I was reading "The Goddess Pattini and the Lord Buddha: Notes on the Myth of the Birth of the Deity" by Gananath Obeyesekere. This paragraph caught my eye and I thought of posting it.
Scholars have reconstructed the historical Buddha on the basis of the myths recounted in the Pali Canon. There is not the slightest doubt about the historicity of the Buddha and some of the suttas do indeed give us useful historical and sociological information of the society and the period in which he lived. But there are real dangers in extrapolating or rationalizing history from myth, which as we have shown, provide symbolic solutions to problems of a very different order. Practically every historian of Buddhism has rationalized the myth of the death of Buddha’s mother seven days after his birth to mean that the Buddha’s mother died seven days after his birth and he was brouqht up by Maha Prajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s mother’s sister and co-wife of his father.We have shown that the necessity for eliminating the mother springs from a different set of motives. It is conceivable that the myth is a symbolic elaboration of a real event, but there is no independent evidence to justify this. Furthermore,take the names of the Buddha’s father and mother, Suddhodana and Maya, which practically all scholars believe were the real names of his parents. From the point of view adopted in this paper this is highly unlikely, and these names have to be viewed in relation to the mythmaking process. Maya means "illusion";, and in the Upanishadic view current in the time of the Buddha, the whole phenomenal world was an illusory manifestation of a true underlying reality or essence. Thus it is highly appropriate that she whose body bears the Buddha, a spiritual being, should be viewed as; "illusion";. Her husband’s name, Suddhodhana, means "pure-rice". But rice is also seed and symbolically means "semen". In many Indian languages the word for "seed" can also denote "rice", "egg"; or semen. It is likely that the attempt here is once again to maintain the purity of the Buddha’s mother, i.e., how could someone who bore a "Peerless One" like the Buddha ever have been polluted with sexual intercourse ? The solution is to deny that his sperm was of the normal kind "pure rice ( seed )". The name Suddhodhana is an attempt to bring a historical personage into the mythic scheme of events centering on the Buddha. Maya, however, consistently maintains a mythic nature in the texts, for the Mahapadana Sutta of the Digha Nikäya says that the Buddha was visible in the womb of his mother "as a thread through a precious stone."