"Radiates wisdom and warmth. Is it possible to become more fully Christian by taking most seriously the Buddhist path -- becoming Buddhist in order to live more fully the Christian life? Agree or not with Paul's answer, we can be most grateful to him for pressing the question and making so very clear the possibilities and risks along the way." --Francis X. Clooney, Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University
"Knitter's rich book should be a source of fascination and guidance for seekers of all sorts. One of the finest contemporary books on the encounter between religions in the heart and soul of a single thoughtful person." --Library Journal, October 1, 2009
"A compelling example of religious inquiry." --New York Times, October 10, 2009
"This is a fascinating book... accessible to anyone in the pew, not without a touch of quiet humour... a book to be read and reflected upon." --Journal of Theological Reflection
"This book is an excellent survey of the possibilities for Buddhist-Christian contact." --Anglican Theological Review
"This is a fascinating book ... accessible to anyone in the pew, not without a touch of quiet humour ... a book to be read and reflected upon." -- Journal of Theological Reflection
"This book is an excellent survey of the possibilities for Buddhist-Christian contact." -- Anglican Theological Review
"A moving story of one man's quest for truth, this is also a ground-breaking work of inter-religious dialogue, comparative theology and social ethics... the rarest combination of theological acumen, humility and humor. A must read for anyone who wants to renew their faith and rediscover their humanity in intimate dialogue with the faiths of others."
"Highly recommended as an example of how to do personally engaged, self-reflective theology in a religiously plural world."
"In this revealing retrospective, Knitter recounts very personally how his encounters with liberation theology and with other religions, especially Buddhism, challenged and transformed his Christian faith. This will be of interest to all who are concerned with religious diversity and social justice."
"The dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism is one of the most important conversations of our time, and Paul Knitter's new book shows why. It offers much more than words: religion at its best transforms us, and herein we see its fruits. If you want to know how religions can help to revitalize each other, this is the place to start."
Honest and unflinching, "Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian" narrates how esteemed theologian Paul F. Knitter overcame a crisis of faith by looking to Buddhism for inspiration. From prayer to how Christianity views life after death, Knitter argues that a Buddhist standpoint can encourage a more person-centred conception of Christianity, where individual religious experience comes first and liturgy and tradition second. Moving and revolutionary, this book will inspire Christians everywhere.
About the Author
Knitter, Paul F. |s Paul F. Knitter is Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, Union Theological Seminar, New York. A leading advocate of religious pluralism, he is author of over ten books on the subject.
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian
Paul F. Knitter
Paul F. Knitter is the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York and the author of many books including The Myth of Religious Superiority. He started out as a Catholic priest but left in order to marry in 1982. For 30 years, he taught undergraduates at Xavier University in Cincinnati. During this period, Knitter benefited spiritually from his conversations with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Native Americans. But as a Christian theologian, he was taken aback at the light shed on his own beliefs and experiences in his encounters with the lives and practices of Buddhists. In this illuminating work, he examines his difficulties in affirming basic Christian beliefs, his journey of "passing over" to Buddhism, and a summary of what he has learned in "passing back" to his Christian faith. The terms in quotes are from John Dunne's The Way of All the Earth where one ventures from one religion to another and then later returns to one's own religion after walking in someone else's religious moccasins.
One of the major problems with Christianity is its widespread allegiance to dualism of matter and spirit, East and West, nature and history, male and female, God and the world. Buddhists, on the other hand, emphasize the connections among all things. From them Knitter returned to his Christian faith with a new appreciation for the Christian mystical tradition that emphasizes unity rather than separation. Not so easy when confronting the problem of evil. Whereas Christians arm themselves to do battle with evil-doers, Buddhists, who are more tolerant of human ignorance, refuse to call people, events, or things evil. They even have a spiritual practice whereby people befriend the evil within. Knitter returns to Christianity with the challenge of dealing with sin, sinners, and the mystery surrounding evil in fresh ways.
In another chapter, the author shows how Buddhism has helped him come to a deeper appreciation of words that honor the mystery within us, around us, and between us. He probes the Zen emphasis on the present moment instead of the Heaven of the future or life after death. Again Buddhism enables him to see the beauty in cherishing the Mystery of life and death without the accent of Heaven and Hell. In a chapter sure to bring conservative Christians to a boil, Knitter acknowledges Jesus and Buddha as "both unique manifestations of Holy Mystery or the Spirit." He quotes John Cobb, Jr.: "Jesus is the Way that is open to other Ways."
In a chapter on prayer and meditation, Knitter carries the treasures of silence and mindfulness from Buddhism meditation back to his Christian devotional life. And in a profound exploration of "Making Peace and Being Peace," he salutes the Buddhist emphasis on compassion, the melding of contemplation and action, and the ability not to take sides. Then he mixes that with the Christian pursuit of justice, Jesus' command to love one's enemies, and the need for structural change in an unfair and bigoted world. In the concluding chapter,
Knitter states: "In 1939, I was baptized. In 2008 I took refuge. I can truly call myself what I think I've been over these past decades: a Buddhist Christian." This "double belonging" has enriched his life and faith in profound and meaningful ways. And so it can for others who choose this wonderful interspiritual path.
Review: Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, by Paul F. Knitter
I could have written a book with this title, and meant it quite sincerely. (But, I hasten to add, it wouldn't have been nearly as good.)
Paul Knitter, presently the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York, is well known for his work on the subject of religious pluralism. This book is not like his other books, at least not the ones that I've read, or read from. Knitter has never been one to try to hide his authorial presence behind dry academic prose, but here we find him writing very personally, sharing his struggles with elements of the Christian faith, and relating how his study of Buddhism -- and his own Zen practice -- have helped him through the struggle. Indeed, he describes himself as a "Buddhist Christian" (which is a little bit further than I'd go myself).
Knitter, who was a priest from 1966 to 1975, and whose teachers included such luminaries as Jesuit Frs. Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan, admits that he has struggled for much of his career with what many would insist are essential Christian beliefs -- "not the ethical teachings of Jesus and the New Testament witness," or "the controversial ethical or practical teachings" of the Catholic Church:1
No, when I say I'm struggling, I mean with the big stuff -- the stuff that applies to all Christians, not just my own Roman Catholic community. I'm talking about the basic ingredients of the Creed, the beliefs that many Christians proclaim together every Sunday and that are supposed to define who they are in a world of many other religious beliefs and philosophies. I'm talking about "God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth," who as a personal being is active in history and in our individual lives, whom we worship and pray to for help and guidance. I'm talking about "his only-begotten Son" who "died for our sins" and will "come again at the end of time" and who will grant eternal life and personal immortality to the body and souls of all those who answer God's call, while those who reject the call will be dispatched to a hellish punishment that will never, ever end.2
Knitter claims that the traditional sources of Christian theology have proven inadequate to the task of helping him through his struggle. He has come to realise, he says, that he has "to look beyond the traditional borderlines of Christianity to find something that is vitally, maybe even essentially, important for the job of understanding and living the Christian faith: other religions."3 Following the example of people like Raimon Panikkar, Aloysius Pieris, Bede Griffiths, and Thomas Merton, Knitter says he has come to realise that he has to do his theology dialogically. "Or," he says, "in current theological jargon: I have to be religious interreligiously."4
Each chapter in this book follows a similar pattern: First, Knitter describes some traditional Christian belief that he finds problematic. Second, he "passes over" into Buddhism, explaining some aspect of Buddhist thought that might be relevant. Third, he "passes back" to Christianity, and explores how the Buddhist ideas might help to provide a solution.
The chapters are as follows:
Preface: Am I Still a Christian?
1. Nirvana and God the Transcendent Other
2. Nirvana and God the Personal Other
3. Nirvana and God the Mysterious Other
4. Nirvana and Heaven
5. Jesus the Christ and Gautama the Buddha
6. Prayer and Meditation
7. Making Peace and Being Peace
Conclusion: Promiscuity or Hybridity?
I won't say too much about the contents just yet, as I intend to blog about this a fair bit in the near future. I will say that I found it to be quite a satisfying read.
The book is clearly aimed at open-minded Christians willing to consider how another religious tradition might inform their own religious perspective. Knitter does not presume that the reader will know very much about Buddhism (I kind of wonder, though, how many people without a considerable prior interest in Buddhism will actually bother to read this book).
I expected it to be somewhat predictable, and I occasionally found myself thinking that I already knew exactly where he was going to go with each chapter. Sometimes I was right, but more often I was pleasantly surprised.
Towards the end Knitter discusses some of the elements of Christianity that, at least on the surface, would seem to be in stark contrast with Buddhism. One is Christianity's emphasis on history and eschatology, found most significantly in Jesus's teachings about the kingdom of God. For Buddhists, as Knitter puts it, "the world isn't going anywhere."5
Another difference is the traditional Christian commitment to social justice. Actually, this was one of the more interesting things in the book, at least for me. Buddhism, Knitter says, has long been concerned with peace, but not justice, which is not something I had given much thought to before (although I'm certainly aware of the relatively recent emergence of "Engaged Buddhism," as exemplified in the work of people like Thich Nhat Hanh, Maha Ghosananda, and Sulak Sivaraksa, among others). Knitter, who in addition to being a theologian is also a social activist, shares some wonderful insights into the relationship between contemplation and action, which was one of the many rewarding aspects of this book.
It is often noted that Buddhism poses an intellectual challenge to Christianity. This is true, but there is no need to take a defensive posture. Paul Knitter has shown that engaging with Buddhist thought can greatly enhance Christian faith. Knitter finds that "the more deeply one enters into the core experience that animates one's own tradition, the more broadly one is enabled and perhaps moved to enter into the experiences of other traditions."6 Whether one is finally interested specifically in Buddhism or not, Knitter has provided a very compelling, personal, and accessible account of how fruitful this engagement with another tradition can be.
 Knitter, Without Buddha, x. Of the latter, Knitter mentions "matters such as birth control, divorce, the role of women, homosexuality, clerical celibacy, episcopal leadership, and transparency." He adds, "Certainly these are matters of grave concern, but with many of my fellow Catholics I've realized that, as has often been the case in the history of our church, on such issues the "sense" or "voice" of the faithful has a few things to teach the pastors. It's a matter of time."