Dilatato Corde 3:2
July – December, 2013
Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Life: The Six Realms
Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Life: The Six Realms

Interreligious Contemplative Dialogue
Serving the Recovery of a Christian Spiritual Practice

This paper urges upon Christians the rehabilitation of meditation upon the last things (death, judgment, heaven, and hell) by way of a dialogue with the analogous Tibetan Buddhist practice of contemplation of the four reminders (precious human birth, impermanence, karma, and the faults of samsara).  Anticipating a likely criticism, it argues that this dialogue can facilitate the recovery of such a meditative practice without fear of turning Christian spirituality away from concern for injustice and the suffering of others.  Finally, it offers the common ground of such practices as cause for the discovery of significant common purpose between Buddhists and Christians in today’s late capitalist world.


Cet article exhorte les chrétiens à réhabiliter la méditation sur les fins dernières, (la mort, le jugement, le ciel et l’enfer), dans la perspective d’un dialogue avec le bouddhisme tibétain, qui comporte une pratique analogue, à savoir : la contemplation des quatre «rappels »  (la précieuse naissance humaine, l'impermanence, le karma et les fautes du samsara). Anticipant de probables critiques, l’auteur affirme que ce dialogue peut faciliter le renouveau d'une telle pratique méditative, sans crainte d’éloigner  la spiritualité chrétienne du souci de la justice et du soulagement des souffrances d’autrui. Enfin, le terrain commun qu’ouvrira une telle pratique, permettra  d’appréhender un objectif commun important, entre bouddhistes et chrétiens, dans le monde capitaliste contemporain. 

 Much can be said about theological reflection upon the last things—death, judgment, heaven, and hell—in the twentieth century. In order to set the context for this essay, however, I will limit myself to recounting a telling shift easily discerned and occurring between the 1940s and the 1970s. In the 1940s, two then prominent Catholic theologians published significant works on the last things: Romano Guardini and Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P.1 Both of these works, for whatever the distance separating their theological perspectives, discussed topics of personal immortality, i.e., the individual’s death and judgment and his or her personal destiny in either heaven or hell. 

Only twenty-five years later, Russell Aldwinckle rightly observed, “the issue of personal immortality, interpreted as the survival of death, does not occupy a central or even near-central position in much contemporary Christian thinking.”2 And just three years still later, in 1977, Joseph Ratzinger noted, “the classical themes of the doctrine of the last things—heaven and hell, purgatory and judgment, death and the immortality of the soul—are conspicuous by their absence.”3

The course that led away from the treatise on the last things in those decades, and indeed since the dawn of the twentieth century, was a necessary and fruitful one. It was lined with the theologies of hope and of liberation. There was a profound immanentization of Christian eschatology, the coming to dominance of a properly secular concern for Christian theology.  Under pressure from Marx’s powerful critique of religion as an opiate, the development of political and then liberation theologies turned urgently to the question of Christian faith’s implications for life in this world. In light of the morally pressing reality of massive oppressions of innumerable sorts, the question of what Christian faith has to say about and to contribute to what may be hoped in and for this world desperately required theological attention. In a sense, one could say that the eschaton (the end) in Christian theology shifted from the person at his or her earthly life’s end to the end, i.e., the telos, tending, or destiny of the human community on its pilgrimage through a history infected with radical evil.

Without in any way wishing to diminish the importance of this theological thrust into history, one may notice that something has been lost. For reflection upon the last things, despite its theological shortcomings as what Walter Kasper called “a rather insignificant and harmless tract,”4 also played an important role in the foundational meditative reflection of the contemplative life. In this paper I argue for the retrieval of the contemplation of the last things within Christian spiritual life by way of interreligious dialogue, for there is a striking analogue to the four last things within all of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Practitioners of these traditions ideally exert themselves daily in a practice known as the four reminders, or “the four thoughts that turn the mind” toward the dharma (blo.ldog.rnam.bzhi.). Seeing the Buddhist practice of the contemplation of the four reminders both in its purpose of inspiring spiritual clarity and complete exertion on the path and in its overall context as the preliminary to the main practice can inspire Christian disciples to recover the place of the traditional contemplation of the four last things in their own spiritual practice, and this without fear of turning Christian spirituality back in upon itself and away from concern for the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the world. 

I. The Four Reminders in Tibetan Buddhist Practice

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition the four reminders are extremely commonplace, appearing in each of the three yanas or paths. They appear sometimes as a summary of the Buddha’s earliest first-turning teachings and at other times, and very often, as the prelude to the extended meditation practices or liturgies of the Vajrayana (the path of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism). They also figure very prominently in the Mahayana. In a particularly important form of the Mahayana teachings known as lojong (blo.sbyong.), or mind training,5 as for instance in the Seven Point Mind Training attributed to Atisha, they are the first of the seven points, called “the basis” for dharma practice. They are the basis or foundation because according to Buddhist teaching, it is not possible to be transformed by dharma practice if one starts on the wrong foot, as it were.  And what is the wrong foot? It is attempting to practice the dharma while still clinging to this life. Thus, renunciation of the eight worldly concerns (gain/loss, praise/blame, pleasure/pain, and fame/disgrace) is the absolute condition for progressing along the path. In Tibetan, the word for renunciation is ngejung (nges.’byung.), which means thoroughly or sincerely intending to arise from samsara. By contemplating the four reminders, the practitioner generates a mind infused with this necessary intention. A twelfth-century teacher advises practitioners of mind training to use these thoughts to “induce enthusiasm.”6 Overcoming bad habits and changing one’s mind is arduous work and inspiration is sorely needed. This is why they are regarded as the ideal preliminary to every practice. It is also why one often encounters the four reminders referred to as “the four thoughts that turn the mind from samsara.” Tellingly, a literal translation of ldog.pa. is “to reverse,” so that the most literal name of the practice is “four thoughts that reverse the mind” (i.e., reverse it decisively from samsara to the path of dharma). 

If the firm intention to reject samsara is, as it were, the negative aspect of contemplating the four reminders, one can state this purpose somewhat more positively as the acquisition of relative certainty. The mind that rejects samsara is turning away from that which is the cause of suffering and confusion. Having turned away from this, one then turns toward the path because one’s mind is now full of the certainty that the relative truth of samsara is perpetuated by acts of negative karma rooted in ego-clinging and addiction or habituation to the eight worldly concerns. The point of these contemplations is to arouse a deep sense of revulsion with samsara and a heartfelt and firm intention to exert oneself strenuously in practicing the path. The next sections consider each mind-reverser in turn.7

1. Precious Human Birth/Life

By means of this first reminder, the practitioner reflects upon the fact that his or her human life affords a rare and perfect opportunity for spiritual practice. In his great Mahayana classic, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva writes, “Human life is the seed of buddhahood and bodhicitta (the mind or heart of enlightenment). To lay all else aside to practice the dharma one-pointedly is to realize the purpose of human life” (3:26).

The Buddha’s teachings on the six realms of samsara provide the fuller context of this and of all the reminders. According to Buddhism, the negative karmic impulses that one’s mind stream has accumulated from beginningless time continue to propel one into further existences within the six samsaric realms of hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, demi-gods, and gods. Although it is within samsara, the human realm is best-suited to attaining buddhahood; therefore human life is regarded as profoundly precious.

The preciousness of human life referred to here is very specifically the preciousness that only some, and in fact very few, human beings possess: that of having encountered the possibility of practicing an effective path to liberation. In the context of this first reminder, the human life of the practitioner is often called “free and well-favored.” Not all human lives are equally fortunate. In anyone practicing dharma authentically 18 points of good fortune are present, such as being free of being born where the Buddha’s teaching is unknown or being mentally incapable of practicing meditation or understanding the dharma.8

Reflecting upon the unique spiritual opportunity that is human life intensifies determination to tread the spiritual path. Human beings tend to be rather easily distracted from greater purposes by lesser ones. Such reflection facilitates choosing one’s occupations and preoccupations wisely.

2. Impermanence and Death

This precious life is, in fact, quite brief. It will soon be interrupted by death. Within this second reminder, it is often said that death comes without warning.  Some may object. Do not many people know that they are approaching death?  Is this contemplation recommending the imagination of death inflicted by severe and sudden accident? First, of course no one actually knows that will not happen. Generally people tend to think of their own death as something far in the future which need not concern them now. To remember each day that one does not know for certain that this day is not one’s last may be salutary indeed. Even beyond this, however, it is said that human beings have such deep denial about death that it always comes as a surprise.

The force of this reminder is often intensified by consideration that one’s body will one day be a corpse. It will need to be carried by others to a place forever out of sight. This may seem morbid, which is interesting since ‘morbid’ means an unhealthy preoccupation with unpleasant topics. In the context of Buddhadharma, however, this reminder is the healthy consideration of an unpleasant topic! The sobering effect of the thought is the very point. One’s body, so dear, indeed at times the object of total concern, one day will be lifeless. Yet, people are often more concerned with the body’s little pains and pleasures than with life’s ultimate concerns. Memento mori is a link to ultimate concern. In death, it is said, only the dharma one has realized will be of any benefit. The third point clarifies this.

3. Karma

Contemplating death brings the awareness that there is not time for everything. Thus, it highlights the importance of karma, of one’s choices and actions, and underscores the fact that today’s acts of body, speech, and mind will be part of the karma propelling one through the bardo (the ‘space’ in between lives). Reflecting upon this, and practicing virtue now, while one has the chance, is the best preparation one can make for that fearful time. A common teaching is that only one’s karma, one’s good or evil actions, follows once the body is left behind.

This gives lie to a still popular misunderstanding of karma as deterministic. Indeed, karma is actually about freedom and using it well. Samsara is the fruit or effect of non-virtuous thoughts and actions, and the point is that through virtuous action it can be avoided. Often, in fact, this reminder is called “virtue and non-virtue.” Non-virtue (acts of body, speech and mind carried out with ego-clinging) always leads to further suffering; virtue (acts not driven by ego) always leads to happiness. With this sort of clarity, the space for freedom is indicated and the inspiration for exerting oneself in virtue provided. As a common saying puts it, “To see what you’ve done, look at your body. To see what you will be, look at your actions.”9

4. Faults of Samsara

If one does not make good use of the precious and brief opportunity one’s life affords by purifying ego-clinging and practicing virtue, one is destined to rebirth in one of the six realms of samsara. It matters not where one takes rebirth; from hell to the god realms, one wanders in constant suffering. One is able to practice the dharma now only because of the accumulation of previous good karma, and when that is spent and death overtakes one, there is no guarantee that one will be born again in the human realm with the good fortune of the 18 freedoms and wealths. Even in the human realm, however, one experiences constant suffering. Contemplating the intensity and inevitability of the suffering of samsara is, in great part, to take seriously the fruits of negative karma. The suffering of samsara is not inevitable; but it is the inevitable result of non-virtuous actions. If one wants relief from unending suffering and true happiness for oneself and others, one must begin with a definitive renunciation of samsara and its faults.

II. The four Last Things in the Tradition of Christian Spirituality

I have already indicated, albeit briefly, the course of the last things in Christian theology during the twentieth century. In this section, we will see that their role in Christian contemplative life has been very similar to that of the four reminders in the Buddhist context of lojong, i.e., to function as preliminary reflections intended to rouse a clear and strong intention as the basis for going forward on the path.

Considering The Rule of Benedict as a representative Western text, this function is quite evident, for straightaway in the prologue, the author mentions frequently, often by quoting Scripture, one or another of the last things in order to urge the disciple to return to Christ. “Run where you have the light, lest the shadows of death come upon you” (John 12:35).10

Furthermore, woven into the prologue, amidst its warnings of hell and urgings to heaven, are many elements analogous to those mentioned in introducing the four reminders: the importance of renunciation (“So that we may change from our evil ways our lives are lengthened, as in an amnesty”), the honing of intention upon the narrow way to life (“If . . . we wish to find eternal life, we must live what God wills in our lifetime, while we have the ability and chance”), and a great rousing of enthusiasm for the good works by which one will be worthy to see God: “Let us encompass ourselves with faith and the practice of good works, and guided by the Gospel, tread the path He has cleared for us. Thus may we deserve to see Him, who has called us into His Kingdom.”

Very near the end of the Rule, in chapter 72, just before directing his readers to other useful writings, Benedict contrasts two forms of exertions or ‘zeals’ (zelus malus and zelus bonus): one separates one from God and leads to hell; the other separates one from vice and leads to God and to eternal life. The latter zeal, he says, should be practiced with ‘the most fervent love’ (Hunc ergo zelum ferventissimo amore exerceant monachi.)

Again, the remembrance of the last things is expressed in terms of spiritual energy, exertion, and here, longing or love.

Much more recently, but still within this Benedictine tradition, Brother David Steindl-Rast explains the purpose of the sorts of reflections I am trying to highlight here: “Benedictine monks are encouraged to pass death before our eyes daily . . . as a prod to become fully alive. Having a healthy sense of ‘death as our advisor’. . . we’re likely to become decisive.”11

This ancient inheritance was also well-received by the many spiritual methods or systems of the Catholic Counter-Reform. Jordan Aumann, speaking of de Cisneros’s method, summarizes the first, purgative week as containing topics “meant to arouse holy fear and contrition: [namely] sin, death, hell, judgment [and] . . . heaven.”12 Perhaps most famously, Ignatius of Loyola employed reflection upon the last things as inspiration for exertion by incorporating them into the very first exercise of the first week of his Spiritual Exercises.

In the East, the Philokalia also offers very frequent exhortations to remember the last things. It is instructive to see how they are situated within that great Eastern method of contemplation. First, they belong to the practice of what is there called meditation: “Meditation (meléte) is the focusing of the mind on God, death, judgment, hell, heaven, the lives of the saints, the words of Christ, the apothegms of the Fathers, and the like. . . . Such meditation causes one to rejoice within, forgetting worldly afflictions and becoming free from cares.”13 In other words, it results in a certain interior freedom or detachment.  Constantine Cavarnos, the translator and editor of the Philokalia, quoting Symeon the New Theologian, also brings out the important purpose of such meditation, namely to rouse exertion: “Meditation on death is connected with meditation on the judgment, on heaven and hell. ‘He who has acquired memory of death as a companion,’ remarks [Symeon], ‘will seek with painful efforts to learn what awaits him after his departure from this life.’”14

Finally, according to Cavarnos, such meditation in the Philokalia is but a preparation and training for the highest spiritual work of the contemplative, i.e. pure mental prayer, the well-known prayer of the heart, which is the pure love of God.15 We have before us, therefore, another example of the last things as a skillful practice intended as preliminary to a further path.             

III. Recovering the Contemplation of the Four Last Things in Our Day

Enough has perhaps now been said to indicate that I recommend the contemplation of the last things to Christians today. I should, then, address a serious criticism which this suggestion would likely encounter.  In light of the incorporation into twentieth century eschatology of a properly secular concern for Christian faith, the personal contemplation of the last things may seem to encourage Christians to somersault back into a religion of pure interiority, to displace the great commandment of the love of neighbor with the relatively puny concern for one’s own enjoyment of heaven hereafter.

This is a valid concern, though one which I believe runs much too roughly over the true use and meaning of the contemplation of the last things in the best of the Christian spiritual tradition. Whatever misuse and distortion the last things may have been subjected to by a Christianity too little concerned for neighbor and society is not a compelling argument for the rejection of their proper place and purpose.

The dialogue with Buddhism may assist here again. Most typically, within the liturgies of Vajrayana Buddhism, the four reminders appear very early on, just after the opening invocation, as the ‘preliminaries’ (sngon.’gro.) to the specifically “main practice.” They are, as seen, the means by which one turns the mind toward the dharma, the skillful means for rousing the motivation to arise from samsara and accomplish the path. But what is that path? It is the next part of the liturgy, the taking of refuge in the three Jewels and the rousing of bodhicitta (literally, the mind of enlightenment), which is promising with love and compassion to help all other sentient beings. In this way, the four reminders serve quite specifically as the preamble to the main practice of love and compassion. Considering one’s own good fortune, the imminence of death, the importance of one’s actions, and the devastating suffering of samsara are all deliberately aimed at rousing love and concern for others.

Again, a quite similar “structure” is found in important examples of the Christian tradition’s contemplation of the last things. For instance, in  Saint Benedict’s Rule, the consideration of death, judgment, heaven, and hell are always set to the purpose of rousing the monk to the love of God and neighbor. A telling example is Benedict’s prescriptions for the reception of guests: “Any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery should be received just as we would receive Christ himself, because he promised that on the last day he will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (53.1). The thought of judgment is a reminder and inspiration for the good work of hospitality and care for others. The quote from Matthew 25:35 reminds us that this connection between the last things and the love of neighbor is simply the Gospel. Thus, the four last things can safely be urged upon serious Christian practitioners without fear of turning Christian spirituality back in upon itself and away from concern for the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the world.16

IV. The Reminders and Last Things Compared: Common Ground and Common Cause

While I am not offering here a full theoretical or theological comparison of Buddhist and Christian anthropologies or eschatologies, bearing in mind at least some of the profound differences between the two traditions in these areas may serve to highlight how remarkable it is that their spiritual practices nevertheless evidence significant similarities. For instance, anthropologically, Christian faith holds that the human being is made by God as a particular existent, a communitarian person, with an immortal soul. The realization of human fulfillment depends upon the reception of the love and grace of God. In sharp contrast, indeed, Buddhism is based upon the teaching of no-self (anatman) and the path is absolutely non-theistic; one must therefore take full responsibility for purifying one’s own negative karma and accumulating merit (bsod.nams.) through virtuous action. Eschatologically, the Christian affirms a destiny for each person in either everlasting heaven or everlasting hell. While there is much in the Christian tradition that highlights divine judgment as related to one’s deeds, Christians ultimately rely upon the grace, forgiveness, and mercy extended by God in Christ. For the Buddhist, the complex interplay of causes and conditions that give rise to the appearance of the individual continue virtually indefinitely, such that even the heavens and hells within the realms of samsara are not permanent, but are rather states that last only as long as their causal karma. Clearly, too, there is no doctrine of grace in Buddhism.17

In no way wishing to dismiss such significant theological differences, I would suggest, nonetheless, that the spiritual practices of the four thoughts discussed here constitute significant bonds between Buddhist and Christian practitioners. Ratzinger was correct, I believe, when he said: “The real antagonism typical of today’s world is not that between diverse religious cultures; rather, it is the antagonism between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on the one hand, and the great religious cultures, on the other.”18

The   Four Last Things


The   Rule: “While we still have time in this mortal life...we must hurry   forward” (Pro.7).

 1. Death


2. Judgment


3. Heaven   or

4. Hell

The   Four Reminders


1. Precious Human Birth/Life


2. Death



3. Karma   (virtue & non-virtue)


4. The Faults of Samsara

Shared   Insight


Appreciation of life’s opportunity as the ground of the   spiritual path

Death is the only perfect correspondence on these lists;   the one great human fact; the only Inarguable

Our way of life, conduct, and choices matter ultimately,   for


our destiny is at stake.


This simple chart of parallels is intended to illustrate that despite the differences in their respective religious narratives, Buddhists and Christians practicing these contemplations share some significant common ground. First, both practitioners seek to cultivate a lively sense of appreciation for the great and singular opportunity which life affords. Second, both skillfully sharpen that appreciation by remembering death’s advent, which is both inevitable and soon (at least relatively). Third, the point of this is deeply existential, i.e., moral and ethical. How one lives this short, opportune life—the way one conducts oneself inwardly and outwardly, loving or indifferent, helping or harming, or just passing time—matters and matters ultimately. One’s personal destiny, all loss or gain, hangs in the balance. These four considerations, whether Buddhist or Christian, lend helpful urgency and sobriety to our short lives.

If we compare such intentional or mindful living to at least one of its alternatives, we easily see its shared cause against a common foe. The entertainment-driven, late secular and materialist lifestyle has, in our day, become the one meta-narrative that is shared by human beings from many walks of life. Against this, Buddhist and Christian practitioners stand together. They have common cause, despite even their profound doctrinal differences, against a shallow materialist narrative of human life that steals from any person—Buddhist, Christian, or other—the seriousness that alone makes life a great and worthy project.

The ability to see this common ground is, at least in part, a simple matter of perspective. To explain this, a metaphor from the experience of visual sight and distances is useful. If we look at Buddhists and Christians practicing and praying within their respective gathering places within the same small town, say the Buddhist temple on East Main Street and the Christian Church on West Main Street, the distance between them may seem quite large. Indeed from some points on Main Street, it would be accurate to say that they are in precisely opposite directions! But if, by feat of imagination, we look at Buddhists and Christians from a great distance, say from the top of a far off mountain and against the wider landscape of late modern consumerism and materialism, it may well appear that they are close neighbors indeed, sharing the spiritual work of arising from sleep to appreciate the singular opportunity this life presents for love and compassion.

1 Romano Guardini, The Last Things (New York: Pantheon, 1954; German original 1940) and Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., Life Everlasting (St. Louis and London: Herder, 1952; French original 1949).

2 Russell Aldwinckle, Death in the Secular City: Life After Death in Contemporary Theology and Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 13.

3 Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life. 2nd ed.  (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1988) 4. 

4 Walter Kasper, “Individual Salvation and Eschatological Consummation” in Brown, Kasper, and O’Collins, Faith and the Future: Studies in Christian Eschatology (New York and Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist, 1994) 9: “The theological doctrine of the afterlife was no more than a rather insignificant and harmless tract on ‘the last things’.”

5 The mind training literature is vast.  It is composed of many classic texts and many commentaries by subsequent and contemporary teachers who continue to offer these teachings to their students.  A collection of classical mind training texts from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, originally compiled in the fifteenth century, has been translated into English as Volume I of The Library of Tibetan Classics.  See Thupten Jinpa, trans. and ed., Mind Training: The Great Collection.  Compiled by Shönu Gyalchok and Könchok Gyaltsen (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2006). 

6 Most likely, the author is Sé Chilbu Chökyi Gyaltsen.  The text is a commentary on “The Seven Point Mind-Training,” found in Jinpa, Mind Training, 90.

7 For a much fuller discussion of these four thoughts, see the following: Khandro Rinpoche, This Precious Life:  Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on the Path to Enlightenment (Boston: Shambhala, 2003); Chagdud Tulku, Gates to Buddhist Practice: Essential Teachings of a Tibetan Master (Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 1993); and Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, 1998).

8 The eighteen points consist of eight freedoms (from being born in one of the hells, in the hungry ghost realm, as an animal, as a god, among barbarians who do not know the teachings and practices of the Buddhadharma, as one with wrong views, in a time and place where a Buddha has not appeared, or as debilitatingly handicapped), five intrinsic endowments (being born a human, where the dharma is taught, with normal faculties, with karmic tendencies not inclined to great negativity, and with faith in the dharma), and five extrinsic endowments (being born in a place and time when a Buddha has appeared, and taught, and in which those teachings persist, and are practiced, and being accepted as a student by a dharma master).  See Shantideva, The Way of Bodhisattva. Trans. Padmakara Translation Group (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2006) 197-98, n. 28.

9 Quoted in Jamgon Kongtrul, The Great Path of Awakening: A Commentary on the Mahayana Teaching of the Seven Points of Mind Training.  Ken McLeod, ed. (Boston & London: Shambhala, 1987) 64, n. 52.

10 Quotes from the prologue are from Anthony C. Meisel and M. L. del Mastro, trans., The Rule of  Saint Benedict (New York: Doubleday, 1975).

11 David Steindl-Rast, The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian (Boston & London: Shambhala, 1996) 197; emphasis added.

12 Jordan Aumann, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition (San Francisco/London: Ignatius/Sheed & Ward, 1989) 181.

13 The Philokalia : writings of holy mystic fathers in which is explained how the mind is purified, illumined, and perfected through practical and contemplative ethical philosophy.  Compiled by  Saint Macarios of Corinth and edited by  Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite ; translated from the original Greek and edited by Constantine Cavarnos.  (Belmont, Mass.: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 2008) 19-20.  The Philokalia, while not compiled until the eighteenth century, gathers texts from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries.

14 Ibid, 20; emphasis added.

15 Ibid.

16 Raphael Simon, OCSO, Hammer and Fire: Way to Contemplative Happiness, Fruitful Ministry and Mental Health in Accordance with the Judeo-Christian Tradition (Petersham, Mass.:  Saint Bede’s Publications, 1987).  Addressing the common criticism that the view of human life as a pilgrimage to Heaven undervalues this present life, the author writes, “If we are Heaven-bound in our thinking, desires, and activity, this will not prevent us from giving our full attention to the temporal aspects of our personal, or of social, welfare.  Rather we will see these illuminated by God’s wisdom and supported by His will” (199).

17 However, the characterization of Buddhism as a path of pure self-reliance or Pelagianism is, at least in some contexts, simplistic and erroneous.  Vajrayana practitioners, for instance, do not rely simply upon themselves, but rather supplicate the lineage and the guru for blessings that are necessary for progress and realization.  The problem lies in understanding the matter merely as one of either needing aid (grace) or not (Pelagianism).   Since both Christianity and Buddhism are aware of a human predicament, they both affirm that help is needed. The difference is in the understanding of the nature of that help.  Christian grace gives what is utterly distinct from nature (i.e., a participation in God’s own nature), while Buddhist blessings bring realization of one’s own true nature, namely, buddhanature (tathagatagharba).

18 Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2006) 44.


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