Booklet: Buddhism from a Catholic Perspective

The Catholic Truth Society has published a booklet in the CTS Explanations Series called Buddhism from a Catholic Perspective by Paul Williams who was a Buddhist who has converted to Roman Catholicism. Williams is a Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy and was once president of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies.

The booklet quotes the Vatican II Document, Nostra Aetate, with approval which states that the Roman Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in Buddhism. The Church is not confusing the word holy - holy means devoted to the one true God - with the word good.

Yet incredibly the booklet stands by the Catholic teaching that only God matters and that Buddhism is all about the mind and not about God (page 45). If God is of utmost importance as the Church teaches, then how could there be any holiness in a religion that stands for not giving a toss about him? To say the mind matters and not God is to oppose God for Jesus said that whoever wasn’t for Jesus was against him so naturally whoever is not for God is against God.

The booklet rejects the claim of some ecumenical Christians that Buddhists believe in God but don’t know it. It says it is not tolerance or broadmindedness to hold that somebody who is against your belief believes the same thing but doesn’t realise that. Well said! It's patronising and insulting. The people who say Buddhists believe are ignoring the fact that it is Buddhist teaching that God doesn’t matter even if he exists though it thinks he doesn’t. Some Buddhists say they know there is no God. Those ecumenical Christians who patronise Buddhism are too bigoted to want to see the truth.

Page 47 tells us that God is not about what I need or want for God is God. It quotes CS Lewis who says that we must find God because he finds us and that any other system means that what you adore is an idol of God made to suit yourself.

The fact that those who believe in a God unlike the Catholic God, such as the Mormon God who used to be a normal man and evolved into a God, claim that God found them is ignored. You would need to be able to refute every variant religion and belief in God that differs from your own to be able to claim with honesty that God found you and revealed himself to you.

Page 49 says that as far back as primitive Buddhism and following the attitude of the Buddha himself the Buddhist religion has mocked God and the idea of a Creator. The candour is refreshing.

Page 51 makes the assertion that Buddhism doesn’t believe in reincarnation in the sense that you die and return again in another body at all. You really cease to exist at death and what is reborn is an entirely different person to the person who died. Williams says that many Buddhist scholars say this and he thinks this is the correct interpretation of Buddhism. He says Buddhism denies life after death. Just like people say your body dies and can become the raw material for body for somebody else so the Buddhist says your parts become somebody else after you die.

Some may compare the Buddhist idea of rebirth to the thought that you have a candle flame. You light another candle with it and blow the first one out. It seems there is a link between the two flames but they are not the same flame. And so it is with Buddhist idea of rebirth. Buddhism does not indulge our hope that we might live on after death. The Buddhist sees that desire as being based on the ego. It is selfish, in Buddhist thought, to want to live on forever or at least after death. Is it right about this?

Why worry about your future lives if you have none? Why bother trying to get enlightened to stop rebirth?

Some Buddhists might say that it is unselfish to worry for you are saving the persons you are replaced with and that is why you should try to stop rebirth. Looks like Buddhism is attempted murder!

It would be selfish to say prayers and do good for the sake of an afterlife. It would be selfish to spend years writing the laws down that you are going to make when you become Emperor of the world for that is not likely to happen or you can't be sure enough it will happen. So it is with the alleged afterlife.

Williams observes that if I want to keep myself in existence and I can only do that by going into Nirvana then I have to get enlightened in this life. This is assuming that he is right to say that when you are enlightened and you die you go into Nirvana or bliss that this is not suicide but a new kind of existence. Many scholars believe that Nirvana or peace is really like ceasing to exist as well. Williams argues that it means you lose your body and desires and lose all that makes you a person except the awareness of peace. That is all that is left. "You" still exist but you aren’t a person in the normal sense any more. The correct Buddhist view is that your experience continues but you are not under the illusion that you are a person.

The starting point of Catholicism is that we are all to hate sin. We are to hate our own sins and the sins we see others commit. But the problem with hate is, "I want to hurt you because I think you are offending and hurting and threatening me". Hate is to imagine that someone or something is the cause of your pain and sense of danger and one must try to get it forcibly stopped with condemnation and punishment. My desire to destroy the person or thing or sin that annoys me is based on a mistake! I am the way I am made is the cause of the sadness and upset and not the sins or the sinners. Buddhism does not believe in hating sin for that is promoting an illusion and a mistake. We need to be enlightened from it. You make your hate. It is you torturing yourself over somebody else's actions or perceived actions. If you do that, you blame them for your pain and you only fuel the hate.

If you do not get upset when the enemy insults and laughs at you, the other person will suffer the pain of knowing he or she has no power over you. A manipulator will feel he has learned something from your response. He will see that his schemes will not work. The Buddhist will not get upset when abused and laughed at for he knows all this. The Christian is to put God first so his concern is not that knowledge but pleasing God. He only keeps calm because he thinks God commands it and not just because it is wise. The enemy then has power over you in this sense, you resist the hurt for the wrong reason. You do not resist it because you won't let the enemy have power. If your devotion to God vanishes then you are exposed to the attacks of the enemy.

Catholic mysticism says that thinking and reasoning only take you so far. To get the rest of the way, you need God to reach down to you and give you mystical and supernatural experiences. But these experiences do nothing when your body and mind is sick. You still need the doctor. Having a relationship with God is supposed to matter more than any doctor. That is a really unrealistic and insane idea.


Catholic politeness about Buddhism is hypocritical. Buddhism repudiates everything Catholicism holds sacred. There is no common ground. And that for me is not a complaint against Buddhism but a compliment. The Buddhist who says he has nothing against Catholicism and who may say it is a deep and beautiful religion is just being a sweet-talker. Catholic tolerance of the Buddhist means it cannot be seen as much of a deep and beautiful religion but as a spiritual plague to put up with. Catholic morality is cosmetic peace and virtue - it's only surface deep.


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