The Paris Review

To Believe or Not to Believe: That Is Not the Question

Photo by Dialog Center Images via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Many years ago at a dinner party, I met a couple who had brought along their two-year-old son. The mother was Jewish, and the father was a practicing Buddhist from Tibet. Making small talk in the kitchen, the mother began to tell me about how she had been unable to get pregnant, so her husband had gone to their lama to ask him to bless them with a child. Some months later the couple successfully conceived, but before they broke the news to friends and family, they received a call from the lama, who told them that their unborn son was a bodhisattva—a being who has achieved enlightenment but chooses to reincarnate for the good of the world. As she told me this story, I felt dizzy and entranced. All I could see was her suddenly illuminated face; all I could hear was her voice.

Now, I am not a Buddhist, but I experienced what she said about her child as true. He was beautiful and played quietly on the floor at our feet. For me, this was

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