Catholicism and Buddhism

I have been listening to “A New Earth,” by Eckhart Tolle, which was pitched on as an introduction to Buddhism.


I’ve long been curious about Buddhism, and so sought to educate myself on the basics.

The book deserves a complete review, but that isn’t going to be possible here.  What follows are some of the highlights and conclusions from my “reading” of Tolle’s work.

1. There is a great deal to admire in Buddhism and the pursuit of Enlightenment.

2. Tolle narrates, and has a tremendous presence through his voice.

3. I say as a matter of faith (and not as a self-deluded “theologian” or some such) that Buddhism has a great deal of truth in it, but perhaps not all.  The remaining points will focus on this.

A. Of all the people Tolle quoted, he quoted Jesus most often.  I suspect that he was targeting the Western audience and saw Jesus as common ground.  At one point, he suggests that many of history’s enlightened have had their teachings twisted and misinterpreted posthumously.  (Obviously the Christian takes issue with the implication that this happened with Jesus).

B. Still, in his use of Jesus’ sayings, Tolle offers new angles.  For instance, in the paradoxical saying, “He who clings to his life will lose it, and he who loses his life will save it,” Tolle sees the “life” of the ego.  The person who seeks only to increase himself in the eyes of the world will lose his spiritual (true) self, and he who is willing to give up that life in favor of “awareness” and “consciousness” will truly find life.  (I am, of course, almost grossly paraphrasing Tolle).  In awareness and consciousness, Tolle also finds the “abundant life” that Jesus promises.

C. I took another of Tolle’s/Buddhism’s concepts and extended it to Christianity, as well.  Namely, that of the pain-body (spelling mine).  A pain-body is a kind of spiritual phenomenon.  Everyone has a pain-body, and they appear to be as unique in size and shape as our actual bodies.  What they represent is a sort of pre-programmed want of pain and drama in life, and any pain or drama is attributable to the pain-body.  It’s a bit like a split-personality, and this one is essentially masochistic.

In any case, on the road to Enlightenment, a person will first attempt to keep the pain-body at bay, therefore enabling the person to become familiar with peace and consciousness.  Ultimately, the pain-body becomes fuel for the consciousness, spurring it onward to Enlightenment.  The analogy might be in suffering for the Christian.  It is not desirable, but if one can see beyond it, learn to endure it, and even offer it up to be redeemed by Christ, the very same suffering can actually be a path to holiness.

More toward the central teachings, it would not be a very great leap to talk to a Buddhist and suggest that Christ, in His Passion, took on the collective pain-body for all of humankind.  While the Buddhist would probably steer away from the suggestion that Christ was uniquely God while others may simple be godly, he/she might also have something to contribute to the idea.

D. In the end, it became clear to me that any attempt to perfectly assimilate Buddhism into Christianity, or vice versa, would be in vain.  Not least of all, for this reason:  Tolle eventually comes to describe God as the “formless Consciousness” of the universe.  Until this point, I found Tolle so fascinating, and the teachings of Buddhism so refreshing and even Truthful, that I was already attempting to assimilate them into my Christian faith.  This can likely still be done, to some extent.

But the Christian can’t be satisfied with God as “formless Consciousness.”  We know Him as a person – as three Persons – and we start to see in Scripture and in our lives a composite of His Face.  Moreover, Consciousness does not come down from Heaven and die for us.  It does not even desire the drama of that great love story, from Creation and Fall, through Prophecy, and finally to Salvation.

The Buddhist might say that I must learn to separate myself from my pain-body and not desire this drama.  I would counter that storytelling is fundamentally human (even Tolle employed it), and that any higher existence without stories must also be devoid of an Author, and therefore not really be a higher existence.

And since this is my post, I get the last word.

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