Pope Benedict and Buddhism

A thought-provoking and sure-to-be controversial post by a China blogger. When I say “controversial,” I really mean it – this is the kind of post that can lead to fist-fights. I can’t take a stand because I don’t know enough about the subject. But I can say that it’s an intriguing read, and I’m hoping it generates some intelligent comments so we can see all sides of the story.

The Discussion: 32 Comments

Closet racism? So I guess that means he’ll be for kicking out all non-white members of the Church…..

Benedict quite obviously was not basing his opposition to Tukey one race – it was one of religion. And although I’m not quite sure I agree with his opposition, I can understand it. You could say it’s “religious discrimination”, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it as “racism” does it?

September 21, 2006 @ 3:25 am | Comment

From a different perspective, I might point out that being hostile to other faiths is fairly well what we would expect of the head of one faith. He would be a fairly poor pope if he did not attempt to defend his faith as the “one true faith”, because otherwise there is no incentive for me to select Catholicism over say, any number of Protestant faiths, or the Orthodox faith, or Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or Shintoism etc. I certainly do not think that he should be out there rooting for faiths that are, at its core, competitors with Catholicism.

I feel obliged to disclose that I am fairly well as far from being Catholic as anyone can be (atheist and lapsed Objectivist), just so that no one can start suggesting that I’m one of those nutcase crusaders hoping that Benedict will call for a holy crusade or something.

September 21, 2006 @ 4:36 am | Comment

being hostile to other faiths is fairly well what we would expect of the head of one faith

I completely disagree. I don’t remember any other pope expressing hostility for any other faith, do you?

September 21, 2006 @ 4:42 am | Comment

…And yet there aren’t any Buddhists out rioting in the streets calling for his head…


That only lends further credit as to some of the reasons why I hold greater respect for Buddhists than that of other religious faiths. Rather than killing others to prove that their “Deity” is above all, they practice empathy, forgiveness, respect and most importantly, they’d rather die for what they believe than kill for it.

Besides, the Pope wears a funny hat.

September 21, 2006 @ 4:46 am | Comment

Googling does reveal a history of dismissive comments towards other religions, but as you pointed out, Kwok, that is natural for the head of a religion. However, I would qualify that statement – it is natural for the head of religions that preach an exclusive path to salvation. Not all faiths position themselves as superior to others; rather, some teach “my religion for me and your religion for you.” I don’t think Hinduism accepts converts, and orthodox Judaism highly discourages others from joining a faith encumbered with obligations and restrictions. Buddhism welcomes newcomers but does not actively seek them.

Your own personal religious beliefs are irrelevant. Anyone is free to comment and share opinions.

September 21, 2006 @ 4:50 am | Comment

I meant to add to my last sentence:

Ideas stand on their own merits, and we all have our own biases.

September 21, 2006 @ 5:03 am | Comment

And THM, don’t forget the Daoists!

I’m all for religions that don’t prostletize and that stay out of my life. I find Buddhism attractive for those reasons and also because it seems to offer a practical approach to living more happily in the world.

Daosim too, from what I know of it.

The modern Catholic Church has some very righteous strands in it, IMO – I’m a sucker for social justice movements. I wish they would get some leadership that builds bridges (and changes stands on birth control and women in the church hierarchy – it’s not my religion, but the birth control issue has consequences for the entire planet). I’ve read that this current Pope was chosen as a deliberate interim figure – John Paul II had such an impact that the church hierarchy just wasn’t ready to make any drastic decisions about the future direction.

September 21, 2006 @ 10:20 am | Comment

Reading the cited article/post, it reminds me of a basic tenet in politics in the 21st century, that you really can’t use intellectual language when speaking to people eager to refute what you have to say. Naturally, someone who is inclined to disagree is going to appeal to those who are not as intelligent focusing on one thing you said, taking it out of context, and warping it into something vile it did not mean. Attacking you as a person drums up the masses of un-thinking people against you when there is no real argument against what you said/wrote. I’m not Catholic, I also respect Buddhism, which, if there was a faith I praciticed, most matches my ideas. But this cited post and the article to which it refers are ridiculous examples of the shepherds trying to rouse a herd of sheep.

September 21, 2006 @ 11:19 am | Comment

Some commenters on Peking Duck made the point that it’s understandable that the Pope should have the right to speak his mind. And if he believes that Buddhists are (doctrinal) jerk-offs, well, free speech doesn’t stop at the Inquisitor’s door.

A few thoughts.

The Pope believes his is the one true faith, qualitatively different from all others.

That’s his right, even his duty. It’s the cornerstone of his faith.

He can also trash other religions, not only as inferior in doctrine and rigor but also false paths to salvation.

No problem.

But he’s also the head of a religion that claims not only to profess the true Word of God, but also to serve as God’s instrument on earth, and provide the means of human salvation that is not only unique but universal (“Catholic).

It’s a test of his leadership—and God-given duties as Pope—to put points on the board for the Catholic Church worldwide, and not just in the European homeland.

Pope John Paul II, who shared many of Cardinal Ratzinger’s views including, presumably, revulsion at Buddhism, understood that his job was to condone inter-faith dialogue so that the Catholic Church could claim to encompass the good points of other religions and at the same time assert its superiority in the critical matters of revealed truth and salvation.

Benedict XVI, on the other hand, appears to have made the dubious decision that other religions have to be discredited en toto so that Catholicism is the last faith standing.

It’s an understandable position for an Inquisitor to take.

It’s the necessary stand for the leader of an embattled sect, which is how Pope Benedict sometimes appears to regard himself.

But it is not a viable position for the leader of a global church that considers itself not only unique in truth but infinite in its understanding and universal in its scope.

Tearing every other religion (and for good measure, secular humanism) to their foundations so that the deluded turn to the true faith would be a tough job even if the Savior appeared in person to do the job. For fallible men and a fragile church to attempt it by themselves is simply beyond their capacity.

So instead of engaging in a multi-millennial argument with Islam, Buddhism, and every other religion that won’t be decided until the true God shows up to settle accounts, I think the interests of the Catholic Church and the world would be better served if Pope Benedict decided his faith could be most effectively protected and propagated by looking for good in the hearts of Buddhists, Muslims — instead of making remarks easily construed as deriding them and their religions.

September 21, 2006 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

I left Catholicism at age ten when I decided that the Miracle of Transubstantiation was clearly baloney.

The day OtherLisa becomes pope is the day I return to the fold. 🙂

So I’ll be carefully scrutinizing those smoke signals outside the Vatican once the current inhabitant departs.

September 21, 2006 @ 12:29 pm | Comment


The thing is that people like yourself aren’t anywhere near a majority in the Church. If a majority of Catholics like no women priests, no contraception, etc why is a Pope going to shake that up?

It’s a bit like women’s groups objecting to Muslim women wearing all that gear. The response is “it’s our choice so leave us to it”.

There is more the Church can and should do, but they’ve seen other Protestant groups move “too fast” and suffer. The Anglican Church has become a sort of Mickey-Mouse institution in the UK – anything goes! Last time I checked the figures, more people go to Catholic churches in the UK than Anglican ones!!! A lot of high Anglicans have gone Catholic because they’re unhappy that the Anglican leadership is ripping everything up. Then you’ve got the problems developing world-wide with Anglican institutions threatening to break away.

So why would the Vatican want to end up like that?

September 21, 2006 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

Raj, you’re misinterpreting what I said. I am NOT a member of the Catholic Church (“it’s not my church”). The things that I object to in the Catholic church are doctrines that I think have a broader impact on the world at large.

Prohibitions on birth control (both for family planning and disease prevention) and promoting a patriarchal hierarchy are, IMO, problems that extend beyond the Church and its congregants.

The Catholic Church is far from alone in this of course (and I have known a helluva lot of righteous Catholic women – most of whom have left the Church though) and certainly not even close to the worst offenders in its treatment of women.

I am happily unreligious, personally, raised in no religious tradition, and am glad of it.

September 21, 2006 @ 3:54 pm | Comment

the pope is right though, the muslims are violent barbarians, and i for one support one more final crusade. this time i hope we finish the job.

September 21, 2006 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

Chris, that’s a mighty shocking thing to say, and I hope you don’t mean it.We’re talking over a billion human beings, many of them magnificent people (like my old doctor in California and my friends from Indonesia and countless others). This is not an invocation of Godwin’s law, but a matter of fact: anytime you talk abut a crusade, with an implication of extermination, against an entire ethhnic group it is an echo of Hitler. So I hope you’ll reconsider the way you phrased that.

September 21, 2006 @ 6:06 pm | Comment

I think it’s easy for Buddaphiles to say they subscribe to Buddhist doctrine for its peace-preaching and nature loving ideals… but being a Buddhist is no picnic. It’s near Catholicism in its ‘follow or face the consequences’ views.

As for daoism, though the definition of “religion” can be pretty liberal, I tend not to think of daoism as a “religion”. This is more just because in my personal dictionary “religion” means faith, and daoism doesn’t really require “faith” as such. (I know, I know, this can be argued).

Richard, I agree – Crhis’ comments are a bit savage and I think they illustrate the frustration of many people in the world who are bombarded with news about Islamic fundamentalists killing loads of innocent people. It’s not balanced coverage, and it’s not fair to Muslims, but it’s unsurprising.

I also agree with Kwok Ting Lee up at the top there, and said as much in my post on this. The problem is, there’s no shortage of Islamic leaders doing the same thing as the Pope – they just don’t have as big a soapbox to say it from.

September 21, 2006 @ 6:56 pm | Comment

It’s near Catholicism in its ‘follow or face the consequences’ views.

The consequences in Catholicism are a stint in Purgatory or worse – eternal damnation in Hell. The consequence in Buddhism is to be born again. I’ll take reincarnation over the eternal fires of Hell.

September 21, 2006 @ 7:56 pm | Comment

The consequence in Buddhism is to be born again. I’ll take reincarnation over the eternal fires of Hell.

Isn’t one of the consequences in Buddhism to be born into a life of pain and suffering if you do wrong? Also, correct me if I’m wrong but I thought at least some branches of Buddhism believed in hell.

September 21, 2006 @ 8:37 pm | Comment

Different branches of Buddhsim vary greatly in their doctrinal beliefs. I think (don’t quote me) that in China you often find elements of Buddhism combined with earlier folk religions. And yeah, there are all kinds of hells in some forms of Chinese Buddhism. Hells kept getting added too, as potential sins increased. So in the early 20th century, they had to add a hell for dancing. I don’t know if they’ve kept up on your 21st century sins…

I find Buddhism attractive in certain philosophical aspects and also as a practical method (the whole Thich Nhat Hanh approach) . So I suppose I am not really thinking of it in its traditional religious forms either – same thing for Daoism – I know a lot of Western “Daoists” make the distinction between religious Daoism and philosphical Daoism. Both exist.

But you gotta keep in mind, I’m from California, and we’re all yoganauts out here!

September 21, 2006 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

yes, i know my comments seem extreme, but we are entering a fight for ideological supremecy not unlike WW2 was for communism and facism. far too few westerners are willing to admit this to themselves, all the while the muslim hordes are getting more and more riled up, and will riot, burn and murder at the drop of a hat. they are bent on world domination, conversion at the edge of a sword, and i for one will not bow to their vision of the future.

sorry richard, its brutal, but its them or us, ask them. they will give no quarter, why should we?

September 21, 2006 @ 10:05 pm | Comment

Oh, heavens. With what army are these so called “Muslim hordes” gonna invade us and put us to the sword or make us all wear burkas? With what airforce? What in the world makes some people think that the medieval worldview espoused by fundamentalist Islam is going to appeal to large numbers of Western people? So how’s this world-wide Caliphate possibly going to be achieved? Sci-fi Channel scenarios don’t count.

And hey, I’m not worried, cause it looks like Chris here will be on the front lines defending the Homeland from the Islamo-nazi-commies.

Honestly, it’s like some people need an effin’ supervillain to give their lives meaning.

September 21, 2006 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

War is no longer restricted to armies and the latest jets. Just like red coats in a line firing at each other became outdated with the guerilla fighting of the u.s. revolution. Fanatical believers are perfectly capable of bringing the world to its knees, particularly one so divided, with each side struggling to maintain dominance. It’s like China during/before WWII. No question, the press the Islamic terrorists get these days is bringing in hordes of recruits. The west’s “respectfulness” of Islam, its currying favor and apologizing for truths uttered is its weakness. Islam doesn’t have this frailty, nor are they ashamed that last week the same leaders decrying the Pope, saying he’s a racist trying to start a crusade, were out there fomenting the masses to kill anyone not of their faith.

Honestly, some pseudointellectuals need to deny reality in order to feel safe and happy in the world.

September 21, 2006 @ 11:21 pm | Comment

Better than hiding under the bed, I suppose.

I don’t get what the “two sides” are in this equation. Is it Christians versus Muslims? You’re dividing the whole world this way? What about, I dunno, China? Or India?

Reducing everything to this Manichean formula would seem to leave a lot of people out.

The best and smartest thing we could do to stablize the world somewhat would be to embark on a massive Manhattan Project for alternative energy and remove our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, instead of pissing away billions of dollars on a misbegotten “crusade” in Iraq.

As for religious fanatics, on all sides of this issue? A pox on both their houses.

September 21, 2006 @ 11:40 pm | Comment

nolo is spot on.

the age of large standing armies had its height in ww2, but with the invention of the nuclear bomb, its days were drawing to a close. look what happened to the USSR when they went into afganistan, now america in iraq. the US does not have one more full unit to deploy overseas, and the enemy knows it…hell, i know it, so, so do they.

September 21, 2006 @ 11:46 pm | Comment

BTW, I’m no fan of extremist Islam – have gotten in serious arguments on a so-called progressive site for defending the infamous cartoons and secularism in general. Y’know, that whole church/state separation thing. I’m for it.

It tends to be forgotten, but the strongest voices speaking out against the Taliban pre-9/11 were liberal women – the Bush Administration was engaged in negotiations with the Taliban in April 2001 for a pipeline deal, IIRC.

September 21, 2006 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

chris, what is your point? America has the armies and the bombs. I agree that your comparison of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the US in Iraq is an apt one, in that both enterprises are counterproductive politically and economically ruinous. So, are you saying that, whoops, the US made this huge mistake going into Iraq, and now we can’t invade anyone else? How about the part where the US funded the Islamists in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and have turned a once secular dictatorship in Iraq into a near anarchy where warring religious factions are killing each other in record numbers? Say “howdy” to the Shi’a Crescent!

Which makes me think that contrary to popular belief, America actually loves Islamic theocracies, since we’ve been so helpful in bringing them about.

September 21, 2006 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

Oh dear. What to say? “Them or us.” But who are the “them”? Are they the sheik Bush walks around with hand-in-hand through the Rose Garden? My doctor in Palo Alto? The president of Indoensia? The lady who cleans my office after hours? This is scary stuff. Most of the Moslems in America are well integrated and productive citizens. Many Moslems in Israel are strong friends with many of their Israeli brothers. Much, perhaps most, of the Iraq population, certianly among the Shiites and Kurds, did indeed greet us as liberators, and after years of no power or water or security but lots of death and torture, they’ve become radicalized against us. Najaf and Sadr City should have been huge red flags to us that we were fucking it all up. Even still, these are not al Qaeda thugs. They’re now members of local militais/death squads with an internal mission – they are not part of any world-wide jihad out to destroy the US (though as long as US troops are in Iraq we are targets). The number of those who would don dynamite belts and kill us is relatively tiny. I hate them, and I hate al Qaeda with a passion, but to say this is a war against every Moslem is right out of Michelle Malkin or Chuckles Johnson. It is false. It’s the big lie. Maybe a lot of Moslems throughout the world were happy when the towers were hit. I know a lot of Chinese people were, and a lot of Thais and others. But that doesn’t make those people threats to us. (And it should raise some questions as to WHY so many were so happy – not that they were right to be happy, but it always helps to understand your status in the world, and to know your enemies and your friends. But since when did we Americans ever try to understand others?) No, there are no armies of savage Moslem hordes sweeping down on us. That’s a picture painted by the right to keep us in perpetual fear and a perpetual state of war. And it’s one of the greatest cancers of our time, an excuse to deprive us of liberties and promote the president to a dictator. Anyone who falls for the Malkin line about sleeper cells next door is either willfully ignorant or dumb….

September 22, 2006 @ 12:45 am | Comment

Lisa I NEVER SAID you were a Catholic. I said that people LIKE YOURSELF (in terms of your obvious attitudes) did not form a majority.


September 22, 2006 @ 1:54 am | Comment

Yeah. Okay. From what you wrote –

The thing is that people like yourself aren’t anywhere near a majority in the Church.

– I assumed that you meant I was in the Church but that my attitudes put me out of the mainstream (like a number of my lapsed Catholic female friends).

Chalk it up to the ambiguities of online communication.

September 22, 2006 @ 2:09 am | Comment

great post there richard, you are right in alot of ways, and seem to have a good understanding of the iraq situation.

what concerns me is the amount of uproar a few comments from the pope gets, including serious death threats for quoting another pope.

the MSM getting us to hate all things muslim is a powerful force, and we shouldnt fall prey to it, but i cant help seeing a unity among them, as you said, when they all cheer things like 911, or riot en masse when something happens they dont like (cartoons, papal comments). alot of people may not like hearing this, but i think islam is rooted in satanism, and is therefore evil. look it up for yourself, there is plenty of documentaion online. its also why the US neo-cons supported such places for so long…they are brothers in evil.

not much is what it appears to be on the surface…dig deeper, and you will see the true relationship of things.

September 22, 2006 @ 7:00 pm | Comment

China Hand:

Some commenters on Peking Duck made the point that it’s understandable that the Pope should have the right to speak his mind. And if he believes that Buddhists are (doctrinal) jerk-offs, well, free speech doesn’t stop at the Inquisitor’s door.

Who said that?

Well, for me this comes as no surprise, as Mr. Ratzinger aka Benedikt aka The Pope was always one of the very conservative if not reactionary thinkers of the catholic church. That’s one of the reasons his predecessor made him head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as he was also very conservative.

One of his big goals is to get back the souls of those godless Europeans and Buddhism is one of the opponents. He is fighting a battle over the European souls. But this is not only about competition, I think he really believes, that Catholicism is superior to other believes (also those other Christian sects) not only because it is the right believe, but because, in his narrative, his church has underwent an evolution were religious believe was melted with Greek philosophy and reason, so that today Catholicism is also the most “reasonable” believe (go read his speech in Regensburg, it’s all in there).
Do I like this and think he is right? No not at all.

And for Buddhism, it looks quite innocent from a Western perspective, but it bears all the negative aspects every religion has (they also have good aspects, I’m no enemy of religion, only very critical). I don’t know if it’s true but I once heard, that in Sri Lanka radical Buddhists even preached, that killing non-Buddhists in fact is a nice thing to do as you might help them get reincarnated a step closer to nirvana.

chris and nolo: utter nonsense and dangerous.

September 22, 2006 @ 7:04 pm | Comment

islam rooted in satanism? I think you dug a little to deep, chris.

September 22, 2006 @ 7:10 pm | Comment

Chris, I too get alarmed at the riots and hysteria set off by the tinest sparks – a remark by the pope, the publication of a cartoon, a rumor about the desecration of the Koran. (Actually, it’s very similar to the reaction you see in China when rumors about the Japanese start to fly, like the Xi’An students hysteria a year or two ago.) It’s scary and ugly. But we don’t need to fight a crusade of extermination against it. If some people want to react like 5-year-olds and throw temper tantrums and appear to the world like animals it’s their prerogative. I say contain them, isolate them and leave them with their impotent rage. At the end of the day, it’s not much, and as they see other nations and peoples soar past them in terms of achievements and quality of life, they’ll hopefully realize somethings way wrong with their primitive approach. If we had played our cards right in iraq, maybe – just maybe – we might have seenthat process take effect. Too bad we botched it up.

September 22, 2006 @ 7:17 pm | Comment

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