Barlaam & Josaphat
Buddha – a Christian Saint?
Dialogos, Katarina Livljanić
Outhere Music: ARCANA A458. 65’41
This recording (released on 5 October) by Katarina Livljanic and Dialogos tells an astonishing story that was completely unknown to me and, I suspect, to many other people. It is a musical reflection on the story of the Christian saints Barlaam and Josaphat, a tale that replicates, in a Christian setting, the story of the life of the Buddha. The story was known in at least four religions and was passed down in most of the medieval languages. It tells of Prince Josaphat (from the Sanskrit word Bodhisattva), the son of the Indian King Abenner who was persecuting Christians. Astrologers predicted that Josaphat would become Christian, so the king imprisoned him. But he met the hermit Saint Barlaam and converted to Christianity. Eventually his father, the King, also became Christian, and became a hermit, passing his throne to Josaphat, who also later abdicated and retired into seclusion and contemplation with his teacher Barlaam. The story comes from a 2nd to 4th century Sanskrit Buddhist text, passing into Christian mythology via Baghdad and the 8th century Arabic Book of Bilawhar and Yudasaf) and Middle Eastern Christian sources. In medieval times, the two saints were honoured (although not actually sainted) by both the Slavic Eastern Orthodox and the Roman church. There is even an illusion to it in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.