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  • The Paradoxical Place of the Self:Augustine and Zhi Yi on the Question of the Self and World Experience and the Revelatory Power of Self-Inspection
  • Eun Young Hwang

The question of selfhood is often the question of what it is that asks this question in a momentary or in an enduring way throughout one's life. It is an important issue that has drawn serious attentions from various religious thinkers. How would a Christian thinker share similar ideas of selfhood with a Buddhist thinker, when the one is committed to the soul's pilgrimage to eternity while the other certain of the self's most transient experience passing into non-self as the full actualization of Buddha-nature? I will address this question by focusing on some prominent thinkers in their respective traditions, Augustine of Hippo (354–430) and Tiantai Zhi Yi (538–597). I will engage with a comparative study on Augustine and Zhi Yi by focusing on their views of selfhood and world-experience in relation to some revelatory power accessible to self-inspection.

Why Augustine and Zhi Yi? The question of selfhood has been a crucial issue throughout the history of Buddhist-Christian dialogues. In that respect, it is prudent to delimit the scope of attention to a dialogue between the Augustinian tradition and the Tiantai/Tendai Mahayana Buddhism. A recent study shows that Henri de Lubac set an exiled Tendai-Pureland Buddhist monk, Honen Shonin (1133–1212), into comparison with the Jansenist Augustinianism back in the 1950s, focusing on the other divine power effectuating one's salvation.1 There has been a comparative study on the issue of overcoming nihilism and egoism in light of the incomprehensibility of the ultimate (God/emptiness) between Keiji Nishitani, a Kyoto school philosopher heavily resorting to the Japanese Tendai tradition, and Karl Rahner, a modern Catholic theologian reinterpreting the Augustinian tradition.2 Moreover, the Tiantai Buddhist emphasis on the threefold truth and Buddha-nature gains some scholarly attention in the field of Buddhist-Christian dialogues, especially concerning the implication of Mahayana Buddhist framework to a possible revision of the Triniarian theology and Christology.3 However, there has not been any thoroughgoing comparison between Augustine and Zhi Yi up to this point. Considering the relevance of comparing between an Augustinian version of Christianity and a Tiantai/Tendai version of the East-Asian Buddhism, I will focus on the question of selfhood and its world experience in light [End Page 173] of their soteriological vision of some ultimate revelatory power. As Merton noted, both Buddhism and Christianity commonly address "man's present condition" in "relation to the world and to things in it."4 This question of self-world experience in light of one's divine revelatory power addresses one's way of value-laden sensitivity determined by one's soteriological commitment, which is motivated by the threefold structure of the revelatory power's manifestation in one's self-inspection. This question touches on some themes already discussed in previous dialogues.

Framing a comparison of both figures in terms of self-world experience is timely more than ever. Recently, Jean Luc Marion, a phenomenologist, reinterprets Augustine in light of his phenomenology of givenness and Brook Ziporyn, a Buddhist philosopher, engages with his "presentist" constructive reading of Zhi Yi in light of "value-paradox."5 Given that the Augustinian tradition and the Tiantai tradition have been evoked in the history of Buddhist-Christian dialogue and come to be reinterpreted from the perspective of phenomenology/value theory, it is meaningful to read Augustine and Zhi Yi comparatively by focusing on this fundamental world-experience of the self. Especially, I will engage with a comparative study on Augustine and Zhi Yi by addressing the question of the paradoxical place of the self, which grounds a possible world-experience of the self in the process of the salvific transformation of selfhood without being traceable to one's own horizon of experience.

Both Augustine and Zhi Yi state how the self experiences its given things, affairs, and persons encountered in its own experience, which is affected by its commitment to some salvific power accessible to one's moment of self-inspection but remaining alien, irreducible to...


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