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The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue.

The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue. By Michael von Bruck. Translated from the German by James V. Zeitz. New York: Paulist, 1991. Pp. vi + 340. $19.95.

This essay in trinitarian theology both gives evidence of and gives rise to much thought and meditation. Von Bruck, recently named to the chair of Religionswissenschaft at the University of Munich, is experienced as a Lutheran pastor, a seminary teacher for four years in India, and a participant in dialogue with Hindus, Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians. Here he expands his doctoral thesis (Rostock, 1980) into a major theological work--probably the finest writing in the Hindu-Christian dialogue since Panikkar's Myth, Faith, and Hermeneutics in 1979, or perhaps since Abhishiktananda's Saccidananda in 1974, to name the work closest thematically to von Bruck's.

B.'s purpose is not to create a synthesis of the two faiths, but to do Christian theology "in dialogue with and by means of insights from Advaita Vedanta" (143). This he accomplishes admirably. His impresive survey of trinitarian theology culminates in Hegel, whom he presents as the supreme trinitarian nondualist. The Trinity is presented as Christianity's way of expressing and living the unity of the absolute with the relative (75-78). B. expresses another facet of this nonduality by saying: "Yes, the activity of human freedom is the appearance of the dimension of the infinite in the finite" (125). Another constant and attractive elements of B.'s trinitarianism is "the high point of nondualistic thinking in the early Church" (87), John Damascene's insight of perichoresis, the "dance" of "mutual permeation" of the three Persons. At one point B. offers the enticing suggestion that perichoresis might help clarify the indefinite status of maya ("magic, illusion") in Advaita Vedanta (146). My only criticism here would take the form of Piet Schoonenberg's caveat with respect to Hegelian and other philosophical trinitarian thought: that even if it were proven conceptually that reality necessarily consists in the interaction of three persons, such persons might not have anything to do with the Father, Son, and Spirit revealed in the New Testament. That being said, two points must be added immediately: (1) this ceveat applies eqully to the quasi identification of Father, Son, and Spirit with Advaita Vedanta's Sat (Being), Cit (Consciousness), and Ananda (Joy), as in Abhishiktananda's trinitarian theology; and (2) B. works hard and critically to relate Hegel's Trinity to the New Testament, and very largely succeeds.

To comment on the Indian side of his essay: B. grasps and expresses well the meaning and dynamics of nondualism. But I sometimes got the impression that it is the Buddhist nondualism of the identity of Samsara and Nirvana, more than the Hindu nondualism of Atman and Brahman. Granted that the two nondualisms are close, I am not sure either the Buddhists or the Vedantins would find them identical.

Secondly, B. downplays the theism of theistic Hindu scriptural passages (46-47, 62), and seems little aware (as also had been Abhishiktananda) that the Bhagavad-Gita has already made a synthesis of nondualism and theism (268, 270). And yet, when he formulates the trinitarian God brilliantly as persona personans (199), he comes very close to devotional Vedanta theologies like that of Vallabha, for whom, according to Vallabhite scholar Shyam Manohar Goswamy, Krishna is identical with Spinoza's nature naturans (the difference being that there is no nature naturata).

Of the many other original and valuable themes B. treats I will mention two: (1) B. proposes that a Christian reconsideration-in-dialogue of rebirth connected with one's actions (karma) would be much more fruitful than usually thought. In elaborating this theme, B. makes much about karma more intelligible in Western terms than before, especially that the karma-teaching asserts a continuing relationship between matter and spirit, rather than sundering the two. (2) B.'s treatment of nonduality in the Christian mystics is excellent, and it culminates in a startlingly creative, and convincing, presentation of Luther's mysticism. No. Luther and Advaita do not see eye-to-eye on everything; but B. makes even their disagreements fruitful.

In sum, then this work of dialogue theology in which that term is not used to paper over a deficiency of academic theology, and which is impressively catholic in its use of sources, is a milestone. Everyone interested in interreligious dialogue and in trinitarian theology should obtain it, though not for light reading.

Georgetown University James D. Redington, S.J.
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Author:Redington, James D.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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