The Blind Buddha is Welcome in Worcester

At a splashy social event this past summer, at which only a few folks did I actually know, I found myself seated next to a middle aged woman, whose quiet reticence stood in marked contrast to the noise and bellicosity that now and again take hold of me. And she said something so shocking that I don’t suppose anyone who heard it will ever be the same again. Certainly not the poor fellow she skewered with her question.

“Why does the Buddha never open his eyes?”

The thrust of the dagger was swift and unexpected.  The hapless young man to whom she’d just put the question, a dewy-eyed sophomore from an elite New England Jesuit college, had been eagerly instructing the table on the teachings of the Buddha, whose wisdom he was ever so grateful to his professors for having taught him.  In fact, he was positively aglow with enthusiasm for the entire Religious Studies Program—which, having supplanted the distinctively Catholic element in its showcasing of “a wide range of religious traditions and theological perspectives,” to cite the expensively produced college catalogue—goes out of its way not to encumber its students with anything specifically Roman Catholic.  This surely accounts for its annual “Community Day Of Prayer,” during which everyone is encouraged “to celebrate the rich faith traditions at the college,” thus relativizing at one stroke the whole Christian scandal of particularity.

“So tell me” she persisted, “why doesn’t he ever open his eyes?”

The confused young man simply did not know.   Nor did anyone else seem to know.  In fact, it had not crossed the mind of anyone in that little group to wonder why.  Not even after the woman, bless her heart, went on to observe that, in obvious contrast to the blind Buddha, the eyes of the saints appear to be wide open all the time.

Odd, isn’t it?

Odder still, as I was subsequently to learn after a quick Google search of Gautama Buddha, is the fact that despite never having opened his eyes, they are nevertheless the color of blue, that being among the thirty-two reported characteristics of the amazing Buddha.

Why hadn’t the young man known these things?  Could it be that even his professors did not know?  But that is scarcely possible given all that they already do know; indeed, given the considerable cachet attaching to the school they represent, they certainly should know.  I mean here is a distinguished Religious Studies Department, boasting of a great swath of courses designed to “address religion as a fundamental dimension of human history and personal experience,” its bright students armed with all the requisite skills in order all the more “systematically to explore” the whole sweep of diverse traditions and perspectives laying claim to the mind and heart of man.  So what is the name of this celebrated institution that hugely prides itself on the diversity of its faculty and students, its rich multi-faith traditions, where—notwithstanding a reputation for being one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges—a fact as plain as Buddha’s own face should have gone so blithely unnoticed?

It is the College of the Holy Cross, located some forty miles west of Boston, which is where a century and a half ago the Rev. Benedict Joseph Fenwick, S.J., Boston’s then second bishop, first decided to found a college.  Intense anti-Catholic prejudice, however, prevented him from doing so in Boston, thus the school now sits amid beautiful and stately buildings on a hill in Worcester, second largest city in New England, which must be a bit like being the second highest building in Wichita.

But that was all a very long time ago, back when enlightened opinion was not nearly so widespread as it is now, certainly not among Catholic colleges and universities.  Why even Jesuit schools were bastions of antique superstition back then.  Today, of course, things are so infinitely better, thanks to the salutary winds of progress and reform sweeping all the reactionary cobwebs away.  And while much of the old nomenclature survives (I mean, really, how can you change the name of the school?  What would the alumni think?), there cannot be much left that would warm the heart of its nineteenth-century founder and first president.  What an antediluvian he’d have been in today’s academia!  Along with all those countless graduates who matriculated at the College of the Holy Cross in the time of its first innocence; long before, that is, the period of the Great Flood when, to quote the poet Yeats,  “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”

The Honorable Frank Shakespeare, for example, with whom my wife and I became friends when we first lived in Rome (he was, during the Reagan years, our nation’s Ambassador to the Vatican), who had himself been a graduate of Holy Cross back in 1946 when, as he once told me, the place was solidly Catholic.  The changes since that halcyon time had, not surprisingly, left him deeply saddened and dismayed.

Those were the days when the college motto, In Hoc Signo Vinces, really meant what it said, namely, the promised words spoken by Christ in a dream to the emperor Constantine, “In this sign you shall conquer.”  And so, deploying the Sign of the Cross, he succeeded in routing the enemies of Rome, converting to the true faith, then proceeding to free the Church from the bloody bonds of persecution by declaring her chief citizen of the empire.

It was also a time when there was actually a Department of Theology, whose mission was, to borrow an expression first coined by Romano Guardini back in the 1930s Unterscheidung des Christlichen  (distinguishing what is Christian).  All that is distinctively, irreducibly even, special and unique to Christianity, in other words, is to be given pride of place, whence to penetrate the whole life of the institution, including faculty and students alike.

We’ve certainly traveled a great distance since then.  As Blessed John Paul II used to say when making his pastoral rounds through France, Eldest Daughter of the Church: “What have you done with your baptismal promises?”  So might those who care about Catholic Higher Education, about the preservation of its integrity in a world threatened by centrifugal and chaotic forces on every side, put the question to today’s College of the Holy Cross, where in the shadow of the Pierced and Crucified Christ, young men and women are more often encouraged to imbibe the teachings of a plump fatuous looking fellow, sitting cross-legged on the floor with eyes closed upon the world, than the One who called himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

And, really, if this is what nirvana means, if this is the Buddha’s idea of a life spent in mindfulness, then maybe its time to get off the pagoda.  Why would any sane person want nirvana anyway?  I mean, look at the etymology of the word: it means being extinguished, vaporized, the sheer evacuation of existence.  From the Sanskrit verb nirva, which is the act of being blown out like a candle, the word implies a state of complete cessation, of no longer being there, a condition of absence, vacancy.  How can this be bliss? 

In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, when the need to know why was on everyone’s mind, I remember reading about one of the teachers who had tried to tutor the young man, the student-turned-killer, but gave up because, as she put it, there was such an emptiness she felt whenever he came into the room.  The presence of an absence.  A vacancy.  As if there were no there there.

Is that too much of a stretch?  Perhaps.  But, in all seriousness, what’s wrong with these people?  How does one set about disabusing such folk of nothingness, nada?  Not only has their pilot light gone out, which would be deplorable enough, but they actually seem to prefer wandering about in the darkness.  Indeed, the darkness is the light.  Such sublime imbecility is no easy matter to overcome.  Like hearing a Mozart concerto on the radio, only to switch it off at once lest the jackhammer in the street go unheard.

It is all so terribly sad to think about.  Jesus Christ, we are told, will hang in agony upon the cross until the end of the world.  But not at the College of the Holy Cross.  Deus est qui Deum dat, Augustine tells us, sounding the deep recurrent chord in the great Catholic symphony.  And he is right: God is truly he who gives God.  He is the gift who keeps on giving, which happens precisely in the gift of His Son, whom we have all conspired to crucify. Yet through the gift of his death, God gives us unending life.

And what does the Buddha give?  Nothingness.  Although at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, it seems you still have to pay for it.           

Regis Martin


Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar's Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, also published by Emmaus Road, is called Witness to Wonder: The World of Catholic Sacrament. He resides in Steubenville, Ohio, with his wife and ten children.

  • Rock St. Elvis

    It was Chesterton who noted the contrast between the closed-eyed Buddha and the open-eyed saints in, I believe, The Everlasting Man. Your wife reads the good stuff.

    • Gabe Jones

      Chesterton may touch on it in The Everlasting Man, but I know he delves into it in Orthodoxy, because, ironically, I just read it last night.

      • Rock St. Elvis

        Thanks, that is probably what I was thinking of. I’ve read several of his works and can’t always keep them straight.

  • Rod Murphy

    Planned Parenthood has meetings here at Holy Cross and Chris Matthews gets honorary degrees. Pro-lifers, like me, picket the “Catholic” college often. When will Catholic parents learn and stop sending their offspring to such places?

  • Sygurd Jonfski

    I’m afraid this article is based on a false premise. A simple search under “Buddha” in Google Images clearly shows that the Buddha’s eyes are not really closed in at least ninety percent of the Buddhist iconography. Most of the time they are half-closed and lowered in meditation and quite often they are wide open, staring at the viewer (almost always the case when the Buddha’s hand is raised in benediction.)

    By the way, isn’t the lowering of the eyes considered a recommended Christian behavior? There is a strange parallel in this respect between the images of the Buddha and those of the Virgin Mary – in case of the Virgin, her eyes are also often half-closed and directed downwards toward the Baby Jesus in her lap.

  • Dick Prudlo

    Whether Mr. Jonfski’s comments below have a measure of the truth, Budda’s eyes (open or closed) are made of stone. It’s really that simple. For this reason alone, Professor Martin is spot on, as usual.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      Sorry, are you suggesting that there are no Christian statues made of stone and that all images of the Buddha are made of stone?

  • Matt

    I image searched “buddha” and came up with a full page of almost nothing but closed eyes, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      Perhaps you were doing it with YOUR eyes closed? 8)

  • Bill Russell

    But our new Pope says that everyone has his own idea of good and evil
    and tries to follow the Good. Out of respect for the papal office let
    us just call this fuzzy thinking, but it certainly is in contrast to
    what the clear-thinking Pope Benedict called the Dictatorship of
    Relativism – and paves the way for the dewy-eyed sophomore from a Jesuit college. And yet in his most recent lamentable interview, Pope Francis says that the Jesuits continue to be the Church’s finest teachers, missionaries and most loyal Catholics.

    • Dan Li

      I’m not sure what your going at… Thomas Aquinas and many other theologians and philosophers recognize that everyone has his own idea of what is Good, and then tries to follow through with that. Whether the good the hold to be greatest is actually worth the action is what’s the problem ( ie a thief trying to fulfill the good of being fed stealing, even though he knows it wrong, is still pursuing ‘Good’ in a flawed & sinful manner), no fuzzy thinking there.

  • Facile1

    Eyes wide open or eyes shut tight, how does one reconcile FAITH with Reason and Human Knowledge? What should take primacy in the hallowed halls of academia?

    The hesitation of Roman Catholic academics over this question lost them the war.

    FAITH must take primacy over Reason and Human Knowledge because it is self-evident ALL human action is predicated on faith alone. No one (not Catholic nor scientist) knows the future — not even in a laboratory. We act as though we know. But until we act we cannot be certain.

    FAITH is not neutral. We either believe in GOD or we do NOT. We either LOVE GOD FIRST or we do NOT. We either include GOD in our vision of the future, or we do NOT.

    Roman Catholic institutions of learning were first devised to be instruments for use in FAITH FORMATION.

    The object of FAITH FORMATION is a fully-formed moral conscience.

    Again, Roman Catholic academics became ambivalent when faced with the paradox of a fully-formed moral conscience and free will. Instead, they chose to abdicate their responsibilities for FAITH FORMATION and leave it as an exercise to their students.

    Sadly, they haven’t found their way out of the woods yet. And it does not help to shut one’s eyes..

  • Charles Ryder

    “Comparative religion is an effective way of making men comparatively religious.” -Msgr. Ronald Knox-

    • Michael Pakaluk

      FYI, the actual quotation from The Hidden Stream is, “Comparative religion is an admirable recipe for making people comparatively religious” (p. 108).

  • Dan Riecker

    I converted to Catholicism from Buddhism seven years ago. The answer to the eyes is that most images are of the eyes being half open, not clout y
    osed. This merely derives from a meditative technique. In meditation the eyes can be open, closed, or half open. It has nothing to do with not seeing or caring about the world. The central Buddhist virtue is Compassion. As for Nirvana, this needs to be understood from within the religious context of ancient India. Buddhist doctrine of Nirvana relates specifically to the religious doctrine of atman (SELF). According to Buddhism suffering and death is rooted in atman which is itself rooted in the passions of ignorance, greed, and hatred. When the passions are blown out (nirvana), one sees the true nature of reality and defeats death and suffering. This gives rise to Compassion for all beings. The so called fat Buddha is from a specific Buddhist tradition and does not represent the actual physical body of the historical Buddha…it symbolizes being full of happiness. It would be a mistake to identify the iconical images of the Buddha as implying a disengagement from the world and its sufferings. Even a cursory familiarity with the Buddhist cannon would show a very engaged Buddha. You need to distinguish an academic treatment of Buddhism in a Catholic college from what Buddhist tradition teaches and practices. Very often the Buddha’s teachings are used to promote a modernist agenda.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      A voice of reason.

    • Dan Li

      Being a devout Catholic with Buddhist relatives ( comes with the ancestry), I sincerely thank you for injecting a bit of reason into this distemperate thread.

      • Casey

        Completely agree. The misrepresentation we’re seeing here is just silly.

        • Seraphim

          Agreed. When I read a line like “Why would any sane person want nirvana anyway?”, the only possible response is “why don’t you go learn about Buddhism before talking about it?”
          My fondness for Chesterton notwithstanding – I used to be quite involved with the American Chesterton Society – Chesterton’s caricature of Buddhism which this blogger adopted is about as intellectually respectable as the atheist complaints about sky fairies. And it’s inexcusable when the knowledge is so readily available. Next time you write, write on a topic you’re familiar with.

    • AnthonyMa

      From my readings of Buddhism I understand that the Buddha specifically told his followers that he was not founding a religion. It was later that others, either misreading or misunderstanding his teachings who turned his philosophy into a religion.

      • Ruth Rocker

        Isn’t that what happened to give us Lutherans? Luther was a Catholic priest and only wanted to address the abuses he saw around him, not destroy the Church. And look at the mess we have now.

    • poetcomic1

      Having known of the older Zen traditions, monasteries, Buddhist celibacy, the very definite conception of Buddhist hell, of sin, reverence for life and compassion etc. I find the modern Western ‘Buddhists’ are even worse Cafeteria Buddhists than Cafeteria Catholics.

    • MarytheDefender

      Thank you for this! I studied Buddhism and Confucianism in my Catholic college philosophy class too! But since I’m from Asia, its but a natural part of knowing one’s heritage. Confucianism strongly influences family life here whether we realize it or not. Especially for those with Chinese ancestry. It doesn’t mean I subscribe to everything they teach. Neither does it mean that there is no truth in what they teach. Its an academic discussion, not a conversion mission.

  • Michael Pakaluk

    The website of the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society has many resources related to this article. Vic Melfa, the Society’s founder, gave an address back in 2002 commenting on the promotion of Buddhism there: “Many alumni related stories of letters that had been sent to the
    administration over the years with no response, or responses that avoided their
    complaints. Some stated how their child had “lost his faith” at the Cross, and
    some talked about their conversion to Buddhism!”

  • Art Deco

    It’s a Jesuit institution.

    Big f***ing surprise.

  • David

    I too am a convert to Catholicism from Buddhism, and I find these kind of stereotypes of the Buddha and his followers to be rather tiresome and untrue, not to mention arrogant (as if only Christians love or have compassion for others). Buddhist scriptures have many examples of the Buddha’s concern for the welfare of others and society in general, as well as concrete actions. One example that comes to mind is an occasion where the Buddha and his attendant Ananda came upon a monk with dysentery lying in his own urine and excrement. Buddha told Ananda to fetch some water, and the two personally cleaned and attended to the sick monk, and then admonished his brother monks for neglecting him, stating “whoever would tend to me should tend to the sick” ( Also, for the record, the historic Buddha was an ascetic who only ate one meal per day. The so called “fat buddha” is a Chinese Buddhist mythological figure known as Hotei or Putai.

    • AnthonyMa

      Having read extensively about Buddhism, I can see where someone might be drawn into its image of peace and compassion. But to deny Christ who died on the cross for you? To turn your back on our Holy Savior? Although there is much good in the teachings of Buddha, he himself told his followers he was not founding a religion. You can take what is good in Buddhist teachings without turning your back on the crucified, risen Son of God. Come back home, Jesus waits with open arms.

      • David

        Please re-read my post-I am a Catholic who used to be a Buddhist! The case for Christianity is strong enough without having to resort to straw man arguments such as the one presented in this article.

        Buddha did in fact intentionally found his religion. He established the precepts of his monastic order and for lay followers which, at least in the Theravada tradition, are still maintained as he established them. He commissioned his monks to travel far and wide to spread his teaching for the benefit of the many. Initially, his followers venerated the stupas where his relics were interred. For the first couple hundred years after the Buddha’s death, it was not considered appropriate to depict the Buddha in physical form- symbols such as a pair of stylized feet were used. Later, after contact with Greeks in Gandhara (present day Afghanistan) the first Buddha images were produced and used for worship.

  • ColdStanding

    The shortcomings of Prof. Martin’s knowledge of Buddhism are besides the point.

    The point is: Why on earth isn’t the typical student at a Catholic college (that’s what it says on the label) acting in an excited manner because of what he is being taught about the faith given to us from the Word of God Himself for our eternal salvation?

    It used to happen. Why doesn’t it happen now?

    If you are interested in seeing a piece that is the result of the “catholic” mind set convinced of the need to fire all existing Catholics (well, the traditional ones), burn all our books, shred our vestments and sell off all our church buildings…

    try this utter nonsense out:

    I still haven’t gotten over being so badly sucker punched by the piece. And to see who’s backing it!! Ugh. A thousand sighs.

  • Saddha

    If Regis Martin is a professor of theology he ought to be fired. It is obvious the prof. Is not interested in the truth, which supposedly Jesus is the supposed embodiment of, nor nirvana which isthe extinguishing or blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred and ignorance. People lacking in integrity are not people who are in any way godly, to attack a religion through misrepresenting the teachings is not a good idea — and from Catholics who had once made Buddha into a Catholic saint? Shameful!

    Buddha has his eyes of flesh closed, but his Eye of Wisdom open– confers the Eye of Wisdom or what you call the Eye of Providence on men and women of integrity. How can you follow the truth if you lie? Good luck to Catholics. I thank Buddha for Buddhism!

    • Pay

      How do you come to such conclusions?

      • quisutDeusmpc

        Some traditionalist Catholics believe that the ecumenical outreach such as the prayer days in Assisi of Blessed Pope John Paul II in the 1980’s, and the broader, more expansive post-Second Vatican Council understanding of the maxim “extra Ecclesiae nulla salus” betrayed a willingness to “baptize” all religions as salvific. I don’t think Saddha is being literal (i. e. that Gautama Buddha has been canonized), but rather figurative or metaphorical. In the same way that the early Church Fathers sometimes referred to Plato or Aristotle as “proto-Christians”.

        • Seraphim

          He’s probably referring to the Church Fathers themselves (St. Clement of Alexandria coming to mind) referring to the Buddha as “saintly”, and adopting the story of the Buddha in the life of “St. Josaphat.” Josaphat is etymologically derived from “Bodhisatva”.

          • quisutDeusmpc

            I wasn’t aware of the reference to the Buddha by the Church Fathers. Thank you for the reference. Nor was I aware of the etymological/linguistic root of St. Josaphat’s name. Both very interesting. Thank you.

    • Rock St. Elvis

      “from Catholics who had once made Buddha into a Catholic saint?”


      • quisutDeusmpc

        Perhaps Saddha is referring to the post Second Vatican Council ecumenical outreach to the eastern oriental religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. For example, as early as 1965 the Cistercian monk Fr. Louis (aka Thomas Merton) and others (such as Fr. Thomas Keating) were studying the prayer practices and teachings of Buddhist monks and TM to discern what may be “baptized” into the Catholic panorama (all truth is God’s truth) or recover elements of prayer that were originally part of the Catholic/Christian patrimony, e. g. in the ascetics/Desert fathers of the east, that perdured in the oriental eastern religions, presumably because they were part of the natural law/cultural patrimony of the east. I believe that what Prof. Martin’s thrust is the Christian/Catholic critique that Buddha’s philosophy focused on the annihilation of self as the path to nirvana, whereas the Christian/Catholic focus is on the saving Person and work of Jesus Christ. That the typical Western patrimony involves the affirmation that nature is good, was created good, that Christ came not to destroy but to fulfill, not to annihilate but to rescue and save. That, is true as far as it goes, however, there is a longstanding history through St. John Cassian, St. John Climacus, and St. Benedict of the conception in the spiritual/prayer life of the difference between the “false self” which must be put to death or “annihilated” and the “true self” which must be allowed to grow in us by grace (“He must increase, I must decrease.”). In addition to this, the Church Fathers of the East as well as such doctors of the Church as St. Teresa of Avila and particularly, St. John of the Cross’s ascetical/mystical theology is based upon an apophatic theology (the way of negation; dare I say, “annihilation” or putting to death everything that ISN’T Christ; with, of course, the hope of allowing Christ in us, “the hope of glory” dawning in our hearts). I see the value of the negative criticism in the com boxes in that there is much “truth” that finds a corollary in the Catholic/Christian Great Tradition, particularly in the spirituality of the Christian East (did not the soon to be canonized Blessed Pope John Paul II state that the Church needed to breath with both its lungs?). I think we need to refrain from imputing to Prof. Martin what in fact he is not saying (that there is nothing of value in other religions), and recognizing that his critique stems from the lament of such a latitudinarian impulse arising in the theology departments of historically Catholic colleges that a religion student could, upon graduation, adequately was prolific regarding the virtues of non-Catholic, non-Christian religions, while not being able to do the same for his own. It seems he is driving at Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the persistently obstinate impulse of many theologians and theological departments to refuse to think “sentire cum Ecclesiae” and not necessarily maligning a precocious twenty-something’s understanding of Buddhism who was likely goading a Franciscan theology professor.

        • Rock St. Elvis

          Thank you for your thoughtful response. I’d be interested to hear Saddha’s own explanation.

      • David
        • Rock St. Elvis

          Thanks for the link. A pious legend about a couple of Christian characters whose stories were based on Buddha’s life (but not endorsing his teachings) isn’t quite the same as making Buddha himself a saint, but I suppose this must be what Saddha refers to.

      • poetcomic1

        (Sts. Josaphat and Barlaam)
        “The story is a Christianized version of one of the legends of Buddha, as even the name Josaphat would seem to show…”
        This is from the OLD Catholic Encyclopedia. We traditional Catholics have a broad-minded sense of humor about the ‘breadth’ of our 2,000 year old church (I hope we still do!).

      • Seraphim

        The figure of St. Joasaph was historically called Siddhartha Gautama and was the founder of the Buddhist sangha.
        The Buddha was also regarded as a saint under his own name – there is a mention of his “sanctity” in book 1 of St. Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis.

  • TrueBeliever

    ANY university or college in the USA that has “Catholic” or “Catholic heritage” attached to it is to be avoided at all costs. Each and every one has been corrupted by the evil one.
    You must go abroad to find true Catholic education.

  • Proteios

    The saddest parts of this are twofold.
    1. Many catholic colleges hide their identity. I received a catalog from Marquette U. In Milwaukee. The beautiful church on campus had all the crosses photoshopped out leaving only a nondescript building behind.
    2. MU is also Jesuit, which is the second point. Their goal was to blend in and immerse into the culture no world around them. The mantra of in the world but not of it missed them completely they became the world they infiltrated. They arose to combat Protestantism. We see how well that went.

  • Long-Skirts


    Oh, to be

    Sought after most

    By men who excuse

    Much that’s lewd.

    I’ve only a

    Ten souls who
    aren’t Buddhist

    Once again,
    booed, screwed

    And tattooed!!

  • 39 New Saints

    Sad, because Holy Cross was where Fr. Sandy Cairns, MM, martyred by the Japanese shortly after Pearl Harbor, went to school. Holy Cross was this beacon of a place for him to go, and now this? He first dreamed of becoming a missionary to the Chinese at Holy Cross so as to convert them from Buddhism, and now his alma mater actively promotes the damned, false religion.

    • Seraphim

      Tell that to St. Clement of Alexandria, who praises the “sanctity” of the founder of the “damned, false religion.”
      My God, what arrogance. I’d be more concerned with your own salvation, and conforming to the much less hateful teaching of your own Church, if I were you. Also, Buddhism isn’t a “religion” in the same way that Christianity is a “religion”. Finally, “religions” can’t be damned. Only people can.

      • 39 New Saints

        Seraphim, you misread the word “damned.” You’re right, only souls can be damned. But the word “damned” can be pronounced “dammed,” meaning a soul is damned to hell or “dam-ed,” meaning it is detestable, worthy of damnation (e.g., see Macbeth, act 5, scene 1).

        It is “damned” in the sense that it is false and leads people away from true religion, which is the one, true Church that subsists in the Catholic Church in which Christ wants all to worship (“Father, may they be one as You and I are one.”). This is not a hateful teaching, rather it is affirmed by Vatican II, “Dominus Iesus” (written largely by then-Cardinal Ratzinger), the Catechism, and number of other documents, etc.

        Furthermore, Clement may have been quite right in pointing out the very admirable qualities of the Buddha. The man had many. This isn’t to say a) Clement — one of the supreme catechists of all time and a Church Father — admired the religion (for most count it as such) Buddha founded, nor that b) Clement was infallible.

        I would leave off by saying that Vatican II says to affirm that which is true in other religions. This I do and this the Church does. But does Buddhism lead people away from what seems to be your relativistic/synchronistic worldview and toward the “one, true faith” (those are the Church’s words, mind you, which I only use) or away from knowing that there one salvation through the Church in Jesus Christ, Who said, “I am *the* Way, *the* Truth, and *the* Life” (not *a* way, *a* truth, or *a* life)? I would argue it does the latter.

        Finally, Seraphim, it is not I but the Church that claims the doctrine, properly understood, “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus means,” meaning, “outside the Church there is no salvation.” Again, this has to be properly understood as taught by, say, Bl. Pius IX, Ven. Pius XII, and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Nonetheless, it is Church doctrine, not hateful objectively speaking, but maybe hateful and arrogant to you.

  • J

    Um, about mentions of Buddha – sorry, but there is no verifiable proof that Buddha ever existed, much less taught anything. It was centuries after his death before the first mention of Buddhism.

    The grim and fatalist beliefs of the ancient world, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and even, I would argue, Stoicism, all revolve around the idea that this life is horror, suffering, and ugly. And that there is little to do about it but pretend reality doesn’t exist.
    These are all the complete opposite of Catholicism. Because Jesus Christ took suffering and gave it redemptive value. Christ will always bring good out of suffering.

    And look at the fruit…just in the aspect of charity alone, about one third of all the charities in this world are Christian.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      But Christian charity applies exclusively to the humans while the Buddhist compassion covers all sentient beings, animals including. That’s why Buddhism is truly “pro-life” while Christianity is only “pro-immortal-soul”. I always find this a great shortcoming of the latter.

      • luisantonio

        Ever heard about St. Francis of Assisi, by any chance…?

        • Sygurd Jonfski

          First, St. Martin de Porres would be a better example than St. Francis of Assisi whose sympathy for animals has been somewhat exaggerated (read his latest biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P.). Second, both of them are exceptions rather than the rule. Third, I’m talking about Christians in general, not about the officially recognized saints. If you don’t believe me, try talking about vegetarianism in your congregation and see the reaction – it is no different (and perhaps even more negative) than in any secular crowd.

        • Sygurd Jonfski

          I wonder what has happened to my multi-part reply to this? In case it has gone “missing” (ahem), I’ll repeat its most important part: in Christianity there are only a very, very few individuals who have shown compassion to animals while in Buddhism compassion for all the sentient beings is a universal precept. Hopefully this posting won’t disappear or I will start harbouring serious doubts about the intellectual honesty of the moderator(s).

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  • NonBuddhist

    Actually, Buddha’s eyes aren’t closed. They’re always depicted half-open, reflecting the balance between introspection and external awareness characteristic of Buddhist meditation. So, you know, there’s that.

  • Dan Riecker

    I’ve read “Orthodoxy” and have just reread the section where Chesterton discusses the Buddhist and Christian Saints’ eyes. He places this in the context of pantheism, immanence, and Theosophy, all of Western, modern origin. Any one with a cursory knowledge of Buddhism would consider this laughable. Chesterton was one of the writers who was central to my conversion from Buddhism to Catholicism, but his understanding of Buddhism, like a disturbingly large number of Catholics who comment on Buddhism either positively or negatively, is shallow. Chesterton builds a straw man of Buddhism, a caricature, and then attacks it. This is very useful for those who themselves believe in this caricature and then practice it, but this is off putting to anyone who has a practicing knowledge of true Buddhism. The author’s wife’s discussion of the eyes, if it is from Chesterton’s, make no points whatsoever about the superiority of Catholicism to Buddhism.And if the faculty and students of the school at which this took place could not see this, then I would suggest they failed at teaching the students what Buddhism actually teaches and why. They failed at the method of Aquinas which was to take the best argument that is actually held by the opponent, and argue against it from the truth of Catholicism. This is the charitable approach, the truthful approach, and the one that would inspire students to the greatness of the Catholic Tradition. The author’s caricature of Buddhism fails in this regard as well and does no service for the New Evangelism. If I had read this article as a practicing Buddhist I would dismiss it as pure ignorance. Who knows how long it would have taken me to convert since I would have the impression that Catholics do not seek the Truth.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      Unfortunately, Chesterton was too fond of verbal fireworks and he sometimes ignored the facts for the sake of a nicely turned phrase. Besides, the fact that Chesterton has said something doesn’t make it automatically right – this is the “argumentum ad auctoritatem” fallacy.

  • James

    Wichita has 59 seminarians for 115,00 Catholics. But you are right that we don’t have many tall buildings

  • @author I assume Jesus was well-informed about the religions of his time. The merging of Buddhist and Christian thought today is not surprising, given that a better understanding of Christianity comes from understanding Buddhism. Jesus did not mock Buddha; but instead, built on his teaching – apparently. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves” (Mt 16:24 NRSV), and if we care about our “neighbor” we will try to be unselfish, build structures that are just, and reduce our footprint on the face of the Earth.

    As you probably already know, Buddha lying down with eyes closed is dying and entering eternal life (Nirvana), and Buddha seated with eyes closed or downcast is meditating to obtain inner peace. There are plenty of statues of Buddha with blue eyes wide open. What would you think of someone who wrote a mocking article on how Jesus often has his eyes closed in crucifixion scenes?

    • Bob

      Don’t equate Christ with Buddha, as if they are on equal ground. They are not. Jesus is “The way, the Truth, the light”, Buddha is not. Jesus is Lord, Buddha is not. Christ is our Saviour, Buddha is not.

      All discussion and conversations starts with these revealed, incarnate Truths. That Jesus is Lord….

      …….and Buddha is not.

      • I did not in any way make a comparison of equality. I compared one form or ART to another and did not say anything about equality, noted a similarity yes, both with eyes closed. So what? Can you look at different types of art? Can you learn about the roots of your own religion, whether these originate in Buddhism, Paganism, or Judaism?

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  • Tony

    The Buddha is placid, and Jesus brings peace. Buddhism, as Chesterton saw, is an eastern form of Stoicism, or maybe we should say that Stoicism is a stern western form of Buddhism. They are the noblest of all paganisms, and yet they end in emptiness, the extinguishing of personality. I love Epictetus; but Epictetus is not Martin de Porres, or Mother Teresa, or Damien of Molokai; much less Jesus.
    As for the College of the Holy Cross: it’s just up the road from me. I am writing this from southern Illinois, where I’ve been invited to speak about Scripture and the family, by a conference of faithful and brave Lutheran ministers. I will never be invited to Holy Cross. It is enough that I believe that a man can’t in fact marry another man, and that it is evil to dismember your children or dissolve them in salt. I will not be invited to Holy Cross for the same reason why I will never be invited to Crayola College, the Poison Ivy League school in Providence, just a good spit from where I work. It’s because I’m a Catholic. And if you think that bigotry against Catholics is rife at secular schools, it ain’t nothing compared with bigotry against Catholics at Catholic schools.

  • s masty

    I recently came across this site by following a favorite contributor, and I read much I liked.

    After this ill-tempered and ill-informed piece I may not come back.

  • James_Kabala

    For what it’s worth, the following comes from the very first Google hit for “Buddha eyes closed”:

    “When we visit a temple and pray before the Buddha,
    we discover that most of the images of the Buddha have their eyes half opened,
    or half shut.

    This is known as “half-closed eyes,”
    and with those symbolic images the Buddha is teaching us the importance of seeing
    the outside world with half of our eyes and our own inner world with the other

    In other words, seeing our own inner world with
    our eyes half-closed is to become aware of the conceit that can be called the
    original source of our mental sufferings, while seeing the world outside this
    way is to recognize our large debt of gratitude by awakening to the fact that
    we are caused to live surrounded by unlimited blessings.

    Our eyes are rather good at seeing the outside
    world. However, when our attention goes only to the outside world we neglect
    viewing our inner world and we gradually become puffed up with a self-centered
    way of thinking that destroys the harmony of our surroundings. As a result,
    a rife can develop in our human relations and we will feel discontented.”

    I don’t know if this is accurate or not, but Dr. Martin never answers his own question either!

  • WSquared

    Well written, Professor Martin.

    Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity should be required reading at all Catholic colleges and universities. For beginning undergraduates, perhaps the introduction to the 1989 edition might suffice to generate discussion, certainly for Professor Martin’s and then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s reference to Romano Guardini’s “distinguishing what is Christian.” It would especially be timely in relation to the historical, philosophical, and theological issues that Brad Gregory recently drew attention to in The Unintended Reformation.

    These questions are important, and despite– or perhaps because of– their education, the average self-proclaimed, well-educated Catholic is philosophically, historically, and theologically ill-equipped to deal with the questions that Gregory and now this article raise.

    I mean here is a distinguished Religious Studies Department, boasting of
    a great swath of courses designed to “address religion as a fundamental
    dimension of human history and personal experience,” its bright
    students armed with all the requisite skills in order all the more
    “systematically to explore” the whole sweep of diverse traditions and
    perspectives laying claim to the mind and heart of man.

    And there’s part of the problem. Religious Studies is not Theology. The two disciplines may overlap at times, depending on the questions that one asks. But they are not equivalent.

  • Lygeia

    Leave it to a Catholic to ask a simple, penetrating question that exposes the limits of a belief system. There is something to be said for the Catholic point of view.

  • Thomas

    If you want to talk about blindness, why not consider the blind faith you have in your god? Maybe if you opened your eyes you’d see the similarities in all religions and be a more enlightened Christian.