Canon, Community, and Interpretation in Buddhist Tradition


Why are we Christians interested in others’ scriptures? My interest in this subject began as I saw that many Indian and Chinese Christian theologians were using Hindu and Buddhist texts to explain certain biblical passages by means of socalled "intertextual reading."

Their argument was that since the Bible is alien to our native customs and cultures, we ought to use our own religious traditions to help us understand it. But in what sense are Indian religions and cultures, for example, similar to biblical religion and culture? What are our criteria for borrowing ideas from other religions? On what basis and for what purpose should we compare one religion to another? One thing is certain: every religion regards its own traditions as sacred.



What is the value of this study for biblical interpretation in Asia? For one thing, it sheds light on the question of the usefulness of intertextual readings that, for example, draw on the Buddhist scriptures in an attempt to interpret the Christian scriptures. In that regard I offer this summary observation.

It is true that there are similarities between the Buddhist and Christian scriptures. For example, the Buddhist canon’s structure and history are similar to those of the Old Testament. Each has three main divisions, and each has difficulties with its third division. For each the historical process seems to have been similar, in that each was transmitted orally for a long time and then compiled over an extended period. One major difference, however, is that the Old Testament does not have a precursor related to it in the way that the Hindu scriptures are related to those of Buddhism. The Buddhist canon borrows many legends, myths, and even philosophical concepts from the Hindu canon, so that intertextual readings which bring together Hindu and Buddhist texts are not only possible but even necessary. But the manifold deep and fundamental differences between Hinduism and Buddhism on the one hand and Judaism and Christianity on the other hand make intertextual readings which bring together texts of the former and the latter both much more difficult and likely much less rewarding.

There are a few parallels between Buddhist texts and the Bible. For example, I think of Mahadeva’s heresy, whose essence comes close to the Christian ideas of original sin and radical depravity, reflecting monks’ honest struggles with sin and deep desire for true deliverance, as in the Hebrew Psalter. But overall there seems to be little common ground between the Bible and the Buddhist scriptures. Attempted intertextual readings, tending to minimize or ignore this as they do, are false to both Buddhism and Christianity, violating their respective settings and distorting or denying their respective messages. Buddhism diagnoses humanity’s fundamental problem as sin, inner passions, which to my mind is similar to the diagnosis offered by Christianity. Yet the solution Buddhism offers leaves responsibility in the hands of the individual, not appealing to any supernatural agency as does Christianity. Instead, Buddhism advocates working out one’s own salvation, the attainment of the state of Nirvana, a condition of anatma/anatta ("non-self, non-being"), thus claiming to cut through Hinduism’s unending lifecycles.

For Full Article ...

Journal of Asian Evangelical Theology 18:1 (2014), JAET Vol. 18 No. 1 (March 2014): 71-94


Augustine Pagolu, Ph.D.


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