Category Archives: Myths

Sacred narratives

Buddha’s Death – Myth


There are many, many stories about Buddha and many variations on each story. My mother told me one such story about his death – by poison. 

In Burmese culture, Buddhist monks do not have possessions or any source of income. They are meant to be separate from society and free of worldly attachments. However, this means that if they want to eat they must often beg for offerings from Buddhist civilians. They travel around the streets with a special offering bowl and eat whatever people put in it. They must eat everything to show their thanks and to avoid waste or greed. Buddha himself also abided by this rule, and on one particular day was offered a meal of rice, cakes, and mushrooms (or some other sort of vegetable). Buddha had some inhuman powers because of his enlightenment, and was able to immediately tell that the mushrooms were poisonous. Buddha ate the entire meal anyways because he had to as an enlightened being. He died, but it is not seen as a tragic event. Buddha knew he was ready to die and willingly accepted the poison.


My mother learned a great deal of Buddha stories from her grandmother. This was the primary way she was instructed to live her life, and the primary way in which she was taught Buddhism. My mother no longer practices Buddhism to the same extent that she did when she was younger, but she did teach my sister and I how to properly pray and how to be good people (based on Buddha’s teachings). My mother related this story to the monks that we used to see at Burmese temple – we would always donate food to them when we visited. 


I believe this story has more close ties to Burmese culture than some other Buddha stories. It incorporates an element of Burmese culture that might be uncommon in other cultures. I think it also helps Buddhists accept death when it finds them, whether it is of old age or of something more sudden. It also might help them forgive people who make mistakes or who have malicious intentions. It carries the message that if one is prepared to die, death is not a tragedy. Furthermore, it is more important to live an enlightened life than it is to live a long life.

Buddha’s Birth Story – Myth


This story comes from Burmese Buddhist teachings. My mother learned it from her grandmother.

Before Buddha’s birth, a white elephant came to see his pregnant mother. My mother could not remember the significance of this, but did remember that Buddha was not born naturally – he magically emerged from the side of his mother’s womb. The “natural” way was seen as impure, and this was a sign of his enlightenment. As soon as he was born, he was able to walk. He did not cry or act like a baby. Instead, he walked across a lake to sit by a lotus flower and meditate. 

There are other versions of this story, and the more complete telling involves a dream of Buddha’s mother, Queen Maya. In the dream, the white elephant carries a lotus flower and strikes Maya on her side. Then, Brahmin monks were called to interpret the dream, and advised the king and queen to let their son leave the home so he could become Buddha. If he stayed, he would become a world conqueror.


My mother heard lots of religious stories from her grandmother. This was the main method that Buddhism was taught to her – from parables about Buddha’s life. My mother is no longer very religious but the morals that she learned from these stories have stuck with her for her whole life. Despite marrying a non-Buddhist, she taught my sister and I how to properly pray and sometimes used examples from Buddhism to teach us how to be good people. My parents wanted us to be exposed to both Christianity and Buddhism so that when we were older we would have a solid foundation if we decided to practice either.


I always found Buddhism interesting because even though there are some deities that vary throughout different types of Buddhism, the main recipient of prayer is someone who was still a human. My mother always emphasized that Buddha was just a human who achieved enlightenment. She made it seem that technically, anyone could become a Buddha. It certainly wouldn’t be easy, but it would be possible. This belief may not be common to all types of Buddhism. Anyways, this origin story seems like it undermines that belief. Buddha had a more “pure” birth than the rest of us so we’re all already all off to a rough start. This story lends Buddha a lot of mythical elements, which I think helps make him a figure worthy of prayer. I also don’t think the point of Buddhism (for most people) is to fully achieve enlightenment, even if that is technically possible – it’s just to follow in Buddha’s example and have a positive impact on the world and people around us.

Cleansing a New House

Informant has heard of and participated in the belief of saging or “cleansing” a new house/living space. Whenever moving into a new house or space, the informant will sage or throw holy water in each room or space in order to cleanse the house of harmful or bad spirits and energy. This was taught to the informant by both friends and family but in different ways. The informant has heard of burning sage in a house and also using holy water, and has participated in both. Another way the participant has heard of cleansing the house but not participated is by using crystals and affirmations. The informant believes that by cleansing the house, they are making a clean, fresh slate in which they can come in and have the closest thing to brand new as they can. They also believe this creates good energy and intentions for them to have while living there, they will also keep holy water in the house and occasionally burn sage in order to keep the positive energy within the house.

Context – This practice is commonly used by new homeowners and those moving into a new apartment, it can be done multiple ways, as this informant has done, and allows the informant to feel safe and good in their new space.

Analysis – By cleansing the house, an individual may feel like they have fully cleaned and walked into a new space with no previous left over from anything that occurred or lived in the space before them. This also helps take some of the stress of creating your home away from a new homeowner and onto a higher power of being. This practice may help with the pressures and stress of moving while also creating the good intention of having a positive experience in a new home.

USC Pre-Game Pole Kick

While going to a USC football game, it is tradition to kick the bottom of one of the poles on your way out of the entrance closest to Exposition Boulevard. There is both a light and flag pole that have wide bottoms as you go through the gates towards the coliseum. If you look at them on your way out you will both see and hear the effects of people kicking them as they go to cheer on the football team. It is said to be good luck for the team to kick either pole as you head to the game. At certain times in the season, the bottom guarding will actually break off from all of the kicking, but one of the poles will always be open. There are constant markings from the ware and tear on the pole and well as the ringing that follows the kick. If you do not kick the pole, many students believe the team will have bad luck and lose the game, or get injured. Informant was taught this by other individuals headed to the football games, and by noticing others kicking the pole as they went by.

Context – It is believed if you do not kick the pole, the team will have bad luck! It is unknown exactly what year or who started this tradition at the university but it is a widely accepted and practiced tradition, especially those who attended or currently attend USC. All kinds of people, from kids, adults, women, and men will do this as they head from campus to the coliseum for games.

Analysis – This is a common superstition practice at work. Many teams, schools, or even athletes have superstitious tendencies that help place the results of a game or wager on a “higher power.” This can be explained as a relaxer and a way to handle the stress of an upcoming event that a fan may have little to no control over.

Hawaiian Legend – Night Marchers

The legend of the Night Marchers is known by the informant due to their ethnic background. They grew up with a Pacific Islander cultural background in Hawaii where there is a lot of folklore. This legend in particular was about the Night Marchers who were often seen and heard at night throughout Oahu, and it was said to be the ghosts/spirits of the royal army. They were often unseen but heard until very close and were said to take the spirit of those who disrupted their path or did not pay their respects. There were many stories told to the informant about said Marchers, but the one specific story remembered was from the informant’s father who said he had fallen asleep on the beach in the path of the marchers and he woke up to the sound of them getting closer and closer, he quickly got his story together and moved before it was too late, and he paid his respects as they passed by, but he could hear their calls and drums the entire time although they could not be fully seen in front of him.

Context – the Night Marchers are said to appear at night on the islands as they travel through the island, stories include seeing the marchers, seeing their torches travel up mountains, hearing them march, and their drums. Hawaii is filled with many legends and tales as the culture is very tradition and folklore based, and the Night Marchers are just one legend of the many. For many islanders, these legends are very real and not just tales or stories.

Analysis – this legend gives place to spirits of those who have passed and are said to have served to protect those of the Hawaiian royal family as well as the islanders themselves. This legend gives respect to the spirits of those who follow the tradition and who want to pay respect to the royal army themselves, it teaches younger islanders about the history of their culture as well as lays grounding for respect of the culture. Like the informant, for many within this culture, these legends are a big part of the culture which not only shows respect but also has fun, interesting stories about interactions with these marchers.