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A Comparison of Perceptions of

Disability between Roman Catholicism

and Tibetan Buddhism
Young Do Je
(BTh Sahmyook; MTh Sahmyook)

A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of

Master of Human Services with Honours

Faculty of Health Sciences

School of Human Services
Griffith University

August 2004

Religious beliefs have affected the lives of people with disabilities throughout history
and also are closely related to the culture in society. To review the religious beliefs and
practices is the way to know the societal attitude towards people with disabilities and
ideal way to foresee the future of society. Through a comparison of perceptions of
disability between Roman Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism, the aim is to examine
how these religious traditions treat people with disabilities in Australian context. To
reach this aim, a literature review examines the tendency of religious beliefs on
disability in two religions. General doctrines and basic structure are used to understand
the two religions. The two religions are historically approached with respect to human
services. The trend of disability theologies is then explored and debated. Interview
analysis then will explore how disability theologies have been developed and applied
in human services practice. Despite the paucity of literature and small sample size, this
research will make a significant contribution towards religious diversity in human

First, I would like to thank my wife, who, if it had not been for her understanding and
her dedication to supporting me through this dissertation, I would not have survived the
distressing process. When I look on at Jung A Min who is in an alien country, which is
far, far from her mother country, I realise that she has endured irresistible yearning,
loneliness and struggle for life, so that I could keep going with my study. From now and
for your whole life, Jung A Min I will support you.
To my supervisor Dr. Fiona A Kumari Campbell, I would like to say with my heart
thank you! At the first meeting when I asked what the role of supervisor is, she replied:
a supervisor is not only a counsellor of study, but a counsellor of whole life issues
related to study. Until now I have received the answer from her. She could have more
burdens due to my language impediment. The way of the teacher is not merely
completed in handing down the knowledge but also occurs in the giving of personality
and self this is the gift I received from her.
I would like to thank Jenny Beale and Margaret McDonnell, editors-in-residence of
GUPSA. Every time when I sit down and hold a pen, the first thing that stands in my
way is the wall of language. They gave me not just proofreading advice with religious
care, but also showed the way of D.I.Y. Valerie Schefe, a librarian in Logan campus
library led me to find literature from web site with a warm heart.
To the participants who agreed to spare their time to be a part of this study, thank you.
They all gave me valuable and felicitous information, and one more, unabated ardent
love for their career, which is melted in their words.
Also thank you to two people in Catholic Education, Trish Murdoch and Jacinta Walker.
Earlier in the study especially Trish spent plenty of time with me in order to find
literature for the Catholic section of the thesis.
I could not omit my parents: father, mother and mother in law, who have given life, love
and everything to and for me. I have just found who I am, what the father is, what I
received, at long last. I hope you all have long-life and be health.
My creator, my redeemer, I thanks my God with my whole soul. He gave me this
chance to study in this area. When I wavered with the visible things, He was a rock in
my invisible mind. I pray that I could be used with this scholarship for His glory.



I declare that this work has not been previously submitted for a degree or diploma in
any university. To the best of my knowledge and belief, this dissertation contains no
material previously published or written by another person except where due reference
is made in the dissertation itself.

Signed: _____________________________________


SYNOPSIS ..................................................................................................................... I
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .......................................................................................... II
STATEMENT OF AUTHORSHIP ............................................................................... III
TABLE OF CONTENTS .............................................................................................. IV
INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................... 1
CHAPTER 1: METHODOLOGY ................................................................................ 4
1.1. Research Design and Methodological Approaches .............................................. 4
1.1.1. Research on Religious Traditions.............................................................. 4
1.1.2. Participants for the project ........................................................................ 6
1.1.3. Interview Processes ................................................................................... 7
1.1.4. Interview analysis .................................................................................... 10
1.1.5. Ethical considerations ............................................................................. 10
1.1.6. Limitations of the research ...................................................................... 12
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW ................................................................... 14
2.1. The basic structure of Buddhism ........................................................................ 14
2.1.1. General Doctrines .................................................................................... 20
2.1.2. Particularities of Tibetan Buddhism ........................................................ 24
2.1.3. Socially engaged Buddhism .................................................................... 26
2.2. Historical approaches in human services in Australia....................................... 30
2.3. Perspectives on Disability .................................................................................. 37
2.4. The Basic Structure of Catholicism .................................................................... 44
2.5. Perspectives on disability in Roman Catholicism .............................................. 59
2.5.1. Judaeo-Christian theology ....................................................................... 59
2.5.2. Disability as sign of punishment or evil incarnation ............................... 59
2.5.3. Disability as challenge to divine perfection ............................................ 61


2.5.4. Disability as object of pity and charity.................................................... 63

2.5.4. Disability as incompetence and exemption from religious practice ....... 64
2.5.5. Positive Scriptural understandings of disability .................................. 64
2.5.6. Roman Catholic Church .......................................................................... 66
CHAPTER 3: HUMAN SERVICE PRACTICE ....................................................... 75
3.1. The impact of the basic structure of Buddhism on the actual state .................... 75
3.1.1. History and philosophy of Karuna .......................................................... 76
3.1.2. The concept on disability ........................................................................ 78
3.1.3. Socially engaged Buddhism in service delivery ..................................... 84
3.2. The impact of the basic structure of Roman Catholicism on the actual state .... 85
3.2.1. History and philosophy of Centacare ...................................................... 85
3.2.2. The concept on disability ........................................................................ 87
3.2.3. The relationship between Catholic social teaching and disability .......... 91
CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................. 95
4.1. Findings of the research ..................................................................................... 95
4.2. Recommendations for future research ................................................................ 97
4.3. Reflection of the research ................................................................................... 99
REFERENCES ........................................................................................................... 101
APPENDIX 1 ............................................................................................................... 115


People look at the world through the windows of their values. The values are formed
on the basis of culture. Historically, disability and people with disabilities were treated
and evaluated according to the cultures of each period and the location. On the other
hand, culture is the branch grown up from the root. As Palapathwala argues (2002),
religious beliefs act as social and cultural capital. Tillich (1959, p.42) supports this
and contends that:
religion as ultimate concern is the meaninggiving substance of culture,
and culture is the totality of forms in which the basic concern of religion
expresses itself. In abbreviation: religion is the substance of culture, culture
is the form of religionevery religious act, not only in organised religion
but also in the most intimate movement of the soul, is culturally formed.
Overall, religious beliefs have affected the lives of people with disabilities throughout
history and also are closely related to the culture in society. Different societies have
treated members with a disability of that society within their own cultural systems. To
review the religious beliefs and practices is not only the best way to know the societal
attitude towards people with disabilities but also an ideal way to foresee the future of
society. Australia is increasingly becoming a multicultural and multi-faith society.
Therefore, in this dissertation, through a comparison of perceptions of disability
between Roman Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism, the aim is to examine how these
religious traditions treat people with disabilities in the Australian context.

To achieve this aim, this study will explore explanatory framework of key religious

belief to gain an in-depth understanding of the attitudes towards and treatment of

people with disabilities in two religious traditions. First, the literature is reviewed.
Even though there are little published materials in this field; the materials in Buddhism
are very limited, the literature review will be the main process of this study. The impact
of religious traditions through human service design and practice is studied as the next
step. Interviews will be conducted as the method to examine the real and present
perspective in two religious traditions.

Chapter one outlines the methodological hypothesis adopted for this work. To address
the aim of this research, historical comparative design is applied. This design overlaps
with content analysis and discourse analysis for the purpose of triangulation. Data
gathering and analysis techniques are addressed to develop the research argument.
Ethical considerations and limitations of the research are also discussed in order to
address the positionality of the researcher and also protect participants.

Chapter two provides the review to examine the process of developing theologies of
disability. Literature review begins with examining the basic structures and general
doctrines in order to familiar with the two religious traditions. The review proceeds
with an historical approach to human services in two religions. More attention is given
to the special movements of two religious traditionssocially engaged Buddhism and
Catholic social teachinghow they contributed to changing the older concept and
created positive attitudes in disability services. The perspectives on disability are then
discussed. The ways to approach are different: In Buddhism, the related doctrines,
samsara and karma, are discussed, and in Roman Catholicism, the changes of

disability theology, from Judeo-Christian theology to the recent tendency, are

examined. Finally, the two religious concepts are compared in order to draw out
similarities and differences, through this step the contemporary trend and future
perspective is examined.

Chapter three discusses the findings from interviews conducted with representatives of
two religious organisations: Karuna in Buddhism and Centacare in Roman Catholicism.
Interview analysis and discussion outline the way that two religious organisations
develop and apply disability theologies in human service practice. The real and
contemporary perspectives on disability in two religious traditions are compared with
the theology examined from literature review, in order to find the gap between the
ideal and the reality.

Chapter 1

Methodology is the first step of research. This study analyses the differences in
perception of disability between Roman Catholic and Tibetan Buddhist religions in the
Australian context. To approach this problem, the study uses historical comparative
design. In the first section of this study, this methodology is outlined, showing how
content analysis and discourse analysis are used to carry out the research. The sections
which follow will explore the participants for the project, the interview processes, the
interview analysis and the ethical considerations. The final section of the chapter
discusses the limitations of the research.


Research Design and Methodological Approaches


Research on Religious Traditions

As Robson (2002) described, design is concerned with turning research questions into
project (p. 79). The purpose of research design is to minimise experimental error.
Therefore, in order to search the answer of the research questions as an appropriate one,
historical comparative design was used in this research. This design describes
historical process through historical change, development and comparison in order to
acquire meaning (Babbie, 2001). The perception of disability is not fixed, but it has
changed and developed throughout history. The difference of perception of disability
can be seen regionally, also according to the different religious traditions. The two

religious traditions of Roman Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism have developed their
own theologies of disability. It was useful to compare the different perceptions between
two religious based organisations in order to understand the present situation. Further,
this research explored the application of these theologies in daily service delivery to
people with disabilities. Therefore, historical comparative design is appropriate to
understand this topic from the historical development of the theologies of disability
and to gain an idea of the ability of these religious organisations to adapt to societal

This design of the research overlapped somewhat with content analysis and discourse
analysis, which were used for triangulation purposes. Triangulation is, as Robson
(2002, p. 371) describes, a method of finding out where something is by getting a
fix on it from two or more places. The research question in this study involved two
types of data. One is textual data on the religious tradition. The other is the data
obtained in the interview process (verbatim interviews). To analyse textual data content
analysis was used. In this method, the textual data were incorporated the organisational
documents of a variety of types in conjunction with interviews. To develop credible
outcomes using content analysis, Scott (as cited in Kellehear, 1993) discusses, three
elements that need to be met. The first element is comprehensiveness. To ensure
comprehensiveness the relevant sources were examined, not just those which support
the main theory. The second requirement is that the categories be specific and clear. It
is important that the categories were not overlapped. The third aspect is that categories
are supported by clear definitions.

Discourse analysis examines the way knowledge is produced within different

discourses and the performances, linguistic styles and rhetorical devices used in
particular accounts (Snape & Spencer, 2003, p. 12). In this historical comparative
design, the concept was examined mainly by interviewing. Discourse analysis concerns
not only the substance of what was said, but also the styles and strategies of how they
said things expanded to body language, pause, etc. (Robson, 2002).


Participants for the project

The sampling procedure proposed was that of purposive sampling where participants
are selected by the researcher based on their expertise in the area of study (Babbie,
2001; Bouma, 2000). For this project two people were included. Representatives were
selected by the organisations. Participants within Brisbane were approached in person
in order to recruit them. Participants were selected on the basis of their expertise in and
knowledge of their particular religious tradition, to gain the most accurate information
about perceptions of disability within these religious organisations.

Participants were drawn from representatives of the Tibetan Buddhist and the Roman
Catholic agencies selected as examples. Roman Catholicism is the largest religion
having 4,798,950 adherents (26.2% of Australian population in 1996). Buddhism is
also the fastest and largest growing religion, and in fact the third largest religion in
Australia (Buddhist Council of NSW, 2001). Tibetan Buddhism is a well-known school
of Buddhism, which conducts human service practice in Australia. For this reason, it is
reasonable to look at the two religions so as to compare a traditional or mainstream

religion with a rapidly growing religion representing a major cultural shift in Australia
with regard to disability.

The participants from a Tibetan Buddhist organization were recruited with assistance
from my supervisor, Fiona Campbell and the other participant from a Roman Catholic
organization was recruited through Jacinta Walker, disability officer, working in
Catholic Education in Brisbane. To maintain participant confidentiality, the researcher
contacted them initially by telephone; follow-up letters provided information about
their participation. The small sample size is not meant to be representative of whole
traditions; rather the interviews are a sampling of viewpoints from the specific agencies.
The research was conducted mainly through the literature of the theologies of disability
and of the two organisations of two religious traditions.


Interview Processes

Interviewing was used to understand the perceptions of disability. The qualitative

interviewing design was chosen because it is flexible, repetitious and continuous,
rather than prepared in advance and protected (Rubin & Rubin, 1995, p. 43). An
informal, semi-structured, open-ended protocol based on the research questions was
used to guide the interview questions. This protocol was aimed to maximise the
opportunity for each participant to fully participate. In semi-structured interviews
researchers do not have a standard interview form. The interviewer introduces the topic,
gives some general queries and then guides the discussion by asking specific questions.
Therefore, an interview guide (see Table 1), a written list of questions and topics to

be covered in a particular order was used in these interviews to remind whether the
basic points were covered (Bernard, 2000, p. 191). The questions furthermore, were
tailored to the individual and to the circumstances. These are the proposed interview
questions to the representative of Buddhist/Roman Catholic organisation.

Table 1: Proposed Interview Questions


When was this organisation established?


Who was the founder of this organisation?


Could you describe the aims of the organisation?

4 (a). This is Buddhist/Catholic based organisation, how have you been applying
Buddhist/Catholic concepts to daily service delivery?
4 (b). Is there any connection between the concept of fate/sin (Catholicism)/ karma
(Buddhism) and the experience of disability or illness?

Particularly concerning disability, can you give me your opinion of what the
organisations perspective of disablement is (or understanding of disease or


Have there been any discussions within the service about the relationship
between religious beliefs about disability, illness or diseases and approaches to
service provision?

In open-ended questions, the participant is asked to provide his or her own answer to
the question, instead of selecting an answer from among a list provided by the
researcher (Babbie, 2001). Thus the respondents perspective was provided rather than

the perspective of the researched being imposed. Open-ended questions allow the
interviewer to go into more depth or to clear up any misunderstandings (Robson, 2002).
Face-to-face interaction assisted in the establishment of rapport and a higher level of
motivation among respondents. The respondents use language natural to them rather
than trying to understand and fit into the concepts of the study. The respondents are in
equal status to the researcher in the dialogue (Burns, 1997).

There are also some disadvantages in semi-structured interviews. They are more
expensive and time-consuming than questionnaires (Burns, 1997). All interviews
require careful preparation, including making arrangements to visit and securing
necessary permissions. Notes have to be written up and tapes must be transcribed.
Transcribing a one-hour tape generally takes up to ten hours (Babbie, 2001). Due to
time and financial considerations, a limited number of respondents were chosen in this
study. The interviewer in a semi-structured interview can lose control easily, because
the respondent does most of the talking and the interviewer talks less than five per cent
of the time (Babbie, 2001). This material is more difficult to analyse than closed-ended
questions (Robson, 2002).

All interviews were audiotape recorded, with the consent of the participants. To ensure
accuracy of the interview record, the audiotape was also transcribed. Written records
such as policies or legislations of the two religious organisations were also used as a
means of data triangulation, which can make the researcher become more confident in
the findings. Triangulation is the term used when two or more theories, data sources,
methods, or investigators are combined and applied to the one study (Babbie, 2001;

Woods, 1999).

Interview analysis

Audio taped interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed in two divisionsthe
perception of Roman Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism. Data was analysed
successively. Each interview was analysed sentence by sentence and broken down into
substantive codes and themes. The codes were grouped into similar meanings,
functions or similar situations. These were compared and stored into categories which
were compared with each other. The categories were; attitude toward suffering, illness,
disease, and disability. Similar categories were then put into a large group, and the
groups given labels. Through the grouping procedure themes were then developed
according to semantic or temporal sequences and processes (Bouma, 2000).

During the interview, the respondents non-verbal communication was also important
as well as what was said (Burns, 1997; Legard, Keegan & Ward, 2003). The
respondents emotional response through the non-verbal signals can be a clue to look
for further and deeper meanings, which are what he/she want to emphasize or which
sentence is ambiguous. People communicate with their whole bodies, not just with
their tongues: actions, gestures, facial expressions, body movements and body
positions (Burns, 1997, p. 334). The non-verbal signals were noted and then analysed
through the interview analysis process with the content of the words.


Ethical considerations

There were ethical issues in this research, because the objects of inquiry in


interviewing are human beings, extreme care must be taken to avoid any harm to them
(Fontan & Frey, 2000). Participants human rights thus have to be respected in research.
There are a number of rights participants have when they are involved in research.
First of all, they should have the right to determine whether to participate or not in a
study without any enforcement, and the right to discontinue participation in the study
at any time (Creswell, 2003). Participants thus were given all information about the
study in advance.

Participants should be protected from discomfort and harm. The researcher needs to
use beneficent actions in order to maximise possible benefits and minimise possible
harms. The research should be terminated if there is reason to suspect that participants
have undue distress during the study. Risks and benefits related to the research need to
be analysed (Singleton, Straits & Straits, 1993). However, there were no risks in this
research because it does not involve client contact. Justice should also be addressed in
research. All participants should be treated fairly and equally. The research should have
consistency toward all participants (Babbie, 2001).

An interview is not just gaining knowledge from interviewees but adapting knowledge.
The researcher will adopt a non-judgmental approach to religious beliefs and
expression. The researcher has no affiliation with either tradition and therefore
approaches the research as an outsider (Babbie, 2001, p. 300). There are two types of
observation: participant observation and field observation. In participant observation,
the researcher becomes a member of a focus group in order to explore that groups
particular cultural beliefs and processes. This type of observation allows a unique


understanding to be established through the insiders view (Babbie, 2001; Silverman,

2002; Singleton, Straits & Straits, 1993). However it is time-consuming and is difficult
to maintain objectivity. On the other hand, in field observation, the researcher observes
participants in a natural setting while maintaining objectivity (Babbie, 2001).

If necessary, participants identity and privacy should be protected for their well being.
In this reason, anonymity and confidentiality should be considered in the study.
Anonymity would increase the likelihood and accuracy of responses (Babbie, 2001).
For guaranteeing confidentiality, all data should be kept securely confidential. The
researcher can identify a given persons responses but essentially promises not to do so
publicly. Basically, participants were asked whether they wished to use their names or
use a non-identifier. Interfaith issues and conflicts might arise in religious dialogue.
The research has to be based on respect for religious beliefs and differences. The
researcher needs to be familiarised with key beliefs before undertaking interviews.
This study was given a certificate of exemption by the Human Research Ethics
Committee, Griffith University. Informed consent was obtained from the individuals in
the study.


Limitations of the research

All research contains some degree of limitation. In this research the main challenge is a
paucity of research. There is a limited amount of relevant literature, because of the lack
of previous studies of disability and religion. There is a great need for disability
theology; while there is extensive material on disability in the medical, psychological,


sociological, and clinical field, there is little on religion and disability, especially nonChristian traditions.
Another potential limitation relates to sample size. The study is only a small
preliminary exercise to shed light on the current situation and to point to further study
in the future. To search one persons viewpoint is like taking a snapshot. The
representatives of the Tibetan Buddhist and the Roman Catholic organisations
interviewed may not be able to address the scholarly opinion because they may not be
scholars. However, they will be able to provide some viewpoint on the perception of
disability in their religion. It can be viewed only as an exploratory exercise.

In Chapter 2, through the literature review, the perception of disability is explored both
in Tibetan Buddhism and Roman Catholicism. The review examines the basic
knowledge of two religious traditions and then specifically the disability concept.
Doctrinal analysis on disability is a key step within the research process. Two doctrines
of societal outreach within these two religions, namelysocially engaged Buddhism
and Catholic social teachings are examined. Throughout the next chapter, the findings
of study will show that recently there has been a transition period with the disability
theology moving from negative to positive perceptions.


Chapter 2
Literature Review

Part I
Perception of disability in Tibetan Buddhism


The basic structure of Buddhism

Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world. Approximately 300 million people
in the world are Buddhists (Robinson, 2002). Buddhism originated from Northern
India in the late sixth century by Sakyamuni1 Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.2 The
Buddha was born as a wealthy prince around 563 BCE at a period of great social
change and strong religious activity in Lumbini, which is in modern-day Nepal. At the
age of 29, after making trips outside the palace, the Buddha encountered four sights
which marked the turning point in his life (Gillman, 1988).

Through the first of the three trips, the Buddha saw suffering, evidence of human
sickness, old age and death, which are the inexorable nature of life and the universal
ailments of humanity (International Buddhist Association of Queensland, 1999, p. 2).
On the fourth trip the Buddha realised the means to attaining peace after seeing a
wandering hermit with a serene face. Realising the worthlessness of sensual pleasure,
the Buddha left his family and all his wealth in order to seek truth and eternal peace. It

Shakyamuni: Sage of the Shakyas (also known by his personal name Gautama or his family name
Siddhartha). The historical Buddha, who lived in the 6th century BCE in North India.
Siddhartha Gautama: The man who, upon enlightenment, became the Buddha.


was an accepted practice at the time for some men to leave their family and lead the
life of an ascetic (Fernando, 1983).

At the age of 35, the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree (tree of
wisdom) and assumed the title Buddha.3 The Buddha is also referred to as the
Sakyamuni (Bruno, n.d.). The Buddha travelled all over India with his disciples,
teaching and preaching his principles to people for 45 years until he died at the age of
80. Two and a half centuries after Sakyamunis death, a council of Buddhist monks
collected his teachings and the oral traditions of the faith into written form, called the
Tripitaka.4 This included a very large collection of commentaries and traditions; most
are called Sutras5 (Robinson, 2002).

After Buddhas death, because of the differences of opinion regarding the content and
meaning of the teaching, Buddhism separated into three main traditions: Theravada,6

Buddha: Awakened one; person who has achieved enlightenment (Skt. bodhi, Tib. changchub). For
the Mahayana, the concept of Buddhahood is extended from the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, he is
seen as an emanation of a Buddha-nature (dharmakaya) underlying all phenomena. Within the
Mahayana, there are numerous Buddha-forms, such as Amitabha, Akshobhya and Vairocana, and some
of them can be encountered within meditation.
Tripitaka (Pali Tipitaka): The Three Baskets of Buddhist scripture comprised of the Suttapitaka (the
discourses), the Vinayapitaka (rules governing the monastic order) and the Abhidhammapitaka
(Buddhist psychology). There are significant differences between the Theravada and Mahayana canons.
Sutra (Pali sutta): In Theravada, a historical discourse of the Buddha as passed down by oral tradition
and ultimately committed to writing (the Suttapitaka was not actually compiled in written form until
circa 80 BCE around the same time as the earliest Mahayana sutras were set down in writing). In
Mahayana, the set of canonical sutras is enlarged to include some nonhistorical sermonsthe Heart
Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, etc.
Theravada: The Doctrine of the Elders; the oldest tradition of Buddhism extant, it is based on the
literature of the Pali Canon, which evolved over several centuries after the Buddhas death. Marked by
its conservatism, it is today prevalent in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.


Mahayana,7 and Vajrayana.8 The first is more conservative and strict; the other two
more innovative and liberal (Gillman, 1988). These traditions again split repeatedly,
yielding many schools and sub-schools, each with its own particular version of the
canon. Buddhism is not a single monolithic religion. Many of its adherents have
combined the teachings of the Buddha with local religious rituals, beliefs and customs
(Robinson, 2002). It is therefore important to stress that a particular traditions
perspective (say on disability) cannot necessarily be associated with another traditions
viewpoint or interpretation.

Theravada Buddhism (Southern Buddhism), one of the most conservative schools or

Teaching of the Elders, adheres to the early writing text of Buddhist tradition known as
the Pali Canon. 9 Theravada Buddhism started in Sri Lanka when Buddhist
missionaries arrived from India. By the first century BCE the canon had been written
in Pali language in Sri Lanka (Gillman, 1988). The canon contains the essential
Mahayana: The Greater Vehicle; one of the two main streams of Buddhism, arising several
centuries after the Buddhas death, it is marked by its liberal and inclusive spirit. Sometimes referred to
as Sanskrit or Northern Buddhism. It is today prevalent in central and northeast Asia.
Vajrayana: The thunderbolt or diamond vehicle; the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Tradition of
Buddhism which became widespread in later Indian period (5th to 12th centuries CE) and was
transmitted to Nepal, Southeast and East Asia, Tibet and Mongolia. It flourished most in Tibet and
Mongolia although it exists to greater or lesser degrees elsewhere including Japan, Nepal and Bali. It has
largely disappeared from China and from the Theravadin countries. Related to Tantric traditions in
Hinduism. Vajrayana consists of a body of methods for the attainment of the central goal of Buddhism
(Enlightenment or bodhi). These methods involve the visionary transformation of ones ordinary self and
ones environment into the pure realms of the Tantric deities (yidam). They are thought, if practised
properly, to enable the attainment of Buddhahood within a single lifetime (as contrasted with the
methods of the Hinayana and Mahayana, which take many thousands of lifetimes). They are also
believed to give access to the magical powers which are the basis of the lamas role in relation to the lay
Pali is the name given to the language of the texts of Theravada Buddhism, although the
commentarial tradition of the Theravadins states that the language of the canon is Maagadhii, the
language spoken by Gautama Buddha. The term Pali originally referred to a canonical text or passage
rather than to a language and its current use is based on a misunderstanding which occurred several
centuries ago. The language of the Theravadin canon is a version of a dialect of Middle Indo-AAryan,
not Maagadhii, created by the homogenisation of the dialects in which the teachings of the Buddha were
orally recorded and transmitted. This became necessary as Buddhism was transmitted far beyond the
area of its origin and as the Buddhist monastic order codified his teachings (Pali Text Society, n.d.).


teachings of the Buddha, rules for monastic life and philosophical analyses. Theravada
Buddhists emphasises individual effort in order to gain enlightenment for themselves.
Therefore, the sangha,10 monastic life as a monk or nun, is emphasised to perfect
ones life as a means of reaching enlightenment. Meditation is centred on Theravada
Buddhism (Penney, 2000). Theravada Buddhism has 100 million followers, mainly in
Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Thailand and parts of Vietnam (Robinson, 2002).

The second tradition is (Eastern Buddhism), which developed out of the Theravada
between 100 BCE and 100 CE. Mahayana Buddhism regarded the Theravada school
as the Lesser Vehicle (Hinayana)11 and its own tradition as the Great Vehicle
(Mahayana) because the Mahayana approach is a reformulation of the teachings of
the Buddha: not limited to monasteries but available to all lay Buddhists (Brown,
2002). This schools primary objective is not to win enlightenment for oneself but to
help all sentient beings first. Its main attributes are love, compassion, selflessness,
wisdom, and an unlimited capacity to serve others. Compassion for all humanity is the
highest virtue in Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayanists follow the sutras that were
written in Sanskrit (Brown, 2002). It is the predominant religion in Eastern Asia: China,
Japan, Korea, and much of Vietnam (Robinson, 2002).

Under Mahayana Buddhism there has developed what is known as socially engaged
Buddhism.12 The term socially engaged Buddhism refers to active involvement by


Sangha: For the Theravadins, this term refers specifically to the monastic community. For Mahayana
Buddhists, it is extended to include lay practitioners.
Hinayana: "Lesser vehicle" A derogatory term implying inferiority in doctrine and practice, applied
by the followers of the Mahayana to schools such as the Theravada.
Socially engaged Buddhism today is not restricted to this tradition.


Buddhists in society and its problems (Brown, 1997). The concept emerged from the
vision of interdependence between the individual and society; ones behaviour as an
individual is inseparable from ones behaviour as a member in society. The final goal,
enlightenment, cannot be completed as long as others remain trapped in delusion, that
real wisdom is obvious in compassionate action (Kraft, 1988).

Mahayana Buddhism is more visible and practicable than Theravada Buddhism,

because Mahayana Buddhists practise worship to various divine Bodhisattvas13 and
Buddha. The various Mahayana sects introduced a range of high level Bodhisattva
figures, which may provide protection to those who worship to that particular
Bodhisattva (Wood, 2002). In Mahayana countries, images of the Buddha are set up in
temples and homes as an object of worship. In Buddhism, the statue of the Buddha is
used to symbolise the possibilities of human enlightenment. The meaning of worship
in Buddhism is not the same as other religions, that is to show respect to someone or
something admired. Buddhists bow to the Buddha or Bodhisattva in order to express
their gratitude for the teachings (Dhammika, 1991). Ambedkar (1997) argues that
Dharma14 is fundamentally different from what is called religion. While religion is
personal and one must keep it to oneself, Dharma is social and right relations between
man and man in all sphere of life (Ambedkar, 1997, p. 316). On the contrary, in
Theravada Buddhism, they believe that the Buddha was not the object of worship, but
only a man honoured. The only way he can help people to gain enlightenment today is
through his teachings (Gillman, 1988; Penney, 2000).

Bodhisattva: Literally enlightenment-being; a person who seeks enlightenment not only for
him/herself but for others; the exemplar of compassionate action in both Theravada and Mahayana.
Dharma (Pali Dhamma): The spiritual teachings of the Buddha; universal Law or Truth; ultimate


The third tradition, which is the best-known Buddhism in the western world, is Tibetan
Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism belongs to Vajrayana Buddhism and has around 10
million adherents in parts of China, Mongolia, Russia, and Tibet. Strictly speaking,
Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana Buddhism) is a form of Mahayana Buddhism derived
from India, but much of its ritual is based on the esoteric mysticism of Tantra15 and on
the ancient shamanism and sorcery of Bon, a primitive animistic religion of Tibet (The
Columbia Electronic Encyclopaedia, 2003). Vajrayana Buddhism was at first resisted
by followers of the native Tibetan religion of Bon, but gradually flourished and
influenced all aspects of life. After Buddhism declined in India, Tibet became a
primary centre of learning about Buddhism (Adam & Hughes, 1996).

Vajrayana Buddhists accepted a tantric way of practice, using ritual, religious images,
diagrams, chanting, and song. Tantric Buddhists incorporated Hindu chants and
initiations into the philosophy which evolved in India about 600700 CE. Tantric
Buddhism 16 blends the physical and spiritual world and engages both. Tibetan
Buddhism is very colourful, full of images of deities and demons often drawn in a
ritual diagram called a mandala, which would often represent the whole universe
(Hendricks, 2000b).


Tantra: (1) A ritual tradition of the Vajrayana, transmitted from guru to disciple; (2) a text associated
with one or another of these traditions. There are also Hindu and Jain tantras. Important Buddhist
Tantras, mostly named after their principal deity, include Guhyasamaja, Cakrasamvara, Hevajra,
Yamantaka and Kalacakra. The Tibetans differentiate between Old Tantras (Tib. nyingmai gyd) held to
have been transmitted to Tibet at the time of Padmasambhava and mostly not existing in Sanskrit, and
New Tantras (Tib. sarmai gyd) which were transmitted in the 11th and 12th centuries and in many
cases also exist in Sanskrit versions.
Tantric Buddhism: see Vajrayana, footnote 8.


The Dalai Lama (meaning ocean of wisdom), the head of the Gelug (virtuous
ones) School, one of four distinct schools of Tibetan Buddhism, became the spiritual
leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists believe in the direct reincarnation of
the essence of the Dalai Lama to the body of some infant just born. The fourteenth
Dalai Lama, who was chosen at the age of two, became the spiritual and political
leader of Tibet when he was fifteen (Robinson, 2002). The Dalai Lama is regarded as
the embodiment of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The fourteenth Dalai Lama teaches
that compassion is at the heart of the Dharma. He argues that it is on the basis of
profound compassion that we develop the altruistic aspiration to seek enlightenment
for the benefit of all (Hendricks, 2000b). These show the strong influence of
Mahayana Buddhism with its emphasis on compassion and the Bodhisattva ideal.


General Doctrines

Buddhism is not a God-centred religion but focuses on the attainment of enlightenment

through experience in life (Buddhanet, n.d.). Most Buddhists do not believe in any
types of gods, salvation, the power of prayer, or eternal life after death (Robinson,
2002). Therefore, Buddhism is rather regarded as a way of life than a religion (Choedak,
1993). For this reason, meditation is emphasised as a process required for all adherents
to achieve Buddhahood. Buddhists do believe in rebirth: the concept that one must go
through many cycles of birth, living, and death. This cycle of life is described in the
concept samsara.17 The only escape from samsara is to gain enlightenment. This
allows for the achievement of nirvana18 which is the end of imperfection, a state of

Samsara: Literally wandering together; the wheel of suffering and rebirth.

Nirvana: Through diligent practice, providing compassion and loving kindness to all living beings,


ultimate consciousness of perfect happiness and liberation (Penney, 2000; Hendricks,


Buddhists believe that meditation is the essential means to reach nirvana. Meditation
promotes self-discipline, control and purification, which is training ones mind so that
person can empty it of all thoughts, and focus only on things that are really important.
They thus can leave behind all worries about the world and their life, and rise above
them. They can finally experience liberation or enlightenment (Adam & Hughes, 1996;
Penney, 2000).

The two most important collections of the Buddhas teaching are called the Pali Canon
and the Sanskrit Canon. Pali and Sanskrit are the ancient languages in which the
collections of teaching were made. The first written down and the most important one
is the Pali canon or Tripitaka, which consists of three divisions, Vinaya19 Pitaka20 (the
Collection of Discipline), Suttanta Pitaka (the Collection of Discourses of the Buddha),
and Abhidhamma21 Pitaka (the Collection of summaries, analyses, and explications of
the dharma) (Gillman, 1988). The first two baskets of the Tripitaka contain the most
important teachings for all Buddhists.

The Buddhas teachings consist of three parts. The first is the three characteristics of
conditioning the mind to avoid attachments, and eliminating negative karma, Buddhists believe that they
will finally attain enlightenment. When this occurs, they are able to stay out of the cycle of death and
rebirth and ascend to the state of nirvana. Nirvana is not a physical location but is taken as a state of
ultimate consciousness of perfect happiness and liberation. It is the end of all return to reincarnation
with its commitment to suffering (International Buddhist Association of Queensland, 1999).
Vinaya: The rules of conduct for monks and nuns; the second division of the Pali Canon.
Pitaka: Basket (of Scripture).
Abhidhamma: The third division of the Pali Canon, containing commentaries and schematisations of
psychological data.


existence, the second is the Four Noble Truths and the third is the Noble Eightfold Path.
Buddhists believe that these three teachings show the best ways to live.

The three characteristics of existence can be summed up in three waysdukkha,22

anicca23 and anatta.24 Dukka can be translated as suffering; anything which is less
than perfect is dukkha, which means everything in the world. The best translation is
probably unsatisfactoriness (Adam & Hughes, 1996; Mills, 1999; Penney, 2000;
Gillman, 1988). Anicca means impermanence; everything is transient and in a
constant state of change. Buddhists believe that the only escape from this continual
change is nirvana (Adam & Hughes, 1996; Penney, 2000). Anatta means no self;
there is no permanent self. The self is an ever changing flux of mental and physical
elements (About Inc., 2003, para. 2), the body, thoughts, feelings, ideas and
awareness. These five parts together make up each person. The result is the absence of
permanent self, which is happy, secure and independent (Adam & Hughes, 1996;
About Inc., 2003).

The teaching of Buddhism is centred in the reality of human unsatisfactoriness. The

Buddhas perception of the human condition is formulated in his teaching about Four
Noble Truths (Gillman, 1988). The Four Noble Truths are:

1. Everything in life is dukkha. All human beings experience dukkha from birth, aging,


Dukkha: Unsatisfactoriness. The unsatisfactory nature of existence limited to the sensory or the
mundane world.
Anicca: Impermanence, not enduring. One of the three characteristics of existence together with
suffering and not self.
Anatta: Not self or egolessness; the lack of any abiding, permanent soul or personality. One of the
seminal concepts in the teachings of Buddha.


disease and death. No one is exempt from them.

2. Dukkha is caused by desire and craving and a thirst for pleasure and existence.
Everyone is basically selfish. We are constantly trying to prove our existence.
3. This cause can be eliminated by the cessation of craving and desire in order to
reach a state of nirvana, which is freedom from all desires.
4. The way to overcome this cycle is the Noble Eightfold Path. (Adam & Hughes,
1996; Butler, n.d.; Gillman, 1988; International Buddhist Association of
Queensland, 1999; Penney, 2000; Robinson, 2004)

The Noble Eightfold Path shows the Middle Way between extremes, which Buddhists
should follow in their lives. All of these things need to be acted on together. Each
action helps to strengthen others, for they are all interrelated and lead to the same goal
of spiritual happiness (Adam & Hughes, 1996; Penney, 2000). The Noble Eightfold
Path can be described and grouped as follows:

1. Right understanding accepts the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths so

that one can understand impermanence of existence, both personal and
2. Right thought is using your mind in the right way so that you become
unselfish, developing loving kindness.
These first two factors constitute the wisdom component of the Path.
3. Right speech avoids lying, slander, harsh speech and gossip.
4. Right action is avoiding killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, consuming
alcohol, and other destructive behaviour.


5. Right livelihood avoids any occupation that causes harm to sentient beings
such as dealing in intoxicants or butchering.
These three factors constitute the morality component of the Path.
6. Right effort has diligent self-discipline to attain full control of the mind so
as to avoid evil mental states and develop wholesome mental states.
7. Right mindfulness develops full awareness of body, mind and feelings so as
to avoid unwholesome acts.
8. Right concentration is training the mind by meditation to achieve a higher
state of consciousness.
These last three factors constitute the meditation component of the Path (Adam &
Hughes, 1996; Gillman, 1988; International Buddhist Association of Queensland,
1999; Penney, 2000; Robinson, 2004).


Particularities of Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism adopted the tantric path to reach enlightenment. This practice
blended the sutra teachings with techniques adapted from the Hindu system of yoga25
and tantra. The tantric path includes four steps: lamrim (stages of the path); common
preliminary tantric practices (prostrations, vajrasattva meditation, mandala offering
and guru yoga); generation stage of tantra; and completion stage of tantra (Care, 2000,
pp. 12).

The Tibetan canon consists of two parts: the bKangjur (translation of the Word of the


Yoga: General term for techniques of meditation and spiritual practice in Indian religions. In Tibet, it
usually refers to Tantric practice.


Buddha, 98 Volumes) pronounced Kanjur,26 and the bStan-gyur (translations of the

Teachings, 224 Volumes) pronounced Tanjur (Buddhanet, 2003). The first printing of
the Kanjur occurred not in Tibet, but in China (Beijing), and was completed in 1411
(Buddhanet, 2003).

Tibetan Buddhism is divided into two parts: Exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism. Tibetan
Exoteric Buddhism is based on Madhyamika


(dBu-ma, middle way) of

Nagarjuna.28 The unique part is Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists are
requested to study first Exoteric Buddhism as the foundation and then Esoteric
Buddhism. The doctrine of Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism includes several aspects:
1. Taking the six elements as essence is the esoteric interpretation of the origin of
the cosmos. The six elements, the earth, water, fire, wind, air and ether
(consciousness), provide the nature of all creation and are at once the source and
the foundation of the existence of all phenomena.
2. Five Buddhas and five wisdoms are a spiritual requirement, essential to anyone
seeking Buddhahood. They need the five wisdoms of the Five Dhyani-Buddhas
(Vairocana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghavajra), the wisdom
of the universal law, the wisdom of equality, the wisdom of distinction and
discernment, and the wisdom of accomplishing works.
3. Taking the four mandalas as appearance the spiritual communication with
deities can be done only by means of the four mandalas and by reciting their true
teachings; the practice is described as taking the four mandalas as appearance.


Kanjur: Collection of sutras and Tantra texts translated into Tibetan. Along with the Tenjur, collected
treatises and commentaries by Indian teachers, it forms the main canonical collection of Tibetan
Buddhist texts. There are however numerous later texts by Tibetan teachers and it is generally these that
are studied by Tibetan Buddhists.
Madhyamika: Buddhist philosophical school traditionally developed by the 2nd century Buddhist
philosopher Nagarjuna, and emphasizing the identity of Samsara and Nirvana, and the empty or void
(shunya) nature of our ordinary dualistic perceptions of reality.
Nagarjuna: See Madhyamika of footnote 27.


4. Taking the three secrets as means is a form of meditation. The three secrets are:
body secret, speech secret and mind secret. The follower must conform his body,
speech and mind to those of the Buddha.
5. Cause, base, final means and anger and fear is the condensed version of the
three lines in the Mahavairocana-sutra: the mind of bodhi is the cause. The great
compassion is the base. The upaya (path, method) is the final means. (adapted from
Jicheng, n.d., pp. 13)


Socially engaged Buddhism

Socially engaged Buddhism is a contemporary Buddhist movement in the world. The

concept engaged Buddhism emerged in the 1950s by Thich Nhat Hanh, the
Vietnamese Zen Master, and its implications introduced to the West (Kotler, 1996).
When Thich Nhat Hanh published a book which discussed engaged Buddhism in
1963 and according to Kraft (1992), that is the date the term was coined. The expanded
term, socially engaged Buddhism, then emerged in 1988 as titles of two books: A
Socially Engaged Buddhism (Sivaraksa, 1988) and The Path of Compassion: Writings
on Socially Engaged Buddhism (Eppsteiner, 1998) (Queen & King, 1996; Kraft, 1992).

The Vietnam War was the ignition point of socially engaged Buddhism. In the middle
of the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh and a few other Buddhist monks, nuns and
laypeople founded the Tiep Hien Order in Vietnam in 1964 in an effort to relate
Buddhist ethical and meditational practice to contemporary social issues (Brown,
1997; Knabb, 1993). Members of the order organised antiwar demonstrations,
underground support for draft resisters, and various relief and social service projects.
When the movement was soon crushed in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh has carried on


similar activities in a place of exile, France and the idea of socially engaged
Buddhism has spread among Buddhists around the world (Knabb, 1993).

As Yarnall (2000) argues, there are two principle theoretical positions among scholars
on engaged Buddhism; modernists and traditionalists. Modernists assert that socially
engaged Buddhism is a new phenomenon developed when Buddhism encountered
modern western society. Therefore, they see it as being different from the traditional
Buddhist roots in that it represents a new form of Buddhism (Yarnall, 2000). The other
group, traditionalists, argue that socially engaged Buddhism is essentially contiguous
with traditional forms despite different social arenas and cultural contexts (Yarnall,
2000). In Sherwoods most recent research (2003), she found that Buddhist
organisations in Australia strongly support the traditionalists position. Buddhists have
always been socially engaged as Rahula (as cited in Queen, 1996) wrote that
Buddhism is based on service to others (p. 14).

The seeds of social engagement go back to the time of the founder. Traditionally,
Buddhism seems passive and otherworldly because of emphasising inner practice; the
Buddha himself was much more focused on personal liberation rather than ending
political or social suffering (Winston, n.d.).29 However, The Buddhas teaching about
social welfare can be found in the Buddhist text, Sutta30 Nipata 1, 6; to have much
wealth and ample gold and food, but to enjoy ones luxuries alonethis is a cause of

Historically, most academic representations of Buddhism were made by non-Buddhists from
Christian or (post) Christian perspectives.
Sutta: Literally, thread. Represents the threads of discourse or dialogue texts in the Pali canon of
Theravada Buddhism. There are four sections or collections of suttas: long (digha), middle (majjhima),
collected (samyutta), and gradual (anguttara).


ones downfall. This is the one of the Buddhas social teachings dictating towards
charity and not to accumulating wealth (Winston, n.d.).

Moreover, the Buddha intended to help liberate not only individuals but also the whole
society. His method was to create the sangha, the community, as a kind of alternative
society within the larger society that would influence the larger society indirectly
(Butler, 1992; Rothberg, 1993). According to Queen (1996), political and social
engagement was the heritage of the bhikkhu.31 Consequently, as Brown argues, the
principles and even some of the techniques of an engaged Buddhism have been latent
in the tradition since the time of its founder. Through Buddhisms exposure to the West,
where ethical sensitivity, social activism, and egalitarianism are emphasised, the
principles of socially engaged Buddhism have risen to the surface (Brown, 1997).

The two Asian Buddhist leaders have also taken the important role to spread the
perception of socially engaged Buddhism in the West. The Nobel Peace Prize has
recently been awarded to the two Asian Buddhist leaders, Tenzin Gyatso, the
fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet (1989), and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese
opposition leader (1991) (Queen, 1996). As a result of being awarded to two Asian
Nobel Peace laureates, people in the West are realising that modern Buddhism in Asia
is not just a meditative vehicle for spiritual liberation, but is now also a vehicle that
includes liberation movements for social and political change (Mitchell, 1996).

The term socially engaged Buddhism refers to active involvement in the present to


Bhikkhu: Literally a begger or mendicant; a fully ordained Buddhist monk.


resolve the immediate problems in society by Buddhists as well as take meditation for
inner practice (Brazell, n.d.). Participants in this emerging movement seek to actualise
Buddhisms traditional ideals of wisdom and compassion in todays world (Brown,
1997). The concept emerged from the vision of interdependence which means that the
individual and society are interdependent, ones behaviour as an individual is
inseparable from ones behaviour as a member in society (Kraft, 1988). Many engaged
Buddhists argue that enlightenment cannot be completed as long as others remain
trapped in delusion and that genuine wisdom is manifested in compassionate action
(Brown, 1997). Though compassion, as mentioned in the previous chapter, is the
highest virtue in Mahayana Buddhism, it is not just Mahayanas prominent part but the
whole Buddhists; Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet represents
Vajrayana tradition, Aung San Suu Kyi is from Theravada tradition and Thich Nhat
Hanh Mahayana tradition.

Socially engaged Buddhists are involved in disarmament work, environmental and

human rights activism, including campaigns that oppose oppression of Buddhists in
Bangladesh, Burma, Vietnam, and Tibet, as well as prison activism, and gender/queer
activism, as well as HIV and AIDS work (Theravada Dhamma Society of Nashiville,

According to Sherwoods earlier research (2001), Australian Buddhism is clearly

socially engaged, not only in practice but also from the viewpoints of the members of
the Buddhist organisations. Buddhism is having an increasing impact on the Australian
context as seen in the diffusion of Buddhist organisations. They now number 378



2003). A total of 96 per cent of the organisations were actively involved in

education and social welfare activities. Although there are two main types of engaged
Buddhist actions in Australia, the hospice area and the support of overseas social relief
and development projects, the field is much broader. Sherwood (2003) categorises the
types of engaged Buddhist actions to nine categories (p. 85) and shows in further
discussion the proportion of Buddhist organisations involved in the action (pp. 8695).
The following list contains these two aspects.
1. Education of the adult public (96%);
2. Education of children (64%);
3. Working with the sick in hospitals and hospices (54%);
4. Working with the sick and dying in the community and in palliative care (61%);
5. Visiting prisons (39%);
6. Working with drug addicts (24%);
7. Fundraising for the poor and needy (both in Australia and overseas) (61%);
8. Speaking up for human rights and against oppression (24%);
9. Compassionate activities on behalf of non-human sentient beings (11%)


Historical approaches in human services in Australia

Buddhism has a long history in Australia. According to Adam and Hughes (1996),
some anthropologists have suggested that Buddhism was possibly the earliest nonindigenous religion to reach Australia, potentially northern Australia because of its
proximity to Asia. Professor A. P. Elkin (cited in Croucher, 1989) argues that
Aboriginal mysticism was not unique, but was mixed with oriental culture. This can be


seen in Aboriginal practices of mind training and in their beliefs in psychic phenomena
and reincarnation. Certain Aboriginal rock-paintings portray the images of the Buddha
(Croucher, 1989).

Between 1405 and 1433 the Chinese Ming emperors sent sixty-two large ships to
explore the south. Several ships from this armada visited the Aru Islands, 480 km north
of the mainland. It was the earliest contact with Buddhists (Nelson, n.d.). The first
documented arrival of Buddhists in Australia was in 1848 during the gold rushes, with
the arrival of Chinese labourers on the eastern goldmines. However, the influence of
Buddhism was weak, because the elemental Chinese religion is a kind of nature
polytheism with blended beliefs and practices from Confucianism, Taoism, and
Buddhism. Most Chinese miners returned to China and their religious influence in
Australia did not endure long after the federation of the Australian colonies in 1901.
Within the remaining Chinese communities, only the elderly practised Buddhism,
while younger generations tended to adopt the Christian faith (Adam & Hughes, 1996).

The next wave of Buddhism in Australia came from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from the
1870s because of the need for workers on the sugar plantations of northern Queensland
and in the pearling industry on Thursday Island. Although Sinhalese were not really
welcome, Thursday Islands Buddhist community peaked in the 1890s. They planted
two Bodhi tree saplings, which were related to the tree under which the Buddha gained
enlightenment and built a temple there. With the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901,
however, the community slowly began to disperse; many Sinhalese returned to their
homeland (Adam & Hughes, 1996). This Act aimed to exclude all non-European


migrants and remained in force until 1958. (McConnochie, Hollinsworth, & Pettman,
1993). This was a part of the white Australia policy which had started in the 1850s
with the aim of restricting Chinese immigration and lasted at least officially until 1973
(Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, 2003).

By this time, 3600 Japanese had become involved in the pearling industry on Thursday
Island. Despite racism, they were able to remain in Australia until 1941 due to their
pearling skills. The Japanese, who lived in Darwin and Broome, celebrated Buddhist
festivals such as Obon Matsuri, which annually honours the dead (Adam & Hughes,

Historically Buddhism in Australia had two features. The first is that Buddhism was
not come as the purpose of propagation but came into this continent with the Asian
labours. Buddhism was a part of their lives and culture. It made the Asian immigrants
cohesive as a centripetal force. The second is that the Buddhist influence in Australia
was also derived from western Buddhists. The earliest-known group was formed in
Melbourne in 1925 by three westerners: Max Tayler, Max Dunn, and David Maurice.
The group followed the Theravada tradition. Maurice wrote the first book on
Buddhism to be published commercially in Australia. A second Buddhist group in
Melbourne was begun in 1938 by Leonard Bullen, who used English terminology
rather than Pali or Sanskrit for the presentation of Buddhist teaching. This group was

only until World War II (Croucher, 1989).

After World War II, in 1951, the first Buddhist nun, sister Dhammadinna, born in the


USA, visited Australia and propagated the Theravadin school of Buddhist teaching.
Under the impact of Dhammadinnas visit, the Buddhist society of New South Wales
was formed. The Buddhist Federation of Australia was also established in 1958. The
Buddhist societies of Queensland and Victoria were formed in 1993. All these societies
followed the Theravadin tradition and were concerned with the needs of Anglo-Saxon
Australians (Adam & Hughes, 1996).

Mahayana Buddhism was introduced into Australia in the 1960s and 1970s. Until this
time, the influence of Buddhism in Australia was mainly of Theravada Buddhism. In
196061 a Chinese master, Hsuan Hua of the Chinese Chan sect, stayed in Sydney but
was not welcomed by the Chinese community. His influence on Anglo-Saxon
Australians was limited because of language difficulties (Adam & Hughes, 1996).

The next influence of Mahayana Buddhism in Australia was Buddhism from Japan. In
1961, the Soto Zen Buddhist Society was formed in New South Wales. In 1976, the
Zen Centre was established in Sydney. During the 1970s and early 1980s small Zen
groups composed mainly of Westerners were formed in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide,
and Perth (Adam & Hughes, 1996).

The ending of the Vietnam War in 1975 made a new phase of Buddhist development
throughout Australia. Indo-Chinese refugees came to this country. The large numbers
of Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhists established their own societies because they
experienced difficulties in language and tradition with the existing Theravadin centres
in Sydney and Perth. Consequently, they established their own monasteries and


temples throughout all Australian states (Adam & Hughes, 1996).

Tibetan Buddhism was very new and small in number. It nevertheless had a strong
influence in Australia. One-third of all Buddhist organisations in Sydney are Tibetan.
The mystique of the Vajrayana tradition attracts Anglo-Saxon Australians. The first
visiting of Lamas Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa in 1974, became a starting point to
drawing Australians considerable attention to Tibetan Buddhism. They stayed more
than three months, giving a thirty-day course to around 200 people at Diamond Valley
in Queensland and lecturing in Melbourne and Sydney. During this tour the Chenrezig
Institute was established near Nambour. After this, a number of other Tibetan centres
opened across Australia. As many of the monks came from Tibet or India as refugees
following the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the repression of Buddhism, their
followers have protested against Chinese genocide and persecution in their homeland,
and have sought more active support from the Australian government (Adam &
Hughes, 1996).

As indicated earlier, after the three visits of the Dalai Lama in 1982, 1992, and 1996,
Buddhism became a significant minority religion in Australia. It is, in fact, the third
largest religion (Nelson, n.d.). In 1996 the Buddhist population was 199,812 people,
which was 1.1% of the Australian population. The growth rate of Buddhists between
1986 and 1996 was 42.9%, which means that Buddhism is Australias fastest and
largest growing religion (Buddhist Council of NSW, 2001). Buddhist organisations
reached 378 in 2003. They increased in number by 211 (126.0%) in around 7 years,
between 1995 and 2003; Mahayana 36.5%, Vajrayana 24.5%, Theravada 24.0% and


Non-Sectrian 15.0%. Between these periods, despite small numbers, Vajrayanin

organisations increased almost three times from 36 to 93 (Jones, 2003).

Sherwood (2003) gives the history of individual Australian Buddhist organisations in

her research. Five of these organisations are introduced here in order to illustrate the
variety of the Buddhist organisations in Australia.

Chenrezig Institute, affiliated with Tibetan Buddhist tradition, was established in 1974
in Eudlo, Queensland by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa. This Buddhist centre is part of
the network of FPMT (Foundation for the preservation of the Mahayana Tradition)
which encompasses over 140 centres in 25 countries of the world. The Institute is the
seed centre of flourishing projects in community education, palliative care and prison
work. The most well known projects are Cittamani and Karuna32 Hospice services,
which are palliative care centres (Sherwood, 2003). Karuna Hospice was established in
1989 in Brisbane. It offers free 24-hour hospice care, at home, for individuals and their
loved ones who are living with a terminal illness in Brisbane, Caboolture, Redcliffe
and the Sunshine Coast areas of Queensland. Karunas vision springs from their
Buddhist commitment to compassion and wisdom in treatment of the dying and
bereaved (Sherwood, 2003). Cittamani Hospice was established at Nambour on the
Sunshine Coast. Initially, it was a branch of the Karuna hospice but in 2001 became
legally independent from Karuna. Cittamani delivers palliative care services to the
surrounding rural community (Sherwood, 2003).


Karuna: (pali) for compassion.


The Buddhist Peace Fellowship began during the 1980s in the Lismore (NSW) area,
and then moved to Sydney in the early 1990s. The origin of the Buddhist Peace
Fellowship was from the United States of America. The purpose of the institution is an
interactive one: to bring a Buddhist perspective to the peace movement and the peace
movement to the Buddhist community. Their aim is to help beings liberate themselves
from the suffering that manifests in individuals, relationships, institutions, and social
systems (Buddhist Peace Fellowship, n.d.). Members of the Sydney Buddhist Peace
Fellowship have a strong environmental focus and engage in active social justice
activities in the community. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship Melbourne chapter was
founded in 1993 and affiliated with the international organisations in 1995. The
Melbourne chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has engaged in many campaigns
to promote social welfare through social justice both within Australia and overseas
(Sherwood, 2003).

Offices of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi foundation were established in
Sydney (1992), Brisbane (1992), Melbourne (1995), Perth (1998) and the Gold Coast
(2000). This foundation has approximately 2,000 members Australia wide. They have
socially engaged missions in four parts: education, charity, medicine and promoting
cultural activities (Sherwood, 2003).

The Tara Project Australia Inc. was established in 1996 by a group of people who
worked together on the visit to Sydney of Dalai Lama. The Tara Project has welfare
projects, humanitarian ideas and concepts based on living principles of Mahayana
Buddhism. They have provided services for rehabilitation from drugs, alcohol and


other forms of abuse, and are engaged in the promotion of positive reconciliation with
Aborigines. Internationally, the Tara Project works in environmental projects, women
and childrens welfare projects, animal welfare and community development in India
and Nepal (Sherwood, 2003).

The Association of Engaged Buddhists was established in 1993 by an Australian monk

Tejadhammo. The Association of Engaged Buddhists, comprising all Buddhist
traditions, provides active social service: in prisons, hospices and palliative care in
hospitals. The Association also provide the Dhamma teaching and meditation in the
Australian community (Sherwood, 2003).

Most of the Buddhist organisations have started in 1980s and 1990s. Their socially
engaged activities also new area in Australian context but they seem to exercise their
influence over the whole country not limited their services to ethnic group.


Perspectives on Disability

In this section, Buddhist perspectives on disability are explored through an

examination of the two main doctrines: rebirth and karma.33 The Buddha adopted
these two doctrines from Hindu theory, transforming them to fit his interpretation of
human liberation (de Silva, 1968; Fernando, 1983). While this section is the core of

Karma: Sanskrit term which means action, work or deed. Any bodily, verbal or mental action
performed with intention can be called karma. Thus good action could produce wholesome karma
whereas bad action would result in unwholesome karma. Awareness of the karma created in past lives
may not always be possible, the joy or suffering, beauty or ugliness, wisdom or foolishness, wealth or
poverty experienced in this lifetime are, nevertheless, influenced by past karma (International Buddhist
Association of Queensland, 1999).


Part I, Perception of Disability in Tibetan Buddhism, there is a paucity of literature on

disability-related Buddhism. The perspectives on disability in Buddhism need to be
researched more widely.

The starting point of Buddhism is to seek a solution to human suffering. In Buddhism,

suffering is unable to be separated from human beings; people live in suffering from
birth to death. Disability can also be understood as a form of suffering that is inherent
to life (Grant Administrative Services, n.d.). While most people experience pain and
sickness and loss during a lifetime, people with disabilities experience pain, sickness
and loss daily (Bruno, n.d.).34

The Pali term of rebirth is samsara, which means fluctuation or an aimless

wandering about (Harvey, 1990). Present life is a part of the ongoing cycle. What
happens to a person in this life results from the persons own actions from previous
lives (Bruno, n.d.). The circle is seen to involve many other forms of life: the hellrealm (niraya), the animal kingdom (tiracchanayoni), the spirit sphere or the sphere of
ghost-beings and demons (petavisaya), the realm of human beings (manussaloka), and
the realm of gods (devaloka). The devaloka itself has also several levels (Fernando,
1983; Harvey, 1990). The lower worlds, animal and spirit spheres are the lower
rebirths, where beings suffer more than human beings. Human and gods are the higher,
more fortunate realms (Harvey, 1990). Within the round of rebirths, each human being
has been through one of four realms in the past, and is likely to go through another


Most commentary on the disability question views disablement through the lens of personal tragedy.
Michael Oliver explains: disability is some terrible chance event which occurs at random to unfortunate
individuals (Oliver, 1996, p. 32).


realm again at some time in the future. In order to gain higher rebirths, this teachings
urge compassionkindness and non-violencetowards all sentient beings (Harvey,

Another doctrine is karma, which literally means any action, such as eating, drinking,
walking, or sleeping. A deeper meaning, in religious usage, is good or bad actions
presumed to result in an eventual reward or punishment, either in this life or in the life
after. Karma is the law of retribution that pursues human actions so as to bring reward
or punishment for them. According to this principle, acts of hatred and violence tend to
lead to rebirth in a hell, acts bound up with delusion and confusion tend to lead to
rebirth as an animal, and acts of greed tend to lead to rebirth as a ghost. A persons
actions mould their consciousness, making them into a certain kind of person, so that
when they die their outer form tends to correspond to the type of nature that has been
developed. If bad actions are not serious enough to lead to a lower rebirth, they affect
the nature of a human rebirth: miserliness leads to being poor, injuring beings leads to
frequent illnesses, and anger leads to being ugly (Harvey, 1990). As Miles (2002a)
argues, being kind and helpful towards people with disabilities seems to be a
Buddhists duty in order to lead them to a higher rebirth in the next life.

Therefore, from this viewpoint there is a strong connection between disability and
karma. Having a disability from birth is seen to be a punishment for wrongdoing in
past lives (Miles, 1995). Most Buddhists in Asian Buddhist countriesBangladesh,
Cambodia, China, Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailandview the condition of
people with disabilities as a punishment resulting from their own or their parents sin


during a previous incarnation (Japan International Cooperation Agency, 2002a, 2002b,

2002c; Liu, 2001; Lind & Winter, 2000; Miles, 2002a; Kim-Rupnow, 2001). According
to Miles study (2002a), even if the disability resulted from disease or accident some
years after birth, some Buddhists regard it as the result of a previous sin. Suffering is
thus seen as a curse (Ryan, 2003). Buddhism emphasises mental culture and high
mental achievement, thus it appears to place some people with disabilities at a
disadvantage, because it believes that they are unlikely to achieve quality of life:
proper conduct, a right way of thinking, living the life one should live, and being the
person one should be (Miles, 1995). However, according to Campbell (2004), it may
be possible to generate an alternative reading of the law of karma based on a dynamic
reading of the story of the Buddhas path towards enlightenment. She states:
When the Buddha observed humanitys (natural) tendency towards sickness,
ageing and eventually deaththese states of beingcorrectly viewedwere
not an aberrationrather such states of dukka beingness exhibited the truth of
impermanence (c.f. Four Noble Truths). It is possible to retrieve impairment
from a state of abnormalcy (the delusion) and conceive of it as a mere
(naturalised) corporeal impermanent phenomenon (Campbell, 2004).
Such an argument finds support in the analysis of Bodhi (1999, p. 27) who indicates
that it is the quest for youth, health and life, that is the quest for perfection (ablest
illusions) that causes suffering, better described as a state of unsatisfactoriness. This
viewpoint is not a common reading of Buddhism; nonetheless it is an alternative
interpretation worthy of consideration.

On the contrary, de Silva (1968) argues about karma more deeply and differently in the
book, Reincarnation in Buddhist and Christian Thought. Even the Buddha adopted the


Hindu idea, but karma in Buddhism is used in a different sense. While the Hindu Law
of karma is based on the individual soul which is transmigrated at death to a new
body, the Buddhas concept of karma is the transmission of the effects of actions from
one generation of men to all succeeding generations (de Silva, 1968, p. 79). There is
no belief in a soul (No Self, Annata) in Buddhism (About Inc., 2003; Ambedkar, 1997).
Buddhism also holds the view that sorrow and joy in this life are not caused by what
has been done in the previous life. As Jennings (cited in de Silva, 1968, p. 81)
concludes, the theory of personal rewards and punishments in successive lives is
radically inconsistent with the Buddhas characteristic doctrine of No Self, or the
impermanence of individuality and with altruism, being in essence individualistic.

De Silva (1968) argues that karma is not the sole factor, but a group of transmissible
factors resulting in human character. He suggests the term collective karma drawing
four groups: biological reasons for sufferinga persons physical nature, natural or
material reasons for sufferingthe changes and circumstances in nature, social
reasons for sufferingcaused by others, and moral reasons for sufferingconnected
with a persons behaviour (Adapted from de Silva, 1968, p. 98).

However, Buddhists try to see the future from the present situation instead of analysing
present life by reviewing previous lives (Choedak, 1993; Lind & Winter, 2000;
Ratsamee, n.d.). Choedak (1993) argues that Buddhists emphasise now, the present
moment and how we go from here rather than what happened in the past and what
might or will happen in the future. Thus, they avoid calling disability a punishment,
but prefer saying learning; having a disability can be seen as doing right what has


been done wrong before (Lind & Winter, 2000; Migration Information Centre, 2000).

Buddhists ultimate goal is to reach the state of nirvana. Nirvana literally means
extinguishing or unbinding. The implication is that it is freedom from whatever binds a
person, from the burning passions of desire, jealousy, and ignorance. Once these
passions are totally overcome, a state of bliss is achieved, and there is no longer the
need for the cycle of birth and death. All karmic debts are settled (Hendricks, 2000a).
To be reborn is not an achievement but a failure. Good and bad rebirths are not,
therefore, seen as rewards and punishments, but simply as the natural results of
certain kinds of action (Harvey, 1990). Recent studies about Buddhism and disability
have been moving towards this way of thinking (Choedak, 1993; Zagara, 1994; Bruno,

The perception of disability has been examined in this part. Buddhism has made efforts
to resolve the question of human suffering from the very outset. Although the history
of Buddhism in Australia is short, Buddhism has participated in human services area
dynamically. Socially engaged Buddhism has functioned as a catalyst to bring active
participation to solve social problems. In disability part, recently the negative
conceptthat is, disability as a punishment resulting from previous actionshas been
changed to positive way in scholarly level. The right understanding of karma seems to
play an important role to grasp the new disability concept.

In Part II of this chapter, the perception of disability in Roman Catholicism is explored.

The basic structure of Catholicism is examined first at grass roots level for its approach


to the concept of disability. Then, after examining Catholic human services in

Australian history, the perspectives on disability are finally discussed.


Part II
Perception of disability in Roman Catholicism


The Basic Structure of Catholicism

Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and
became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to
Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise
(Pascoe, 1994, para.71).

Christianity was established as a Jewish sect in Jerusalem. Christians follow the

teachings of and about Jesus Christ. Most Christians regard Jesus as the son of God.
They further believe that he is God, the second person in the Trinity. The Trinity,
Christians argue, consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three separate persons, all
eternal, all omnipresent, who form a single, unified deity. Most Christians believe that
Jesus co-existed with God before the creation of the world (Robinson, 2003; Lind &
Winter, 2000).

Christians believe Mary, Jesus mother, was a virgin when Jesus was conceived; her
pregnancy was caused by the Holy Spirit.35 Jesus was born in Palestine about 4 to 7
BCE and was raised by his Jewish family in the city of Nazareth in the Galilee. At the
age of about 30, circa 26 CE, Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist,36 a Jewish


The third person in the Christian Trinity, also known as the Holy Ghost. Some faith groups consider
him to be an active force. Historically, Christianity has taught that the Holy Spirit is a person, along with
God the Father, and Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ).
The English words baptize and baptism are derived from a Greek root: baptizr, which means
to immerse, to dip under, or to wash. Within Christianity, it is usually performed by a member of
the clergy in a church setting, thus welcoming an individual into the church. Denominations disagree
about the method (immersion or sprinkling), the age at which the ritual is done, and additional
consequences of baptism. Some Christian groups maintain that baptism is required before a person can
be saved; some say that only those baptized in their denomination or in a certain way can be saved.


prophet, and after baptism became a travelling preacher. The prime elements of his
message are:
A call for personal repentance and realignment of behaviour which would lead to the
creation of the kingdom of God, a new social and religious order on earth;
A call to love ones neighbours, including ones enemies, as well as God;
A new interpretation of Jewish law which gave priority to ones responsibility to God
and to ones fellow man (Robinson, 2000).

After Jesus ascended to Heaven, his followers formed the Jewish Christian movement,
centred in Jerusalem. Saul of Tarsus, originally a persecutor of the Jewish Christians,
converted after having a vision of the risen Christ, about 34 CE. Adopting the new
name of Paul, he became the greatest theologian of the early Christian movement.
Through Pauls missionary journey, Christianity expanded from the Middle East to
Europe and from Jews to gentiles. After becoming the official religion of the Roman
Empire later in fourth century, Christianity grew from two centres, Constantinople and
Rome. In 1054 CE, the Christian Church was torn into two parts: the Roman Catholic
Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. 37 The Protestant Reformation in the
sixteenth century led to a split within the western church. The Protestant movement
further fragmented into different denominations (Robinson, 2003).

The principle beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church are expressed in the Nicene Creed


One of the major divisions within Christianity (the others being Roman Catholicism and
Protestantism). It consists of fifteen autocephalous churches. Each is headed by a bishop; most are
related to a specific country, as in Serbian, Russian and Greek Orthodox. The Orthodox and Roman
Catholic Churches had been drifting apart in belief, practice and ritual for centuries before they formally
split in 1054 CE. Each now regards themselves to be the only true Christian Church.


recited by Catholics at Mass on Sundays. Most Christian faith groups also follow the
Nicene Creed and thus regard themselves as Catholic. The term Roman Catholic is
used in this research when referring to the Church headed by the Pope in Rome
(Robinson, 2001). The content of the Nicene Creed is:
We believe (I believe) in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and
earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the
only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. (God of God)
light of light, true God of true God. Begotten not made, consubstantial to the
Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the
Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate,
suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the
Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and
shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose
Kingdom there shall be no end. And (I believe) in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and
Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), who together with
the Father and the Son is to be adored and glorified, who spoke by the Prophets.
And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We confess (I confess) one
baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for (I look for) the resurrection
of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen (Wilhelm, 2003).
The principal beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church are in accord with Christian
beliefs listed above: belief in one God, understood as the Holy Trinity of God the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit; belief that the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son,
became a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; that Jesus lived on earth,
was put to death on a cross and was then raised from the dead; and that, following the
ascension of Jesus into Heaven forty days after the resurrection, the Father sent the
Spirit to be with the Church founded by Jesus until the end of time (Dixon, 1996).


The divine authority in the Roman Catholic Church resides not only in the Bible but
also in the Roman Catholic Tradition. The Tradition is composed of five sources:
Apocrypha,38 the authorized Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, the
Bishops, and official Roman Catholic interpretation of the Bible (Ankerberg & Weldon,
n.d.). While the most important text for Christians is the Bible,39 which consists of the
Old and the New Testament, the Roman Catholic Church further accepted Apocrypha
as a part of the Bible (Robinson, 2002d).

The Roman Catholic Church places great emphasis on the notion of sacrament. The
sevenfold sacramental system was apparently initiated for the first time in the twelfth
century and defined by the Council of Trent (154563) against the reformers (Goetz,
1986b).40 The whole life of the Roman Catholic is conditioned by the sacramental
approach, because the Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is given through
the sacraments (Ankerberg & Weldon, n.d.). The sacraments are also a main way
which a person experiences the loving presence of God (Dixon, 1996). A Catholic
priest presides over the sacraments as a mediator between God and the people. The
sacraments are of three types: sacraments of initiationBaptism, Confirmation and
Eucharist; sacraments of healingPenance, Anointing of the Sick and Eucharist; and


A collection of fourteen books written after the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
and before the first book of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). It is accepted by the Roman
Catholic Church as part of the inspired canon of the Bible, but is rejected by most Protestant
The holy text used by Christians. It consists of Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) and Christian
Scripture (New Testament). The Roman Catholic Church also includes a group of writings called the
Apocrypha. The word originated in the Greek word biblos, which means book. The Greek word
came from the ancient Phoenician port city of Byblos (now Jubayl in Lebanon).
Nineteenth Ecumenical Council, highly important for its sweeping decrees on self-reform and for its
dogmatic definitions that clarified virtually every doctrine contested by the Protestants. Despite internal
strife, external dangers, and two lengthy interruptions, the Council played a vital role in revitalizing the
Roman Catholic Church in many parts of Europe.


sacraments of serviceMarriage, Holy Orders and Eucharist. 41 The sacrament of

Eucharist belongs to all three groups (Dixon, 1996).

The Pope and the bishops of the world in council with him have supreme authority
over the Roman Catholic Church. Papal infallibility was declared on July 18, 1870 at
the first Vatican Council (Cunningham, 2002). Papal infallibility means that the Pope
speaks as head of the Church in defining a doctrine of faith or morals, if he clearly
intends to speak infallibly and to make the teaching binding on the whole church
(Dixon, 1996, p. 24). The Pope, defined in the first Vatican Council, is the bishop of
Rome as successor of St. Peter (one of the twelve apostles of Jesus) and the chief
pastor of the whole Church, the Vicar of Christ upon Earth (Joyce, 2003; Sullivan,
2003; Goetz, 1986d). The Roman Catholic Church believes that Jesus assigned to Peter
the responsibility of creating the Christian church. Peter was the first Pope. At his
death, his work was continued by a succession of popes (Sullivan, 2003; Robinson,

There are other beliefs which differ from those of Protestant Christian denominations.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches the Immaculate Conception of Mary,42 and the
role of Mary as co-worker with the Son. Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the


Confirmation celebrates the activity of God in the life of a Christian in the guiding and strengthening
presence of the Holy Spirit (Dixon, 1996). People can receive it only once in their lives. Eucharist is
usually received as part of the celebration of the Mass and involves sharing consecrated bread. Catholics
believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine (Dixon, 1996). Holy Order is
a sacrament in which men are consecrated to the ordained ministry of the Church as bishops, priests or
deacons, granting them special grace and spiritual power for leadership in the Church as representatives
of Christ (Ankerberg & Weldon, n.d.).
The belief that before the birth of Mary (the mother of Jesus), she was preserved from original sin at
the time of her conception, circa 20 BCE. It is widely but incorrectly believed to refer to Jesus
conception, circa 5 to 8 BCE.


Assumption in 1950 as an infallible teaching, which the body of Mary, the mother of
Jesus, was taken directly to heaven at the end of her life on earth (Dixon, 1996).43 This
is not accepted in other Christian denominations (Robinson, 2002d; Ankerberg &
Weldon, n.d.).

The most considerable difference from Christian denominations is the approach to

salvation. Pope John Paul II said that Man is justified by works and not by faith
alone. This is the belief that Catholic popes have historically emphasised (Ankerberg
& Weldon, n.d.). The Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation comes not only by
faith in Christ but also by works and sacraments (Robinson, 2002d; Ankerberg &
Weldon, n.d.).44

Overall, this doctrinal approach provides a basic knowledge to understand Roman

Catholic Church. The next section examines human services of Roman Catholic
Church through Australian history.


This was declared on November 1, 1950. While this event does not appear in the Bible, it has been
argued that Jesus would not have allowed his mothers body to decay in the earth.
This became the ignition point for the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther. On October 31, 1517
Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church, Wittenberg. Luthers concerns
were the ethical and theological reform of the church: Scripture alone is authoritative (sola scriptura)
and justification is by faith (sola fide), not by works (Goetz, 1986a). Under the impact of the Protestant
Reformation, the nineteenth Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church held in Trent in 1545
63. Through the Council the Church tried to reform itself and clarify its dogmatic definitions (Goetz,



Historical approaches to human services in Australia

The Catholic Church in Australia started with the penal settlement when the First Fleet
arrived in January 1788. In the penal colony of New South Wales, while most of the
soldiers and convicts were Protestants from England and Scotland, the Irish were
generally Catholics and did not speak English (Dixon, 1996; OFarrel, 1985). Under
the influence of anti-Catholic feelings which emerged in England, the Irish convicts
were marginalised from mainstream society in Australia (Koszarycz, n.d.b). The
colonial authorities viewed the Irish convicts as trouble makers in the colonial society,
which led them to prevent the spread of Catholicism. To solve the problem, Rev.
Samuel Marsden suggested the monopoly of Protestantism in the education of
children (OFarrell, 1985, p. 7).

The arrival of Fathers John Joseph Terry and Philip Connolly in 1820 can be regarded
as the formal establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia (Dixon, 1996).
Even the Irish Catholics religious needs were totally ignored on an official level, the
Australian Roman Catholic Church has been largely shaped by an Irish mould since the
first Irish convicts arrived. Many Irish priests and most of the bishops sought to
transfer the features of the Irish Church to Australian context. Nevertheless, a sense of
identity as an Australian Church was growing and, before the end of the nineteenth
century, Irish priests began to find themselves regarded as less suitable than priests
born in Australia (Dixon, 1996).

Sectarian tensions and conflicts between Catholics and Protestants were an early


feature of Australian society. Protestants thought of Catholics as uncivilised and

disloyal to the Government. Catholics, on the other hand, considered Protestants to
have left the true religion. However, in many instances Protestants and Catholics both
provided assistance to each other in schools, hospitals and other projects. On the part
of Catholics, the community services of education and health were provided at all
Convent school, which accepted the daughters of Protestants, and St Vincents Hospital
in Sydney, the first professional hospital in Australia, catered for the sick poor of both
Protestants and Catholics, and invited clergy of all denominations to recommend
patients (Campion, 1988).

The 1950s was a boom time for Australian Catholics especially after World War II, as
the proportion of Catholics in the Australian population increased rapidly. Many
parishes were established, the number of priests, sisters and brothers continued to grow.
As a result, the educational status of Catholics also increased noticeably. Through all
the growth of the Catholic community, the Catholic Church moulded to Irish model
which Irish bishops had dreamed of (Dixon, 1996). However, soon after in the 1960s
and 1970s, this situation changed under the huge post-war influx of non-Englishspeaking immigrants, including more than a million Catholics from Italy, Malta, the
Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Hungary and numerous other places. These people
wanted to preserve their own customs: Mass and schooling in their own language and
obtaining priests from their mother countries. Change was also stimulated by the rift in
the Australian Labor Party which was precipitated late in 1954. Catholics were
involved in the Labor Government at that time, in fact more than half of the Federal
Labor caucus was Catholic (OFarrell, 1985).


At the same time, there was a huge wave of change from the Vatican. The Second
Vatican Council, which was the most significant event in the Roman Catholic Church
in the twentieth century, was convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962 and continued to
1965 under Paul VI in Rome. All the Catholic bishops of the world participated in the
Council. The purpose of the Council was the spiritual renewal of the Church and the
reconsideration of the position of the Church in the modern world (The Columbia
Electronic Encyclopaedia, 2004). Sixteen documents were finally produced by Vatican
II. These dealt with many matters such as:
the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which gave renewed importance to
the role of the bishops; the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which
authorised vernacularisation of the liturgy and greater lay participation; the
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which acknowledged
the need for the church to adapt itself to the contemporary world; the Decree on
Ecumenism; and the Declaration on Religious Freedom (McBrien, n.d., para. 4).
But it was the four principal documents which were to bring about major changes in
the practices of the church and the lives of its members. These documents were on
liturgy, Divine Revelation, the Church itself, and its role in the modern world. The
document on the liturgy, the first document released by the Council, prompted a
revolution in Catholic worship, with changes including the celebration of Mass in the
vernacular rather than in Latin, and the redesign of churches and rituals to emphasise
and encourage the active participation of the lay Catholics (Dixon, 1996).

The document The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
(Gaudium et Spes) (hereafter referred to as the The Pastoral Constitution) itself


presented the Catholic Church as primarily part of the whole Christian community of
faith, or People of God. Its emphasis was on the role of each baptised member of the
church. The hierarchys role was one of service to the faith community (Dixon, 1996).
Traditionally, the Catholic Church had emphasised the hierarchical order of the Church,
with its Pope, bishops and priests. The Church was centralised in Rome and thus the
laity was to a great extent passive in the life of the Church (Koszarycz, n.d.a).

The document on the Church in the modern world, the last and the longest released by
the Council, has had an enormous impact on the way the church interacts with the rest
of society. The Pastoral Constitution is divided into two parts. The first partThe
Church and Mans [sic] Callinglays out theological and pastoral perspectives and
principles and principles about the Church in the world. This part consists of four
chapters: the dignity of the human person, the community of mankind, mans activity
throughout the world, the role of the church in the modern world. The second part
Some Problems of Special Urgencyaddresses five areas: fostering the nobility of
marriage and the family, the proper development of culture, socio-economic life, the
life of the political community, and the fostering of peace and the promotion of a
community of nations (Gremillion, 1976). Many current Catholic movements for social
justice, world development and peace, including liberation theology, have developed
from this document.

The effect of all these changes in society and the church is that todays Catholic
community looks very different from that of the 1950s. Mass attendance rate have
fallen, the number of priests, sisters and brothers is declining and their average age is


increasing. The relationship between clergy and people has changed. The participation
of lay people in leadership rolesin education, health care, parish life and many other
fieldshas been increased greatly. The Churchs teaching has been reinterpreted in
order to accord with contemporary theories of history, sociology and the sciences
(Dixon, 1996).

Historically, the Catholic Church has operated not-for-profit organisations. The

mission of service provision in the health, education and welfare services sectors has
been carried out within a moral framework set by Church teaching and within a
political and economic framework shaped by public policy (ACCER, 2001). The
following principles underpinned by Catholic social teaching can identify Catholic
1. Dignity of Human Personeach person possesses an inherent dignity based
on the Christian understanding of the human person as one who is both
individual and social, created in the image of God;
2. Common Goodthe good of each person is bound up with the good of the
community. Social policy and practices should benefit the many as well as
each one and should encourage broad participation in community life;
3. Option for the Poorthe Scriptures, the life of Christ and the tradition of the
Church call[s all Catholics] to a preferential option for the poor. This
imperative calls [them] to commit [themselves] to those who are least well off:
by entering into relationships of solidarity with those who are disadvantaged;
by the direct provision of services to those in need; through social analysis,
bringing to light situations of injustice; by bringing about change to unjust
structures, and developing new structures, through advocacy and action; and
through empowering those who are disadvantaged;
4. Centrality of Missionthe social mission is not peripheral but central to the
life and identity of the Church (ACCER, 2001, p. 3, italics added).


Catholic social teaching is a central and essential element of Catholic faith. McBrien
(1980, pp. 912913) defines Catholic social teaching as:
a clearly discernible body of official teachings on the social order, in its
economic and political dimensions. It is concerned, on the one hand, with the
dignity of the human person as created in the image of God, and with human
rights and duties which protect and enhance this dignity, and it is concerned, on
the other hand, with the common good, that is, with the radically social nature
of human existence, with the nature of society and of the state, with the
relationship between society and state (balancing the principle of subsidiarity
and the principle of socialization), and with voluntary associations, e.g., labour
unions, which serve as a buffer and a bridge between state and society.
Catholic social teaching can be summarised in ten principles:
1. Human dignityevery person possesses an inalienable dignity regardless of
gender, race, class, ethnicity, nationality. It flows from the creation in Gods
image and redemption by Jesus Christ.
2. Respect for human lifehuman life must be protected and respected because it
is valuable at every stage.
3. Associationhuman dignity is appreciated in community with others and with
all of creation. Family life must be protected as the core of society.
4. Participationpeople have a right and a duty to participate in society. Work is
not just a mean of living but participating in Gods creation. Dignity of work
should be protected through the right to earn fair wages and to have good
working conditions.
5. Preferential protection for the poor and vulnerablein a society, the needs of
the poor and vulnerable are to be first because the common good requires it.


6. Solidaritythe human person is social by nature therefore we are our brothers

and sisters keepers.
7. Stewardshippeople have responsibility for protection of the environment and
also for use of our personal talents, health and property.
8. Subsidiaritythis principle deals mainly with the responsibilities and limits of
government, and the essential roles of voluntary associations.
9. Human equalitywhile there are different in talents, social and cultural
discrimination should be removed.
10. The common goodthe common good is understood as the social conditions
that allow people to reach their full human potential and to realise their human
dignity (Adapted from Byron, 1998).

Even though these ten principles do not address disability directly, they are highly
relevant to developing a disability theology. These principles contain the notion that
people with disabilities can be recognised and treated as full human beingsthe same
as other people. Particularly, the fifth principle implies that people with disabilities
should be protected preferentially as a part of the poor and vulnerable.

Catholic organisations have been challenged in maintaining their religious identity in

delivering services funded by government. Over the last fifty years, government has
generally taken responsibility for and managed the provision of community services. It
has funded non-profit religious and charitable organisations to provide components of
these services. As recipients of governments funds, these organisations have provided
services which government has not provided. Furthermore, government has introduced


competition in the development of service types under the market system. This system
has influenced government-funded services such as education, childcare, health care,
aged care services, youth programs and employment training and placement. Church
organisations have become dependent upon market-driven funding regimes (ACCER,
2001). Whilst having to adhere to anti-discrimination legislation, Churches can in some
instances apply for exemptions when it comes to hiring employees for their
organisations. Other issues such as finances and safety in the workplace are further
pressures on Church organisations (ACCER, 2001).

Catholic Welfare Australia is a good example of how the Roman Catholic Church has
approached human services in Australia. Due to the lack of study in human services of
the Roman Catholic Church, the Annual Report 20022003 of Catholic Welfare
Australia is used. Catholic Welfare Australias mission is to promote and advance the
ministry of Catholic social welfare as integral to the mission of the Catholic Church in
Australia (Catholic Welfare Australia, 2003, Mission Statement, para. 1). To carry out
this mission Catholic Welfare Australia interacts with
Catholic organisations, governments, other churches and all people of good will,
to develop social welfare policies, programs and other strategic responses that
enhance the human dignity of every person and work towards the economic,
social and spiritual well-being of the Australian community (Catholic Welfare
Australia, 2003, Mission Statement, para. 2).
While Catholic Welfare Australia was established three years ago in 2001, the role has
been increasing in Australian society with 53 member organisations around the nation
including over 5,500 staff. Catholic Welfare Australia directly assists over 400,000


Australians each year through: quality assurance and network support; research, policy
and advocacy services; family and relationships services; disability and communitybased aged care services; centacare employment services and; personal support
programme (Catholic Welfare Australia, 2003).

While in early Australian history, Catholicism was viewed negatively by officials,

today the Roman Catholic Church has expanded and is now recognised by society and








understandings. The huge change altering the Churchs constitution came from Vatican
Council II in 1960s and this wave has influenced to disability theology and service

In Section 3, disability theology in Roman Catholic Church is addressed first through

an examination of Judeo-Christian theology. The changes of perception in Roman
Catholic Church are then explored.



Perspectives on disability in Roman Catholicism


Judaeo-Christian theology

The perspectives on disability in the Roman Catholic Church can be found in the
Judaeo-Christian theology commonly accepted in Christianity. Rose (1997) classified
the ancient belief systems of the Judaeo-Christian theology in four categories:
disability as a sign of punishment or evil incarnation, disability as a challenge to
divine perfection, disability as an object of pity and charity, and disability as
incompetence and exemption from religious practice (p. 397). In this section I have
adopted Roses framework for discussion.


Disability as sign of punishment or evil incarnation

The belief that disability is the sign of punishment prevailed throughout the ancient
world (Mile, 2002b). Palapathwala (2002) argues that the Jewish understanding of
suffering as related to sin and the devil was borrowed from the Zoroastrian tradition in
Persia which explained suffering as a result of the dualism of good and evil. In the Old
Testament, the people of Israel are punished for their sinful behaviour through physical
disability. There are several examples. In Deuteronomy 28:28,45 The Lord will afflict
you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind: if humans are immoral they will
be blinded by God46. In Exodus 20:5, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,

All scripture texts are from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) of the Bible.
There are several explanations about blindness in this verse: that blindness probably means
psychological incapacitation (Christensen, 2002), or a lack of good sense in government policies which
results in ruin to the nation (Nichol, 1980b).


punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of
those who reject me, God tells Moses that retribution for sin will be inflicted on the
offspring of the sinners for many generations (Walvoord & Zuck, 2000). In the Book
of 1 Samuel 12:123, the prophet Nathan admonishes King David for his sin and,
though David is repentant, he is punished through his new-born child, who is
condemned to death.

The New Testament also supports this theme of a link between sin and disability: the
tradition is continued.47 Before the time of Jesus birth, persons with intellectual
disabilities were killed in the Spartan society. In Roman society, people with
intellectual disabilities were used as forms of entertainment (fools or jesters) for the
leaders and the wealthy (Smalley, 2001). In the early Middle Ages of Europe, such
practices were commonplace, Pope Leo X (15131521) also enjoyed entertainment
provided by people with intellectual disabilities (Webb-Mitchell, 1995).

There are twenty-six passages related to disability in the New Testament (Block, 2002).
In John 5:14 Jesus said to a man who was paralysed for thirty-eight years: Do not sin
anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you. This verse implies both that the
mans former life had been one of sin and that those sins were forgiven (Nichol,
1980d). The man is told that he will recover perfect health if he ceases his evil ways.
On the other hand, the account of the man with paralysis who was lowered by
companions into a house (Matthew 9:18; Mark 2:112; Luke 5:1726) show the most
remarkable example of the connection between disability and sin. Here forgiveness of

This view is contrary to that proposed by Stiker (1999, c.f. pp. 2337) who claims that Jesus teaching
broke that nexus.


sin and physical healing are represented as equivalent (Eiesland, 1994). The mans own
sin were responsible for his suffering (Nichol, 1980c) For which is easier, to say,
Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Stand up and walk? (Matthew 9:5).

In the post-New Testament era, a Church Father, St. Augustine of Hippo (354430 CE),
discussed why suffering exists in the world. This discussion has greatly influenced the
post-New Testament Christian understandings of suffering. St. Augustine of Hippo
claimed that humanity at creation was infinitely perfect and suffering was the result of
the Fall48 (Palapathwala, 2002). In the same way he perceived that impairment is a
punishment for the fall of Adam and other sins.


Disability as challenge to divine perfection

Rose (1997) argues that one of the basic theological underpinnings of the JudeoChristian religious faiths is the belief in the perfection of divinity and the creation
brought about by the Divine (p. 398). If God is both omnipotent and essentially good,
then all that is created by God would be healthy and complete. Thus, the existence of
imperfection in creation is not only a challenge to the notion of Gods perfection, but
also a challenge to Gods basic goodness as well (Rose, 1997).


The belief that when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden they lost
communion with God and brought themselves and all their descendents (including the present and future
generations) into a condition of sin and misery (Genesis 2:43:24). Through the centuries, it has been a
source of speculation about God, the world, and human beings. Most traditional interpretations of this
passage are rooted deeply in the theology of Augustine (5th century) that was later adapted by John
Calvin (16th century). The idea of the Fall of human beings from an original state of Adamic
perfection to a state of total sinfulness dominates most discussion of the passage. Some theologians have
combined the idea of a Fall with Pauls concept of the first Adam (Romans 5) and developed various
formulations of a doctrine of original sin or inherent depravity. With the traditional doctrines of the Fall
and original sin tied so closely to Augustinian and Calvinistic presuppositions, most interpretations of
this passage tend to operate with these same presuppositions (Bratcher, 1993).


In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, it is noted that animals
with physical defects are not to be used for ritual sacrifice. Exodus 12:5 states: Your
lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from
the goats, while Leviticus 22:20 states: You shall not offer anything that has a
blemish, for it will not be acceptable in your behalf, and Numbers 28:31 states: in
addition to the regular burnt offering with its grain offering, you shall offer them and
their drink offering. They shall be without blemish. Deuteronomy 15:21 states: But if
it has any defectany serious defect, such as lameness or blindnessyou shall not
sacrifice it to the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 17:1 states: You must not sacrifice to
the Lord your God an ox or a sheep that has a defect, anything seriously wrong; for
that is abhorrent to the Lord your God. The meaning of these verses is that anything
less than the best is unworthy of being placed in Gods service, moreover, the sacrifice
symbolises the sinless Christ (Nichol, 1980a).

This rule is also applied to the high priest who is serving in the temple. It is showed in
Leviticus 21:1723:
Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations
who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who
has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a
mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken
hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an
itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest
who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord's offerings by fire; since he
has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat
the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy. But he shall not
come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he

may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them.

The qualifications for the selection of the high priest are outlined. Physically
defective or deformed priests were not allowed to function in the priestly activities
of bringing offerings to God or entering the most holy place in the temple (Walvoord &
Zuck, 2000). The Bible consequently seems to show that perfection and beauty are the
fundamental certificates for religious rite and that imperfection is to be rejected.
Seemingly people with disabilities threaten the divine order surrounded by beauty and
wholeness (Habel, 1998; Rose, 1997).


Disability as object of pity and charity

This belief is also shown both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. In
ancient societies, almsgiving provided a vital means of survival for people deemed
outcasts or who were without the means to provide for them. In Amos 5:1215 of the
Old Testament, Israelites pushed aside the needy and refused to establish justice at the
gate. Hence, they failed to accord dignity with the system of charity (Eiesland, 1994).
The obligation to engage in charitable giving is also present in the New Testament.
Peter and John, in Acts 3:110, responded to a person with a disability requesting for
donations with miraculous action. The Christian community has always acknowledged
a special responsibility and mission to marginalised people.

Historically, religious institutions were the first providers of care for persons with
disabilities. In the early middle Ages, hospices and hospitals for the ill and people with
disabilities were established. Most of these organisations were developed by monastic


orders and provided compassionate care, medical advances, and indispensable

financial support (Eiesland, 1994). Because of the supportive attitude, it is hard to
understand why people with disabilities have been segregated from the Christian
community environmentally and socially.

One explanation is that persons with a disability are seen as objects of pity and charity
for the able-bodied believer to practise acts of kindness and good (Covey, 1998;
Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 1999; Rose, 1997; Wolfensberger, 1972). By being
classified as disabled, persons with impairment lose a sense of individuality and
basic humanity, thus they become a charitable responsibility (Rose, 1997).


Disability as incompetence and exemption from religious practice

Persons with a disability are often seen as subnormal and incompetent, and are also
treated as minors in the Jewish legal code. Further, their community functions are
prohibited and exempted (Rose, 1997). In the area of worship of the Jewish legal code
(halakha), persons with a disability cannot participate fully in the rituals of prayer such
as reciting certain prayers, leading prayer services and the public reading.
Consequently, under these laws, persons with disabilities are placed in inferior,
incapable, unequal and isolated positions (Rose, 1997).


Positive Scriptural understandings of disability

This section outlines more positive portrayal of disability in the Bible. The positive


perception can be started from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, even the sindisability conception seems to be strong, and the exhortations to provide care for
people with disabilities can be found throughout the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy
27:18, no one should make it harder for one who is blind: Cursed be anyone who
misleads a blind person on the road. Leviticus 19:14 also states similarly: You shall
not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I
am the Lord. In these verses those who are physically handicapped deserve special
consideration (Nichol, 1978f). When God is bringing back the people of Israel from
their Babylonian exile, in Isaiah 43:8, people with disabilities are also included: Bring
forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! Certain
leaders of the Israel had disabling conditions. For example, Jacob, the son of Isaac,
wrestled with an angel, and even though he received a blessing from the angel, his hip
was put out of joint, and he was left lifelessly. Though physically lame, he could
remind the richest blessings of God in his life (Nichol, 1978e): The sun rose upon him
as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip (Genesis 32:31). Moses was thought
to have had speech impairment: but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue (Exodus
4:10). Consequently, as Webb-Mitchell (1995) argues, people with disabilities seem to
be disabled not because of a wrathful and avenging God, on the contrary, they could
have a secure place among the Israel.

In the New Testament, Jesus kept company with the outcasts of Jewish society,
including those with disabilities (Webb-Mitchell, 1995). Jesus incorporated people
with disabilities in stories about the kingdom of God: for instance, the parable of the
Great Banquet Feast, at which those who finally came were not the able-bodied but


people with disabilities (Luke 14:1524). When the disciples asked Jesus, in John 9:1
3, whether the man was born blind for his own sin or that of his parents, Jesus did not
explain the cause of mans affliction, but told the Jews what would be the result. Jesus
firmly rejected both views which are predominantly prevailed at that time (Block,
2002; Eiesland, 1994; Miles, 2002a). The Jews thought that the sufferings of his life
were divine punishment for sin. They believed that every sin had its peculiar
punishment and the guilt of a person can be determined by the nature of his suffering.
Children often do suffer the consequences of their parents wrongdoing, but they are
not punished for the parents guilt (Nichol, 1980g).
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him,
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus
answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that
Gods works might be revealed in him (John 9:13).


Roman Catholic Church

The wave of change of perspectives on disability in Roman Catholic Church has

emerged from outside of the church boundary. In the Roman Catholic Church as well
as general society, World War I and World War II were turning points of the societal
attitude to people with disabilities. When family members with missing limbs, sensory
impairments, and emotional illnesses came back from the War, persons with disabilities
became visible in society. Government took responsibility for solving disability issues
beginning to be involved in disability services. The 1960s saw the beginning of
community-based residential housing and the start of the de-institutionalisation of the
state-run institutions in America (Smalley, 2001). Establishing the National Apostolate


for the Mentally Retarded (NAMR) in America was followed in 1968. The American
Roman Catholic Church was part of the movement which brought about this
significant development for people with disabilities. NAMRs original mission was to
work for the total integration of people with intellectual disability in the life of the
church and the life of the community (Smalley, 2001). The Pastoral Statement of U.S.
Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities was published on November 16, 1978.
In the statement the bishops acknowledge the past shortcomings of the Church:
The Church, through the response of its members to the needs of their
neighbours, and through its parishes, health care institutions, and social service
agencies has always attempted to show a pastoral concern for individuals with
disabilities. However, in a spirit of humble candor, we must acknowledge that
at times were have responded to the needs of some of our people with
disabilities only after circumstances or public opinion have compelled us to do
so. (para. 6)
They emphasize the need of inclusion at the local, diocesan and national levels. The
bishop says:
For most Catholics, the community of believers is embodied in the local parish.
The parish is the door to participation for persons with disabilities, and it is the
responsibility of the pastor and lay leaders to make sure that this door is always
open. (para. 17)
They also stress that disability is no more the object of pity: people with disabilities
are not looking for pity. They seek to serve the community and to enjoy their full
baptismal rights as members of the Church (para. 33).

In 1995, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States (NCCB)


published their second pastoral statement on disabilities: Guidelines for the

Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities. The Guidelines begin
with seven general principles, which Smalley (2001, pp. 108109) summarised as
1. By reason of their baptism, all Catholics are equal in dignity in the sight of
God, and have the same calling.
2. Catholics with disabilities have a right to participate in the sacraments as
full functioning members of the local ecclesial community.
3. Parish sacramental celebrations should be accessible to persons with
disabilities and open to their full, active and conscious participation,
according to their capacity.
4. Since the parish is the centre of the Christian experience for most Catholics,
pastoral ministers should make every effort to determine the presence of all
Catholics with disabilities who reside within a parishs boundaries.
5. Pastors are responsible to be as inclusive as possible in providing
evangelisation, catechetical formation, and sacramental preparation for
parishioners with disabilities.
6. The creation of a fully accessible parish reaches beyond mere physical
accommodation to encompass the attitudes of all parishioners towards
persons with disabilities.
7. Dioceses are encouraged to establish appropriate policies for handling
[difficult] cases which respect the procedural and substantive rights of all
involved, and which ensure the necessary provision of consultation.
Within the seven principles, Roman Catholic Church emphasised the equal dignity of
people with disabilities and full participating in church life, demanded pastoral care for
people with disabilities. The bishops address the seven sacraments following the
general principles. Even the bishops argue that persons with intellectual disabilities
who can never reach the age of reason for the sacraments of Confirmation, Eucharist
and Penance are to be encouraged to receive either directly or through their parents or


guardian (Smalley, 2001).

On the twentieth anniversary (1998) of their first pastoral statement, the NCCB
released Welcome and Justice for persons with Disabilities: a Framework of Access
and Inclusion. It is a reaffirmation of ten of the principles from their two earlier
statements. In this latest document, the bishops reaffirm the uniqueness of each human
being and acknowledge the dignity of persons with disabilities. The Catholic Church in
the United States has begun to realise persons with intellectual disabilities as more than
poor souls who only need care and prayer due to the NCCBs documents (Smalley,

In the mean time, the United Nations declared The International Year of Disabled
Persons (IYDP) in 1981. The theme of the declaration was full participation and
equality, defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life
and development of their societies, to enjoy living conditions equal to those of other
citizens, and to have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socioeconomic development (General Assembly resolution 31/123). Responding to this
declaration, the Roman Catholic Church made the Holy See Statement on the Year of
the Disabled (1981). They argue that people with disabilities have full human right.
The Holy See declared the basic principles about people with disabilities:
The disabled person is a fully human subject, with the corresponding innate,
sacred and inviolable rights (para. 10). Disabled persons, whatever the origin,
nature and seriousness of their handicaps and disabilities, have the same
fundamental rights as their fellow-citizens of the same age, which implies first
and foremost the right to enjoy a decent life, as normal and full as possible


(para. 14).

Around the time of the IYDP declaration, Pope John Paul II sent a letter entitled Letter
from His Holiness John Paul II (John Paul II, 1981) to people with disabilities and
their parents and friends. In this letter Pope John Paul II embraces people with
disabilities allowing them to participate in Church life as well as their care givers:
Jesus invites you to stay confident in your Father in Heaven (para. 3); You have
already taken your place at the heart of the Churchwith all your Christian brothers
and sisters (para. 5). This Pope, Jesus vicar on earth with the entire teaching authority
of the Roman Catholic Church, gives power to people with disabilities (Goetz, 1986b).
Being accepted into church life means that people with disabilities also can be saved as
the able-bodied people because salvation is the ultimate object of the Catholics life.

When Pope John Paul II visited Brisbane in 1986, he delivered an Address to the
Handicapped, Sick, and Disabled People. In his address the Pope affirmed that people
with disabilities have full quality of life and also they are not a charitable object but
rather contributors to society. The Pope said:
No one born into this world is free from human frailty whether it is physical,
emotional or spiritual. Each of us must personally come to terms with this
frailtyBut in the providence of God a different life does not mean a less
important life. It does not mean a life with less potential for holiness or for
contributing to the well-being of the world (St Paul Publications, 1987, para. 2).

The Archdiocesan Catholic Social Welfare Commission in Brisbane published a book

Branches of the Vine in 1983. They argued that people with disabilities have intrinsic


dignity and value, and disabled persons have an inalienable right to life (Grundy, 1983,
pp. 4, 5). They address also human condition of people with disabilities:
Whatever their differences, disabled persons, along with able-bodied people,
are human beings with feelings and emotions, desires and needs. They need to
be needed, to be appreciated for what they ARE rather than what they can do,
to love and to be loved (Grundy, 1983, p. 5).
In Branches of the Vine, Grundy (1983) not only just describes theologies, but argues
how the Church can help people with disabilities enter into general society and church
life such as marriage and sacraments. Acceptance of people with disabilities into the
sacraments symbolises respect for them and indicates an intrinsic dignity and value
because sacraments are such a central part of the Catholic faith as a salvation method.
Grundy (1983) argues that:
Every effort should be made by parents/guardians, priests, religious, catechists
and the whole Christian community to give disabled persons the opportunities
and supports they require to participate in the Sacramental life of the Church in
accordance with their faith, their abilities and personal vocation, so that they
might be drawn into ever more perfect union with God and other members of
the Church and thus contribute to the building up of the body of Christ (p. 16).

Australian Catholic Bishops Committee issued a pastoral letterLives Lived to

Overflowingto people with disability and their families in 1997. They mentioned that
they aware of the existence of people with disabilities due to the International Year of
Disabled Persons in 1981 and the need of integration: We are pleased that the Church,
like other institutions in our community, has grown in its awareness of the needs of
people with a disability since the International Year of the Disabled People in 1981


(para. 6). We ask that all people with a disability are made to feel comfortable and
accepted as equals in our Parishes and local communities (para. 8).

In 2003, Archbishop Migliore, the Vatican representative of the United Nations,

observed that the person with disabilities has every right to be a subject and an active
agent in the everyday affairs of human existence and These persons are rich in
humanity. Each has right and duties like every other human being (para. 2). He puts
emphasis on the protection and promotion of the right of persons with disabilities. And
further he declared that disability must not be regarded as a punishment or curse
(para. 3). His declaration is a challenge to the prevailed Judeo-Christian theology about
people with disabilities.

As Block (2002) argued, while Christian disability theology has played a large part in
forming or maintaining societal attitudes, Christianity is no longer the dominant culture
and is impacted and influenced by the events of the wider society. The change of the
perception on disability of the society has led the change of the religious attitude.
Recently there has been effort to promote the positive theology which is empowering
to people with disabilities, instead of negative aspects in disability. For example,
Eiesland (1994) draws the liberation theology of disability in her book The Disabled
God. Block (2002) discusses about the theology of access in her book Copious Hosting.
Recent books, written by the Roman Catholics, have been pursued to seek the positive
way which can integrate people with disabilities into Church.

The recent philosophy among the common society through the disability movement is


that people with disabilities are saying that there is nothing wrong with being disabled,
and there is no pity or tragedy in disability and that it is societys myths, fears and
stereotypes that most make being disabled difficult (Shapiro, 1993, p. 5).

The Roman Catholic Church has unique doctrines that other Christian denominations
do not have: Papal infallibility, doctrine about Mary and the seven sacraments. The
most significant difference is in the means of salvation: salvation by work. The concept
of disability was historically negative, based on Judeo-Christian theology. In the
Australian context, the attitude to people with disabilities has changed from the post
World War period. The Roman Catholic Church on the inside also experienced a
wave of change from Vatican Council II. Even though Catholic social teaching does
not mention disability, under the influence of Catholic social teaching, the Church
commenced to take people with disabilities under her wing. Overall the International
Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 facilitated change in the Church as well as general
society. According to the official change of the Church theological change also
followed to positive level.

In this chapter, the perceptions of disability in two religious traditions were examined.
Buddhist doctrine is related to explaining and solving suffering in human life.
Especially, disability can be illuminated with the two doctrines: samsara and karma.
On the other hand, Roman Catholic Church has seen disability through Judeo-Christian
theology. Both two religious traditions have considered disability as punishment, the
result of sin or dukkha. However, the doctrines in two religious traditions are complex
and open to different interpretations. There has been more debate in Christianity,


because there is more literature on disability theology. On the other hand, the
discussion about disability and Buddhism is under developed and remains at an early
stage. The limited discussion is in this area, for example, the nature of karma and
relationship with disability. Consequently, the disability concept is moving to positive
direction empowering people with disabilities, leaving behind a negative concept of

In Chapter 3, the exploration moves to a practical level in order to find how religious
organisations address the concept on disability in service delivery. The real and present
perspective in two religious traditions is drawn up through analysing and discussing
interviews. The differences and similarities between literature and real societal
understanding are examined. Interrelations of the two religious traditions are also


Chapter 3
Human Service Practice

This chapter is about the practical approach (typified in service delivery) to the
perceptions of disability between Roman Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism. To
achieve this goal, two interviews were conducted and analysed. The interviewees were
chosen from two organisations: Karuna Hospice Services, a Tibetan Buddhist
organisation, and Centacare, a Roman Catholic organisation. The order of discussion
about Karuna is in three steps: history and philosophy of the organisation, the attitudes
to disability, and the relationship between socially engaged Buddhism and service
delivery. Discussion about Centacare is also carried out in three steps: history and
philosophy of the organisation, the concept on disability, and the relationship between
Catholic social teaching and disability. Readers are reminded that the prototype of
questions is outlined in Chapter 2, methodology section as Table 1: Proposed
Interview Questions. Transcription abbreviations are outlined in Appendix 1. Overall
the process of this chapter is ordered and critically analysed to key themes and
responses from the interviews.


The impact of the basic structure of Buddhism on the actual state

(Through the Karuna Hospice Service)

Karuna, which is located at the Rosemount hospital site at Windsor in Brisbane, was
visited on June 25, 2004, the second of the two interviews. The interviewees were a


staff member who works as quality and risk officer, and a volunteer who works as
clinical administrator. For the purposes of confidentiality, I have chosen to name these
two interviewees Kristy and Chanel. While Karuna is not really a disability service,
it is a hospice, the two interviewees have a good knowledge of the Buddhist concept
about disability and people with disabilities. Furthermore, Chanel herself has a life
experience in disability as a wheelchair user. At this point, I remind the reader that
transcription abbreviations are outlined in the appendix.



History and philosophy of Karuna

Karuna Hospice Services was established in 1992 by Pende Hawter under the spiritual
leadership of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, as an activity of the international Buddhist
organisation Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT).
Karuna realised the necessity to help remove the physical, emotional and spiritual
suffering people experience as they face death (Karuna Hospice Services, n.d.). Karuna
is an organisation providing palliative care service. Palliative care is the active total
care of patients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment. The goal of
palliative care is to achieve the best possible quality of life for patients and their
families (Karuna Hospice Services, n.d., p. 2).

Commenting on Buddhist history, Chanel said: I know, you know, [other] teachers
whole spread to that Buddhism to west started it was related 70s, and then, you know,


progressive through the early 80s. But [youve got] people who have all of different
traditions even visiting as well, you know. Even though the history of Buddhism in
Australia is short,49 according to Sherwoods research (2003), Buddhist non-profit
organisational services are well developed and spread over the country. Karuna has a
reputation for excellence of service delivery among the families of patients, within the
palliative care service industry, within the Brisbane community, and among
government agencies (Sherwood, 2003).

As a Tibetan Buddhist organisation, it is questioned how the Buddhist concepts have

been applied to daily service delivery. Even though it is a challenge that many staff are
not Buddhists, Kristy emphasised the values of the Buddhist principles:
Kristy: So um the staff its not a prerequisite to be a Buddhist and um not a lot
of staff are Buddhists. However [the] delivery is really based [on the] values of
the Buddhist on the principles of preciousness of life, passion, dignity,
empowerment, universal responsibility which are inherent in any of the
teachings like whether its Christian, Hindu or any of those so really the
principles that we provide, as service by [ahh] those basic (Buddhist) principles
[and] so I delivery comes from that heart based. And so our clients do not know
that whether a person is a Buddhist or not. Its evidenced ah and that Buddhist
principles are evidenced by how we look after th^em. So we look, we (
) let
them ah respect them um all- allowed them [to] choices give them the choices
um, you know, by empowering into (make) their own decisions. Um so the
evidence, in there, how we care for them and people often are not able to
articulate the difference in our service from other services.
Chanel also emphasised that the holistic approach that encompasses comprehensive
support, irrespective of financial or social circumstances, recognises the physical,


Buddhists have been in Australia since the 1800s, although written histories are scant.


emotional, social and spiritual needs of the patients or their families.


The concept on disability

The first question about the Buddhist concept on disability was to find whether there is
any connection between the concept of in the Buddhist concept of karma and the
experience of disability or illness. It became clear during the interview that the
discussion of a Buddhist concept of disability was something that had not been
discussed before. As the conversation progressed, both Kristy and Chanel began to
dialogue around the complexities of the issues. The two interviewees denied the
relation between karma and disability. They strongly asserted that suffering is natural.

Chanel asked again with suspicion: ahh how would you ask that? She seemed to be
Kristy and Chanel answered in succession:
Kristy: There is for the dharma practitioners because we recognised the karma
but in no way would be ever express that.
Chanel: But it al^so I think its just its also the, you know, suffering is natural.
Interviewer: You say its natural.
Kristy: Yes.
Chanel: Yes, its the natural.

They were asked about that more pointedly: You know, in Buddhist country most


Buddhists they believe that if they have some disease or disability this is from their
previous life or their parents sin from their parents sin. Its like a punishment. Kristy
and Chanel both denied this strongly:
Chanel: ohhh
Kristy: No.
Chanel: No. its ripening of whatever cautions and conditions have happen in
the past.
Kristy: ((Its)) not about punishment.
Chanel: [You know], [its] the, but its nothing to punish people to, you know,
its no its just support them to dont be on that.
Kristy: Its natural consequence. The natural consequence or an ac^tion. But
(my aim) on a hot flame the natural consequence to that is not all be burnt
(meaning unclear).
Chanel: But its also.
Kristy: Also ripening of karma is natural karma is natural consequence.
Once again they said suffering is the natural consequence or an action and is not about
punishment. That is, even though a person may be suffering a disability or disease, this
is not from the persons previous life or his/her parents wrong doing. The two
interviewees used the phrase ripening of karma. Kristy gave a definition about the
ripening karma: ripening of karma is natural karma is natural consequence. Their
concept on suffering is equivalent to Harveys argument (1990) shown in Chapter 3
that good and bad rebirths are the natural results of certain kinds of action. Kristy and


Chanels viewpoint on the karma indicates that the Buddhist teaching on suffering is
more positive and thus free from traditional negative points of view.

Kristy explained that because of the limited understanding about karma, people could
think karma as a punishment:
Kristy: About the punishment? [I know the] perception are (there is) when
people look at karma that they think it as a punishment but its only because
[they dont actually understand] what karma is. They have limited
understanding of and they take it is on being punished what Ive done in the
past. But um and I suppose, if you look at say um some of the other religions
that they would say, you know, you are being punished gods punishing you for
doing that and so its very limited (unless) people understand karma are a
deeper level I realised that its just a natural consequence just the natural
consequence happening all the time and our attitude is that we accept what
comes along. Because we know that thats a ripening of the karma and as the
karma ripened then its finished and providing we maintain of positive things
about that then it is finished [you dont have to] worry about any more its
finished. Its the way we view that. So you not going to start recreating more
stuffs so in no way is there anything it mean ceased as punishment. But its
because of the deeper understanding of it. And so its limited understanding
thats he is just punishment.
They also said that there are two kinds of karma: positive karma and negative karma.
Their concept about karma, as described in Chapter 3, seems to be the same as de
Silvas (1968), that there is no link between the previous person and present person.
There is no belief in a soul (No Self, Annata) in Buddhism (About Inc., 2003;
Ambedkar, 1997). Also de Silvas collective karma (1968, p. 98)biological
reasons for suffering, natural or material reasons for suffering, social reasons for
suffering, moral reasons for sufferingimplies suffering is not really related with the


wrong doing of the person or their parents. More research is needed on the
understandings of karma, in particular how karma applies to disability, at both the
scholarly and practitioner level.

The next step, the question was on this organisations perspective about disability.
Chanel and Kristy said that Karunas approach to clients and their families is nonjudgemental:

Kristy: The conce^pt um the concept is that people are suffering um and [what]
is [that] we can provide to help them um have better quality of life in this while
their experience the um the suffering of it.
Chanel: But theres no judge^ment.
Kristy: No.
Chanel: Theres no judgement about, you know, havent done wrong that thats
absolutely not that. Its about helping people to, you know, to release this
suffering and identify their needs that they have. So that (as they come) close to,
I mean, disability is a little bit different. But you know, with there is that, you
know, coming towards there that its just peaceful as it can be and trying to
relieve all the symptoms that you can whether its physical, emotional, spiritual
whatever. But theres not judgement at all.
The next question was whether there have been any discussions within the service
about the relationship between religious beliefs about disability, illness or diseases and
approaches to service provision. They first said:
Kristy: OK. So um one of the strongest things that happen around here is
reinforcement of our guarding principles of preciousness of life and
empowerment and dignity and relief suffering. That is a regular thing that [we

are] trained in.

Kristy: [We just give] out and with no discrimination we tend people with
money no money um (Chanel: disability no) disability no disability.
Kristy: [We have] AIDS people with AIDS that we look after and so there is no
discrimination they are a precious person just like the other precious person so
um so the from ( ) from ah service viewpoint about, um you know, religious
beliefs its really just reinforcing their universal principles of um [which] are
underlined Buddhist principles and far from that theres no mention about
peoples religions or our religions because our other nurses not there Christians
um no religion, you know, and but we are all required and agree that [we]
deliver the service from the Buddhist principles of dignity or (
). So when a
new staff member comes they sign to say they will deliver the service
according to our values.
Kristy and Chanel mentioned Buddha-nature.50 Buddha-nature is the potential of
everyone to be a Buddha. That is, people should be treated, not the emotional reaction,
not the features that are revealed, but the fundamental human nature which is good.
The Buddhist concept about human beings is brought into Karunas service:

Kristy: And what part of the teaching creates that? I suppose, for me its really
about seeing in every person that Buddha nature and, you know, how you can
have a personal (can be) really mean and all that right. But I look through that
to their Buddha nature to the potential that they have as because inside
everybody is that Buddha nature. Now the fact that they may be mean is (
they havent got ever that Buddha nature and so um was you see that and you
deal with that level. But you also recognise it thats not who they are to the core
because to the in their core is that Buddha nature that waiting to ripe them.

Buddha-nature is the eternal potential, present in all sentient beings, for awakening and becoming
enlightened. Buddha-nature is considered to be incorruptible, in that no matter what the outward
appearance or history of a particular sentient being, Buddha-nature is always latently present (The Free
Dictionary, 2004).


Kristy: because, I suppose, one of the things that I, because Ive been travelling
on a part ( ) Buddhism and all what Ive done before that (
) but um one
of the things that I used to understand by and sort of my language is different
now in Buddhism that its (all) essentially means the same at its people here
we go that gets angry nor they OK and so if I equally get angry then its only
my ego thats getting angry its also actually just two egos getting angry and
thats not who we are because youve got this beautiful Buddha-nature that is
inherent in all of us that gets covered up [and] I mean an ego could take an ego.
The Buddha-nature doesnt take each other, do you know, what I mean? [So]
its the beautiful Buddha-nature that has always stuff he drives them or believes
them and ah.
Chanel: And karma.
Kristy: Yeah because um in some areas they would they would go OK all that
person has cancer of this I wonder what they did in previous life [to] them to
get that or I wonder what before that created that but it really it doesnt matter
its none of my business. Our business is just keep our heart open and to um
and be kind [and] to honour them as a precious person what they are regardless
of all the stuff that might be on top of them. You know, what I mean thats
irrelevant because its you have to be able to provide the service its really
about connecting with the essence of them in order and when people treat that
way it allowed them the best (result) come out too. Because it concerns to then
that may not such out that person (
) some of being kind me, you know, but
the kindness isnt coming from the back that or we have to be kind its coming
of our recognition of their Buddha-nature where their Buddha-nature.
Buddha-nature, according to Rinpoche (n.d.), has been in all beings since the
beginning of time, yet it has been covered with the dirt of the defilements. The
defilements in Buddhist beliefs consist of desire, attachments, involvements,
aggression, anger, ignorance, and stupidity. Through meditation, this precious Buddhanature can be revealed. Therefore, all beings are the same and need to be cared for
equally with impartial love and compassion (Rinpoche, n.d.). Karuna can provide the


same services to all kinds of people without any obstacle such as the peoples position,
material wealth or previous life-history. Throughout the interview, Kristy and Chanel
seemed to show their unbiased attitude to people with serious illnesses or disabilities
due to this concept, Buddha-nature. In the service provision of Karuna, the concept
functions as an important basis in developing an approach to people with disabilities or
terminal illnesses.


Socially engaged Buddhism in service delivery

Another significant question was asked whether socially engaged Buddhism is the
basic principle or perception in Karuna services. Kristy gave answers:
Kristy: So its not like a, you know, you go to church on Sundays all days that
you as view of the principles if you make commitment with the Buddhist
teachings then [it] becomes your life. And so our practice is to bring the
teachings to each (mind) of the day, seven days a week, every day a year um
[and] [living] not just having it (Chanel: you work to talk, you work to talk)
because thats commitment.
Kristy addressed socially engaged Buddhism just at a personal level which means not
just going to temple once a week, but bringing the teachings into everyday life.
Unfortunately they did not address the issue in a systematic way. As mentioned in
Chapter 3, socially engaged Buddhism is the basic concept to lead the contemporary
involvement to social change and social wellbeing in Australia (Sherwood, 2003).
Bucknell (2000) argues that the hospice area is one of two main types of Buddhist
engagement in Australia.


Overall in the Karuna interview, the perspective on disability was discussed widely and
in detail. The concept that disability is viewed as punishment from a previous life now
seems to be out of style at an individual level as well as systemic level in Buddhism.
The attitude to people is obtained, not from the past or outward appearance, but from
the eternal potential, Buddha-nature. More work and thinking is needed to be done in
this area. The next interview is with Centacare and looks at service delivery from a
Roman Catholic perspective.


The impact of the basic structure of Roman Catholicism on the actual

(Through the Centacare)

Centacare was visited on June 24, 2004. This is a Southside disability services based in
Sunnybank. The interviewee is a manager in this organisation who has been working
for 15 years. She has a good background for working in this area because she has
undertaken study of ministry at university in the past and the area of disabilities was
one of her areas of interest. For the purposes of confidentiality I have chosen to name
this interviewee Anna.



History and philosophy of Centacare

This organisation was established in 1970s by Bishop John Joseph Gerry (1927


as the response to the needs of people who were poor, being abused and homeless
within the church and outside of the church. The decisive momentum was the
declaration of the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. Anna said:
Anna: 1981, the International Year of Disabled ((Persons)) was when um the
response they had um lots of meeting in the different Parishes, lots of parents
saying what was church doing, our disabled son or daughter as far as education,
as far as accommodation, as far as responding to their needs. So there was a
lot of, I suppose, getting together people ah who most of very, I suppose,
anxious parents who did not know what to do.
The event from the outside of Catholic Church, which means the influence from the
secular world, has promoted the movement of Church inside. Further, it is seen that
parents of people with disabilities has functioned as an important part. As Cocks &
Stehlik argued in their article (1996), historically the parents movement in Australia
became a major force for change in social policy and social attitudes during the post
World War II period.

The aim of Centacare is to implement Catholic social teaching based fundamentally on

the dignity of human person through the gospel value that person was created in the
image of God. Centacare has categorised the Catholic social teaching into 8 elements:
1. Dignity of the human person
2. Social nature of the person
3. Common good inseparable from good of persons
4. Solidarity of the human family
5. Participation as a basic human right
5(a). [sic] subsidiarity as the rule of social organisation
6. Dignity of work
7. Universal purpose of material goods

8. Special claim of the poor and vulnerable (Centacare, 2002, pp. 89).

The application of Catholic concepts and theology to daily service delivery is a

challenge. Anna mentioned some obstacles such as government funding and hiring non
Catholic Staff. She said that only quarter of people within the organisation are
Catholics. These are not just the problems of Centacare but also the problems of all
Catholic organisations and further all religious organisations (ACCER, 2001). There
have been efforts to maintain their religious identity in delivering services. She said:
we certainly wouldnt be employing people within the organisation who didnt have
what living out the gospel values. She also emphasised the gospel values:
Anna: We are:: making in difference in peoples lives and we are: living trying
[to] live very much that what Jesus would want to live in our lives. Weve seen,
were meeting that were meeting Jesus in that other in that person with
disability and (
) respecting how much they have to give back in life and in
the community.


The concept on disability

Anna was asked about the connection between the concept of sin/fate and the
experience of disability or illness. She firmly denied this concept:
Anna: I cer- I certainly that believed [that] certainly not anywhere i- in the
values of its probably from Centacares perception that its (fur) distinct from
that the person would been because of sin that people would been um
physically disabled. Something like that thats certainly not the theology [of]
Catholicism today.
She also strongly emphasised that the theology about disability linked to punishment of


sin has changed since Vatican Council:

Anna: No, well I said, as I said [and] [that] may have been what some peowhat some what the theology was a long time ago but it certainly since Vatican
Council [and] the enlightenment of [I] believe of what the Holy Spirit ( ).
Thats certainly would not [be] thats certainly not the the- theology of the
Church today of the Catholic Church todayTheir disability was resulted
(from) their sin [is] completely um [not], you know, [that] certainly not
Catholicism today.

The next question, What and how Catholic Church has taught about disability? was
asked. That is, the Church perception on disability was questioned:
Anna: ( ) has certainly never been in my experience of the years I ever heard
anything preached or anything that was said that was because [of the] sins
( ) that the disability was result of um [that] was in relation to, response to
someone sinning or something like that. So my, I mean, as I said from and
( ) of research I did do that theres very little about has been written um, I
suppose, as far as um the um [the] theology of disability within the Catholic
Church that something that need to be challenged thats what I think that
someone like Trish Murdoch [theres a lot of] people now coming, theres a lot
more research has been done in that field.

The question moved on to the wider society, about societys perceptions of people with
disabilities. The distinct feature is that the responsibility for people with disability has
moved from parents or families who have a child with a disability to government or
society. Anna said:
Anna: 50 years ago that may have been um people with disabilities probably
didnt have opportunities. Families were expected to that they had [to] they had
child with disabilities those expect to care, for that child and that they wouldnt
send to receive much help at all within the community. The whole faith that is

changed from as I said in the International Year of Disabled ((Persons)).

Particularly ((in)) 1981 huge changes came into force that the government also
saw [that] they need [to] pour money into supporting people [to] have quality
life- lifestyles within the community. And people were fund them have support
through organisations to be able to live independently in the (
) couple
about morning couple about night. People with physical disability said they get
in out of bed, get out go on uni or go on work. They could have they didnt
have to remain at home that their parent didnt have to be responsible for them
for the rest of their life um rather that they had the right to be able to be
supported through funding, to be able to have to be able to live in their own
homes than community.

The question focused to Catholic Church again that when Catholic Church started to
serve to people with disabilities. Anna argues that the Churchs attitude to people with
disabilities has just recently changed dramatically over the last ten years. To open in
sacraments is the real open of Church for people with disabilities. For Catholics
sacrament is not just an event, its one of the ways that they could get salvation
(Ankerberg & Weldon, n.d.). As Anna mentioned, church facilities has changed in
order to people with disabilities access for worship in the church building:
Anna: Some people um in the past may have been denied sacrament that has
change once again [thats] what has changed so dramatically over the last, I
supposed, ten years as well. It might they may still be purpose of people not
understand but the whole the direction from I supposed the leadership within
the church would be [that] the people with disabilities have the same right. So
its ( ) same as the whole the changing faith of the church the direction of
leadership has been that people of disabilities [are] value part [of] the church
communities. So um things like even this knows um ( ) some people in
wheelchairs couldnt access some churches because they have st^eps. It means
said physically they couldnt get into those, now that all of those things have
been changed to enable people [to] be welcome part [of] community


Among Annas discourse, she mentioned that Catholic Church is well organised
religious organisation which has hierarchical order. The Vatican, the Pope is in the
centre of all decisive power of the church (Joyce, 2003). She used the words top
down to express how the Catholic Church is a well controlled organism
Anna: They will give, they are special people so that this is what changed the
whole focus of, I suppose, on people like Catholic Education Office actually
employing people like Trish Murdoch [to] work within Parish community to
change [that whole] thinking in that direction has come from the leadership in
the church. [Thats] been something coming from top down on that they want
things to change you know that they want the whole theology has changed to
their what people with disabilities are value part [of the] Catholic Church.

However, even in the leader part of Catholic Church accepted the new theology which
welcomes people with disabilities as value part of the church community, among
ordinary Catholics, probably who were born before the Vatican Council II (19621965)
may still have the old concept. Anna mentioned that there has been conflict between
the new theology and the old concept in general Catholic Society. Even with change,
old theologies live on, they endure. Anna did not comment on the ongoing efforts of
old thinking:
Anna: When you talk about Catholic Church, Catholic church is made up over
huge number of different people so the values of some of those people within
the Catholic organisations may still some of those people may still think the
way you are talking about the people with disabilities. They are holy innocent
or that they are holy angels.
Anna: It might they may still be purpose of people not understand but the
whole the direction from I supposed the leadership within the church would be

[that] the people with disabilities have the same right. I guess what Im saying
is that within the church today [there is whole] challenging [of] um of what
previous concepts may old concepts may be in held.
Anna was asked how people with disabilities view themselves in terms of disability.
She said that reactions are various among her 45 clients; it depends on what is
happening in their lives, particularly the relationship with their families and friends.
Some people with disabilities themselves still have not understood what the new
theology is and not been conveyed it yet:

Anna: Some people still um theres one young lady particularly still hate having
her disabi^lity. She is from very intelligent family; brothers are engineer, sisters
who scientist and they now having that she is a young lady in 20th. Theyve got
[sic] relationships with boy friends and girl friends in that school. She would
like to have she is very physically disabled so she has a same aspirations and
hopes as um [as] a (enliken) (
) wanting to have same opportunities as her
brother and sister and she hasnt. So she um, I suppose, I am asking about she
feels about her disabilities
to she would to say sacks she doesnt want to
have her disability but she does have it.
Anna: I suppose, its very different move to (
) the rest of the community
how happy of their life it depends on whats happening in our lives that
particularly time sometimes to (
) people weve got in our lives for they got
good relationships with their families [with their] friends um the- if they have
they usually basically very happy [with] whats going on if they havent they
are very unhappy people they dont have friends and relationships


The relationship between Catholic social teaching and disability

Anna was asked a question that whether there is a particular mentions about disability
or people with disabilities in the Catholic social teaching. Previously she mentioned


the Catholic social teaching whilst she was describing the aim of Centacare. She said:
[Not] specifically not about [no]. Its about the dignity of each human being whether
youve got a disability or you havent. As she mentioned above, the fundamental
principle of Catholic social teaching has been applied to disability: dignity of human
being. During the interview, she gave no indication of an awareness of specific
documents on Catholic social teaching outlined in Chapter 3.

Finally, she was questioned what the attitude to disability in the Old and New
Testament periods. Basically, the pre-Vatican attitude to disability emerged from the
Bible. As mentioned in Chapter 3, people with disabilities are perceived in a negative
way from Judaeo-Christian theology:
Anna: I suppose, ( ) its understanding of the gospel since then that as Im
saying with [th-] theres been the recent thing in [th-] the thinking of the New
Testament. How its interpreted [they] the people like [the] person but the um
the (
) th- the local th- the within the gospels. How they now interpreted in
the very they can be interpreted very right. What they were interpreted, you
know, so a number of years ago as I said from Vatican II I think this been a
whole different interpretation of whole a (lit) of how work how people [ah] ah
Ive seen the gospel [ah] Ive seen [what] Jesus ta^ught [and] like Jesus view
[on] people with disability as I say ah they saying here [the] Jesus enlighten
himself to [he] he work to with people um it wasnt about that [they] human
value on human ( ) value of people [that] he want and we want be like Jesus
we call as ( ) Christians we have to inturn be associated in CSL as part all at
community not that we out there helping those people but rather that those
people have as much to give back to us (
) what we have to give to them.
You know, as human being [that] we co-depende^nt peo^ple that we all
dependent on each other and its and people disabilities have as much to give as
I said as what at to give back into the community and to give back into the
church as people we dont have disability and some people have profound
disability do exactly that [they] give they have an ability [to] be able to give

love [that] back to the person that they with justice as person who doesnt have
She said that the Vatican Council II was the turning point in the Bible interpretation
about disability. The change of viewpoint seems to lead the change of interpretation.
Further research will be needed to distinguish the influence of the Vatican Council II
on the disability theology.

Through the interview in Centacare, it is assumed that the concept on disability has
changed dramatically from Vatican Council II. From Vatican to individual Church,
under the hierarchical system, this study implies that the official attitude to people with
disabilities has changed recently. However, there have been challenges of
implementing official theology when it contrasts or conflicts with a more home
grown theology passed on intergenerational. There need to be a great demand to study
on finding the systematic methods for changing the way of thinking particularly on
individual level of people with disabilities.

Overall, in this chapter, the concept on disability was explored at an organisational

level. The representatives of two religious organisations both have positive attitudes to
people with disabilities. They also both strongly denied the view that disability has
resulted from the previous sin (or actions), as a punishment. Karuna argued that the
negative perception is led by the misunderstanding of karma, one of the Buddhist
doctrines. In Centacares case, misinterpretation of the Bible guided negative disability
theology. Through the interview process, both organisational interviewees recognised
that the old concepts have existed. The need of education for changing the prevailing


older concepts is necessary.

Regarding points of the change: Centacare alone mentioned Vatican Council II. The
Roman Catholic Church has a hierarchical order which the Church theology can be
conveyed promptly from the Vatican to a parish. Buddhism has a structure that is
adaptable to the environment. In terms of the organisations perspective, about
disability both interviewees have similar approach. Karunas treatment of people is a
non-judgemental method based on the Buddhist concept, Buddha-nature. Centacares
approach to peopledignity of human person is authorised by Gospel values, and the
image of God. Both organisations are fundamentally based on religious values.
Socially engaged Buddhism and Catholic social teaching also both functioned
importantly in the development of disability services from theoretical (theological)
approaches to pastoral concerns.



This study has examined the perceptions of disability in Tibetan Buddhism and Roman
Catholicism through a literature review and interview process with participants from
religious organisations. To explore the two religious concepts of disability, first the
literaturethe specific doctrinal, scholarly and official documentshad been
reviewed from the understanding two religious traditions, to explore the concept of
disability. Interviews were then conducted with the representatives of the two
organisations. The interviews explored how the theories of disability have been applied
to the daily service delivery. Interview results of two organisations were analysed and
compared to find the differences and similarities between the organisations. Finally, the
findings from interviews were compared with the results of the literature review in
order to draw out the developments and application of theologies of disability in
human services practice.

Due to the paucity of literature, the research results are somewhat limited. Particularly,
the scarcity in Tibetan Buddhism has led to move the study of Buddhist literature to
general theology of disability and not focus on just the Tibetan school. However, the
interview with Karuna, which is based on the Tibetan tradition (Buddhanet, 2002),
counterbalanced the research.


Findings of the research


Throughout the research, the most significant issue which was found is that disability
theology has been moving to affirmative expressions and away from past negative
features. The trend appeared through the literature review, at a scholarly level and also
in the interview analysis, at a practitioner level. It is speculated that this theological
change could affect disability culture in Australia.

On Buddhism

The findings through the literature review in Buddhism is that while there are many
Buddhists still consider that disability is a kind of punishment, at a scholarly level,
through the in-depth analysis and interpretation, it is described there is misconception
of doctrines related to disability, and thus the perspectives are moving to affirmative
direction based on the study of karma and samsara. Contemporary Buddhist
movement, socially engaged Buddhism emerged in the recent context of global
concerns regarding human rights and social justice, and consequently has led to
promote the stage of people with disabilities in this country.

On Roman Catholicism

In Roman Catholic Church, under the influence of traditional disability theology,

Judeo-Christian theology extensively prevailed in western countries, disability was
recognised as a punishment or retribution for sin. The Vatican Council II paved the
way for a conversion of a disability theology. Under the influence of the Council, it is
seen that even individual churches embrace people with disabilities actively. Recent


approaches to disability conceive disability in a positive way: the Bible interpretation

on disability, both in Old and New Testaments emphasises the way to empowering
people with disabilities.

The interviews with two religious organisations were a chance to confirm the findings
in literature review. Buddhism and Roman Catholicism both already have been
applying the new disability perspectives in service delivery. The Buddhist organisation
treats everyone equally under the Buddha-nature doctrine which looks human at inner
potential. The positive teaching on the means of understanding disability as a part of
suffering seems to be given to ordinary adherents because the volunteer worker of
Karuna has the way of thinking.

In Roman Catholic Church, the idea of dignity of the human person, based on Catholic
social teaching has been applied to service delivery. Through the interview with
Centacare, it is implied that the old concept of disablement exists at the grassroots
level. Both participants mentioned the old concepts were resulted from the wrong
interpretation of doctrines.

Consequently, these religious changes to attitudes on disability will affect to the future
society of Australia.


Recommendations for future research

The implications for this research have been discussed in brief previously. There is a


great demand to study systematic methods and strategies for changing the way of
thinking, particularly on individual level of people with disabilities. This study first
suggests the continuous education on the new theology for people with disability and
lay persons in both religious traditions. There exists a gap between the theology of
organisational level and practice at the popular level in understanding of disability
concept. A strategy to remove the prevailing negative concept on disability, through the
religious education particularly for people with disabilities is thus recommended.

According to the literature in both religious traditions, the affirmative interpretation of

disability seems to have been commenced recently. Much study needs to be carried out
on ways of promoting the positive and reducing the negative aspects of disability in
scholarly area. First, there needs to be studied more doctrinal interpretation and debate
about disability, because it is most contentious area. In Buddhism, there exist debates
about the specific doctrines of samsara and karma. According to the different
interpretations, the direction of Buddhist disability theology could be decided on
positive or negative way. One interviewee in Karuna mentioned: when people look
at karma that they think it as a punishment but its only because [they dont actually
understand] what karma is. They have limited understanding of Therefore, this
doctrine approach will be the significant study area in Buddhism.

There is a need for further research on the Roman Catholic tradition to manifest a
positive theology. As mentioned above, recently there has been effort to reduce the
Judeo-Christian theology among Catholic scholars. For this, the specific verses in Old
and New Testaments have made a negative impact and therefore need to be studied and


analysed precisely. Without defining and resolving these verses in new way, there
seems no point to turn to the positive interpretation. Next, the research on disability in
Roman Catholicism need to be connected with the influence of Vatican Council II, that
is, how the Biblical interpretation on disability has been changed after Vatican Council
II. Anna in Centacare mentioned Vatican Council II as the turning point of Bible
interpretation on disability theology: so a number of years ago, as I said from
Vatican II I think this been a whole different interpretation of whole a lit of how work
how people.


Reflection of the research

This study has several limitations. First, a focus group is necessary for identifying
major domains, but the size of focus groups was small because of the limited time.
Even the participants gave information deeply and widely in their level, it may not
represent the whole religious perception. If more time would be allowed in this
research, clergy groups and people with disabilities need to be participated in order to
get data and then need to compare and analyse the real gap between providers and
receivers of disability theology. With clergy, representatives of organisation, and
laypersons both in ordinary and disability part, the study may gain more accurate
results, embracing all aspects of religious perception. The art of transcription presents
many challenges (than normal). Many of the questions asked of the interviewees
resulted in responses that were initially hesitant and later searching. Because of this
process of thinking and digesting the questionmany of the transcriptions read in a
patchy way. The transcripts have not been attempted to clean up in the belief that


the narrative must speak for itselfcomplete with hesitations and possible

Second, as the subjects of study, Tibetan Buddhism and Roman Catholicism, even
though they are the most popular and the largest traditions on Buddhism and
Christianity, they are unfamiliar to the researcher due to the cultural and religious
differences. To prepare for the research study, much time was needed for understanding
basic concepts. If a familiar subject had been chosen for the research such as Korean
Buddhism or Korean church, more profound fruits could be produced.

Third, with two sample religions, it is difficult to examine the whole aspect of
disability perspectives in Australia. Australia has not just reflected the European
culture any more, with the open immigration policy, this country is now multicultural
and multi-faith society. Understanding the treatment of people with disabilities in all
religious settings is important in order to get the whole picture of this countrys future,
because religion is the social context (Miles, 2002, p. 55) all-embracing way of life.
Therefore, Disability and Australian religions can be the future topic. The result of
this study can make a significant contribution towards religious diversity in human



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Appendix 1

Transcription abbreviations (convention)

Arrows in the margin point to the line of transcript relevant to the point being made in the


Empty parentheses indicate talk too obscure to transcribe. Words or letters inside such
parentheses indicate the transcribers best estimate of what is being said.

Left-side brackets indicate where overlapping talk begins.

Right-side brackets indicate where overlapping talk ends, or marks alignments within a
continuing stream of overlapping talk.


Words in double parentheses indicate transcribers comments, not transcriptions.


A hyphen indicates an abrupt cut-off or self-interruption of the sound in progress indicated by

the preceding letter(s) (the example here represents a self-interrupted because).

He says

Underlining indicates stress or emphasis.


A hat or circumflex accent symbol indicates a marked pitch rise.


Colons indicate a lengthening of the sound just preceding them, proportional to the number
of colons.


Numbers in parentheses indicate periods of silence, in tenths of a seconda dot inside

parentheses indicates a pause of less than 0.2 seconds.
(Silverman, 2002, p. 254)