In case you were wondering about Buddhism

Here is a fine (and sympathetic) comparison and contrast between Buddhism and Catholic faith by Peter Kreeft.

I could read Peter Kreeft all day.  Speaking of which, he has a new book out:  Jacob’s Ladder:  Ten Steps to Truth.

I love that guy!

  • Mike

    Peter Kreeft is brilliant. His Socrates in the City appearance debating that the default position is agnost. is one of my favs.

  • Sagrav

    Peter Kreeft does a pretty good job of assessing Buddhism, until the final couple of paragraphs:

    “He [Buddha] profoundly knows and condemns the desire to possess something less than ourselves, like money, sex or power, but he does not know the desire to be possessed by something more than ourselves. Buddha knows greed, but not God. And surely we Westerners, whose very lives and economic systems are based on greed, need to hear Buddha when he speaks about what he knows and what we have forgotten.”

    Buddha certainly knew “Brahma”, the ancient Indian equivalent of a godhead. He rejected it. I remember a story from a comparative religion class I took in college: a group of Brahmins came to the Buddha and asked him how they should live in order to be reborn in Brahma’s realm. The Buddha told them to meditate on happiness and compassion for all living things and to perform various good deeds. After the satisfied Brahmins left, the Buddha turned to his own disciples and explained that while his advice was suitable for the Brahmins his own disciples have higher aims.

    In the Buddhist concept of reality, all beings are constantly caught in a cycle of rebirth. This includes the gods (even the highest god). While it is temporarily pleasant to be reborn into one of their realms of existence or to be reborn as a god yourself, it all ends eventually. The divinities grow old and die, and then they are reborn as lower creatures. As part of his enlightenment, the Buddha gained memory of his previous lives stretching back into infinity. He already knew first hand what it was to be with God or to be an incarnation of God itself!

    Thus, it makes about as much sense to tell a devout Buddhist that they need Christ in their life to gain salvation as it does to tell a devout Catholic that they need to know the four noble truths and follow the eight fold path to end the cycle of rebirth. Since neither side can definitively prove that their concept of the afterlife is correct, neither can really lay claim to being the superior way to achieve salvation/enlightenment/whatever.

    • Renata

      There is a tremendous amount of confusion in this post. Peter Kreeft, PhD, is not relying on some things he picked up once in some comparative religion course. He has studied and taught and written about these things in depth, all his life, at a very high scholarly level. So have I (and I was once a practicing Buddhist), though to a much, much lesser extent Kreeft has. This is not the place to point out your errors, but a little humility concerning the extent of one’s own knowledge might be in order.

      • Sagrav

        No, I am not confused. Also, please do not use an appeal to authority in an attempt to dismantle my statements. If Peter Kreeft is the great scholar that you claim he is, I find it even more alarming that I found holes in his final argument based on a single class I took over a decade ago.

        I also find it odd that you were a practicing Buddhist, yet you deem your own knowledge of Buddhism inferior to a Christian apologist’s. I would think your knowledge of the subject would be much greater than an outsider’s whose main goal is propping up his favorite religious preconceptions.

        “This is not the place to point out your errors…”
        This is an internet forum. This is the perfect place to discuss my supposed errors.

        “…but a little humility concerning the extent of one’s own knowledge might be in order.”
        What a smug and unjustified reaction on your part. All I was pointing out is that comparing Christian and Buddhist worldviews in an attempt to point out the superiority of one over the other is futile. If one accepts the Christian paradigm, then the Buddha’s claims concerning karma and rebirth are nonsensical. If one accepts the Buddhist paradigm, then the Christian claim that one’s soul requires redemption in the form of Christ is equally nonsensical.

        Minus the final paragraph, I found Peter’s article to be a fairly sober assessment of Buddhist teachings. His attempt at the end to shoehorn an argument for the supposed advantages of the Christian religion over Buddhism that I found jarring and unjustified. I am not even a religious individual; I find all religion’s tenets suspect at best. I just react poorly to silly arguments and unjustified assertions of superiority.

    • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

      Sorry, Sagrav, you might have some knowledge of Buddhism to pride yourself on, but you still don’t get what Kreeft was trying to say. If Brahma and other gods in Buddhism can die, and are in fact caught in the same cycle of death and rebirth we are, then they aren’t God at all, not in the Christian understanding. They might be higher than us, at least at one point in their existence, but they would be higher in degree, not in kind. There is no comparison to the relationship of the Christian to God, which is what Kreeft is getting at, because the Christian God is fundamentally different in kind than the Buddhist gods.

      • Jamie R

        I’m no Kreeft, but if I recall correctly from my random comp religion classes, I think that the development in some strains Hinduism of something that looks like a real concept of God (rather than just gods) was roughly contemporary or even subsequent to the development of Buddhism. So whatever the Brahmins worshipped was most likely, as you note, something caught up in the same cycle of death and rebirth, even though some later Brahmins might worship something that might be God.

      • Sagrav

        “If Brahma and other gods in Buddhism can die, and are in fact caught in the same cycle of death and rebirth we are, then they aren’t God at all, not in the Christian understanding. ”

        Which is exactly my point: Buddhist and Christian beliefs are so at odds with each other that it is pointless to compare them with an eye towards determining the “superior” faith system. From the Buddhist standpoint, your god is just as doomed to die as all other gods. You find this assertion distasteful as a Christian believer, but you have no more proof that your beliefs about the nature of divinity are any closer to the truth than a Buddhist’s beliefs. You state that your god is fundamentally different from everyone else’s gods, and they disagree. That’s where the conversation ends. I just found it annoying that after a fairly decent run down of basic Buddhist doctrine, the author decided to end on a note that basically just says, “And Jesus Christ is superior! Because… he knows God!” It was a silly end to a thoughtful article.

        “There is no comparison to the relationship of the Christian to God, which is what Kreeft is getting at, because the Christian God is fundamentally different in kind than the Buddhist gods.” Kreeft merely asserts this, and he does so without precedent or proof. I know this is a fundamental tenet of your faith, but it isn’t very convincing to anyone who isn’t already a member of your faith. It is lazy evangelizing.

        • Renata

          Kreeft didn’t do it here, but in his own writing and many, many, MANY others, there is actually plenty of precedent, and more articles, books, and writing than one could study in a lifetime, on how very, very radically different the Christian view of God is from every other. If this were a “religion,” it would be the ONLY one on earth where God seeks the person and not vice versa; where suffering, even innocent suffering, may be entered into for the redemption of the world and not avoided by calling it an illusion (or any other means of escape); where heaven is not the “nirvana” of being “extinguished” (the root of the word), like a candle being snuffed out, nor where oneness with God is a drop of water falling into the sea, where it disappears, but a nuptial union (yes, a union of MARRIAGE) with God as our beatific end and where we find our fullest, truest selves; and where the very heart of reality is a TRINITY OF PERSONS IN RELATIONS OF LOVE – there is no “Godhead behind the Trinity” which is just energy. There are a great many really good sources available to begin to get an understanding of this truly astounding, and completely unique, truth that the real God is fundamentally different than man’s ideas about gods. For a start, try the work of Benedict XVI, Hans Urs von Balthasar, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Kenneth Schmitz, John Paul II’s work on the person and its derivation from the Persons of the Trinity —- others can suggest more. To say that the Trinitarian God is different from other gods is not just an assertion, but an unspeakable joy, a profound Mystery, and a wonder and delight. When you see it, you feel both, “I never could have imagined anything this astonishingly beautiful” as well as, “But now I see it could not have been any other way!” That’s what a famous Muslim said to a famous Cardinal when that Cardinal explained the Trinity to him. But maybe now you can see why I would say this wouldn’t fit in a blog post!
          Oh – one other thing – the work of Father Robert Barron is very clear, concise, and easy to read, but best of all might be to watch the ten-part video “Catholicism.” There is a great deal in there that helps explain the difference between Catholicism on one had, and “religions” on the other. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
          You can use your Buddhism, and all that is good in it (and BTW Catholic magisterial teaching specifically says that it rejects nothing that is true and holy in Buddhism or other religions), to go higher up and deeper still, to Love Himself, who is clearly calling you.
          Goodbye. I wish you well on your journey. I am off to Mass, which I will offer for you.

        • Jared B.

          What’s so ironic about Sagrav’s point is that he’s talking about Dr. Peter Kreeft. Probably no one else in our lifetime has written more in the English language in terms of Catholic Christian apologetics i.e. providing the “proof” Sagrav expects…if one bothers to read a bit more than a just single article he wrote. Sagrav’s point is valid, but it’s silly to expect everything and the kitchen sink in one very short essay. It’s lazy reading.

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com Irenist

          Sagrav,

          Kreeft’s article was a popular treatment, not a formal philosophical demonstration.

          As you probably know, the Christian God is closer to the Brahman of the Upanishads (i.e., the Absolute) than to the Brahma of the Vedas (i.e., an Indo-European god akin to Zeus or Odin). The source, AFAIK, of later Buddhism’s dim view of the concept of Brahman is the Brahma-nimantanika Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya in the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism (and whatever the equivalent sutra is in Madhyama Agama for Mahayana Buddhists). The Brahma-nimantanika Sutta details Buddha’s encounter with Baka-Brahma, a mere god who has been deluded into thinking he is Brahman (God); the term Brahman isn’t used, but the whole text reads like a potshot at the contemporaneous authors of the Upanishads and a denunciation of the Brahman concept. The upshot of the sutta is that, given Buddhist metaphysics, *everything* is demonstrably impermanent, and thus, the permanence that Baka-Brahma claims for himself in the course of claiming that he is actually Brahman (and should be worshipped as such) is necessarily delusory.

          You are correct that neither the Buddhist nor the Christian has “proof,” in the sense of scientific experimental results, for his ideas about the (im)possibility of Absolute Being. As has been noted by admirers of Buddhism like the philosopher Jay Garfield, Buddhist reflections on pratityasamutpada (dependent arising) concern many of the same areas of inquiry as Western metaphysics, and come to conclusions akin to those of skeptics like Hume. In recent years, Thomist metaphysics has shown itself quite capable of out-arguing Humean skepticism about causality. Thus, as more dialogue occurs between Catholic and Buddhist philosophers, I expect a Thomist refutation of pratityasamutpada will be properly worked out in the next few centuries. The Christian concept of God is metaphysically superior to the Buddhist denial of the possibility of Absolute Being; this is not a matter of emotion or opinion, but of logical demonstration.

          • http://www.hwaetglennabolas.com Glenn A Bolas

            Where would one go to find a rundown of the Thomist arguments against Humean scepticism? I think I’d like to know more about that.

            • http://irenist.blogspot.com Irenist

              For a readable rundown, start with Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition.

          • Rosemarie

            +J.M.J+

            I don’t remember who it was, but I read someone, somewhere say that the closest Buddhism comes to belief in God or the Absolute is in the concept of Dharma. Depending on which Buddhist school of thought we’re talking about, it is sometimes seen as the order behind everything or truth and absolute reality.

        • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

          Sagrav, your first attempt was to say that Buddha did have knowledge of being caught up into God, which means treating the Hindu idea of God as roughly equivalent to the Christian one. Now when called on this, and told that the Christian and Hindu ideas of God are completely different, you say this was precisely your point, and that they are so different there is no possible means of comparison, and that each would find the other’s “nonsense”? Uh, if you say so, I guess.

          Your reasoning is similarly lazy throughout. Having, and being able to describe a complete religious system that is different from another means that we can compare and contrast ours with the other. This is a totally different thing than believing or even proving that our system is true. You, bizarrely, seem to be lumping these two ideas together as one.

          Buddhists can perfectly well see the point of a contrast of their idea of God with the Christian idea, without either finding it “nonsensical” or coming to believe the Christian God in the process. In the end, they will still say their idea is right, no doubt, but I don’t think they would find the discussion pointless. Comparing and contrasting the two views might be a way of each coming to understand the other better, or even of understanding their own better.

          It’s precisely because the Christian concept of God is different than the Buddhist (or Hindu) one that
          Kreeft can say — in that passage you found so offensive — that Christians can know something Buddha didn’t know. “Know” here means to have a different understanding. He also points out that Buddha had an understanding of the nature of greed and desire that we Christians in the West can learn from, something that can sharpen our own understanding of our beliefs on the subject. He is not simply asserting superiority. He is doing what people do when they compare, and contrast, which is a two-way street. He points out that there are ideas that Christians can learn from Buddhists as well as the other way around.

          I feel almost embarrassed to have to point out these simple things to a presumed grown-up. The kind thing to do would be to presume that you simply lack reading comprehension skills. The only ones who could fail to see the point of an intelligent discussion like Prof. Kreeft’s are atheists like you who are tone-deaf (or as Mr. Seeber might say, autistic) to all religion. Not all atheists are similarly handicapped. It might help you to just open your mind and use a little imagination. And above all, don’t depend on your comparative religion course as a credential for thinking you know everything.

          • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

            Sorry, I keep on mixing up “Hindu” and “Buddhist” here. I do understand that many or most Buddhist would question the idea of God or may be atheists. My mind has been on the logic of the question.

        • enness

          “you have no more proof”
          Um, yes, we have the man, eyewitnesses to His resurrection, and a Church which has survived 2,000 years of outward peril and inward incompetence.

  • Renata

    I have had Peter Kreeft in my home, had dinner with him, and spoken to him on other occasions, and he is kind, gentlemanly, “elf-like” (in the good Tolkien way), humble, and every other good thing one might think of to say. May I note that if you love him, you will love English writer Stratford Caldecott (editor of the British version of Magnificat). Of Caldecott, Kreeft said that his book on Tolkien was the best every written. And to put the icing on the cake, Kreeft says he came out of his mother’s womb a Red Sox fan! He has a delightful essay on the Sox in the book, “The Red Sox and Philosophy.”

    • Newp Ort

      Kreeft sounds great. Until your last two sentences.

      Kreeft may be a born Red Sox fan, but I was a White Sox fan before God formed me in my mother’s womb. His Sox are the wrong Sox. That said, we can at least share our hatred for the Evil Empire.

      I’m guessing his Red Sox philosophical notions probably have a lot to do with the world series drought, curse of the Babe, Bill Buckner, blah blah blah. In 2004, when the Red Sox finally pulled it off, nearly all of sports media failed to mention the two other teams with longer world series droughts: the White Sox and the Cubs.

      The White Sox got theirs in 2005, to my great joy.

      The Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908, 104 years. (I’d be curious to know Samuel Clemens thoughts on the 1908 series; I doubt he attended but he was still alive! As well as Geronimo, Kaiser Wilhelm…) May they remain world series winless for another 1,040, 10,400, 1,040,000…

      • Renata

        Oh, believe me, Newp Ort, I feel for other teams as well! I once had breakfast with Father Robert Barron, a diehard Cubs fan, and he read me the Riot Act on the suffering of Cubs fans! That said, I understand anyone who loves their own team and is loyal to them, especially when it goes back decades. And while on the surface I must share “hatred” for the Evil Empire (note: in a Boston restaurant near Fenway, the New York Cheesecake on the menu is called “Evil Empire Cheesecake”), I confess admiration and respect for Jeter, Rivera, and Girardi, class acts all.
        And now back to your regularly scheduled blog discussion! Sorry for the highjack!

        • Beccolina

          Team loyalty like that is as mystifying to me as Buddhism. My husband has tried to explain it to me, to no avail. I get lots of crocheting done during football season.

          • Rosemarie

            +J.M.J+

            Me too. IIRC, Mark Shea has said that he “lacks the sports gene.” My husband and I must lack it as well. We don’t follow any sports at all.

      • Gary Keith Chesterton

        Whoa, why the hate? As a White Sox fan, surely you do not care about the National League.

  • chris

    Naturally, i thought immediately of Chesterton’s repeated comments about wrong comparisons of Buddhism and Christianity, in which he said some folks were saying that “Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike; especially Buddhism.”

  • Theodore Seeber

    During my agnostic years, it was only atheism, Zen Buddhism, and Catholicism that had any attraction for me at all. Just about everything else was far too irrational to even look at.

    I still have a great love for the Sixth Patriarch and the Platform Sutra, but now see far more truth in the parables of Christ than in the Koans. When I finally discovered Chesterton as an adult- it was the love of paradox that brought me to him.

    • Theodore Seeber

      And now that I know I’m autistic- there’s a reason why Karuma makes more sense to me than Agape. I struggle to have Agape because I struggle to understand what neurotypicals call love, Karuma is easy to an autistic because it assumes only the material world.

      • Jared B.

        I know, right?! And being unable or less able to form an inner picture of anyone else’s mental/emotional state, it would be hard not to be tempted by a belief system that says there aren’t truly any ‘selves’ out there to know or experience empathy for…so we’re not actually missing anything lol 8-)

        • Theodore Seeber

          Yep. Luckily, in the last few years, I’ve joined Knights of Columbus, which encourages me to work on my compassion, at least in the form of the corporal works of mercy. It has also done wonders for my interpersonal skills.

          • Gary Keith Chesterton

            Bravo, my brother.

    • Benjamin

      Theodore-

      If I could get off topic a little bit, why did Eastern Orthodoxy seem more “wildly irrational” than Roman Catholicism? I get why people who want to be Christian reject Protestantism –if God had to wait 1,500++ years until after his supposed Messiah to get what he REALLY meant across and/or allowed what he originally said to be wildly corrupted for so long, he must be pretty incompetent. But why does a person choose one Christian sect over another with an equally ancient pedigree?

      • http://www.somewhither.net Darrell

        Benjamin

        If one if the main criteria in selecting between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Cheistianity is “rationalism” then Roman Catholicism would probably be the best choice. I’ve often described Orthodox Christianity as “arational” in that it teaches that God can not be known through reason and does not attempt to craft a cohesive philosophy about itself but in no way rejects reason. Roman Catholicism might be understood as as placing an emphasis on reason and rationality while Orthodox Christianity emphasizes experience and mysticism.

  • Bryan

    One of my favorite books even when I had not attended any church in years was “Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Now I’m slightly more wary of comparisons between the two belief systems. Buddhism is an atheistic religion, after all.

    • Jason C.

      Doesn’t Kreeft argue in the article that Buddhism is agnostic? I believe he’d dispute your final point.

    • Theodore Seeber

      Buddhism is more agnostic than atheist; many Buddhist writings are actually full of gods (they’re just created beings though- still subject to the karmic wheel).

      • Jared B.

        Buddhists, among themselves, disagree about whether Buddhism is more aptly agnostic or atheistic, or whether that question even matters. For that matter, there isn’t universal agreement among Buddhists whether Buddhism ought to be classified as a ‘religion’ at all, in the same sense that Christianity Hinduism etc. are.

        • Theodore Seeber

          I’d classify it as much of a religion as the scientific method is, at least.

  • Benjamin

    In my experience, many Catholics seem to have an affinity for Buddhism (as much as it’s possible to while still remaining Catholic), and vice versa. See: Thomas Merton.

  • Elmwood

    Man I hate Buddha.

  • Dante Aligheri

    I don’t know if people are still reading this thread, but someone mentioned Stratford Caldecott.

    Ironically enough, he has some excellent and scholarly comparisons of God and Brahman from an Eckhartian perspective which can be read online for free. I would recommend “Face to Face: The Difference Between Hindu and Christian Non-Dualism” and, as a preface to that as well as a good read, “Trinity and Creation: An Eckhartian Perspective.”

    Regarding the question of whether the gods must be reborn or whether it makes any sense that the Christian God could experience ascent or descent, I would have to agree that the God of the Abrahamic religions is seen simply ultimate Being Itself. On this topic, I would recommend philosopher Edward Feser’s work which can be found on his blog. I agree that Peter Kreeft tends to simplify things. C.S. Lewis did, too.

    But what they can do is bring ideas to a popular level. C.S. Lewis was able to take St. Athanasius and the Fathers and make them into best-sellers.

    Peace.

  • http://theendlessfurther.com/ David

    Kreeft’s article has a few inaccuracies. Mostly small ones.

    Buddha denied he was either a god or a man. His answered was that he was awake.

    The Buddha divinized by Pure Land is not the historical Buddha that Keefe is talking about but rather a mythological one, Amida Buddha. I would argue that Pure Land is not “real” Buddhism.

    “The Buddhist point is not the welfare of the recipient, but the liberation of the giver from the burden of self.” That’s only half of it. The Mahayana Bodhisattva forgoes entry into final liberation (Nirvana) and stays in this world to dispel the misery of this world, solely for the sake of others, not for his or her own.

    Kreeft makes the mistake many do by letting the negative-sounding Indian dialectic to confuse him into thinking Buddhism is nihilistic, a philosophy of nothingness. Freedom from the self and self-cherishing is freedom in the most basic sense. It liberates one, enables them to love more, and to love with a different sort of passion or desire than that which the Buddha criticizes, one more wholly realized.

    The Indian gods were not gods in the way we understand. They were (or are) “devas” celestial beings who had very human-like failings as well as supernatural powers. The one commenter is correct, the Indian Gods are trapped in the cycle of birth and death like everyone else.
    Buddha was tolerant of these celestial beings, but not very interested in them. He was more concerned with what was real, the reality of suffering in this world. I might point out the Brahma is nothing at all like the Western concept of a supreme being who created the universe, and that Buddha never heard of the God of Abraham, as monotheism was largely (perhaps completely) unknown in India 2500 years ago.

    In any case, Buddha did not need to know God, and speaking as a 30 year Buddhist, I would say that we Buddhists don’t really need to hear about God either. Like Buddha, we are not terribly interested in outer-directed philosophies. Ours is inner-directed.

  • justinwhitaker

    Unfortunately, having grown up Catholic and studied and practiced Buddhism for the last decade, I think Kreef’s piece was all a bit simplistic and distorting… I wrote about it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbuddhist/2013/05/a-recent-catholic-take-on-buddhism.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-M-Kowalski/100000161198588 John M. Kowalski

      I too, grew up Catholic. I’ve practiced Buddhism for over 20 years. The points you and others have raised are responding to the same distortions that have been made by Christian apologists as long as Christian apologists have tried out their “skills” on Buddhism. And I would think that these arguments, refuted over and over and over again by Buddhists, would not be dredged up by a new breed of so-called apologists, and that leads me to question their ethics and moral values.

      In fact, the issue with self and ego, though, is a problem that Christianity has, because the whole project of Christian salvation is for nought if, as Buddhists might maintain, it’s driven at its core by greed anyway (since, as Kierkegaard pointed out, Christianity is a highly individualistic endeavor.)

  • seba

    Of course you could read him, but I’d like to see your optimistic approach to evangelicals simplifying your catholicism, because obviously you are not happy to read kreeft just because he is “on your side”, right? :-)


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