- Expanding the Cultivation and Practice of Love and Compassion in our Suffering World:Continuing the Dialogue between Liberation Theologians and Engaged Buddhists
There is a rich reservoir of work on the comparison of Christian liberation theology and socially engaged Buddhism.1 As a Christian liberation and feminist theologian, I have learned a lot from these discussions and have been challenged by critiques of how liberation theology may be inadequate: as partial and exclusionary in its option (only) for the poor and as focused heavily on social transformation without equal emphasis on personal transformation. These critiques prompted me to reflect more deeply on these aspects in liberation theology, not just as a response to these dialogues but just as importantly in order to live out of a clearer vision of the approach, intent, and deep spiritual and ethical wells out of which Christian liberation theology has arisen. This is the promise of dialogue: not just learning about the other but learning through the other about oneself even more deeply.
My own perspective in liberation and feminist theologies is shaped by my formation in Jesuit education and exposure to liberation theology in Latin America and Asia, especially the Philippines, which emphasizes the importance of the communal dimension of the person as well as the spiritual dimension of the work of justice. Hence, I will speak from the perspective of Jesuit liberation theologians influenced by their founder, Ignatius of Loyola, and by other Jesuits. I also speak from the perspective of third wave feminist theologians and their critique and corrective to previous liberation and feminist theologies of complexifying the analysis of suffering beyond poverty and gender to include issues of race/ethnicity as well as concern for the earth.
I will focus on three points of comparison that hopefully will expand current discussions and point toward new avenues for comparison and deeper learning from each other. First, I will look at liberation theology’s option for the poor and Buddhist non-duality with the enemy as necessary epistemological complements to address suffering and extend unconditional love for all. Second, I will look at the interdependence [End Page 69] of the personal and social dimensions of the person in order to recover a more robust sense of communal salvation/awakening and the role of communities. Finally, I will look at the cultivation of interdependence and love through Buddhist and Christian spiritual practices. I offer this as another aspect in Buddhist-Christian dialogue: how to cultivate a heart of compassion that sustains the work of liberation theologians and Engaged Buddhists today, grounded in the depth of the spiritual practices of their traditions and enriched through dialogue with each other.
expanding our compassion: identifying more deeply with suffering through the option for the poor and the nonduality with the enemy
The main objection of Engaged Buddhists against the preferential option for the poor is that, from a Buddhist perspective, it can and has led to partial, dualistic, and exclusionary language, attitudes, and actions that lead to greater suffering. Moreover, it undermines Christianity’s own goal of unconditional love and obscures the potential and full humanity of the oppressor, usually seen as one’s enemy. For example, using Buddhist epistemology, John Makransky argues that “[b]y losing the fuller person in our reductive image of him as ‘oppressor,’ we lose the chance to refract God’s (or the Buddha’s) love to that person—to uphold his fuller humanity by confronting what obscures it in him.”2 Though Christian liberation practice may have led to a real confrontation and exclusion of those labeled “oppressor” or “enemy,” it is worthwhile to remember that the rhetoric and praxis of the preferential option for the poor is first of all itself an epistemological method that was not meant to be exclusionary. Rather, it was meant to be inclusive by taking seriously the lived experience and reality of those who tended to be invisible in society, the poor. As Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit liberation theologian from El Salvador has written, “The world of poverty is the great unknown. . . . It isn’t that we simply do not know; we do not want to know.”3 In a short article...