Two Fundamental Principles
of East-West Contemplative Dialogue

There are two fundamental principles that Christians need to keep in mind when looking at the possibility of East-West Contemplative dialogue.

1. God wishes to draw all women and men to share in the divine life of grace. Our hearts are made for this goal, and ceaselessly long for it and try to achieve it. Naturally this is a Christian belief, which our dialogue partners might not explicitly share. But it is a vital principle from the Christian side because it asserts the fundamental equality of the people on both sides of the dialogue. Christians must presume that their dialogue partners share in the life of grace and grow in it by their good actions. They cannot imagine that they, themselves, are actually closer to God, or somehow more pleasing in God's sight in view of their explicit profession of Christian beliefs.

The logic of this position, I think, is quite unassailable. God from the beginning has destined the human race to a supernatural goal, which is to share in God's own life. This divine intention still exists in a very real and concrete way, and is rooted in the heart of every human person. It flowers in grace which grows through all good actions. Thus, there is an intrinsic unity and equality between all men and women, irregardless of their formal beliefs. Our Buddhist and Hindu dialogue partners, for example, are thus our brothers and sisters, children like us of the one God. Let us say that the human race possesses a concrete or existential unity in regard to the life of grace, and our dialogue partners may be more advanced in that life than we are, even if, according to their own belief system, they do not formally admit the existence of God. There is an actual existential pluralism in which people take widely divergent and even conceptually incompatible paths, and arrive at this final goal of union with God.

2. The first principle cannot be taken out of its concrete existential realm and be automatically translated into some sort of many paths, one reality theory of irreducible pluralism in which what we believe doesn't really matter. Even though all women and men are destined to the same goal and are concretely achieving that goal according to the means they have available to them, this does not mean that all doctrinal systems or spiritual paths are equivalent. A doctrine of the non-existence of the personal self, or the non-existence of God, is not automatically equivalent to a doctrine of the existence of the self and God. The two may be equivalent if we dig deep enough, but we have to dig in order to find out. Or they may point to different experiences based on different facets of reality, or one or both of them may be partially wrong or poorly formulated. What we believe and how we articulate those beliefs is important.

If we hold firm to both of these principles, the way is open for deep dialogue. With the first principle we avoid the unspoken, or even unconscious fear that the people of the other tradition are somehow fundamentally alien to us. With the second principle, we avoid a facile spirit of dialogue which hesitates to confront real doctrinal differences for fear it will somehow offend our dialogue partners.

Do you agree with these principles and how they are expressed?

A Response

As a Christian minister and student of Buddhism for many years, I found the two principals to be very wonderfully and helpfully stated. I would add the following: Focus on our individual self, or non-self sometimes omits the understanding of salvation or enlightenment on a social or even cosmic dimension, ie. "all creation is groaning....", from a Christian standpoint," God's promise to mend the universe"or bring it to fullness (pleroma). Grounded in this corporate understanding of grace and enlightenment, it seems to me that here we must say that what G-d does in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is unique and necessary. And that without this loving intervention, ultimate salvation and the many smaller humankind milestone ones, would not be possible. While agreeing with Principal One, Christians must hold to the "scandal of particularity" that is Jesus the Risen Lord and not some vague " Christ-consciousness" that smooshes the dialogue into a facile solution as the author accurately points out. Perhaps what our partners want to hear about from us is this Jesus and this Gospel as we come to the delightful discovery of common ground!
(Pastor)Doug Ryniewicz M.S./ M.Div.

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