An Intercultural Analysis on the Impact of Catholicism and Buddhism in Communication

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Abstract

Communication defines our human development and within this lies our need for cultural identity. An important aspect of this identity is our religious beliefs as it defines most of our core values. The two religious cultures discussed in this paper are Catholicism and Buddhism through an analysis of their brief history, the dimensions of intercultural communication, and a survey of people’s religious practices. The brief insight into the religion’s history gives insight to the practices of this culture to be able to further understand its community, which allows for an analysis of their cultural dimensions, and finally, a direct source of people’s opinion on religion from the answers of the survey. The methods used for this paper were the use of secondary sources such as journal articles, and a primary source, which was a survey conducted for this paper to investigate if people consider themselves to be religious. With these tools, this paper explores the importance of inter-religious dialogue in relation to our intercultural identity and how religions like Catholicism and Buddhism impact Communication.

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Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing. -Rollo May. Communication is the core of culture and of life itself because it is the basis of all human contact (Brown, 2013). An important aspect of Communication is based on our frame of reference, which is our different perceptions and interpretations. This is based on our race, gender, religion, personality, beliefs, values, language, income, among others. This frame of reference is unique to each individual, and it will influence how each individual communicates (Brown, 2013). When evaluating my frame of reference, I realize how impactful being born and raised Catholic influenced my life, while also being taught how to care for others, the importance of the positive deeds and the relevance of having a positive outlook leading to a happier life, which reminded me of Buddhism. For this paper, I decided to evaluate how religious culture influences our mindset, specifically Catholicism and Buddhism. These cultures have fundamental differences in practice, but also have similarities regarding on how a person should behave. I will assess these and other characteristics that affect Communication in the previously mentioned religious cultures by using the seven dimensions of cultural differences, various scholarly sources and results from a survey conducted for this paper. Through this analysis, we will be able to understand how these religious cultures impact our communication and delve into the importance of religion in our own cultural identity.

First of all, before going in depth with each culture, I would like to address the importance of inter-religious dialogue, aided by Alain Wolf’s (2012) journal article: Intercultural Identity and Inter-Religious Dialogue: A Holy Place to Be?. He expresses what I have noticed to be very common: the absence of religion in intercultural identity: inter-religious dialogue at the present time is not such a marker of intercultural identity. And indeed, it is not clear how the two notions, intercultural identity and inter-religious dialogue, relate to each other. (Wolf, 2012). Throughout my life, Catholicism was eminently prevalent, and even though I practice less often, it constitutes for the majority of my core beliefs and values. But, I notice that my peers have trouble recognizing religion as an important aspect of who they are, especially because they feel tied to a certain domain, but genuinely want to explore other religions. Wolf explains, with the help of Knitter, how this inter-religious dialogue is possible by being open to other faiths in a practical way, and it must be based on the ‘recognition of possible truth in all religions’ (Wolf, 2012). Emphasizing authentic listening to the other’s truth, but warning against the dangers of seeing common ground too precipitously (Wolf, 2012) because it could lead to imposing our own version of reality onto that religion.

Coincidentally, Wolf used an analysis by Tillich of an encounter between Buddhism and Christianity, the same religious cultures I chose. There must be a set of preconditions in order for a meaningful dialogue to occur between these religions. First, each person has to be genuinely interested in the other’s religious conviction as a revelatory experience. It should start with the question of telos or fulfillment of all things, for example: the telos in Christianity is Heaven whereas the telos in Buddhism is Nirvana. Second, each person provides a convincing representation of their faith. And third would be discovering common ground, making conflict and dialogue possible, as well as an openness of both sides to criticism against their religious beliefs (Wolf, 2012). In this way, it is possible to begin a journey into inter-religious dialogue, transitioning into the intercultural aspects of Catholicism and Buddhism.

To briefly explain Catholicism, it is a Christian religious tradition where those who profess their faith are monotheistic (believing in one God), but also believe in the Holy Trinity, which is one God made up of three persons: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The word Catholicism literally means universal and Catholics share various beliefs and ways of worship, as well as a distinct outlook on life. Catholicism recognizes that for each human being there is a unity of body and soul. The physical world is the body (God’s creation) so people are considered good, but sin, which is any act against God, can wound or kill a person’s soul. This sin is only cured by God’s divine grace, a supernatural gift from God to aid humankind on their journey to God. Furthermore, Catholics base their practice on the four hallmarks of Catholic Church, which are: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The act of practice is established in the Mass, which is the most important, central, and sacred act of worship in the Catholic faith. To understand the Mass is to understand Catholicism because it exemplifies the beliefs, actions, and techniques associated with the faith. The Mass is the formal, official worship service of Catholicism because it is so critical to worship. In the survey I conducted for this paper, when asked if the person had attended any religious experiences (marking all that applied), 69.5% (123 people) answered Mass on Sundays, 29.9% (53 people) for Monthly Mass service at school, 30.5% (54 people) for Sunday school and 16.9% (30 people) answered None. This confirms the previously mentioned prevalence of attending Mass. However, my next question was, how often does this happen? When asked how regularly did or do you visit Catholic Mass (in the case that they do), out of 134 responses, 44.8% answered Every single week (60 people), 29.1% answered Every other week (39 people) and 26.1% answered Only on the Holidays (35 people). This ties into the importance of regularly attending this Catholic service, in order to practice their faith through the two parts of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word of God and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In this way, Catholics are able to learn and participate, using all their senses, to further experience the depth of Catholicism.

When interlacing Catholicism with the dimensions of Intercultural Communication, I analyzed how it is Individualistic when discussing the act of freewill, which is the ability to act at one’s own discretion. Some argue that there is no freewill in Catholicism, as God has control over one’s actions, but I disagree with this opinion. I believe the reason for God’s divine grace in forgiving our sins is why we have the freedom to decide our actions and then have the ability to repent our wrongdoings. Catholicism is also a collectivist culture, where we value community and public good through actions such as Catholic Community Service centers, food drives, mission trips, among others. Additionally, Catholicism is more inclined to be a low-context culture where people are direct in providing answers, get to the bottomline, and communication is for transmitting information and expression; the best example being Mass, where the God’s word and the Eucharist are direct in meaning and purpose. What is more, Catholicism is a monochronic culture, where time occurs sequentially, for example, the punctuality of Catholic services like Mass, vigil (eve of a holiday as an occasion of religious observance) and the sacraments. Although, Catholicism tends to be long-term oriented, where our actions lead to either eternal salvation in Heaven or damnation in Hell. Unfortunately, there are some aspects of Catholicism I heavily disagree with, like it is a High-Power Distance culture, where power distance is accepted, and it is a Masculine culture, where traditional gender roles are expected. I believe this further separates us as a community, hence we should veer toward a more progressive approach of equality.

On the other hand, Buddhism culture is unique in that it can be regarded as a philosophy, a religion, and a way of life. It was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha, which means The Awakened or Enlightened One. The Buddha reached enlightenment, an understanding of the true nature of reality, through study, contemplation and great effort. Then, he showed his followers how they could reach the same level of knowledge through their own study and practice. Buddhists believe everyone has a fundamental Buddha-nature and that every human being has the potential to become a Buddha. The series of teachings, called the Tipitaka, is broken into three types: 1. Sutras-conventional teachings and stories, 2. The Vinaya- instructions on morality for monks, and 3. The Abhidharma- teachings on moral psychology and philosophy (generally attributed to the Buddha). The accumulated teachings of the Buddha and the spiritual development they bring to the practitioner are frequently referred to as the Dharma. They are taught by a living master called a lama or guru, striving to become a Buddha themselves in order to attain enlightenment- a state of wisdom. The practice that people, myself included, find most intriguing about Buddhism is karma. In Buddhism, they believe the process of life and the events associated with a life may seem to arise from chance, but they result from the cause and effect system known as karma. Karma holds that individuals can exert some measure of control over their lives by the decisions they make and the conditions in which they place themselves. At its essence, the law of karma can be distilled in the phrase all actions meet with consequences. I believe this practice of karma to be true, as I have experienced throughout my entire life how actions have repercussions, and what you put out into the universe comes right back. Some people misinterpret this teaching to be about worldly values and materialism being gifted to you because you have done good, and punishments when you have been bad. But, it all lies in one’s motivation: Actions that are motivated by self-interest, greed, or jealousy will cause suffering. Actions that arise from love for others or a desire to help others will bring about happiness. Fundamentally, the way you choose to live your life will determine the essence of your soul.

Furthermore, when intertwining Buddhism with the dimensions of Intercultural Communication, it is a collectivistic culture, strongly valuing harmony, avoiding embarrassment and conflict, and an importance on public good. This is done by maximizing positive karma and avoiding states of mind such as pride, attachment, selfishness, and anger and by cultivating love and compassion. Since Buddhist culture tends to be more homogenous with shared perceptions, placing more emphasis on unspoken meaning and on building relationships, it is a high-context culture. Accordingly, they are low uncertainty-avoidance, where they tolerate unpredictable people because they are less driven to control people and situations. What is more, they are long-term oriented, which means Buddhists emphasize potential future rewards, as previously discussed with karma. To balance the mind and the body with our hectic world is a challenging but rewarding endeavor and, for this reason, I believe Buddhism has excellent practices for a more positive and complete outlook on life. Buddhism has become more popular with the expanding volume of publications on Buddhism in America in the last two and a half decades bears witness to the emergence of an exciting new subfield within American religion, on the one hand, and within Buddhist studies, on the other.

Finally, in the survey conducted for this paper, I wanted to analyze if people consider themselves to be a religious person. I collected 177 responses and I will further discuss the results. I began asking what age group do you belong to? as I wanted to know my audience, and the majority (54.2%, 96 people) where 18 to 20 year olds, while the others were mostly 24 years old or older (24.3%, 43 people) and smaller groups of 16 to 18 year olds (11.3%, 20 people) and 21 to 23 year olds (10.2%, 18 people). Then, I was interested in knowing their level of education, with 52.5% (93 people) from private school and 47.5% (84 people) from public school, whereas, to attending a University or College, 97.2% (172 people) answered Yes and 2.8% (5 people) answered No. Subsequently, I started asking questions about religion, where 53.1% (94 people) are Catholic, 20.3% (36 people) practice a separate branch of Christianity that is not Catholicism (Protestant, Gnostic, Mormon, Evangelical, Anglican, Orthodox or other), and only 1 person (0.6%) answered they practiced Buddhism. The remaining answers people wrote were Atheism, Judaism or do not practice. I also asked questions about religious experiences and Catholic Mass, which are previously mentioned at the beginning of this paper. Moreover, I was interested in knowing if people agree with Wolf’s statement: It is not possible to have true intercultural dialogue without inter-religious encounters, and the results were as expected, where 48% (85 people) disagreed, 17.5% (31 people) agreed and 34.5% (61 people) remained neutral or indifferent. As a consequence, I asked if they believed that practicing a religion is important for your development as a person, where 43.5% (77 people) answered No, 41.2% (73 people) answered Yes and 15.3% (27 people) answered I don’t have an opinion. Lastly, I had to ask, does the person actually consider themselves a religious or spiritual person? where 60.5% (107 people) answered Yes, 27.7% (49 people) answered No and 11.9% (21 people) answered I don’t know. In these results, I observed a divide between a person’s identity and their religion, where most did not consider that practicing a religion is important for developing as a human, in yet an overwhelming majority do consider themselves to be a religious person. This disconnect further confirms how people see religion in their lives as separate from their identity.

Lastly, religious cultures like Buddhism and Catholicism give people purpose and reason, where it be through prayer or enlightenment. It gives individuals an undeniable sense of self and belonging, enriching their Communication through beliefs and values in order to carry a meaningful life.

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