To both Buddhists & Catholics - How does Buddhism "fit" into Christianity timeline?

Hi everyone, I am currently in RCIA and we covered Eschatology last week.

Here’s a bunch of questions that follow from the header and I guess this falls into this thread and although it is a Non-Catholic religion thread, I’m interested to hear the opinions of Buddhists and Catholics.

The Buddha seems to be from a much early era. Do Catholics think that he is just a very wise and philosophical man?

What draws people into Buddhism? Are there miracles from Buddhism?

What is this rebirth / reincarnation about? Is there concrete scientific proof about it?

I realise that’s a bunch of questions. Thank you in advance.

Whoo boy. Let’s deal with the things i’m certain of first and work our way down.

What is this rebirth / reincarnation about? Is there concrete scientific proof about it?

The Dharmic faiths (Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, some branches of Daoism) believe that death is not a final end to the consciousness of a being. That in truth, your mind/soul/whatever continues onward after death to be “Recycled” by the cosmos if you will.

As for scientific proof? In a word - no. Scientific proof would require the ability for the theory to be falsified and for a test case scenario to be created to check on the validity of the hypothesis. So far no one has thought of a good methodology to test for the existence of reincarnation.

Off the top of my head, the only study i can think of with a high degree of precision (although there are obvious flaws in its assumption) is one being done by a psychiatrist from UVA regarding case studies of people who believe they have had past lives. It should be noted that the primary investigator is not a Dharmic faith believer.

The Buddha seems to be from a much early era. Do Catholics think that he is just a very wise and philosophical man?

At least in my interactions with Catholics - the opinions vary from person to person.

Some consider Siddartha Gautama to be simply a philosopher. They look upon the emergence of Buddhism in the same way one looks at the origin of the Platonists or perhaps the Stoics. The argument made in this manner would be something to the effect of, “Here’s a man who without Divine Revelation developed a set of ethical moral principles in line with Natural Law.”

Others (on this very forum no less) consider the Buddha and Buddhism to be the work of the Devil (directly or indirectly). Much of this seems, at least from my own perspective, fueled as a reaction to the outgrowth of 1960s “New Age” movement upon which many of your co-religionists ended up jumping ship toward an Eastern philosophy.

…Which IMHO is quite odd…given that many of the traditional branches of Buddhism had similar complaints regarding the “New Age.” :shrug:

What draws people into Buddhism? Are there miracles from Buddhism?

It might help to consider the following question: Which Buddhism are you referring to?

In the same manner that Christianity is an umbrella term for a variety of different sects/churches/etc. Buddhism also has divergences within its own stream of thought.

It runs the gamut from a very super-rationalized version favored by Western adherents to something quite mystical and in some ways reminicent of an Abrahamic faith.

In the same manner that the question within your own faith came about in asking “Who is Jesus,” similar questions were asked about the Buddha.

For those who adhere to the rationalized version of Buddhism (sans miracles), the Buddha was simply a man. From that point onward toward say the Tibetan branch of Buddhism, the Buddha is not just a man but a reflection (avatar?) of a pre-existant eternal Buddha - not quite “God” in the Western sense of the word.

And in the same way your Catholic fellows argue with Protestants, Orthodox, ORiental ORthodox, etc - similar arguments can be found within the overall umbrella of Buddhism…and Judaism…and every other major religion.

The Atheist covered a lot of ground, and I’ll try to add a little to it in regards to the idea of reincarnation. This is from the little bit that I remember when we covered some Buddhism in my religion class in high school, so some of it may be a bit off, but I think most of it is pretty close (people can feel free to correct me). (And I believe this is only a particular type of Buddhism, but I forget the specific type)

The eternal Buddha that TA mentioned isn’t necessarily a person, like how we consider God, but an eternal being that oversees order in the universe. There is, however, an imbalance with people being drawn to material wealth, with greed, selfish desires, etc. To correct this imbalance, people are supposed to work on “losing touch with the world” so to speak. People are to seek peace and selflessness, to free themselves from material holds, so that one can achieve nirvana, a state of becoming one with Buddha and the universe. My teacher described it as a drop of water falling into an ocean, it loses identity to become one with the supreme identity. If one doesn’t achieve nirvana in their life (basically almost all don’t, since it is supposedly really hard), then they are “recycled” to live another life in another body with no living memory of their past (I’m not going to talk about the ‘remembering past lives’ thing) to start again. This process continues indefinitely until one reaches nirvana. Also, if one does bad in their past life then they are reincarnated as a lesser creature, and if they did better in their past life, they move up to a better creature. I don’t know the scale of creatures, but you hopefully get the idea.

That is as much as I know (or think I know) on Buddhism.

Buddha lived about 500BC. Little is known about his actual life. Catholics do not believe that he was a prophet of the true God but he may have had virtues.

What draws people into Buddhism? Are there miracles from Buddhism?

Buddhism offers relief from the endless pain of existance and points to Nirvana “nothingness” as the goal. There are no valid miracles from Buddhism.

What is this rebirth / reincarnation about? Is there concrete scientific proof about it?

Catholics do not believe in the endless rebirth/reincarnation cycle, about which there is certainly no scientific evidence.

Like a previous poster said, Buddha lived about 500 BC, however, Buddhists believe that Buddhism happens in 5000 year cycles. Every 5000 years, Buddha is reborn and then by the time the next 5000 years roll around, society has completely forgotten about him and he must be reborn. That puts us at about halfway through the current cycle.

The translation of the Pali/Sanskrit to “Nothingness” is a bit misleading. It makes all Buddhists sound like a bunch of nihilists (a position that Siddartha Gautama actively criticized).

But - since we do have at least two active Theravadan buddhists on this board and 1 World religions professor who plays for your “team” if you will - ill let them handle unpacking this one.

There’s no formal teaching about Buddha (or about any other non-Christian religious leader) in Catholicism. However, there is a medieval text called "“Barlaam and Josaphat” which describes a young Indian prince converting to Christianity. The prince, Josaphat, has been traditionally venerated as a saint and found his way into the Roman Martyrology as well as the calendars of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Modern scholars have figured out (beyond reasonable doubt from what I can see–the Catholic Encyclopedia, for instance, recognizes this to be true) that the story is a garbled, Christianized version of the story of Buddha.

Obviously medieval Christians venerated “Josaphat” in the belief that he was a Christian convert and martyr. So one can argue whether in fact this has any bearing on how Christians should view Buddha. But it does show that Buddha (as he appears in Buddhist tradition–of course we have no other historical information about him) displayed characteristics that Christians could easily recognize as saint-like.

What draws people into Buddhism?

I’m not a Buddhist. But I am very drawn to Buddhism and would be a Buddhist if I were not a Christian–I’m certainly interested in incorporating aspects of Buddhism into Christianity insofar as this can be done without violating the integrity of Christianity. Some of the things that I find appealing about Buddhism are:

  1. Its analysis of human personhood, which says that there is no such thing as a permanent, unchanging self. Perhaps “appealing” is the wrong word–this is a very challenging doctrine, and Catholics are right to ask what its implications are for the important Catholic stress on the dignity of the human person as the image of God. But the doctrine tugs at me–it makes so much sense of my own experience, and it has the kind of astringent, medicinal flavor that I have learned to recognize in the more challenging doctrines of my own faith. So I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of insight here that Christians need to take seriously.

  2. Its apparent practical effectiveness in fostering inner peace and contentment, and most of the time in promoting a peaceful, gentle approach to others.

  3. Its independence from the kinds of worries that any non-fideist Christian is going to have when thinking about philosophical, scientific, and historical issues relating to the faith–and specifically, its ability to give life meaning without requiring a “leap of faith” in a particular cosmology, particular historical miracles, etc. In other words, Christianity expects you to believe in certain very specific things about the resurrection of Jesus, the future of the world and individual humans, etc. People try to be Christians without believing these things, but it’s hard to do. Buddhism is, from my perspective, a “fallback option.” It’s nice to know that it’s there–paradoxically, it makes it easier for me to put my faith in Christianity, because it relieves the anxiety that haunts me when I think that life is meaningless if these specific things I believe as a Christian turn out not to be true.

All three of these strengths (as I indicated in the first point) have attendant weaknesses. For the second point, the “dark side” is Buddhism’s relative weakness as a spur to movements for justice and change in the world; for the third, it’s the lack of redemptive narrative and cosmological/ontological foundation for Buddhist ethics. But you asked about what people found appealing in Buddhism. . . .

Are there miracles from Buddhism?

Traditional Buddhism believes that enlightened people, or even people getting close to enlightenment, develop various powers which appear “miraculous.” However, these powers are not seen as very important–they’re side-effects of the journey to enlightenment.

What is this rebirth / reincarnation about?

Buddhists believe that human consciousness is like a candle-flame. It’s not a permanent entity but a stream of experiences tied together by cause and effect. This cause-effect relationship continues after death, as the unenlightened consciousness constructs a new “self” out of its remaining cravings.

Yes, that’s a tricky concept!

There are numerous anecdotes of people remembering past lives–the most convincing involve children giving details of the life of a recently deceased neighbor. I would describe myself as an open-minded skeptic on these issues. Certainly there is no “proof” in the sense of evidence that has convinced all experts–but part of the problem is that it’s not clear what kinds of “experts” would be in a position to evaluate such claims.


:confused: Do you mean in its classical or modernist form?

I mean taken as a whole–obviously the “modernist” form has some impact from Christianity.

Note that I’m contrasting this with Christianity’s history of violence (I didn’t say that explicitly, but when I said Buddhism seems to do a good job of fostering peaceful behavior, my implied point was that traditional Christianity doesn’t have a great record in that department), so I’m not making some kind of superiority claim for Christianity in this regard. It’s a fairly common generalization made by Buddhists like Thich Nat Hanh and Masao Abe that Christianity does better in the “activism” department while Buddhism is stronger in meditation.


Oh, i wasn’t implying that you were implying that. I just found myself taken aback by the statement.

Although given the points you raise, one could make the argument that the positives and negatives pointed out are simply two sides of the same coin.

ie: A strong penchant for acitivism would most probably lead to violence if the abiding environmental situation was at a negative variance with what a person believed. A focus on meditation and an inward looking outlook (did i just contradict myself there?) would re-orient a person’s concerns less toward what’s occurring in society.

Not the same Buddha, a new Buddha. The last Buddha was Shakyamuni Buddha. The next Buddha will be Maitreya Buddha. A different Buddha.


According to Joseph Campbell, India’s King Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries to Greece as well as to Egypt. He believed the early Christians were influenced by them and reacted with the Desert Fathers movement.

I have seen suggestions that the “Therapeutae”, a religious community near Alexandria, were actually, “Theravada”, a Buddhist monastery of Sthaviravada/Theravada monks.

There was certainly a lot of trade between India and Ptolemaic/Roman Egypt so Indian influences would have been present.


Thank you. I took a class on Buddhism in college years ago and it has become a bit fuzzy :slight_smile:

The new Buddha will not arise until all knowledge of Buddhism disappears from all records.

The 5000 years is the prediction of the length of time Buddhism will be actively practiced, after that it will decline and disappear to arise under a new Buddha who rediscovers the dhamma.

That is one of the significant differences between Buddhism and the Abrahamic religions. The Abrahamic religions are revealed; Buddhism is discovered.


=dluna;9828489]Hi everyone, I am currently in RCIA and we covered Eschatology last week.

[quote]The Buddha seems to be from a much early era. Do Catholics think that he is just a very wise and philosophical man?

Abram / Abraham the Father of today’s Catholism dates back about 4,000 years. And Buddha? Abot 600 years Before Christ. So Catholisms ROOTS are FAR Older.

The Catholic understanding is that Buddha is a non-christian; accepting “No deiety” and is therefore catagorized as more of a “SECT” than a god /God based religion.

The root beliefs seem to dweel on self NOT God /god.

What is this rebirth / reincarnation about? Is there concrete scientific proof about it?

Reincarnation is a MYTH, unproveable in sciece or fact. It is an essential part of their beliefs because they accept neither god nor heaven /hell, and seem to recogonize a complexity in humanity that is to valuable to simply “die and cease”. [IMO]

I realise that’s a bunch of questions. Thank you in advance.

Hope this is of some help to you. Wecome to RCIA!

God Bless,
pat /PJM

Your quote had several errors regarding Buddhism. Since there are two long threads on what Buddhists actually believe, I’ll let those stand as corrections. You may want to check out Ask a Buddhist and Ask a Buddhist II.

As for rebirth, there is no scientific proof for it just as there is no scientific proof for any form of life after death. There is no scientific proof of a soul. There is no scientific proof of any form of god or divinity.

The roots of Buddhism are the same as the roots for Hinduism and those roots go back at least 4000 years.

I hope this clears things up for you.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit