Volume XIII:2 July - December 2023
The Routledge Handbook
of Buddhist-Christian Studies
Edited by Carol S. Anderson and Thomas Cattoi
This hefty volume, so impressively curated by Carol Anderson and Thomas Cattoi, features forty-four contributors and forty-two chapters grouped into five parts (titles of the parts appear in their proper contexts, below). Many chapters are enormously informative but not provocative: reports on these comprise this review’s first section, so interested readers may consult them accordingly. Other chapters—those of Perry Schmidt-Leukel and John Keenan—I find very provocative, so I engage them more argumentatively in the review’s second section. In the case of voluminous anthologies, some of their content--some authors/chapters--are often ignored by their reviewers: I have always found this practice offensive, and thus have taken great care to represent each and every contributor to this volume.
At the head of the volume, the two editors supply both a short history of the Buddhist-Christian encounter, and an introduction to the book’s well-designed layout. Part I, “Theory and Method,” is introduced by Leo Lefebure (chapter 1) who is widely recognized as a foremost historian of Buddhist-Christian “intersections.” He is so kind as to reference two of my books (16) and then my 35-page rejoinder (to commentaries on my work) in Jin Y. Park’s Buddhisms and Deconstructions[1](19). However, his description misses the revolutionary gymnastic that I derive from Derrida: typically (but not always, of course), Buddhists and Christians have quested a “sameness” between them and then expected to see their “differences” sprouting from this common ground. I upend such a model, and in my second section—when re-interpreting Schmidt-Leukel’s “fractal” alternative—I demonstrate “inversion.” Permit me to leave just a foreshadowing here, borrowed from the Buddhist tradition, which so often intersects with Derridean thought: a gong’an from the Biyan Lu— “The marks are on the balance arm, not on the scale pans” (see the Thirty-ninth Case). That is, the pure difference between the weights of the items on each scale is what causally appoints the convergence into a mark on the balance arm.
In Part I, “Theory and Method,” James Fredericks proposes a programmatic description of how “Buddhist-Christian studies” should proceed as a discipline. He outlines a “dialogical hermeneutics” based on the give-and-take of conversation, and he rightly discredits “grand theories of religion” (chapter 3). In chapter 5, Judith Simmer-Brown explains dialogue as “contemplative practice,” recounts Chögyam Trungpa’s influences, and warns academics not to ignore the dangers of (egoistic) “competition” (61). I concur with the tone of this chapter, and take it to be a gem of the collection because of it. In chapter 6, Paul Knitter justifies his “double belonging,” contending that “Jesus saves in essentially the same way that the transcendent Buddha saves: not by constituting the Nature of Mind or God’s saving love, but by revealing, and so making it effectively present” (72-73). Despite his denial of the Divinity of Christ and Christ’s bodily Resurrection (75), Knitter asserts that “A Christian who practices double belonging with Buddhism remains a Christian but becomes a very different kind of Christian” (68). I would say—and have said previously—that he is a Buddhist who reconfigures Christianity so it mirrors Buddhism.[2] In chapter 7, Joseph O’Leary proposes that Buddhism and Christianity must sift what is “living from what is dead” in their traditions. “Kenosis” and “quietism” are the two conditions enabling “contemplative enjoyment” of their “living core” (77). I see that O’Leary continues his backslide into rock-hard reifications.[3] Despite French deconstructions of holisms and essences (and deconstructions are not nullifications, please note), O’Leary relentlessly seeks “bedrock” (78, 84, 85), the bedrock of the “real” (77, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85), of “reality” (79, 81, 83, 84, 85), and—even when lauding “kenosis” (“emptying out”)—he wants “to grasp it in its essence” (79). This is far from the “new styles of thought here emergent” (77) that he promises.
In Part II, “Historical Encounters,” Francis Tiso’s chapter 8 examines the evidence recently derived from the Dunhuang documents and elsewhere, shedding light on possible penetrations of the Church of the East into secretive Tibet. Next, Trent Pomplun’s chapter recounts the pioneering work of the Italian Jesuit, Ippolito Desideri, the first European “Tibetologist.” In chapter 10, Anh Q. Tran, SJ, maps out the four hundred years of Buddhist-Catholic engagement in Vietnam (1620-2020); Thierry Meynard, SJ, tracks the tangled history of the Jesuits in seventeenth-century China (chapter 11); and Elizabeth Harris untangles Buddhist-Christian relations in colonial and postcolonial Sri Lanka (chapter 12). Part II’s last two chapters operate historically but are more comparative than historical. Brandon Gallaher compares the traditions of “spiritual senses” in Eastern Orthodox Hesychasm and Chan/Zen Buddhisms: he finds the two traditions ultimately incommensurable and proposes a future “creative synthesis” instead. The chapter of Nicholas Alan Worssam, SSF, is inspiring, comparing as it does the virtue of poverty in the Franciscan Christian and Theravāda Buddhist monastic traditions.
In Part III, “Contemporary Conversations,” Fabrice Blée recounts the history of Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique/Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (DIM•MID), the network of monastics belonging to the manifold Benedictine family in dialogue with Buddhist monastics, and later with others too (chapter 15). Three of the chapters compare well-known Christian figures and Buddhism/Buddhists: Christina Atienza, OP, compares Aquinas and Dōgen on religious/monastic life (chapter 16); Kristin Johnston Largen undertakes a nuanced and venturous comparison of Martin Luther and Shinran Shonin “on death and what follows” (chapter 19); and Ruben Habito compares Saint Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises with Zen Buddhism (chapter 22). Two of the chapters address well-known proponents of monastic community-building: Jack Downey addresses (in a distinctive style that is always informative, often witty, even humorous) the “monastic futurism” of Thomas Merton in collaboration with Buddhism (chapter 17); and Sandra Costen Kunz interprets Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Buddhist-Christian practical theological vision,” his co-designed practices for communities embodying love (chapter 20).
In chapter 18, Roger Haight—seeking to learn from Buddhism—applies to Christianity three Buddhist notions “at odds with Christian self-understanding.” Buddhist “interdependency of all things” teaches Christians to read God “as an intrinsic dimension of the natural world (221); “no-self” teaches them to see the self’s existence as utterly dependent on a transcendent power (222); and nirvāṇa teaches them to affirm “a more intimate nondual union of the human person and all reality with the immanent reality of God” (223). This essay has surprised me because in it Haight is less radical than in his book jointly written with Paul Knitter, Jesus and Buddha: Friends in Conversation (Orbis, 2015), a book I reviewed for Dilatato Corde.[4] What I consider his missteps remain, though. He is in Post-Structuralist terms a “modernist,” that is, he reduces much too much to “common ground”: see “a common faith” (218), “common religious value” (219), etc. He also focuses too much on a “Christian naturalism”: God is “an intrinsic dimension of the natural world” (221).Jonathan Seitz relates the Buddhist-Christian encounter to the problematic of multiple religious identity in Chinese cultures, examining most closely the experience of Taiwanese Protestant Christians, and his analytics are very informative, though—if I may be permitted an aside—he cites a survey, see p. 257, which distinguishes Taiwanese “Christians” from Taiwanese “Catholics,” confusing universal and particular in quite an offensive way (chapter 21).
In Part IV, “Social Engagement, Pastoral Care, and the Challenge of Interreligious Education,” John Becker brings “Humanistic Buddhism” together with Catholic “Integral Ecology” in order to fend off the environmental threat to our world (chapter 23). Sally King proposes a “Buddhist theory of social justice” via Martin Luther King’s “beloved community” and Thich Nhat Hanh’s “culture of peace” (chapter 24). Martin Rötting analyzes the dialogue as an “interreligious learning process,” drawing from pedagogical tools to do so (chapter 25). Pamela Ayo Yetunde, an African-American belonging to the LGBTQ community and identifying as an “interfaith Buddhist practitioner,” joins with John Chang-Yee Lee, a cisgender Chinese American identifying as a “Presbyterian pastor and Buddhist-Daoist,” in order to describe how interreligious guidance can function effectively in a Christian seminary (chapter 26). In a pioneering exposition, Gudrun Löwner describes Buddhist-Christian hybridization in art and architecture (chapter 27). I am surprised, though, that she does not cite the widely exhibited paintings of Benoît Vermander, SJ, Director of the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Center (Fudan University, Shanghai). Carolyn M. Jones Medine astutely maps “African American” and “Womanist-Buddhist” thought, interpreting the pertaining histories from the early twentieth century to the present (chapter 28). Natalie Fisk Quli examines the “tropes” of “decline” or “progress” alternatively constituting the metanarrative of “Buddhist Modernism” (chapter 29).
In Part V, “Constructive Reflections,” Thomas Cattoi’s “A Tibetan Epektasis? Gregory of Nyssa’s Understanding of Spiritual Progress and the Gelug pa Teaching on the Four Buddha Bodies” finds functional analogies between the Origenist/Evagrian system and the Buddhist “Three Body” system, and then contrasts this with the analogies between the system of Saint Gregory of Nyssa and the dGe lugs teaching of the “Four Buddha Bodies.” A magisterial tour de force, this chapter gets Part V off to a very good start (chapter 30). Several of the following chapters compare/contrast Buddhist and Christian figures. Scott Steinkerchner, OP, comparing/contrasting Aquinas and Dölpopa, studies how each developed a metaphysical ground for his system (chapter 31). Dennis Hirota deploys Heidegger’s reading of Saint Paul to shed light on Shinran’s understanding of shinjin, nembutsu, etc. (chapter 35). Peter Feldmeier compares Buddhagosa and John of the Cross, establishing many analogs between them (chapter 37).
Several chapters compare/contrast Buddhological and theological systems of thought. Massimo Rondolino demonstrates that Buddhism and Christianity share a cross-cultural understanding of a “perfected being” while differing on “doctrinal framework” (chapter 33). Yuichi Tsunoda, SJ, compares the “composite union of natures” in the structure of Chalcedonian Christology and in Shin Buddhism’s Dharmākara Bodhisattva, showing how they are similar/dissimilar (chapter 34). Hugh Nicholson sets forth the dynamics of paradigm shifts in Christianity and Buddhism: doctrinal centers are “central tensions” which in due time come to a breaking-point, only to settle down—eventually—“at a new point of equilibrium” (chapter 36). Yutaka Tanaka, in dealing with Takizawa’s “irreversability” of the “(Urfactum) of Immanuel,” proposes “hayathology” to retrieve “reciprocity”: the mutuality of God and the world is based on “the inverse relationality that the asymmetrical relation of God to the world” involves (chapter 38). By comparing Bernard Lonergan’s “transcendental method” and the Lotus Sūtra’s unveiling of religious love, Hiroshi Munehiro Niwano explores religious states of “being-in-love” (chapter 39). Martin Repp performs a much needed service for dialogists who cannot read Japanese: he describes the Kyoto School’s multifaceted dialogue with Christian Japanese (chapter 40). Part V’s culminating two chapters move in contrary directions. J. Abraham Vélez de Cea examines the deaths of Buddha and Jesus but his conclusions sublate the canonical narratives recounting their deaths so both the Pali-canon’s Buddha and a “Jesus Seminar”-reduced Jesus perform a pedagogical role relevant even to non-believers (chapter 41). On the other hand, S. Mark Heim, the systematic theologian, effects a structural comparison between a “high” Christology and a “high” Mahāyānist Buddhology, and ends by presenting how the “purity of Buddhist wisdom can instruct Christian theology” (chapter 42).
I now turn to this review’s second section, engaging two chapters more critically because I find them so provocative. In chapter 2, Perry Schmidt-Leukel draws from fractal theory, which studies patterns that are recursive, displaying self-similarity across various scales (23). For example, he tracks the fractal of “other help,” seeing it as cutting across the Buddhism/Christianity distinction, so it appears in Christianity as “grace” and in Mahāyāna as bodhisattvic “help” (30). He uses this to inveigh against my thesis[5] that the “pure difference” between “self-help” (a founding teaching of Buddhism) and “other-help” (a founding teaching of Christianity) generates “samenesses” (or analogous effects): thus, say, Theravāda Buddhist compassionate behavior and Christian compassionate behavior  are very similar though they are ultimately or “at bottom” generated by the doctrine of “no self” in Theravāda and “God-as-agápē” in Christianity. Schmidt-Leukel’s appropriation of fractal theory can only work if one rejects the “hierarchy of truths” that Catholic Christianity (and surely some other Christian denominations as well) affirm, namely, “There exists an order or hierarchy of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith.”[6] For example, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith . . . . It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.”[7]
Schmidt-Leukel’s fractal theory achieves success by leveling the relative value of truths within Buddhism and Christianity, respectively. For example, he flattens the relation of “other-help” to “self-help” in his reading of Philippians 2:12-13: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (30). Instead of granting that “God” working “in you to will and act” is the founding power enabling the working out of “your salvation with fear and trembling,” Schmidt-Leukel flattens this causality by declaring that “God who works in you” is “paradoxically united” to the disciples working out their salvation. Schmidt-Leukel vitiates his whole case, however, by way of two admissions. He concedes to the “hierarchy of truths” in one telling assertion at the head of the same paragraph: “As far as Christianity is concerned, there is also no doubt that God is the final source of salvation.” God is the “final source of salvation” (Creator-creature distinction is retained) is purely different from what he describes in the preceding paragraph, namely, Buddhas/bodhisattvas accepting “the whole world as their own self”[8] (= “all is Buddha” doctrine). It is this pure difference that “appoints” the “samenesses” or analogous effects such as what Schmidt-Leukel calls “personal representations” in Buddhism analogous to personal representations in Christianity (30).
In chapter 4, John Keenan deploys Buddhist thought-motifs to re-interpret Christian doctrines. I often do likewise, but I retain definitive Catholic teaching—adaptation not adoption comes quite easily to me. Keenan carefully chooses the most immature (and addled) misrepresentations of Catholicism he can find, and lets them stand as official “Catholic” teaching. In parochial school, he says he asked how his sins could be forgiven by Jesus on the Cross when the sins hadn’t been committed yet. The Catholic nun replied that his future sins could be foreseen by Jesus (45). The theologically mature Catholic answer to his question is that for God, all time is now, and all place is here. Why does Keenan avoid saying so? What is perhaps most bothering is that Keenan, despite his repudiation of “Greek concepts of ‘substance’,” (50) falls into a latent “substantialism” at two key points. When explaining Mahāyāna’s tradition “as developed by Nāgārjuna and Áryadeva,” that is, the Mādhyamaka, he references “doctrine both as empty and as dependently arisen” (48), that is as both śūnya and pratītyasamutpāda, making them, in his words, “coterminous” (49). “Coterminous” means that two terms are co-extensive: thus he uses a “both-and” formulation, which the Prāsaṅgika-Mādhyamakins, in their debate with several other Buddhist schools, demonstrate to be too “substantialist.” The Prāsaṅgika-Mādhyamakins cite Nāgārjuna himself, who declares “pratītyasamutpāda is śūnyatā” (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, 24:18.). Thus śūnya and pratītyasamutpāda are not a "both-and." Rather, “dependent arising" is śūnya, so the coextensive formulation is specious.[9]
The second point where Keenan is “substantialist” is in his representation (and rejection of) the Most Holy Trinity: “Father, Son, and Spirit are of one essence, but three different concrete embodiments (persona[10]) of divinity” (52, 53). The Council of Florence (1438-9 C.E.) voids this scenario. It affirmed that “everything is one” in God, “except where an opposition of relationship [relationis oppositio] exists,” so that each of the three Hypostases (not “persons” in a human bodily sense), namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is defined only by a purely negative relation: The Father’s “Paternity” is not the Son’s “Sonship,” the Son’s Sonship is not the Father’s Paternity, the Holy Spirit’s “Passive Spiration” (“breathing out”) is neither the Paternity nor the Sonship. Everything other than these oppositions belongs to the “Unity” instead.[11]
I am an avid reader of anthologies and this is the best anthology I have read in more than a decade. All forty-four contributors have given much thought to their topics, and then reflected their thought in good writing. It shall set the standard for handbooks in Buddhist-Christian studies for a long time to come.
[1] Jin Y. Park, ed., Buddhisms and Deconstructions (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), pp. 235-270.
[2]See my review of P. Knitter’s Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 78, No. 4 (Dec. 2010), pp. 1215-1218.
[3]See my review of O’Leary’s Reality Itself: Philosophical Challenges of Indian Mahāyāna in the online publication of the American Academy of Religion, Reading Religion (www.readingreligion.org), Sept. 26, 2021; and my earlier review of O’Leary’s Buddhist Nonduality, Paschal Paradox, A Christian Commentary on The Teaching of Vimalakīrti (Vimalakīrtinirdeśa), in Reading Religion, June 16, 2018.
[4] R.Magliola, “What Do Jesus and Buddha Mean? Questioning Jesus and Buddha: Friends in Conversation by Paul Knitter and Roger Haight,” in Dilatato Corde, online journal of DIM•MID (www.dimmid.org), Vol. VI, No. 2 (July-Dec. 2016).
[5] R. Magliola, Facing Up to Real Doctrinal Difference: How Some Thought-Motifs from Derrida Can Nourish the Catholic-Buddhist Encounter (Angelico Press, 2014), pp. 25-85.
[6] Vatican Council II, Unitatis Redintegratio, # 11.
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 234. English version online at the Vatican website.
[8] The exception, of course, is Jōdo Shinshū, wherein the believer basks forever in the “other-help” of Amida Buddha (see Kristin Johnston Largen’s informative chapter in the very Handbook here under review, 228, 229, and the further references she supplies). Instead, Jōdō Shū still assigns an important role to “self-help,” and when the practitioner is in the Pure Land, Amida’s “other-help” helps the practitioner to “self-help” (see the entry “Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra” in D. Keown, Dictionary of Buddhism).
[9] See Jeffrey Hopkins, Meditation on Emptiness, revised ed. (Boston: Wisdom P., 1996), pp. 163-165; see also my “Afterword” in Buddhisms and Deconstructions, pp. 235-238.
[10] Please forgive my seeming picayune, but the antecedent here is “three different concrete embodiments” so the Latin plural, personae, should be employed.
[11] See R. Magliola: Derrida on the Mend (Purdue UP, 1984; 2nd ed., 1986), pp. 138-139; On Deconstructing Life-Worlds (Scholars Press of the AAR, 1997; Oxford UP, 2000), pp. 183-186; “In No Wise is Healing Holistic: A Deconstructive Alternative to Masao Abe’s ‘Kenotic God and Dynamic Sunyata’,” in David Loy, ed., Healing Deconstruction (Scholar’s Press of AAR, 1996), pp. 110-112.
Home | DIMMID Introduction | DILATATO CORDE
Current issue
Numéro actuel
Previous issues
Numéros précédents
| About/Au sujet de
| News Archive | Abhishiktananda | Monastic/Muslim Dialogue | Links / Liens | Photos | Videos | Contact | Site Map
Powered by Catalis