While deciding to write this post, I admit that I was troubled at many steps along the way. When someone knows so little about a subject, especially a whole religion, it's easy for others to get upset or offended when that someone tries to share the little bit he knows. Nonetheless, putting aside what people may think of my ignorance, I proceed.
While I claim no special knowledge of the religion, even the little bit I do know about Buddhism makes me interested because I see many common threads between it and Catholicism.
When I was in sixth grade, my history teacher shared with the class that he was considering converting to Buddhism after being raised Catholic. At the time I just saw this as defiance toward well-established cultural boundaries, but the trend has grown. Buddhist spirituality is appealing to American culture for some strange reason that's somewhere between curiosity and familiarity.
The seclusion and holiness sought by Buddhist monks is strikingly familiar to those orders of, say, Benedictines and Franciscans that have stayed true to their roots. I'm reminded of rumors of levitation among Buddhist monks. This strikes a familiar chord since I have also heard of certain mystics in the Catholic tradition having levitated while in sheer ecstasy.
Also, the Dalai Lama's role as head of the Tibetan monks is more of a parallel to the pope's role as bishop of Rome than can be said of any other position held by anyone else in any other religion. The concept of reincarnation is also closer to the Catholic dogma of the Last Things than many may at first suppose. After all, reincarnation does warn that our moral behavior in this life will have an effect on our next life.
The concept of Nirvana has similarities with the divine life, or the state of grace in Catholic piety. And the Four Noble Truths, through which Nirvana is obtained, have much in common with The Beatitudes. The Four Noble Truths of Buddha, as I understand them, are 1. To live is to suffer. 2. Suffering is caused by desire. 3. The goal in life is to eliminate desire by achieving Nirvana. 4. Nirvana is achieved through the Eightfold Path.
Beatitudes like "Blessed are those who mourn," "Blessed are the persecuted," and "Blessed are the poor in spirit" reflect the same advice to let go of our carnal desires for happiness, acceptance and wealth, and seek something higher.
The similarities are of course only briefly parallel, but that's perfectly fine. If there were too many parallels we could theorize that all religions began as one common conspiracy or something. Instead, the parallels suggest a deep relationship between the world religions. Catholicism's relationship to other religions is like our relationships with our siblings. We argue about the little differences we have, but underneath we know we have the same roots, same upbringing, the same blood in our veins, and the same parents.
The world religions are all part of the same family. Some have gone off and have taken different paths to find themselves. That is good, because it is important for each one to maintain its individuality. If God has revealed certain mysteries in one religion that he has not revealed in another, we can't understand that any more than a child can understand why parents seem to show favor for one child over another sometimes. If God chooses one religion over another to bear a special conduit of grace, the reasons are most likely beyond us. What matters is that his blood runs through the veins of each religion.