice to have a heavy-hitter on your team and not just some aerated beam of light spouting mystical wisdom. Jizo is the kind of guy you might meet in a bar or living next door. "He is therefore often regarded as the bodhisattva of hell beings, as well as the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children and aborted fetuses in Japanese culture." Most of us have hells to address in our lives and it's nice to think there is some savvy companion force who can dispel the darkness... even if that Jizo is nothing more than our own innate power and skill.
Jizo ... maybe it's true. Jesus...maybe it's true. Mohammad...maybe it's true.
And, equally, maybe it's not.
What occurred to me this morning was that in the same way that economic hard times throw people back on their own resources, so theology or religion, to the extent that they are serious in anyone's heart, throw people back upon themselves. You can only believe the church or text for so long before ... well, you just take whatever theology or framework you have created and go for it ... find out if it's true. It really doesn't matter if it's 'true' for some institution or guru or not ... just find out if your very own, home-grown, maybe-it's-true-and-maybe-it's-not theology is grounded and ... true.
Like the suddenly-stricken Christian who may wake in the middle of the night after years of going to church and wonder, "What if God were real?" so anyone who has dabbled or dug in the fields of one spiritual persuasion or another comes back to his or her own resources, his or her own being, his or her own variety of urban legends. Institutions and the insecure may take dithering umbrage and issue anointed dicta, but still ... it's three o'clock in the morning, the bedroom ceiling is unyielding, and ... what if it were true? What if, despite all the good intentions of all the temples and texts in the world ... what if it were true ... whatever 'it' may be... what if it were true?
Just thinking that we are all the only theologians and urban legend-izers that count. I like imagining that Gautama sewed his robe out of rags. I like thinking of good ol' Jizo rattling his staff topped with jingling rings to ward off the threats and demons of hell. I like 'enlightenment,' even if I dislike hearing it mentioned and wreathed in come-hither verbal light. I like this stuff, though I don't often think about it. It's just me telling my story -- a couple of bright beads in the urban legend I call myself. It doesn't matter if all this is true or untrue. It's just part of the farm I happen to have bought into ... not good, not bad ... just the farm on which some pretty good crops may grow ... assuming I get off my believer's ass and do something about it.
One thing's for sure -- Gautama and Jizo aren't going to do the work any more than the bedroom ceiling is going to answer my questions. I enjoy their part in the urban legend I call home, but my theology is my business just as their theology is theirs.
After a while agreements and disagreements with others -- relying on others -- just doesn't cut it.
But that doesn't mean you can't.