What if we could use the power of Shakespeare’s poetry to illustrate the dharma? By the dharma I mean the universal truth about the nature of everything, as taught by the Buddha. The prospect is both intriguing and daunting: intriguing to think that some of the greatest poetry in the English language might be used to illustrate the transcendent truths taught by the Buddha, and daunting because the dharma is so vast and profound. As a casual student I can pretend to no more than a rudimentary comprehension of a few basic points common to most Buddhist traditions. With those points in mind I have tried to identify Buddhist teachings that might be easily related to Shakespeare’s works and passages from Shakespeare’s works that might be easily related to Buddhism. This amounts to a fraction of Shakespeare and a fraction of Buddhism. So perhaps my title, The Dharma According to Shakespeare, is too ambitious. A Few Aspects of The Dharma According to Certain Passages from Shakespeare would be a more realistic, if rather cumbersome, title.

But setting reality aside for the moment, let us imagine that we could bring the Buddha and Shakespeare together, perhaps at a table in our local Starbucks, although coffee would be a novelty for both of them. Since the Buddha is omniscient, we’ll assume he can speak and understand English, so no need for a translator. In preparation for the meeting the Buddha would have read most of the plays and several of the sonnets, and Shakespeare would have read The Dhammapada, three or four of the sutras, and a life of the Buddha. Wouldn’t it be nice to think of them, after the initial introduction and awkward silence, engaged in a lively conversation, with searching questions, well-considered answers, and thoughtful pauses, punctuated by the occasional nod of agreement? I won’t try to imagine the details of such a conversation, but like to think it would touch on some of the points covered in the following chapters.

Leave a Reply