Mahayana Buddhism and Catholicism:
The Six Religious Dimensions
Contemporary Religious Perspectives
Thomas E. Rodgerson, PhD.
Loyola College in Maryland
December 1, 2007
Research into Catholicism and Mahayana Buddhism demonstrates the interrelatedness of Ninian Smart’s six dimensions of religion. There is a flow of mutual influence among the dimensions of each tradition in which the assumptions, experiences, and actions of one dimension are mandated by those of another dimension, even as the assumptions, experiences, and actions of that dimension are predicated upon the first. One would imagine that the logical “beginning” of any religion would be the founder’s moment of revelation and ensuing proclamation. But Jesus was born a Jew, and Siddhartha Gautama a Hindu. As members of these “ethnic religions” (Campbell, 2003), they inherited the symbols and metaphors of their communities. Thus, the cultural contexts from which their understanding emerged are attributable to Smart’s mythical dimension and social dimension. The duality or non-duality of their understanding of the ultimate reality* (Cannon, 1996) determines the nature of each experiential dimension, which influences the doctrinal dimension. The doctrinal dimension is reinforced and awakened by the ritual dimension. The ethical dimension draws upon the doctrinal dimension for moral and legal standards that direct and guide the community of believers, which leads back to the social dimension.
The scope of this paper does not allow for an examination of Judeo or Vedic traditions; however, both Jesus and the Buddha retained aspects of their birth traditions even as they charted a radical new course. With that understanding, we will begin with the experiential dimension.
The Experiential Dimension
Origin of Buddhism: The Buddha
Although there are discrepancies in the exact time and place of the Siddhartha Gautama’s...