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Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003) 178-181

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Buddhist Perceptions of Jesus . Edited by Perry Schmidt-Leukel with Gerhard Koberlin and Thomas Josef Gotz, OSB. St. Ottilien: EOS-Verlag, 2001. 179 pp.

The papers collected here represent a significant step forward in European scholarship on Buddhist-Christian relations. As Perry Schmidt-Leukel remarks in his helpful introduction, they are an experiment in correlating auto-interpretation and hetero-interpretation, introspection and extrospection.

Each of the first three sections—on China/Japan, Southeast Asia, and Europe—begins with a historical study. Iso Kern clears up some misconceptions about the Jesuits' approach to mission work in China, stating that they did in fact preach Jesus crucified (37) and the doctrine of Atonement (41) in the face of a grave danger that Christianity would simply be absorbed into Buddhism (33). Whereas Buddhism had no specifically religious clash with the state, Christianity did, and this was eventually sealed by martyrdom in both China and Japan. Introducing part 2, Heinz Murmel gives a sober reassessment of the vehement controversies between a certain segment of Buddhism and a certain type of Christianity in Ceylon. Only the high-caste highland nikayas were protected by the British (63); the more popular, rural Buddhists of the lowlands felt excluded and threatened and gave rise to what became known as "Protestant Buddhism." The "great debates" between bitterly anti-Christian monks and Protestant clergymen were not as important as the records may suggest, and even the fiery Anagarika Dharmapala later disclosed that he felt great devotion to Jesus. Finally, Frank Usarski reviews the heated debates between ill-informed Christians and overaggressive Buddhist converts such as Karl B. Seidenstucker as Buddhism established itself in Germany in the early decades of the twentieth century. The History of Religions school seemed to suggest that Christianity was culturally inferior to Buddhism, which was allegedly proved by Christian attitudes to [End Page 178] vegetarianism and the general anti-intellectualism of Christianity. Christianity was inauthentic, derivative, "Buddhism in Jewish garments" (120).Yet even Seidenstucker, the renegade Protestant, converted to Catholicism toward the end of his life.

Each historical contribution is followed by an essay on the contemporary situation in the three regions, and these vary greatly in substance. Shizuteru Ueda offers a profound meditation on the significance of Keiji Nishitani for Buddhist approaches to Christianity. If Nietzsche posed the fundamental question of "life without why " (44-45), the thought of Meister Eckhart contains the answer (curiously, Ueda insists that this answer must be European, because Europe "determines the world" [47]). The "ground" on which we stand, interpreted as Nishida's "place (basho) of nothingness," is "ground-less." This is not nihilism but the overcoming of nihilism by nihilism, the shûnyatâ of shûnyatâ (46). Jesus as the Christ is the God/man and therefore the mediator, the absolute in history (53). He occupies the "place" (basho) of infinite openness, unconditioned ultimacy (55). He is thus unique, but not universal: the ultimate "for me" is not necessary "for the whole of mankind" (56). The actual encounter between Buddhist and Christian absolutes takes place in silence.

Santikaro Bhikkhu, the friend and translator of Buddhadâsa Bhikkhu in the last eight years of his life, tells how his mentor gradually overcame his initial suspicion ofChristianity, perhaps because he was not confronted with colonial oppression as Dharmapala was in Ceylon. Distinguishing between "people language" and " dhamma language," he eventually arrived at a certain equivalence between the Christian God and Buddhist dhamma understood as a nonpersonal, nondual transcendent that is nevertheless not outside nature (85, 90). What Jesus the Teacher of Wisdom offers in the Sermon on the Mount, if practiced, is sufficient for salvation (93). In the perspective of dhamma language, however, the God of Christian convention is conditioned, and Jesus as Son of God cannot be unique. Though inconclusive and sometimes obscure because of Buddhadâsa's indifferent grasp of English, this is surely an astonishing journey for one who tried to understand each tradition, including his own, from the sources. It brought him fierce criticism from fellow Buddhists, however, who branded him a...


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