Quaker Universalist Conversations

“No Such Thing as a True Story”

Acharya Pema Chödrön is principal teacher for Gampo Abbey, a Western Buddhist Monastery in the Shambhala Tradition, located in Nova Scotia, Canada. This excerpt is from Awakening Loving-Kindness, pp.74-77.

It’s said in the teachings that if you hold on to your belief there will be conflict. There’s a wonderful story about this.

There was a god who knew how men and women love to believe things to be true and make clubs and religions and political systems with the people who agree with them. They just love to make something out of nothing and then write its name on a big banner and march down the street waving it and yelling and screaming, only to have people who believe the opposite come toward them with their banner, yelling and screaming.

This god decided to try to prove a point about the human condition so that people might, in seeing the absurdity of it, have a good laugh…. He constructed a big hat divided right down the middle, the left side of which was a brilliant blue and the right side flaming red.

Then he went to a place where many people were working in the fields on the left side of a road and many other people were working in the fields on the right side of the road. There the god manifested in all his glory; no one could miss him. Big and radiant, wearing his hat, he walked straight down the road.

All the people on the right side of the road dropped their hoes and looked up at this god; all the people on the left side of the road did the same. Everybody was amazed. Then he disappeared. Everyone shouted, “We saw God! We saw God!”

Sacred gourd, from Monty Python's "Life of Brian"They were all full of joy, until someone on the left said, “There he was in all his radiance and in his red hat!” And people on the right said, “No, he had on a blue hat.” This disagreement escalated until the people build walls and began to throw stones at each other.

Sacred shoe, from Monty Python's "Life of Brian"Then the god appeared again. This time he walked in the other direction and then disappeared.

Now all the people looked at each other and the ones on the right said, “Ah, you were right, he did have on a red hat. We’re so sorry, we just saw incorrectly. You were right and we were wrong.” The ones on the other side said, “No, no. You were right. We were wrong.” At this point they didn’t know whether to fight or to make friends. Most of them were completely puzzled by the situation.

Then the god appeared again. This time he stood in the middle and he turned to the left and then he turned around to the right, and everyone started to laugh.

Image source

Followers of the “sacred gourd” and followers of the “sacred shoe,” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979).

On a midnight clear 2,000 years ago, three wise men enter a manger where a babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes. It is an infant called Brian…and the three wise men are in the wrong manger. For the rest of his life, Brian (Graham Chapman) finds himself regarded as something of a messiah — yet he’s always in the shadow of this other guy from Galilee.

Rotten Tomatoes review

A YouTube clip of the gourd and shoe scene, “The Holy Gourd of Jerusalem”:


Part of the beautiful irony of Pema’s story is that it is a “true story.” The great and dangerous confoundment of the human race arises precisely in our persistent mistake of insisting that sacred stories are factually true. They are so much more than that. And so it is. Blessèd Be,Michael
You still have those who can/will not see the sacred as human alongside those who see the solipsist-human as sacred!
At the risk of confusing “No Such Thing” with biblical scholarship, Henry J. Cadbury writes (in The Making of Luke-Acts): "There would come a Messiah who would inaugurate the kingdom of God, the resurrection and the judgment. But the Christians claimed that this Messiah had already appeared in Jesus.... Not a single New Testament writer fails to voice this universal anticipation."
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