I can spend days slogging away at a story, adding words and ideas, playing with points of view, but the good bit – the bit when I know the story’s going to be strong enough to go out into the world – is the moment when it comes alive and begins to write itself. From that point on I find, as I work and rework it, that there’s more in the story than I realised. The things I consciously wove into it are only part of it. It speaks about things, and makes connections, that I didn’t plan with my conscious mind, yet are unquestionably part of the design, like the details in a dream, which your own mind constructed, and yet whose meaning doesn’t immediately dawn on you, and is never completely clear.
It is a lovely feeling when this happens. I can’t think of many that are better. I feel sort of cleansed and redeemed, and just more alive as I go about my day. Sounds a bit over the top, I dare say, but that’s how it is, and it reminds me that writing these things really is more than just one of the things I do, but is a big part of what my life is all about.
You can’t force those moments though. In the meantime, you just have to keep trying, like a surfer who has to keep paddling out again and again, and heaving himself up again onto his board, before he catches a wave he can really ride.
I visited some Buddhist temples during a recent brief visit to Thailand, and this led me to reflect on the differences between Buddhism and Christianity (see previous post) but also on the similarities.
I noticed that large statues of the Buddha tended to have a smaller Buddha sitting in front of them. I assume (perhaps wrongly) that the smaller Buddha represents the historical Siddharta Gautama, while the larger figure represents the universal spiritual state which he is supposed to have attained. It struck me that this relationship was not entirely from different from the relationship in Christian theology between Jesus and God. And there are other parallels. Both religions have a tradition of celibate monasticism. Each bears a similar relationship to a parent religion (Hinduism and Judaism respectively).
I wondered if it was possible that Buddhism, as the older of the two by several centuries, might have had a direct influence on the formation of Christianity. It’s not implausible, given that both Palestine and Northern India were within the sphere of influence of Hellenistic culture. (Idea for a historical novel: a bright young Jewish man in Nazareth in Roman-occupied Palestine, hears about Buddhism from an Indo-Greek soldier in the Roman army, and decides to try and do something similar).
Anyway, when I was looking up possible connections, I came across (in wonderful Wikipedia) one particular connection which I had never heard of before: the story of Barlaam and Josaphat. This story was originally about the early life of Gautama Buddha, but ended up as a popular story in Medieval Europe, when both characters were regarded as Christian saints by Catholics and Orthodox Christians alike . The name Josaphat comes, apparently, from the Sanskrit Bodhisattva, successfully modified as the story was retold and retold first in Persian (Bodisav), Arabic (Budhasaf then Yudasaf), Georgian (Iodasaph), Greek (Ioasaph) and finally Latin.
I find it rather delightful that the founder of one religion can find himself a saint in another. I find it delightful too that a story can itself have a story, making its way slowly from Asia to Europe, and from the Buddhist world, to the Islamic world, and on into the Christian one, passing from language to language, and changing all the while to meet the needs of its new hosts.