Category Archives: Buddhism

Sacrament of the Present Moment – Rev Jean Pierre de Caussade, SJ

“The Sacrament of the Present Moment is a spiritual path outlined by one of the greatest spiritual directors in the history of the Church, Father J. P. de Caussade, S.J.

On this path, we learn that Christ comes to us in a new and living way every day, and in every moment of every day. For this reason, our attention must remain focused on all of the events that occur, minute-by-minute, from the trivial to the sublime, because this is how God speaks to us.

This was the spirituality of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, who did not have access to spiritual directors, the guidance of hagiography, or volumes of theology.

“All their attention was focused on the present, minute by minute; like the hand of a clock that marks the minutes of each hour covering the distance along which it has to travel. Constantly prompted by divine impulsion, they found themselves imperceptibly turned toward the next task that God had ready for them at each hour of the day.”162

Their lives were guided by a pure and simple commitment to the will of God in whatever form it might present itself in each moment of the day. Even though, on the surface, Mary and Joseph were just ordinary people living an ordinary life in the village of Nazareth, we know that beneath this commonplace exterior, they were unparalleled in holiness. These heights of sanctity were acquired through a complete reliance on God’s grace and obedience to His Will in whatever way it chose to manifest in the everyday moments of their lives.

“But what is the secret of how to find this treasure — this minute grain of mustard seed? There is none. It is available to us always, everywhere. Like God, every creature, whether friend or foe, pours it out generously, making it flow through every part of our bodies and souls to the very center of our being. Divine action cleanses the universe, pervading and flowing over all creatures. Wherever they are it pursues them. It precedes them, accompanies them, follows them. We have only to allow ourselves to be borne along on its tide.”163

Those who abandon themselves to this way of life and who live to discover God’s will in the everyday moments of their life do so without the need to question, to judge, to consider the consequences or the causes or the reasons why this or that may happen.

Instead, “we leave God to act in everything, reserving for ourselves only love and obedience to the present moment.”164

And by doing so, God becomes the source of life for these souls, not through ideas or enlightenment or reasoning, but hidden in the operation and truth of his grace as it manifests in each moment of every day of our lives.

“And so God and His divine order must be cherished in all things, just as it is, without asking for anything more; whatever he may offer us is not our business but God’s, and what he ordains is best. How simple is this perfect and total surrender of self to the world of God! And there, in continual self-forgetfulness to be forever occupied in loving and obeying him, untroubled by all those doubts and perplexities, reverses and anxieties which attend the hope of his salvation and true perfection!”165

This brief expose of the Sacrament of the Present Moment should be enough to expose the similarities — and the immense differences — between this devotion and the practice of mindfulness. About the only thing the two practices have in common is that they both call for a non-judgmental focus on the now, but the underlying motives and end of this focus could not be further apart.

In mindfulness, one focuses on the present moment to become aware of it, to escape the doing mode and enter into the being mode in order to awaken to the experience of each moment.

In the Sacrament of the Present Moment, we dwell in the present not to enter into a state of awareness but into a state of abandonment to the will of God…Instead of being about moment-to-moment awareness, it’s about moment-to-moment surrender. Put simply, the Christian remains in the present moment not for the sake of the present moment, but for the sake of hearing the voice of the God Who speaks to it in that moment.”

-Brinkmann, Susan. A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness (pp. 95-98). Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

162. de Caussade, Father J. P., S.J., The Sacrament of the Present Moment (New York, NY: Harper One), pg. 1
163. Ibid, pg. 3
164. Ibid, pg. 11
165. Ibid, pg. 25

Mindfulness: Syncretism?

No Self, No Soul

“…the Buddhist’s concern (in a charitable act) is not for the welfare of the recipient, but for the liberation of the giver from the burden of self.

…not even the Buddhist notion of self is compatible with Christian belief. Just as there is no permanent soul, there is also no “self” because it’s very existence is denied.

In Buddhist teaching, the individual man is made up of five Skandhas or “heaps”: the Body, the Feelings, the Perceptions, the Impulses and Emotions, and the Acts of Consciousness.

“Each person is not someone endowed with these five “heaps”; he is these ‘heaps,’ the bundle of these Skandhas but without any permanent substratum or soul. In fact, there is no individuality at all. Individuality is only an invented belief, a product of gratuitous imagination, a grand delusion. The aim of the Dharma and the goal of the Middle Way is the extinguishing of belief in an individuality. When the individual ceases to exist, the result is ‘extinction’, Nirvana.”101

Nirvana, then, is actually a negative concept because it means the extinction of the self, the end of the processes of karma and rebirth.

The belief that individuality is an invented concept is radically dissimilar to Christian belief in the innate dignity of the human person.

As Pope St. John Paul II writes, “Human persons are willed by God; they are imprinted with God’s image. Their dignity does not come from the work they do, but from the persons they are.”102

The dramatic differences between the Buddhist and Christian concept of soul and self is perhaps most obvious when we consider the eastern belief in reincarnation, a process by which a person continually dies and is reborn until reaching a state of nirvana or the extinction of the self.

Even though its followers embrace this concept, this total annihilation of self is not the most palatable teaching to some Buddhists.

For example, Paul Williams, professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy at the University of Bristol in the UK who converted to Catholicism from Buddhism, says he was always unsettled by this teaching and the many facets of reincarnation that just didn’t add up in his mind.

“[B]uddhists claim, there is no chronological first beginning to the series of past lives. We haveall of us been reborn an infinite number of times. No God is needed to start the series off — for there simply was no first beginning. Things have been around (somewhere) for all eternity,” Williams writes. He uses a hypothetical situation of a man being told that he will be executed in the morning; however, the man should not be terrified because he is going to come back as a cockroach in South America.

“My point is this: What is so terrifying about my being executed at dawn and reborn as a cockroach is that it is simply, quite straightforwardly, the end of me. I cannot imagine being reborn as a cockroach because there is nothing to imagine. I quite simply would not be there at all. If rebirth is true, neither I nor any of my loved ones survive death. With rebirth, for me — the actual person I am — the story really is over.”103

Some Buddhists argue against this conclusion, claiming that the person is made up of thoughts, feelings and perceptions, all of which interact with the body in constantly changing ways. At death this stream of mental energy simply re-establishes itself in a new body.104

This does little to relieve Williams’ discomfort. “There may be another being living its life in some sort of causal connection with the life that was me (influenced by my karma), but for me there is no more. That is it — the end of it. There is no more to be said about me.”

Even though he does not believe this means the Buddhist position is wrong, it simply means that if it’s correct then death is the end, a conclusion he finds to be utterly hopeless.

Reincarnation versus Resurrection

Regardless of this inherently hopeless teaching, recent studies have found a quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, a number that certainly includes many Christians.105

One reason given by some Catholic believers in rebirth is that the Church has never officially condemned reincarnation. They believe this means reincarnation may one day be reconciled to the Christian concept of death and the afterlife.

However, as Cardinal Christoph Schonborn explains, the reason why the Church never condemned reincarnation is not because she may one day accept it as doctrine but “because reincarnation so obviously contradicts the very principles of this faith that a condemnation has never seemed necessary.”106

Church teaching on this subject is quite clear. “Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When ‘the single course of our earthly life’ is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: ‘It is appointed for men to die once.’ There is no ‘reincarnation’ after death.”107

This teaching comes straight from Scripture in the Letter to the Hebrews, which responds to the question of whether or not there is more than one lifetime. It clearly states that it is “appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.”108

Thus, Catholics believe that “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven —through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation.”109

In order to fully comprehend the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, however, one must also come to understand the belief in karma.

Karma is the law of moral causation, or cause and effect, which is based upon the idea that nothing happens by accident to a person. Fundamental to both Hinduism and Buddhism, there are differing views on exactly how karma works.

The Buddhist views karma as a way to explain why one person is born into luxury and another is homeless or why one man is a genius and another has severe mental challenges. According to the law of karma, none of these inequalities is accidental, but each is the result of something the person did either in this or a past life for which he or she is being punished or rewarded.

While the theory of karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism, the belief is said to have been prevalent in India and Hinduism long before the advent of Buddhism. The word karma, connected to the meaning it has today, first appeared in Hindu books known as the Upanishads, which were composed over a wide period of time ranging from the pre-Buddhist period to the early centuries BC.

The concept of karma, and its resultant need for reincarnation, is incompatible with Christianity.

The Letter to the Colossians states that “When you were dead in your trespasses . . . God made you alive together with him (Christ) when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”110 (2:13, 14).

In other words, our “bad karma” was nailed to the Cross of Jesus Christ, who reconciles us to the Father, so there is no need for a “redo” in another life. Instead, the Christian works out his or her salvation during this lifetime here on earth, through repentance and the Sacraments, ultimately relying on God’s grace and the Savior who stands at the heart of our faith.

-Brinkmann, Susan. A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness (pp. 57-62). Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation. Kindle Edition.

Love, & good “karma”,
Matthew

101. Wilkinson, Rev. Peter J., “Buddhism: A Catholic Perspective,” A.C.T.S. No. 1537 (1968)
102. Pope St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, No. 11
103. Williams, Paul, “On Converting from Buddhism to Catholicism: One Convert’s Story,” accessed at whyimcatholic.com
104. “Dharma Data: Rebirth,” accessed at Buddhist Studies: Buddha Dharma Education Association at Buddhanet
105. “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths,” Pew Research Center, Religion and Public Life, December, 2009
106. Schonborn, Cardinal Christoph, excerpt from From Death to Life: A Christian Journey, appearing on Ignatius Insight.com
107. Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing, 1994) No. 1013
108. Letter to the Hebrews, 9:27
109. Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Hereafter CCC), No. 1022
110. Letter to the Colossians, 2:13-14 111. 1 Timothy, 1:15

Mindfulness?

I am taking, somewhat by choice, an eight week course in mindfulness.  I like to be intellectually honest.  Having only attended the first session with at least one all-in-one, heroin, crystal meth, and crack addict, I can reassure, gentle reader, mindfulness poses absolutely no challenge whatsoever to Catholicism.

If it serves as a safe, neutral beginning to encountering that terrifying place known as silence and our conscience, where God reigns supreme, omnipotent, as He does everywhere else, but most noticeably for the individual there, then it is a good. As Ven Matt Talbot says, “I cannot escape the eye of God, the voice of conscience…”. As St Paul says, 1 Cor 3:2, and Heb 11:1.


-by Patti Maguire Armstrong

Should a Catholic Practice Mindfulness?

Eastern meditation techniques are a growing fad to relax and alleviate stress and anxiety. Some of it has even slipped into corners of the Church presented as something that can co-exist with Catholic spirituality. But according to an exorcist and an author on A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness, such meditations are contrary to the Catholic faith and neither healthy nor even harmless.

Father Patrick (not his real name) is a parish priest who has also been a diocesan exorcist for 7 years after he apprenticed for 6 years under an experienced exorcist. According to Fr. Patrick, Eastern meditation is a pathway of diversion away from a relationship with the true God, Father Son, and Holy Spirit. “Most people don’t know that the ultimate goal is to be without the need of God,” he noted.

“Instead of directing people to God, the focus becomes ‘self’ which gets in the way of uniting with God,” Father Patrick said. “As a Catholic matures in his faith, one is expected to progress beyond the more self-centered reasons for prayer that may have motivated him at the beginning of his spiritual life. One must eventually learn how to come to prayer for God’s sake, and not just his own.”

Can Eastern Meditation be Mixed with Catholic Spirituality?

Attempting to join the two disciplines—Eastern with Christian—does not work, Father Patrick explained, because their focus is different. “To focus on self alone, as Eastern meditation does, is not trusting in God,” he said. “Instead of dialoguing with your own feelings and emotions, you should always look at what God is showing you and asking: What does God want me to do?”

Meditation that turns inward rather than towards God ends up in emptiness, according to Father Patrick. “It might give you a little bit of comfort for a short while, but it’s definitely not a pathway to God,” he said. Even if it is neutral, Father Patrick explained that it is actually taking you away from God, because it is not taking you closer. “If there is no dialogue with God, then God is not a part of it and you are not honing a relationship with him,” Father Patrick said. “Honing a relationship with self, that is pretty empty without real answers—

Eastern Meditation – Mindfulness – and Trust in Divine Providence

Sometimes Eastern meditations purport to trust in divine providence. However, the way to truly trust in the divine providence of God is to include Him as part of the equation, Father Patrick said. “When we pray, we gain a sense of what will fulfill us from God,” he said. “God created us, he knows what is best for us. That is standard theology. We should be asking God: What do you have to say; what do you want me to do or to understand?”

Authentic Catholic Spirituality vs Eastern and New Age Practices

In true Catholic spirituality, Father Patrick said that God speaks to us in the depths of our heart, the deepest layer. He explained that the three layers of the heart are first, the outside layer, which is simply living the physical life; the second layer where our psychological and emotional experiences and understanding take place; and the third and deepest layer. “This is where we interact with God and we ask him for the answers to ultimately important questions,” Father Patrick said.

“There is an error when pagan practices and religions are attributed to Jesus,” he said. “For example, when people say that ‘Jesus is another Reiki master,’ they are saying that Jesus practiced Reiki so Jesus is no longer God to them.” For New Age practitioners, Father Patrick said that everyone can be God except for Jesus. “When you say that you don’t need Jesus, that always opens up doors to other spiritual forces militating against God and causes problems,” he said.

A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness

In an interview, Susan Brinkmann author of the new book, A Catholic Guide to Mindfulness, elaborated on the points made by Father Patrick. She explained that Eastern meditation fails to get at the core problem because it does not bring our woundedness to God.

Her book looks specifically at Mindfulness, which is rooted in Buddhism from 500 BC and “is a state of active, open attention on the present by which one observes their thoughts and feelings as if from a distance, without judging them to be good or bad.” Although promoted as a non-spiritual practice used as a means of vanquishing stress and anxiety, for the most part, it is practiced through one of several forms of meditation such as Breathing Space Meditation, Body Scan Meditation, and Expanding Awareness Meditation. Connecting with God is not the goal of any of these types of meditations.

According to Brinkmann, Mindfulness has no place in Christian prayer or spiritual practice, either as a prelude, component, or adjunct. If there is a problem causing stress and anxiety, researchers have found that many people are using mindfulness as a way to escape rather than confront their problems “True Catholic spirituality and meditation is a way to root out the attachments that block our relationship with God and interfere with a healthy spiritual life with him,” Brinkmann said.

Christians that are not adequately instructed in the fundamentals of the spiritual life, according to her, are often drawn into the self-gratifying Eastern or New Age practices and either cease praying altogether or try to incorporate incompatible Eastern techniques into their practice of prayer. Even though we are taught that we can adopt what is good from other religions, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger clearly states in “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation” that this is not permissible if it obscures the purpose of Christian prayer – which is to dialogue with God. Because the aim of Eastern meditation techniques is to achieve a “higher” or “altered” state of consciousness, such as in the Mindfulness practice known as Expanding Awareness Meditation technique described in her book, these practices are not compatible with the goals of Christian prayer.

In addition, when we put aside all thoughts, including those that are distressing, Brinkmann explained that we enter into an altered state of consciousness detached from our problems and even ourselves to experience a temporary bliss. “The Pontifical document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, warns that these states create an atmosphere of psychic weakness and vulnerability,” she said.

We do not need Mindfulness, Brinkmann stated. “We already have our own kind of ‘mindfulness’ known as the Sacrament of the Present Moment, which calls upon us to live in the here and now, in the Presence of God,” she said. “When we live in the Present Moment, we are in the Presence of God who can do something about the causes of stress and has the power to deal with it.”

As a staff writer with Women of Grace, Brinkmann said many people were asking about Mindfulness on their New Age Q & A blog. Once she began seeing reports from scientists discrediting the studies that claim benefits, and raising the alarm on potential harm from mindfulness, she decided to write a book about it. “Catholics should open their eyes to the glory of the Catholic mystical tradition,” Brinkmann said. “When it comes to controlling the mind, and directing our focus, Jesus Christ is the only sure guide.”

Love, always, but especially in the here and now,
Matthew

Reincarnation?

-from Catholic Answers 20 Answers: Death & Judgment

“Reincarnation, which literally means “to be made flesh again,” is the belief that after death the soul lives on in another body. The soul might inhabit a similar body (e.g., a man’s soul enters another man’s body) or even a radically dissimilar body (e.g., a man’s soul enters a frog’s body). Regardless of what form reincarnation takes, the Catechism states:

Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When “the single course of our earthly life” is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: “It is appointed for men to die once” (Heb. 9:27). There is no “reincarnation” after death (CCC 1013).

In the third century, Origen said reincarnation was “foreign to the church of God, and not handed down by the Apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the Scriptures.” There are several arguments that support the Church’s rejection of reincarnation. First, in the fourth century St. Ambrose of Milan wrote that it would be impossible that “the soul which rules man should take on itself the nature of a beast so opposed to that of man,” or that man, “being capable of reason should be able to pass over to an irrational animal.” In other words, the migration of souls between human and animals is as impossible as the procreation of bodies between humans and animals.

Second, humans do not behave as if they possessed souls that lived before the birth of their body. The third-century ecclesial writer Tertullian put it this way:

If souls depart at different ages of human life, how is it that they come back again at one uniform age? For all men are imbued with an infant soul at their birth. But how happens it that a man who dies in old age returns to life as an infant? . . .  I ask, then, how the same souls are resumed, which can offer no proof of their identity, either by their disposition, or habits, or living?

The absence of animals and infants who act like mature adults is evidence against the theory of reincarnation. Of course, a defender of reincarnation could say that while a person’s soul inhabits a new body, his memories and personality do not. But this makes reincarnation the practical equivalent of not surviving death. It also begs the question; as St. Irenaeus argued in the second century, “If we don’t remember anything before our conception, then how do advocates of reincarnation know we’ve all been reincarnated?”

Other defenders of reincarnation offer empirical evidence in the form of “past-lives” testimony. These testimonies, such as those gathered among children by the late psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, are not convincing. For example, many of the subjects of Stevenson’s interviews were children who lived in places like India, where reincarnation is widely accepted. This means that their stories were more likely the products of social conditioning than actual memories of past lives.

Moreover, although the children in these studies were not thought to be capable of deceiving interviewers, they were capable of confusing fantasy with reality  (e.g., telling stories about imaginary friends or imaginary adventures). In fact, many of the anecdotes Stevenson shares rely on ambiguous details that are better explained by a child’s imperfect grasp of reality. Skeptic Robert Carroll offers the following example:

One case involved an Idaho girl who at age 2 would point to photographs of her sister, dead from a car accident three years before she was born, and say “that was me.” The believer thinks the two-year-old meant: “I was my sister in a previous life.” The skeptic thinks she meant: “That’s a picture of me.” The skeptic sees the two-year-old as making a mistake. The believer sees her as trying to communicate a message about reincarnation.

There is also a third argument against reincarnation, one that has been called “the population argument.” It relies on the claim made by proponents of reincarnation that new souls are never created or destroyed. Instead, souls are only “reborn” into other bodies. But, in Tertullian’s words, “If the living come from the dead, just as the dead proceed from the living, then there must always remain unchanged one and the selfsame number of mankind.” He noted (and modern science has confirmed) that there has been a “gradual growth of [the human] population.” This growth can only be explained by new souls coming into existence, and conflicts with the notion of the perpetual reincarnation of the same souls into different bodies.

Finally, scientists agree that life on earth began—at the earliest—billions of years ago. This disproves the idea that souls have been reincarnating into physical bodies for all eternity. As the Catechism says, “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not ‘produced’ by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection” (CCC 366).”

Love,
Matthew