Perhaps there is a Beginner's Forum I should have posed this question in? Is every newcomer here who asks an out-of-the-norm question called out for ignorance?! I have read and thought about the 4NT a great deal, actually. Anyway, I admit I am interested in this now in a fairly curious and academic sense. I ask in part because of something a friend of mine said once. He has attended several of the 10 day Goenka Vipassana retreats, and he quoted Goenka as saying something like: "The Dhamma wants you to be awakened," or "it begins to work with you", or something to that effect. I realize that he does not represent Theravada, but it made me think of the concept of grace, and while I have never encountered anything like it in my readings of Theravada Buddhism, I was curious to explore the issue a little with knowledgeable people. Maybe grace
isn't quite the right word... and I certainly wasn't expecting to discover a mysterious divine savior in Theravada Buddhism! Perhaps I have completely misunderstood what my friend or Goenka meant...
EDIT: After re-reading my original question, I think I can better understand your response. I don't mean to be defensive.
No problem from where I stand, you are not being defensive. I apologise on behalf of anyone who has made you feel belittled for asking a perfectly natural question for a beginner to ask. Anyway, rest assured that it's fine to ask questions, and as you correctly allude to, a beginner should not be chastised for asking questions, when embarking on a new field of inquiry.
According to my understanding, it's not so much that there is some 'presence' that is 'out there' that can grant us salvation, no. But we are
blessed to have access
to the teachings left behind by the Buddha, and what's more, there are still teachers around who can aid us in understanding & applying those teachings. That
is the 'blessing' we can be thankful for. As for how we came to be here at a time when the teachings are still accessible - one would need the power of recollection of past lives to have a chance of that, afaik. Best just to focus on taking advantage of what we've got - the vast and detailed teachings left behind by the Buddha. I don't think that's the same as the Theistic notion of 'grace' but for me, there is still an element of the miraculous about it. I look at my own life, and the strange and convoluted journey I have made thus far, to the point where somehow, many of those awful events in my life, have ended up helping
me to understand the Buddha-Dhamma, ultimately. It can feel like a kind of 'grace' to see how all of the pain and sufferings one has been though, kind of make sense one day, and one no longer feels so bad about them. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to learn what I have learned thus far.
Finally, I offer that we did not discover the Four Noble Truths & Noble Eightfold Path on our own. We learned them from someone else, and tracing it all the way back the teaching originates with the Buddha. That is
a source external to ourselves, outside of ourselves. But if we take the teachings to heart and apply them well, eventually they get internalised and we become 'our own refuge'. Bear in mind, though, what came first - the imbibing of the Teachings. When we have reached a certain level in this, then
it is that we can become our own refuge. It is not that while still a worldling who knows nothing of Dhamma that we can read that line and say, "the Blessed One says I can just be my own refuge, that means I can rely exclusively on my own understanding". Aiui, that's not what 'be your own refuge' actually means.
I hope that was in some way helpful.