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This book experiments with a conviction: the conviction that there is a comparative dimension in confessional theology. It illustrates how a Christian theologian studies another religion’s sources not for the primary purpose of addressing an interreligious question, but in order to better understand and interpret her own tradition. In this case, that means reflecting on reconciliation and self-giving in Christian theology, particularly in regard to the cross, by reference to Buddhist teaching. The book focuses on specific Buddhist traditions, texts, and practices. It approaches them not as phenomena whose very existence requires an apologetic justification but as wells of constructive wisdom that invite theological insight. Theologians have grown accustomed to turning to the very best they can find in philosophy, history, and science for use in their work, regardless of whether authors in these disciplines may either assume or accept Christian faith. Attention to these perspectives is not just a requisite for serious intellectual argument; it is often the entry point for any effective discussion of religious faith in wider culture. I believe that sources from various religions will increasingly become key elements in Christian reflection , though privileged access to those sources lies outside the Christian tradition.1 Primary expertise about these sources rests among those in their own tradition, and theologians will turn to that expertise to guide their understanding.2 This dependence, whether personal or textual, is an appropriate Christian stance. It reflects not only a warranted humility in the face of profound wisdom and our own limitations but a deep consonance with the Christian hope of salvation as a communion enriched by diverse gifts and diverse participations in the divine life. Kenneth Cragg responds to Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s statement that “Islam is what Muslims say it is” by asking “Why only Muslims?”3 If the Introduction: The Bodhisattva Path and the Christ Path 2 I n t r o d u c t i o n Qur’an and its message are addressed in principle to an unrestricted audience , then one might respond to it religiously even if not “owning” it in the manner in which Muslims typically do. In a similar way, Jesus is not only who Christians say Jesus is; he is also the one who figures in the living faith of Sufis, Hindus, and many others who encounter him at least in part from Christian sources. I am not arguing that those outside a community get a vote in that community’s self-understanding. I am talking about the outflow of religious wisdom to those willing to place themselves at least partially within a tradition’s sphere of influence and instruction. Thoughtful exploration of these relations may be viewed as “part of a global religious resourcement and re-foundation.”4 Thinkers within one religious communion typically hone their work through engaging the views of major predecessors in that tradition.5 Christian faith genuinely seeking understanding widens this circle of dialogue to include figures in other religions as teachers and critics. If God is the subject, other people’s religious testimony, arguments, and experiences are relevant data. Wendy Farley notes that without “neo-Platonism and Aristotle there could hardly have been anything we recognize as Christian theology. Without pre-Christian Irish religion, there would be no Saint Brigit or Celtic Christianity. . . . The dialogue with Buddhism might be seen as a contemporary example of Christianity’s openness to exchange with other ways of thinking that broadens and deepens its best insights.”6 I believe that Buddhist wisdom uniquely grasps a dimension of the way things are (as Buddhists would say) and a dimension of God’s relation to and presence in the world (as Christians would say). This truth is relevant to theological topics in a way that is up to Buddhist-attentive theologians to discern. It is not related in the sense that it can simply be transcribed into Christian discourse or that one can see beyond the Buddhist and Christian frameworks to something better or more adequate in their place. At least that is not my expectation. Contemplation of a fully Buddhist way of understanding things can have an effect on a holistic way of understanding Christian faith. Comparative Theology as Christian Theology This experiment could hardly exist if it were not for the history of Buddhist-Christian dialogue and the more recent history of comparative theology. But it is not quite one or the other. Just as the theologians who The Bodhisattva Path and the Christ Path 3 take account...


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