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Buddhadharma : Fall 2014
FALL 2014 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 69 Most impressively, he does not conflate historical analysis with theological advocacy. He definitely has a theological point to make. He admits at the outset that he wants to “build the Bud- dha’s ecumenical house,” and he explicitly applies what he calls the “principle of hermeneutical charity,” arguing for a reading of the Buddha’s words conducive to that ecumenical project. Despite this admitted bias, his historical and textual scholarship is sober and sound, and it is much to his credit that he is clear about his agenda and methods rather than disguising them. His con- clusion—that the Buddha was open to instances of the dharma outside Buddhism, and modern Buddhists should be too—seems honestly earned. Much as I admire Vélez de Cea’s analysis, I think it begs two important questions for the modern Buddhist, neither of which he fully addresses. First, must non-Buddhist instances of dharma— either in the Buddha’s time or our own—explicitly promote the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and other Buddhist con- cepts, or might they do so implicitly, using other terms? In the former case, no non-Buddhist tradition could qualify, and the Buddha would turn out to be an exclusivist, after all. In the lat- ter and more likely case, we are left with the difficult interpretive task of deciding, on a comparative basis, just which non-Buddhist teachings or traditions show sufficient parallels to Buddhist “non- negotiable doctrinal claims” to pass muster—and the question of how to undertake such a comparative project in a responsible manner is one that theologians anvd scholars of religion long have wrestled with, without obvious success. How, for example, could we ever decide whether God and the dharmakaya are the same or different? Second, must the traditions to which Buddhists compare the buddhadharma be restricted to religions in the usual sense? This question is particularly apt nowadays, when Buddhists are more likely to juxtapose their teachings with scientific or sec- ular humanist ideas than with the doctrines of Christianity or Hinduism. Put another way, they may be less interested in how dharmakaya compares to God than how it relates to the space- time manifold, a particular brain state, or some nonmetaphysical notion of happiness. I don’t think Vélez de Cea’s scheme rules out such comparisons, but its application to nonreligious worldviews would beg further questions about which traditional Buddhist concepts are “nonnegotiable” and whether some of them—such as karma, rebirth, and nirvana—might be sacrificed or downsized in the interests of a pluralistic-inclusivism that has room for both Buddhist and scientific truths. These unresolved questions aside (and what good book does not leave some?), The Buddha and Religious Diversity is an out- standing work of theological analysis and a thought-provoking contribution to Buddhist critical-constructive reflection, which ought to be read by anyone concerned with Buddhism’s relation to other ways of seeing, and living properly within, our world— whether those ways are religious or not. REVIEWS