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Buddhist-Christian Studies 20 (2000) 315-318

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Book Review

Contemplation et Dialogue: Quelques Exemples de Dialogue Entre Spiritualitiés Après le Concile Vatican II

The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian

Contemplation et Dialogue: Quelques Exemples de Dialogue Entre Spiritualitiés Après le Concile Vatican II. By Katrin Amell. Studia Missionalia Upsaliensia LXX. Uppsala: The Swedish Institute of Missionary Research, 1998. 245 pp. ISBN 91-85424-50-1.

The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian. By Robert Aitken and David Steindl-Rast. Edited by Nelson Foster. Boston and London: Shambala, 1996. xviii + 233 pp. ISBN 1-57062-219-1. $15.00.

Here are two meritorious and well-produced works devoted to the dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity. They also have in common a certain desultoriness which left me reflecting on the limits of the rhetoric of 'dialogue.' Having taken over from 'liberation' as a theological buzzword, 'dialogue' seems by now to have exhausted its usefulness. William James remarked that everything genuine will somewhere become a sham. Lip service to a vague ideal of dialogue becomes a substitute for the unmet challenge of Buddhist-Christian thought, and the less the dialogue is practiced the more its importance is verbally celebrated. The retention of the word 'dialogue' may even serve to keep the religious other at a comfortable distance: it is more reassuring to say, "Of course we are in dialogue with the Buddhists" than to say "We are facing up to the challenge Buddhist thought poses to Christian theology," for in the former statement the Buddhists remain conveniently located others, sitting across the table, rather than a troublesome, potentially subversive presence within our own intellectual world. [End Page 315]

In their submission to the recent Roman synod of Asian bishops, the Japanese bishops made much of their commitment to interreligious dialogue, and this was acclaimed with enthusiasm. But the impression left by Karin Amell's book (a doctoral thesis in missiology) is that not very much is going on in this area in Japan, the country seen as "the promised land of dialogue" after Vatican II (p. 119). "One has the impression that it is an activity for a few specialists" (p. 145), leaving the ordinary faithful largely untouched. Amell apparently does not read Japanese, so there may be much that she has missed, yet for my part I can think of nothing to add to the factual content of her account. For the spiritual side of the encounter she focuses on three Japanese pioneers, now in their seventies (pp. 150-191): Kadowaki Kakichi, SJ, Okumura Ichiro, OCD, and Oshida Shigeto, OP. To what extent these men have succeeded in creating a widespread Catholic Zen culture remains unclear, but Amell believes the "dialogue of religious experience" is the most widespread form of Buddhist-Catholic interaction in Japan (p. 146). As to scholarship, which is not Amell's direct concern, one has the impression that everyone is too busy with church and university affairs to devote their time to this. The scholarly labors of Heinrich Dumoulin, for example, have not been continued by anyone else. Despite the work of a powerful Catholic foundation, the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture (p. 141), Buddhism does not seem to excite Catholic intellectuals in Japan. Japanese Catholics are a small community, numbering about half a million. But given the high number of theologians, clergy and religious (p. 137), one would expect a more intensive interaction with local religious traditions. Instead the focus of theological interest remains fixed on Western sources. It is not so much that the situation of a small church in the midst of secularized-polytheistic-Buddhist Japan fails to give food for thought as that people seem afraid to think out its implications. Those engaged in contemplative sharing with Buddhists seem to avoid intellectual issues. Amell is uneasy with the insistence on intuition and the latent anti-intellectualism she finds in the intermonastic dialogue (discussed in the first half...