The portrayal of a “Buddhism for a post-Axial” age that David Loy undertakes in this book, which is no other than a path of awakening that traverses the middle way between the two poles of transcendence and immanence, and that also brings these two in mutual complementarity, can provide an impetus that may also evoke and usher in the emergence of a Judaism, a Christianity, an Islam (among others) for a post-Axial age. Adherents of these religions, through the message of transcendence embedded in their respective traditions, are able to place their heart’s allegiance in something beyond what this- worldly pursuits can offer: their religious faith enables them to overcome the allurements of this world, the pursuit of which only enmeshes us human beings more deeply into the web of selfish greed, ill-will and ignorance, the poisons that are the root cause of our global malaise.
Religious faith, in the particular expressions as found among adherents of the different traditions, instead of sidetracking them into an escapist attitude that only looks toward an otherworldly realm, can instead serve to provide the motivation and empowerment for those seeped in such faith to selflessly engage themselves in worldly tasks and dedicate themselves fully in working toward the greater well-being of the world, freed from any self-serving interests and worldly motivations. But this can only happen precisely if and only if the attraction of transcendence does not become a dis– traction and provide an escape into a dualistically conceived otherworldly realm that entices them to cop out of their responsibilities in this world.
For Judaism, a recovery of the prophetic impulse as a dynamic power that is capable of critiquing the unjust structures of the world order and of envisioning and working for a more just, more equitable society for all people, for example, can be a major contribution this tradition can make to our contemporary global society with its crying needs for justice and peace. For Christianity, a recovery of Jesus’ message of the imminent coming of the reign of God can inspire and empower Christians to wholeheartedly take on the tasks of bringing “the Good News to the poor, proclaiming the liberation of captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed,” (Luke 4:18) rather than being immobilized and benumbed to the tasks of this world by a dualistic belief system whose main component is the promise of a reward in the afterlife. For Islam, we may understand the challenge for its followers as involving a rereading their core teachings in a way that may inspire them to work for justice and mercy in the world, deriving from the fundamental Muslim religious way of being centered on submission to the Just, the Merciful One.
Inspired by and grounded in the spiritual teaching of their own respective traditions, adherents of the world’s religions can join hands and work with one another as well as with all those of good will who profess no religion but are no less committed to the work of socio-ecological transformation and healing. It is a sign of hope for our time that increasing numbers of people of faith are connecting and cooperating with one another to raise their voice and stem the tide of destruction from the effects of our global dukkha, empowered by their own particular faith tradition. More and more initiatives to form interfaith councils or interreligious networks on the local municipal, to regional, national, and international levels are being taken, and are providing opportunities for people of faith across traditions to encounter one another, pool resources, form alliances, and expand one another’s reach in addressing the various issues related to the sorry state of our contemporary global society.
Worthy of mention in this regard is the Network of Spiritual Progressives, a growing interfaith advocacy group that “seeks to transform our materialist and corporate-dominated society into a caring society through consciousness raising, advocacy, and public awareness campaigns, of which author and activist, Buddist practitioner and Zen teacher David Loy himself is a member. One of its specific thrusts is to promote a “New Bottom Line,” one that overturns the “old bottom line” based on maximizing money, power, and profit, and instead placing thepremium on “love and caring, kindness and generosity, empathy and compassion, social and economic justice, peace and nonviolence, and environmental sustainability.”
In conclusion, the challenge for adherents of the world’s faith traditions is to see to it that their religious devotion and practice not become an excuse or rationale for averting their eyes from this messy world and turn for solace in the anticipation of a blissful and glorious afterlife, but instead lead and motivate them toward selfless engagement in making the world a more just, more equitable, habitable and sustainable living space for all its inhabitants. David Loy’s A New Buddhist Path, while primarily addressing those interested in the Buddhist message for our contemporary society, can be read by those belonging to other religious communities, who may thereby find herein a challenge and invitation for themselves to reexamine their own faith traditions, so that they and their fellow adherents may also recover the treasures in their own religious teaching and practice, and bring these at the service of our Earth community crying out for healing and restoration of well-being.
Ruben L.F. Habito teaches world religions and spirituality at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, and also serves as Guiding Teacher at Maria Kannon Zen Center, Dallas, Texas. Author of Experiencing Buddhism: Ways of Wisdom and Compassion (Orbis Books, 2005), Healing Breath: Zen for Christians and Buddhists in a Wounded World (Wisdom, 2006) and many other volumes in English and Japanese.
Originally Published as Buddhist Wisdom from Healing the Earth in Tikkun Magazine, January 26, 2016