Once upon a time, there was a brave and powerful king in India named Abenner, who, after many years of fretting about having no heir to the throne, eventually had a son named Josaphat. At the time of his son’s birth, the king was told by an astrologer that the infant prince would one day grow up and become a Christian saint and give up his throne. This news greatly upset the king, who was reluctant to lose his crown prince to the new religion spreading across his realm. He therefore ordered that the Christian faith be banned entirely from his kingdom and he locked the prince away in the palace, providing him every luxury imaginable so he would grow up never having any desire to come into contact with the outside world.
When Josaphat reached adulthood, he found the cloistered nature of his existence unbearable and pleaded with his father to release him from his captivity and let him go outside the palace walls. The king, who could see that his son had grown into a handsome and intelligent young man, did not wish to see him suffer needlessly and so he eventually agreed to his request. The prince quickly learnt that while the world outside was indeed a very beautiful place, it was also marred by much sorrow and suffering. Josaphat eventually came into contact with a monk by the name of Barlaam, who converted him to the Christian faith.
King Abenner could see that half of the prophesy had already been fulfilled. Upset by this turn of events, he continued to try to obstruct his son's path. In one instance, he attempted to have his son seduced by one of his concubines. The temptress came to Josaphat and appealed to his desire to save souls from eternal damnation by promising that she would convert to Christianity if only Josaphat would just sleep with her that night.
At first this greatly inflamed the young prince’s passions, but eventually he managed to bring them under control, and he was then able to resolutely reject the beautiful lady’s advances. Josaphat had defeated all temptation and remained pure and committed to his new faith. Eventually, King Abenner himself converted, turned over his throne to Josaphat, and retired to the desert to become a hermit. Josaphat ruled the kingdom for a time, but having no interest in earthly matters, he soon abdicated the throne and spent the remainder of his days with the old monk Barlaam, living as a religious recluse.
The story of Josaphat and Baarlam was popular in the Middle Ages. Both Josaphat and Barlaam were canonized in the Roman Catholic Church and recognized among the Eastern Orthodox. November 27 is still recognized as St. Josephat’s day. The only problem is that St. Josephat is obviously the Buddha.
While many of the particulars of the story have changed to suit the Christian faith, the story's Buddhist origins remain highly recognizable. Siddhartha Gautama was also an Indian prince whose birth was accompanied with a prophecy that he would become a great holy man (although not a king). He was also protected from the outside world by his father, but on leaving the palace he recognised that the world was full of suffering. He sought to pursue an ascetic life and to reach enlightenment but during this process he was subjected to many attempts to deflect him from this path. While he sat meditating under a banyan tree, Gautama was tempted by the demon Mara who sent his three beautiful daughters, Tanha (desire), Raga (lust), and Arati (aversion), to try to seduce him. After resisting these temptations, the prince attained Buddhahood at the age of thirty five.
It wasn’t until the 19th century, when the Buddhist scriptures finally began to be translated into European languages, that the connection between the two stories was noticed. Without any historical evidence to prove the independent existence of St. Josaphat, the Buddhist origin of the story is now generally accepted by Catholics.
Josaphat's name derives from the Sanskrit term bodhisattva via the Middle Persian bodasif. Scholars have traced the name from second to fourth-century Mahayana texts to a Persian version, where bodhisattva was changed to Bodisav; to an Arabic version, where the names became Budhasaf or Yudasaf; to an Eleventh Century Georgian version where the name becomes Iodasaph; to a Christian Greek version (Ioasaph); and from there to Iosaphat or Josaphat in Western European languages.
So "Josaphat" is "bodhisattva," and the Buddha is a canonized saint in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches. So we American Buddhists can go undercover, blending in with the crowd by declaring ourselves followers of St. Josaphat. "Josaphatists?" "Josaphistas?" "Josaphians?" (I prefer "Josaphecians.")
Anyone up for joining the First Church of the Josaphecians?