Indian sources on the possibility of a pluralist view of religions.
Diana Eck's Encountering God is a sensitive record of her theological reflection as a United Methodist in dialogue with Hinduism, a tradition that she has studied in depth.(1) The book is also a careful yet impassioned plea for a pluralist view of the religions. Eck discussed and rejected the other two common options for interpreting the variety of religions: exclusivism (only my own religion is true) and inclusivism (other religions only approximate the truth found fully in my religion). Pluralism, according to Eck, is based in the conviction that "[t]ruth is not the exclusive or inclusive possession of any one [religious] tradition or community" but is a reality best known through a dialogue between differing religious viewpoints.(2) In the midst of her discussion of the three major options for interpreting the variety of religions, however, falls a fascinating observation:
One of the continual challenges and dilemmas in my own writing and thinking is recognizing the ways in which I move back and forth along this attitudinal continuum, coming from a context of Hindu-Christian dialogue, understanding myself basically as a pluralist, and yet using what some will see as inclusivist language as I widen and stretch my understanding of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit to speak of my Christian faith in a new way. I cannot solve this dilemma, but I can warmly issue an invitation to join me in thinking about it.(3)
This essay is one response to Eck's invitation, exploring the question of what expectations are realistic for expressing a pluralist view.
In a 1996 article, "The Impossibility of a Pluralist View of Religions," Gavin D'Costa proposed a different explanation for difficulties in consistently articulating the pluralist position.(4) He examined the logical structure behind pluralist views of the religions and concluded that this structure is identical to that of exclusivism. He defined a pluralist standpoint as one "holding that all the major religions have true revelations in part, while no single revelation or religion can claim final and definitive truth."(5) In contrast, an exclusive view- point maintains that "only one single revelation is true or one single religion is true and all other 'revelations' or 'religions' are false."(6) While these two positions seem diametrically opposed, their difference is due not to the structure of argumentation, as assumed, but to the truth-claims and criteria utilized within an identical logical form.
[T]here is no such thing as pluralism because all pluralists are committed to holding some form of truth criteria and by virtue of this, anything that falls foul of such criteria is excluded from counting as truth (in doctrine and in practice). Thus, pluralism operates within the same logical structure of exclusivism and in this respect pluralism can never really affirm the genuine autonomous value of religious pluralism for, like exclusivism, it can only do so by tradition specific criteria for truth.(7)
Pluralism as a category is, then, according to D'Costa, redundant and mistakenly conceived.
Are criteria of truth essential to every view of the religions? D'Costa has said he can find few, if any, pluralists avoiding such criteria, lest they be incapable of distinguishing between valid and invalid forms of revelation or religion, for example, between the beliefs of the Confessing Church and of German Christian Nazis.(8) From what source will pluralists derive such criteria, except from their own religious and/or intellectual traditions? Hence, the very heart of the pluralist impulse, to grant autonomy and legitimacy to each of the major religions as "true revelations in part," is undermined theoretically by the categories of judgment employed by the pluralist in defining what is true; such criteria are always "tradition specific." In other words, the pluralist, like the exclusivist (as well as the inclusivist), cannot help but impose his or her own standards on the other. D'Costa argued that there is no "wide neutral pluralist platform on which to unite religions," whether philosophical or practical/ethical.(9) Pluralism is just another stance that mistakenly assumes "high ground" for itself due to its broad tolerance, when in fact this position is based on its own, ununiversalizable set of truth-claims.(10)
How, then, might D'Costa explain Eck's dilemma? By continuing to use Christian categories in her study and evaluation of other religions, Eck cannot help but impose tradition-specific criteria on other traditions. The result is that the position she says she is taking (pluralism) and the stance suggested by the logic of her discourse do not cohere. The difficulty that Eck has identified in her thought and writing is thus not a failing or a weakness she can expect to correct in herself or her readers; rather, it is an inevitability due to a category mistake, a skewed conception of the issue that reflects the logical impossibility of consistently articulating a pluralist view. D'Costa concluded that scholars of religion would be far better off adopting a typology based on the differing criteria for truth used to judge religions.(11)
While applauding D'Costa's efforts to purge pluralism of any pretensions to be a super-system unconsciously imposing its standards, self-identified pluralists are likely to be reluctant to accept the impossibility of their position. Simply because one has difficulty articulating a position consistently does not mean that it is not possible. However, D'Costa's critique is not primarily based on such difficulties; it is grounded in the very logic of the position itself. No doubt his article will generate numerous creative responses, advancing the interests of mutual understanding shared by Eck and D'Costa. One direction to which we may productively turn in the effort to respond to the claim of the impossibility of the pluralist view is India, a land with its own rich and ancient philosophical traditions and its own history of wrestling with the challenge of religious plurality.(12)
This essay examines some of the principles and thinkers from India, both traditional and modern, who might be brought to bear on the issue of the possibility of pluralism. Reflecting the religiously diverse composition of India itself, these principles and thinkers will represent not only Hinduism but Jainism and Buddhism as well.(13) These sources seem to concur that a view of religions that grants autonomy and truth-status to traditions other than one's own is possible in practice only if one undergoes a spiritual ascesis as well as a fundamental transformation in consciousness, the implications of which may be intimated beforehand but cannot be lived consistently prior to that trans- formation. Specifically, each source's understanding of itself in relation to other traditions must be understood in reference to a common nexus of principles derived from spiritual practice: a transformed experience of reality as comprised of interdependent or mutually conditioning elements, a nonpossessive or detached attitude toward one's own point of view, and a nonviolent approach toward differing points of view.
These Indian sources also illustrate, however, the accuracy of D'Costa's analysis of the logical impossibility of sustaining a pluralist view of the religions, given that tradition-specific (or at least culture-specific) criteria are applied by each to distinguish religion and irreligion. Nevertheless, these Indian sources further suggest that the logical inconsistencies in presenting a pluralist view of the religions reflect ununiversalizable epistemological assumptions regarding the nature of mental conditioning, specifically the constructivist view that all perception and knowledge are indelibly shaped by the limitations of our standpoint.(14) These assumptions lead D'Costa and others to impose unconsciously their own set of culture-specific criteria on the data and to reject on principle the possibility of even a temporary transcending of the limits of one's point of view. Thus, these Indian sources demonstrate that a pluralistic view is not primarily a theory subject to rules of logic but is a vision grounded in spiritual discipline. That is, what is not possible logically may indeed be realizable in practice.
II. The Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 560-480 B.C.E.) was born in North India during a time of religious ferment. He, like others of his time, rejected much of the reigning Brahmanical worldview and corresponding social hierarchy. Yet, while clear on the inadequacy of other doctrines, he discouraged attachment to his own teachings. This attitude toward philosophical discourse is grounded in his awakening to the interdependent nature of reality and is closely related to his views on detachment (viraga) and nonviolence (ahimsa). Suggestions are thus made by the Buddha on the nature of a pluralist viewpoint and whether or not it is possible.
A. Pratityasamutpada or Conditioned Genesis
In simplest terms, the Buddha's intuition of the interdependent nature of reality or conditioned genesis, received at the pinnacle of his enlightenment beneath the Bo tree, is expressed thus: "If this is that comes to be; from the arising of this that arises; if this is not that does not come to be; from the stopping of this that is stopped."(15) There is nothing that is independent or, put negatively, that is not dependent on other conditioning factors. The Buddha, according to one contemporary Buddhist interpreter, thus "shows the conditionality and dependent nature of that uninterrupted flux of manifold physical and psychical phenomena of existence conventionally called the ego, or man, or animal, etc."(16) When one truly sees the impermanence and relativity of all reality(17) in this way, then one is, like the Buddha, awakened, and the suffering conditioned by birth ends. Why do we not see things as mutually conditioned and interdependent?
While it is antithetical to the Buddha's teaching on interdependence to speak of a first cause of anything, he does identify ignorance as fundamental to any explanation for why we misinterpret the nature of reality. Most importantly, we are ignorant of the fact that, ultimately, we are not distinct, abiding, or eternal selves but, rather, are each a constantly changing combination of physical and mental elements. Eventually, in the formula of conditioned genesis, this ignorance leads to thirst or craving, which in turn necessarily leads to the suffering and unsatisfactoriness that characterize the experience of the unawakened. When this fundamental ignorance is removed by wisdom, specifically the insight of conditioned genesis, then the cause of misperception and suffering is removed. But, is such seeing possible?
While difficult to reach and perhaps necessitating numerous lifetimes of attention, the goal of seeing things as they are in their interdependent nature is nonetheless said to be possible, based on the Buddha's and others' experience. Intriguing for the discussion of a pluralist point of view is the fact that an accurate perception of realities does not entail a totally objective grasp of the thing in itself, unaffected by other objects. Rather, a true perception discloses the thing-in-relation, each object itself being a constantly changing combination of elements in ever-fluid relationships of mutual conditioning with other objects. The kind of seeing the Buddha exemplifies would be integral to a pluralist view: the ability to see elements both in their autonomy (without projection) and in their irreducible interrelationship (without resorting to mere plurality or relativism).(18)
B. Detachment and Nonviolence
Corollary to the Buddha's realization of interdependence are his teachings on detachment (viraga) and nonviolence (ahimsa). "Viraga," literally "fading away," is often paired with "nirodha" or "cessation" as alternative names for the ultimate goal, or nirvana. Further defined as the absence of craving or as dispassionateness, detachment-as used in the Buddha's discourses - suggests not only a lack of desire for material objects but also a "fading away" of passions of all kinds, including for one's own religious viewpoint. This broad sense of detachment is informed by the Buddha's account of what constitutes attachment or clinging (upadana): sensuous clinging, clinging to views, to rules and ritual, and to belief in an abiding self.(19) With respect to the second type of attachment, the Buddha advised, "To be attached to one thing (to a certain view) and to look down upon other things (views) as inferior-this the wise men call a fetter."(20) Hence, the Buddha used the famous simile of the raft for his teaching. Like a raft, the teaching is a vehicle for crossing over and is not to be held onto with attachment.(21)
A direct outcome of attachment is violence, understood as an expression of craving and a striking out at what appears to be other, independent of oneself. Nonviolence and the related virtues of lovingkindness (maitri) and compassion (karuna) are the natural consequences of realizing the mutually conditioned quality of all realities. From an ethical standpoint, nonviolent intentions serve to prevent the accumulation of undesirable consequences in the future. However, ahimsa is not simply an ethical observance. It is significant that in the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, ahimsa appears as a characteristic of right thought, an element that, along with right understanding, constitutes the category of wisdom according to the traditional threefold division of the eight elements of the Path (the other two categories being ethical conduct and mental discipline).(22) Nonviolence as an aspect of wisdom, then, like conditioned genesis, is an expression of "intuitive knowledge" rather than a conditioned moral response, implying that such knowledge is not only the result of thinking and learning but is also a fruit of mental development or meditation (bhavana).(23)
The question of feasibility arises. Is it possible to be fully nonviolent, based as this virtue is on full awareness of the interdependence of all things? The Buddha suggests yes, though indicating that the determining factor is not action itself but our intentions. While it may not be possible in this life totally to avoid inflicting injury on any sentient being, it is possible to purify the mind so that only life-supporting intentions arise, thus reducing violence to others to a minimum. On the possibility of the Buddha's teaching on nonviolence, one Buddhist ethicist concludes: "[I]n Buddhism, the sacredness of life is an ultimate ethical fact which is proved and made meaningful self-evidently, i.e., through empathy."(24) That is, when one sees that one is not an isolated self and that one is mutually dependent on all living beings, then one sees the value of nonviolence as fact. To hurt another is to hurt oneself.
C. A Pluralist View of Religions?
What are the implications of the Buddha's teachings on conditioned genesis, detachment, and nonviolence for one's view of other religious doctrines? Does the Buddha himself fit the description of a pluralist? Buddhism is often portrayed as unusually tolerant of other religions; no holy wars or forced conversions have taken place in its name. This attitude is based on the example of the Buddha himself and is expressed in his teachings. The Buddha exhorted others to follow his path, not out of obedience or respect but on the basis of their own testing of that path.(25) In addition, he claimed that his teachings conveyed a truth about the nature of things that existed whether or not someone like himself was there to see and express it.(26) In other words, far from being a relativist, the Buddha identified a timeless pattern or order that he sought to put into words in order to help others see it also Contemporary Buddhist scholar K. N. Jayatilleke concluded:
This dispassionate and impartial but critical outlook, the causal conception of the universe and the conception of the Buddha as a being who discovers the operation of certain moral and spiritual laws and reveals them to us, may be said to be the first plank on which Buddhist tolerance rests.(27)
However, the Buddha's tolerance did not lead to an uncritical attitude toward the value of other philosophical and religious viewpoints He was very specific in identifying false religions (abrahmacariyavasa) and those that were unsatisfactory (anassasikam), based on specific criteria, such as whether such religions taught "survival [after death], moral values, freedom and responsibility, the non-inevitability of salvation."(28) Nevertheless, these criteria and the view of life they circumscribe are, according to Jayatilleke, "comprehensive enough to contain, recognise and respect the basic truths of all higher religions," though no religion, including Buddhism, has consistently lived up to these truths.(29)
A critical tolerance and an acceptance of truth in other religions according to set criteria do not necessarily constitute a pluralist viewpoint as defined above by Eck or D'Costa. Does the Buddha suggest that his teachings comprise the "final and definitive truth," a truth that all other teachings can only approximate? In one passage, for example, in response to a request for his view on several important philosophies and religions of his time, the Buddha simply answered that, if a religion contains the Noble Eightfold Path in its teachings, then it will foster the full realization of enlightenment; but, if that path is not contained in its teachings, then it will be deficient.(30) Is the Noble Eightfold Path, however, identical to what is called Buddhism? Does the Buddha's statement amount to an inclusivist declaration that only Buddhism is complete, or, like the above-stated criteria for a right view of life, is the Eightfold Path a broad enough standard that teachings other than the Buddha's may meet up to it. This issue is difficult to resolve, though D Costa s suspicions about the logical possibility of a pluralist viewpoint seem confirmed.(31) Does an inescapable comparative habit of mind underlie the Buddha's approach to other religions by virtue of his applying tradition-specific criteria?(32)
Contemporary Theravadin teacher Achaan Chah spoke to the issue of whether comparison is characteristic of the awakened mind:
At times, we may feel that thinking is suffering, like a thief robbing us of the present. What can we do to stop it? In the day, it is light; at night, it is dark. Is this itself suffering? Only if we compare the way things are now with other situations we have known and wish it were otherwise. Ultimately things are just as they are-only our comparisons cause us to suffer.(33)
Chah implied that we cannot stop thinking itself, though a particular style of thought, that is, comparison, can be recognized as harmful, at least to oneself if not also to others; its elimination is necessary if suffering is to be removed and nirvana realized. He further suggested that the approach to differences, whether of times of day or religions, found in the awakened mind is not the same as what most of us experience in that it causes suffering neither to ourselves nor to the other who is being compared.
Together, the three principles-conditioned genesis (pratityasamutpada), detachment (viraga), and nonviolence (ahimsa)-seem to support a pluralist view, one grounded in the interdependence and contingency of all realities, a detached attitude toward one's own standpoint, and a nonviolent approach to other standpoints. One may ask whether any other view of the religions is as consistent with these principles. In trying to reconcile them with the Buddha's apparent inclusivism, it is important to note that, for the Buddha, the inter- dependence of reality, detachment, and nonviolence are not theories to be properly conceived or instructions for thought and behavior. These teachings were understood as wisdom, as realizations, graspable to some extent by the unawakened, but practicable in a consistent manner and self-evident only to the awakened. Thus, while the Buddha's position on other religions appears logically inconsistent, it is said to be based on a quality of experience not available to all-a "seeing things as they are" or without distorting mediation from the conditioned, comparative mind. Such a claim to special experience poses an obstacle to accepting the possibility of a viewpoint that contradicts both the laws of logic and the fundamental assumption that all knowledge is mediated, an obstacle that is encountered in other Indian sources as well.
Jainas trace the history of their lineage of teachers far back into pre-history. However, their final and most historically identifiable "Ford-maker" (Tirthankara) was Vardhamana, usually known by the honorific title Mahavira ("Great Hero"), a contemporary of the Buddha in North India during the sixth century B.C.E. Jainas seek liberation, in part, through observance of five vows (against injury, falsehood, theft, unchastity, and worldly attachment), after fulfilling which one becomes a "conqueror" (fina), the title from which the name of the tradition is taken. As a philosophy as well as a spiritual path, Jainism offers an intriguing variation to Buddhism, each supporting its view of other traditions in epistemological teachings, nonpossessiveness, and nonviolence.
A. Anekantavada or the Doctrine of Many-Sidedness(34)
An early Jaina text attributes the following statement to Mahavira: "Those who praise their own faiths and ideologies and blame that of their opponents and thus distort the truth will remain confined to the cycle of birth and death."(35) While the theme of religious tolerance is apparent here, as it was in the Buddha's similar warning quoted above, the further observation is made that truth is distorted by such praise or blame, thereby preventing progress on the path to liberation (compare what the Buddha called a "fetter"). Such behavior is thus morally improper as a violation of the vow to avoid all falsehood. On what epistemological basis is such a judgment made?
While perhaps not fully developed in the time of Mahavira, the doctrine of many-sidedness was clearly formulated at least by the twelfth century when Hemacandra, a great Jaina scholar, composed An Examination in Thirty-Two Stanzas of the Doctrines of Other Systems. "Anekantavada" literally means the doctrine that no one viewpoint is to be taken as final, that is, as the only true or all-comprehensive viewpoint. This doctrine is constituted by an epistemological principle and a metaphysical claim.
The epistemological principle is that logically distinct viewpoints (nayas) can be taken on any object of inquiry. That is, an object - for example, a person - may be seen as a specific entity in space and time, or generally as a representative of a species, or as both specific and general at once, or as a specific entity of the moment without regard to space and time. Related to the principle of viewpoints is the "doctrine of maybe" or conditional predication (syadvada). The most one can safely say is that maybe or "in some respect" an element exists or is describable or is eternal, because such a statement is relative to one's point of view. That is, what exists within an object from one viewpoint may not from another. For example, the same person may be seen as father, son, uncle, cousin, friend; or the same room may seem warm to one but cold to another. Thus, no one predication or statement about what is true about that object can legitimately be upheld as final or all-comprehensive. Thus, truth is many-sided.
The metaphysical claim within the doctrine of many-sidedness is that any reality itself has many (an-eka, "not one") aspects or expresses itself in manifold forms. In its wholeness, any reality is the coexistence of contradictory elements, such as eternity and transience, or unity and multiplicity.(36) Thus, reality itself, not just truth, is many-sided, preventing any absolute predication. The most that our perception and language can convey is a partial reality; to assume that one particular point of view, including a religious one, is final is indeed to hold as absolute a limited picture of the real. Jaina teacher Siddhasena Divakara drew together the epistemological and metaphysical principles of anekantavada as follows:
All the nayas, therefore, in their exclusively individual standpoints are absolutely faulty. If, however, they consider themselves as supplementary to each other, they are right in their viewpoints.... [I]f all the nayas arrange themselves in a proper way and supplement to each other, then alone they are worthy of being termed as "the whole truth" or the right view in its entirety.(37)
However, is it possible for any one person to gain this "right view"?
Such a complete understanding of reality, in spite of the limits of standpoints and the manifold nature of reality, is indeed possible according to the tradition. Mallisena stated simply, "[T]he many-sided nature of an entity... is comprehensible to supremely intelligent people."(38) Such intelligence or perfect knowledge (kevala) dawns as a result of meditative concentration and of the systematic and thorough purification of the eternal soul or self (jiva), eliminating all obstructing influences from past experience (karmas). The knowledge, then, of the liberated one (kevalin or jina) is of a different order than that experienced and expressed by the unliberated. Such a person is qualified to appreciate the relativity of all standpoints and, thus, lives the wisdom of Mahavira's advice not to praise or blame, as Siddhasena Divakara described: "A man who holds the view of the cumulative character of truth (anekantajna) never says that a particular view is right or that a particular view is wrong."(39) The all-determinative nature of one's point of view is thus affirmed as a condition limiting all truth-claims, yet it is a condition that the liberated one declares can be transcended.
B. Nonpossessiveness and Nonviolence
Mahavira's prescription against attachment of any kind is very clear: "He who grasps at even a little, whether living or lifeless, or consents to another doing so, will never be freed from sorrow."(40) Thus, the vow to observe nonpossessiveness (aparigraha) is central to the Jaina path. To grasp at or seek to possess any object is to assert one's superiority over it and one's intention to dominate it, thus contradicting the related principles of equanimity toward, and the mutuality of, all beings.(41) While the observance of aparigraha is usually interpreted in relation to objects of the senses toward which one feels craving or aversion, Mahavira's above statement suggests a greater scope, one that includes ideas, beliefs, ideologies, and doctrines.(42)
Mahavira was equally uncompromising in his statements regarding nonviolence (ahimsa), declaring it to be "the pure, eternal and unchangeable law or the tenet of religion" taught by all sages of past, present, and future.(43) Hence, nonviolence is the basis of all Jaina ethics and sometimes serves as the distinguishing quality and contribution of this tradition, given how totally one is supposed to observe it. Modern Jainas often note that ahimsa is not simply a negative prescription against injury but includes, according to the scriptures, the full range of virtues as well, including peace and harmony.(44)
One of the most frequent questions asked of the Jaina ideal of nonviolence is whether or not it is practicable. One contemporary Jaina writer responded as follows:
Though Jainism sets its goal as the ideal of total nonviolence, external as well as internal, yet the realisation of this ideal in the practical life is by no means easy. Nonviolence is a spiritual ideal, which is fully realisable only in the spiritual plane. The real life of an individual is a physio-spiritual complex; at this level complete nonviolence is not possible.... But this does not mean that the ideal of nonviolence is not practicable and so it is not necessary for [the] human race.(45)
Like the goal of perfect knowledge, full fidelity to ahimsa is reserved for the few souls who, in order to eliminate the inevitable injury done to living beings through the most basic activities of living (bathing, eating, walking), cease all such actions, fasting until death. Given the extremity of this ultimate consequence of the doctrine of nonviolence, it is remarkable that ahimsa has served as the core teaching of Jainism for over 2,500 years.
C. A Pluralist View of Religions?
Is it valid to draw a connection between the Jaina principles of the many-sidedness of truth (anekantavada), nonpossessiveness (aparigraha), and nonviolence (ahimsa) and this tradition's view of other religions? Though, as suggested above, there is a logical link between the latter two principles and one's attitude toward other faiths, there is little explicit connection made by Jainas themselves.(46) In the case of the doctrine of many-sidedness, Jainas do emphasize its relevance for the modern discussion of the relationship between the religions. For example, Sagarmal Jain has written:
Jaina theory of anekantavada emphasises that all the approaches to understand the reality give partial but true picture[s] of reality and due to their truth-value from certain angle[s], we should have a regard for other's ideologies and faiths. Thus anekantavada forbids us to be dogmatic and one-sided in our approach. It preaches... a broader outlook and open-mindedness, which is more essential in solving the conflicts due to the differences in ideologies and faiths.(47)
By this account, at least, Jainism does seem to teach a pluralist view of the religions, one based on the recognition that truth is not the sole property of any one tradition and, thus, on the need to be open to other viewpoints in one's search to know that truth. Yet, Jainism, like Buddhism, can appear ambiguous in its application of these principles toward other religions, especially from the perspective of logical possibility developed by D'Costa.
Like the Buddha who discouraged the passing of judgment on other philosophies, yet set out definite criteria to evaluate such teachings, Jainas also engage in the critique of "other systems"; indeed, this is the context of Hemacandra's discourse on anekantavada. While embracing a plurality of valid points of view on an object of inquiry, Hemacandra clearly rejected as "false standpoints" those that conceive of themselves as final or absolute, that is, those that contradict the doctrine of many-sidedness. For example, if one claims that an object of inquiry "does exist," implying the unqualified falsehood of stating its nonexistence, then one is championing only a partial truth; according to Mallisena's commentary, this "path of false standpoints" should be avoided.(48) Thus, among the Jainas' detailed analysis of the attitudes that bind the eternal soul (jiva) is "extremism" (ekanta) or "taking a one-sided (eternalist or annihilationist) position about the nature of existents." However, among the same category of insight-deluding attitudes one also finds "indiscriminate open-mindedness (vainayika), that is, accepting all religious paths as equally correct when in fact they are not."(49) Critical standards for the evaluation of religious viewpoints are clearly sustained.
Here, again, we encounter the apparent contradiction and exclusivist logic that render contemporary pluralism "impossible" for D'Costa. based on the doctrine of many-sidedness, Jainas espouse the partial validity of multiple standpoints on objects of inquiry; yet, if one's view includes the claim that it is final, then that standpoint is rejected as "false." In other words, as D'Costa has suggested, a tradition-specific criterion of truth (that is, anekantavada) has been set up that does not allow for the unbiased evaluation of other religious viewpoints. In addition, like the Buddha, Jainas offer an appeal to special experience, that of the liberated person with perfect knowledge, in order to support further their own super-system as the right view.
Thus, Jaina pluralism, if that is a fair ascription, appears subject to the same logical inconsistencies identified by D'Costa in contemporary expressions of this position. Jainism, like Buddhism, suggests that this inconsistency may be resolved by the transformation of consciousness brought about through spiritual practice, reaching toward a state in which a plurality of standpoints can be affirmed consistently, while adhering to broad criteria of truth revealed through direct experience. While the narrowly comparative nature of the mind may be fully transcended only by the liberated one, Jaina teachings offer a strategy for controlling for the cognitive limitations of the unliberated.
The dilemma raised by the Buddhist and Jaina attitudes toward other religions and clarified by D'Costa's analysis of contemporary pluralists is at heart a conflict between two impulses equally fundamental to the human quest for a meaningful existence: the search for unity (both intellectual and existential), that is, for a principle of synthesis that will unify all diversity into a coherent whole; and the urge to be true to our own experience in all its particularity, fostering the vocation to represent our own symbol, theory, criteria, or standpoint.(50) Contemporary Christian theologian Langdon Gilkey has described "the theoretical dilemma that plurality has forced upon us" as follows: "There seems no consistent theological way to relativize and yet to assert our own symbols - and yet we must do both in dialogue."(51)
Gilkey's insight into how to work with the dilemma posed by plurality serves as a useful point of departure for an examination of Gandhi's contribution to the question of the possibility of a pluralist viewpoint. Drawing from a principle expressed by nineteenth-century American philosopher John Dewey, Gilkey concluded as follows regarding the challenge of embracing the autonomy and validity of other standpoints while remaining committed to our own:
What to reflection is a contradiction, to praxis is a workable dialectic, a momentary but creative paradox. Absolute anti relative, unified vision and plurality, a centered principle of interpretation and mere difference, represent polarities apparently embodiable in crucial practice despite the fact that they seem numbing in reflective theory.(52)
Visible and recent examples of such practice, of living out the "creative paradox," are few. In particular, the lives of the Buddha, Mahavira, and India's other great sages are often distant and the sources about them unreliable. However, the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) provides a clearer and more public illustration, suggesting a resolution in praxis of the pluralist's dilemma that may indeed underlie the two positions described above. Far from merely giving intellectual assent to the principles of the many-sidedness of truth, nonpossessiveness, and nonviolence, Gandhi sought to base his every action on them, resulting in an approach to life he called "satyagraha."(53)
A. Satyagraha or Holding on to Truth
In the struggles for recognition of the equal rights of Indians in South Africa and later for self-rule in India, Gandhi rejected both violent resistance and passive submission to injustice. To adopt either tactic implies an unwillingness to enter into relationship with the oppressor and results only in the perpetuation of violence. In reading accounts of Gandhi's efforts to defeat injustice through nonviolent means, one is struck by his frequent attempts to get to know the perpetrators and understand their point of view.(54) By making this step, he demonstrated his faith in a reality greater than the viewpoint of either, what he called, using a Sanskrit term from his tradition, "satya" (truth). By suffering the consequences, for example, of violating what one believes is an unjust law, one remains both true to one's own viewpoint and in dialogue with the other, prompting the lawmakers to search their own consciences. Holding on to truth, for Gandhi, was not merely a successful legal or political strategy; it was a spiritual attitude as well. "Truth" was the most meaningful name of God for Gandhi, and thus satyagraha translates into, and in practice must be based on, faith in "some Supreme Power or some Being even indefinable."(55)
How Gandhi applied the principles of satyagraha to his relationship with non-Hindus is well demonstrated in his writings on Christianity, recently collected in Gandhi on Christianity.(56) Just as Gandhi sought to learn about other points of view in the legal and political spheres, so he also believed that an empathetic and serious study of non-Hindu religions is "a sacred duty" in that it broadened his understanding of the one Truth that each tradition seeks in its own way.(57) Study of other religions was both necessary and enlightening, according to Gandhi, because no religion succeeds in conveying the entirety of Truth:
If we had attained the full vision of Truth, we would no longer be mere seekers, but would have become one with God, for Truth is God. But being only seekers, we prosecute our quest, and are conscious of our imperfection. And if we are imperfect ourselves, religion as conceived by us must also be imperfect.(58)
Gandhi was close here to the Jaina doctrine of many-sidedness: No single standpoint is perfect; hence, one must study the Truth from a number of them.(59)
Holding on to the Truth that transcends any particular religious expression of it did not, for Gandhi, entail a reduction in his commitment to his own religious viewpoint. For example, he could affirm on the one hand, "Truth is the same in all religions though, through refraction, it appears for the time being variegated even as light does through a prism."(60) On the other hand, he could also attest: "My respectful study of other religions has not abated my reverence for or my faith in the Hindu scriptures.... They have enabled me to understand more clearly many an obscure passage in the Hindu scriptures."(61) To one who has not studied scriptures other than one's own, such a claim may seem counter-intuitive. If one admits that one can learn of God outside of one's tradition, how can this help but diminish one's commitment? Gandhi's claim, nonetheless, rests on a life of unusual integrity.(62)
B. Nonviolence(63) and the Criticism of Irreligion
Gandhi's broad religious tolerance as an expression of satyagraha did not lead to the rejection of criteria for evaluating different traditions. The fact that every religious standpoint is imperfect necessitates mutual efforts to recognize those imperfections and to correct them. Religion is, therefore, "always subject to a process of evolution and reinterpretation,"(64) but how do we decide on the proper criteria for evaluating diverse standpoints? Gandhi, like the Buddha and the Jaina philosophers before him, felt quite certain that such criteria exist and that they can be expressed in a way that does not do an injustice to other religions. The foremost of these criteria was nonviolence (ahimsa).
That there is a connection between Gandhi's approach to non-Hindu religions and the practice of nonviolence is clear: "Ahimsa teaches us to entertain the same respect for the religious faiths of others as we accord to our own."(65) It is also apparent that nonviolence was one of the criteria by which Gandhi distinguished between religion and irreligion, along with adherence to truth, reason, and faith, which he described as a kind of "sixth sense."(66) One must remember that for Gandhi, as for the Jainas, ahimsa is not simply a prohibitive stricture; it is "the largest love, [the] greatest charity."(67) He thus also spoke of a "Law of Love" that must guide all our interactions with others, including those who seem opposed to us.(68) On the basis of these criteria he was strongly critical of Christianity, for example, especially for its history of being "an imperialist faith," violating the nonviolent spirit embodied by Jesus himself and taught in the Sermon on the Mount.(69)
Gandhi anticipated the question of whether his criteria for distinguishing religion from irreligion were simply imposed from his own Hindu point of view. While admitting that his belief in ahimsa derived from the Bhagavad Gita, a great Hindu scripture, as well as from Jaina and Buddhist sources, he maintained that nonviolence - or, in its more positive expression, love - is of the very nature of God and is thus attested to by all the major scriptures, though not always observed in the religions founded on them.(70) Claiming, like Mahavira, that ahimsa is a truly timeless standard, Gandhi wrote, "Nonviolence is the law of our species," and it is "the goal towards which all mankind moves naturally though unconsciously."(71) Like the Buddha and the Jaina philosophers, Gandhi believed that his criteria for distinguishing between religion and irreligion were universal, though expressed by him primarily in the language of his tradition. His awareness of how language limits truth was keen:
Even as a tree has a single trunk, but many branches and leaves, so is there one true and perfect Religion, but it becomes many, as it passes through the human medium. The one Religion is beyond all speech. Imperfect men put it into such languages as they can command, and their words are interpreted by other men equally imperfect. Whose interpretation is to be held to be the right one?(72)
Nevertheless, also like the Buddha and the Jaina philosophers, Gandhi believed it necessary and possible to use speech to set forth an authoritative interpretation, balancing his appeals for nonviolent approaches to other traditions with nonpossessive attitudes toward his own. Is Gandhi, like the other Indian sources we have examined, simply contradicting himself in his use of linguistically bound criteria?
C. On the Possibility of a Pluralist Viewpoint
In response to Gandhi's claims for ahimsa, a Christian clergyperson asked him whether he believed that Hinduism was a "synthesis of all religions."(73) Gandhi's response is revealing:
"Yes, if you will. But I would call that synthesis Hinduism, and for you the synthesis will be Christianity. If I did not do so, you would always be patronizing me, as many Christians do now, saying, 'How nice it would be if Gandhi accepted Christianity,' and Muslims would be doing the same saying, 'How nice it would be if Gandhi accepted Islam!' That immediately puts a harrier between you and me. Do you see that?"(74)
Here is Gandhi in the midst of the praxis of dialogue to which Gilkey refers as a possible locus for resolving the dilemma caused by remaining open to the validity of other religious standpoints while maintaining the efficacy of one's own. In acknowledging his sense of the comprehensiveness of his own tradition, he recognized that his dialogue partner probably felt the same about Christianity. Very clear that he had "to stand somewhere," he attempted to help his partner see that to try to convert the other to stand where we are erects "a barrier" between them. Was Gandhi thus implying that any attempt to conflate viewpoints in the context of dialogue is a violation of the law of nonviolence or love?
Essential to Gandhi's theory and practice of satyagraha and interreligious dialogue was the question of practical possibility. Gandhi was criticized by himself and by others early on in his application of satyagraha to India's struggle for self-rule because he overestimated the capacity of most people to engage in peaceful civil disobedience.(75) In order to be able to befriend the other and see a situation from her or his vantage point, and in order to be able to respond to the other with love even when the other uses violence, one must have made progress in observing the five vows: of nonviolence (ahimsa), nonpossessiveness (aparigraha), purity or celibacy (brahmacarya), truthfulness (satya), and nonstealing or poverty (asteya). Without adherence to these vows, as well as faith in the divine, one should not begin on the spiritual experiment that is satyagraha in any sphere of life, whether political or religious.(76) Thus, by Gandhi's estimation, a nonviolent attitude toward the other, whether the British government or Christianity, was not easy to practice; he frequently admitted his own failures. Nevertheless, the ideal remains of inestimable value and plays an unexpendable role in human society.(77)
D'Costa's analysis prompts a different question in response to Gandhi's approach to non-Hindu religions, that of logical possibility. Was Gandhi simply following the strategy already identified in the Buddha and Jainism whereby particular criteria of truth, derived from their own experience or tradition, were exulted as universal, contradictory to the claims of each to an open attitude toward other religious viewpoints?(78) That Gandhi's efforts to face the dilemma posed by plurality were similar to those of the Buddha and the Jainas seems clear, but is there a different way to interpret the logic behind these efforts than that suggested by D'Costa?
Gandhi shed light on what this alternative "logic" might be in his comparison to a marriage of one's relationship to one's religion - or, more generally, to one's point of view:
[J]ust as a husband does not remain faithful to his wife, or wife to her husband, because either is conscious of some exclusive superiority of the other over the rest of his or her sex but because of some indefinable but irresistible attraction, so does one remain irresistibly faithful to one's own religion and find full satisfaction in such adhesion. And just as a faithful husband does not need in order to sustain his faithfulness, to consider other women as inferior to his wife, so does not a person belonging to one religion need to consider others to be inferior to his own.(79)
On the basis of a loving commitment, like that of a marriage, one may approach another in a way that is not based on comparison or competition. One's love for wife, child, parent, or friend can lead one to appreciate others more fully and even to love them- a love that at the same time does not reduce one's commitments.
It is also clear from Gandhi's discussion of the marriage analogy that agapic or inclusive love is not without criteria for judging between strengths and weaknesses in either one's spouse (religion, point of view) or in others:
[E]ven as faithfulness to one's wife does not presuppose blindness to her shortcomings, so does not faithfulness to one's religion presuppose blindness to the shortcomings of that religion. Indeed, faithfulness, not blind adherence, demands a keener perception of shortcomings and therefore a livelier sense of the proper remedy for their removal.(80)
It is well documented that Gandhi was as critical of Hinduism as he was of some aspects of non-Hindu religions, especially its tacit collaboration with the institution of untouchability, the practice of animal sacrifice by some sects, and the bazaar-like atmosphere of some temples. As with his wife, however, his application of particular standards to criticize his religion and others did not entail a break in his relationship to that religion but, rather, constituted the faithful exercise of it.
If there is a "logic," then, to Gandhi's attitude toward other religions, it is that of noncompetitive interpersonal relationship.(81) According to this logic, love for one nurtures the capacity and openness to love another, and evaluation of both by specific criteria of truth does not diminish that love but is a sign of its health. Here the question of practical possibility, as addressed by each of the Indian sources, becomes relevant. How many of us are actually able to love another in the way implied by Gandhi's practice of satyagraha and dialogue? As each of the Indian sources has suggested, the changed view of reality and attributes of nonviolence and nonpossessiveness that are integral to the ideals they portray are indeed not commonly found characteristics. One must submit to a discipline, follow a path, and be transformed in order to approach these ideals. If we can justifiably express the core of this transformation, it is the awareness of interdependence, an awareness that necessitates a radical change in our sense of self, what Gandhi calls reducing ourself "to a zero"(82) - suggesting, as the Buddhist and Jaina sources have, that it is possible to transcend the limits of one's own viewpoint. Without undergoing this degree of transformation, we find the logic behind the approaches to other religions espoused by these Indian sources to be inconsistent. In other words, is the fact that the logic of the pluralist view of religions seems to most of us faulty or unworkable necessarily a reason to deem it unsatisfactory or "impossible"?(83)
V. Conclusion: A Pluralist View in the Praxis of Dialogue
The above examination of a few Indian sources suggests the following conclusions regarding the possibility, both logical and practical, of a pluralist view of religions. Each source presents a similar nexus of ideas informing their perspective on the issue: a view of reality as constituted by mutually related and interdependent elements, a nonpossessive or detached attitude toward one's own point of view, and a nonviolent approach toward differing points of view. The consequences of these ideas for their stand on other religious traditions are, respectively, acknowledgement of the relativity of truth statements, recognition that one's own viewpoint or tradition is not the only valid approach to truth, and an openness to, and affirmation of the legitimate autonomy of, other viewpoints or traditions. Each Indian source thereby suggests a pluralist view of reality, including the religions.
In addition, each source discussed above grounds its pluralist viewpoint on guidelines for transforming human consciousness. That is, the practical possibility of the pluralist view is upheld on the condition that one submit to a spiritual discipline that will fundamentally alter the basis for what is possible, both cognitively and morally. Without this kind of thoroughgoing change in the holder of a standpoint, the view of reality and virtues of detachment and nonviolence either will be misunderstood or will seem unattainable. In response to the question of practical possibility, each tradition would lift up examples of saints who have walked their respective paths of spiritual transformation and verified within their persons that these goals are not empty ideals.
However, it is equally true that each source has developed specific criteria for distinguishing between true and false religion and has, with confidence, applied these criteria to other points of view. D'Costa's suspicions about the logical possibility of consistently presenting a pluralist view of the religions thus seem confirmed. In the case of each Indian source, it seems that tradition-specific (or, perhaps collectively, culture-specific) criteria are being applied, using a similar strategy as the exclusivist and inclusivist: If the other viewpoint does not fit the criteria that I or my tradition claim to be universal, then that viewpoint is false or unsatisfactory. In some cases, despite conscious efforts to avoid this kind of imposition, the pluralist view itself serves as the standard by which all others are measured.
As proposed above, in the logic of each Indian source there is an intimate connection between the issues of practical and logical possibility. Similar to the tactic for resolution proposed by Gilkey, each source directs attention to praxis, especially the observance of a vow of nonviolence, implying that what cannot be consistently reasoned out can in fact be lived in the context of interpersonal relationship or dialogue. However, does such a claim to transcend the logic of rationality simply beg the question? Does this appeal to special experience reduce the thrust of such proposals to private relevance and thereby diminish their contribution to the collective task of understanding religion or even fides quaerens intellectum? Philosophically - perhaps, depending on how one construes the limits of this discipline; religiously and spiritually- no. Is not this kind of transformation constitutive of the very premises of most, if not all, religions and spiritual paths?
One way of investigating what type of special experience is being suggested as a support for a pluralist view of the religions would be to attempt to generalize what is common to the transformed states attested to by the above sources. Such a task is not only monumental in content but also fraught with methodological difficulties, not the least of which is the danger of, once again, imposing standards or categories specific to one culture or tradition on the others. A safer and more useful approach will be to examine one experience of a pluralist way of seeing in order to determine what it suggests for further study of this knotty problem.
In Encountering God, Eck recounted an experience in a Hindu temple in India that is especially revealing of the cognitive dynamics involved in seeing another tradition from a pluralist viewpoint. Eck recalled how, near the end of a research trip, she visited the great Vaishnava temple of Padmanabhaswamy in Trivandrum. At the time set for beholding the central image of the temple, she stood with hundreds of other women at the doors of the inner sanctum. Accompanied by the rising sounds of drums and bells, the priests opened successively three sets of double doors, revealing portions of a huge statue of Vishnu at rest on the endless world serpent (Shesha). "It was a sense of enormous presence," she wrote, "dimly seen":(84) his face of silent repose, his navel out of which the creator god and all creation manifests, and his feet, traditionally a focus of veneration in Hinduism.
After the priests had circled oil lamps before the image of Vishnu, the worshippers, including Eck, reached out toward the flame and then brought their hands to their foreheads in blessing. She reflected on the experience as follows:
Seeing that tryptich [sic] in the temple in Trivandrum, with its three glimpses of a God larger than one could fully comprehend, was a moment of recognition for me, and the experience of God's presence there was describable only as worship. My experience as a Christian was surely different from that of the Hindus pressed against me on either side. But we shared the sense of delight and revelation as the doors were opened, and perhaps some sense of both the majesty and mystery of the Divine.(85)
As she noted, an experience of recognition implies that something of the same reality has been seen elsewhere before, through other "windows," other symbols, other points of view.
Some interaction between the points of view through which one has seen a reality inevitably results, but only after the fact, according to Eck's account:
I thought of nothing at the time. It was a moment of total presence, not of reflection. But as I left the temple, looking frequently back through door upon door, light and shadow, in the direction of Vishnu resting upon the serpent called Endless, I began thinking about what we Christians call the Trinity, the threefold vision of God as creator, redeemer, and spirit. I could not get it out of my mind- this triple yet singular revelation of the one God, the glimpses we had through the doors that were opened upon his presence, the overwhelming sense that no vantage point could enable us to see the whole.(86)
The immensity of the divine image in the temple, symbolizing the incomprehensibility of God, resonated with and clarified, "challenged and enlarged" her sense of the divine received from her own tradition.(87)
A response such as Eck's is only conceivable if one accepts, perhaps subliminally, the possibility that one's "vantage point" is not all-encompassing. Yet, it is precisely one's viewpoint, with its tradition-specific criteria, that has mediated a sense of the divine to begin with:
Each of us brings religious or ethical criteria to our understanding of the new worlds we encounter. When I "recognize" God's presence in a Hindu temple or in the life of a Hindu, it is because, through this complex of God, Christ, and Spirit, I have a sense of what God's presence is like. Recognition means that we have seen it somewhere before. I would even say that it is Christ who enables Christians - in fact, challenges us - to recognize God especially where we don't expect to do so and where it is not easy to do so.(88)
Eck's account suggests that one may be simultaneously established in a religious viewpoint, with its criteria of truth, and open to experiencing the divine, however briefly ("a moment"), through other symbols or other viewpoints.(89) In other words, the fact that we have criteria does not necessarily entail a possessive attitude toward them or the "violent" imposition of those criteria on every encounter with the other.
Eck readily acknowledged that such experiences of recognition are not easy to receive; they do not necessarily follow from intellectual assent to the proposition that all visions of God are alike, for they are not.(90) Such experiences, she wrote, "can only be the fruit of a real encounter. There are no easy, uncritical theological equations here. Yet as we are open to real encounter in the give-and-take of learning and un-learning our recognition of the one we call 'God' can only become larger and clearer."(91) As Gilkey and others have proposed and as Gandhi has illustrated, the pluralist view, which reason cannot argue with full logical consistency, may be experienced in the interreligious encounter, in the dialogical relationship that itself constitutes a kind of ascesis.
With the Jaina philosophers we are drawn to affirm that the same position both is and is not valid: That is, from one standpoint D'Costa is correct about the impossibility of a pluralist view of religions. His analysis does indeed clear the way for a more precise understanding of what pluralism is and is not. If, however, we also take into consideration the standpoint of interreligious dialogue, then the possibility of such a view of religions is affirmed. Perhaps addressing the problem of language discussed at the opening of this essay, Eck wrote:
There is a dilemma here, for to some extent all religious people are inclusivists insofar as we use our own particular religious language - God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Buddha, Vishnu - and struggle with the limits and meaning of that language. As long as we hold the religious insights of our particular traditions, cast in our particular languages, to be in some sense universal, we cannot avoid speaking at times in an inclusivist way.(92)
I would venture further to suggest that even those who according to Indian sources are awakened or liberated-who have experienced nirvana, keyala, or moksha - also fit this description of pluralist in vision and inclusivist in language and logic. This may be due to the fact that even those whose consciousness has been spiritually transformed must live out that realization within particular cultural contexts and linguistic commitments. On the one hand, persons like the Buddha, Mahavira, or Gandhi, grounded in that which is universal, are pluralist, affirming the autonomy and relativity of both self and other. On the other hand, living through that which is particular, they remain inclusivist and committed to their point of view and potentially critical of others' - Gilkey's "creative paradox."
Contradictory to the epistemological limits assumed by constructivist philosophers, India upholds the possibility of transcending the comparative mind and the constraints of one's point of view, an experience that fosters a detached attitude toward it and a nonviolent approach toward others. The experience attested to by these Indian sources may indeed appear "special" and an illegitimate warrant for defending the illogical. Nevertheless, this is precisely one of the challenges consistently offered by Indian philosophers and sages, the existence of other states of consciousness characterized by different epistemological conditions, states in which the relation between the parts (points of view) and the whole (many-sided truth) is seen more synthetically.(93) As Gandhi's life suggests, that challenge may be answered at present, in part, through the spiritual ascesis that is interreligious relationship.
1 Diana L. Eck, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1993).
2 Ibid., p. 168.
3 Ibid., p. 170
4 Gavin D'Costa, "The Impossibility of a Pluralist View of Religion," Religious Studies 32 (June, 1996): 223-232. See also Gavin D'Costa, preface to Gavin D'Costa, ed., Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: The Myth of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, Faith Meets Faith Series (Marynoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990), p. ix.
5 D'Costa, "Impossibility," p. 224.
6 Ibid., p. 223.
7 Ibid., pp. 225-226.
8 Ibid., p. 226.
9 Ibid., p. 231.
10 Ibid., p. 225. See also Jurgen Moltmann, "Is 'Pluralistic Theology' Useful for the Dialogue of World Religions?" in D'Costa, Christian Uniqueness, p. 155.
11 D'Costa, "Impossibility," p. 226.
12 See Harold G. Coward, ed., Modern Indian Responses to Religious Pluralism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987). On the particular contribution of India to the subject of pluralism, Coward wrote in his introduction, "India is probably the world's oldest and most interesting 'living laboratory' of religious pluralism" (p. xi).
13 A more thorough account of Indian sources would include discussion of such Muslims as the sixteenth-century Mughal ruler, Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, who exemplified a rare degree of religious tolerance and openness to learning from other traditions. See also R. E. Miller, "Modern Indian Muslim Responses," in Coward, Modern Indian Responses, pp. 235-268; and Harold Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985), pp. 55-59.
14 For clear statements of the constructivist position, see John Hick, "Religious Faith as Experiencing-As," in Talk of God, Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures, vol. 2, 1967-1968 (London: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1969), pp. 20-35; and Ian Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science and Religion (San Francisco, CA: Harper-San Francisco, 1974), pp. 51-56.
15 Samyutta-nikaya II, 64-65 (tr. from Edward Conze with I. B. Horner, D. Snellgrove, and A. Waley, eds., Buddhist Texts through the Ages, Harper Torchbooks [New York: Harper & Row, 1964], p. 66). The technical formulation of conditioned genesis in reference to experience is as follows: "Conditioned by ignorance are the karma-formations; conditioned by the karma-formations is consciousness; conditioned by consciousness is mind-and-body; conditioned by mind-and- body are the six sense-fields; conditioned by the six sense-fields is impression; conditioned by impression is feeling; conditioned by feeling is craving; conditioned by craving is grasping [upadana]; conditioned by grasping is becoming; conditioned by becoming is birth; conditioned by birth there come into being ageing and dying, grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair. Thus is the origin of this whole mass of suffering" (Vinaya-pitaka, I, I; in Conze, Buddhist Texts, p. 66).
16 Nyanatiloka, Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, 4th rev. ed., ed. Nyanaponika (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1980), pp. 150-151.
17 On the appropriateness of the term "relativity" to describe the Buddha's intuition in conditioned genesis, see Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1959), p. 53; and Raimundo Panikkar, The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha, Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989), pp. 53-57, 134-144, where he contrasts relativity and relativism.
18 As others have observed, the later Mahayana teaching on emptiness (sunyata), especially as espoused by the second/third-century Indian philosopher Nagarjuna, advances analysis of conditioned genesis as well as of the status of the Buddha's teachings in relation to other systems. See Shohei Ichimura, "Sunyata and Religious Pluralism," in Paul O. Ingram and Frederick J. Streng, eds., Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: Mutual Renewal and Transformation (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1986), pp. 95-114; Coward, Pluralism, pp. 88-93; and Jane Compson, "The Dalai Lama and the World Religions: A False Friend?" Religious Studies 32 (June, 1996): 271-279.
19 On the meanings of "upadana" and "viraga" see Nyanatiloka, Buddhist Dictionary, pp. 215-216, 232.
20 Suttanipata, v. 798 (in Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, p. 10; parenthetical additions are his).
21 Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, pp. 11-12, citing Majjhima-nikaya I, 134-135. For further analysis of the Buddha's view of the pragmatic or instrumental role of doctrines, see Coward, Pluralism, pp. 96-97; cf. the Dalai Lama's discussion of doctrines as tools in Compson, "Dalai Lama."
22 Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, pp. 45-50. "Ahimsa" is defined more generally as harmlessness or noninjury and is listed as one of the three characteristics of right thought (one of the elements of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path). In addition, nondestruction of life is listed as one characteristic of right action, another element of the path. See also Dhammapada, 225, 261, 270, 300.
23 Nyanatiloka, Buddhist Dictionary, p. 144.
24 Gunapala Dharmasiri, Fundamentals of Buddhist Ethics (Antioch, CA: Golden Leaves, 1989), p. 21.
25 See his advice to the Kalamas, Anguttara-nikaya I, 189.
26 Samyutta-nikaya II, 25: "Whether Tathagatas [a synonym for Buddhas] arise or not, this order [Dhamma] exists, namely, the fixed nature of phenomena, the regular pattern of phenomena or conditionality. This the Tathagata discovers and comprehends; having discovered and comprehended it, he points it out, teaches it, lays it down, establishes, reveals, analyzes, clarifies it and says, 'Look'" (in Coward, Pluralism, p. 85).
27 K. N. Jayatilleke, The Buddhist Attitude toward Other Religions, Wheel Publications 216 (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publications Society, 1975), pp. 17-36; quoted in Paul J. Griffiths, ed., Christianity through Non-Christian Eyes, Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 1990), p. 143.
28 Griffiths, Christianity, pp. 145-146, citing Majjhima-nikaya I, 515-520.
29 Ibid., p. 146.
30 Ibid., p. 147, citing Digha-nikaa II, 151. The Noble Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha is comprised of right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.
31 Compson identified a similar conflict in statements of the current Dalai Lama about other religions. On the one hand, he has expressed what appears to be a pluralist view, by affirming the value of different religions as varied paths to achieve compassion and by discouraging conversion; on the other hand, he has affirmed that the Mahayana teaching on emptiness (which Compson characterized as "ideas which are exclusive to Buddhism") is the "ultimate truth" that must be realized for liberation. Compson concluded: "Rather than being a pluralism of the Christian variety, apparently entailing a certain amnesty in terms of philosophical beliefs, his ecumenism is entirely in accordance with the Buddhist teachings that he follows. Whilst his ecumenical view does indeed require some 'letting go' of dogmatic attachment to doctrines, this relinquishing is actually part of his Buddhist philosophy. It is a Buddhist, rather than a pluralist way of looking at the world" (Compson, "Dalai Lama," pp. 273-274). In other words, tolerance-even acceptance- of other religions is a tradition-specific criterion brought to the evaluation of other traditions, not a relinquishing of such criteria.
32 If one were truly detached and nonviolent, would one refrain from criticizing others and simply assume an all-accepting attitude? The Buddha obviously concluded otherwise. It is also noteworthy that several of the most ardent Christian pluralists have defended the role of criticism in their encounter with other religions, a conclusion that we shall see was also shared by other Indian sources. The Buddha's teachings on both detachment and nonviolence help to define the spirit in which criticisms should be made. They should not be based in the feeling either that one's own path is superior or that the other's is inferior. Yet, is not every act of criticism based on comparison that in turn employs criteria of evaluation that are inevitably tradition-specific?
33 Achaan Chah, A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah (Wheaton, IL: Quest, 1985), p. 35.
34 For more technical and detailed treatment of this topic, see R. A. Kumar, T. M. Dak, and A.D. Mishra, eds., Anekantavada and Syadvada (Ladnun, Rajasthan: Jain Vishva Bharati Institute, 1996); Padmanabh S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of Purification (Berkeley, CA; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1979), pp. 89-97; Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, vol. 1 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1966), pp. 294-308; S. Gopalan, Outlines of Jainism (New York: Halsted Press, 1973), pp. 145-156; and Satkari Mookerjee, The Jaina Philosophy of Non-Absolutism (Calcutta: Bharati Mahavidyalaya, 1944; 2nd ed.-Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978).
35 Sutrakrtanga, 18.104.22.168, as quoted in Sagarmal Jain, "A Search for the Possibility of NonViolence and Peace: A Jaina Viewpoint," Jain Journal (January, 1991), p. 139.
36 Jaini, Jaina Path, p. 91.
37 Siddhasena Divtikara's Sanmati Tarka, tr. Pandita Sukhlalji Sanghavi and Pandita Bechardasji Doshi (Bombay: Shri Jain Shiveramber Education Board, 1939), 1.21, 25, in Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, eds.,A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 270.
38 Syadvadamanjari, XXIII, quoted in Radhakrishnan and Moore, Sourcebook, p. 265.
39 Sanmati Tarka, 1.28, quoted in Radhakrishnan and Moore, Sourcebook, p. 270. Radhakrishnan argued that, in order to present a logically consistent pluralism and avoid the fallacy of relativism, the Jaina theory of relativity must be grounded ultimately in the positing of an absolute-a position Jainas avoid, even in the description of the kevalin (Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, vol. 1, pp. 305-308).
40 Sutrakrtanga, I.I.I, quoted in Ainslie T. Embree, ed. and rev., Sources of Indian Tradition, vol. 1, From the Beginning to 1800, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 59.
41 These two principles are foundational to Jainism. Equanimity (samayika) is based on the teaching that every entity in the phenomenal world, not just humans, is considered a being on the path to liberation. Related is the principle of parasparopagrahojivanam (literally, the mutual uplifting of lives), paraphrased by N. P. Jain as "all lives are mutually supportive" (N. P. Jain, "A Portrait of Jainism," in Joel Beversluis, ed., A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions [Chicago: Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, 1993], p. 76). This second principle, found in Tattvartha-sutra, 5.21, was incorporated into the official symbol of the Jaina faith as its slogan in 1975 (Jaini, Jaina Path, p. 316).
42 Aparigraha entails, according to the tradition, the renunciation of both "external" and "internal" possessions, the latter being comprised of various passions signifying attachment (Jaini, Jaina Path, p. 177). A broad interpretation of nonpossessiveness is also given by Gopalan, Outlines, p. 164.
43 Acaranga, 1.411, quoted in Jain, "Search," p. 135.
44 Jain, "Search," p. 1.36, citing Prasnavyakarana-sutra, 2.1.21.
45 Ibid., p. 137.
46 See Leona Smith Kremser, "Twenty Most-Asked Questions about Jainism," Jain Journal (January, 1970), p. 180, wherein she explicitly linked Jaina "nonabsolutism" (anekatavada) and observance of nonviolence: The history of Jainism is "free of non-Jaina blood because Jainas practice a mutual sympathy and toleration for the views of others."
47 Jain, "Search," p. 139.
48 Syadvadamanjari, XXV, quoted in Radhakrishnan and Moore, Sourcebook, p. 267. Jaini sought to resolve this contradiction by stating that, while these doctrines were false due to their one-sidedness (their presumption to be absolute), they were, "from the proper perspective" of syadvada, true enough to be "integrated into the Jaina system" (Jaini, Jaina Path, p. 90). He illustrated this resolution by using the seemingly contradictory views on the eternal or noneternal nature of Being found, respectively, in Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism.
49 Jaini, Jaina Path, p. 118, citing Savarthasiddhi, 749.
50 This dialectic between the general and the particular, between statements about the whole and about the parts, and between synthesis and analysis is basic to the Jaina doctrine of many-sidedness (see Syadvadamanjari in Radhakrishnan and Moore, Sourcebook, pp. 262-263).
51 Langdon Gilkey, "Plurality and Its Theological Implications," in John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, eds., The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), p. 46.
52 Ibid., p. 47. On this relation of praxis and theory in relation to pluralism, also see Raimundo Panikkar, "The Myth of Pluralism: The Tower of Babel - A Meditation on Non-Violence," Cross Currents 29 (Summer, 1979): 200; note Panikkar's preference for "dialogical tension" as opposed to"dialectics" as a term for his preferred approach to plurality (pp. 206-212, 218-221), an approach that is otherwise very close to Gilkey's.
53 Biographies of Gandhi note the influence of Jainism on his early life, growing up in Gujarat where this tradition is prominent, as well as the impact of Buddhism in his later religious "experiments." See, e.g., Louis Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (New York: Harper & Bros., 1950), pp. 21-22, 237. Separate mention of these religions is infrequent in Gandhi's writings, because he considered them parts of Hinduism, contributing in particular their strong emphases on nonviolence (M. K. Gandhi, The Essence of Hinduism, ed. V. B. Kher [Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1987], p. 28).
54 This strategy derived, in part, from his legal practice, in which getting to know both plaintiff and defendent served to help settle difficult cases. See Mohandas K. Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, tr. Mahadev Desai (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1957), especially Pt. II, chap. 14; Pt. IV, chap. 40; Pt. V, chap. 2. "[I]t is my rule, as a Satyagrahi, to understand the viewpoint of the party I propose to deal with, and to try to agree with him as far as may be possible" (ibid., p. 375).
55 On the equation of Truth and God, see Krishna Kripalani, ed., All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi As Told in His Own Words (Paris: UNESCO; New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), chap. 2, "Religion and Truth," pp. 56-80. On the relationship between satyagraha and faith in God, see Gandhi, Essence of Hinduism, p. 94. Gandhi's efforts to find suitable nontheistic language came in response to the question of whether Jainas and Buddhists, who do not profess belief in God, would reject his statements regarding the necessity of faith.
56 Robert Ellsberg, ed., Gandhi on Christianity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991).
57 Ibid., p. 58.
58 Ibid, p. 62.
59 On Gandhi's appropriation of anekantavada, see Diana L. Eck, "Gandhian Guidelines for a World of Religious Difference," in ibid., especially pp. 79-80. See also Stephen N. Hay, "Jain Influence on Gandhi's Early Thought," in Sibnarayan Ray, ed. and intro., Gandhi, India, and the World: An International Symposium (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1970), pp. 29-38. Note particularly Gandhi's remarks: "I very much like this doctrine of the manyness of reality. It is this doctrine that has taught me to judge a Mussulman from his standpoint and a Christian from his.... From the platform of the Jains I prove the non-creative aspect of God, and from that of Ramanuja the creative aspect. As a matter of fact we are all thinking of the Unthinkable, describing the Undescribable, seeking to know the Unknown, and that is why our speech falters, is inadequate and even often contradictory" (quoted in Hay, "Jain Influence," p. 29). Hence, he would also state, "different religions express different facets of Truth" (Young India, February 20, 1930).
60 Ellsburg, Gandhi on Christianity, p. 61.
61 Ibid., p. 58; see also p. 62: "[T]olerance... does not mean indifference towards one's own faith, but a more intelligent and purer love for it."
62 See Raimundo Panikkar's discussion of "multireligious experience" and the "risk of faith" in his The Intrareligious Dialogue (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), pp. 1-22.
63 Separate discussion of nonpossessiveness (aparigraha) will not be made as in prior sections. Gandhi does speak of aparigrapha as an important element of his own spiritual discipline, usually in association with ahimsa and the other traditional yamas ("restraints") listed in Patanjali's Yogasutras. Gandhi also spoke of aparigraha as one of the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita that was most meaningful to him (see Gandhi, An Autobiography, Pt. IV, chaps. 5, 10).
64 Ellsburg, Gandhi on Christianity, p. 62.
66 Ibid., pp. 66-67.
67 Kripalani, All Men, p. 93 (chap. 4, #29).
68 Ellsburg, Gandhi on Christianity, p. 68.
69 Ibid, pp. 26, 21.
70 Ibid, p. 63; also see Kripalani, All Men, pp. 69-70 (chap. 2, #58-59), 86-87 (chap. 4, #7), and 99 (chap. 4, #59-60).
71 Ellsburg, Gandhi on Christianity, p. 73.
72 Ibid., p. 62.
73 Ibid., p. 68.
74 Ibid., pp. 68-69. Note that Gandhi did not call for a syncretistic fusion of all religions but, rather, affirmed the value of the differences between them. See Eck, "Gandhian Guidelines," p. 81. Gandhi said: "I do not aim at fusion. Each religion has its own contribution to make to human evolution" (Harijan, January 28, 1938).
75 Gandhi, An Autobiography, Pt. V, chap. 33.
76 Ellsburg, Gandhi on Christianity, pp. 72-73.
77 Kripalani, All Men, chap. 4, "Ahimsa or the Way of Non-Violence," pp. 85-107.
78 Cf. J. F.T. Jordens, "Gandhi and Religious Pluralism, in Coward, Modern Indian Responses, pp. 3-17, in which the author detailed the evolution of Gandhi's attitude from "tolerance" to affirming the "equality" of all religions. Jordens clearly analyzed the roles that truth and nonviolence play as criteria for evaluating religions, concluding that they function not to judge between true and false doctrines but between right and wrong action. Together these criteria, according to Jordens, constitute a norm that functioned dogmatically for Gandhi, and thus it served as a highly individualistic basis for affirming the equality of religions - a conclusion that D'Costa would likely claim further validates his thesis.
79 Ellsburg, Gandhi on Christianity, p. 69; also see Gandhi, Essence of Hinduism, p. 34.
80 Ellsburg, Gandhi on Christianity, p. 69.
81 For an intriguing study of this alternative "logic" for relationship between self and other in which the exclusive dominance of one's own point of view is transcended, see Beatrice Bruteau, "Communitarian Non-Dualism," in Beatrice Bruteau, comp., The Other Half of My Soul: Bede Griffiths and the Hindu-Christian Dialogue (Wheaton, IL; and Adyar, Madras: Quest Books, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1996). Interestingly, for the Indian focus of this essay, Bruteau compared the Christian notion of agapic love with the Hindu idea of nonduality (advaita), both pointing to a relationship in which both unity and distinction are maintained.
82 Ellsburg, Gandhi on Christianity, p. 73; also see Gandhi, An Autobiography, Pt. V, Farewell, pp. 503-505.
83 Of value here are the insights of another Indian source, Raimon Panikkar, who has argued effectively that pluralism is not simply a theory but a vision, one necessarily grounded in myth as well as logic. See, e.g., his "Myth of Pluralism," pp. 197-230.
84 Eck, Encountering God, p. 77.
85 Ibid., pp. 78-79.
86 Ibid., p. 79.
89 Note that Eck did not presume that her experience was like that of the Hindu women around her. Nevertheless, the experience was differently enough configured as to quiet her usual thought processes temporarily. The experience was also sufficiently connected to that of Hindus to facilitate dialogue with them.
90 Eck, Encountering God, p. 80.
92 Ibid., p. 180.
93 See Panikkar's brief characterization of the Indian view of pluralism in contrast to the Western view in his Silence of God, pp. 197-198, n. 28: "It is a cultural characteristic of India to set in confrontation a pluralism of truths and a monism of reality. By contrast, Western culture is founded on a pluralism of realities 'corrected' by a monism of truth." Also see the various suggestions concerning the polycentric nature of Indian culture and religion; e.g., Julius J. Lipner, "Ancient Banyan: An Inquiry into the Meaning of 'Hinduness,'" Religious Studies 32 (March, 1996): 109-126; and Eck, Encountering God, chap. 3. Note that few from either India or the West would suggest that the Indian sources on a pluralist view of religions have influenced that culture sufficiently in order to prevent interreligious violence.
Judson B. Trapnell (Episcopal Church) is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Religion Dept. of Hampden-Sydney (VA) College, 1997-99. He taught in the Theology Dept. at Georgetown University, 1994-97; and has taught part-time at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore (1994-95), and at Catholic University of America (1986-93) and Trinity College (1993) in Washington, DC. In 1983-86, he was chaplain and assistant to the director of spiritual development at the New York Foundling Hospital. He holds a B.A. from Maharishi International University, Fairfield, IA; an M.Div. from Yale University Divinity School; and a Ph.D. in religious studies (1993) from Catholic University of America (with a dissertation on Bede Griffiths' theory of religious symbol and the practice of dialogue). His articles have appeared in Philosophy and Theology, Vidyajyoti, American Benedictine Review, Studia Mystica, Horizons, and Dialogue & Alliance; and in B. Bruteau, ed., The Other Half of My Soul (Theosophical Publishing House, 1996). His articles are forthcoming in K. L. Seshagiri Rao, ed., Encyclopedia of Hinduism (India Heritage Research Foundation); and in ISKCON Communications Journal.
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|Author:||Trapnell, Judson B.|
|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1998|
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