That would be an Ecumenical Matter

Part ONE Comparing Christianity and Buddhism

The Fundamental Principles


Both the Abrahamic religions, including Catholicism and Buddhism are based on a list of rules that intend to prevent discord across humanity and encourage personal growth. Interpretations of The Ten Commandments will be discussed individually and compared to like precepts in Buddhism, namely; the Eightfold Noble Path and the Five Precepts to show a link between the fundamental principles of both creeds.

The First Commandment: I am Yahweh your God


The first commandment as cited in The New Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition gives this statement; ‘I am Yahweh your God’ (Exodus 20: 2). It is one of the first three commandments that guide the relationship between humanity and God, which appears to be contrary to Buddhism, which does not require God’s existence, however Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh argues that ‘Mindfulness’ (40-41) can be likened to the consciousness or ‘Enlightened One’ that is God. Before examining this further the implications of the first commandment must be defined.

The first commandment asks adherents to develop the virtues of religion out of reverence for God as the promises made according to God’s law; that is the subsequent commandments, allow followers to achieve virtue through fulfilment of   ‘Promises and vows’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2135). The practices of certain virtues are encouraged and immoral behaviours are forbidden. Faith in God should manifest through witnessing the creation in nature and sharing with the community to build and maintain strong and loving human bonds. Hope in God is considered a two way process; God’s law has been written and his offer to support us requires a ‘personal commitment to the moral life.’ (Irish Episcopal Conference, 379)

Although Buddhism does not require God to live a moral life, there are references in Buddhism to ascended masters, Sogyal Rinpoche explains, ‘All of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings are present at all moments to help us’ (cited in Lorie and Dunn, 40) suggesting an alternative plain of existence. This existence could be compared to heaven and the enlightened beings to Saints and Angels. There is also reference to demi-gods in Buddhism, which evolved from Hinduism in which Vishnu was considered the creator and the Buddhist Sakyamuni stated unequivocally that ‘All things proceed from some cause.’ (Cited in Hardy, 5). Hope in God stems, in part, from the creation and Buddhism appears to agree with the notion of a first cause or creator.

Hanh takes the argument further and proposes that God is akin to mindfulness, a deeper consciousness that permeates creation. He states that all beings have the potential for ‘awakening’ (40) through ‘mindfulness’ (40) through two ‘aspects of the same reality’(41). Reality comprises wisdom or understanding and love or compassion. Understanding is comparable to the Father or God and Love comes from the nurturing mother, like Mary who nurtured Jesus. Both Jesus and Buddha are considered to be brothers and teachers of humanity. God and mindfulness may both be considered as higher levels of consciousness which we practice and nurture through attuning to the higher consciousness in prayer or meditation. God and mindfulness would therefore be considered the higher consciousness and creator in both creeds. An understanding of a higher consciousness encourages the practice of moral behaviour, community and compassion, this could be deemed the first truth of Catholic-Buddhism.

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