In this book, the authors explore and reconsider the contemporary significance of the Christ and
the Bodhisattva. The volume includes essays by three eminent Christian theologians, Langdon
Gilkey, Brother David Steindl – Rast, and Ann Belford Ulanov, that explore the significance of the
Christ from the perspectives of the Roman Catholic contemplative tradition, modern depth
psychology, and liberal Protestantism. Drawing on information previously unavailable in English,
three distinguished scholars of Buddhism, Robert Thurman, Luis Gomez, and His Holiness the Dalai
Lama investigate the significance of the Bodhisattva in India, East Asia, and Tibet.
A substantive introduction sets the historical background for the Christ in Christianity and the
Bodhisattva in Buddhism. Contributors’ essays enhance our understanding of current
presuppositions, problems, and prospects for the Buddhist – Christian dialogue.
In the figures of the Christ and the Bodhisattva, Christianity and Buddhism have developed
powerful symbols of the ideal possibilities of human nature, operating both as liberating and
redemptive forces in the lives of individuals and as sources of inspiration in the quest for a
just and compassionate society. In the history of human culture, few other symbols can rival the
creative influence that the Christ and the Bodhisattva have exercised in the future will be
determined by the ways in which the Christ figure remains alive. The same may be said about
Mahayana Buddhism and the Bodhisattva ideal. In addition, Christian understandings of the Christ
and Buddhist interpretations of the Bodhisattva may be enriched by the dialogue that is currently
taking place between Christianity and Buddhism.
A symposium at Middlebury College in 1984 sought to focus and further that dialogue. It brought
together three Christian scholars and three Buddhist scholars to address the contemporary
significance of the Christ and the Bodhisattva. All six are both highly regarded as scholars in
their respective fields and have a personal commitment their tradition. The speakers were not
asked to speculate in their addresses on points of comparison between the two figures. Rather, the
speakers from the Christian tradition provided perspectives on the Christ while the speakers from
the Buddhist tradition illuminated the meaning of the Bodhisattva in a variety of Buddhist
cultures. Thus, the Christ was considered from the perspectives of the Roman Catholic monastic
tradition, modern depth psychology, and liberal Protestant theology. The Bodhisattva was
approached geographically, from the Indian, East Asian, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
These six addresses provide a rich background for reflection on the nature and significance of the
Christ and the Bodhisattva for their respective traditions. They also indicate the wide range of
meanings with which the two figures have been invested. This is particularly useful in the case of
the Bodhisattva, who is far less familiar to a western audience than the Christ. As max Muller,
the father of comparative religion declared, “But before we compare, we must thoroughly known what
we compare. A clear and careful analysis of the two figures, as presented in the six addresses,
allows significant points of comparison to emerge. The Symposium and was chaired by William F.
Buckley, Jr. and taped for his PBS program “Firing Line.” The second took place at the close of
the Symposium and was chaired by Steven Rockefeller.
The question has been raised as to why the Symposium chose to focus on the Christ and the
Bodhisattva rather than the Christ and the Buddha that make comparison useful: they are considered
to be the founders and the embodiment of perfection in their respective traditions. These are
obvious parallels between the Christ and the Buddha that make comparison useful: they are
considered to be the founders and the embodiment of perfection in their respective traditions.
These and other reasons have motivated scores of comparative studies of the Christ and the Buddha
over the last century. Comparisons between the Christ and the Bodhisattva, though far more rare,
are equally valuable. The Bodhisattva is the most dynamic figure in Mahayana Bodhisattva and the
Buddha is explored in a later section of this introduction and in several of the essays in the
volume. In Christianity, the account of the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ has served
as a primary model for the way to liberation as understood by the Christian tradition.
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