Tales of the Buddha Come West

Ah, Barlaam & Josaphat!

On this day in the Western Church’s calendar and for those of the Eastern Church who follow the revised Julian calendar, this is the feast of Sts Barlaam and Josaphat. (Those stubborn Easterns who continue to use the Julian calendar observe the feast on 26th of August.)

This is my favorite Christian holiday. Period. Full stop.

Sadly, this feast isn’t observed much in the West, anymore. And I suspect it isn’t celebrated by many in the East, either.

For pretty good reasons. Well, actually, I’m not so sure the reasons are good, at all…

The story of the prince Josaphat and his conversion to the true faith through the guidance of the hermit Barlaam appears in the West in the eleventh century, apparently composed by the monk Euthymios, although attributed to the seventh century John of Damascus.

In fact the story is quite a bit older than either the eleventh or seventh centuries. And more recent, as well. The story pops up all over the place, from the Golden Legend to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. It is what one may call a classic.

However, by the nineteenth century scholars realized the true source of the story. The name Josaphat derived ultimately from the Sanskrit and means bodhisattva, “enlightenment being.”

They figured out the story, through some interesting turns, was really that of the Buddha.

As they say, a classic story…

Ah, sing that song once more, of the good news of our true nature and the path to healing…

A call to all who hunger, to all who thirst.

Made for everyone, of all religions, and of none…

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