Author Topic: Criticism of the previous Pope John Paul II on Buddhism?  (Read 10482 times)


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Criticism of the previous Pope John Paul II on Buddhism?
« on: January 03, 2012, 07:08:42 PM »
A book by the previous pope John Paul II seemingly have remarks that criticizes Buddhism and caused some reactions from the Buddhists. Here in the article below Prof. Donald Mitchell tried to explain and justify the controversial words, but what do you think?

example 1: There is a remark that refers to Buddhism having a “negative soteriology (doctrine of salvation).” Prof. Mitchell explains that "negative here" does not mean "bad", but just "negation". I don't think so, is the Pope's vocabulary so limited to not choose a more accurate word if he really means "negation"? The Prof's explanation is pretty lame.

example 2: The Pope refers to Buddhist nirvana as entailing “a state of perfect indifference from the world.” and the Prof explains that "indifference" is not "cold anc don't care" but actually has a positive meaning.

The Pope is from the western country and English is not an issue, so why did he still choose to use those seemingly controversial terms, and didn't his editor at least advise him about the potential confusion over those terms?

Not convincing at all. Do not attempt to comment on others' relegions if you don't know much about the religions, it is called inter-religious respect and harmony.


Monastic Interreligious Dialogue

Remarks of Pope on Buddhism Cause Reactions

Prof. Donald Mitchell
from Bulletin 52, January 1995

The recent book by Pope John Paul II Crossing the Threshold of Hope caused a definite reaction among Buddhists worldwide. This was particularly the case in Sri Lanka where the Buddhists chose to boycott the Pope’s address to interreligious leaders while in Colombo. The following remarks were made by Dr. Mitchell during the visit of the Tibetans. While it does not fully answer problems raised by the Pope’s remarks, it does place them in a different light.

We can see from the recent Sri Lankan Buddhist reaction to Pope John Paul’s new book Crossing the Threshold of Hope that interfaith dialogue is essential in today’s pluralistic global community. In this new international situation, the worlds of the different religions are beginning to overlap so that when the Pope writes a book, it is read by Buddhists. It is also true that when the Dalai Lama writes a book, it is read by Christians. This new world of international, intercultural and interreligious communication offers many wonderful possibilities for developing a more united humankind and a more peaceful global community. However, it also creates greater potentials for miscommunication and misunderstanding. Hence the importance of interfaith dialogue to foster better mutual understanding and respect between religious traditions.

The concern expressed by the Federation of Buddhist Organizations (FBO) in Sri Lanka about the Pope’s book is a case in point. As Sri Lankan Bishop Malcolm Ranjith has pointed out, it is a matter that the Pope’s use of certain technical words has given rise to misconceptions by Buddhist readers. In his book, the Pope is presenting his own personal reflections in the sometimes rather technical language of the Christian philosophical, theological and spiritual traditions. Someone from the Buddhist tradition who is not familiar with this technical language could read these reflections and take offense when none was intended. This is certainly regrettable because in fact the Pope is not insulting Buddhism, but just the opposite. He is actually pointing out the highly advanced state of Buddhist spiritual life while carefully presenting its similarities to and differences from Christian spiritual life.

For example, the passage from Crossing the Threshold of Hope that is at the top of the FBO’s list of controversial remarks refers to Buddhism having a “negative soteriology (doctrine of salvation).” However, “negative” here does not mean a “bad” or “valueless” understanding of salvation. It is a technical term in Christian spirituality. It means an understanding of salvation that emphasizes the “negation” of certain attachments to the world that cause us suffering and a lack of inner peace. In fact, the Pope goes on to say that this laudable notion of detachment is also found in the writings of the spiritual masters of Christianity. He is careful in this regard to point out that such a “negation” in Christian spirituality is not an end in itself, but is complemented with an “affirmation” of a deeper personal union with God. This is where the Pope finds a major difference between Christianity and Buddhism. I am sure that the FBO would agree with the Pope’s conclusion that personal union with God is something that distinguishes Christianity from Buddhism.

From this example, we can see that the Pope is really praising Buddhism for its “negative soteriology.” He even points to parallels in the highest forms of Christian spirituality. He just wants to make sure that his readers understand that in Christian spiritual life this detachment prepares the person for a personal union with God.

The other example of a controversial passage mentioned in the press also has to do with this notion of detachment. In that passage, the Pope refers to Buddhist nirvana as entailing “a state of perfect indifference from the world.” Here again we have to look at the technical term “indifference” in the context of the Christian tradition. The Greek Stoics held perfect indifference to be the highest of virtues. Since Christianity began during the time that Stoicism was popular, Christian writers needed to respond to the ultimate value that the Stoics placed on indifference. Christian writers considered indifference in their own experience to be a positive state of inner peace, undisturbed by what is of the world. But as the Pope points out, it is cultivated in Christian spirituality in order to be united with what is outside the world: with the God of love who permeates the person with the living flame of His Love.

Here again, by introducing the term “indifference” the Pope is not insulting Buddhism. Rather he is recognizing its high spiritual achievement. Yet, as in our first example, he also wants his readers to see that in Christian spiritual life there is a transcendent dimension whereby God permeates the person with His Love. I am sure the FBO would recognize this difference.

Of course this distinction does not imply that Buddhist nirvana is lacking in love. While nirvana does entail an inner equanimity, as the Pope says, it also entails compassion and loving kindness for others. These qualities of nirvana have become the basis in recent years of new socially engaged forms of Buddhism. And these new forms of Buddhism, influenced by Christian social action in Asia, are in turn seeking to compliment the more traditional monastic retreat from the world with the social engagement of the world. This new development will help Buddhists and Christians join in mutual collaboration for a more united, just and peaceful world community.

Let me conclude by saying that the Pope’s remarks about Buddhism in his recent book should be read against the consistent background of his many positive statements about Buddhism made over the years, the warm hospitality he has shown to Buddhist guests to the Vatican, the strong words of encour-agement he has made to the Buddhist–Christian intermonastic dialogues and exchanges, and the fact that at the Assisi Day of Prayer for Peace he gave places of honor to Buddhist representatives. The Pope has also clearly said in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (#91) that through his travels in Asia he has understood more clearly the importance of contemplation in the future of the Church. In brief, the Pope has always extended a sincere and warm hand of spiritual friendship to his Buddhist brethren.

Further Remarks of Dr. Donald Mitchell Given to Tibetan Guests:
In his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the Pope has characterized Buddhism in the technical language of Western philosophy in a manner that has led to certain misunderstandings by some Buddhists in Sri Lanka who are unfamiliar with this technical language. These Buddhists asked to meet with the Pope to discuss his book and to clarify some of the issues raised about Buddhism in that book. This was a good idea. Buddhists have always supported the need for peaceful and open dialogue about religious issues, following the example of the Buddha himself.

If, as the Pope said, the problems that the Buddhists have with his book are really misunderstandings of what he was trying to say, this dialogue could have cleared up those misunderstandings. If the Pope really does make some mistakes concerning Buddhism, then this dialogue could have corrected those mistakes. In either case the meeting asked for by the Buddhists was a good idea.

However, given the Pope’s poor health and his fatigue at the end of a very long and difficult trip, he had to send an envoy to the dialogue. This was unfortunate; but the boycott of a dialogue with the Pope’s envoy by the Buddhists was also unfortunate. This would have been a wonderful opportunity for the Buddhists to inform the Pope through his envoy more about the teachings of the Buddha. They could have clarified issues about those teachings and their relation to the Pope’s views expressed in his book.

The boycott resulted in a missed opportunity for both Buddhists and Christians. Interfaith dialogue is necessary for a better mutual understanding and respect between people of different religious traditions. This is something that is badly needed in today’s world. And this incident was certainly regrettable given the Pope’s long record of expressing his appreciation for the treasures of Buddhism in general and his sustained support for the Dalai Lama in particular. We hope that this incident will not alter the positive relationship that is growing between our religions.


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Re: Criticism of the previous Pope John Paul II on Buddhism?
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2012, 11:57:12 AM »
The problem is not in the choice of terms. The problem is in not defining and explaining adequately the meaning of the terms. I can understand the misunderstanding that such choice of words as "negative" and "indifference" can create if taken out of context.

Buddhists talk about suffering all the time. Therefore, it is not surprising that non-Buddhists think that Buddhism is "negative". But actually, it is neither negative nor positive. It is just facing the problem directly. It is looking at truth in the face.

The terms used by the Pope are correct as far as terminology is concerned in Western Philosophy. In fact the words "perfect indifference" is a compliment to Buddhism, not a criticism. Because it is what Christians aspire to also in their practice. Of course there are better choice of words like "equanimity", detachment", non-attachment" etc. But if we take it to mean "perfect equanimity", then there is no problem.

I wonder whether the original language of the book is English or another language. In one translation of the Anguttara-Nikaya (iii.88), from Pali into English, the words "indifferent" and "indifference" are used to mean "detached" and "non-attachment" or "equanimity" respectively: "... Indifferent, contemplative, and living happily" - he enters upon the third trance, when through the abandonment of happiness, through the abandonment of misery, through the disappearance of all antecedent gladness and grief, he enters upon the fourth trance, which has neither misery nor happiness, but is contemplation as refined by indifference, this, O priests, is called the discipline in elevated concentration."

When talking about the 4 stages of concentration, the Buddha said: "

hope rainbow

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Re: Criticism of the previous Pope John Paul II on Buddhism?
« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2012, 03:39:44 PM »
It is always interesting to compare one method with another.

But if we want results, one should stick to one method.

I have a friend who found this (apparently) very efficient slimming diet based on brown rice. He eats brown rice everyday for a week or so, and only brown rice. And this friend of mine swears by it, he says, it detoxes, and he can feel much better day after day.

Then I also know someone else who swears by the slimming method of proteins only, a proteinated diet, and she only eats protein for a week or so, fish, chicken, etc.... but no fruit, and especially no carb (like brown rice...).

So it appears that both methods are working very well.
But if we were to mix them and eat rice and proteins together, the result would be the opposite from slimming, the result would be gaining weight. Then we loose confidence in the methods...

I think the same goes with spirituality.
The methods are merely methods, they are not the aim.
And the aim is the same always.