Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue:
A Critical Look at Catholic Participation 

Complete Book Online

by James Arraj

INNER EXPLORATIONS, VOLUME IV:
EAST-WEST CONTEMPLATIVE DIALOGUE
 contains
Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue
,
as well as
God, Zen and the Intuition of Being,
345pp.
ISBN 0-914073-03-6.
Trade paper, $18.00.

 

Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue takes you into the heart of this dialogue where mystics, metaphysicians and meditation masters of different traditions are beginning to meet for the first time. It explores these fascinating worlds like that of the Sanbo Kyodan Zen School where many of today's Catholic Zen masters have come, and that of Abhishiktananda, the Benedictine monk Henri Le Saux, who plunged deeply into Hindu mysticism.

But it focuses in a special way on how this interior dialogue is being short-circuited by misunderstandings on part of the some of the Catholic participants who appear to be disconnected from their own deep wisdom traditions. The book goes on, following the footsteps of Jacques Maritain, to look at some of the metaphysical foundations of East-West dialogue that provide a way to avoid these problems.

Table of Contents

A Short Orientation 11, Introduction 13, Enlightenment Experiences 14, Metaphysical Experiences 15, Christian Mystical Experiences 15, The Structure of This Book 17

Part I: A Pilgrimage Through East-West Dialogue 19, Chapter 1: Buddhist-Christian Dialogue 19, The Sanbo Kyodan 20, David Loy’s Questionnaire 21, An Informal Survey 22, Koun Yamada’s Questions to Christians 22, Ruben Habito 23, Hugo Enomiya Lassalle 27, Willigis Jäger 29, Elaine MacInnes 32, Patrick Hawk 34, Chwen Jiuan Agnes Lee and Thomas Hand 35, Robert Kennedy 37, Roger Corless 40, Maria Reis Habito 40, A Closer Look at the Sanbo Kyodan 42, Thomas Merton 45, Donald Mitchell, Robert Jonas, James Grob 49, Heinrich Dumoulin 51, Hans Waldenfels 53, Ichiro Okumura 53, Kakichi Kadowaki 54, A Buddhist-Christian Dialogue at Naropa Institute 55, The Ground We Share 56, David Hackett 57, Modern Attempts to Renew the Christian Contemplative Life 59, Centering Prayer 59, John Main 61, Vipassana Meditation and John of the Cross 61, Hans Küng 62

Chapter 2: Hindu-Christian Dialogue 67, Modern Hindu-Christian Dialogue 67, The Current State of the Hindu-Christian Dialogue in India 68, Abhishiktananda 69, Jacques Dupuis on Abhishiktananda 73, Bettina Bäumer 75, Sara Grant 77, Abhishiktananda Through Advaitan Eyes 78, Anthony de Mello 79, Bede Griffiths 80, Wayne Teasdale 85, Kundalini Yoga 87, Philip St. Romain 89, The Personal and the Impersonal 90, Duality and Nonduality 91, Concepts Eastern and Christian 92, Core Experiences and the Culturally Conditioned Nature of Language 92, The Christian Life of Prayer and Eastern Ways of Meditation 93

Part II: A Crisis in Catholic Theology 96, Chapter 3: Theology Without a Net 96, Christian Mysticism 96, Christian Metaphysics 97, Christian Theology 98, Theology Without a Net 101, Ivone Gebara 102, Tissa Balasuriya 105, Michael Morwood 107, Diarmuid O’Murchu 110, Daniel Maguire 111, John Dourley 113, Conclusion 117

Chapter 4: Religious Pluralism 121, Salvation Outside the Church 121, Anonymous Christians 123, Jacques Maritain and the First Act of Freedom 124, Two Fundamental Principles 126, Paul Knitter 130, Joseph O’Leary 137, John Keenan 144, Jacques Dupuis 147, Dominus Iesus 149

Chapter 5: What Kind of Dialogue? 156, Catholic Pluralism 157, Christian Philosophy 159, The Nature of Theology 162, Two Kinds of Mysticism 165, Louis Gardet 166, R.C. Zaehner 167, Jan van Ruusbroec 168

Part III: A Metaphysical Dialogue 172, Chapter 6: Islamic Metaphysics 172, Hadi ibn Mahdi Sabzawari 173, Toshihiko Izutsu 173, Historical Background 174, Mulla Sadra 175, Fazlur Rahman 180, Creator and Creation 182

Chapter 7: A Dialogue with Nonduality? 187, Ippolito Desideri 187, Geshe Rabten 188, Dzogchen 190, A Dialogue with Nonduality 191, Toshihiko Izutsu 192, Ibn ‘Arabi 193, Chuang-tzu 194, David Loy 196

Chapter 8: The Metaphysics of St. Thomas and Enlightenment 203, Zen Enlightenment and the Intuition of Being 205, A Christian View of Enlightenment 209, The Loss of the Affective Ego 210, Philosophical Language vs. Liberation Language 211, Western No-Self Experiences 212, The Loss of the Affective Ego and Individuation 215, The Loss of the Affective Ego and Christian Mystical Experience 215, Philip St. Romain 216, Bernadette Roberts 218, St. John of the Cross and the Loss of the Affective Ego 220, On the Nature of the Loss of the Affective Ego 225, The Spiritual Unconscious 226, Enlightenment and the Experience of No-Self 227

Summary and Conclusions 229, Christian Mysticism and Metaphysics 229, Catholic Theology 230, Christian Enlightenment? 232,

Bibliography 235, Index 247

 

Reviews

Nouvelle Revue Théologique, Oct.-Dec., 2002

Ce tome IV réunit un inédit, La chrétienté au creuset du dialogue EstOuest, et la réédition de Dieu, le Zen et l'intuition de l'être. Une première partie est un pèlerinage à travers les dialogues: celui entre les bouddhistes et les chrétiens et celui entre les hindous et les chrétiens. Une deuxième partie étudie la crise par laquelle passe la réflexion catholique: elle est une théologie «sans filet»; affrontée au pluralisme doctrinal, elle se pose la question du type de dialogue à engager avec lui. Une troisième partie présente le dialogue métaphysique: elle étudie la position islamique, la possibilité d'un échange avec la «non-dualité» et la métaphysique de saint Thomas face à l'illumination. Dans sa conclusion, l'A. précise le rapport entre le mysticisme chrétien et la métaphysique, il montre ce que doit être une théologie vraiment catholique et se demande quel sens peut avoir l'illumination pour un chrétien.

L'A. témoigne d'une large connaissance des divers auteurs, chrétiens et autres, qui ont traité ces thèmes. Il est difficile d'estimer à leur juste valeur ses appréciations des écrivains non chrétiens; elles nous ont paru lucides et bienveillantes. En ce qui concerne les catholiques engagés dans ces échanges interreligieux, l'exposé nous a paru fort éclairant. Pour Jacques Dupuis notamment, son point de départ est exactement présenté: c'est la création telle que Dieu l'a voulue, avec son appel de toute l'humanité au salut surnaturel: c'est à partir de cette considération «existentielle» qu'il convient de situer la question du dialogue interreligieux. Au contraire, le document Dominus Iesus part de la notion théologique de l'Église sacrement universel du salut (remarques éclairantes, p. 121, sur l'histoire de l'adage «Hors de l'Église, point de salut»), ce qui est une considération «essentielle» et un point de départ différent; il n'est donc pas étonnant qu'un vrai dialogue ne se soit pas noué. On lira aussi les pages sur Jacques Maritain et sa thèse du premier acte moral de tout hommè (acte salvifique, sans qu'il apparaisse nécessairement comme tel dans la conscience), sur Karl Rahner (présentation correcte de sa méthode et de son affirmation sur les «chrétiens anonymes») sur Émile Mersch et sa théologie du Corps Mystique, etc.

L'apport principal de ces pages nous paraît être la (re)mise en lumière de la nécessité d'une métaphysique, consciente de l'aptitude de l'intelligence humaine à parvenir à la certitude vécue de l'existence de l'Etre (1'Absolu, Dieu) en même temps que de notre incapacité d'en acquérir un concept exhaustif. Ceci évitera à la théologie de s'embourber dans la phénoménologie religieuse, tout en profitant des très réels acquis que cette recherche permet. -L. Renwart, S.J. 

Monastic Interreligious Dilogue

Across the United States and around the world, Christians are learning the practice of Zen and other forms of Asian meditation, often from other Christians. A number of Catholics have embraced Zen as way of revitalizing their Chrisrian faith and practice, and some have turned to aspects of Hinduism, becoming Christian sannyasis (renunciants). While some have seen Zen and Catholicism as different paths to the same goal, others, both Buddhist and Christian, have questioned the coherence of combining two such different paths. The volume under review combines two different explorations of the relation between Zen and Christianity, the first (God, Zen and the Intuition of Being, originally published in 1988) offering a Thomist perspective inspired by Jacques Maritain on the possibilities for dialogue and mutual enrichment berween Zen, Thomisr metaphysics, and Christian mysticism; and the second (Christianity in the Crucible of East- West Dialogue, published here for the first time) presenting a broad-ranging critical examination of many Catholics who have explored Zen and Hindu practice, together with more general reflections on the problems and possibilities of interreligious dialogue.

Running throughout both books is a repeated lament for the decline of "good" Thomistic metaphysics and the decline of orthodox Catholic theology and spirituality after Vatican II. Arraj blames the scholastics for presenting a desiccated deformation of Thomas's thought that had lost its living core, the intuition of being. Arraj wholeheartedly embraces Jacques Maritain's interpretation of Thomas without even a mention of dissenting voices, such as Bernard Lonergan, who never accepted Maritain's notion of the intuition of being as the key to Aquinas's views on knowledge and metaphysics, or David Burrell, who pointedly denies that intuition in Thomas is "some privileged noetic access." For Arraj, as for Maritain, the intuition of being comes as "a decisive if not explosive moment," which is in "discontinuity with ordinary experience and ordinary philosophical thought" (314). Without the intuition of being, one simply cannot become a metaphysician, and tragically most Catholic scholars have lost the art of leading others to this experience. The failure is pedagogical, and Arraj hopes that the example of Zen's disciplines can inspire Thomists to attend to nature afresh, devise their own metaphysical koans, and make the experience of the intuition of being accessible to new generations. Thomistic metaphysics, in turn, can press Zen to be more explicit on the philosophical implications of its experience of enlightenment.

Despite passing mention of the Soto Zen tradition, which stresses the practice of just-sitting and the gradual dawning of enlightenment, Arraj largely presents Zen as following the Rinzai tradition of koans and sudden enlightenment, especially as interpreted by D. T. Suzuki. In light of this somewhat one-sided portrait of the Zen tradition, he interprets Maritain as "the first of the Rinzai school of the intuition of being"(314). Arraj recognizes that Zen aims at a very different goal than Thomistic metaphysics, but he finds repeated points of contact that make a dialogue possible and worthwhile. The fictional dialogue he creates between Maritain and Zen philosopher Toshihiko Izutsu is indeed fascinating and illuminating.

In Christianity in the Crucible of EastWest Dialogue, Arraj offers a hard-hitting critique of many of the Christian practitioners of Zen or Hindu forms of life, charging that most have been alienated from the tradition of Christian metaphysics and mysticism, and thus lack adequate resoutces for a fruitful dialogue with Eastern forms of practice, leading to a dangerous compromise of Christian identity. The review of a large number of figures is so fast-paced that there is little space for extended engagement with their work. Arraj questions whether centering prayer represents "the authentic Christian mystical tradition" (60); and he is especially critical of what he calls "reaction theology," which reacts against earlier Catholic scholasticism by throwing out central Christian doctrines along with the authoritarian and repressive atmosphere of an earlier era.

Arraj's plea to bring classical forms of Christian philosophy, theology, and mysticism into dialogue with other religions and his concern for fidelity to the central Christian tradition is certainly timely and appropriate. What is most regrettable is his own narrowing down of the Christian philosophical tradition to a particular, questionable interpretation of Thomas Aquinas. Maritain's important work on the intuition of being is better regarded as a creative work of twentieth-century Christian philosophy than as the definitive interpretation of Thomas himself. Moreover, Thomas has no monopoly on the metaphysics of mystical experience. Even as devoted a Thomist as Etienne Gilson, at the center of the earlier Thomist revival, praised Bonaventure's "metaphysic of Christian mysticism" as "the completest synthesis [Christian mysticism] ever achieved," an achievement that, Gilson demonstrated, remains irreducibly distinct from Thomas's thought…Leo D. Lefebure Fordham University Bronx, New York

Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003)

This book combines an original book-length essay, Critical Look at the Catholic Participation in the East- west Dialogue, and a new edition of the 1988 work God, Zen, and the Intuition of Being. In the first part of the volume, Arraj discusses the approaches of a large variety of individuals and institutions who have been involved in the Christian dialogue with Buddhism (Habito, Enomiya-Lasalle, Jaeger, MacInnes, Hawk, Kennedy, Corless, etc.) and in the dialogue with Hinduism (Abhishiktananda, Grant, de Mello, Griffiths, Teasdale, etc.). The main perspective from which he discusses each of these authors is that of their conception of the relationship between Christian contemplation and enlightenment or realization. Arraj finds most of the existing approaches to the East-West dialogue wanting insofar as they all consider the Christian experience of contemplation from the perspective of the Hindu or Buddhist view of nonduality. As he puts it: "But what does this kind of nondualist imperialism do to Christianity? It eliminates its distinctive nature. Let me be clear about this. Used in this way, Zen awakening, which could be a wonderful gift for Christians, becomes destructive of Christianity" (31). Arraj sees this as but one expression of what he calls reactionary theology or "theology without a net," which has been developing since the Second Vatican Council. As opposed to this form of dialogue, which compromises the essence of Christian faith, Arraj discusses the approaches of Jacques Dupuis and the document Dominus Iesus, which he understands as two different versions of a proper Catholic position. After discussing a number of unsatisfactory approaches to the question of religious pluralism, he introduces the distinction between an existentialist approach, which focuses on the universality of the salvific will of God, and an essentialist approach, which emphasizes the uniqueness of Jesus as the mediator of salvation. This distinction between existence and essence forms one of the dominant themes of the book.

Arraj offers an overview and critique of most of the existing approaches to the East-West dialogue, and then moves on to offering alternative proposals for the dialogue. While many are in the process of "overcoming" the metaphysical tradition of Christianity, Arraj sees precisely in this tradition a promising starting point for the dialogue with Zen Buddhism. After analyzing the particularly Thomistic manner of distinguishing essence and existence and some study of references to the experiences of loss of self in the ultimate realization, Arraj comes to the conclusion that what Thomistic metaphysics thinks of as "intuition of being" and what Asian traditions describe as the experience of Enlightenment "are both deeply metaphysical experiences of the same reality, but by different paths, and so they express themselves in different ways" (206). This, then, provides the necessary basis for the two traditions to retain their respective identities while nonetheless learning from the other. In God, Zen, and the Intuition of Being Arraj offers some thoughts on how this might proceed. The clearest of these thoughts appear to lie on the side of what a discussion with Zen might do for Christianity. This is a matter, first of all, of rekindling an interest in Thomistic metaphysics through an introduction of categories and spiritual techniques that are part of the Zen tradition. At minimum, this would open a way beyond, or perhaps behind, the scholasticism of the manuals that have covered the true profundity of Christian Thomistic metaphysics. Whatever the philosophical stakes of this recovery, Arraj is especially interested in its spiritual promise, in the possibility of inviting certain aspects of Zen meditation – the use of koans, increased attention to nature – to help Christianity in developing a new form of acquired contemplation. Arraj has somewhat less to say about what or how much this sort of dialogue might offer Zen Buddhism. Christian metaphysics, he says, has a certain expertise in articulating its experience in more categorical language.

The two books within this volume IV of the Inner Explorations series fit together rather well. In the first book we are introduced to the thoughts of many important thinkers and systems, though often in a cursory and at times inconsequential way (the headings within one chapter go from the Tibetan Buddhist technique of Dzogchen to the ancient pillar of Taoism, Chuang-tzu, to the contemporary Buddhist philosopher David Loy). The second book then offers a more in-depth discussion of Arraj's own vision of a Buddhist-Christian dialogue focusing on the Christian metaphysical tradition. Here, we are presented with Arraj's interpretation of Maritain's interpretation of the metaphysics of Saint Thomas. In this third degree of removal from the original text, one is often left guessing about the original context and intention of certain categories and terms. It is clear, however, that for Arraj, the Thomistic notion of existence, which is the ultimate ground and origin of all essences, refers to the same reality as the nonduality or the emptiness of Zen enlightenment. One may thus ask whether Arraj does not fall prey to the same vices that he criticizes in the first part of the book. In the end, one cannot resist the impression that the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas is read and understood through the lens of Zen Buddhism. While Arraj emphasizes the idea of a deeper and unified existence on which all essences depend, there is little mention in the book of the relation of "existence" to a personal God and of the life of faith and prayer that lies at the origin of Thomistic metaphysics. Moreover, in the Zen Thomism that he advocates as the fruit of the dialogue between East and West, there is no reference to the person of Jesus Christ or to the "Christian mysteries" that he admits in the first part of the book to being essential to Christian faith. Arraj seems to start from the idea that "the metaphysics of Sr. Thomas is not Christian by nature" (282) and that Christianity has in fact been an impediment to the development of the "intuition of being" that is at the heart of Thomistic metaphysics. This book is a step forward in the dialogue between Christianity and the traditions of Asia in that it acknowledges the importance of the Christian theological and philosophical tradition in the dialogue with the other. However, one may be forgiven for retaining some doubt that a Zen perspective will be enough to reawaken an interest in the metaphysics of Saint Thomas. Perhaps this indicates that the sources of the crisis facing traditional Christian metaphysics are deeper or otherwise than Arraj suggests. Zen might indeed offer some practical insights for the life of contemplation. But it is only from a philosophy deeply engaged with the particularities of Christian faith that a genuine dialogue with other religious traditions may emerge.

Catherine Cornille
Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and College of the Holy Cross

Missiology: An International Review in October 2003 issue

Since the Vatican’s release of Dominus Iesus in 2000, pluralism and inculturation have moved center stage in Roman Catholic theological discourse. These two self-published books, combined in a single volume, contribute an independent voice to that international conversation. They respond to a perceived crisis in contemporary Catholic ventures in interreligious dialogue: the failure of Catholic proponents of dialogue to draw upon the riches of their own tradition as they initiate positive encounters with Asian religions. What is at stake, Arraj believes, is the connection between a threatened Catholic identity and a neglected tradition of Christian metaphysics. If dialogue means recasting Christian faith in nonconceptual terms or terms borrowed from the categories of other traditions, he contends, then dialogue runs the risk of redefining Christianity out of existence.

The first book, concentrating on Catholic dialogue with Buddhism and Hinduism, seeks to distinguish Eastern experiences of nontheistic or nondual enlightenment from Christian experiences of I-Thou communion. Revisiting issues raised by Rahner’s "anonymous Christian" thesis, it appropriates the resources of a cosmopolitan Thomism, especially an expanded notion of connaturality, in an effort to construct a metaphysical bridge between Christianity and Asian contemplative traditions. The second book, originally published in 1988, argues that a Zen-Thomist dialogue must precede an effective Zen-Christian dialogue.

Arraj’s insights are arresting and timely. Avoiding the polarization that debates over pluralism and inculturation typically breed, he offers an alternative model of a Catholic theology committed to a classically defined intellectual framework and yet genuinely open to the wisdom of other traditions. By pinning present Catholic integrity and future interfaith success to Thomist metaphysics, he sparks healthy discussion.

Both books represent the virtues and shortcomings of self-publishing. They expose the impotence of a Catholic theology alienated from its metaphysical foundations and mystical dimensions. But undisciplined prose and unchecked speculation limit what at times appears to be an eccentric project. Neither book addresses the relationship between dialogue and mission, nor does Arraj seriously reckon with the heterogeneity of world Christianity or the growing phenomenon of religious "dual citizenship."

Students will be better served by other recent publications on pluralism and dialogue. Specialists should at least listen to Arraj’s original voice.

 

A Review of the Reviews

Authors want to be reviewed after the considerable effort that goes into writing a book, but reviews come in many flavors some more welcome than others. Among them are:

1. The kind of review authors hope for: the reviewer appears to have understood the book and appreciated it. See the first review in the Nouvelle Review Theologique

2. The kind of review the writer can cope with: the reviewer finds the book worthwhile, but has resevations. The review in Monastic Interreligious Dialogue falls here. About a book that some will criticize as trying to deal with too many topics, the reviewer wants more, in this case more on the different schools of Thomism.  The review in Missiology falls partially here, but the reviewer is bothered that the book is "self- published." This seems to call up images for him of the old vanity presses, rather than the new frontiers of electronic publishing and print on demand books, and makes him apparently wonder how weird the book (and author) really might be!

3. The reviewer does not really understand what the book is trying to accomplish. Unfortunately this is the case of the review in Buddhist-Christian Studies which is marred by errors of fact and interpretation.

 4. The reviewer had a bad hair day, and should have gone for a walk on the beach instead of dumping on a book. Luckily none of the reviews here fall in that category.

Some of the reviewers had difficulty in engaging the first part of Crucible which examines and points to potential problems in the works of Catholics engaged in East-West dialogue. But what these authors are saying is important, and ought to be read closely for it says much about the state of theology today.

Conclusion? Read the book and judge for yourself.

 

James Arraj and his wife Tyra are the directors of www.innerexplorations.com, an extensive website where Christian metaphysics and mysticism meet Eastern religions, Jungian psychology, and a new sense of the earth. James has a doctorate in theology specializing in Christian spirituality from the Gregorian University in Rome, and is the author of more than a dozen books.

They live deep in a forest far from paved roads and power lines near Crater Lake, Oregon. There they raised their children, built their own house, grow salads in a solar greenhouse, and create books and videos with the electricity from their solar panels.

 

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