St. Barlaam teaches St. Josaphat about Buddhism by means of a parable

Pocket Bard’s notes: The story of St. Josaphat is actually the Christian retelling of the story of Buddha. I love this story, because it’s essentially taking Buddhist teachings (avoid becoming attached, attachment causes suffering) and instructing them to Christians. Yes, there’s a Christian moral at the end, but you get the sense that it was sort of tacked on because they needed to say something to make it worthy of a saint story. Of all the places I expected to find Buddhist teachings, The Golden Legend was definitely a surprise!


St. Barlaam teaches St. Josaphat about Buddhism by means of a parable
The Golden Legend, Volume II, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.359-360

[St. Barlaam is sent by God to teach Josaphat, the king’s son, about Christianity. He tells him many parables, including this one.]

“A hunter had caught a small bird called a nightingale and was about to kill it, when a voice was given to the bird, who said: ‘What will you gain, O man, by killing me? You will not be able to fill your belly by eating me! But if you release me, I will give you three bits of advice that, if you adhere to them carefully, will be very helpful to you!’ Astonished at hearing what the bird had to say, the hunter promised that he would set her free if she gave him this advice. The nightingale responded: ‘One, never bother trying to get possession of a thing that is completely beyond your grasp; two, never grieve over losing a thing that cannot be recovered; three, never believe the unbelievable. Observe these three rules and it will be well with you.’

“The hunter set the nightingale free as he had promised, and as she fluttered about in the air, she said to him: ‘Worse luck to you, man! You took bad advice and you’ve lost a great treasure today, because I have in my belly a pearl larger than an ostrich egg!’ The man regretted exceedingly that he had released the bird and tried to recapture her, saying: ‘Come into my house! I will show you every kindness and then release you honorably!’ The nightingale: ‘Now I know for certain that you are a fool, because you have followed not one of the three things I told you. You are grieving about losing me irretrievably; you are trying to catch me though you cannot follow my path; and on top of that you believed that I had so large a pearl inside me, when the whole of me would not match the size of an ostrich egg!’ So those who trust in idols are fools, because they adore things that their own hands have shaped, and give the name of guardian to things they themselves must guard!”

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