December 02, 2021

#08-160: Saints Barlaam and Josaphat

King Josaphat

Note: The story of the Christian saint named Josaphat was actually just an echo of the life of the Buddha--yet for many years he was venerated by the Church!

Get Ready: Do you think it strange that two very different religions could share the same stories? Or does this seem natural to you?

Few Christians today have heard the story of Saint Josaphat and his teacher Saint Barlaam. The simple reason for this is that they never existed.

But listen to this story and see if it sounds familiar:

Once upon a time, in faraway India, a great king named Abenner lived a sumptuous lifestyle, enjoying all the pleasures the world could hold.

After Abenner's son was born, a sage predicted that the boy would grow up to be a holy man and forsake the world. To stop him, the king built for his son a city of delights, in which no poverty, no sickness, no old age, and no death were found.

But the young Prince Josaphat insisted on journeying outside the city, where he encountered a man who was blind, another deformed, a third terribly ill, and at last a dead man. Thus he realized that all things were impermanent.

As he was pondering these heavy thoughts, Barlaam, his great teacher, arrived from Sri Lanka. He taught the prince the Christian ideals of asceticism; Josaphat became a Christian, and vowed to practice simplicity through poverty and devotion to God.

His father tried to change his son's mind, sending beautiful dancing girls, rich foods and wine, the finest musicians--all for nothing. At last King Abenner himself converted to Christianity, and he and his son ruled together.

The prince later abdicated and went to Sri Lanka to find Barlaam. When at last they met, he practiced the life of a holy hermit until his death.

Of course, this is basically the story of Prince Siddhartha in his journey to become the Buddha. ("Josaphat" may be a form of the Sanskrit word "bodhisattva.")

The story seems to have been passed along from one traveler to another and, as in the game in which children whisper a secret around a circle, it got garbled in transmission. The Christian West accepted the story wholeheartedly, and Saints Barlaam and Josaphat were placed on the Church's official calendar.

Marco Polo's travels were published in 1300, and he provided a straightforward account of the Buddha's life. But it wasn't until the 19th century, as information about Buddhism became more widely available in the west, that the parallel was finally recognized.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. asceticism
  2. garbled
  3. hermit
  4. impermanent
  5. parallel
  6. sage
  7. Sanskrit
  8. straightforward
  9. sumptuous
  10. wholeheartedly

  1. not enduring
  2. mixed up; unclear
  3. enthusiastically
  4. a similarity
  5. clear; accurate
  6. a wise person
  7. religious self-denial
  8. religious person living alone
  9. luxurious
  10. the ancient language of India

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 2, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. b; 3. h; 4. a; 5. d; 6. f; 7. j; 8. e; 9. i; 10. c