Dissertation abstract

Creation and Emptiness:

Transforming the Doctrine of Creation in Dialogue with the Kyoto School of Philosophy.

Roald E. Kristiansen. Emory University 1987. UMI, Ann Arbor, MI. (Order # 8716120)

Kopi av avhandlingen finnes på Universitetsbiblioteket i Tromsø: 00c003052- UBTØ - UBTØ q295 Kri (Opptrykk 1989) (Kopi)

The primary aim of this dissertation is to see whether the Mahayana Buddhist notion of Emptiness (sunyata) can contribute to our understanding of the nature of human existence, and how it would bring about changes in a Christian theological interpretation of the God-world relationship, i.e., the doctrine of creation. Two basic assumptions have been made prior to the research of this project:

  1. Theology is as much an 'exegesis of existence' as it is an exegesis of scriptures.
  2. Theology done in a Buddhist context must pay special attention to the religious experience within the Buddhist tradition.
From the first assumption, it follows that the sources of theological insight cannot be restricted to certain canonical scriptures sanctioned by the Christian churches, but must take the whole range of human religious experience into account, including scriptures, tradition and experiences from the Buddhist communities.

On the basis of these premises, chapter I of the dissertation gives an analysis of some central concepts an dideas developed in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Part 1 of that chapter seeks to clarify the meaning and use of the doctrine of emptiness, particularly in the Chinese tradition. Part 2 carries this analysis further by investigating how the emptiness doctrine is expressed in the actual religious life and thought of two major figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism, Dogen (Soto Zen) and Hakuin (Rinzai Zen). Besides providing a foundation for understanding the Buddhist notion of emptiness, the two parts also seek to clarify why a non-theistic tradition like Zen, may use absolutist concepts and ideas without contradicting its basic religious message. The importantceof this use is seen in chapter II, which in part 1 deals with NISHIDA Kitaro, the founder of the so-called Kyoto School of Philosophy, and in Part 2, which examines the thought of Nishida's followers: HISAMATSU Shin'ichi, NISHITANI Keiji, and ABE Masao. With the exception of Hisamatsu, these thinkers frequently make use of God-language, and the object of the analysis is to find out how the concept of God is used, and what this entails for the theological interpretation of the nature of human existence. The results can be summarized as follows: "God" is understood dynamically, i.e., as the activity of consistent negation ("absolute negation"), and as such it is functionally equivalent to the Buddhist notion of emptiness, sunyata. This does not result in utter negativity or nihilism, because the so-called "logic of soku hi" makes it possible to affirm positive statements about both the world and God.

Chapter III seks to explicate the theological consequence of the Buddhist philosophers' interpretation of God. Three areas are singled out as specifically important:

Chapter IV concludes the project with an attempt to use the Buddhist logic os soku hi within a Christian theological frame of reference which goes beyond the ordinary division of Christianity and Buddhism as two distinct religions. By applying the logic of soku hi to I have attempted to show that the Christian faith in God and the Buddhist insight into reality as empty, may benefit the theological analysis of human existence in a way that transcends traditional religious barriers and opens up new vistas for future theological exploration.