term Buddhism comes from the title ("Buddha", the re-awakened
one, attributed to Prince Siddhartha Gautama (d. ca. 483 B.C.),
a native of the Himalayan region. Shaken by the presence of
suffering in the world, he renounced everything to seek enlightenment.
He gained enlightenment (bodhi) under a fig tree, sitting
in the so-called Lotus position, with his legs crossed. He gave
his first discourse on the "Four Noble Truths": all is suffering,
longing and desire are the origin of all suffering, absolute
detachment from every form of desire is the destruction of suffering,
and the way to attain this destruction is the Eightfold Path
(right view, right thought, right speech, right action... right
concentration and right meditation). Certainly rather than beginning
a ((religion», Buddha wanted to present an anthropological soteriology.
was a great teacher and a group of followers gathered around
him. With time schools or factions were formed: Hinayana Buddhism
or "little vehicle", closely related to monks, which strives
to attain liberation from suffering through self-discipline,
and Mahayana Buddhism or "great vehicle", which is the most
widespread form of Buddhism in the world today. It lays great
emphasis on compassion, the principle represented by the figure
of Bodhisattva, a being who has obtained enlightenment but remains
on the threshold of nirvana in order to help others.
Buddhists are the fourth religious community in the world after
Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Though 50% of all Buddhists
live in Asia, recently they have moved to Europe and the United
States. The need for and necessity of dialogue and meetings
is more essential than ever. How can we dialogue with them?
Where should the proclamation begin? On the Catholic side there
are many documents on interreligious dialogue and Buddhists
themselves agree that "hostility towards Christianity (or any
other Religion) is not, of course, a proper Buddhist attitude".(1)
There is also an immense amount of literature on this subject
The starting point must be the field of knowledge and reason.
The act that began Gautama's career was, in fact, an act of
knowledge: through mental concentration (dhyana), he
reached understanding (prajña). He was called
by his followers the Enlightened One (Buddha), who knows
must not forget that Buddhism came into being as the result
of reflection, becoming a real doctrinal body or law (dharma).
Within the three paths (margha) of Indian spirituality
— the path of action (rites, sacrifices), the path of goodness,
and the path of knowledge whose goal is wisdom Buddhism chose
the latter.(2) The first Buddhists appeared in India with revolutionary
theses such as the non-existence of God and of the soul, the
non-substantiality of things, etc., theses supported in the
teaching of Buddha. Buddhas are never presented as saviours,
but as "teachers and guides" of gods and men.(3) For Hindus
who followed revelation, the words of a Master, though he was
enlightened, had no value. But Buddhists looked for reasonable
arguments. Ignorance (avidya) is presented by
Buddhism as the source of all evils, and it must be destroyed
as soon as possible. The first Buddhist communities strived
to know the real nature of things. It was a constant quest starting
from the teachings of Buddha, which later took concrete form
in various philosophical systems.
of the first books written still in pali is on "right
view", the first stage of the Eightfold Path, which means, among
other things, overcoming all ignorance and seeing everything
according to the wisdom of Buddha. "When, dear friends, a noble
disciple understands ignorance, the origin of ignorance, the
cessation of ignorance, and the path that leads to the cessation
of ignorance, he has already obtained the right view... and
he has reached real Dhamma".(4)
Buddhist writings, in reality Mahayana writings, have this philosophical
orientation, from the books on the Perfections of understanding
(Prajña-páramitá) to the most famous
texts in Chinese, such as the great Sutra on the Eight levels
of knowledge characteristic of great beings, preached by Buddha
(Pa ten jen kiao king). (5)
this context we should say a few words about one of the characteristic
attitudes of our Buddhist partners in dialogue. And this is
adhimukti. This important Sanskrit word in Buddhist texts
means mental openness, receptivity. It is the mind's ability
to remain open before a new message. The opposite attitude,
unsuitable for a Buddhist, is mental closure, which rejects
any new idea or schema that is proposed. Disciples must have
adhimukti if they are to face up to the new ideas of
the doctrines proposed. Thanks to adhimukti Bodhisattvas
can know the profound expressions of truth more and more every
day. Adhimukti also reaches the realm of the sentiments,
the emotions and artistic creation, and it is the foundation
for real humanism.(6)
we Catholics who are also asked for this mental openness, not
cultivate this dialogue with Buddhists in the field of reason
and "knowledge"? Those who do not reason become mentally and
humanly closed, they fall into liberalism and fundamentalism.
It is true that our religion is a religion of the Word (written
and we should not forget sapiential literature and handed down),
but it has always developed in the philosophical field, in the
field of knowledge. It is sufficient to remember the first contacts
with gnostics, apologists, and later Scholasticism. In practice
we should know the Buddhists texts and their doctrine and be
able to use also their same forma mentis. Historically,
we should remember that the content of the first encounter of
Catholic missionaries, Frs. Xavier and Torres, with Buddhist
followers of Zen in Japan, reached us with the title of Disputas
(Discussions) in dialogical form on fairly philosophical
Dialogue with Buddhism remains open because Buddhism is not
a "book" religion. "Book" religions which have to follow the
Book faithfully become fundamentalist. The Buddhist doctrine
was handed down orally first of all, in monastic circles. For
them, the word was heard (sruti) and passed on orally.
The memory of this tradition was essential. The need for a written
doctrine was one of the subjects discussed in the Council of
Pataliputra (247 B.C.). Shortly afterwards, the term lippi
or written teaching appears, and in the first century B.C. the
Buddhist canon was established with some 30 volumes written
in the Pali language. Oral tradition is always the guarantee
of authenticity and written discourses begin with the sentence:
"I have heard...". The presence of many lay people, the fact
that Buddhism spread outside the monasteries, and the formation
of Mahayana, led to an immense amount of writings, first in
Sanskrit and later in Chinese. Today the critical edition (mainly
in Chinese) is collected in the Taishó (Tokyo)
and contains more than a hundred volumes. (8)
fact, which is fundamentally an advantage for dialogue, creates
some concrete problems. Problems which do not come from the
love of books (though some texts are preserved in the stupa
reliquary), but from their interpretation and from the diversity
of the texts establishing new sects or factions within Buddhism.
As a complement of these two ideas, we should say something
about prajña, in Japanese chie, or "understanding,
transcendental wisdom", which is "enlightenment", an insight
into the ultimate truths. It is one of the virtues or páramitá,
and it becomes the principle that guides all other virtues.
It is knowledge in its final stage. The path of Buddhism begins
with morality, it follows with concentration and meditation
(dhyana, in Japanese zen) and rises to understanding.
The whole river of the moral, cognitive and meditative path
of Buddhism flows into the ocean of understanding.
is always open to new insights (movement of ascent), and at
the same time, it influences our daily social life (movement
of descent). Why should we, Christians and Buddhists, not travel
part of this path of ascent together? It would be a path of
study, reflection (a study which is not limited to a simple
knowledge of Buddhism, but being wise, in the Latin sense of
the term, sapere, about the contents of Buddhism) and
meditation towards the height and the depths, towards perfection.
And why should Buddhists and Christians not understand in this
world together, bringing the fruits of their wisdom, striving
to enlighten our lives and that of others? An enlightenment
that becomes a real "!help".
influence of wisdom in our moral life is decisive. And here
we should not forget the five precepts of Buddhism, which are
exactly the same as the Christian precepts (refrain from taking
life, refrain from taking that which is not given, refrain from
misuse of the senses, refrain from telling lies, refrain from
self-intoxication with drink and drugs), still similar to the
ten precepts of novices and the rules of monks.(9)
wisdom has a connotation with "meditation", which we have presented
with the Sanskrit and Japanese term most used in the West today,
Zen. In the Eightfold Path there is one stage, defined
as right concentration or mental exercise through successive
levels of recollection, which involves four levels of contemplative
experience (dhyana, zen) and another four of union
(arúpa). Many Christians, not only in Asia,
pray in the style of the Asian traditions, in the concrete of
Buddhism. And Zen offers a field for experience of the inculturation
of prayer, and in actual fact Zen can be practised as a way
of dialogue. In this approach, Zen is practised in order
to penetrate into the experiences of Buddhist meditation, so
that we may understand it not only theoretically but as an experience,
and so that we may share the Christian experience of contemplation
with Buddhists.(10) It is true that in Buddhist meditation faith
is not its basis nor the meeting with the Other its aim. Individuals
want to be themselves without any mediation. Immediate psychological-therapeutic
answers are expected from meditation, they are anthropologically
oriented in that the individual is restored to a more genuine
relationship with his world and his own nature. The body and
its positions, as a symbol of the whole person, have a special
value. It is true that Buddhist meditation is accompanied by
words such as emptiness, nothing, silence, etc. Ambiguous terms,
which can be accepted because of their ability to free what
is within man. So they use expressions such as "fulIness, the
real I", etc. These are the fruits and responses provided by
Buddhist meditation that we can gather. One thing is true: Buddhists
who have had experience, help us to discover how we too can
have experience, from which all mysticism comes.
Wisdom must also have a necessary influence in the social and
human life of individuals. Nâgârjuna, one of the
great Mahayana thinkers (3rd cent.), said, "seeking mental concentration
and gaining real wisdom would be meaningless if it were not
with a view to the salvation of all creatures".(11) From purely
mental understanding a horizon opens towards universal compassion,
the fruit of wisdom which descends towards everyone, in order
to help everyone. And if we think about Christian love, in these
ideas we find another point of contact for dialogue. We
have spoken about the ten Buddhist virtues, and now we should
say that the first of all these virtues is "generosity" (dána),
which means not only "giving" but also renouncing everything
ideal figure of Mahayana Buddhism is the Bodhisattva, the enlightened
being who renounces entrance to Nirvana in order to help others.
The Bodhisattva develops infinite compassion in order
to be the saviour of all creatures. It is a radical unselfishness,
and he takes "saving vows" for the sake of all.(12) Among these
vows the most well known is the one made by Amida, when he was
still a Bodhisattva, to save those who invoked his name. (13)
to his supreme understanding the bodhisattva is a being of infinite
light who knows all the needs of beings, and has deep compassion,
vision and love. In iconography, many Bodhisattvas, such as
Avolokitesvara or Kannon, are portrayed with eleven swathing
bands and a thousand hands open to compassion. The Bodhisattva
knows how to use all the means necessary to save men, and here
we have the so-called "skill in means" (upáya, in
Japanese hóben), which ch. 2 of the book of Lotus
speaks of.(14) This aspect of "means" becomes another point
of contact between Buddhism and Christianity. At the same
time, this ideology of "means" helps us to solve many problems
which we find in the philosophy and historical development of
of these Bodhisattvas are almost deified. Among the means some
offer the sacrifice of their own flesh for the sake of others.
"Bodhisattvas even throw themselves into the fire of hell to
alleviate the suffering of others" (words of Sântideva,
an 8th century Buddhist thinker). (15) Assuredly, the idea of
needs and the use of ,means- to save others springs from compassion.
"Compassion" appears in the most ancient Buddhist texts.
Compassion-kindness (maitri-karuná, in Japanese
ji-hi) was also an essential element of early monastic
life. Soon the concept of Buddha's "great compassion" appeared,
which developed into Mahayana Buddhism where we find the figure
of Buddha as father, doctor and compassionate teacher.(16) In
some Chinese texts there are not only ideograms for compassion
(jihi), but also those for "love" (ai), as in
the Lotus. The Bodhisattva's compassion leads to giving. An
operative love. Man, the sinner, must have "Faith".(17) Faith
presupposes a theology of "helping others" (tariki), in
the concrete of Amida's helping others to obtain salvation.
Are these not new points that should be developed in dialogue
We have suggested some positive points for an encounter and
dialogue between Christians and Buddhists. But there are difficulties
in this encounter which I would like to point out, stressing
the most important differences.
- For us
Christ is not only a "teacher", but a "Redeemer and Saviour".
Two difficult concepts to accept in the Buddhist tradition.
- We have
spoken of the reasonable, philosophical, indeed primitive,
orientation of Buddhism. But for them, knowledge is intuitive
rather than logical, since it is not the conclusion of premises,
it departs from the discursive aspect. But it is true that
as well as logical knowledge St. Thomas accepted a "iuxta
- The concept
of analogy does not exist in Buddhist philosophy and this
is why they do not and cannot speak of God or of his existence.
(This is due to their attitude to the concept of "creation"
which is excluded, because "every act is imperfection"). Buddhism
is not atheistic, but it excludes these theological themes.
It is a somewhat negative, apophatic philosophy and religion.
But behind the expression of such a negative religious philosophy
there is an obvious experience of God. We, Western Christians,
with all our research have often hidden the real face of God.
Do not forget that where there is a void, there is God. Silence
detachment from the phenomenal world or its negation within
Buddhism, become a temptation for us to fall into nihilism
or false, wrong interpretations.
- For us,
from the biblical, theological and philosophical point of
view, the "word" has a fundamental value. For Buddhists, however,
the "word" is not so much a means for communicating a message
or a teaching, but it often becomes an obstacle. "Noble silence"
becomes a form of communication. Contradictory words, like
kôan in Zen, bring light. In Chinese Buddhism,
they used to repeat that the truth which one can speak of
is not true. From Buddhism we must learn the value of "noble
has never wanted to have a dogmatic theology and Buddha did
not want to found a religion. He discovered that there was
suffering in the world, he discovered the origin of suffering
and he also discovered the way to destroy this suffering.
Suffering is a very rich concept and it leads us to the "poor"
of the Bible. But the deposit of faith in Christianity is
different because it has a positive content, with concrete
truths — certainly truths which can be deepened — which come
from revelation, and in this deepening Buddhism can become
a help under the guidance of the Spirit. But we must proceed
with caution in order not to contradict the faith we have
problematic point in today's dialogue is the diversity of
sects within Buddhism and the diversity of texts, which are
interpreted in different ways. This was one of the problems
Christian missionaries found in their first encounter with
Buddhism, to be precise, in Japan. We have already discussed
how oral and later written tradition was formed in Buddhism,
with thousands of texts, and thousands of Buddha's discourses
(more than eight thousand).
- For Christians
the centre of everything is not the "suffering" human person,
though he has no existence in himself according to Buddhists,
but a Personal-God, and this gives rise to prayer and worship.
Christ is the absolute form of the real, historical being,
and we must accept the revelation (which is unique and definitive)
and Redemption accomplished by a God-Person. In Buddhism there
was also a Docetic orientation, which was one of the first
heresies the Fathers of the Church found.
spite of these difficulties, we must consider the possibility
of a real dialogue, encounter and mutual enrichment between
Buddhism and Christianity. And it seems that the time has arrived.
of Missiology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
M. O'C WALSHE, "Buddhism and Christianity, a positive approach",
in The Wheel, n. 275, Kandy, 1980, p. 276.
Dhammapada, one of the most ancient texts written in
Pali (today translated into modern languages), ch. 20 is entitled
Dhammapada, verse 276.
"The Discourse on Right View. The Sammaditti Sutta and its Commentary.
Translated from the Pali by Bikkhu Nanamoli", from nos.
377 / 379 of the vol. The Wheel, Kandy, 1991.
Translation and examination in Revista de Estudios Budistas,
n. 11 (1996), pp. 69-78.
These ideas are taken from F.TOLA, "Budismo e humanismo",
ibid., n. 9 (1995) pp. 73-74.
Xavier's and Torres' "Discussions" with Buddhists were published
by P. SCHURHAMMER, in the original language, Spanish, with the
German translation, and a commentary, Die Disputationen...,
Tokyo 1940. Xavier tells of his conversations with a Zen
Bonze on philosophical subjects, e.g., in his letter of 5 Nov.
1549, in any edition, under number 90, n. 19.
Taishó Shinshú Diazokyo Kankokai, Tokyo
1960, new ed. (the first edition is of 1927). The edition is
the work of the Japanese Buddhologist Takakusu Junjirô,
it follows the chronological order of the texts, and includes
more than 3.360 works. Further information in KOGEN MIZUNO,
Buddhist Sutras. Origin, Development, Transmission, Eng.
trans. Tokyo 1982, especially on the Taishô, pp. 184-185.
I have translated all the precepts, the rules of the monks,
etc., in my book, La Mistica del Budismo. Los monies no cristianos
del oriente, Madrid 1974, ch. 5, pp. 150-176.
A wonderful book with an excellent bibliography and practical
experiments which are being carried out in the East, J. DINH
DUC DAO, Preghiera rinnovata per una nuova era missionaria
in Asia, Roma 1994. TH. MERTON, Mistici e maestri Zen,
Milano 1969. See the writings of two Catholic missionaries,
W. JOHNSTON and Y. RAGUIN, who opened a way in this dialogical
An idea repeated in his commentary on the sutra of understanding,
see the translation by E. LAMOTTE, Le traité de
la grande virtue de sagesse, I vol., Lovanio 1944,
p. 984. The Chinese text in Taisho, vol. 25, no. 1509.
J. LOPEZ-GAY, "El bodhisattva en los sûtras del Mahdyâna",
in Boletín de la Asociación Española
de Orientalistas, 22 (1986) 258-283, where "the original
vow", the "four great vows" and the ten vows that all Bodhisattvas
take are explained.
There are a great number of writings on Amida: one book in French
and Italian is by H. DE LUBAC, Aspects du Bouddhisme. Amida,
Paris 1955, Milano 1980: the entire second part, from p.
141 onwards is on Amida. Amida's saving vows to save all those
who call on him, in the sutra ,"The Larger Sukhávatï-vyúha",
vol. XLIX of the series Sacred Book of the East, Oxford
1894, pp. 1-72, see pp. 73-75, with an explanation of these
two vows 18 and 21. Other texts in the art. cited.
In the English translation of the Lotus, this chapter
is entitled: The Tactfulness, in the Chinese edition
of the Taisho, vol. 9, no. 262, pp. 5-10; in the English
trans. The Threefold Lotus sutra, 5th ed. Tokyo 1982,
Many complementary texts in H. DE LUBAC's book, p. 16 ff.
Cf. T. OHM, L'amore a Dio nelle religioni non cristiane,
a cura di P. Rossano, Alba 1956: Amore nel Buddhismo,
pp. 320-346 (original in German). Ch. 1 of H. DE
LUBAC'S book cited is entitled "La carità buddistica".
F. MASUTANI, "On Mercy and Love", in the book: A
comparative Study of Buddhism and Christianity, 3rd ed.,
Tokyo 1962, 163-174. E. LAMOTTE, "La bienveillance boudique",
in Bulletin de la Academie Royale de Belgique, 38
(1952) pp. 381-403. J. LOPEZ-GAY, "Buda corno Padre en el
Hokekyô", in Studia Missionalia, 33 (1984)
pp. 127-144 (I have indicated the places where the characteristic
of "love" is used).
An English translation of Tannishô, by Tosui Imadate,
published in the book, SUZUKI T., Collected Writings on Shin
Buddhism, Tokyo 1973, pp. 207-222. There are also translations
in Italian and Spanish. Cf. F. SOTTOCORNOLA, Bologna 1989.
J. LOPEZ-GAY, "Palabra y comunicación en el budismo",
in Oriente-Occidente, 12 (1994/95) pp. 27-38.
in Omnis Terra, n. 318, June 2001.