Preface: A Meeting of Minds

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? The prospect is intriguing and daunting, intriguing to think of relating Shakespeare’s poetry to such truths, and daunting because the Dharma is so vast. I have tried to find Buddhist teachings that might be related to Shakespeare’s works and passages from Shakespeare that might be related to Buddhist teachings. What I have found amounts to a fraction of Shakespeare and a fraction of Buddhism, so perhaps my title is too ambitious. A Few Aspects of The Dharma According to Certain Passages from Shakespeare might 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 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 find 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 those 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, the nature of worldly existence, suffering and its causes, and qualities that offer a path out of suffering to happiness. It would be a conversation worth overhearing.

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