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Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003) 165-167

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Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue: A Critical Lookat Catholic Participation; And God, Zen, and the Intuition Of Being. By James Arraj. Chiloquin, Ore: Inner Growth Books, 2001. 335 pp.

This book combines an original book-length essay, Critical Look at the Catholic Participation in the East-West Dialogue, and a new edition of the 1988 work God, Zen, and the Intuition of Being. In the first part of the volume, Arraj discusses the approaches of a large variety of individuals and institutions who have been involved in the Christian dialogue with Buddhism (Habito, Enomiya-Lasalle, Jaeger, MacInnes, Hawk, Kennedy, Corless, etc.) and in the dialogue with Hinduism (Abhishiktananda, Grant, de Mello, Griffiths, Teasdale, etc.). The main perspective from which he discusses each of these authors is that of their conception of the relationship between Christian contemplation and enlightenment or realization. Arraj finds most of the existing approaches to the East-West dialogue wanting insofar as they all consider the Christian experience of contemplation from the perspective of the Hindu or Buddhist view of nonduality. As he puts it: "But what does this kind of nondualist imperialism do to Christianity? It eliminates its distinctive nature. Let me be clear about this. Used in this way, Zen awakening, which could be a wonderful gift for Christians, becomes destructive of Christianity" (31). Arraj sees this as but one expression of what he calls reactionary theology or "theology without a net," which has been developing since the Second Vatican Council. As opposed to this form of dialogue, which compromises the essence of Christian faith, Arraj discusses the approaches of Jacques Dupuis and the document Dominus Iesus, which he understands as two different versions of a proper Catholic position. After discussing a number of unsatisfactory approaches to the question of religious pluralism, he introduces the distinction between an existentialist approach, which focuses on the universality of the salvific will of God, and an essentialist approach, which emphasizes the uniqueness of Jesus as the mediator of salvation. This distinction between existence and essence forms one of the dominant themes of the book.

Arraj offers an overview and critique of most of the existing approaches to the East-West dialogue, and then moves on to offering alternative proposals for the dialogue. While many are in the process of "overcoming" the metaphysical tradition of Christianity, Arraj sees precisely in this tradition a promising starting point for the dialogue with Zen Buddhism. After analyzing the particularly Thomistic manner of distinguishing essence and existence and some study of references to the experiences of loss of self in the ultimate realization, Arraj comes to the conclusion that what Thomistic metaphysics thinks of as "intuition of being" and what Asian traditions describe as the experience of Enlightenment "are both deeply metaphysical experiences of the same reality, but by different paths, and so they express themselves in different ways" (206). This, then, provides the necessary basis for the two traditions [End Page 165] to retain their respective identities while nonetheless learning from the other. In God, Zen, and the Intuition of Being Arraj offers some thoughts on how this might proceed. The clearest of these thoughts appear to lie on the side of what a discussion with Zen might do for Christianity. This is a matter, first of all, of rekindling an interest in Thomistic metaphysics through an introduction of categories and spiritual techniques that are part of the Zen tradition. At minimum, this would open a way beyond, or perhaps behind, the scholasticism of the manuals that have covered the true profundity of Christian Thomistic metaphysics. Whatever the philosophical stakes of this recovery, Arraj is especially interested in its spiritual promise, in the possibility of inviting certain aspects of Zen meditation—the use of koans, increased attention to nature—to help Christianity in developing a new form of acquired contemplation. Arraj has somewhat less to say about what or how much this sort of dialogue might offer Zen...


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