Some pray to forget. Some pray to remember. Stories help us remember for long. Sometimes for many many generations.
The storyteller’s craft is to bring the audience into the story. To take sides. To fear the enemy, and to rise above that fear into action. To be frustrated by the many persistent obstacles. To fill hearts with love and sacrifice. The storyteller’s job is to transport us into other lives, and to make us bigger than we are.
This really happened. Six years ago…
A determined rage colored my spirit in the darkness. My muscles twitched from the final fight and the heart was still pounding for minutes after. But the tall blue monkeys were safe again. We stayed sitting until the final credits rolled off the screen and the lights turned on. It was time to get up.
In the sci-fi movie Avatar (2009) the good guys are the “other”, while the humans from Earth are the enemies. And yet we cheered on the Na’vi as they fought, lost, died and eked out small gains. ‘They’ won in the end, and when we walked out of the theater, ‘We’ had won as well. ‘Our’ side had prevailed, never minding for a moment that these were blue creatures in an alien world. Not only did we identify with the Na’vi, we had momentarily become the Na’vi ourselves. We walked out the champions.
Human stories have a human scale. Mythologies extend the heroes and villains into an extra-human form. It’s inevitable. A great human can only be so great. To be truly epic, the enemies have to be beyond human with magical powers, and the heroes have to be better still. Mythological heroes have to be larger than life. Even Hollywood heroes this last decade have become more and more superhuman.
Is it a wonder that older cultures have larger than life epics? These are the stories that survived the ravages of time. No one remembers a human tale, but an epic, well that’s something to remember and tell your kids.
When we hear a story, truly hear it in our heart, we are transported into the middle of the story, and we become the protagonists, the heroes of the story. When we hear super-hero stories, we acquire those very superhuman traits that the hero possessed. We have become them.
Hindus have many Gods in many temples. Some with human form, and many with super-human forms and stories. We often misunderstand why there are so many gods, and why they have these forms. But the thing we truly misunderstand is why we pray at all.
Hindu gods are not just creatures of vivid imaginations. These are our greater selves, kept safely in our stories. Their forms are elegant mnemonics — we remember their outer forms, and generations have carried safely their stories, like seeds, waiting to burst open inside us.
Like a password that unlocks the memory vault we carry within, these gods and their stories, once taken to heart, allows us to expand our own personal experience. Inside our selves we carry the potential for great adventures. But we don’t remember what we are capable of. When we pray to our Gods, we are not kneeling weakly before an omnipotent benefactor-king. We are praying to reveal that part of our own selves that this particular God is. We are just downloading our familiar-old selves that we have forgotten, or maybe saved away for future reference. When we pray, we are becoming bigger than we are.
When I pray to Hanuman, I am remembering that I am a humble servant to the mystery of the Universe. That I have the power to be as big as I want, to be as small as I need to be, and the strength to move mountains. That by mastering my breath I can direct my energies as I wish. That this physical body also encases a diamond-hard-energy body. I do not pray to Hanuman as a God outside of me. I pray to remember my own self as Hanuman. A god among men.
We pray so that we may remember the greatness and goodness that is our true potential. Prayers are just reminders that we are one with the universe. We are not alone and powerless. We remember the stories of our own greatness as we go from our darkness, and out into the world, carrying our light.