Can You Be A Catholic and Practice Buddhism At the Same Time?


There’s an interesting article and a lively discussion in the Washington Post: Barbara Johnson’s Buddhist Catholicism. Barbara Johnson was denied communion at her mother’s funeral by Rev. Marcel Guarzino because she is a lesbian, according to the original article in the Post.

It’s a complicated story, and at one point, Johnson described herself as a Buddhist. So the article, Barbara Johnson’s Buddhist Catholicism, picked up on that aspect of her faith and explores whether one can be both Catholic and Buddhist.

Actually, it’s not uncommon, I have met many people who consider themselves both Catholic and Buddhist, and they practice a blend of the faiths. They take aspects of each tradition that feel right for them. The definition of a Buddhist is quite clear, one is a Buddhist if one goes for refuge to the Buddha, the Buddha’s teachings (Dharma), and the sangha (ordained spiritual friends). Well, maybe there’s a little more to it than just that.

What do you think? Can you be a Catholic and practice Buddhism at the same time? Where and how do we draw the line? Does it matter? Is it a question of labeling, or something more?

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6 thoughts on “Can You Be A Catholic and Practice Buddhism At the Same Time?

  1. Doesn’t sound like she was practicing the spirit of either tradition by refusing to give someone communion because of who they love…. Is Tiger Woods less Buddhist because he cheated?

    I think people who practice but don’t believe in things like the Noble Eight Fold Path or Taking refuge in the three jewels might want to look at if they are really Buddhist or if they are Catholics who see and utilize some of the practices.

    I may like to still read the Prayer of St. Francis from time to time, as it reminds me of things from my childhood BUT that doesn’t make me feel like I’m a Buddhist Catholic or Catholic Buddhist….

    It makes me feel like a person who has taken refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, who sees the wisdom and compassion in a boddhisattva-like prayer of the catholics…..
    Peace/

  2. Hey, you have the story wrong. Barbara Johnson is the lesbian Buddhist Catholic who was trying to take communion at her mother’s funeral. The priest was Rev. Marcel Guarnizo (See the Post’s story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/denying-communion-a-priest-and-a-lesbian-set-off-a-catholic-culture-clash/2012/03/15/gIQA9roNJS_story.html?hpid=z3). You should probably change the first post to reflect the actual story, because it creates confusion.

    I think one could interpret Catholic teachings to align with the Bodhisattva path, but that would probably put you at odds with the Catholic church. And aligning with the Catholic church is perhaps a big part of being “Catholic.” That said, there are certainly a lot of good things that could be borrowed, not least is the example of St. Francis. I am not a Catholic, so that is my 2 cents from outside, but I could see for instance interpreting Jesus as a Bodhisattva or Buddha. In fact, much of the story is similar and he has a similar message of putting others before oneself. The story of Jesus taking the sins of humankind upon himself and thus opening a path to “Heaven,” seems like an excellent example of tong-len. So, all I am saying is that someone could viably reinterpret some of that tradition into a Buddhist context.

  3. I honestly think that within a decade or two it will be commonplace. I am surprised, though, that someone walking a multispiritual path would act like the worst kind of fundamentalist. Or maybe she went back to Catholicism full force and repented of her former openmindedness?

  4. Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill or die for.

    -Thich Nhat Hanh no death, no fear

    The answer is within The Heart Sutra itself.

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