Preface: Shakespeare Meets the Buddha

What if we could use the power of Shakespeare’s poetry to illustrate certain aspects of the Dharma, the truth about the nature of existence as taught by the Buddha? This thought occurred to me after a performance of Othello. I pondered it for a while, but it didn’t seem likely to lead anywhere. In Shakespeare, we have a writer of plays that can be bloody, bawdy and seething with uncontrolled emotions. And in the Buddha, we have a spiritual teacher who taught his followers to tame the mind and conquer the passions. But eventually, I began to find passages in Shakespeare that demonstrate the truth of the Buddha’s teachings. These passages involve a fraction of Shakespeare and a fraction of Buddhism, but given how much separates Shakespeare from the Buddha, the connections are intriguing. Still, my title might be too ambitious. A Few Aspects of the Dharma According to Certain Passages from Shakespearewould be more realistic.

But setting reality aside, let us imagine that we could bring the Buddha and Shakespeare together for a meeting of minds. In preparation, the Buddha would read most of the plays and several sonnets, and Shakespeare would read The Dhammapada, two or three sutras, and a life of the Buddha. While reading Shakespeare’s plays, the Buddha’s heart would overflow with compassion for the suffering of the poor deluded characters.  And to Shakespeare, the Buddha’s teachings would seem strange at first but would mainly ring true. He would even want to write a play based on events in the Buddha’s life.

Shakespeare would arrive at the meeting place in doublet and hose and recognize the Buddha in robes made from squares of saffron-colored cloth. They would bow to one another, and each would express sincere admiration for the other’s work. Soon they would settle into a discussion of their works, with thoughtful questions, careful explanations, moments of puzzlement, and occasional nods of agreement. What would they discuss?  Their conversation might cover the primacy of mind, suffering and its causes, the nature of worldly existence, and qualities that offer a path out of suffering to happiness. It would be a conversation worth overhearing.


One Response to “Preface: Shakespeare Meets the Buddha”

  1. holly tank Says:

    Wouldn’t Shakespeare Rather go to the den at P&P.

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