- Buddha Mind – Christ Mind: A Christian Commentary on the Bodhicaryāvatāra by Perry Schmidt-Leukel
From its inception, the series of Christian commentaries on non-Christian texts edited by Catherine Cornille of Boston College has published a number of influential and ground-breaking monographs. In the field of Buddhist-Christian studies, Leo D. Lefebure's and Peter Feldmeier's commentary on the Dhammapada (2011), John P. and Linda Keenan's commentary on the Heart Sutra (2011), and Joseph O'Leary's commentary on the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa (2018) brought together a profound rootedness in the Christian theological tradition and a radical openness to the philosophical worldview of the Buddhist text they had chosen as their conversation partner. While in recent years the practice of Buddhist-Christian dialogue has increasingly moved to a broad variety of dialogical encounters, these monographs show that sophisticated speculative reflection on traditional texts can still prove a fruitful starting point for interreligious conversation.
Peery Schmidt-Leukel's masterful—and massive!—commentary to the Bodhicaryāvatāra (BCA) is the latest addition to this series. In the preface to the volume, Schmidt-Leukel recounts his first encounter with this text as a student in the early 1980s, and recalls how the appearance of a new translation a decade later made him regret that the Medieval tradition to write extensive commentaries on theological texts had long died out, as Śāntideva's text would have been an excellent candidate for this kind of work. It was not until the arrival on the academic scene of Catherine Cornille's series in 2006 that Schmidt-Leukel felt he could actually take up his project in earnest. Ernst Steinkellner, Emeritus Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Vienna, agreed to produce a new translation of the text that would closely match the Sanskrit text and that would serve as starting point for the discussion. This new version—reviewed by Cynthia Peck-Kubaczek—is included in its entirety in the volume, with the relevant passages of each chapter preceding the commentary. Schmidt-Leukel notes that while he does address a number of philological issues, the commentary is not primarily a philological work, and is also very different from a traditional Buddhist commentary, as it seeks to satisfy the demands of Western scholars no less than the interests of Buddhist readers and of Christians eager to learn about another religious tradition (xv). [End Page 315]
The volume is divided into two parts: Part I introduces what we know about the origin, structure, and purpose of the text—what the German academic tradition calls Einleitungsfragen (introductory questions)—, while also reviewing traditional hagiographical accounts of Śāntideva's life in light of more recent scholarship. Part II is the actual commentary, and is divided into ten chapters following the standard division of the BCA in ten sections. The material is organized sequentially rather than thematically, in line with the text's own ostensible nature as an instructional manual that guides practitioners through the stages of practice all the way to the lengthy discussion of insight—or wisdom—in chapter 9 and the concluding transfer of merit. The only deviation from this structure is an excursus between chapters 7 and 8, where Schmidt-Leukel outlines Śāntideva's discussion of the Buddhist hells. After each excerpt from the BCA, readers find a reflection that highlights the main speculative themes of the Buddhist text and foregrounds relevant points of contact with the Christian scriptures and the Christian theological tradition. Schmidt-Leukel does not operate from a specific confessional position, offering insights drawn from Catholic as well as Protestant authors, and occasionally drawing on the wisdom of the Christian East. Carefully avoiding any apologetic stance or supersessionist conclusion, Schmidt-Leukel nonetheless underscores the points of tension between the traditions no less than the unexpected convergences or echoes, pointing out where a passage of the BCA illumines a Christian theological...