- Buddhist Attitudes to Other Religions ed. by Perry Schmidt-Leukel
For many Christians, Buddhism is something akin to a puppy: very appealing, very approachable, and very nonthreatening. And why not? Buddhism is tolerant, open, and peaceful, and one can easily and smoothly incorporate Buddhist practices—specifically mindfulness and meditation—into one’s own Christian practice without the slightest hitch or bump. At least, that is the story many Christians tell themselves. In light of this unhelpful, patronizing attitude, Buddhist Attitudes to Other Religions comes as a welcome corrective, offering nuance, complexity and diversity among Buddhist perspectives on interreligious engagement.
Buddhist Attitudes to Other Religions is a collected volume of essays, almost all of which were modified from papers delivered at a conference in 2007. This means that the book is directed primarily at other scholars, specifically those working in the field of interreligious studies, rather than students or a popular audience. What is particularly noteworthy about this text, however, is the position made clear in the title: the authors are writing from a Buddhist perspective, examining not only the whole enterprise of interreligious dialogue from that vantage point, but also whether and how categories typically used in a Christian theology of religions fit into a Buddhist framework.
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1, “Buddhist ‘Theologies of Religion,’” contains four essays, which, each in its own way, examine the categories of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism, asking how those categories might be utilized in Buddhism. Kristin Beise Kiblinger’s essay is called “Buddhist Stances Towards Others: Types, Examples, Considerations,” John Makransky’s essay is titled “Buddhist Inclusivism: Reflections Toward a Contemporary Buddhist Theology of Religions,” Kenneth Tanaka argues for Buddhist pluralism in his essay “Buddhist Pluralism: Can Buddhism Accept Other Religions as Equal Ways?,” and, finally, Paul Knitter’s essay is titled “Buddhist and Christian Attitudes to Other Religions: A Comparison.” [End Page 220]
Part 2, “Buddhist Relations to the Religious Other,” comprises six essays, each of which examines different aspects of a dialogue between Buddhism and another religious tradition. Peter Harvey looks at intra-Buddhist dialogues in his essay “Between Controversy and Ecumenism: Intra-Buddhist Relationships,” Perry Schmidt-Leukel’s essay is titled “Buddhist-Hindu Relations,” Joachim Gentz’s essay is called “Buddhism and Chinese Religions,” Alexander Berzin’s essay is “Buddhist-Muslim Doctrinal Relations: Past, Present and Future,” Andreas Grünschloss’s essay is called “Buddhist-Christian Relations,” and Nathan Katz closes the book with his essay “Buddhist-Jewish Relations.” Space prohibits me from being able to discuss each of the essays at length here, so I only mention a few of them briefly.
In the introduction, John D’Arcy May and Perry Schmidt-Leukel explain what they mean by a Buddhist “Theology of Religions.” They write, “To which extent, however, are religions capable of acknowledging that there are genuine alternatives to their own ways of being in the world and transcending it? Within Christianity the reflection and debate on this question has become known under the term ‘theology of religions’” (11). Thus, in the first part of the book, each author examines that question from a Buddhist perspective, offering a different answer. Kiblinger’s essay, which begins the book, offers several helpful examples of “Buddhist conceptual tools” with which one might constructively engage other religious traditions: for example, the parable of the raft, the concept of upāya, the three-body doctrine, and the teaching of śūnyatā (31ff.). In so doing, she attempts to get beyond the simple categories of inclusivism and pluralism (she discusses exclusivism only briefly before moving beyond it), arguing instead for a “two patterns” system that cuts across these categories, based on “the degree of acceptance of real difference, and how deep the differences among religion are thought to go” (28).
Makransky’s essay on Buddhist inclusivism makes a strong argument for this position; while he recognizes the importance of affirming different religious ends and the different practices that help one attain those ends, he also holds for the uniqueness of the Dharma as the path that leads to...