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  • Hope: A Form of Delusion? Buddhist and Christian Perspectives ed. by Elizabeth Harris
  • John D’Arcy May
HOPE: A FORM OF DELUSION? BUDDHIST AND CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVES. Edited by Elizabeth Harris. St Ottilien, Germany: EOS, 2013. 250 pp.

This volume contains papers presented during the ninth conference of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies at—appropriately—Liverpool Hope University in 2011. The topic of hope is well chosen, for it immediately raises a host of questions for both Buddhists and Christians: for Buddhists, because it seems alien to a tradition which from the very beginning set out to discipline desire; for Christians, because it has been neglected and, when brought to prominence, can be controversial. The contributions are paired under the headings “Hope and the Critique of Hope,” “Hope in Pastoral Situations,” “Embodiments of Hope,” “Hope in Situations of Hopelessness,” and “Eschatologies of Hope.” The authors do not directly respond to one another, however, and each chapter retains its own intrinsic interest. I shall therefore group them under the two religious traditions.

From the Buddhist side, the contributors differ widely. Richard Gombrich seems surprised to have been asked to speak on the subject at all, because hope is simply absent from Buddhism; it implies wanting something and connotes theism. He sees Buddhism as more akin to Stoicism than Christianity, though he concedes that hope may be an unintended consequence of the acquisition of merit and that in later Buddhism the Pure Land amounts to a religion of hope. Hiroshi Munehiro Niwano, on the other hand, describing the response of Rissho Kosei-kai to the Tohoku triple disaster of tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear explosion, has no hesitation in asserting that a firm faith in the eternal Buddha and the conviction that the Buddha-nature is present in every person gave hope to those affected by the tragedy and those who tried to help them; to believe otherwise would be to deny the existence of the Buddha or God. Mitsuyo Dake sees in Amida as invoked by Shinran the embodiment of hope, inspired by Honen’s conviction that all beings can attain Buddhahood. The hope of enlightenment amid despair is a response to the true heart and mind of the Buddha. There is no duality between Amida and us; through faith (shinjin), we partake in his wisdom and compassion. Sallie King is no less emphatic; admitting that there is no Pāli word for hope, she nevertheless identifies something like hope in the protest movements of Engaged Buddhism. Acceptance of the given situation in the present moment goes hand in hand with the realization of constant change, which opens the door to hope. This is not wishful thinking; it includes not knowing what the outcome of one’s efforts will be, even the failure of hope. Insight into the Buddha-nature of all beings discloses an original blessing that gives grounds for hope and real change, as may be seen in the use of vipassanā meditation in prison ministry or the struggle of the Dalits against caste. To hope is to devotedly do.

Perhaps the most spectacular example of what could rightly be called a Buddhist eschatology is given by Justin Ritzinger in his account of the Chinese Buddhist activist Taixu, who influenced Thich Nhat Hanh. Explaining first how Buddhism, with its [End Page 245] cosmic, historical, and Dharmic cycles, lacks the concept of a definitive end—except in the case of individual lives—he nevertheless argues that there is a basis for Buddhist eschatology and therefore for hope as the expectation of a consummation, even if only as the reiteration of endlessly recurring cycles. The promise expressed in the Lotus Sutra, where all, even the wicked and recalcitrant, are assured of Buddhahood, is symbolized in the coming of Maitreya, even if this is to be delayed by 5.6 billion years. Ritzinger interprets this to mean that for Taixu the inauguration of a new age will not take the form of a sudden revolution, but it nevertheless implies a temporal order in which the present impure land will be made pure, remade, not escaped. If we build a Pure Land, Maitreya will come to preach the Dharma in it...


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