Buddhist Convert

Paul Williams

Paul Williams is a Catholic convert from Buddhism, lay Dominican, and professor at the University of Bristol. He is married and has three grown children.

On converting from Buddhism to Catholicism – One convert's story

©Paul Williams, OP

Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy

University of Bristol, UK

I am a Catholic, a convert. Indeed I am now a lay member of the Dominican Order. But I was a Buddhist for over twenty years, and what I want to concentrate on here is Buddhism and rebirth. In talking about Buddhism and rebirth, I shall really be telling you a little about my own conversion story, a conversion story that is of course one of change, wonderful welcome change, and I shall argue it was a change from very real hope-lessness to hope.

My journey to Buddhism

I wasn't always a Buddhist. As far as I recall our immediate family was not particularly religious, although on our father's side there were practising Anglicans and relatives had been Anglican vicars. On our mother's side I do not remember any especial interest in religion. I heard once that our maternal grandmother had said she would be a Buddhist if she were anything at all. I discovered fairly recently that in fact our maternal grandfather's family was traditionally Catholic, although he had abandoned the faith. I am not sure now why, but for some reason when I was really quite young I joined the local Anglican church choir. I loved singing church music. Unfortunately my voice broke rather early and, since I was thought to be too young to be a bass, as far as I recall I spent my entire time as Head Chorister miming. This perhaps gave me an early taste of the bluff necessary for an academic career.

At the appropriate age early in the 1960s I was confirmed in the Anglican Church by the Bishop of Dover. I became a server at Holy Communion. As the 60s wore on I became involved in the lifestyle and all the normal things that teenage boys get up to. As public examinations loomed larger, I left the choir, ceased to be a server, and lost contact with the Church. I grew long hair, and dressed strangely.

I went to the University of Sussex to read Philosophy. By that time, in common with many in the late 1960s, I had developed an interest in meditation and things Indian. I channelled this interest particularly into Indian philosophy. I subsequently took my doctorate in Buddhist philosophy at the University of Oxford.

By about 1973-ish I was already beginning to think of myself as a Buddhist. I finally 'Took Refuge', formally becoming a Buddhist, in the Dalai Lama's tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. When I found myself teaching at the University of Bristol in the early 1980s I set up with others a group in Bristol that also now has its own Buddhist Centre. I became involved in occasional teaching within the context of practising Buddhism at Buddhist Centres. As well as my academic work in Buddhist philosophy I wrote and spoke as a Tibetan Buddhist on television, the radio, and at conferences. I took part in public and private dialogue with Christians, including Hans Küng and Raimundo Pannikkar.

I was interested in philosophy, but also I was interested in meditation and the exotic East. Many of us found Buddhism attractive originally because among other things it seemed so much more rational than the alternatives (but also much, much more exotic). In particular Buddhism seemed much more sensible (and exotic) than a theistic religion like Christianity. Buddhists do not believe in God. Well, (we thought) there seemed no reason to believe in God, and the existence of evil presented for us a positive argument against the existence of God. Those of us who were brought up as Christians were fed up with defending the existence of God in an unsympathetic world against its detractors. When we stood back and tried to be as objective as possible God looked less and less likely. In Buddhism one has an immensely sophisticated (and exotic) system of morality, spirituality and philosophy which does not require God at all. At a stroke difficulties involved in accepting the existence of God were bypassed. Instead, in becoming a Buddhist, (we thought) one could be a meditator with Buddhists, the ones who really know about meditation.

Rebirth

However, over many, many years as a Buddhist I became more and more uneasy about my Buddhism. Absolutely central to my growing unease with Buddhist affiliation were worries about rebirth and associated worries about the doctrine of karma. Buddhists believe in rebirth, that is, as it is broadly understood, reincarnation. And, Buddhists claim, there is no chronological first beginning to the series of past lives. We have all of us been reborn an infinite number of times. No God is needed to start the series off – for there simply was no first beginning. Things have been around (somewhere) for all eternity.

Now, belief in rebirth (and indeed karma – I'll come that) seems to be quite common nowadays even among those who would not claim to be Buddhists or Hindus. One even finds Christians who say they believe in rebirth. But rebirth was well-known in ancient Greece and Rome, and it has never been part of Christian orthodoxy. And there are good reasons for this. Rebirth is incompatible with certain absolutely central Christian doctrines, including the inestimable value of each and every individual person, and the justice of God. If rebirth is true, realistically we really have no hope. It is a hope-less doctrine. As a Buddhist, it dawned on me that I had no hope. Let me explain.

Hands up who wants to be reborn as a cockroach?

I want you to imagine that you are told you are to be painlessly executed at dawn. You are terrified. You are not terrified because it will hurt, since it will be painless. So why are you terrified? Perhaps your fear lies in it being the end of all your projects for the future – the story is over. Or maybe you do not want to leave forever your friends and family. Or perhaps you fear just a great empty void, a nothingness. What is it, exactly, that frightens you?

Now I want you to imagine that your executioner gently puts his arm round you and tells you not to worry. It really isn't so bad. Although you are to be executed, it has been discovered without a shadow of a doubt that the Buddhists and Hindus were right after all. You are to be instantly reborn. In fact, you are to be reborn as a cockroach in South America.

Well - I suggest that you would still be terrified. Indeed you might be even more frightened. But why would you be so frightened? Being a cockroach answers all, or most, of the fears that first sprang to mind when you heard of your imminent execution. Cockroaches surely have projects for the future, to get enough food, poison humans, or whatever it is cockroaches happily spend their lives doing. It'll be fun, once you get used to it. Of course, being a cockroach still means you must leave your friends and family, but then in life we often leave our friends and family. Our family and friends may be separated from us by exile, war, quarrels or whatever. Or if they die, instead of you, it has the same effect. So why in this respect should we be more terrified of our own death, than of the deaths of our loved ones? Moreover as a cockroach you will have lots and lots of new friends and family, many, many cockroach friends and cockroach family to replace the ones you have lost. You'll get used to it. It's not so bad, not half as bad as you thought. And being a cockroach is not nothingness. It's not like a great empty void. It is a life, too. You will still live.

So why are we not consoled by all this? Why do we still not relish the idea of execution at dawn, followed by all the fun of being a cockroach in South America? Well, you might say, cockroaches are horrible, ugly, verminous creatures. Who wants to be one? But is that fair? Perhaps cockroaches are not horrible and ugly to themselves. After all, I expect their mummies love them.

Can you imagine being a cockroach? Can you imagine living that cockroachy life? Surely you cannot. We are not asking can you imagine waking up inside a cockroach's body (as Kafka tells us, in his story Metamorphosis). We are not asking you to imagine being you, somehow having to come to terms with being crammed inside a cockroach's body. That would not be much fun. You would have problems with all those legs, at least for a while, and you would hate your cockroach mummy getting anywhere near you. She is so creepy! But it wouldn't be like that, would it? You would love your cockroach mummy, because (I expect) cockroaches do love their mummies. For you would be a cockroach too. You cannot imagine what it would be like to be a cockroach, because you would not be you inside a cockroach body. You would be a cockroach. And who knows what the imaginations, the dreams, of a cockroach might be.

Rebirth means the end of me

What is my point here? My point is this: What is so terrifying about my being executed at dawn and reborn as a cockroach is that it is simply, quite straightforwardly, the end of me. I cannot imagine being reborn as a cockroach because there is nothing to imagine. I quite simply would not be there at all. If rebirth is true, neither I nor any of my loved ones survive death. With rebirth, for me – the actual person I am – the story really is over. There may be another being living its life in some sort of causal connection with the life that was me (influenced by my karma), but for me there is no more. That is it – end of it. There is no more to be said about me.

None of this in itself means the Buddhist position is wrong. But what it does mean is that, if the Buddhist position is correct, our death in this life is actually, really, the death of us. Death will be the end for us. Traditionally, at least on the day to day level, Buddhists and others who accept rebirth tend to obscure this fact in their choice of language by referring to 'my rebirth', and 'concern for one's future lives'. But actually any rebirth (say, as a cockroach in South America) would not be oneself, and there is a serious question therefore as to why one should care at all about 'one's' future rebirths.

I began to see that if Buddhism were correct then unless I attained enlightenment (nirvana) or something like it in this life, where the whole cycle of rebirth would finally come to a complete end, I would have no hope. Clearly, I was not going to attain enlightenment in this life. All Buddhists would be inclined to accept that as true concerning just about everyone. Enlightenment is a supreme and extremely rare achievement for spiritual heroes, not the likes of us – certainly not the likes of me. So I (and all my friends and family) have in themselves no hope. Not only that. Actually from a Buddhist perspective in the scale of infinite time the significance of each of us as such, as the person we are, converges on nothing. For each of us lives our life and perishes. Each one of us – the person we are - is lost forever. Buddhism for me was hope-less. But was I absolutely sure Buddhism was true? As St Paul knew so well, Christianity at least offers hope.

Karma

Let me say something now about the theory that usually goes along with that of rebirth, the theory of karma. This is the theory, broadly, that our virtuous and vicious actions have respectively pleasant and painful results for us. Thus if I stub and break my little toe, that painful experience is as such the result of a vicious deed done by me in the past. If what I have said so far is correct then the principles of karma when applied over lifetimes must mean that some persons escape altogether at least some of the results of their vicious deeds, and others receive unpleasant experiences that result from vicious deeds they did not do.

For consider the following: Supposing a horrible dictator gives orders on his deathbed for painfully executing a thousand people. That dictator dies, so that person – the dictator – never receives the nasty results due to him through karma. There no doubt will be another being, 'his rebirth' who will receive those horrible results. But, first, what is that to our dictator? And, second, clearly that other being (the rebirth) will be horribly hurt as a result of something he, she, or it, did not do. The idea that a baby, for example, suffers from a painful illness because of something another person did, even if the baby is in some sense a rebirth of that person, can scarcely be portrayed as satisfactory or just. It could certainly not be, as some have claimed, the most acceptable answer to the problem of evil. The baby simply is not that person who did the wicked deed, no more than a baby cockroach is me after my execution.

Buddhists do not hold that God exists, but if there were a God certainly the theory of karma would be quite incompatible with His justice. So, too, would be the throwing away of persons on the rubbish heap of history, that is entailed by rebirth.

The Christian has hope

It seems to me patently obvious that if I am reborn the person I am now in this life ceases to exist. This is blindingly obvious if I am reborn as a cockroach in South America. We could not say that I am the same person as a cockroach in South America. Could we anymore say I would be the same person if my rebirth involved a human embryo in Africa? Or in Bristol, in my own family? And the standard Buddhist position (correctly) explicitly denies that the rebirth is the same person as the one who died. Thus rebirth is incompatible with the infinite value of the person.

But Christianity is the religion of the infinite value of the person. The person we are, or can become, is not accidental to us, and is not unimportant. Each person is an individual creation of God, as such infinitely loved and valued by God. On this is based the whole of Christian morality, from the value of the family to the altruism and self-denial of the saints. Because we are infinitely valuable to God Jesus died to save each one of us. He did not die to save chains of rebirths, or reincarnating Selves. He died to save us. And we are the persons we are, as embodied individuals with our stories, families and friends. Contrary to the myth of the Christian hatred of the physical and the body, actually Christianity is also the religion of embodiment and the essential goodness of all physical creation.

It follows from all this that rebirth would be diametrically opposed to the whole direction of Christianity. If there is survival of death - and the faith of the Christian, originating in Christ's own resurrection, is based on that - it cannot be in terms of rebirth. Rebirth and the infinite value of the person are incompatible. The Christian view of death is one of hope, indeed of triumph, for (apart from anything else) it sees death not as an empty void, a nothingness. The story is not over for the persons we are, and we can hope that we do not part forever from our friends and family. But much, much more, our faith is that in God our deaths will be meaningful for each and every one of us – each individual person – in ways that exceed our imaginations but that even now excite our hope and draw-on our lives.

Conclusion

Well – it was thoughts like this that gradually led me away from Buddhism. Buddhism was for me hope-less. Christians have hope. I so wanted to be able to be a Christian. I returned, to look again at the things that I had rejected in my earlier Christian faith. I detail the stages of my journey in my book The Unexpected Way (T&T Clark/Continuum: 2002). Through grace I came again to God. I convinced myself that it was rational to believe in God, as rational – indeed I now think more rational – than to believe with the Buddhists that there is no God. Coming to believe in God, I could no longer be a Buddhist. I had to be a theist. I looked carefully at the evidence and was astonished to find that the literal resurrection of Our Lord from the dead after His crucifixion was the most rational explanation of what must have happened. That, I felt, made Christianity the most rational option out of theistic religions. And, as a Christian, I argued that priority has to be given to the Roman Catholic Church. I needed a good reason not to be received into the Catholic Church. In my book I examine various arguments that were given to me against becoming a Catholic, and I argue that as a reason for rejecting the Catholic Church they fail to convince. So I was received into the Catholic Church.

I now live in gratitude and hope. And I have never, ever, for one moment regretted my decision.

ADENDUM

If what I have argued here is correct, then it seems to me we are entitled theologically to say that we know rebirth is false. What I mean by this is:

i) Rebirth is incompatible with Christian belief.

ii) As Christian believers we are entitled to say that we know theologically that Christian belief is true.

iii) Whatever is incompatible with a truth is false.

iv) Hence we are entitled to say as Christian believers that we know theologically that rebirth is false.

 

Some further reading on Buddhism and Catholicism by Paul Williams:

The Unexpected Way, Continuum, 2002

Buddhism from a Catholic Perspective, Catholic Truth Society, 2006

'Buddhism', in Gavin D'Costa (ed.) The Catholic Church and the World Religions: A Theological and Phenomenological Account, Continuum, 2011

If you have found this story helpful in your spiritual journey we hope you will consider sharing it. Have feedback or would like to share your story? Email us at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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38 comments

  • Comment Link Brian Wednesday, 25 May 2011 20:33 posted by Brian

    Thank you, Dr. Williams, for one of the most enriching and insightful conversion stories I've ever heard.

    Marvelous syllogism, as well!

  • Comment Link annabahpa Wednesday, 25 May 2011 22:16 posted by annabahpa

    Dr. Williams, when you received baptism in the Anglican Church you were probably an infant, and this baptism is considered vaild in the Catholic Church. Therefore, at the moment of your Anglican baptism your immortal soul died and rose with Jesus Christ, the stain of original sin was removed, and you were objectively reconciled to God. Everything that happened afterwards in your life was either a movement away from or back towards recognition of what happened at your baptism, when you were joined to Christ in His Church. Congratulations for making it all the way back to the Church which Jesus founded upon the apostle Peter.

  • Comment Link JohnH Wednesday, 25 May 2011 22:30 posted by JohnH

    Impressed with your EWTN appearance a while back.....

  • Comment Link Pam Forrester Thursday, 26 May 2011 00:36 posted by Pam Forrester

    Thanks for such a great explanation as to why reincarnation is hope-less.
    I have known for some time that the Hindus looked at reincarnation as an endless circle and negative; something one should wish to escape.

    And, yet, modern American New Agers espouse reincarnation as the Eastern answer to Christianity's Eternal life, free from all those old fashioned Christian Do's and Don'ts. I guessed the Hindus and Buddists knew better than Shirley McLaine but I had not idea why, philosophically.

    I loved your sense of humor and honesty. I had to smile everytime you remided us how Buddism was attractive and exotic. :)

  • Comment Link elleblue Thursday, 26 May 2011 07:56 posted by elleblue

    Been there, done that! The Buddhism thing! I cam home because I wanted and needed a relationship with a person, Christ to be exact.

    I do love the Buddhist teachings on compassion though. Many, many Buddhists are ex-Catholics or ex-Jews. I believe there might be an attraction to the ritual for these people.

  • Comment Link Joe Thursday, 26 May 2011 10:45 posted by Joe

    What if it can't be a cockroach, but only a human return that is your soul.. really you. That sounds better to me and supplies hope.

    What if this is what Purgatory is. Same person born with same model of temptation, and the same jeopardy of hell to end it all if all fails.Or as I would think, Salvation is assured as taught about Purgatory, and these lives are the final working out in time and space.

    I would think that the life that is finally born again would be the last.

    It would make Justice right in embryos, older children and war deaths by continuing on the journey. God's will is not thwarted by abortion regarding the person aborted.

    Just musing, Been thinking about it for years on the periphery.

    Joe

  • Comment Link Paul Williams Wednesday, 15 June 2011 17:19 posted by Paul Williams

    Thanks Joe - however, if you came back as a human soul in another body it would not be you. Imagine: my wife, who I love dearly, was reborn as a man in Timbuctoo. Imagine I met her. Would that be meeting my wife? No, and I would certainly not be able to take up where I left off! It would be no more her than, well, another person, a man in Timbuctoo. But if reincarnation involves me or my wife being an almost endless series of different people, what is left of my wife? Or me? In my various books I have argued that a good God would not create the persons we are, and love them, only to replace them at death by other persons. And none of this would help abortions etc. by giving *them* another chance. they would simply be replaced. And what is more those who carried out the abortion would no longer have any moral culpability. That said, glad to see you are thinking these things through Joe. Good luck with it all, and God bless.

  • Comment Link Laura Friday, 24 June 2011 05:44 posted by Laura

    Buddhism does hold an *exotic* appeal ;) I'm glad you made it back home

  • Comment Link Joe Thursday, 30 June 2011 12:14 posted by Joe

    Thanks for bringing out those points Paul.

    I didn't mean you'd come back as a different person, you are always the original soul.

    That man would be your wife, and if you got to know him, then he would strongly remind you of your wife in many ways. The expression of who this man is would be greatly different from how your wife expressed herself. He has a different sex, different childhood, different pattern and intensity of moral blindness and sin.

    I know and remember that who I am has not changed since my earliest memories going back to age 4 or 5. Although I couldn't ask myself the 2nd time around, I would still be the same old me. But no, you could not just take off where you left off. It's not an endless series of different people. And God never replaces you since we are eternal beings.

    Those who cooperate with abortion would have moral culpability in thwarting the will of God if earthly life is God's gift, and his to give and take based on his great plan, not ours.

  • Comment Link sebastian liew Thursday, 07 July 2011 06:18 posted by sebastian liew

    As an ex-Buddhist, I too was troubled by the teaching of rebirth. I witnessed how many struggle in their death bed with no idea whether he will be reborn as what...
    There are good elements in Buddhist teaching but without God it is not complete.

    The Christian message that man is made in the image of God is very empowering for me. In addition, the spiritual life of a Christian is not perfection but surrender. Therefore there is no need for multiple births to attain something ...

    When I went to Europe and look at the huge influence of Christianity in Western culture, I wonder why Westerners are turning to Eastern religions.

    Christianity is the root of most good things Western culture. And Western culture has helped Asia. I said this as an Asian and credit should go the right place.
    For example my country Singapore progressed because of leaders trained in Cambridge etc which has roots in Christianity.


    A Chinese socialogist once remarked that the root of Western culture and success is Christian.

    Too bad, many Westerners have forgotten what make them great in the first place.

  • Comment Link Billy Bob Wednesday, 27 July 2011 19:25 posted by Billy Bob

    Hasidic Jews believe in reincarnation and resurrection, so I would suggest that reincarnation/rebirth is not necessarily incompatible with Christianity.

  • Comment Link Michelle Wednesday, 10 August 2011 06:59 posted by Michelle

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I have many friends who hail from atheistic traditions - Buddhist and otherwise - and I have struggled to find a way to reach them for Christ. They have so much of the compassion that others have noted is appealing, and examples of legalistic Christians can stand in stark contrast when having a discussion on the topic of the presence of God.

    I'll try to keep what you've said about rebirth in mind and talk to my friends about the end of life...see what they think about that.

  • Comment Link Betsy Tuesday, 16 August 2011 17:59 posted by Betsy

    Has your book, The Unexpected Way, enjoyed a reprint? I was able to buy two copies last year from used booksellers, but hope that the audience for your book gets larger. I tracked down some reviews of it as well (some in Buddhist journals!).

    It would be great to see you at the 92nd St Y (or some other venue) in NYC some day as part of a panel. Maybe the Crossroads Cultural Center (part of the Communion and Liberation set) would do some such thing.

    Imagine you, Karen Armstrong, R. R. Reno, a recognized Buddhist (Thich Nhat Hanh, Bishop Chaput, and Christopher Hitchens respectfully talking about matters of faith to people so hungry for such elucidations.

  • Comment Link jonathan Thursday, 20 October 2011 03:34 posted by jonathan

    That is really interesting. But my interpretation of the meaning of 'rebirth' in Buddhism is entirely different to that. It might be allegorical, although I think that rebirth in 'heaven realms' or 'hell realms' is quite possible. As I understand it, the prospect of being 'reborn as a cockroach' has never been mentioned in any Buddhist text I have ever read. I think that people who behave like animals, might well be reborn in animal form. But the noble disciples will not suffer that fate.

    Furthermore, enlightenment is a reality at each moment of experience. It is not something in the distant future, in the same way that God is not from the distant past. There might be an 'ultimate enlightenment', but there is also 'immediate enlightenment', which is a lot like what Jesus taught in his mission.

  • Comment Link Greg Kavarnos Thursday, 20 October 2011 09:01 posted by Greg Kavarnos

    The Buddhist doctrine of karma states that every individual is responsible for their present and future existence through their thoughts, acts and speech. This means that we can mould our future (in the absence of absolutely overwhelmingly strong negative actions in the past - though there are methods for dealing with these as well: regret and confession) through positive actions in the present via our body speech and mind.

    How can this possibly be construed as hopeless?

    Usually people conflate Buddhist models of karma with Hindu (a very loose term) models of karma that tend to have a more fatalistic view of karma.

    The Buddha said: if you want to know what you were in the past, look at what you are now and if you want to know what you will be in the future, look at what you are now. This is a message of hope, hope because it states clearly that we decide our future through our actions in the present.

  • Comment Link Peter Thursday, 20 October 2011 21:43 posted by Peter

    Dear Paul,

    What is your opinion on Pure Land Buddhism? Do you also believe that to be a "hopeless" path? Didn't Amitabha Buddha vow that all sentient beings may take rebirth in his Pure Land regardless of their karma?

    Hope to hear from you.

  • Comment Link Brian Thursday, 27 October 2011 23:28 posted by Brian

    Paul,

    First, I must say that you seem to be overshooting the mark in saying that, according to Buddhism, a reborn being is completely unique from his or her predecessor. In fact, what is traditionally said is that one is neither absolutely the same being nor an altogether different being. What this means is that the stream of instants of consciousness that have comprised one's mental continuum, along with all its karmic imprints and cognitive and emotional obscurations, flows on to the next life to appropriate a new fleshly body to associate with, while all the former body and other transitory reference points that reinforced our notion of "me" do fall away.

    We will indeed forget about having previously been born as a male or female with the particular body with which we identified. We'll forget about being born to such and such a family, with such and such a heritage, and all the ideas instilled in us about who we are and what we're supposed to believe and how we're supposed to live our lives, and all those other old reference points which propped up a convincing yet merely transitory identity. We will be reborn into new circumstances and have new experiences and develop a new identity. And in that future life, we will have no reason not to assume that all those new trappings are intrinsically part of "who we are" just like we've believed that in all previous births.

    In that way, it's the same mental continuum with all the cognitive and emotional tendencies we've instilled in it through our choices of actions, speech, and thought - be they virtuous and constructive or negative and destructive - but with a new superficial "me" imputed onto it. So we clearly shape our own experiences in this life and those in the future. Most importantly, though, while the trappings of our new sense of "me" will be different - new body, new circumstances - our notion of "me" will in a deeper sense be exactly the same in being, at its core, a mere sense of ownership of our experience and of our new bodies and everything that belongs to us. And all this is only to speak of the samsaric mode of being, not what is possible in an enlightened mode of being.

    Lastly, while it's easy to understand how you'd find your interpretation of Christianity's message and worldview more comforting than your unique personal interpretation of those of Buddhism, this says nothing about which path might be more reflective of the way reality actually is. It seems like your motives in choosing which path to follow are more rooted in which tradition will offer you an explanation of reality that matches the way you'd like it to be rather than which path reflects the way things actually are. I can't fathom taking that approach.

    If reality really does involve rebirth and karma - and there is a significant amount of convincing rationale and proof to support this possibility - what good is adopting a path that merely allows one to have a rosy outlook in this one short lifetime of fleeting fortunate circumstances, but which does nothing to ensure future lives will be as comfortable? Why not instead face the music and acknowledge that one's reality is in flux and ranges from the heavenly, to the hellish, to the mediocre, to the pleasant, based on the inexorable fruit of one's own thoughts, speech, and actions, and take the opportunity to choose a path featuring the tools to shape one's destiny for the better while one has the luxury to do so - and to eventually attain complete freedom from the round of rebirth and death altogether, not to mention gaining the capacity to help all others do the same?

  • Comment Link Jason Friday, 25 November 2011 07:02 posted by Jason

    Buddism has always seemed to me to be strongly associated with the imagination of man, which is why I can see its connection with meditation....and more recently quantum physics. It is very easy for a man with a strong mind to imagine all kinds of things that have some truth or at least seem true, but it is much more difficult to make accurate, and authoritative predictions about the future. Christianity is based on revelation through Jesus Christ who claimed to be the Son of God (not merely an enlightened being), who was resurrected from the dead. Christians subordinate themselves in complete humility to Christ. Do Buddhists try to liberate themselves from reality, and the idea of a God by meditation? Buddhism brings up so many metaphysical contradictions and difficulties, I do not see how anyone could agree even on the tenets of its basic doctrine, or for that matter how 99% of the population could ever even hope for enlightenment. It is all really, really, depressing for me personally. Now I can see why Buddhist wouldn't want to believe in God.

  • Comment Link John Brettell Wednesday, 04 January 2012 16:33 posted by John Brettell

    It has never once crossed this mind that I would ever become a cockroach!
    It has however crossed this mind there may be a simple way out of suffering, that is the goal ,whether through Jesus Christ or Buddhist meditation. To each his own.
    Neither route is better, just different. the goal is Joy!
    Bless One and All.

  • Comment Link Gail Pickering Thursday, 12 January 2012 13:42 posted by Gail Pickering

    Thank you Paul for your wonderful story. I have been a Buddhist for 7 years and recently returned to the Catholic faith. During that time I met many who had converted from Catholicism to Buddhism because they had a 'problem' with God and judgement as I did/do. Buddhism is free from that as it states your destiny after death is in your own hands according to what karma you create in this life. I can not let go of the idea of Karma as it seems so reasonable. Do you think the idea of Karma is valid or does God dictate everything that happens to us?

    Having been drawn back to Catholicism, I still have a 'sticking' point with the idea of handing over responsibility to God as it were. Buddhism is a religion which works with the mind in a very thorough way. I think there are deep psychological issues after conversion. As you know from the Tibetan tradition, there are methods using visualisations and mantras which work in subtle psychological ways. I know this is true because I still have dreams about them. Would you say that the Buddhist deities you visualise are real beings? If so where are they now in the Catholic view? How would you suggest that a convert replace/eliminate these visualisations or make them compatible with Catholicism?

    I can not fault the Buddhist teaching and it has broadened my mind and added to my search for truth. I now wish to be a complete Catholic but can not abandon the Buddha and feel disloyal to him as I too took refuge 6 years ago. Do you think it is necessary to give back that refuge and re-take baptismal vows?

    However, it is comforting to know that there is a higher being in God who we can have a relationship with and who we can turn to for help in our daily concerns. It is comforting to think we will remain the same person after death as I too used to wonder how a Buddhist makes progress towards enlightenment if they are a different being on every rebirth. I think that this might be tied up again with merit earned during the previous life and karma.

    Thank you again,

    Gail (Derbyshire, UK)

  • Comment Link JC Tuesday, 07 February 2012 23:12 posted by JC

    I am a Roman Catholic Born and raised I am here because my sister in law is confused and converted to buddism from catholic I feel she is trying to search for something that is already there ? doest buddha say befor he died to one of his followers find the light ? maybe he was talking about Jesus himself?? Jesus is the light of the world and No one can serve 2 masters

    what should i do to show my sister in law the light again ?? and not start a fight

  • Comment Link Len Wednesday, 08 February 2012 17:43 posted by Len

    Gail,
    Has your sister read any of Thomas Merton's works?
    Whilst a Trappist monk and writer he engaged in lengthy, profound dialogues with great Bhuddist teachers. And he wrote extensively on the subject.

    Thomas Merton has helped thousands of modern Catholics recover their faith.
    And he has helped many make sense of it in a world where we are aware of the sometimes very positive practices in other faiths particularly in Budhism.

    Above all he wrote about the imperative for all of us to become contemplatives. We all seek this mystical union with God. But many young people see Budhism as more focussed on this practice of finding mystical enlightenment. However the Catholic tradition has all this and more. Perhaps it has been too neglected. Try Merton as a starting point.

  • Comment Link Joseph Thursday, 23 February 2012 04:56 posted by Joseph

    Dear Paul,
    What strikes me as odd is that you would believe God loves each of us infinitely... our lives infinitely matter, and yet millions of human lives are cut off before even the first month of life, not to mention the billions of lives that are never even brought to birth. Heaven will be full of fetuses.

    I'm sure you know how many thousands of babies die each day. Does each of them really matter, and all of them are going to heaven to live with God?

    Buddha didn't say the universe was eternal. He said, in the Pali canon, that such questions should be discarded, because they will drive men crazy. There is no answer to such questions. Nobody can understand what "eternal" even means much like a fish cannot understand life on dry land.

  • Comment Link Paul Williams Friday, 09 March 2012 21:18 posted by Paul Williams

    Joe:
    I didn't mean you'd come back as a different person, you are always the original soul.

    That man would be your wife, and if you got to know him, then he would strongly remind you of your wife in many ways

    Paul: Many thanks Joe – well, my point is that a soul, as a disembodied entity which is capable of reincarnating, simply would not be me. If I were reborn as another person, it would not be me. Another person who reminds me of my wife is not my wife, and will not do as a substitute. But my wife is infinitely valuable and lovable. I do not want her to go, and to be given a substitute (let alone a male one, or a cockroach!). Christianity offers me her. That is crucially important.

    Billy Bob:
    Hasidic Jews believe in reincarnation and resurrection, so I would suggest that reincarnation/rebirth is not necessarily incompatible with Christianity.

    Paul: Sorry Billy – I do not see the reasoning here. Hasidic Judaism is not Catholic Christianity. I believe you are right that some do hold to reincarnation. But I argue reincarnation is neither rational nor compatible with orthodox Catholic Christianity. I cannot speak for Hasidic Jews.

    Jonathan
    As I understand it, the prospect of being 'reborn as a cockroach' has never been mentioned in any Buddhist text I have ever read.

    Paul: Thanks Jonathan – but well, I am not sure how many Buddhist texts you have read. Cockroaches are certainly classed as sentient beings, and as such for Buddhist cosmology they are the same as insects such as fleas or flies. Substitute them if you like. When I lived among Tibetans it was common for pious Buddhists not to kill fleas or flies on the basis they were sentient beings. As such they are part of the realm of rebirth. In fact they come under the so-called ‘animal’ realm of rebirth. In spite of some modern New Age views of rebirth, traditional Buddhism and Hinduism all hold that we can be reborn as insects, and as such creatures as cockroaches. But as I say, if you do not like the idea of cockroaches here then substitute bedbugs. Pious Tibetans do not kill them either. Or if you want larger animals, what about skunks? If I were reborn as a skunk it would not be me either. And it makes no sense to say it would be me, inside a skunk!

    Jonathan: enlightenment is a reality at each moment of experience.

    Paul: That may well be, at least for some forms of Buddhism. But that is not the enlightenment I am talking about, the form of enlightenment known as ‘enlightenment with-’ or ‘without a substratum’, or the full Buddhahood spoken of in Mahayana. Can I refer you to my books ‘Buddhist Thought’ and ‘Mahayana Buddhism’, both published by Routledge, for a discussion of these. The word ‘enlightenment’ is used in several different ways in some Buddhist traditions, and not distinguishing them can lead to confusion. Here I am talking about the enlightenment that comes at the end of the (or a) Path, the enlightenment that includes among other things the complete eradication of suffering and the (uncontrolled, in Mahayana) rebirth process.

    Greg

    How can this possibly be construed as hopeless?

    Paul: Thanks Greg – but perhaps you have missed what I am saying. What I said is that it was for me hope-less, that is, it gave me no hope. This is because I do not survive the rebirth process. Hence if rebirth is true I have no hope, no hope for me in the future after death, nor for all those I know and love. The Buddhist scenario, that would have ‘me’ enlightened after many, many years (aeons), would not have enlightenment for me, the person I am now. No Buddhists consider that when enlightenment occurs eventually it will be me – the person I am - who is enlightened. Hence for me it offers no hope. I prefer hope (for me). You may be different – but only if you attain enlightenment in this life. I hope you succeed.

    Peter

    What is your opinion on Pure Land Buddhism? Do you also believe that to be a "hopeless" path? Didn't Amitabha Buddha vow that all sentient beings may take rebirth in his Pure Land regardless of their karma?

    Paul: I have spoken about Pure Land in my ‘Unexpected Way’ book and of course I deal with it – I hope positively – in my ‘Mahayana Buddhism’. I greatly admire Pure Land, and I consider Shinran one of the greatest of all Buddhist thinkers who correctly saw the problems with ‘traditional own power’ Buddhism. But there are problems for me in Pure Land. The Buddhahood it offers is finally still our own Buddha Nature, which is something nonconceptual about me. In the last analysis it does not transcend Buddhist ‘subjectivism’, and hence does not reach the absolutely objective Other who is God, the Creator of all. The Buddha Nature in Pure Land, and/or Amitabha Buddha in Pure Land, are not the Creator God we as Christians depend on for our very being, and worship, and in fact are very far removed in doctrinal terms from God. But this is far too big a topic to deal with here. More importantly, I consider Pure Land is built on a myth (i.e. ‘myth’ in a sense including historical falsehood – some Pure Land followers argue the ahistorical nature of this is an advantage over Christianity), the myth of Dharmakara Bodhisattva and hence of Amitabha Buddha. I have no reason to accept the existence of Amitabha Buddha, whereas I do consider there are excellent reasons to accept the existence of God, and of course Our Lord was certainly a historical figure, as was the crucifixion and, for me, the resurrection. I deal with all of this in my ‘Unexpected Way’.

    Alas, I am sorry that my ‘Unexpected Way’ seems to be now out of print. A lot of people get in touch with me about it. Someone recently found it listed at something like a decent price on

    http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/jsp/id/The_Unexpected_Way/9780567088307

    So those interested may still be able to get it, although they told me the other day
    the book had still not turned up so maybe here too they are finding they cannot get hold of it.

    I thought at one time that it would be a good idea to get it reprinted by, say, Ignatius Press, but I am told that they are not very keen on printing books that have been in print recently before. Perhaps if enough people write to Ignatius they may be willing to reprint it. I get lots of queries about its availability.

    I think it is still available in Polish translation, and it is still in print in
    German. A Czech and a Danish translation are underway, and a Spanish translation has been done privately in Venezuela.

    Having said that, some readers might also be interested in some of the other non-academic things I have published in this area. For my more recent views on the fundamental differences between Buddhism and Catholicism you could read my 'Buddhism from a Catholic perspective'; (Catholic Truth Society, London - it is cheap and easily available - Google their website). A recent shortened and revised version of this is published in a book on The Catholic Church and the World Religions, edited by my colleague Gavin D'Costa (Continuum, I think). Both of these give some further material on the incompatibility of Buddhism and Catholicism, and a bit on my own conversion story, although they are not as 'autobiographical' as The Unexpected Way.

    Brian
    First, I must say that you seem to be overshooting the mark in saying that, according to Buddhism, a reborn being is completely unique from his or her predecessor. In fact, what is traditionally said is that one is neither absolutely the same being nor an altogether different being.

    Paul: Thanks Brian – yes, you are right. I have spoken at great length about why I think this does not help in my book ‘Altruism and Reality’ (RoutledgeCurzon), especially the last chapter. I argue that notwithstanding the Buddhist position here, reincarnation in fact means that we are different in all the ways that count. Moreover, the Buddhist traditions I am familiar with always considers that the reincarnated being is in fact a different person (Sanskrit: pudgala; Tibetan: gang zag) from the one that died. And that must be right. One certainly cannot hold that a cockroach – or a bedbug, or a deer, if you prefer – is neither the same nor different from, say, the man Archibald, who died. You may hold they are not different either in some rarified philosophical sense of difference – actually, they must be the same continuum but a different stage of the continuum – but in all senses in which we think of one person being the same or different they are clearly different (for Buddhist thought we can use ‘person’ – the Sanksrit/Tibetan concepts above - of e.g. an insect here). There is no consolation in being told that one will be reborn as a cockroach but that cockroach is neither the same nor different from you.

    Brian: It seems like your motives in choosing which path to follow are more rooted in which tradition will offer you an explanation of reality that matches the way you'd like it to be rather than which path reflects the way things actually are. I can't fathom taking that approach.

    Paul: Well Brian, maybe we are both doing that!

    Brian: If reality really does involve rebirth and karma - and there is a significant amount of convincing rationale and proof to support this possibility - what good is adopting a path that merely allows one to have a rosy outlook in this one short lifetime

    Paul: Whether the evidence is convincing is precisely the point at issue. I argue that it is not. But either way, neither of us really knows until we are dead (if then!). But I prefer the hope that Catholic Christianity gives me. And actually I do not see anything wrong with a rosy outlook, although usually when I say Buddhism is pessimistic, i.e. not rosy, I get attacked for that too. Of course, you will hold that Buddhism is simply realistic. But I am a little surprised that you are so certain. As for me, I do not know for certain. But I have what I think is a reasoned, rational faith, and it is a cheery, rosy, optimistic faith that has hope. I like it, and I see that as a good thing too. But I do admire your certainty.

    John
    there may be a simple way out of suffering, that is the goal ,whether through Jesus Christ or Buddhist meditation. To each his own.
    Neither route is better, just different. the goal is Joy!

    Paul: Thanks John – you may be right. You have stated your own belief. Okay, I respect that. But it is not traditional Buddhism, and it is not traditional orthodox Catholicism either. Both of those have a lot going for them too, and they have thousands of years of history on their side. They are worth careful checking out.

    Joseph:

    What strikes me as odd is that you would believe God loves each of us infinitely... our lives infinitely matter, and yet millions of human lives are cut off before even the first month of life, not to mention the billions of lives that are never even brought to birth. Heaven will be full of fetuses.

    Paul: Well Joseph, I do not see that death entails God does not love His creation. All these creatures are loved by God, infinitely. How God makes it up to them I do not know, but I believe He will do whatever is compatible with His infinite love, mercy and justice towards His creation. And I would not want to predict what heaven is like, save that it is a Good Thing!


    Joseph: I'm sure you know how many thousands of babies die each day. Does each of them really matter, and all of them are going to heaven to live with God?

    Paul: Each of them does indeed really matter. I leave it to others to say what happens to them after death. But whatever it is, it is merciful and just, and totally compatible with the will of a Father who loves them infinitely. I don’t see any problem with that.

    Joseph: Buddha didn't say the universe was eternal.

    Paul: You are not quite correct here, Joseph. What the Buddha himself actually said is a historical problem (see the first chapter of my ‘Buddhist Thought’). But Buddhist tradition has always held that there can be no beginning to the rebirth process. Later Buddhist philosophers such as Dharmakirti dealt with it at length. I think you might be mixing it up with the famous 12 or 14 ‘unanswered questions’. These relate among other things to whether the world is finite or infinite, and whether it is eternal or not eternal. This is a different issue from whether the rebirth series is infinite in past time, and has always been taken by Buddhist tradition as being a different issue. Apart from anything else, a major problem with a first beginning to the rebirth series would be why on earth it should ever begin (remember that Buddhism denies the existence of a First Creator). For Dharmakirti, also, only a mind in the same series could produce a mind. Hence there would have to be an earlier mind in the same series for the production of any mind, and that entails that if there are mind-series at all it must go back to infinity.

    But I would be very happy with Buddhists who hold that the rebirth series does not go back to infinity, if you know any, since that would provide an excellent argument to use with Buddhists for the existence of God. It is difficult to see how continua of minds (consciousnesses) could begin otherwise. For on Buddhist grounds there would have to be a cause for the consciousness continuum. It would have to be ‘dependently arisen’. And it is difficult to see what that cause could be if not a Creator God, given that a previous stage of the mental continuum has been ruled out since this is supposed to be the first beginning of a rebirth series.

    *****

    Finally, thank you everyone for your really intelligent queries. I am afraid that my other duties mean that I do not often look at this site. So please forgive me if I do not normally take part in your deliberations. But please do keep thinking about these things. Quite contrary to what people often say, Catholic Christianity – and certainly my own Dominican tradition, the tradition of St Thomas Aquinas – gives an enormous role to reason and rationality. A lot of the faith can be shown to be completely rational, and even where it is more difficult it can be shown to be completely rational to believe it. So keep thinking it through.

    Gail – I am aware I have not responded to your questions. That is because you wrote to me privately, and I responded at length there. I am now worn out!

    God bless everyone.

    Paul

  • Comment Link Joseph Monday, 19 March 2012 14:28 posted by Joseph

    Paul,
    Thanks very much for your kind responses. I agree that the rebirth process seems to require a beginning, and this is probably the biggest obstacle for Buddhist philosophy, as far as I'm concerned.

  • Comment Link Leah Anderson Friday, 30 March 2012 13:21 posted by Leah Anderson

    I love your Conversion story! I am Catholic, but stumbled away for a short period & found myself interested in Buddhism. I never practiced buddhism - just read a lot of material about it. I stumbled in my Faith for a short time, but your Conversion story helped me a great deal. I found you on EWTN's Journey Home. I still havent read your book (The Unexpected Way) but plan to :)

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Comment Link Davide Scrimieri Monday, 09 July 2012 13:52 posted by Davide Scrimieri

    I would just like to live in a time where Truth could be found.

    I am a "questioning" mormon (from Italy). But the matters I have in mind are quite general:

    -If God loves us why does he punishes or reward us "eternally"?

    Purgatory is nowhere to be found in the bible so, any answer should avoid talking about purgatory

    - Can we ourself become Gods? (according to mormonism, yes you can)


    As a person who is looking into Buddhism can you, or anyone answer this question:

    - If to you it's irrational to think that streams of consciousness went trhough an eternal series of rebirths with no creator on their back, why do you condone the fact that God is Eternal? Why is it irrational to you to think that " personal beings " did not undergo a creation (thus being eternal), yet you have no problem in thinking that God himself was not created?


    (please note: mormons in fact do believe that God himself was once a human being, and on another "earth" attained the highest celestial kingdom thus becoming a God. A process that we all could undertake. Furthermore, to attain the highest celestial kingdom one needs to have a family, aka a wife/husband. According to Mormonism, both Jesus and God himself are "married". We have a celestial mother )


    Because english isn't my first language, and it took a long time to write this post, and I would really appreciate an answer to these questions please write to

    davide.scrimieri@hotmail.it

  • Comment Link Sarah Sunday, 12 August 2012 23:30 posted by Sarah

    I had been a Buddhist for 20+ years and realized the concepts of karma and reincarnation lean heavily on future events over which I have little control. I too am considering becoming Catholic. The Rosary, the compassion and rich heritage of the saints and service work led me back to Christianity. I was baptized Episcopalian but did not return to Church after I was confirmed.

    It's still an unfolding story for me but one that is full of beautiful moments and more answers than questions.

  • Comment Link Keith Nisbet Thursday, 06 September 2012 19:23 posted by Keith Nisbet

    I'm amazed that one who supposedly spent so many years as an academic and well trained in Buddhist studies could so completely misunderstand the depth and true meaning of key Buddhist concepts. I would congratulate the writer on finding the path that suits him and wish him peace and well being. But, please go back in a quiet moment and re-examine the depth and true insights of Buddhism that you have so jocularly dismissed in justifying your personal conversion.

  • Comment Link sg米broker Monday, 17 September 2012 15:39 posted by sg米broker

    Many paths and many doors;

    What one knows are but a tiny dust particles, and if one clings on to that dust particles, one will still be lost ultimately.

    One's cognition of 'hope' and 'truth' is the result of one's desire and inability to let go of the self and the clinging onto the dust particle.

    As with all dust particles, they will always gather and concentrate and repeat cycles after cycles through out all dimenisonal universes, and bubbles of eternities as your cognitions would envisaged.

  • Comment Link Karl Monday, 15 October 2012 02:19 posted by Karl

    Thanks for the great thread Paul (though I read your comment where you said you probably wouldn't be reading this!). I really appreciate an academic who is willing to apply his thoughts on philosophy and religion to the world as they themselves experience it, and to come out, state, and defend your own views rather than avoid having them challenged. All the religions I can think of see this as a virtue.

    My question has to do whether "we," in the sense you described, really survive in heaven either.

    Now I'm a happy guy most of the time, but still my sufferings and issues and problems and my not being satisfied are a major part of my personality. Without those things, I wouldn't recognize "myself," and I think that goes for everyone else as well. If your wife was suddenly perfectly happy with everything, wouldn't you say "She's become a completely different person!" ? There are really happy people in the world but their personalities still have insecurities and doubt. Without these things we wouldn't be the imperfect human beings that we are. Without them, people might even say "That person isn't human." These things are built into the definition of us as human.

    But would you want to spend eternity in heaven with those aspects of "you?" It wouldn't really be heaven if we were all there with all the same hangups we have down here, it would just be an earth in the clouds with a large father figure, and this is not what Christianity preaches (least the sects that I know), or any major religion (though some of the minor or ancient ones seem to). And though the Christian view is that God will make our lives better than they are now, when He does I don't think you will be the "you" that you were at all. The difference between you on earth and you as an angel seems to be way bigger than the difference between you and a cockroach! Angel Paul Williams is not going to resemble earth Paul Williams. Earth Paul Williams will be nowhere to be found.

    Seems to me that no matter what traditional religion you choose, "you" (as you described) have to die to be reborn, and if you're an atheist then you just die. I know it sucks in some ways and its scary (personally at times I am terrified), but seems to me its worth it, and the alternative is far far worse, least for me, cause living with myself for eternity would get kinda old =P

  • Comment Link Thomas Palmieri Sunday, 09 December 2012 10:08 posted by Thomas Palmieri

    Buddhism implicitly recognizes cosmological order and justice, and therefore implicitly recognizes the principle of intelligent design. But it tends to view theistic systems as asserting a God principle which is finite rather than infinite (as do many or most theistic believers themselves), and hence simply as one more of the conditioned entities. In this respect it misunderstands monotheism as much as Judeo-Christians misunderstand what is signified in Buddhism by 'suffering' (by which is meant unsatisfactoriness, or what Christians would call absorption in the things of the flesh and not of the spirit) and 'nirvana', which signifies extinguishing the candle of desire, that which Christians call sanctification--the being made pure and holy, and restored as an image of God. If Buddhism has produced a richer array of meditative techniques that may be employed in service of spiritual advancement, Judeo-Christian thought has produced a richer articulation in regard to the ultimate nature of existence, that is in regard to the properties of the divine nature, its nature as love, and love itself as the nature of the divinity that brings all of relative being (i.e. the cosmos and all of its living inhabitants) into existence. That is, Buddhism perhaps better speaks of spiritual means (factors and functions of conscious existence, and meditative cultivation), and Christianity of spiritual purposes (God as love, creation as the product of God's loving fecundity; God's desire to unite the creation to himself, the inworkings of divine grace). Each religious system has something unique to offer to mankind, and each in its own way articulates the problem of life, and presents a way to attain unto the ultimate human fulfillment. Do not Buddhist and Christian communities (at least the ones which are not bound in mere legalistic forms of belief) produce great saints and profound spiritual treatises? If their fruits therefore are good, then the heart of the teachings must possess profound merit. The differences between the religious systems are also important, but whether one understands the glorifying light of the divine nature as impersonal, because it is infinite in every possible way, or whether one recognizes it as personal, inasmuch as it is love and joyousness supreme, one has still nevertheless entered into communion with the ultimate truth and reality. But neither Christians nor Buddhists should assume a stance of triumphalism because they have manifested spiritual fruits. One may proudly embrace the riches of his particular religious heritage, while appreciating, though not necessarily embracing, the wisdom depths of other religious heritages (also Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc.). On this score, I would say as a Christian who has studied Indian religious systems ('Hindu' & Buddhist thought and spiritual practice), pray fervently to God, but be mindful also to keep the spine straight, so that the sacred energy will proceed properly through the spiritual passageways!

  • Comment Link Sean Friday, 28 December 2012 00:19 posted by Sean

    Hi Paul,

    I too saw your interview with Marcos Grodi and something you said during it has stayed with me ever since.

    If I'm correct it was something along the lines of Buddhists never ask the question 'Why is there something rather than nothing?'

    Just that was enough for me to discount Bhuddism as something I might be interested in.

    Best wishes

  • Comment Link Seth Josephson Sunday, 30 December 2012 19:47 posted by Seth Josephson

    When I first read this I felt a little sad. The Buddha's teachings and practice are very precious to me and to see someone turn away from the things I value hurts. Then I thought about how many Catholics feel the same thing when people leave the Church to become Buddhists. My hope is for a future where everyone can share the beauty of each others' traditions without a feeling of loss of a brother or sister. Like Thich Nhat Hanh has said, "We don't need more Buddhists, we need more Buddhas." One might translate that as 'we don't need more Christians, we need more Christ-like-ones.' Until religious and secular people can say this together, we won't have the conditions for peace.

    As for the issue here at hand, I personally have never felt being Buddhist was hope-less. Overcoming fear is a central component of the Buddha's path (this is the meaning of his raised open hand in paintings and sculptures: 'fear not'). The best way to live without fear according to the Buddha-dharma (as I understand it), however, does contrast with what professor Williams suggests. Rather than relying on a particular idea of the future after death (whether heaven or re-birth), it is best to learn to live fully in the beauty of the present. In this way I would reject the kind of hope Williams is talking about. I don't rely on the idea of personal rebirth (and I know many Buddhists who explicitly reject it). It's more important to me to learn to live and to love this day and to create the conditions that will allow the beings of the world (including cockroaches) to experience joy.

    "...So may I cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
    Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
    During all my waking hours,
    May I practice the way with gratitude.
    Not holding to fixed views,
    Endowed with insight,
    Freed from sense appetites,
    One who achieves the way will be free
    From the duality of birth and death." (Metta Sutta, SFZC translation)

  • Comment Link Matteo Monday, 27 January 2014 09:46 posted by Matteo

    I do not grasp what is the point to believe in a religion just as it gives you hope.
    I think we must believe in a religion that tells us the truth!
    If not, let` s just make up our religion that fits our needs!
    I think what we need to look for is truth not convenience

  • Comment Link IanB Tuesday, 18 February 2014 02:47 posted by IanB

    Hope as eternal individuation of the Self? God individuates a soul. Put's it through temporal torment by entrapping it in an ego which fears death. Then grants it an eternity of divine dualistic communion, 'To gaze upon his faith forevermore' if whilst experiencing temporal torment, it managed to keep faith by believing so called historical narrative, which seems to any rational mind,to be the story of a mythopoetic dying-rising Godman. Largely based on an Astrotheological mythology which drawn from numerous mythologies found throughout the ancient world. C S Lewis say yes but this one really happened. If it is then the Jokes on God.

    'Rebirth means the end of me'? But Christianity offers eternal life. Which you? Your eternal soul? your Ego-self? Your divine essence?

    The eternal ego is a vain notion, Hopeful only if one sees no hope of salvation, this side of death. Forgive me Paul, but it's not cheerful or hopeful, It's self-indulgent to the point of becoming absurd.

    The eternal return is not meant as a reward for a good life or a punishment for a bad in the hereafter as well you know. It is a prison which can be escaped only through selfless action. Karma places our salvation in our own hands and that's always right here, right now. Now is the timeless reality. Heaven lies all around us, but people don;t see it. “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)


    Once we know this we are free of the fear of death. Time is the illusion. The prison.

    "In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
    The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
    He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
    The cut worm forgives the plow.
    Dip him in the river who loves water.
    A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
    Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
    The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
    The hours of folly are measur'd by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure"

  • Comment Link Stephen Saturday, 05 April 2014 16:33 posted by Stephen

    "The idea that a baby, for example, suffers from a painful illness because of something another person did, even if the baby is in some sense a rebirth of that person, can scarcely be portrayed as satisfactory or just."

    How does this claim relate to the Christian doctrine of the Fall of humankind?

  • Comment Link Annelaure Thursday, 10 April 2014 16:02 posted by Annelaure

    Agreed IanB with many points.

    As I understand it this temporal (personality-based) self is based on illusion. Our true nature is something we can barely comprehend, and is not truly separate from all consciousness.

    As far as what reincarnates, as I understand it, that could be described as our mental habits, which is why we must take care to develop good ones.

    Wondering if it's possible to look at Christianity in a way that makes sense and is compatible with Buddhist teaching. That's how I found this article. Whether or not we understand dharmic principles clearly or are comforted by them does not have bearing on whether they are true. It seems that they may be a description of universal laws that are sometimes hard to grasp and articulate correctly. Can't help but wonder if they are clearly understood, the deeper teachings of these traditions are getting at the same thing: that the self is utterly transformed through releasing clinging to selfish things (which lead to fear and unhealthy desire) and living a life of true compassion.

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