- Buddhism and Christianity in Dialogue: The Gerald Weisfeld Lectures 2004, and: Buddhism, Christianity and the Question of Creation: Karmic or Divine?
Perry Schmidt-Leukel has been professor of systematic theology and religious studies at Glasgow University since 2000, and member of the secretarial board of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies (ENBCS) since 1997. The volumes under review are collections of essays presented at conferences sponsored respectively by Glasgow University and ENBCS. Buddhism and Christianity in Dialogue derives from the second series of the Gerald Weisfeld Lectures organized by the university's Centre for Inter-Faith Studies, whereas many of the essays in Buddhism, Christianity and the Question of Creation were produced for the fifth conference of the ENBCS, which was devoted to the theme of creation. In the following, I will summarize these two books and then comment more extensively on Schmidt-Leukel's project in particular, especially as that project is expressed in both texts.
Schmidt-Leukel coordinated the Weisfeld lectures in May 2004 as a prelude to the Dalai Lama's visit to Scotland. The four parts of this volume represent the four weeks' worth of lectures on the respective topics of life and death, the ultimate, mediators, and the quest for peace. For each week, two lectures were given, one each from Christian and Buddhist perspectives, with responses from each one to the other's lecture as well. Hence, there are sixteen chapters in Buddhism and Christianity in Dialogue: the original eight lectures (four by Christians and four by Buddhists), plus the short response of each of the eight lecturers to the lecture of his or her dialogue partner.
Elizabeth Harris (University of Birmingham) and Kiyoshi Tsuchiya (University of Glasgow) discuss life and death, leading to the tentative conclusion that Christians emphasize the need for the redemption of the ego (hence embracing a personal God), whereas Buddhists wish to lose the ego's perpetual desires (hence advocating a more cosmic or naturalistic view of life and death). This is followed [End Page 196] in part 2 with essays by Karl Baier (University of Vienna) and Minoru Nambara (University of Tokyo) on the ultimate, with Baier comparing and contrasting Nagarjuna's logic of emptiness and Nicolas of Cusa's apophatic logic, and Nambara comparing and contrasting the Mahāyāna emphasis on nirvāna as samsara (and vice-versa) with the mysticisms of Eckhart and Boehme. The discussion of mediators provides the opportunity for Schmidt-Leukel to expand on his major project, which explores "the possibility of seeing Buddha and Christ as incarnations of that transcendent reality which is the basis of our salvation" (p. 153). John Makransky (Boston College and Kathmandu University), however, counter-suggests that although the Buddhist can experience the liberating power of Christ in the Christian communion, it is less clear that such an experience for the Buddhist is the same as for a Christian, or that the practices of such an experience lead to the enlightenment pointed to by the Buddha. Finally, Kenneth Fernando (former bishop of Colombo) talks about the quest for peace in the Sri Lankan context, whereas Hozan Alan Senauke comes at the topic from his work in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in California.
One of the outstanding features of Buddhism and Christianity in Dialogue is that all participants have a good deal of scholarly training in both religious traditions and bring that academic expertise to bear in their essays. Hence we have in this volume not only interreligious dialogues between Christians and Buddhists, but also intrareligious dialogues about Christianity and Buddhism by Christians and by Buddhists separately (first in the essays) and then together (in the responses). In short, we are treated to Christian and Buddhist perspectives in three directions: on Christianity, on Buddhism, and on their encounter. The volume includes an index, and will serve well as a supplementary text for courses on Christian-Buddhist dialogue.