I am going to leave to Chris Hill the task of introducing our special section on Masao Abe. In this editorial for Buddhist-Christian Studies 2008 I would like to focus on what I have been discovering about Thomas Merton and Buddhism in this fortieth anniversary year of his untimely death in Bangkok in 1968. Ever since I first discovered this great Trappist monk and literary giant in 1965, he has been my guide in many aspects of life. He has certainly been that in relation to the “dialogue of religious experience,” was most recently embodied in the Zen/Ch’an-Catholic Dialogue, January 29–February 2, 2008, at Mercy Center, Burlingame, California (see News and Views). Other articles in the present issue of BCS have also benefited from Merton’s pioneering example. Thomas Cattoi, in “What Has Chalcedon to Do with Lhasa?” takes up one of the central challenges of of Buddhist-Christian dialogue: the encounter of Buddhist kāya theory with Christology. Comparing Cattoi’s critique of recent attempts to articulate a Mahayana Christology with Christopher Pramuk’s investigation of Russian sophiology as a key feature of Merton’s evolving Christology (in “Something Breaks Through a Little: The Marriage of Zen and Sophia in the Life of Thomas Merton”) should offer our readers some startling new perspectives on what is largely unexplored terrain in our field. Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, OSB, an eyewitness to Merton’s last days on earth, reports on the still controversial Bangkok lecture of December 1968 from the perspective of post–Vatican II monasticism in a time of turmoil. Merton’s actual words may have had less of an impact on subsequent contributions of Catholic monastics to interreligious relations than his other writings; this essay tries to explore the reasons why.
Amos Yong brings us up to date on a flash-point discussion underway between the science of human consciousness in dialogue with religious understandings from Buddhism and Christianity. His essay “Mind and Life, Religion and Science” examines the contributions of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to this discussion and proposes a cooperative trialogue among Buddhists, Christians, and scientists.
Closely related to our special section on the work of Masao Abe, Heidi Russell’s essay “Keiji Nishitani and Karl Rahner: A Response to Nihility” explores the emptiness speculations of the Kyoto school in comparison to the Rahnerian concept of “God as incomprehensible mystery.” Rahner’s understanding of relationship as finding oneself through giving oneself in love illuminates the ongoing discussion of emptiness and kenosis by situating the discussion in the living point of departure of the person experiencing the transformative processes of an examined life. [End Page iii]
Similarly, from a pastoral perspective, Duane Bidwell’s “Practicing the Religious Self ” illustrates why interactions among persons necessarily entail deep listening to expressions of key constitutive features of religious identity. Bidwell provides an exercise in practical wisdom that alerts us to the enduring validity of the work of key theorists in Buddhist-Christian studies. That practical wisdom, like the insights of Rahner, Abe, and Nishitani, abides very near the terrain of experiential consciousness, where the person as such can be recognized, if not ultimately defined.
As editor of the journal Buddhist-Christian Studies, I have the task of evaluating articles for publication with the assistance of peer reviewers. In an earlier phase of the editorial process, I had on my desk a draft article about Merton (which the peer review process eventually set aside) challenging the reader with its critical assessment of the way in which this celebrated monk-author was enmeshed within problematic language games. The article makes the claim that what we are and what we say, or write, to describe ourselves can be two or more different things. What we are in reality may be too much for the noted author’s public to bear. The limitations of what the public wishes to bear may reach a dangerous point for the “public intellectual” or the “hermit in Times Square” or the VIP authority on everything: what or who one is must be concealed from the general public in order to safeguard one’s saleable identity as a credible and...