IN the spirit of the season, I’d like to pay tribute to that treasured Christian saint, Saint Buddha. Well, he wasn’t exactly called that—he was known as the duo saints, Baarlam and Yosaphat.
Baarlam and Yosaphat were popular and revered in the Middle Ages. They even had feast days–honored in the Greek Orthodox Church on August 26 and in the Roman Martyrology in the Western Church on November 27.
The Legend Grows
They figured in the casket scene in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and even the King of France claimed to have a holy relic—the finger of one of the saints.
“The popularity of the Greek version of this story is attested to by the number of translations made of it throughout the Christian world, including versions in Latin, Old Slavonic, Armenian, Christian Arabic, English, Ethiopic, and French,” explains scholar Douglas B. Killings.
“Such was its popularity that both Barlaam and Josaphat (Ioasaph) were eventually recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as Saints, and churches were dedicated in their honor from Portugal to Constantinople.
“It was only after Europeans began to have increased contacts with India that scholars began to notice the similarities between the two sets of stories.”
Yosaphat = Bodhisat = Bodhisattva
One version of the Christian story went something like this: King Abenner in India abhorred Christians. When astrologers predicted that his own son would convert to Christianity, the king isolated the young prince Josaphat from the outside world.
Despite all of the king’s efforts to keep his son on the palace grounds, Josaphat met the hermit Saint Barlaam and converted to Christianity. Even though his father became angry and intimidating, Josaphat kept his faith.
By and by, the king was also converted and abdicated his throne to his son and became a hermit in the desert. Josaphat himself later abdicated and became a recluse with his old teacher Barlaam.
Compare this to the story of the historical Siddhartha Gautama (aka Gautama Buddha aka Shakyamuni) born an Indian prince in the late sixth century. Shortly after his birth, soothsayers told his father, the King, that Siddhartha would become either a great universal monarch or an enlightened one (a Buddha).
The king did everything in his power to surround and seclude Siddhartha with all the luxuries and pleasures possible.
Still, the young bodhisattva left the palace to become a hermit and eventually gained enlightenment.
The Telephone Game
By the time HPB began writing Isis Unveiled, scholars were intrigued by the Barlaam and Yosaphat story, beginning to trace it through various countries’ texts and interpretations.
The story first appears among the works of St. John of Damascus, a theologian of the early part of the eighth century and it was translated into all the chief European languages, including Scandinavian and Slavonic tongues, explains Colonel Sir Henry Yule whom Madame Blavatsky quotes in Isis Unveiled (Vol. 2, Page 580).
“Here then lies the secret of its origin,” Madame Blavatsky continues,
“… for this St. John, before he became a divine, held a high office at the court of the Khalif Abu Jafar Almansur [in Baghdad], where he probably learned the story, and afterwards adapted it to the new orthodox necessities of the Buddha turned into a Christian saint.”
Confirming HPB’s thoughts on the subject, modern scholars have concluded that the Barlaam and Josaphat Buddha story, traditionally ascribed to St. John of Damascus, came to Europe from Arabic, Caucasus, and/or Persian sources.
Unity in the New Year
On that note, I’d like to cap this tribute with an excerpt from a poem by Israel Zangwill (1864-1926):
“Was Barlaam truly Josaphat,
And Buddha truly each?
What better parable than that
The unity to preach
The simple brotherhood of souls
That seek the highest good;
He who in kingly chariot rolls,
Or wears the hermit’s hood!
For Culture’s Pantheon they grace
In catholic array.
Each Saint hath had his hour and place,
But now ’tis All Saints’ Day.”
Unity of Religions
This video is a vision of the unity of humanity and the oneness of religion. This is a Bahá’í Musical presentation. The images and writings express the core principle of the Unity of the Source of Religions so precious to the Bahá’ís. It is a vision of a global family, a world in harmony, a planet in love. The song that the pictures are put to is called “Divine Tapestry” by Smith and Dragoman:
HPB on the New Year
Wishing each other good tidings at the New Year is no idle exercise HPB teaches. “The astral life of the earth is young and strong between Christmas and Easter,” Upasika (HPB) said in the January 1888 issue of Lucifer.
“Those who form their wishes now, will have added strength to fulfill them consistently.”
In understanding which day in January is best to observe the new year, Upasika advises us: “it is January the 4th which ought to be selected by the Theosophists—the Esotericists especially—as their New Year.
“January is under the sign of Capricornus, the mysterious Makara [a mythical creature described as dolphin-like with an elephant head] of the Hindu mystics—the ‘Kumaras,’ it being stated, having incarnated in mankind under the 10th sign of the Zodiac.”
For ages the 4th of January has been sacred to Mercury-Budha, or Thoth-Hermes….the day seems in every way more appropriate for us than January 1, the day of Janus, the double-faced ‘god of the time’-servers.
Yet it is well named, and as well chosen to be celebrated by all the political opportunists the world over.” (See January 1890 issue of Lucifer.)
(With special thanks to Steve Levey, “DC Steve,” for his help with this last section.)
© Kara LeBeau 2010. All rights reserved