From Buddha to God

Last year, I had a conversation with a Buddhist nun who I happened to see when I was driving here in rural Ireland.  She had converted from Catholicism to Buddhism, and expressed surprise when I told her that I was thinking of doing the opposite. She said that it usually goes the other way. I can see why. After the Second Vatican Council in the sixties, the old teachings of Catholicism were mostly put aside, and subsequent generations of Catholics have been feeling the vacuum that was left behind. It seems to me that the Eastern teachings that are being adopted in the West now were probably already present in a different yet fuller form in the traditional practices of the Church, at least among monastics.

I’m not an expert in either Buddhism or Christianity but even novices can notice the obvious.  For example, any Buddhist reading The Practice of the Presence of God would be hard pressed not to see the parallels between Brother Lawrence’s practices and the Buddhist practice of mindfulness.  Plus Brother Lawrence appears to exhibit the Buddhist virtue of equanimity.  Also, I believe that when Christians pray for their friends and their enemies, they are effectively practising metta or loving-kindness.  When they pray the Jesus Prayer they are effectively using a mantra.  When they kneel in contemplation they are meditating.  See Baba Yesuda’s post for an Indian holy man’s advice on a form of contemplation which (superficially) appears Buddhist but is actually Catholic.

In a book I just read – “The Scent of Holiness” by Constantina Palmer – the author quotes an Orthodox elder who says “Christ did not come to abolish suffering, but to show us how to suffer.”  Jesus teaches us how to transform our suffering by orienting our lives towards God.  The Buddha teaches us how to transcend our sufferings through the Noble Eightfold Path, which effectively cultivates the same virtues that Christians exhibit as they become more holy.  In “The Scent of Holiness”, an Orthodox nun recommends a book called “Christ the Eternal Tao” by Hieromonk Damascene to a Buddhist Westerner.  I haven’t read this book but it shows that I’m not the first to notice the overlap of Eastern and Christian traditions.

I have also come across a few stories that occur in both Buddhist and Christian traditions as teaching aids. For example, there is the story of two monks (one scrupulous and the other charitably pragmatic) crossing a river, and the story of a slandered priest, which is called “Is That So?” in the Buddhist tradition. Now I’m not interested in speculating about whether these stories arose independently, or if one tradition borrowed from the other. My point is that the teachings overlap so much that they can use the same stories for illustration.  However, I’m not trying to suggest that the teachings are equivalent.  Buddhism is lacking one crucial, pre-eminent element.

I didn’t expect to find the Buddha’s teachings in Catholicism. As far as I am aware, the Buddha avoided questions about God, did not seek to be worshipped as a god, and did not like to expound on the afterlife. He was concerned with teaching people how to transcend the sufferings of their mortal existence. I found the teachings very efficacious in this regard. However, the unanswered questions continued to nag at me until I was forced to look elsewhere.  Humans have a natural need to answer existential questions like “Why am I here?” and “What is the point of it all?”  A lot of us have the conviction that death is not the end, and that there is a spiritual element to our existence.  We want to know the answers.  And I have finally found (d’oh!) that Jesus gave them to us roughly 2000 years ago.

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Posted on August 12, 2016, in Buddhism, Christianity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. Wonderful comparison of the two and I agree with your points on their likenesses. I only this week read that ‘is that so’ story…how interesting that you should mention it here and now.

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  2. how interesting. i was raised catholic, though not anymore, but i have leaned more towards buddhism for the last ten years. wonderful post and comparison – beth

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    • Buddhism is wonderful but I would definitely (obviously 😉 ) recommend looking into your Catholic heritage. There is a lot of neglected richness there, and there is also spiritual nourishment that you can’t get through Buddhism. I have found that I can still use the beneficial things I learned from Buddhism in my Catholic life. Be careful though – I’m talking about traditional Catholicism not modernist Catholicism. For example, I wouldn’t recommend going to Masses that do not reflect true reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, and so on.

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  3. Yes, yes He did!!!! 🙂 ❤

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  4. Is that so as I remember was an old desert father story. I am curious why Buddha does not mention God however the teaching life is suffering is quite true. Then Jesus came and introduced to carry our own cross (suffering) and embrace it (transcend). Lawrence Freeman’s teaching is from John Main and it does have some kind of a Buddhist flavour. Did you attend some of his sessions in Bere Island?

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    • I couldn’t remember where I’d seen the Catholic “Is That So?” story – that’s why I didn’t put a link to it. I don’t suppose you have a link do you?
      I don’t know why the Buddha avoided talking about God. Either he didn’t believe in any gods that he felt were worth teaching about, or he believed but didn’t understand enough to be able to teach about Him. Maybe he hoped that when people became enlightened they would see for themselves.
      I haven’t come across Laurence Freeman’s teachings but thank you for mentioning him. I have had a quick look at his Wikipedia entry. The Brother Lawrence I was referring to is actually a bit older – he was born in 1610. 😉

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      • I must have read it in one of the mediations of Laurence Freeman who is a catholic priest. I think it was used to compare it with Jesus teaching, no judgement. Therefore, no link to provide.

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      • Hi Sarah: Here’s a FB link of Fr. Lawrence Freemen that I subscribe to his daily meditation. There is a flavour of Buddhism that is compared to Catholicism based on teaching of Jesus. https://www.facebook.com/christian.meditation.wccm/?fref=nf
        I am always interested in Buddhism and other religion. The more I learn religion outside Catholicism, the more I become deeply imbeded in being a Catholic. Blessings, Perpetua.

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      • Thanks Perpetua. 🙂 I’m glad to hear that learning about other religions makes your faith stronger. Other people are not so lucky. They start to see Our Lord as just another human teacher. They forget that He is also the Son of God, and that His teachings are not based on fallible human wisdom but on divine Truth.
        Blessings to you too.

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  5. I believe of the approximate 7 billion people there are 7 billion paths to Love (God) and enlightenment. I am glad you found your path. A few people may follow a straight line in their spiritual pursuit but I think more have done what you seem to have.ended up with. A path that is more like a double-helix with twists and turns as we take the best of what we’ve learned on our journey and transform it into our own unique journey to Love.I know personally my greatest change has been from viewing my spiritual pursuit as a linear path to instead a vertical path. Peace.

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    • I’m sorry Colleen but we’ll have to agree to differ on this issue. I used to think like you but Jesus and the Church teach differently. “Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” There is no salvation outside the Church.
      Peace to you too, always. I mean no offence.

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      • I take no offense. If I did, by my beliefs I would be offended by the beliefs of every other human on the planet. ❤ To me the words God or Jesus are interchangeable with the word Love. So if the saying — the word was read: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by Love." would we agree?

        I agree that we will disagree on the Church being a requirement for salvation. But I respect and honor your convictions and applaud your courage to peacefully and lovingly discuss a topic that has created great strife and angst for a very long time on this world. With Love Colleen

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      • Nope, I can’t agree entirely, sorry. 🙂 Jesus is indeed love, but He is many things besides. He can’t be edited out of scripture as a synonym.
        And God is love but not love without demands. We are fallen creatures and we need to exercise our God-given free will to choose to obey God’s laws. If we love God then we do not defy Him by substituting those laws with our own, or ignoring the truth He has revealed to us over the millenia, or ignoring the sacrifice of His beloved Son, or ignoring the Church that He set up on Earth to instruct us and administer the necessary sacraments.
        Thank you for your kind remarks and your patience. My love to you too. ❤

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      • It was not my intent to edit out Jesus. ❤ But it does open the discussion that the scripture was not written in English. It has been translated from other languages over thousands of years. Meanings are often lost or confused when translated. Even between two English speaking cultures we may use the same word to mean very different things or different words to mean the same thing. If Jesus were to stand before a crowd of people today, ask those present to listen to his words and then go home and write them down I would imagine there would be differences between those reports. So I guess for me it is not the words that matter but what do I believe the intent is behind those words — what right action should I take based on those words to be a more loving accepting person. 😀 Thank you for thinking I am patient it is a trait that I have cultivated but have taken some time to see any seeds flourishing. Now back to scrubbing grout in my bathroom.

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      • I hope your grout is coming up nicely. 🙂
        The scripture that is found in a Catholic bible has been approved by the Church. The Church has been guarded from error by the Holy Spirit, right from the very beginning, at Pentecost. This is a huge topic so maybe I could point you here -> http://www.beginningcatholic.com/church-authority.html and here -> http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/bible-at-core-of-catholic-beliefs.cfm for more information. (Also worth knowing is that Catholic books that are free from doctrinal error are given an “imprimatur”, like a seal of approval from the Church. See http://www.fisheaters.com/imprimatur.html for more.)
        I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend. Don’t work too hard. 🙂 (Btw, I probably won’t be checking my messages again until Monday now.)

        Liked by 1 person

  6. may your practice of joy be fully blossomed!
    perhaps you’ll come across Thich Nhat Hanh’s
    Living Buddha, Living Christ or Buddha & Jesus as Brothers.
    Both teachers offered lifetimes of guidance on love & compassion 🙂

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    • Thank you David. 😀 They certainly did. I haven’t heard of those books. (I’ve heard of the author though. 😉 An inspirational man.) Have you read them?

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      • yes, Sarah!
        were the first books I read of his!
        became healing balms from past
        wounds from Christian experiences.
        I now see Jesus as an important
        teacher of love & forgiveness 🙂

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      • I’m sorry to hear that you were wounded like that, but I’m glad that you found healing, and that you can still trust Jesus to be your teacher. I hope that one day you can also adopt His mother as your own.

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  7. Wish you well on you spiritual journey. Thanks for your recent visit to my blog.

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    • Thank you Carl, that’s really kind of you. I appreciate your good wishes. 🙂 I wish you all the best in return. Have a great day/evening/weekend (depending on when you read this). 😀

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  8. Great post! Check out my current and upcoming theological and political posts. Follow for follow. Share any posts you like please to help me build up my following base. Thanks!

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