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Buddhist-Christian Studies 21.1 (2001) 139-140

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Book Review

Dimensionen Der Leere: Gottals Nichts Und Nichts Als Gott Im Christlich-Buddistischen Dialog

Dimensionen Der Leere: Gottals Nichts Und Nichts Als Gott Im Christlich-Buddistischen Dialog. By Armin Münch. Münster, Hamburg, London: LIT-Verlag, 1998. 337 pp.

This is a most unusual study, pieced together out of hidden facets and neglected aspects of Buddhist and Christian studies and containing an unrivaled overview of the literature. If modernWestern theology, taking its cue from Heidegger, has emphasized the temporality of existence, Münch draws our attention to its "spatiality" in what he calls "dimensional thinking." He is able to point to an astonishing number of thinkers from a variety of disciplines who have taken as their starting point our need to orient ourselves in space. In this light, the kenôsis.assage Philippians 2:5-11 is seen to be patterned on a U-shaped movement linking the dimensions "above" and "below" as distinct from S- and O-shaped movements found elsewhere in the mystical tradition.Münch goesonto establish left/right, behind/before, inside/outside, coming to be/passing away as what he calls "immanentals" (12-13) analogous to the "transcendentals" of scholastic theology. In particular, he seeks out thinkers who have tried to formulate the "fourth dimension," which would take us beyond conventional space-time. Plotinus, Eckhart, and the Kabbala are all examined for their attempts to conceptualize the transcendent in this way.

What is the purpose of this exercise? Münch's leading question, to which he eventually returns, is clear: "What is lacking in our idea of God if we are ignorant of Buddhist experience?" (5). His purpose is to evaluate the relative significance of kenôsis ("he emptied himself") and tapeinosis."he humbled himself") in Philippians 2. This becomes apparent when he comes to the leading thinkers of the Kyoto School--Nishida, Nishitani, and Abe--and the debate between Takizawa and Yagi. Here Münch finds evidence of a "backwards-directed," or "dorsal," theology that corresponds to a rearwards movement in Buddhist thinking (264). This interesting hypothesis would need further verification by consulting the textual and extratextual traditions that shaped Japanese Buddhism in the context of their Indian and Chinese origins. In criticizing the work of Perry Schmidt-Leukel, Münch suggests that for Buddhists the balance between the experiences of relationship and transitoriness is not so much a matter of different directions or perspectives of transcendence as a leaving behind of all perspectivity (130-133). The search for salvation is orientated rearward in the Buddhist case, forward in the Christian, but these can be seen as complementary directions on the one road.

Münch is able to agree with Ueda that Buddhist "nothingness" is best understood as a "desubstantializing dynamic" (283-284). Shûnyatâ.s the "fullness of nothingness" corresponds to the Christian concept of God. Christ is said to have "gone outside himself" rather than to have "emptied himself out" ["Christus entäusserte sich, aber er entleerte sich nicht!"(287)], to have undergone a metamorphosis. In Münch's view, only trinitarian language can encompass all the dimensions, from zero to the [End Page 139] elusive fourth, which are necessary to express what we mean by God in Buddhist terms (305-306).

One of the most original things Münch does is to draw a parallel between the Zen ox-herding pictures and the Christian story. This serves to draw together pictorially, if not conceptually, the sometimes arcane researches that go to make up Münch's mosaic. It is perhaps because spatially dimensional thinking has been so rare in Western science, philosophy, and theology that he must search in such dark corners for evidence of it. The result is an at times bewildering patchwork of apparently unrelated contributions that do not blend smoothly into a unity. This sometimes puzzling heterogeneity is justified, in my view, in that it presents us with a highly diversified tool kit for getting to work on the potential offered...


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