- The Buddha and Religious Diversity by J. Abraham Velez de Cea
To date, theology of religions has been dominated by Christian theologians, despite the field’s great need to hear the views of insiders from other religions about how they deal with religious diversity. Books on religious diversity or theology of religion that focus primarily on Buddhist topics or are written from a Buddhist point of view are relatively few and far between. Thus, any new offering in this genre is welcome. Nevertheless, I found this book puzzling in many ways. On the one hand, it is very good at doing what it sets out to do, which is to fit the Buddha of Pali Nikayas into the familiar schema of Christian theology of religions—exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. On the other hand, I am by no means convinced that this strategy is the most useful or helpful way to think about Buddhism and religious diversity.
There are two major components to this book. The first is a very refined further development of the “exclusivist/inclusivist/pluralist” model of possible ways of understanding religious diversity and a vigorous defense of that model as adequate for all religions, not just Christianity or monotheisms. The second is attention to what the historical Buddha, as recorded in the Pali Nikayas, might have thought about other religious points of view. Would he have been an exclusivist, an inclusivist, or a pluralist, or would he have held some more subtle and refined position? In other words, the Buddha is analyzed and interpreted through the lens of this well-known classification of possible attitudes toward other religions first developed by Alan Race and widely used by Christian theologians of religion. Of these two major components, the exclusivist/inclusivist/pluralist model of religious diversity actually is the leading element and receives far more discussion than does the historical Buddha. It is the organizing framework of the whole book, and presentations of the Buddha’s thinking on the topic of religious diversity are fitted into that framework. As a result, we get a much more coherent and systematic discussion of the pros and cons of various interpretations of the exclusivist/inclusivist/pluralist typology than of the Buddha’s thinking.
Velez de Cea’s comments on the exclusivist/inclusivist/pluralist typology do improve existing literature of that typology significantly, in my view. These improvements fall into three major categories. First, the usual issue for Christian theologians [End Page 203] of religion has been whether and to what extent truth, salvation, or what John Hick eventually called “the Real” can be found outside Christianity. Regarding this question, Velez de Cea claims, correctly in my view, that the referent of the question about what is or is not found in other religions—truth, salvation, or the Real—is far too narrow. In particular, he singles out an important 2005 article by Perry Schmidt-Leukel in which Schmidt-Leukel argues that logically, only four positions regarding P—defined as “mediation of an ultimate salvific knowledge of ultimate/transcendent reality”—are possible. (Besides the usual three positions, the fourth position for Schmidt-Leukel is atheism or naturalism which denies altogether the existence of any such P.) Velez de Cea argues that this definition of P as well as Hick’s “the Real” are not adequate for Buddhism and reflect theistic or monotheistic assumptions about what religions involve. Anyone who knows Buddhism or any other nontheistic religion well would have to agree with this assessment. As a corrective, Velez de Cea proposes the acronym OTMIX, which peppers the pages of his book at every turn. OTMIX stands for “our tradition’s most important X,” with X standing for a wide variety of concepts and practices. His first list of possible referents for X includes “God, ultimate reality, salvation, liberation, the fulfillment of the spiritual path, the highest truth, supreme goodness, holiness, and so on.” He also says that what is most important can be “a teaching, a value, a reality, an ideal, or a goal” (p. 15). If we are...