We have been having such a rich and valuable dialog in the “Ask a Buddhist” thread about the questions that are really at the heart of our mutual traditions. The exploration and interest has been mutual and so I guess this is my long-awaited opportunity to “Ask a Catholic”. I guess we should be truly ecumenical and invite everyone in. But I have to admit that as a Tibetan Buddhist, I find such a rich sympathy between these two singular traditions.
I guess the issues we’re encountering boil down basically to:
What does a Buddhist mean when he or she talks about “Emptiness” and “Buddha Nature”? What does a Catholic mean when he or she talks about “God”? Most importantly – since I’m neither a teacher not a particularly good student – how do the answers to those questions affect our every day spiritual practices and lives as ordinary practitioners?
Asking these questions does not diminish either faith. As our brother Vouthon describes below, the teachers in both of our traditions stress the need to sharpen our faith through understanding them in the language of others. I don’t know what exactly we’ll discover here, but my guess is that it will boil down to a deep appreciation for mystery and a renewed appreciation for the limits of intellect in the face of sacred truths.
Anyway, at Vouthon’s sufferance, I’m going to take my response to this new thread. As Vouthon say’s:
Christianity was expressed through Greek philosophy because of locality. It can equally be expressed through Indian philosophy ie Sramana, Buddhist, Jain and this would “enrich” Christian thought as Blessed Pope John Paul II once said…That is the task for us post-60s, Thomas Merton-influenced Catholics
And to hear that was really sort of awe-inspiring to me. I mean for example, I would love to see Catholic scholars engage directly with the rich tradition of textual discussion on Buddha Nature and Emptiness. (And vis. vs.) I’d actually love to see so called “scientists” and “philosophers” do the same thing, but that’s probably a lost cause.
A warning seems in order here though. We are wielding a double-edged sword. As soon as you begin down the path of translating your beliefs into other systems, you begin to get the unsettling feeling that those systems are translating their beliefs on to you.
Yes, and from what little I’ve read into the history of the Eucharist (the dangers of wikipedia), I guess that explains why there was so much gnashing of the teeth (and blood spilled, unfortunately) over the concept of transubstantiation during the reformation. Martin Luther’s logic seemed particularly contorted to me. When really, the whole thing is pretty straightforward. After hearing “this is the blood of Christ” you really shouldn’t need to have any more questions about that from a spiritual point of view, and it’s just silly to argue about it from a material point of view. It either is or it isn’t. If you are able to see that reality, why deny it? If you can’t, why pretend otherwise? And if it’s a mere symbol, what’s the point?
And so this gets me right back to your answer to a question I posed about whether a Christian could properly say of him or herself that they wanted to “be god”. I’d thought that this would be frowned upon to put it mildly, and you said no, explaining:
Ah, well perhaps you are thinking of the fact that while we can and do become God by grace, we do not become God in his unknowable Essence.
My understanding now is that that latter would in fact be heresy.
Vouthon has also pointed us to this site which frankly astonished me – showing just how little I understand about the Catholic faith – exploring a very detailed progressive view of prayer in the Catholic tradition:
It is at this stage that deification occurs, and by grace we become more divine than human. Our entire being is captivated by God and everything we do is completely united to God. The soul and God are so united at this stage that they cannot be separated.
I guess it’s obvious where I’m going with this. What’s “missing” at this point? What would I need to claim or experience beyond this point that would differentiate this state from that of being united to God in unknowable essence?