Finding God in Buddhism: A New Trend in Contemporary Buddhist Approaches to Islam

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The purported absence of a highest god who creates and governs the universe in the Buddhist worldview has often been regarded as an obstacle to dialogue and mutual understanding between Buddhists and Muslims. However, there has emerged a trend among contemporary Buddhist scholars to discuss a Buddhist equivalent of such a god in order to relate to Islam doctrinally. This article examines three examples of such an attempt, respectively representing the Theravāda, Tibetan, and Japanese Pure Land traditions, as endeavors in the theology of religions. The article demonstrates that these accounts all seek to overcome the psychological gap between Buddhists and Muslims created by perceived doctrinal remoteness between the two traditions, by drawing parallels between the Islamic concept of God and Buddhist notions of the ultimate reality, be it the dhamma, emptiness, Adi Buddha, or Amida Buddha. It will be argued that, although highly unconventional, this line of approach has been motivated by the agenda shared among these Buddhist scholars to promote interreligious harmony and understanding on a global scale. Such agendas tend to be developed in reaction to interreligious conflicts or through personal involvement with Muslims.

Finding God in Buddhism: A New Trend in Contemporary Buddhist Approaches to Islam

in Numen



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Hick 1987: 331.


Jackson 2004: 809–810; Streng 1967: 58–65.


Abe 2004: 764–766.


Harvey 2001: 111–112; Makransky 2006: 56; Abe 2004: 764–766.


See for example Ward 1994: 167–173. The theory of trikāya has also been compared to the Trinitarian creed of Christianity. See Cleary 1986. From the Buddhist side Kōsei Morimoto (1934–) a Japanese Buddhist cleric and scholar in Islamic studies regards dharmakāya as a potential Buddhist “substitute for God in monotheism” (Morimoto 2002: 19).


See for example Abe 1995.


See Böwering 2002: 316–331.


See Arnaldez 1990: 980–988.


Swearer 2000: 191–192.


Buddhadasa 1969: 6. He uses “voidness” but this translation has been replaced with “emptiness” for the purpose of clarity.


Buddhadasa 1967: 123. This line of thought is also expressed by Dhammananda as well as Thich Nhat Hanh (1926–) a Vietnamese Zen teacher who associates closely with Christians particularly Catholics. See Dhammananda 1974 21; Hanh 1995: 197. Also see Kiblinger 2005: 92–101.


Buddhadasa 1967introduction.


Buddhadasa 1967: 8. The original Arabic word is rasūl i.e. messenger.


Kuruvila 2006. Like Dhammananda and Thich Nhat Hanh mentioned above the Dalai Lama argues that all religions share the same basic message of love compassion and forgiveness while regarding it as realistic for different people to use different methods [to reach their goals]. He clearly states that the practice of Islam can be recognized by Buddhists as a path of salvation. See Dalai Lama 2010.


The writings discussed here are Kono 198919951998 2003 and 2004. While the first three are of an academic nature the other two are for a more popular readership. They all contain similar arguments concerning Allah and Amida Buddha.


Kono 1995: 355. Although everything is “empty” Kono argues that it is permitted to “worship the formless Amida Buddha via statues and paintings . . . [which are] expedient dharmakāya (Japanese: hōben hossin).”


For example see Kono 1995: 306–308.


Kono 2003: 19 Although the passage is not specified it is most likely 3: 19.


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