There is, furthermore, the legend of Buddha. We may disbelieve this legend. I have a Japanese friend, a Zen Buddhist, with whom I have had long and friendly arguments. I told him that I believed in the historic truth of Buddha. I believed and I believe that two thousand five hundred years ago there was a Nepalese prince called Siddharta or Gautama who became the Buddha, that is, the Awoken, the Lucid One – as opposed to us who are asleep or who are dreaming this long dream which is life. I remember one of Joyce’s phrases: “History is a nightmare from which I want to awake.” Well then, Siddharta, at thirty years of age, awoke and became Buddha.
I argued with that friend who was a Buddhist (I’m not sure that I’m a Christian and am sure that I’m not a Buddhist) and I said to him: “Why not believe in Prince Siddharta, who was born in Kapilovastu five hundred years before the Christian era?” He replied: “Because it’s of no importance; what’s important is to believe in the Doctrine”. He added, I think with more ingenuity than truth, that to believe in the historical existence of Buddha or to be interested in it would be like confusing the study of mathematics with the biography of Pythagoras or Newton. One of the subjects of meditation which the monks in the monasteries of Japan and China practice is to doubt the existence of Buddha. It is one of the doubts they must assume in order to reach the truth. The other religions demand much more credulity on our part. If we are Christians we must believe that one of the three persons of the Divinity condescended to become a man and was crucified in Judea. If we are Muslims we must believe that there is no other god than God and that Mohammad is his apostle. We can be good Buddhists and deny that Buddha existed. Or, rather, we may think, we must think that our belief in history isn’t important: what is important is to believe in the Doctrine. Nevertheless, the legend of Buddha is so beautiful that we cannot help but refer to it.
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