- Buddhist Inclusivism: Attitudes Towards Religious Others
Kristen Beise Kiblinger, who teaches in the religion department at Thiel College, has written a provocative and imaginative book. It is provocative in that [End Page 168] she appears to be doing buddhology even though she resists calling it that. She says she doesn't want to take the voice of a buddhologian. She does not describe what is as a phenomenologist might or what was as an historian of religion might, or what should be as a buddhologian might. She describes what might be, as a—well, as a participant-philosopher might. She writes as an outsider taking the voice of an insider.
Kiblinger chooses as her topic the relationship of Buddhists to people of other religions. She begins by noting that Buddhists themselves have not explicitly addressed this topic in their religious philosophizing, at least not to the extent Christians have. But, she suggests, implicitly they behave as if they do have a favored response to this issue. Citing a wide variety of Buddhist sources across the Buddhist spectrum, she concludes that inclusivism is the most natural position for Buddhists to take vis-à-vis the other religions. She describes that position in some detail, all the while persisting in her refusal to be considered a spokesperson in the insider sense.
Kiblinger draws her examples from the way two historical figures related to people of non-Buddhist ideologies and from historical contacts Buddhism as a movement had with other religions or sects. The first historical figure is Siddhartha Gautama himself. The Buddha, Kiblinger notes, was not shy about identifying what made any religion (not just his dhamma) useful—the noble eightfold path. This path is the core of Gautama's dhamma, but it also appears in other religions in other forms. The Buddha put forth the presence of this content as the measure of a religion's usefulness (see the Mahaparinibbana Sutta). And of course the parable of the raft relativizes all religious teachings, making them true only to the extent that they enable humans to "cross the stream" of temporal existence, a common tenet of the inclusivist position in all its forms.
Asoka represents a second example of Buddhist inclusivism for Kiblinger. In the seventh and twelfth of his Rock Edicts, Asoka makes clear that all members of all religious traditions are welcome to practice in his kingdom, even though he thinks Buddhism is the best position. He makes clear that both exclusivism and intolerance of other religious ideas are not acceptable positions in his way of looking at the spiritual dimension of the world. Existentially, Asoka's life story is a model of a reformed "exclusivist" finally embracing the all-truth-no-matter-where-you-find-it-is-still-truth position.
Not just these giant figures model inclusivism. Buddhism as a movement has consistently, Kiblinger argues, behaved toward other movements as inclusivists would. She uses as a first example the Buddhist attitude toward Vedic sacrifice, the religious practice most liable to be cast aside by the new teaching of Gautama. We see in this example, Kiblinger says, "the technique of significant reinterpretation and new application rather than subordination" (p. 41). She also notes that a technique she calls "reinterpretation by ethicization" that does not throw out Vedic teaching altogether but claims at its root a teaching that was originally Buddhist.
Evidence for the inclusivist position can also be found in the way Mahayanists treated Theravadins, or Hinayanists as Kiblinger refers to them. Scholars of Buddhism [End Page 169] have for the most part recognized that the term "hinayana," perhaps best translated as "lesser vehicle," is a pejorative term given to Theravadins by the Mahayanists, the "great vehicle" folks. Kiblinger argues that even though Mahayanists consider their tradition superior (a common trait of all inclusivists, Buddhist or not), they do so with an openness to the value of the way Theravadins approach the problem of enlightenment. Their way may not be the best, but it is a way, and in some contexts it may be an effective way. Mahayanists are able...