Jorge Luis Borges
The subject today will be Buddhism
. I’m not going into thelong story that began two thousand five hundred years ago inBenares, when a prince of Nepal – Siddharta or Gautama – whohad become Buddha, spun the wheel of the law, proclaimed thefour noble truths and the eightfold path. I will speak of theessential in this religion, the most prevalent in the world. Theelements of Buddhism have been preserved since the fifth century before Christ: that is, since the epoch of Heraclites, of Pythagoras,of Xenon, until our times when Dr. Suzuki expounds it in Japan. The elements are the same. Now the religion is encrusted withmythology, astronomy, strange beliefs, magic, but because thesubject is complex, I will limit myself to what the various sects havein common. They may correspond to Hinayana or the small vehicle. Let us first consider the longevity of Buddhism. This longevity can be explained for historical reasons, but suchreasons are fortuitous or, rather, they are debatable, fallible. I think there are two fundamental causes. The first is Buddhism’stolerance. That strange tolerance does not correspond, as is thecase with other religions, to distinct epochs: Buddhism was alwaystolerant.
It has never had recourse to steel or fire, has never thought thatsteel or fire were persuasive. When Asoka, emperor of China,became a Buddhist, he didn’t try to impose his new religion onanybody. A good Buddhist can be Lutheran, or Methodist, orCalvinist, or Sintoist, or Taoist, or Catholic; he can be a proselyteto Islam or to Judaism, with complete freedom. But it is notpermissible for a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim to be a Buddhist.
Buddhism’s tolerance isn’t a weakness, but belongs to its nature.Buddhism was, above all, what we can call a yoga. What is the wordyoga? It is the same word that we use when we say
[Spanishfor yoke], and which has it origin in the Latin
A yoke, adiscipline which a person imposes on himself. Then, if weunderstand what Buddha preached in that first sermon in the Park of Gazelles in Benares two thousand five hundred years ago, we will have understood Buddhism. Except that it isn’t a question of understanding, it’s a question of feeling it deeply, of feeling it inbody and soul; except, also, that Buddhism doesn’t admit the reality of body not of the soul. I will try to explain that.
Furthermore, there is another reason. Buddhism demands much of our faith. This is natural, for every religion is an act of faith. Just asone’s country is an act of faith. What is it, I have often been asked,to be Argentine? To be Argentine is to feel that we are Argentines. What is it to be Buddhist? To be Buddhist is, not to understand,for that can be accomplished in a few minutes, but to
the fournoble truths and the eightfold path. Let’s not go into the twists andturns of the eightfold path, for this number obeys the Hindu habitof dividing and sub-dividing, but into the four noble truths. There is, furthermore, the legend of Buddha. We may disbelievethis legend. I have a Japanese friend, a Zen Buddhist, with whom I