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Christian Transformation and the Encounter with the World's Holy Canons

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2014

Peter Feldmeier*
University of Toledo


Philosophical approaches to hermeneutics, such as we find in Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur, offer insights into how a classic text expands one's horizons, through both a dynamic game of conversation between reader and text and the enlarged sense of self that comes from entering into the proposed world of the text. Comparative theology follows these leads by showing how engaging in the canons of the religious other allows one fresh insights into one's own religious tradition's familiar and revered truths. This article is an exercise in such an approach, examining three Asian traditions and samples from their most classic textual representatives. By engaging the Dhammapada from Theravada Buddhism, classic sayings from Zen, and the Dao-De-Jing and Zhuangzi from the Daoist tradition, we see how we might appropriate the Catholic theological and spiritual traditions with fresh eyes and new insights.

Copyright © College Theology Society 2013 

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1 Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, trans. Barden, Garrett and Cummings, John (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), 274–75Google Scholar.

2 Ibid., 278–89.

3 Here I am broadly relying on Ricoeur, Paul, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976)Google Scholar; and Ricoeur, , Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation, ed. and trans. Thompson, John B. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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5 Fredericks, James, introduction to The New Comparative Theology: Interreligious Insights from the Next Generation, ed. Clooney, Francis X. (New York: T & T Clark, 2010)Google Scholar, ix–xix, at xix.

6 See also Tracy, David, “Comparative Theology,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Jones, Lindsay, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005), 13:9125–34Google Scholar.

7 Fredericks, James, Buddhists and Christians: Through Comparative Theology to Solidarity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004)Google Scholar, xi.

8 Clooney, Francis X., Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 112.

9 Ibid., 11.

10 Ibid., 105.

11 Clooney is again a good example. On the former approach, see Clooney, Francis X., The Truth, the Way, the Life: Christian Commentary on the Three Holy Mantras of the Srivaisnavas (Leuven: Peeters, 2008)Google Scholar. Here his Hindu text involves just three mantras, collectively just twenty words. On the latter approach, see Clooney, Francis X., Hindu Wisdom for All God's Children (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998)Google Scholar.

12 Translations of the Dhammapada are mine.

13 Wimal Dissanayake refers to the Dhammapada as “the inmost soul of Buddhism, embodying the whole of the Buddha's teaching.” See Dissanayake, Wimal, “Self and Body in Theravāda Buddhism: A Tropological Analysis of the Dhammapada,” in Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice, ed. Kasulis, Thomas et al. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 123–45Google Scholar, at 129.

14 One is reminded of the way the Didache begins: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways.” See The Apostolic Fathers, ed. Holmes, Michael, trans. Lightfoot, J. B. and Harmer, J. R., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989)Google Scholar, 149.

15 Tracy, David, “Metaphor and Religion: The Test Case of Christian Texts,” in On Metaphor, ed. Sacks, Sheldon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)Google Scholar, 90.

16 Burtt, E. A., ed., The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha: Early Discourses, the “Dhammapada,” and Later Basic Writings (New York: New American Library, 2000), 152–53Google Scholar; translation slightly modified.

17 Fredericks, James, Buddhists and Christians: Through Comparative Theology to Solidarity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 2004), 6061Google Scholar.

18 This is an ancient, unattributed Zen saying.

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20 Addis, Stephen et al. , eds., Zen Sourcebook: Traditional Documents from China, Korea, and Japan (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2008)Google Scholar, 152.

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22 See also Mt 10:39; Mk 8:35; Lk 14:26; Jn 12:25.

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26 Ibid., 199.

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31 Ibid., no. 1.

32 Ibid., no. 17.

33 Tzu [Zhuangzi], Chuang, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, trans. Watson, Burton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968)Google Scholar, 91 and 191.

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