Since my adolescence I was somewhat interested in Buddhism. Partly under the influence of George Harrison and David Salinger, partly as a result of having read Mipam by Lama Yongden and Alexandra David-Néel, but without ever having actually read any of the Buddhist texts themselves.
The other day I began to read the Diamond Sutra (or Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, or Vajra Sūtra). I read it here and I have to admit it was a great disappointment. For all its shortness I didn’t even finish it. Two other literary works, or rather, parts of them, kept recurring to me: Joseph Heller’s Picture This with its
He [Socrates] mistrusted books, he said in the Phaedrus, because they could neither ask nor answer questions and were apt to be swallowed whole. He said that readers of books read much and learned nothing, that they appeared full of knowledge, but for the most part were without it, and had the show of wisdom without its reality.
He said this in a book.
The book, though, is by Plato, who denounced dramatic representations as spurious because the writer put into the mouths of characters imitating real people whatever the author wished them to say.
Plato said this in a dramatic representation, in which he put into the mouth of Socrates and other real people exactly those things Plato wanted them to say.
Socrates did not think much either of lectures and lecturers. This should have soured Aristotle, who taught by lecturing.
Said Socrates in Plato’s Protagoras, of teachers who lectured: “If anyone asks them a question, they are as incapable as a book of answering it or themselves putting a question. They behave like a brass pot which gives out a continuous ringing sound if you strike it, till someone puts his hand on it. So the orators, at the least query, go off into a long-drawn speech.”
This sounded to Aristotle like a lecture or a long-drawn speech.
and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and the very first verse of The Books of Bokonon:
All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.
Whether or not has Vonnegut read the Diamond Sutra, he seems to have fully retold it in fifteen words. Which words, mind you, keep Bokononism the religion closest to my heart.
But I’m afraid it will last some time before I venture into reading another sacred Buddhist text.