Issue 42, December 2003
This issue of Current Dialogue has a wide-ranging content with contributions from our network, reports from the Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue (IRRD) and some of the contributions from a Bossey seminar on hermeneutics. But this issue gives a particular emphasis to Christian-Buddhist dialogue, addressed from a couple of different perspectives. Buddhism and Christianity are very different from each other. There are obvious differences between rebirth and historical uniqueness, between no-self and person, between emptiness and being. Buddhism is, as someone has said, a "religion of the eye," which begins as philosophy and grows into story, and Christianity is a "religion of the ear," which initially takes a narrative form but gives rise to philosophy.
This is a challenge that, in spite of all differences or maybe thanks to the differences, should bring Christians and Buddhists together to learn from each other, to be faced by each other and to discover that the relationship can become a true partnership.
Christian-Buddhist dialogue is a dialogue with several faces, spanning over various diverse and different relationships: exchanges between Buddhist and Christian academics, monastic exchanges between Japanese Buddhist and Catholic monks and nuns (see Katrin Åmell’s contribution on Buddhist praxis in Christianity), dialogues taking into consideration the inroads made by various forms of Buddhism in the West, co-operation on social issues between Buddhists and Christians. "Engaged Buddhists" in Thailand, Rissho Kosei-kai in Japan and the Global Network of Religions for Children, sponsored by the Arigatou Foundation are some partners of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Buddhist-Christian co-operation.
Unfortunately there are also increasing signs of tense relations between Christians and Buddhists in countries in Asia, not least as a consequence of Buddhist experiences of Christian proselytism but also in some parts of Asia as a result of a Buddhist awakening in relation to its own mission in the world.
One important task for the WCC and IRRD is to facilitate dialogues between Christians and Theravada Buddhists on how Christian and Buddhist missionary understandings must always be firmly grounded in absolute respect of the other. Living together in justice and peace can only be achieved if the dignity of the other is a concern and priority.
In mid-December, the WCC was honoured by the visit of the Iranian president Sayyid Mohammad Khatami, who made an appeal for inter-religious dialogue as an alternative to religious fundamentalism and as a source of international peace and stability, in a public lecture. His lecture emphasised as an absolute and vital necessity "the dialogue of civilisations, but also the dialogue between religions, particularly between Islam and Christianity". President Khatami noted that it was precisely during the 2001 UN Year of Dialogue among Civilisations that terrorism showed its "ugliest face" with the "tragic attacks" in the USA. "The future of religion will depend on the abandoning of fanaticism, and on (…) mutual comprehension and openness," he stressed. "No religion can hold claim to absolute Truth (…). Dialogue is the foundation which allows for unity in diversity," he said. The prime minister of Norway, H.E. Kjell Magne Bondevik, and the WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, responded to his presentation.
texts of the speeches by Sayyid Mohammad Khatami, Kjell Magne Bondevik
and Konrad Raiser are available from our office or on
our website. Seasons’ Greetings