What Catholics and Buddhists have in common. November 23, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Catholicism, Pope Benedict, the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism
Our friend Ben is going to interrupt Silence Dogood’s Thanksgiving recipe extravaganza because I’m so stunned by two headlines in today’s Yahoo! News. Most of us tend to think that you can’t teach an old religion new tricks, but in one day, Catholicism and Buddhism have proved us wrong.
First, we should all rejoice that Pope Benedict XVI has announced that HIV-infected prostitutes of both sexes should use condoms to prevent the spread of the disease. This is a giant leap forward for the previously condom-averse Church.
Our friend Ben fervently hopes that Pope Benedict will follow with an announcement that all HIV-infected people should use condoms to prevent the spread of the disease, whatever their profession. And that all carriers of any sexually transmitted diseases should use condoms to avoid infecting their partners.
This is about the most our friend Ben can hope for until the Church recognizes overpopulation as one of the great sins and tragedies of our day and denounces it. But since I never thought to live to see even this day’s events, I am enormously inspired and filled with hope. Kudos to Pope Benedict for taking such a bold step.
Apparently the Catholics aren’t the only ones making mind-bending headlines. Today, the news also reported that the Dalai Lama has said something that should shake Tibetan Buddhism to its foundations. Like all the high lamas, the Dalai Lama is recognized as the current incarnation of his original predecessor. Like his predecessors, he was identified at age two and brought up to fulfil his destiny, which is to be the equivalent of the Pope to Tibetan Buddhists. So it is, so it has always been. (For more on the Dalai Lama and his identification and training, our friend Ben recommends the movie “Kundun.”)
So it came as a tremendous shock to our friend Ben to read that the Dalai Lama has suggested that future Dalai Lamas (and other high lamas) be chosen rather than identified as the reincarnation of their predecessors. Perhaps, he suggested, the other lamas might get together and vote for the next Dalai Lama, much as Catholic cardinals elect a new Pope.
There could be many reasons for this. One is that China, Tibet’s Communist master, has insisted on approving the selection of the next Dalai Lama. Perhaps the current Dalai Lama, who has lived most of his life in exile from his beloved homeland thanks to China, is seeking a way to short-circuit China’s attempts to replace him with a puppet. Or perhaps he feels that the burden of leading the faithful is a heavy one for any two-year-old’s shoulders, and that choosing an experienced leader would serve Tibet’s Buddhists better.
Whatever the case, if Tibet’s government-in-exile chooses to adopt the Dalai Lama’s suggestion, it will fundamentally change one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most sacred traditions. It will change it as dramatically as if the Vatican suddenly announced that it would choose the next Pope based on an e-mail poll, and that all Catholics were eligible to vote. Actually, it will change it more dramatically than that, replacing a sacred mystery with pragmatism.
Will Tibet’s Buddhists be better off if a known leader is chosen, one whose wisdom and holiness has been proven in this life? Our friend Ben thinks this is a tradeoff. On the one hand, yes, of course they will, in every worldly sense. Tibet is a nation in crisis; it needs the most brilliant, politically and media-savvy leaders it can find if it is to ever emerge from Communist rule. On the other hand, as far as faith itself is concerned, this is tragic, a loss of the sacred mystery that powers all religions.
All these goings-on remind our friend Ben of the wisdom of our own Founding Fathers in insisting on the separation of church and state. Or to quote Our Lord, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” When the head of one’s faith is also a head of state, the conflicts that arise tend to be resolved in favor of maintaining secular power at the expense of faith. Far better for our religious leaders to follow the examples of Jesus and the Buddha and give it all up, for surely the noise of the world drowns out the voice of God.
Meanwhile, our friend Ben will be watching these developments with great interest. What will happen next?