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  • Crucified Wisdom: Theological Reflection on Christ and the Bodhisattva by S. Mark Heim
  • Christian McIvor

In Crucified Wisdom, S. Mark Heim takes on a systematic analysis of the bodhisattva path in order to explore its value in offering new and useful insights for constructive Christian theology. He proposes that reflection upon the concepts of "reconciliation and self-giving in Christian theology … by reference to Buddhist teachings" can help a Christian theologian "better understand and interpret her own tradition" (p. 1). In directing his attention toward a comparative interest "in bodhisattvas and the bodhisattva path on the one hand, and Christ and the Christ-disciple path on the other," he seeks to offer a more holistic understanding of the Christian faith (pp. 2 and 4).

Heim frames his work around similar functional ideals in each tradition, particularly the "sites where tensions or internal stresses are at play," as these are the structural places of interest that lead to "forms of transformation and realization" (p. 27). He argues that both the bodhisattva and Christ-disciple paths point toward ultimate attainment involving a unitive state while operating in dual realms, but they conceive of this state of attainment differently and approach it from divergent perspectives. Whereas the bodhisattva path leads toward personal and collective enlightenment through the realization of nirvanā and the wisdom of emptiness with continued operation in the material world (samsāra), the Christ-disciple path leads toward salvation in human/divine reconciliation through "mimetic indwelling" between diverse individuals, which is rooted in "the coinherence of emptiness and immanence identities with personal and communal relations" (p. 270).

Heim effectively presents his case of these differing approaches, but as he himself concludes, "We end with no grand resolution to the tensions that make this study so fruitful" (p. 261). Although these traditions ultimately operate in different contexts with different goals for attainment, Heim cogently shows how many of the similarities between the bodhisattva and Christ-disciple paths can bring Christians to a fuller understanding of their own faith.

Heim divides the book into three main sections. Part I gives an overview of the particularities to be examined within the bodhisattva and Christ-disciple paths, part II provides an introduction to the bodhisattva path through the study of Śāntideva's [End Page 349] Bodhicaryāvatāra ("A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life"), and part III offers theological reflections from Heim's own Christian perspective.

He begins part I by exploring how each tradition "distinctively constitute[s its] own tension" (p. 27). Heim notices an internal stress within Buddhism concerning an individual's attachment to happiness/relief from suffering that is in conflict with the potential liberation of that suffering through nonattachment. Christianity holds a similar tension between the desire to prioritize the value of one's own individual existence and the reality of being designed by God to find fulfillment in communion with others. In each case, these tensions can be effectively addressed, but by different means—the path toward and realization of enlightenment in Buddhism, and transformation in "reconciliation with God and neighbor, achieved on the way of Christ" in Christianity (p. 28).

The key insights gained on these respective paths of a liberating emptiness in Buddhism and an ultimate relational reality in Christianity are seemingly diametrically opposed, but they are both made available to all through their founding events. Heim notes that the Buddha's "decision to … teach the path to others made it a universal event," while "the presence of God in Jesus may have been located in one person, but it happened to the humanity shared by all and took place in a social community that is part of the whole of history" (p. 35). He finds a parallel between what he refers to as "two miracles" (chapter 1) in each tradition, which allow for the universality of these paths. For bodhisattvas, it is necessary to realize a "nonabiding nirvanā" whereby the nondual nature of enlightenment is encountered but not clung to while also using "skillful means" to move individuals beyond conventional truth...


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pp. 349-352
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