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I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity.

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Patrick S. O'Donnell


I don't think the question of whether or not Buddhism, or any religious worldview as such, is "true" is a coherent or meaningful one. First of all, Buddhism is not a "position" but a tradition of spiritual praxis. It helps to keep in mind what a Christian philosopher has written:

"Current attitudes to religion among philosophers are highly polarized, some impatient to see it buried, others insisting on its defensibility. But as long as the debate is conducted at the level of abstract argumentation alone, what is really important about our allegiance to, or rejection of, religion, is likely to elude us. There is, to be sure, a cognitive core to religious belief, a central set of truth-claims to which the religious adherent is committed; but it can be extremely unproductive to try to evaluate these claims in isolation. There are rich and complex connections that link religious belief with ethical commitment and individual self-awareness, with the attempt to understand the cosmos and the struggle to find meaning in our lives; and only when these connections are revealed, only when we come to have a broader sense of the ‘spiritual dimension’ within which religion lives and moves, can we begin to see fully what is involved in accepting or rejecting a religious view of reality." Please see John Cottingham's important book, The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

For the myriad reasons why, please see the following posts at the Ratio Juris blog:

Here: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2008/12/buddhism-basic-bibliography.html

Here: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2009/09/jaina-propaedeutic-for-metaphysical.html

and Here: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2009/09/facts-values-truth-objectivity_22.html

A short answer follows, but please see in addition the material in the posts above for further explanation and elaboration:

The philosopher Hilary Putnam put a point earlier made by Ninian Smart this way: "'Is our own way of life right or wrong?' is a silly question, although it isn’t silly to ask if this or that particular feature of our way of life is right or wrong, and 'Is our view of the world right or wrong?' is a silly question, although it isn’t silly to ask if this or that particular belief is right or wrong." In any case, and in many respects, sensitive, empathetic, reflective, and critical global worldview description and analysis is in its infancy, and thus it seems highly unlikely anyone is (at least today) sufficiently well-versed in all the planet's religious and philosophical worldviews to engage in such an enterprise. For we are only now beginning to appreciate the unique logic and forms of rationality found in non-Western worldviews. And we are still in the process of formulating the possible candidates for acceptable cross-cultural and comparative criteria for the analysis and evaluation of worldviews, especially if we grant that the assumptions and methods of modern Western philosophy are not necessarily privileged in such an enterprise, and in fact remain open to learning (about contemporary philosophy's own myths and presuppositions, for example) from this cross-cultural encounter. Another way to put this would be to concede that Western philosophy (or science for that matter) does not possess an a priori monopoly on, or privileged possession of, the truth in any absolute sense. This is not equivalent to denying we can or should strive to make rational and ethical assessments of particular beliefs or practices within worldviews (cf. Martha C. Nussbaum's Sex and Social Justice, 1999, or think of Gandhi's critique of Hinduism and his belief that no religion should countenance in theory or practice the violation of fundamental ethical values and precepts), for we do and should. And this is all the more urgent if we happen to believe religions are first and foremost about "ways of life" and personal conduct, rather than dogmas, doctrine, or orthodoxy (i.e., more a question of orthopraxis). Smart himself argues, and I think persuasively, that it is through the comparative analysis of worldviews that we will generate the normative conceptual resources and categories for worldview evaluation, if only because the process itself will serve to “detribalize Westerners,” that is, enable us to overcome our dispositional tendency to “treat our tradition normatively, either explicitly or secretly.”


The misunderstanding was mine. I assumed this was a broadly Christian blog.

Having said that, I find the remarks from the Dalai Lama silly. Is Buddhism true? A position can either be True, False or Incoherent. Which is it? That would be my first question to him and those (many) who think like him. A question for another type of blog!

Thanks for your response

Patrick S. O'Donnell


Your first paragraph appears addressed to me, while the second seems directed more to Michael, so...:

I understand the "religious left" to encompass, in theory and praxis, individuals and groups of various religious traditions in the manner Bob Hockett described in his "Welcome to this New Weblog" post of 2/9/10. My first post here was highly personal, and meant to introduce readers to my worldview, which is neither Catholic nor Christian.

I trust you'll forgive me, but I have neither the time nor the temperament, and lack the presumption necessary, for telling Christians generally what they might possibly learn from Buddhists. For my part, I'm perfectly happy to find those who profess to be Christians living a life in imitation of Christ, of being Christians in a sincere and thoughtful manner as exemplified by well-known saints and other Christians throughout history, from St. Francis to Archbishop Desmond Tutu (thereby further distancing themselves from that class of actions historically performed in the name of Christ that rightly exercised Tolstoy). I would hope all Catholics would understand the importance of Pope Benedict's emphasis on the belief, as evidenced in the tradition of natual theology, that reason and faith must work together.

I agree once more with the current Dalai Lama who said, in his inimitably charming way, "Of course, to myself, Buddhism is best. But this does not mean Buddhism is best for the world. No! Each person, each individual can find the best. Like medicine [Buddhists have long been fond of medical analogies and metaphors, not unlike those found in the Hellenistic ethical traditions]. You cannot say, 'Just because I take it, it is the best medicine.' For some people, Christian is best, because it is most effective." And I suspect there are more than a few spiritual truths (e.g., St. Teresa of Avila asked, 'What hope can we have of finding rest outside of ourselves if we cannot be at rest within?' and Meister Eckhart said 'The truth is that the more ourselves we are, the less of self is in us.') that are not the monopoly of, or proprietary to, any religious tradition.


If the the Religious Left should be identified with a "half-Marxist, half-Buddhist" worldview, as you freely suggest, I would be hard-pressed to think of an ideology more candidly anti-Christian.

Perhaps you can clarify for us what you think Christian thought can learn from Buddhism that cannot be learned from the natural law. I would suggest the answer is "Nothing," and would further argue that what is distinctive about Buddhism is manifestly false, both on rational and revealed grounds. To deny that is to cease to think seriously as a Catholic or Christian.

I'm happy to be corrected.

Patrick S. O'Donnell


Many years ago when I attended a Marianist Catholic High School it was a young devotee of Merton's contemplative life and work who first introduced me to religions of Asian provenance and thus I've felt a special affinity to Merton ever since. And if you'll pardon a bit more "free association," the Rule of St. Benedict to which Merton was committed comes to mind again with regard to my friend, the globetrotting writer Pico Iyer, who wrote an exquisite book on the Dalai Lama, and regularly visits the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur when he returns to see his mother (who happens to be my dear and closest friend) here in Santa Barbara.

Michael Perry

Thanks, Patrick. Half Marxist, half Buddhist? Or thoroughly Marxist and thoroughly Buddhist? Your post put me in mind of something Thomas Merton said: "I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can."

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