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part I Two Paths For as long as space endures and for as long as the world lasts, May I live dispelling the miseries of the world. Whatever suffering there is for the world, may it all ripen upon me. May the world find happiness through all the virtues of the Bodhisattvas. —Śāntideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life 10:55–56 What to Study? Productive interreligious learning of the type we have described in the Introduction must attend to specific Buddhist teachings and reflect on specific Christian teachings. But which ones? The scope of any single religious tradition is vast, and the number of possible connections between two traditions even larger. A natural tendency draws us to compare subjects that seem most similar. One might, for instance, explore Buddhist and Christian understandings of scripture, beginning with a recognition that the category figures centrally if not identically in the two traditions . But there are important topics for which correlatives are anything but obvious. The cross is one of those resistant knots of otherness between religions. There is no cognate for it in most traditions. One could look to elements of purely formal similarity, which in the Buddhist-Christian context might mean investigating accounts of the Buddha’s death. One learns a good deal in considering the ways in which Buddhist tradition represented the last days of the Buddha and the ways in which Christian tradition represented the last days of Jesus. But in formally comparing the 1 Two Problems, Two Miracles 26 T w o Pat h s same thing, we would really be comparing very disparate things, different in their respective locations and importance in the two traditions. Plainly these events have nothing like the same role in their settings. We could pick something thematic about Jesus’s death, such as its characterization as sacrifice, and then look for parallels in the Jataka tales of the prior lives of the Buddha, in which he sometimes gave up his life for the benefit of others. Here is self-sacrifice to the point of death that strongly parallels the cross. But we are talking of a handful of cases amid hundreds of tales. Even with this explicit correspondence, we are not engaging at the same level in the two faiths. I am interested in studying elements that have a similar functional or structural place in the two traditions, however disparate they may be in formal terms. The cross stands at the center of a distinctively Christian complex of issues around evil and guilt, mortality and nature, estrangement from and reconciliation with God. Its best interreligious illumination might come from a similarly situated central complex at the heart of another tradition, even if the elements do not line up one to one. If we were to think of a parallel in Buddhist tradition to Christian themes of incarnation and salvation, to something that is unique, at least in this eon, and that is of ultimate transformative value, then we might look to the Buddha’s own enlightenment and his initiation of teaching, the first turning of the wheel of dharma. Christians believe that the incarnation has an intrinsic cosmic character , but at the same time its burning importance has to do with the way in which it is saving for us. Buddhists see the importance of the Buddha’s achievement of enlightenment in the sharing of that insight and achievement as accessible to others. So we can regard the Buddha’s awakening and turning the wheel of the dharma as structurally though not necessarily substantively similar to the incarnation and redemptive activity of Christ, and focus our reflection accordingly. The features picked out for comparison would then be something like what Raimon Panikkar refers to as “homeomorphic” elements in different traditions.1 But whereas Panikkar seems to be thinking of individual homeomorphic elements, I am thinking of homeomorphic complexes. Kathryn Tanner discusses Pierre Bourdieu’s attempts to avoid reductionism when comparing subjects in different semantic fields, say those of religion and economics. Each element in religion cannot be neatly mapped onto an element in a market economy, and each relation between religious elements does not mirror a relation between cognate economic Two Problems, Two Miracles 27 factors. Such simple translation distorts rather than clarifies. Bourdieu avoids reductionism primarily “by allowing each field to define its own distinctive interests and ends.”2 Eternal life and capital accumulation are not the same thing. Not only are the practices leading to one...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780823281268
Related ISBN
9780823281244
MARC Record
OCLC
1076736775
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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