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  • Welcoming Flowers from across the Cleansed Threshold of Hope
  • Written by Thinley Norbu
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9781611801637
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Welcoming Flowers from across the Cleansed Threshold of Hope

An Answer to Pope John Paul II's Criticism of Buddhism

Written by Thinley NorbuAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Thinley Norbu

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Welcoming Flowers is a pointed critique of the Buddhism chapter of Pope John Paul II’s 1994 best seller, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, written by the highly respected Buddhist teacher Thinley Norbu. In responding to the false charges of Buddhists’ indifference to the world and rejection of reality, Norbu clarifies the Buddhist doctrines of detachment and enlightenment. In addition, he covers the topics of good and evil, human nature, karma, cosmology, and dualistic mind, bringing them into conversation with the Christian perspective as presented by the Pope. Norbu’s approach is not to shoot back arrows in attack of Catholicism but to spread “welcoming flowers”—that is, to present the exalted teachings of the Buddha in all their loveliness and truth. In this sense, the book serves as a helpful introduction to the Buddhist worldview.


From the opening:

I did not know about [Pope John Paul II's] book until I received several letters from Poland, from individuals and from a publishing house, asking me to comment on it. When I read the book in order to be able to answer their request, I found that it had serious, gratuitous misrepresentations of Buddhist doctrine which seemed to be based on misunderstandings, though perhaps my own understanding of the chapter is different from the meaning intended by the Pope. So, I thought it was necessary to identify and correct these mistakes with clarifications of the Buddhist point of view in order to dispel misconceptions. I have not tried to consider what is generally thought in either traditional or modern Christianity or Catholicism, but only to discuss the Pope's actual words about Buddhism and his comparisons of Christianity to Buddhism.

Of course, the Pope is known as the spiritual leader of millions of Roman Catholics, and his views and opinions are heard around the world. The misrepresentations of Buddhism in his book may have come from listening to advisors who were unfamiliar with Buddhism, from simply glancing at books at the Hinayana level, or by being shown books by misinformed authors. Perhaps he only looked at negative conceptions about Buddhism written by followers of other doctrines who had malicious intentions, or by idiots who wrote books for money without caring that they were full of mistakes. In any case, the Pope definitely heard about Buddhism from sources that did not know anything about it.

Buddhist teachings are infinite, since the revelations of the omniscient Buddha are infinite, reflecting the countless different faculties of beings through countless ways of connecting to them with skillful means and wisdom. These teachings can be categorized within the three levels of the vehicles of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. But according to what the Pope has written, it seems that he has had just a little bit of exposure to only the Hinayana vehicle, as though he has scooped a few drops of water from an immeasurable ocean with a piece of grass and even misunderstood these few drops.

Without studying and understanding other doctrines deeply, to say many things about them is not wise. In particular, it is not enough just to say a few negative words, since it can create the tracks of hatred between religions, which is harmful to everyone. Whatever is said regarding the religious beliefs of millions of people should be considered in a vast way, said carefully, and proven in detail. One should make one's position clear, without distorting or adding one's own interpolations to the position of others. Instead, the Pope has first misrepresented Buddhist beliefs and then criticized them illogically.

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