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nyat and Kensis


According to the author of the Acts of the Apostles, what prevented Christianity from spreading to the East in the early years of its mission was a dream. In the course of his second missionary journey, Pauls plans to return west to Ephesus from Iconium were thwarted, and he was drawn instead to the verge of the East. The scripture speaks of the inner inspiration urging him from place to place as a Spirit pushing from behind like a driving wind. Then one night a Macedonian gure appeared to him in a vision and begged him to return to help the Christian community there. At once Paul and his troop pulled up stakes and headed back to the Mediterranean basin (Acts 16: 910). The hindsight of history, as Jacques Ellul points out, makes the turn East seem the logical thing. There Paul would have been free to proclaim a spiritual religion in the homeland of spiritual religions.1 Instead the rst Christian mission kept to the path of the Jewish diaspora, where it was to establish itself as Church and sink the cultural roots that nourish it to this day. In time, of course, Christianity in various forms and under a variety of inspirations was to encounter the spirituality of the East. But it was never able to face it with the youthful detachment from institutional structures and openness to doctrinal formation that characterized those early years. Despite the universality of its claims and its perennial hope of winning all the cultures of the earth to its faith, Christianity has been shaped by a radical historicity that has been at once its greatest strength and its greatest peril. In the eagerness to look back with profound regret at the stain of triumphalism and cultural provincialism that marked the Christian Missionary efforts to the Orient initiated in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, there are those who seem to forget that it was after all a stain and not an evil spirit. The openness to the East that is now becoming the pride of increasing numbers in the ranks of Christendom hardly points to a recent acquisition of magnanimity previously lacking in Christian tradition. Nor is it simply the lapse into unbelief and slackness of conviction that its opponents claim. It is fundamentally


the very same Spirit that drove St. Paul, every bit as alive and every bit as pushy in the twentieth century as it was in the rst. What makes contemporary Christian fascination with the East so easy for Christians to misunderstand is the mistaken notion that it is something that can be explained in terms of rational decision, be it the decision of certain Christian believers to make amends for past excesses or the decision of certain Eastern religious traditions to take advantage of the pluralism and tolerance of Western religious philosophy to embrace the Christian world as their new missionary frontier. It is time we realized that we are being swept up into something much greater than a mere philosophical deduction-a Zeitgeist that we have every cause to call Holy. If this Spirit is not understood, the full force of the scandal of doctrinal differences will give way to a cosmetic spirit of conciliation that can only lash back a generation later into a spirit of confrontation, of reason pitted against reason. It is in this light that I would have my following remarks read.

The Scandal of The Cross

Whenever I see a crucied gure of Christ, I cannot help thinking of the gap that lies deep between Christianity and Buddhism. This gap is symbolic of the psychological division separating the East from the West. Christ hangs helpless, full of sadness on the vertically erected cross. To the Oriental mind, the sight is almost unbearable. The crucied Christ is a terrible sight and I cannot help associating it with the sadistic impulse of a physically affected brain. Could not the idea of oneness [with Christ] be realized in some other way, that is, more peacefully, more rationally, more humanly, less militantly, and less violently?2

There could hardly be a more striking statement of the scandal of the crucied Christ than those words published by D. T. Suzuki in English in 1957 when he was eighty-seven years old. We read them not as Westerners eavesdropping, through the good graces of a translator, on Buddhists consoling one another over the superiority of their native religion to the foreign imports of Christian missionaries, but as the words of a Buddhist missionary aimed directly and primarily at the Christian West?3 What is surprising is not that Suzuki should resist the crucix for its violence and inhumaneness, but that he should reproach it for its lack of rationality. Surely Buddhist thought in generaland Zen Buddhism in particularis no stranger to paradox and the overturning of everyday modes of rationality; but that can hardly be the level at which Suzuki, of all people, directs his remark. That the crucixion is a sign of contradiction could hardly chafe his logical sensitivites. The point is rather that because the cross is not open to appropriation, because it cannot be


realized as belonging to the self on the way to enlightenment, it does not meet the Buddhist understanding of what it is to be rational. The following statement of Takeuchi Yoshinori puts it well
Strictly speaking, Buddhism has nothing like what Saint Paul refers to as the folly of the cross The religious experience of the folly of the cross sets philosophy and religion in opposition to each other in the West, establishing the autonomy of reason to criticize religion from the outside; but at the same time this basic opposition led to a new, albeit secondary, relationship between philosophy and theology, a mutuality grounded in a common concern with metaphysics Philosophy in Buddhism is not a speculation or metaphysical contemplation but rather a metanoia of thinking, a conversion within reective thought.4

Surely Takeuchi nds the Christian attraction to the crucix every bit as great a petra scandali to his Oriental sense of propriety as Suzuki did. His point here is that insofar as the cross opens a gap between the logic of religion and the folly of faith, its scandal reaches out to embrace even the theological tradition that sustains Christian doctrine in culture. Rather than draw a limit to the engagement of rational reflection in faith, and thereby call upon revelation to ll up what is wanting, the Buddhist tendency, on Takeuchis account, is to transform and broaden the very nature of rational reflection as such, to make philosophy itself a metanoetics. The paradox that Paul gloried because of its illogicality to the world of Greek logic belongs to the very structure of Buddhist epistemology and underlies its logic.5 The image of the crucied that Paul found to be a stumbling block to the Jews and a folly to the pagans turns out to be no less a scandal to the contemporary Buddhist, even one who made considerable efforts to seek common ground between Christianity and Zen. Had Pauls voyages taken him eastwards in the rst century, things would hardly have been different. Just what kind of cultural upheaval it would have caused, or indeed whether it would have succeeded at all, we cannot say. Even to imagine the possibility of the Christian evangel circulating for centuries throughout the vast cultural diversity of Asia, whether in oral form or in a scripture adjusted to Asian languages and modes of thought, can be no more than wild conjecture. At any rate, the scandal remains. For all the stress Buddhist tradition puts on upya or skill-in-means, and for all the remarkable adjustments in its doctrine and practice this has allowed, there simply has been no way for it to incorporate within its ideals the image of a God who became human and died the painful and shameful death of a criminal. For the Christian, the shock to human sensibilities that Suzuki describes and the rupture of faith from philosophy that Takeuchi points to are far from circum-


scribing the full scandal of the cross. These reactions, as genuine as they are, are only initial symptoms of a deeper problem: the radical otherness of the hierophany of God in Jesus. They do not answer the challenge of Christianity to Buddhism; they merely acknowledge the breadth of its reach. An adequate Buddhist response, whatever it be, cannot stop short at the scandal, since that would be equivalent to refusing a response.6 Nor can it stop short at a mere attempt to appreciate why the Christian believer can nd religious inspiration in the image of the crucied. The challenge is not even met by simple conversion to Christian faith itself. The response that Christianity today asks of Buddhism goes beyond questions of personal assent to or rejection of the Christian faith. It is primarily a demand to be taken seriously at the very point that Christianity takes itself most seriously, but to be taken seriously in a wholly Buddhist way. It is no less than the invitation of one religious way to face squarely and with the full weight of its tradition the contradiction presented to it by another religious way. Obviously, such a challenge presumes a standpoint of respect that allows one to seek the truth in anothers doctrine, not necesarily ones own received truth but a truth that allows heart to speak to heart. The standpoint is expressed well by Nishitani Keiji, who speaks squarely from the midst of his own Buddhist faith
I do not feel satised with any religion as it stands, and I feel the limitations of philosophy also. So, after much hesitation, I made up my mind and have at present become a Buddhist-in-the-making. One of the main motives for that decision was-strange as it may sound-that I could not enter into the faith of present-day Christianity and was nevertheless not able to reject Christianity. As for Christianity, I cannot become anything more than a Christian-in-the-making, for I cannot bring myself to consider Buddhism a false doctrine. When it comes to Buddhism, however, I can enter into Buddhism as a Buddhistin-the-making who had found his home in Buddhism and from that standpoint I can, at the same time, be a Christian-in-the-making who does not nd his home in Christianity. I am fully aware of the shortcomings of Buddhism, and I understand the strong points of Christianity. Because of this, I am all the more convinced that I can, as a Buddhist, with the help of Buddhist dialectics and always from within Buddhism, work for the solutions of these difculties.7

These words are not merely the offhand remarks of a Buddhist made to a Christian audience. They were written in Japanese and aimed at a Japanese philosophical audience to argue the wisdom of the ambivalence that Tanabe Hajime, Nishitanis predecessor in the chair of philosophy at Kyoto University, had felt toward the Christian faith. What is more, they represent a sort of manifesto that has grown out of a line of philosophy to which Suzuki, Takeuchi, Nishitani, and Tanabe all


belong. A brief word about that tradition may help better to locate the response to the scandal of the cross to be taken up later.

The Kyoto School

This is not the place to attempt a history or even a clear denition of the basic-philosophical position of the Kyoto School, neither of which to my knowledge has been achieved satisfactorily.8 A glance in the direction of its principle representatives will have to sufce. The initial inspiration of the Kyoto School rests rmly and indisputably with Nishida Kitaro (18701945), generally recognized to be the rst modern Japanese thinker to grapple with Western philosophy in such a way as to produce a coherent and original corpus of philosophical writings. Bringing his own native Zen Buddhism into confrontation with the thought of Kant, Hegel, the neo-Kantians, Fichte, Bergson, and other contemporary European philosophers, Nishida strove, in the words of his life-long friend, Suzuki Daisetsu (18701966), to make Zen intelligible to the West.9 Though Nishida himself never published in any language other than Japaneseand to this day only a fraction of his collected works have been translated into Western languages10Suzukis comment is an important one. Nishidas main concern was not so much to introduce Western philosophy into Japan. There were plenty of young scholars going to Europe to study philosophy who could perform that service as well as or better than he. It was rather to experiment with the truth and universality of Zen Buddhist insight by casting it into the grip of what he saw as the rational foundations of the West. And this above all else was the task he left for his disciples and successors to emulate in their own way.11 In this sense, we may say that Nishidas struggles with European philosophy inside of Japan were an inspiration for Suzuki to bring Zen directly to the West, in particular to the United States. Lacking Nishidas philosophical training and acumen, Suzukis gift was of another, no less rare and admirable sort. His personality and strong devotion to Buddhism drew the attention of philosophers and religious thinkers throughout the West. In all he published some 30 volumes of material in English, opening up a path without which, it would be fair to say, the work of Nishida and his successors would not have gained the hearing they enjoy today. Nishidas rst major disciple in Japan was Tanabe Hajime (18851962), who may rightly be credited with having set the Kyoto School in motion, both by continuing the attempt to bring Japanese Buddhism into confrontation with Western continental philosophy, and by striking out in new directions that involved a critique of the work -though not the fundamental inspiration-of his teacher. Having studied under Husserl and Heidegger in Germany, Tanabe not only instructed his students in Hegel and the neo-Kantians, but opened them up to the rich mine of


possibilities that phenomenology and existentialism have to offer to Japanese Buddhism. Although he had always maintained a scholars interest in Zen, he turned to Pure Land Buddhism after the war in developing a radical critique of philosophy he called metanoetics.12 As mentioned above, Tanabes succesor in Kyoto was NV-PAS Nishitani Keiji (1900-). Like Nishida and Suzuki, Nishitanis Buddhist afnities are clearly Zen; but like Tanabe, he has turned to European existentialism from Nietzsche to Heidegger and Sartre as his points of contact with Western philosophy. Since the publication of his major work, Religion and Nothingness, Nishitanis thought has begun to stir new interest in the Kyoto School among Western scholars.13 Takeuchi Yoshinori (1913), whose main work has gone into braiding the three strands of Pure Land Buddhism, primitive Buddhism, and European phenomenology and existentialism into a contemporary spirituality, is the closest to Tanabe. In fact, it was Takeuchi whom Tanabe credits with having opened his eyes to the relevance of Shinran to his own philosophical endeavors. Takeuchi assumed the chair in Kyoto Universitys department of religion after Nishitani relinguished it to assume the chair of modern philosophy in 1959.14 Nishitanis successor in Kyoto University, Ueda Shizuteru (1926), stands out as the rst prominent member of the circle to have completed doctoral studies abroad. The book on Meister Eckhart that grew out of his studies in Marburg15 has given a direction to most of his labors since. At the same time, his concern with exploring the comparison between the Zen notion of nothingness and Eckharts notion of the godhead of God bears the signs of an active practice of Zen more clearly than in any other key gure in the Kyoto School. Still commonly associated with the Kyoto School, though his later work gradually drew him in another direction, is Hisamatsu Shinichi (1889-1980).16 Finally I would mention Abe Masao (1915), a disciple of Hisamatsu and Nishitani who was in close contact with Suzuki during the nal decade of his life. Like Suzuki, Abe has been devoting his mature years to direct contact with the West, where he has lectured widely and made his home these past many years. His importance to the Kyoto School has, understandably, received greater attention in Western circles than among his Japanese colleagues, but the bridges he has built between the two are sure to carry heavy trafc in the years to cometwo-way trafc. More than any other living gure of the Kyoto circle, Abe has allowed his thinking to be shaped by the questions of his Western colleagues, in particular Christian theologians. While he is less conversant in continental philosophy than Nishitani, Takeuchi, and Ueda, or at least draws on it rarely, Abe does his thinking in dialogue among the growing body of religious scholars concerned with appropriating what they can of Buddhism into Christian tradition.17


In what follows I will focus my attention on the work of Abe, both because I nd it most directly to the point of coming to grips with the scandal of the cross, and because it is more readily available in English translation. The reader should know, however, that there is an entire body of related literature to be found in the writings of the Kyoto School waiting in the background to ll out and deepen Abes attempts.

Kensis as nyat
Shortly after the appearance of Nishitani Keijis Shky to wa nanika in 1961,18 Masao Abe published a lengthy review in one of Japans leading philosophical reviews,19 hailing the book as an epochmaking work that begs for comparison with Schleiermachers ber die Religion. Both works, Abe claims, attempt the same thing and achieve it with equal brilliance: an intelligent and carefully reasoned case for religion against its cultural despisers. The rst half of the paper singles out three main themes of the book and attempts to locate Nishitani in the tradition of his predecessors Nishida and Tanabe. The second half of the paper asks two critical questions. It is in the pursuit of the rst of these, I belive, that Abe has brought the Kyoto School closest to the core of the Christian kerygma. In his eagerness to present a new understanding of the Buddhist ideal of no-self or anatman as the impersonally personal or the personally impersonal, and to set this ideal up as the answer of religionboth Christian and Buddhistto the human condition, Nishitani ends up reducing the Christian notion of sin to a question of the nihility that grounds all the things of life. In so doing, Abe suggests, Nishitani catches one aspect of sin, its disclosure of the general frailty of the human condition, but misses the other, its particularity as a concrete act of rebellion against the divine will. In pitting the non-discriminating perfection of an impersonally personal God, who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the bad alike with no regard for particular differences, against the discriminating personally personal human mode of being, says Abe, Nishitani barely leaves room for Jesus as an object of faith and a means to salvation from sin. But from the perspective of Christianity itself, Gods perfection must be grasped Christologically.20 The same problem shows up in Nishitanis appeal to Eckharts notion of the nothingness of the godhead as the most satisfying Christian image of a God who has transcended the nihility that grounds all particular being. Abe comments:
The nothingness of the Gottheit is the true, unobjectiable reality of God. But at the same time, looked at from another direction, in the crucied Christ God became more truly God. In Christs death and resurrection, the reality of God


broke through nihility, overcame it, and became a reality of a higher dimension. The personality of God revealed in Christ is more real than the nothingness of the Gottheit at the ground of the personal god In other words, the personal God of Christianity is taken to include two opposing orientations: (1) Gods ecstatic selftranscendence directed towards the nothingness of the Gottheit, and (2) Gods self-revelation through self-negation directed towards the more personal Jesus Christ. For the human subject, the rst orientation has to do with nothingness and autonomy, the latter with sin and faith. To grasp God Christologically means to receive all of God through Christ, who stands at the apex of the second orientation.21

It is precisely that second orientation that Abe nds missing in Nishitani. To read his words out of context one might think that he is writing as a Christian apologist. In fact he makes it clear that his standpoint is the same as Nishitanis, and that his intention is merely to shift the focus of the discussion of Christianity closer to the selfunderstanding of Christianity itself. For Abe, Nishitanis standpoint requires as much. Indeed, far from parting company with his teacher, Abe takes his lead from hints provided in Nishitanis own work. Abes clearest statements of how the standpoint of Buddhist emptiness can appropriate the Christian doctrine of kensis center, not surprisingly, around the well-known hymn cited by Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians:
Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (2: 5-8).22

Abe has been at pains to show that the coincidence of the scriptural reference to Christs emptying of himself and the Buddhist notion of nyat commonly translated in English as emptiness is more than one of simple word association. The following passage from Nishitani I am about to quoteto which Abe, oddly enough, does not refercontains in nuce the position he has developed in his critique of Nishitani:
What is it like, this non-differentiating love, this agape, that loves even enemies? In a word, it is making oneself empty. In the case of Christ, it meant taking the form of man and becoming a servant, in accordance with the will of God, who is the origin of the ekkensis or making himself empty of Christ In Christ, ekkensis is realized in the fact that one who was in the shape of God took on the shape of a servant ; with God, it is implied already in his original perfection. That


is to say, the very fact itself of Gods being empty essentially entails the characteristic of having made himself empty. With Christ we speak of a deed that has been accomplished; with God, of an original nature. What is ekkensis for the Son is kensis For the Father. In the East, this would be called antman, or nonego.23

While he does not adopt Nishitanis use of the term ekkensis, it will soon become clear how close Abes dependence is. Abe distinguishes two moments in kensis: rst, Christ empties himself of the glory of his entitled divinity to become an obedient servant, bringing him nally to the cross; and second, at the ground of this particular act of love lies a non-discriminating love of God for humanity, one that is not deduced from a previous judgment as to which people are worthy and which unworthy of that love. Abe refuses to allow himself to get entangled in the problem of how to determine who in the Trinity did what to whom and when. Not only are these things of little interest to a Buddhist appropriation of Christ ; he seems to hint that they are ultimately wide of the mark for Christian theologians as well. Christ is kenotic by nature; the historical incarnation is merely a disclosure of that nature. He did not change his nature when he was born a man, but revealed his nature in action. Strictly speaking, he did not become human, but was human all along. He puts this in the logic of the prajnaparamita tradition with the formula: Christ is not the Son of God precisely because he is the Son of God. In other words, precisely because he is by nature non-discriminating and full of divine love, he gives up his divinity in fact. This brings us to the heart of the matter: religious conversion. How one describes the nature and activities of what transcends the human only makes sense religiously insofar as it relates to human experience and guides it to spiritual transformation. On this point there is no difference between Buddhist and Christian self-understanding. The difference comes into play when we consider the nature of conversion and what happens to doctrinal truth in the light of that conversion.24 For Abe, and indeed for the Kyoto School as a whole, there is no permanent and unchanging substantial substratum that can at one moment be termed the sinful self and the next a redeemed self. Conversion entails a complete and radical break between the old and the new, a dying in order to come to new life. At rst glance this looks to be coincident with the Pauline metaphors.25 Identication with the kenotic Christ does not shrink from a self-emptying that is lifted up to the image of the cross. Rather it sees the idea of the old self being crucied with him so that it may consider itself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6: 611) as the core of Christian spirituality.



Yet there is a difference. When Paul speaks of conversion as growing closer and closer into life with Christ (I Cor 15: 31, II Cor. 4: 6) or advises the church of Philippi to have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, the underlying assumption is of a personal relationship in which the changeable, convertible human subject freely submits itself to the workings of an unchangeable, converting divine subject. Abe acknowledges this, and is therefore deliberately re-reading the Christian tradition when he paraphrases the act of conversion in the following terms: Self is not self (it has died to itself precisely because it is truly self (it is not I but Christ that lives in the self). Conversion is not just a matter of loving one another because God has loved us in Christ, but of experiencing in ourselves the very kensis that Christ experienced, of recovering in ourselves the kenotic nature that we share with Christ. In order to correlate the self-emptying of Christ to the self-emptying of the religious subject in this way without abandoning his Buddhist standpoint, Abe cannot resort to Christian talk of analogous interpersonal relationships between subjects: divine and divine on the one hand, divine and human on the other. At the same time, he has already decided that the Christian notion of subjectivity cannot with fairness be reduced to the universal of human nature. Moreover, the weight of Mahayana Buddhist tradition inhibits his use of the analogy of beingwhich, strictly speaking, does not require a personal Godas a means to differentiate and yet unify God, Christ, and the self. And yet some notion of Ultimate Reality is required in order to locate the converted self on the other side of its pre-converted mere humanity. It is here that Abe introduces the idea whose way he has been preparing all along: the idea of nyat.26 Abe knows only too well that even if there are precedents in Christian theological tradition for speaking of the nature of Christ as self-emptying and therefore for designating self-emptying as the essence of conversion to faith in Christ, there lurks in the background the supposition that the pouring out of self only serves the higher purpose of being lled up with the fullness of God. The life to which the self, whether Christs or the imitator of Christs, is restored after dying to itself is a state of enhanced personal subjectivity that preserves the essence of the self in a world of being whose source and perfection is in God. The emptying stops short at the being of personal identity, even in Christianitys eschatology. Against this, Abe argues that a Christology consistent with the Pauline ideal of kensis requires that self-emptying reach back to the very nature of God the Father. Without this, the kensis of the Son and the kensis of conversion to faith in the Son as the revelation of the Father are reduced to groundless, accidental occurrences. Abe states his position clearly:



In the case of Christ, kensis is realized in the fact that one who was in the form of God emptied himself and assumed the form of a servant. It originated in the Will [of God. It is not that God] becomes something else by his partial self-giving, but that God is something-or more precisely, that God is each and every thing-by his total selfemptying. Only through this total kensis is God truly God. Here we realize the reality of God which is entirely beyound conception and objectication. This kenotic God is the ground of the kenotic Christ.27

The non-discriminating love of God that Abe sees as the second moment of kensis points to a dynamism within God that turns out to ground the dynamism of Christs conversion into the form of a servant and the Christians conversion in faith. The Buddhist name for this dynamism is nyat. Its difference from being is hinted at in the parenthetical remark that God is each and every thing. But this nyat is not the mere annihilation of being. It is not some external and superior being that does away with all other beings by having them empty themselves of their own being. It is simply a name for the ultimately unnameable force that makes things, each and every thing in its uniqueness, be what they are.28 It cannot itself be something if it is to ground the what-it-is of each thing as the what-it-truly-is of each thing.29 The religious and soteriological implications of universalizing kensis are four, according to Abe. First, the source of salvation is not a personal relationship with something outside the self, but the realization of a suchness inherent in the original nature of self and all things. The only eschatology possible is a realized eschatology, where the Kingdom of God is within each individual, a new spiritual principle already operative in the lives of men.30 Second, nyat does not become a center of meaning or being as theocentric, cling to or grasp at his equality with God points in effect to a realization that all existing things depend on one another, and that none has a privileged position vis-a-vis the others. In divine-human and human-human relationships, each side is immanent in and transcendent to the other. Third, as the dynamism of nyata, kensis is itself a spontaneous fact of nature31 that supersedes all will, whether of God or the human subject. And nally, that there is no servant and no master in Ultimate Reality, but each individual locates and denes every other individual. In terms of the kensis of Christ, it is not only equality with God but also the form of servanthood that is not to be clung to.32 This is as far as Abes interpretation can bring him. To follow him further is to trail off into more detailed explanation of the elements of Buddhist doctrine he has drawn into his interpretation. Ultimately, Abes reflections on Christanity bring him back-enriched and deepened, perhaps, but back nonetheless-to where he



started. At least initially, the Christian returns elsewhere, to face a different set of questions.

Evaluation of Abes reading of the hymn of kenosiswhether favorably or unfavorably disposed to what he has been trying to do, whether Buddhist or Christian in inclinationmust begin, it seems to me, with the recognition of the fact that he has both preserved the scandal of the cross in the twofold sense referred to at the outset and sought to appropriate it into his own Buddhist standpoint. However spiritualized his treatment of Christ ends up, we never catch him trying to turn our eyes away from the passion of the cross to the calm and peaceful smile of the compassionate Buddha. However foreign the distinction between philosophical reflection and religious belief to his own way of thinking, he never requires his Christian reader to subordinate the folly of the cross to Buddhist enlightenment. However far he may depart from received Christian interpretations, nowhere does he attempt to psychologize Christian doctrine into talk about God-images or absorb it without remainder into Buddhist doctrine. In so doing he has, I believe, remained faithful to his intended correction of Nishitanis view of Christianity: to relate the perfection of God to the concrete particularity of Jesus and the Christian believer. When a Buddhist believer interprets a Christian scripture,33 the rst thing we need to know in order to take it up from a Christian standpoint is why a Buddhist bothers with it at all. Given Abes afliations to the Kyoto School and his own commitment to Buddhism, the overriding motivation can, I believe, be stated simply: his confrontation with Christianity is itself an act of self-emptying and a challenge to self-emptying, for which there may be no better expression than the paradoxical form he himself nds so congenial: Buddhism is Buddhism precisely because it is not Buddhism ; Christianity is Christianity precisely because it is not Christianity. That having been said, and all question of private motivation aside, we may distingush nine subsidiary motivations, all of which belong to the texture of the dialogue of the Kyoto School with Christianity. I list them in order of progressive complexity and remark seriatim on each. In the rst place, to make a contribution to Christian theology that will encourage Christians to draw closer to Buddhist doctrine. No doubt Abe, like his Kyoto colleagues, has taken seriously the tools of Christian theology. This is not to say that he handles them with the facility and condence of his own Buddhist hermeneutic, but only that he would be the last to lend himself license to take words, ideas, and images out of their native context. At the same time, there is no doubt that he



takes advantage of his labors, and his successes, in this regard to instruct-though rarely if ever to catechize after the manner of Suzuki-his Christian audiences, with an eye to converting a long tradition of naivete and ignorance into a new standpoint of esteem. In the second place, to dramatize the radical differences that separate Buddhist and Christian doctrine. Far from contradicting the rst motive, this second is its complement. Without an abiding awareness of the distance between the two faiths, Abe would have literally nothing to say to Christian theology, no right to a hearing. At some point -inevitably, I would venture to say-he drives his staff into the ground in front of his Christian colleagues. In the case of the Christological argument discussed above, this point comes when he asserts the mutual and equal dependence of God and creatures on nothingness or nyat. In the third place, to rethink the doctrinal categories of Buddhism in order to reform its own self understanding and to take advantage of progress in Christian thought. Even without explicit acknowledgement, this motivation seems to me indisputable. Christianitys preoccupation with open publication of its commitment to doctrinal renovation is frequently frustrated by the Oriental habit of appearing more stable and self-possessed in discussing progress, at times with good reason.34 Abe himself prefers to present a unied picture of Buddhism that obscures the fact that his is but one of many possible standpoints. Still, it should not be forgotten that the intermeshing of kensis and nyat he performs is itself the product of a dialogue going on within Buddhism itself. In the fourth place, to locate itself in a religiously plural world threatened by scientic materialism. This theme has become one of the leitmotifs of Nishitanis work, which Abe has taken up in turn in several of his essays.35 Yet for all its prominence in print, it seems to have yielded functionally to tasks of a more theological nature. A comparison of recent comments with those written twenty years ago shows little or no change in analysis and sources. In the fth place, to gain a higher standpoint transcending both Christianity and Buddhism. Continental European philosophy, in particular, existentialism, has provided the past generation of thinkers in the Kyoto School with a counterposition to which they could move freely back and forth in order to place themselves vis-a-vis contemporary Christian thought. But today, standing in the wings of every Buddhist-Christian dialogue are the questions of Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, folk religion, new religions, and contemporary cults. There is every reason to suppose that the next generation of the Kyoto School will forsake the preference for dialogue with Christianity, and will therefore need a standpoint of more widereaching appeal. If we are hard put to document this awareness in the writings of any member of the Kyoto school, including Abe, it is simply unthinkable that they are not aware of this.



In the sixth place, to respond to pressure from Christianity to engage in interreligious dialogue. In a certain sense, the dialogue between the Kyoto School and the West which Abe represents was a creative intiative born out of Japanese Buddhism. Its conversion from a dialogue of texts to a dialogue of living thinkers gathered around the same table or addressing one anothers work in languages that both sides can read is a more recent phenomenon. The motives within the various Christian churches here are widely diverse, even contradictory. But the force they exert jointly has been such that there is hardly any serious dialogue going on anywhere in the world that is not being orchestrated by Christian intellectuals. In the seventh place, to understand how Buddhism is being misunderstood by Christians, thereby better to protect itself against Christian aggressions. This motivation has been rendered subtler today than ever before by a newfound tolerance in Christian theology that has led signicant numbers of its former heretical opponents to dress in fashion. But beneath the surface, and not nearly as far beneath the surface as Christian intellectuals are wont to suppose, there lies a memory of things past and a suspicion of things to come. The signs are hard to detect and harder to put together in a form that can be discussed or refuted. For my part, however, I have no question that the thinkers of the Kyoto School have yet to achieve anything like the complete trust in Christianity that Christian theologians expect. In the eighth place, to improve the political, economic, and social status of Buddhist tradition. From a strictly doctrinal standpoint, such motivation has no room at all. If anything, it seems to make a mockery of the spiritual level at which a Buddhist like Abe sits down to pore over Christian texts and appropriate them into his own faith. But from a religious standpoint, it is essential and most dangerous when judged impossible or unworthy of mention. After all, thinking is through and through a cultural enterprise, liable to all the lures and opportunities of any other enterprise. In the case of the Kyoto School, it is not merely a matter of the fact, as Eliade has observed, that before sin, there was no religion.36 Its own experience during and after the last World War has taught it well how fragile a tradition can become in the face of unexpected social upheavals. In the ninth and nal place, to inspire Christians to an Oriental theology. On the face of things, the Buddhist struggling with Christian doctrine has an easier time of it if Christianity keeps itself foreign. The closer it comes to taking into its own language and logic Oriental modes of thought the more uncertain the confrontation. (The uneasiness with which the Kyoto School saw Heidegger adjusting his concept of Nichts to Buddhist thinking, even though he had been criticized for his failure to do so, is symptomatic of this ambivalence.) Yet the fact remains: the West is being drawn East and is destined one day to weigh its philosophical and theological accomplishments against the measure of Oriental thought as intently as it has weighed itself against the tradition of Greek



philosophy. Because of the efforts of Buddhists like those of the Kyoto School, Oriental sunayta is fast becoming a scandal and a stumbling block that Christianity is only now learning to face and appropriate.

1 . Jacques Ellul, The Betrayal of the West (New York: Seabury, 1978), 736. 2. D. T. Suzuki, Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), 145, 150, 154. 3. The essay from which these remarks are taken seems to have been composed originally for publication in English. I have been unable to locate it, or indeed anything approaching its forthright reflections on the crucix, in his collected works in Japanese. 4. Takeuchi Yoshinori, The Heart of Buddhism: In Search of the Timeless Spirit of Primitive Buddhism. Edited and translated by J. W. Heisig (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 34. 5. Though the interpretation may seem a little odd, Takeuchi is perfectly correct in referring to the folly of the cross in the way he does. The passage in question from I Corinthians plays ironically on the words lgoV, sofa, and mwra, turning their meanings inside out: the logic of wisdom (philosophy) cannot hold the logic of the cross (revelation), which to it seems as folly; but the cross shows that Gods wisdom has made a folly of the logic of human wisdom and that those who trust in the latter are on the way to perdition (I Cor. 1: 17-25). Not without reason, The Jerusalem Bible, The New Testament in Modern English, The Twentieth Century New Testament, and the Goodspeed New Testament: An American Translation, all name the logic of human wisdom philosophy. 6. While there have been new religious movements that have attempted a synthesis of Christianity and Buddhism, they have invariably done so by walking around the stumbling block. The contemporary Japanese Mahikari movement is a good case in point. Its members are told that Christ did not in fact die on the cross, but was smuggled back to Japan-where he had lived for ten years and learned the teachings he preached in Judea-to live out the rest of his 106 or 118 years. He lies buried in northern Japan in a clearly marked tomb, waiting to be resurrected. (This so-called Kirisuto legend is reported in English by a journalist named Rowland Gould in an article entitled The Man from Isohara, published in CPuPuD [Tales from the Ancient Age of the Gods] , ed. by UHL Takenouchi Yasumi (Ibaragi: Kso Ktai Jingu, 1978), 193212. As one member of the sect explains: If it is true that Jesus did not die on the cross, does that negate the value of Christianity ? Not at all. In my opinion, it enhances it (Andris K. Tebecis, Mahikari: Thank God for the Answers at Last (Tokyo: Yoko Shuppan, 1982), 361.



7. Cited in Hans Waldenfels, Absolute Nothingness (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 63. 8. Among recent sources in Western languages the reader may consult, I would single out the following (noting, however, that there are discrepancies in the facts and dates they provide): Hans Waldenfels, Absolute Nothingness, 3563, passim; Jan Van Bragt, Translators Introduction to K. Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), xxiiixiv; Thomas Kasulis, The Kyoto School and the West: Review and Evaluation, The Eastern Buddhist 15/2 (1982): 12535; Frederick Franck, ed., The Buddha Eye: An Anthology of the Kyoto School (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 27 et passim. (Although the subtitle of this latter work became a misnomer in the course of its compilation, it contains a good cross-cut of the thinking of the Kyoto School.) Curiously, the recently published 9-volume Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan does not treat the Kyoto School. 9. D. T. Suzuki, How to Read Nishida, in: K. Nishida, A Study of the Good, trans. by Valdo Viglielmo, (Tokyo: Japanese Ministry of Education, 1960), iii. 10. A listing of those available in English can be found in Kasulis, 132. 11. In my view, Waldenfels has quite missed the point of Suzukis remark here. See his Absolute Nothingness, .35 12. Tanabes rst book to be translated into a Western language will appear shortly with the University of California Prass under the title Philosophy as Metanoetics. The translation was prepared by Takeuchi Yoshinori with Valdo Viglielmo and myself. A few months ago, Johannes Laube published the rst book-length study of Tanabes work, Dialektik der absoluten Vermittlung (Freiburg: Herder, 1984). I have reviewed this book in the Spring 1985 issue of Monumenta Nipponica, 11518. 13. See Note 8. A German translation, Was ist Religion?, appeared in the translation of Dora Fischer-Barnicol in the same year (Frankfurt: Insel, 1982). A listing of other essays in English in The Eastern Buddhist can be found in Waldenfels, 190-1. 14. In addition to the publication of a series of lectures he delivered in Marburg, Probleme der Versenkung im Ur-Buddhismus (ed. by Ernst Benz, Leiden: Brill, 1972), a selection of his writings has recently been translated into English as The Heart of Buddhism (see Note 4). See also Thomas P. Kasulis review of Takeuchis work, Buddhist Existentialism, The Eastern Buddhist 17:2 Autumn 1984, 134-41. 15. Die Gottesgeburt in der Seele and der Durchbruch zur Gottheit: Die mystische Anthropologie Meister Eckharts and ihre Konfrontation mit der Mystik des Zen-Buddhismus, Gutersloh, 1965. He has frequently contributed papers to the meetings of the Eranos Society in Switzerland, several of which have been translated during the past few years in The Eastern Buddhist. 16. Hisamatsu is chiefly known in the West through the translation of his work on Oriental nothingness, Die Fulle des Nichts: Vom Wesen des Zen (Pfullingen, 1975). A few of his essays have also been translated in The Eastern Buddhist.



17. Most notable in this regard are Hans Waldenfels, John Cobb, and Langdon Gilkey. It should be remarked here that interest in Japanese Christian theological circles in the work of the Kyoto school is minimal, certainly much less than the current interest shown in Europe and the United States. The Catholic philosopher Onodera Isao (1929-), with his recent book CGuD [A Philosophy of the Earth] (Tokyo: Sanichi Shob, 1983), and the Protestant theologian ks Yagi Seiichi in such works as oV %o7D [Paul and Shinran, Jesus and Zen] (Kyoto: Hzkan, 1983) are outstanding exceptions in this regard. The reasons for this neglect, and the general retardation of Japanese Christianitys inculturation into its native spiritual inheritance, I shall not go into here, except to note the fact of its clear and unfortunate preference for identifying itself primarily with the modes of thought and ritual operative in the dominant Christian cultures of the West. 18. The work was published by Sobunsha of Tokyo and is now in its 19th printing. The original title, literally What is Religion?, was altered to Religion and Nothingness in its English translation (See Note 8). 19. AC;ov7QDmBCD [Philosophical Studies] 43 (1962): 83104. Here I cite, with occasional minor changes, from a 45-page draft translation of the essay prepared by Christopher Ives and privately circulating at present. 20. On Keiji Nishitanis Religion and Nothingness, 28. In a recent paper, dealing with many of the same themes, Abe passes over this point without remark (Nishitanis Challenge in Western Philosophy and Theology, privately circulated), though I am unable to detect anything to indicate a shift in his position. 21. Ibid., 31. 22. Abe cites the passages in two papers on which I base my summary of his view of kensis: God, Emptiness, and the True Self, The Buddha Eye, 6174, and Kenotic God anyat, which he delivered at the Second Conference on East-West Religions in Encounter, held in Honolulu in 1984. In both places he cuts the hymn in two, omitting the exaltation that follows the kensis: Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2: 9-11). This should not be misconstrued, however, as an attempt to gloss over the resurrection, which Abe recognizes as essential to Christology, but only as an attempt to sharpen focus on the element of kensis. 23. Religion and Nothingness, 58-9. 24. In other words, whatever the rational, philosophical status of a doctrinal traditionwhether it be revealed to reason ab extra or discovered by reason ab intra the fact that it must ultimately speak directly to the living religious subject is not affected. In this sense, the emphasis put on the religious quest by the Kyoto School and the method of correlation embraced by Tillich (see the introductory chapter to



his Systematic theology) are both modern correctives to religious theory that have their roots deep in tradition. 25. Tanabe seems to have been the rst in the Kyoto School to play the Pauline idea of living in Christ as one who has died to sin against the Buddhist notion of sasra-qua-nirva in speaking of the nature of religious metanoia (see his Philosophy as Metanoetics), which has since become a recurrent theme in the Kyoto School. 26. nyat (a substantive of the adjective ny) is the Sanskrit word for zeroness or emptiness taken over by Buddhism for purposes of logical, metaphysical, and hermeneutic apologetics regarding its doctrine of the relativity and interdependence of all phenomena. In time it came to be transcribed in China by the ideogram W (the phonetic transcription u is meaningless in Chinese), which represents the skys vault and by association emptiness or void. Its history is complicated by its long association with the Sanskrit privative, the prex a- or an- and the accompanying ideogram [. Together these two ideas have interacted with Oriental philosophies principally Buddhist and Taoist-of non-being as diverse and rich as Western philosophies of being. In his later years Nishida began to speak of [ or absolute nothingness to describe his philosophy of the absolute identity of contradictories. Tanabe turned the term around to criticize the principle of identity and at the same time to make it a formative principle of relationship. Nishitani falls in this tradition, though he more commonly refers to his position as a standpoint of nyat. It is this terminology that Abe also adopts in his reflections on the kenotic Christ, preferring the more general term Ultimate reality when speaking in absolute terms of emptiness or nothingness. 27. Kenotic God and Dynamic nyat, 1718. I have taken the liberty of restoring the omitted words and slightly rearranging the grammatical structure. 28. For this reason Abe, like Nishitani, can claim to have given a viable reinterpretation to the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo as in effect a creatio ex nyat, which is not pantheism in the usual sense of the word, since it does not mean that the world is God or that God is the immanent life of the world itself. It means that an absolutely transcendent God is absolutely immanent (Religion and Nothingness, 39). 29. In Buddhist terminology, it is the true suchness (tathat, O) that underlies the actual suchness (of individual entities. As Robert Magliola has pointed out in a recent essay, Derridas notion of differance which holds all signication under erasure, is perhaps the closest approximation in modern Western philosophy to this ancient Buddhist idea. See his Derrida on the Mend (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1984). As I understand it, this is essentially what Abe has in mind by transferring Heideggers cancellation of being (Sein) into a cancellation of nyat (Kenotic God and Dynamic nyat, 19). Not without reason, Altizer-whose thelogy of the death of God is perhaps closer to Nishitani and Abe in the style and intent of



its God-language than any contemporary Western theology-has welcomed Derrida as an ally. See his History as Apocalypse, Deconstruction in Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 14777. 30. God, Emptiness, and the True Self, 66. The phrasing here is taken directly from The Interpreters Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1978), vo1. 8, 300. Abe does not note his source, perhaps because it argues against the view he wishes to espouse. From an exegetical point of view, the more serious objection is that the hymn of kensis is placed in the context of an argument against what Paul sees as a tendency to overlook the cross in favor of a realized eschatology. Abe is correct in locating the immediate context as a call to moral conversion to the way of Jesus, to have the mind of Christ Jesus. But the force of the argument is to associate salvation with a particular way of being human, namely the way of Jesus, and not with a pre-existent status. On this see the persuasive presentation of Edward Schillebeeckx in his Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord (New York: Seabury, 1980), 16679. 31. Abe uses the term 5 jinen, which is here equivalent to the what-it-truly-is of tathat. 32. The difference of this from the second point is that abe means to include the logic of 13p soku, a notoriously difcult term for translators to render into English. Basically it is a copulative that carries the combined sense of or/also. (Nishitanis translator, Jan Van Bragt, has opted for the Latin term sive to draw attention to the word. Most translators of the Kyoto School are content with the more familiar qua.) Thus, just as the notions of servant and lord are correlative and mutually dening, so it is with all things. To absolutize anything other than this correlativity is to cling to a false view of reality. 33. And of course, mutatis mutandis, the other way around. I restrict my comments here to Buddhist believers, thereby excluding pure Buddhologists and historians of Buddhist thought, since it is in the former classication that the gures in the Kyoto School locate themselves. I realize this leaves a great deal unsaid, but it should not be construed as saying anything particular about Buddhist studies. 34. See my recent article in the Spring 1985 issue of Spring Wind, The Christian Experience of Buddhism, Part I: The Mere Reality. 35. As only one example, the rst third of Kenotic God and Dynamic nyat treats the twin threats of scientism and nihilism against which Christianity and Buddhism must join forces. 36. Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 67.