Buddhist-Christian Studies 21.1 (2001) iii-iv
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In this issue we publish a collection of articles using a dialogue format that we began in volume 19 of Buddhist-Christian Studies. Those articles, eventually published as the book Buddhists Talk About Jesus,Christians Talk About the Buddha (Continuum, 2000), asked Christians and Buddhists to critique the founder of the other religion. The format proved successful and provoked some good methodological discussion (see Ingram, p. 75 ff).
Thus, in this issue we continue the format with a new question: how have you used and/or learned from the meditative and prayer practices of the other tradition? The assignment drew enthusiastic response, especially from Christians who were asked to write about their experiences of Buddhist meditation. We are publishing five articles by Frances Adeney, Mary Frolich, Paul Ingram, Terry Muck, and Bardwell Smith, along with responses by two Buddhists--Grace Burford and Robert Thurman.
In our next issue (volume 22), we will publish articles by five Buddhist authors and two Christian respondents. We will be interested to see if these articles give us clues as to why Christians were more eager to take on this assignment than were Buddhists.
In compiling this collection of articles, we made three observations related to good interreligious interchanges. The first is that this form of dialogue requires a good deal of trust among the participants. Talking candidly about important features of the other person's religion runs the risk of offense.Yet the way the writers and respondents--mostly longtime members of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies--wrote indicates that trust is developing.
Of course, trust is essential for any kind of healthy dialogue. The reason for the development of interreligious dialogue in this century has been as a response to the level of destructive criticism so common to interchanges among adherents of the world's religions. To address this unacceptable level of conflict, it was necessary to step back and consciously adapt a stance of silent humility about and toward the religious other. As the dialogue movement developed, conversations began to punctuate the silence, conversations that hopefully demonstrated openness, understanding our mutual pasts and intertwined futures. Years of this kind of openness leading to understanding makes it possible to enter into a new era of dialogue, the era of constructive criticism made up of equal parts of honest commentary and unequivocal support.
We have moved through this idealized paradigm of responses very imperfectly, of course. The level of destructive conflict is still unacceptably high, silent humility is [End Page iii] in sometimes short supply, openness drowned out by self-interest, and constructive criticism imperfectly practiced. Yet we must move forward, experiencing flashes of epiphany and enlightenment as humility, openness, and mutuality ride the wings of developing trust.
The second observation--more a realization, actually--is that this form of interreligious interchange requires a high level of sophistication about religions other than one's own. It is hard to pin down the exact nature of this sophistication. It is not just knowledge about the other's religion that is required, although it is partly that. One cannot comment effectively about Buddhist meditation unless one has a certain fundamental understanding of what Buddhist meditation is. Christian prayer is not easy to define, but certain features of the practice are universally recognized among both theologians and practitioners. To conduct the kind of mutual evaluation asked for in this type of dialogue, basic levels of understanding are necessary.
The dialogue as we envision it, however, goes beyond knowledge. In our letter of invitation to participants, we made it clear that we were also interested in writers who had some experience with the other religion's spiritual practice. As we received and evaluated submissions, it became clear that what gave the essays power and authority was the mixture of knowledge and experience of the others' spiritual practice. As you will see, it wasn't always the case that our writers had adapted meditative or prayer practice wholesale. But invariably their experience gained through learning about the practice led to changes: deeper, richer practice in their own tradition.