The OF Blog: Borges Month, Qué es el budismo (1976, with Alicia Jurado)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Borges Month, Qué es el budismo (1976, with Alicia Jurado)

Jorge Luis Borges' 1976 religious piece, Qué es el budismo, is a very curious piece.  Although technically written in collaboration with one of his secretaries, Alicia Jurado, this work is for the most part (as Jurado herself declares in the introduction) Borges' own work.  In his previous writings, fiction and non-fiction alike, there are a few fleeting passages that reference Gautama/the Buddha, but nothing really in the way of substantive exploration there comparable to that done on similar mystical/religious entities such as the Cabala or Islam.

So why did he write this introduction of sorts to Buddhism?  After having read it, I would hazard a guess and say it was done out of sheer curiosity for the subject and the book is structured as to give someone who is almost totally ignorant about Buddhism and its precepts a general idea of how this philosophy/religion started,  a history of Gautama's life (legend and relatively non-legendary accounts alike), the various disciplines within Buddhism, as well as an exploration of its core tenets, including the Four Noble Truths.

Qué es el budismo is not an extremely scholarly work; Borges never intended for this work to be anything other than a layman's guide to one of the world's five major religious faiths.  However, it is a very clear and concise explanation of the religion, its value systems, and how some of its principal teachings share some similarities with other faiths.  For those curious about Buddhism, this certainly is an informative book, albeit one that rarely goes beyond what one might find on say a Wikipedia article on Buddhism.  For those wanting to see what Borges made of this religion, he does not editorialize much here.  It is obvious that he had some passing interest in the religion, but that it is something rather distant to him and not something that had a major influence on his writings.  Therefore, I would not recommend this book to anyone who wants to read the book just to learn more about Buddhism, as although it is a good enough introduction, there are certainly many more books that go into more depth and which are more readily available for those who do not read Spanish as a first or second language.  For those, such as myself, who are Borges completists, Qué es el budismo is an interesting footnote to Borges' vast and varied literary output.

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