The Buddha and the Christ: Explorations in Buddhist

and Christian Dialogue

Reviewed by Roger Corless

 TTheological Studies

 VVol.55 No.3

 SStp. 1994


 CCopyright by Theological Studies Inc.

            By Leo D. Lefebure. Faith Meets Faith Series. Maryknoll N.Y.: Orbis,              1993. Pp. xxiii + 239. $18.95.             A thoughtful comparison of the traditional accounts of Christ and              Buddha, Japanese Mahayana (Zen and Shin) and Christianity              (Pseudo-Dionysius and Augustine), and Buddhist and Christian              responses to modernity (Thich Nhat Hanh and Gustavo Gutierrez).              Lefebure sees similar structures (the simultaneous striving for              self-perfection and altruistic activity) within the context of              different doctrinal presuppositions (creation and interdependent              arising). The strongest features of the book are its emphasis on              practice and experience, the attention to both cataphatic and              apophatic systems and spiritualities, the solid discussion of              Engaged Buddhism and Liberation Theology, and a refusal to make              simplistic identifications between Buddhism and Christianity or to              force closure on the new and complex issue of the dialogue.              However, except for the section on Nhat Han and Gutierrez, only              secondary sources are used. And although L. has read extensively, he              leaves us with the misleading impression that there is an ultimate              reality of some sort (variously identified with emptiness, nirvana,              Buddha, Nature, Dharmakaya, etc.) in Mahayana Buddhism, despite              quoting Nhat Hanh on the Heart Sutra, who correctly equates              emptiness and interdependent arising (which Nhat Hanh calls              "interbeing"). We can certainly say that Christianity has an              ultimate reality (God) but we can at most say that Buddhism leads to              seeing reality as it ultimately is. Christianity goes to a "there,"              but Buddhism dismantles the illusory "here" so that the nonillusory              "here" self-manifests: this is the identity (better, nonduality) of              samsara and nirvana which L. reports was such a problem for Tillich.                           L.'s heavy reliance on D. T. Suzuki and Masao Abe leads him to be              overly suspicious of conceptual statements about emptiness. A              discussion of Tendai or Gelugpa would have provided a more effective              foil to Augustine's doctrinal statements.