Last week I had the enormous honor of being invited to participate in a panel discussion of Buddhism and Christianity as a journey between at the annual gathering of the Society for Christina Buddhist Studies.
There were four of us on the panel proper. I would say two of us were Christians profoundly informed by Buddhism, another probably could best be described as one hundred percent Buddhist and one hundred percent Christian, and me. Out of this experience I would have to say I am a Buddhist heavily marked by Christianity.
And with that, I find myself wishing you all, once again, a blessed feast of the saints Barlaam & Josaphat!
I like to remind people of the details of this original Christian Buddhist mashup. So, please forgive the repetition parts of this small sharing…
In the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic church as well as for those of the Eastern Churches who follow the revised Julian calendar, today, the 27th of November is the feast of Sts Barlaam and Josaphat. The Orthodox who continue to use the Julian calendar observe this feast on 26th of August.
Or, used to. For the most part this holiday is no longer actually observed.
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. Variations on it pop up all over the place, from the Golden Legend to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. It is what one may call a classic.
However, in 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.
I do love that. So much…
While we can say with near certainty that Jesus never visited Tibet, or for those who want to quibble about distance, even to India, there was in fact lots and lots of cross fertilization. Ideas and people followed that Silk Road in both directions and for a long time. So, of course the story of the Buddha would make it West, even if only as a faint echo.
Some real juice today is found in the Buddhist and Christian dialogue. They have so little to say to each other, and out of that awkwardness some beautiful things have been emerging.
That certainly was my experience on the panel. So little to say. So much to experience.
But. Also. I love the mashup. And, I’ve thought a fair amount about what a Buddhist Christian church might look like. My small fantasy. But, if such a thing were ever to happen this would have to be one of the first dates to be dropped into that church’s liturgical calendar.
And with that a tip of the glass to the holy ones.