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Reviewed by:
  • The Asian Jesus
  • John P. Keenan
The Asian Jesus. By Michael Amaladoss. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006. xi + 180 pp.

Michael Amaladoss calls attention to the importance of the symbols and images we use of Jesus, suggesting that images drawn from Asian cultures may trigger insight [End Page 253] into the meaning of Christ for Asian Christians. He is "not engaged in comparative study" (p. 3) here; his intent is not to contrast these Asian Jesus images with those developed in Western, Mediterranean contexts. With "the ordinary believing Asian Christian" as his intended audience (p. 8), Amaladoss suggests that applying widely known Asian images to Jesus might serve to ground the practice of Christian faith within the cultures of Asian peoples. To this end, he presents images of Jesus as wise teacher, as avatār, as the Way, as satyagrāhi (truth holder), as advaitin, as one in solidarity with human striving for liberation, as bodhisattva-like wisdom, and he weaves these Indian and Chinese images into a tapestry of portrayals of Jesus that is more than Western.

The images Amaladoss employs are for the most part familiar ones from the rich and varied traditions of Asia. Some have previously been brought into comparative parallel with—and even occasionally employed in the doing of—Christian theology, triggering and inspiring the ongoing task of renewed thinking about the ancient mystery that is Jesus. Amaladoss certainly has the tools to undertake a more theological enterprise; he is a learned Christian, a Jesuit who is both fully aware of the Christian traditions and deeply familiar with the Asian spiritual landscape from which he draws the images he describes. He chooses not to go in that direction, however. He does not wish to shift attention from the richness of these Asian images to a consideration of theological insights and oversights, to judgments and misjudgments of the various traditions in which our Christian scriptures are embedded. He mentions others who have taken a more theological path, for example, Christian theologian Pandipeddi Chenchiah and his use of a Yoga-inspired Spirit pneumatology; and Benedictine priest Swami Abishiktananda and his Vedanta-grounded Christian mystic experience of nonduality (advaya). Their respective efforts to enunciate the mystery through Yoga or Vedanta could scarcely be understood without delving fairly deeply—as each of them does—into those Asian traditions.

Amaladoss sets himself a different task: he wishes simply to call attention to the images and symbols themselves. He suggests that rather than engaging in interfaith theology, sifting ideas and arriving at judgments, we should simply attend to the images: Jesus as a Gandhi-like holder of truth (satyagrāhi) in the face of injustice and oppression, without attempting to ascertain precisely what Gandhi himself thought of Jesus; Jesus as one with the Father, nondual with God (advaitin), without stopping to examine Śaṅkara; Jesus as cosmic dancer celebrating the very joy of being, without focusing on Śaivite theology; or Jesus as the way of wisdom and engagement, without necessarily attending to Confucius's teaching of the Way, or to the Buddhist bodhisattva as embodiment of wisdom.

If one engages in comparison, Amaladoss believes, one will be drawn into clarifying concepts and making judgments—in other words, into the doing of theology. Not wishing to think on that judgmental level, he refrains from engaging in "an abstract comparative study" (p. 6) and emphasizes that "images are less concerned with metaphysics" (p. 5). He chooses, rather, to attend to "cultural symbols [that] are available for use by people who belong to other religions. They may be adopted by people belonging to other cultures too" (p. 6). The pull to think Jesus in all the [End Page 254] Pentecost languages of the world beckons, and this modest book invites new insights and perspectives.

One example illustrates the author's approach. He suggests that "avatar," a common symbol throughout India, may be used of Jesus without ushering in the entire Vaiṣṇava tradition of avatars (incarnations) of Viṣṇu the one God. We need not discuss Krishna, the chief avatar of Viṣṇu, Amaladoss tells us, for the commonly accepted meaning of avatār can be redefined in the "specific meaning that...


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