Dante's Inferno: Dante's Journey Toward Enlightenment Essay

Dante's Inferno: Dante's Journey Toward Enlightenment Essay

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Dante's Inferno: Dante's Journey Toward Enlightenment


While reading Dante’s Inferno I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the journey of the protagonist and the belief system of the Buddhist religion. Dante believed we must understand sin before we can reject it, and Buddha believed that before we can reject sin, we must suffer also. Examining these two tenets side by side makes the similarities undeniably apparent; they both seem to be purporting the message that there cannot be pain without pleasure, truth without dishonesty or enlightenment with suffering.

Dante’s version of hell is based on that of Medieval Catholicism, which professes to be quite divergent from the Buddhist faith. Yet the similarities are actually quite prevalent when reviewed from an impartial perspective. The first resemblance I noticed between the two faiths was in regards to the Roman epic poet Virgil, who acts as Dante’s mentor and protector while accompanying him on his extraordinary journey through Hell. This immediately made me think of the spirit guides that Buddhists believe channel them towards salvation.

Dante views Virgil as many Christians view God; as a father figure, from whom guidance, information, and forgiveness is actively sought. Dante refers to Virgil as "Master", "Guide", "Teacher", "Poet" in the beginning; yet he eventually begins to refer to Virgil as "Lord", implying that he sees Virgil not as a traditional father figure, but as a spiritually divine one. This is evidenced even further in Canto XXX, line 130 – end, in which Dante needs Virgil’s forgiveness, which suggests that his clemency bears some divine power of atonement.

This Christian tendency to have a spirit guide take on the characteristics of a ruling de...


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... the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. More simply put, suffering exists; it has a cause; it has an end; and it has a cause to bring about its end. The notion of suffering in Buddhism then, is not intended to convey a negative world view, but rather, to connote a pragmatic perspective that deals with the world as it is, and subsequently attempts to remedy it. The concept of pleasure is not denied, but is rather acknowledged as fleeting in that the pursuit of pleasure can only sustain what is ultimately an unquenchable thirst.

Works Cited

[1] Carter, John Ross and Mahinda Palihawadana, trans. and ed. The Dhammapada. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, verses 116-119.

[2] Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. Notes Allen Mandelbaum and Gabriel Marruzzo. New York: Bantam Books, 1980

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