- Buddhologie Und Christologie: Unterwegs Zu Einer Kol-Laborativen Theologie by John D’Arcy May
The brevity of this book belies its ambition and its achievement. May wants to further the cause of what he calls “collaborative theology.” He does so by carefully examining the recently born and ever growing body of Christian-Buddhist interchange and then by showing how this interchange bears the characteristics, especially for Christians, of a collaborative theology. His book is both a review of what has been going on in the Buddhist-Christian conversation over the last fifteen or so years and a signaling of where it is going.
May first makes clear what he means by collaborative theology. He does this mainly by marking how it differs from the broadly popular comparative theology. Like the comparativists, collaborative theologians recognize the abiding, sometimes contradictory, differences between the religions, but at the same time they affirm the promise of bringing those differences into conversation (p. 30). There is also agreement as to the symbolic nature of all religious language and the central role that narrative plays in religious teachings. But for May, collaborative theology addresses what he identifies as a certain timidity in comparativists like Francis Clooney and James Fredericks; they offer “rich” comparisons between Christianity and Hinduism or Buddhism, but when it comes to drawing conclusions from these comparisons, they evince a theological “distance” or even “untouchability” (Berührungslosigkeit) (pp. 20, 12). For May, comparative theologians are strong on comparison but fail to deliver on theology.
Not so collaborative theology. It seeks, May tells us, to gather the fruits of the dialogical comparison—fruits that will often call for real changes in theology and in the community’s self-understanding (p. 108). One hears echoes of John B. Cobb Jr. from back in the early 1980s when he reminded us that to engage in dialogue is to be called to transformation.1 For May collaboration leads to transformation. And this requires another step that comparative theologians appear hesitant to make—a step beyond the “absolutism” that is contained in the so-called Christian (or Buddhist) exclusivist or inclusivist theologies of religions (p. 29).
May’s table of contents reads like a checklist of the complex but rich topics on the Christian-Buddhist agenda: “Trikaya and Trinity,” “Bodhisattva and Christ,” “History, Time, Hope,” “Bodies and Nature,” “Meditation and Prayer.” For each of them, he offers a selective, critical survey of the state of the conversation between Christian and Buddhist scholars. As expected, Christian voices dominate. And May, Christian scholar and long-time (but now retired) director of the Irish School of Ecumenics, is understandably more comfortable in highlighting the transformative possibilities that a collaborative theology offers to Christians rather than for Buddhists.
May shows why “a deeper understanding of God should be one of the most fruitful [End Page 245] results of a Buddhist-Christian . . . collaborative theology” (p. 113). The axis of this collaborative dialogue on Ultimacy is the Mahayana teachings on the nondual reality of Emptiness/Form. By laying out how various Christian and Buddhist scholars are using the hermeneutical light of sunyata to challenge, clarify, or deepen Christian language of God as ipsum esse subsistens (subsistent being itself), as uncaused cause, as mystery that is both present and absent, as Love and Spirit, or as the source of a “supernatural existential” in which “grace” pervades “nature” (Rahner), May and the scholars he reviews illumine the nondual depths or potential of such Christian symbols. But he also challenges Buddhists and suggests that they can recognize an implicit affirmation of ongoing creation if they see the analogies between dependent co-origination and the love-energy that Christians call the creative Spirit (pp. 52–53). His efforts to draw similar analogies, however, become complex if not strained when he suggests that the Buddha bodies of the Trikaya doctrine and the persons of the Trinity perform similar mediating roles for encountering transcendence (pp. 38–39).
May recognizes the tensions if not contradictions in this collaborative Buddhist Christian conversation about Emptiness...