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Faith and Belief Term Paper


the scope of this research, we will compare Buddhism and Catholicism in terms of the respective beliefs of those religions. Jesus was called savior, or Christ, by his followers because he was believed to be son of God who would save them. These differences in upbringing and different settings, including time and place, for the religions may affect the way these religions view god. Catholicism refers to God as being a trinity, father, son, and holy spirit. Buddhism on the other hand, views God in only one way, as an impersonal god. References to him are not as commonly made.

In prayer, Catholics pray directly to God calling him father or something of that sort, whereas Buddhists meditate without spoken words. (3) They believe in a personal relationship with God as though he is a family member. They believe that throughout history God has stepped in, or intervened at various times. The scripture, or the bible, is said to be the word of God, influenced by him in its writing.

People in Catholicism need to read the voice of God to get a better idea that he is close. Buddhists believe God to be impersonal and away from the people. He created all and now lets it live on its own. They hardly refer to God at all. They mostly follow the teachings of Buddha, who they believe to be enlightened by him. Once God is referred to in a name, he no longer is impersonal and is more earthly.
He is suppose to be beyond anything people can truly understand here on earth. That is why Buddhism has no written word of God, as the Catholics do. Catholics believe these images and names allow him to be made personal. People can not have a true loving relationship with an ultimate that is too far beyond that it is out of their understanding. It must be related to things they truly love on earth, such as family members.

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Next, many of the specific beliefs are different. Catholicism beliefs revolve around Jesus Christ. (5) The belief of incarnation, or the idea that God came to the world in the human form of Jesus Christ in order to redeem the people, is the first major doctrine. This is God showing that he loves the world and will save the people of its sins. From this belief comes the belief of atonement. God died and suffered on the cross in the human form in order to take away the sins of the world. The last doctrine goes back to the trinity, or belief in the three forms of God, as father, son, and holy spirit.

Buddhism believes in dharma and karma. Dharma is the divine ordering or structuring in which everything has its place. Karma is the environment or atmosphere that one brings to the dharma, or the ordering of the universe. If a person brings good karma upon himself, he will cause good results upon the order of the universe. If he brings bad karma, he will cause bad results. A person either enhances dharma or destroys it based on the karma he brings.

Also Buddhism holds the doctrines of anica and anatta. Anica means everything is inter-related. Anatta means that since everything is constantly changing and if the anica is true then, Buddha said, there are “no selves.” People are linked together and have a responsibility for all. This connects to the belief of nirvana. This means to blow one’s mind away, to be open to see things differently. These concepts lead to the four truths which are life is full of suffering, life is full of selfishness, there is a cure for the selfishness, and the cure is the eightfold path. There are also differences among the codes and ceremonies of the two religions.

Catholicism’s code, or actions, are based on the ten commandments, the teachings of the prophets, and the gospels. (4) The first three commandments are what is owed to God and the next seven are what is owed to your neighbor. Buddhism follows the eightfold path as expressed by Buddha. “These focus on right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right occupation, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Buddhists believe that universal suffering is caused by craving, which can be eliminated by Buddha’s Eightfold Path of self-righteousness” (2).

These eight things can eliminate this human caused suffering. The ceremonies of Catholicism are the seven sacraments. These are holy orders, matrimony, anointing of the sick, baptism, first communion, confirmation, and Eucharist. The ceremony of Buddhism is based on meditation. It is believed that one you should keep one’s self in touch with that which is beyond the self. These actions and ceremonies are thought to affect the after life, which is different in both religions.

Both these religions are monotheistic. They also both broke off from other religions. Jesus was a Jew who saw problems with the religion the way it was. He was not trying to start a new religion, but just reform the old one. Nevertheless, his followers took his teachings and broke off from the Jewish people because they would not reform their ways.

Siddhartha Guatama also was not trying to create his own religion. (1) He was a Hindu who saw flaws that he wanted reformed and spoke about these. His followers took his preaching and ideas and formed the religion of Buddhism. There are also similarities in the critiques Jesus and Buddha had of their religions. Jesus complained of the Jewish leaders taking advantage of the poor. For example, they put a church tax on them called a tithe. Jesus believed that the poor should not have to pay for their beliefs.

Buddha, also, was angered by the authority, or religious leaders. (6) He felt these leaders, or Brahmin, who were more educated than the poor, were exploiting the poor when they came for religious help. Both Jesus and Buddha felt that the people of a religion should not have to worry about being taken advantage of when they need help from its leaders. You should have trust in the heads of your religion, otherwise you can not have true faith in it.

“Jesus criticized Jewish leaders for sticking too closely to the letter of the law and not enough to the spirit of it.” (3) He said that laws are created for the people, people were not created for laws. Therefore they should benefit the people not hurt them. Buddha felt that meditation was too introspective, too self-involved. He believed its original purpose was being lost, Buddhism had forgotten why meditation was used.

Meditation should not lose touch with the outside world. Jesus thought it was time for reform in Judaism, too many things had become rigid and would not change with the appropriate times. People again were just doing things because they had always been done and were forgetting why. Two of Buddha’s big critiques were that the rituals were too mechanic and traditions needed changing.

Buddhism breaks up into three groups, called schools or vehicles. The first group is the Theravada School, “The School of the Elders”, which focuses on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, the two central sets of beliefs in Buddhism. The second school is the Mahayana School or, “The Great Vehicle”, which believes in an all-inclusive approach to liberation and a desire to liberate all beings, and the third group is the Vajrayana School, “The Diamond Vehicle”, which involves rituals and visualizations that can only be learned from a master (www.buddhism.about.com). These each have differences distinguishing them from the others, but they all keep the major ideas such as the four truths and the eightfold path.

Catholicism believes that the most important idea involved in global responsibility is respect for human dignity. (5) Everyone must respect their neighbor and beware of his or her needs. In order for people to get along there must be an acceptance of all people regardless of race, gender, color, or religion. Justice should be shown in all circumstances whether they be political, social, or economical.

People must try to sustain God’s creation and show a love for it. This general belief is held by the Buddhists, too. Their ideas express inter-relationship as being the most important aspect in living together. You must put it first, over individualism. Individual and community must be linked based on an understanding of inter-relationship. Then a transformation can be made in the world for the better.
On the most general level, most would agree that both Buddhism and Catholicism advocate a liberative experience in which a distorted and unsatisfactory condition of existence is somehow transcended and a new mode of being in the world actualized. (3) There is an illness that demands a remedy. But, as soon as one begins to describe what this illness and its remedy might be, moving into the particulars, real differences emerge. Whereas Catholics see the fundamental problem of human existence as bondage to sin, Buddhists view it as suffering or disease resulting ultimately from ignorance.

Whereas Catholics portray salvation as the restoration of right relationship with God, creation, and human beings by means of a grace signified through the Christ-event, Buddhists construe it as a sapiential awakening to the self-less or empty nature of all things. One leans toward a prophetically inclined and essentialist theism; the other, toward a contemplative and nonessentialist humanism. Both signify a deliverance from and a releasement toward, but their descriptions of the human problem and their prescriptions for its solution appear to differ radically. Let us investigate these differences a bit further.

The nonattached, self-releasing relatedness achieved in the Buddhist experience of enlightenment bears some striking phenomenological resemblances to the dynamics involved in the Catholic ideal of caritas, even while taking into account some of the crucial theological and metaphysical differences. Both perceive that the central problem of the human condition is grounded in a broken relationship with the way reality really is.

Desire can be seen as an anthropological hinge upon which this relationship rests. In Catholicism, sin is the result of desire’s attaching itself to some contingent reality instead of to God; in Buddhism, suffering is the result of desire’s attaching itself to and thus substantializing some contingent reality instead of realizing its own fundamental interrelationality and selflessness. (2)

Both of these manifestations of desire entail a kind of self-enclosing will-to-control, a desire for self-perpetuating security that seeks to set claim upon everything in order to possess and guarantee its own being. In both traditions, something like idolatry is the chief result, rendering ultimate that which is not ultimate, substantializing that which is not substantial. (1)

The process of liberation/salvation, however, reverses these tendencies by transforming desire. For the Catholic, desire becomes caritas, a love of God that overflows with an undiscriminating concern for the other as one’s neighbor without thought of a self-serving return. This is possible because of an iconclastic releasement of the anxiety-ridden urge to be one’s own guarantor, an emptying of the need to be totally satisfied and securely in control of one’s destiny.

A basic sense of and desire for right-relatedness in creation is engendered and borne out in an attitude of vulnerability and benevolent openness to being, expressed in an ongoing habitus of care for others and the world. (1) God becomes “our power in mutual relation … by (which) we can act, responsibly and joyfully, on behalf of the liberation of all people and creatures, including ourselves, from bondage to wrong relation.” (2) There is a strong prophetic ring to desire transformed into the repentant, self-releasing, nonidolatrous, and compassionate relatedness–that is, availability–of caritas.

Buddhists depict salvation in analogous terms. In nirvana, desire is pacified, no longer attached to things in self-regarding concern, creating a compassionate and self-releasing openness toward all living things. Though this awakening is sapiential in nature, it necessarily includes the affective element of compassion, which may be viewed as a modulation of desire now trained upon the good of the other.

If this is true, then compassion is desire not eradicated but, rather, transformed into a volitional dynamism empty of self-enclosing regard, which is in fact the other-centered character of love. While the transformation is grounded in wisdom’s insight into the self-less connectedness or interrelationship of all things, we must not forget that, for the Buddhist, ethical matters are inherently connected with matters of wisdom.

Indeed, morality comprises three factors of the Noble Eightfold Path and undergirds the precepts of the monk or arhant in Theravada Buddhism as well as the vows of the bodhisattva in Mahayana forms of Buddhism. All ethical injunctions can be summed up in compassion, which is love, charity, kindness, and tolerance for the well-being of the many. As the Buddha states: “Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let one’s thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world.” (6)

Buddhism, then, is a way to freedom through liberating knowledge, but this knowledge entails within itself an integral moral component: self-releasement as boundless compassion. (6) Like Catholicism, liberation here means then a dynamically open and attuned, nonattached, self-releasing, and loving posture toward all living things. Desire turned in on itself has been radically transformed, liberated from its self-incurred disease. Accordingly, it would be a mistake to say that desire is altogether “blown out” and eliminated in nirvana, for compassion is desire revaluated in the light of wisdom. Eliminated is desire in the form of a false clinging to self, as a craving for being.

Therefore, while one principally calls for awakening from ignorance and the other for repentance from sin, Buddhism and Catholicism offer strikingly parallel depictions of desire. Sin and idolatry stem from the clinging love of cupiditas, which seeks inauthentically to be its own guarantor in the manner that the craving of desire does in Buddhism. In both traditions, a tyrannical and misdirected desire serves falsely to encapsulate the self within its own gravitational horizon. Turning away from God by not owning up to one’s creatureliness and not seeing reality in its self-less and interdependent nature, though different on a theological and metaphysical level, produce existential and psychological correlates.

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 Lane, Dermot. “The Experience of God. An Invitation to Do Theology” New York: Paulist, 2003.
 Lane, Dermot. “The Cross of Christ as the Revelation of God.” In Christ at the Centre. Selected Issues in Christology, 53-79. New York: Paulist, 1991.
 Tillich, Paul. “The Dynamics of Faith.” Reprint. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
 Traey, D. The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism. New York: Crossroad, 1991.
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