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  • Jesus Christ through Buddhist Eyes
  • José Ignacio Cabezón

The adage about ‘location, location, location’ as an operative principle is perhaps as true in theology as it is in other more mundane ventures. For a theologian, identifying one’s location principally involves situating oneself with respect to one’s religious tradition, but also vis-à-vis the secular currents of the past and present that have been for one intellectually influential. I take my task in this essay to be a theological one, and so perhaps it is not wholly out of place to begin with a few words concerning my theological location. Of the various hats I wear, one of the most important is the one that identifies me as an academic Buddhist theologian, one who works from out of the Indo-Tibetan tradition. 1 As a Buddhist, my theological location has been largely shaped by the years that I spent as a monk in the Byes College of the exiled Tibetan Buddhist monastic University of Sera in southern India, where I received the bulk of my training in the classical textual tradition of Indo-Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. As an academic, I have been molded by the Western buddhological tradition, with its strong emphasis on the philological study of texts, albeit tempered by the other concerns (e.g., material culture, social life, and a variety of theoretical issues) that are at the core of contemporary North American approaches to Buddhist studies. 2

My theological identity is determined not only by my chosen tradition and academic discipline, however, but also by my commitment to interreligious dialogue. Dialogue, especially with the Christian tradition, informs and shapes my theology at the level of content. In this regard I have benefited greatly from the fact that I teach at a Christian seminary and that I am fortunate enough to have colleagues who are similarly committed to the intellectual value of the cross-cultural and interreligious exchange of ideas. In addition to influencing the intellectual content of my theology, dialogue also informs my religious life. The only religious praxis community with which I am presently affiliated is a community of Buddhists and Christians who meet on a weekly basis for a contemplative service that includes a common liturgy, readings from the two traditions, and periods of silent meditation. 3

No less important a part of my theological location is the fact that I was raised a Cuban Catholic. I rejected Christianity at an early age largely on philosophical [End Page 51] grounds, and this no doubt opened up the space for my eventually embracing Buddhism. Nonetheless, I continue to this day to cherish many aspects of Latino-Catholic culture—its malleability and especially its ability to accommodate magic, its mystical bent, the passion of its piety, its emphasis on tradition and ritual, the richness of its art—and this too, without a doubt, has influenced my theological worldview.

In what follows, readers will undoubtedly see in my mode of engaging the question my commitment to the historical-critical method, which is the result of my training as a buddhologist. They will see in the content of my response the doctrinal voice of Indo-Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, my tradition of choice. In the organization of the essay and in its (alas, unfulfilled) wish to be complete, they will witness my penchant for scholastic systematicity, the legacy of my Tibetan Buddhist monastic training. They will also encounter a Jesus, or perhaps Jesuses, that are the result of (others’) historical and textual study of the Christian sources. But within each of these Jesuses there is bound to be evident at least a glimmer of the Cuban Christ of my youth, the one Jesus that, over and above all of the others, I know most intimately.

If the identification of my location as a theological respondent is important, so too is the location of the object to which I am responding. More so now than at any other point of history, the location of Jesus is something that cannot be taken for granted. As Sheila Davaney says in her characterization of the work of Dominic Crossan: 4 “Not only is historical material difficult to come by in relation to...

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