Don Cupitt: Christian Buddhist?

by Gregory Spearritt

Religious Studies

Vol.31 No.3


Sep 1995

COPYRIGHT 1995 Cambridge University Press

            In a number of ways, western Christianity has taken a genuine 
            interest in the thought-world and practice of Buddhism over the last 
            few decades. Process theologians have found much to enthuse them in 
            the Buddhist rejection of substance as a fundamental category and 
            Christian mysticism has discovered common ground with Buddhist 
            understandings of ultimate Reality. Buddhist-Christian dialogue has 
            been occurring at many levels, initiated for the most part by 
            Christians.(1) Radical Christian thinkers have been among those 
            attracted to Buddhist ideas and attitudes. English scholar John 
            Baxter describes what is, for radical Christians, a particularly 
            appealing aspect of Buddhism: here is a tradition which has sought 
            to address itself to the human condition in terms decidedly 
            different from the supernaturalist theistic religions on the one 
            hand, and the assumptions of secular materialism on the other.(2) In 
            the recent work of Anglican priest and radical theologian Don Cupitt 
            a deliberate attempt has been made to appropriate elements central 
            to Buddhist thought and practice. More than 4 decade ago, in Taking 
            Leave of God, Cupitt espoused a `Christian Buddhism' in which `the 
            content, the spirituality and the values, are Christian; the form is 
            Buddhist'.(3) He has since seemed to be edging closer and closer to 
            a Buddhist understanding of humanity and the world. A comparison 
            between Buddhist thought and that of Cupitt may be a profitable 
            exercise, insofar as it may help to clarify the nature of both. 
            Contemporary western religious humanism of the sort Cupitt proposes 
            naturally has its roots in traditions quite foreign to those which 
            produced and nourished Buddihism; how and where the two may come to 
            similar conclusions and where they diverge is a matter worthy of 
            investigation. Inevitably, this exercise is complicated by questions 
            of definition. `Buddhism' and `Christianity' are, of course, labels 
            which denote a variety of phenomena. For present purposes, the 
            `Buddhism' referred to here will be chiefly the Madhyamaka variety 
            of Mah-ay-ana Buddhism, particularly as represented by the 
            second-century philosopher Nagarjuna, and Zen Buddhism. Zen, as 
            Masao Abe points out, lies outside the fold of i traditional' 
            Buddhism insofar as it involves no reliance upon scripture and 
            doctrinal teaching.(4) It has been demonstrated, however, that 
            historically `Buddhism' is a category largely created and 
            constructed by western scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth 
            centuries.(5) In the context of the Madhyamaka/Zen attitude to 
            duality and distinctions, it is ironic that Buddhism should be 
            considered in any sense a religion separate from the societies in 
            which it is found, or as a religion as against other `world 
            religions'. Nevertheless, western analysis/definition of Buddhism 
            seems to have influenced eastern as well as western perceptions.(6) 
            `Christianity' too is difficult to define, characterized as it is by 
            an `incredible diversity of belief and practice, ranging from Jim 
            Bakker to Don Cupitt'.(7) Cupitt is clearly on the `outer' as far as 
            `orthodox' Christianity is concerned. Thus the Christianity referred 
            to here is a radical Christianity, one which rejects a supernatural 
            aspect to reality, yet seeks to maintain a perspective that is 
            religious and is informed and inspired by Christian story and 
            tradition. Just as, even within Zen Buddhism or radical 
            Christianity, there will be a variety of positions and attitudes, so 
            also to discuss `the thought of Don Cupitt' is to create a false 
            category: Cupitt himself stresses the fact that his `position' is 
            ever-changing.(8) For our purposes, however, Cupitt's thinking as 
            reflected in his books from Taking Leave of God in 1980 to After 
            All: Religion Without Alienation in 1994 will be considered. Roger 
            Jackson comments that in the west today `the anti-foundationalist 
            successors of Heidegger and Wittgenstein dominate philosophical 
            discussion';(9) Cupitt will here be regarded as amongst their ranks. 
            A word of caution is necessary for the present project of 
            comparison. Jackson has rightly warned that `the game of matching 
            Buddhist and Western philosophical danger-fraught and 
            can be suggestive at best,.(10) An eagerness to find parallels can 
            involve a distortion of one or other of the traditions; Conze notes 
            that verbal coincidences can often mask fundamental differences.(11) 
            The mere fact of translation can present problems: the concept of 
            `Nothingness', for instance, which is so important for Madhyamaka 
            thinking, is inevitably somewhat misleading in a western context. 
            Moreover, Buddhist philosophy should not be compared too carelessly 
            with philosophy in the modern west, since the former contains a 
            strong soteriological concern which is lacking in much western 
            philosophy. Some of these perils will, without doubt, attend and 
            qualify the present study and its conclusions. As a final note on 
            the question of defining and representing Buddhism and Christianity, 
            it is acknowledged with Masao Abe that neither religion is exhausted 
            by philosophical thought:(12) religious truth is something to be 
            experienced, not merely discussed. THE APPEAL OF BUDDHISM Don Cupitt 
            makes his admiration for Buddhism, particularly Japanese Zen 
            Buddhism, perfectly clear. In response to critics who label him 
            `Buddhist' he declares it `rather an honour for a Westerner to be 
            thought to deserve that name'.(13) One of his more recent works 
            describes Zen as `One of the most perfect of all religious 
            traditions';(14) Zen is regarded, in important respects, as well 
            worthy of Christian emulation.(15) Three main aspects of Buddhism 
            hold special attraction for Cupitt. First, one of his major concerns 
            is the role and abuse of power in western society and religion. He 
            is scathingly critical of `orthodoxy, censoriousness, repression and 
            factionalism -- . . . the whole apparatus of a "regime of 
            truth'"(16) which has blighted Christianity down to the present day. 
            Following the later Wittgenstein and recent French philosophy, 
            Cupitt sees no reality as accessible apart from humanly construed 
            and constructed reality; in Christian societies this reality has 
            been historically controlled and mediated by a powerful male 
            hierarchy. The `crushing overagainstness' of God in Christian 
            theology has compromised human autonomy.(17) A factor, therefore, of 
            primary appeal for Cupitt in Buddhism is the lack of an overarching, 
            power-wielding hierarchy imposing Meaning on individual adherents. A 
            second aspect of Buddhism which holds particular appeal for Cupitt 
            is its spiritual focus. He extols `the way the Buddha put 
            spirituality above theology by exalting the Dharma above the 
            Gods'.(18) Baxter rightly charges him with attempting to make 
            Anglican Christianity a vehicle for achieving a way of being rather 
            than an expression of faith in God.(19) Cupitt is not alone, of 
            course, in seeing a challenge in the Buddhist emphasis on praxis for 
            Christianity's fascination with dogma and orthodoxy. And thus to a 
            third major attraction of Buddhism: it is non-ideological. Cupitt 
            has rejected the notion of fixed messages or essences; he advocates 
            a beliefless Christianity. Truth and orthodoxy in his view are, 
            among other things, subservient to power and should no longer be 
            trusted. He is impressed by Zen, a religion which, in Masao Abe's 
            words, `is neither dependent on any sutras nor shackled by any creed 
            or tenet'.(20) Arguably, much Buddhism does have a place for 
            religious doctrine, but by and large such doctrines are `instruments 
            for transformation rather than descriptions of reality'.(21) POINTS 
            OF CONVERGENCE The nature of ultimate reality For Cupitt there is no 
            longer an `objective, ready-made, laid-on final Answer and ultimate 
            Truth of things'.(22) No `final analysis' is possible since there 
            are simply no essences, no Absolute. For Buddhism too (in Madhyamaka 
            and Zen) there are no basic, enduring facts of existence. Despite T. 
            R. V. Murti's use of the term `absolute' to describe Madhyamaka's 
            ultimate truth, there is no Buddhist Absolute in the sense of a 
            metaphysical entity or immutable essence.(23) Rather, the 
            eleventh-century monk Atisa succinctly states the case: `If one 
            analyses with reasoning this conventional realm as it appears, 
            nothing is found. The very nonfindingness is the ultimate.'(24) 
            Clearly there is similarity here with Cupitt's position, but the 
            respective conceptions of just what this lack of an absolute or 
            ultimate is do not coincide. The ultimate for Mahayana Buddhism is 
            sunyata, commonly expressed as `Emptiness'. However, even Emptiness 
            is not essentially `true': it is not an essence with attributes. It 
            does not exist, yet nor does non-emptiness exist. For the Buddhist 
            an absolute negation is necessary, one which `negates even the 
            negation'.(25) This .is one of the fundamental principles of the 
            Madhyamaka approach, that all dualities must be transcended if one 
            is to apprehend the true nature of reality. Cupitt acknowledges and 
            respects this overcoming of dualities as a soteriological approach 
            and in his 1990 volume The Time Being suggests possibilities for a 
            Christian emulation of it, following the Zen scholar Dogen.(26) 
            However, he does not regard transcended duality as the nature of the 
            Real; he takes the nihilistic view that there is no Real to be 
            found. Indeed, for him the Void and our need to face it is perhaps 
            the main issue.(27) What is ultimately true for Cupitt is that the 
            universe is empty of essence or substance or meaning, but this is to 
            say something quite different from the Buddhist notion of Emptiness. 
            For the Buddhist, sunyata: expresses something beyond mere absence. 
            Thus Masao Abe: Nagarjuna not only repudiated the eternalist view, 
            which takes phenomena to be real just as they are and essentially 
            unchangeable; he also rejected as illusory the opposite nihilistic 
            view which emphasizes emptiness and non-being as the true reality. 
            This double negation in terms of `neither. . . nor' is the pivotal 
            point for the realization of Mahayana Emptiness which is never a 
            sheer emptiness but rather Fullness.(28) Ontology and epistemology 
            Both Buddhist and Cupitt may be described as `anti-realist'. For the 
            Madhyamaka or Zen Buddhist the western preoccupation with ontology 
            is fruitless: Nagarjuna removed the question of existence from the 
            sphere of debate by ruling out both existence and nonexistence as 
            categories or properties. The Vijnanavada perspective was considered 
            in error by Madhyamaka Buddhists because it assumed that 
            consciousness had an ontological or metaphysical reality: it wanted 
            to posit something which would not be negated. Cupitt notes the 
            predisposition in the English-speaking world to see God, the self 
            and the cosmos in realist terms, and is scathing about this 
            preoccupation with substance, rejecting it as wishful and 
            harmful.(29) He suggests that other ways of discussing God would be 
            more profitable, for example using a `centre-dispersed' axis or in 
            terms of biblical power and weakness. He, too, sees consciousness as 
            insubstantial: `consciousness is relational and temporal. It exists 
            only where there is movement, a movement from sign to sign.'(30) 
            Both Cupitt and Buddhism acknowledge that, in conventional terms, 
            things do exist- the Rock of Gibraltar, for example, for Cupitt, is 
            `there'. For both, however, the existence or `true nature' of 
            anything at a deeper level is undiscoverable and intrinsically so. 
            This radical epistemological scepticism derives from (or in the 
            Buddhist case, accompanies) a firm conviction that language is 
            non-referential. For Cupitt in particular this is a primary theme. 
            In The Long-Legged Fly he begins with the dictionary as an 
            illustration of the way in which all language works: The dictionary 
            is like the infinite Book of Sand described in a Borges story. It 
            has no beginning, because a one-language dictionary assumes a 
            working knowledge of the very language it explains. You cannot 
            consult this book (or indeed, any other book) unless you already 
            belong within the world of language. The dictionary cannot first 
            initiate you into language: it can only refine your grasp of the 
            nuances in a field of differential relationships between words, a 
            field in which you already stand. And this field is endless or 
            unbounded like the surface of a sphere, for there is no last word in 
            the book that does not lead straight back to others.(31) Language, 
            says Cupitt, is ultimately about nothing other than itself. There is 
            much in common here with the Buddhist perspective as Harold Coward 
            describes it, wherein `language expresses merely imaginary 
            constructions (vikalpah), which play over the surface of the real 
            without ever giving us access to it'.(32) Words, such as `person' or 
            `self', are of use only in picking out particular aspects of the 
            conventional world of human experience. An integral aspect of 
            Buddhist scepticism concerning ontology and epistemology is the 
            conviction that nothing possesses svabhava (self-existence). Every 
            word, according to Nagarjuna, is devoid of independent existence; 
            even sunyata itself is not self-existing. So also for Cupitt, 
            nothing stands alone. Everything can be contextualized historically 
            and there is no foundation or Goal to be found. We live in a world 
            of signs which have meaning, as the dictionary example demonstrates, 
            only in relation to other signs. Cupitt notes the similarity between 
            his view and that of Buddhism; for him, the main difference is that 
            where Buddhism has its `boundless swarm of minute, insubstantial 
            reciprocally-conditioning events', he speaks of the interplay of 
            `signs' in a `boundless, glittering, heaving Sea of Meanings'.(33) 
            Deconstructionism Cupitt has been accused of having `fallen for 
            simple-minded deconstructionism in the most absolute and totally 
            dissolving way'.(34) Jackson sees deconstruction as serving to 
            `deflate the certainties to which human thought -- ever hopeful and 
            ever-self-deluding -- is prone'.(35) This is indeed the way that 
            Cupitt seems to view his work over the last decade or so. Christians 
            should be disabused of such archaic and destructive notions as a 
            powerful Father-God prescribing and dispensing Meaning and a more 
            real, enduring heavenly existence beyond the momentary and mundane. 
            Cupitt's deconstructionism involves analysis of cherished Christian 
            beliefs, assumptions and attitudes, particularly in the light of his 
            understanding of the nature of language, and concludes with the 
            exposure of these `eternal truths' as historically locatable and 
            humanly constructed fictions. Cupitt's project and methodology here 
            are obviously similar to those of early Mah-ay-ana Buddhism, of 
            which deconstructionism was a fundamental aspect. A subtle dialectic 
            was used in the Madhyamaka school to break down the various 
            contemporary theories of ultimate reality. In the belief that every 
            view must be relinquished in order to appreciate the true nature of 
            things, Nagarjuna used reductio ad absurdum arguments -- employing 
            dialectical strategies such as the tetralemma -- to negate even such 
            hallowed and fundamental Buddhist notions as causality, time and 
            motion. Much later, Zen Buddhism used deliberate mockery of `sacred' 
            concepts in a sustained critique of religion. Thus, for example, the 
            Zen saying: `Encountering a Buddha, kill the Buddha'. Cupitt is 
            particularly taken with the Zen strategy of using paradox and 
            riddles to demonstrate the absurdity of life and of all positions. 
            He views this as an ingenious and effective way around the problem 
            of self-reflexivity and paradox into which any kind of dogmatic 
            assertion inevitably falls.(36) The nature of the `conventional' 
            world There is broad agreement among Buddhists concerning the nature 
            of the apparent world, although not all see samsara as illusory. 
            Ninian Smart quotes from the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Theravadin 
            canon: ... these conditions of life -- they are without essence, 
            Conditioned, unstable and forever drifting.(37) From a Zen point of 
            view, everything without exception is transitory and perishable; 
            nothing endures. There is no direction or goal. Masao Abe observes 
            that `becoming, process, and flux have no teleological implication 
            in Mahayana Buddhism'. Although it is a Path, in reality it leads 
            nowhere, for there is nowhere to go. For the Zen Buddhist, zazen has 
            no purpose: `True zazen in itself is true enlightenment.'(38) In 
            Cupitt's view, western philosophy has been in error for centuries 
            because it has been in headlong flight from time and change. In 
            reality we are `adrift in an illimitable flux'; we should 
            acknowledge `the poignant insubstantiality, fleetingness or 
            contingency of everything'.(39) The nature of language is such that 
            beliefs, values and meanings inevitably change, and with them one's 
            own life plans change continuously and uncontrollably.(40) Cupitt 
            advocates a Christianity which is mobile and so can do justice to 
            the ever-changing nature of reality and truth. There is further 
            agreement concerning the world of conventional truth. For Cupitt the 
            human world is one of arbitrary distinctions. Language creates a 
            common life-world for us by differentiating feelings, thoughts, 
            objects; it is a world `fictioned into existence from nothing'.(41) 
            A person's life has no meaning or coherent structure save that which 
            society gives it: it `is capable only of a narrative or an artistic 
            kind of unification'.(42) However, while it is essential that we 
            recognize it as fictional and arbitrary, the conventional world is 
            important and useful: it is acknowledged, for example, that `we have 
            many powerful sciences'.(43) For Buddhism too, conventional truth is 
            fiction and illusion: As a magic trick, a dream or a fairy castle, 
            Just so should we consider origination, duration, and 
            dissolution.(44) Causality, karma, samsara and nirvana -- all are 
            fabrications. The conventional world is a low-level truth created 
            and maintained by the `discriminating mind' which has not yet 
            rejected or overcome all possible distinctions and dualisms and so 
            become enlightened. `Buddhism' itself is merely conventional truth, 
            since the notion of a Way or Path `participates in the time-space 
            locationist way of thinking which perpetuates suffering'.(45) 
            Although this world of provisional or conventional truth is illusory 
            and its concepts fundamentally in error, nevertheless it is of great 
            practical importance to the Buddhist. It is accepted as useful for 
            providing patterns of explanation in the empirical sphere. In 
            practical terms, for instance, it helps to speak of `persons' or 
            `selves', although ultimately such labels are empty of any substance 
            or reality. More to the point, however, conventional truth is 
            regarded as a necessary prerequisite for the attainment of ultimate 
            truth or enlightenment. The attitudes of realism are pedagogical 
            devices used to help deliver us from this world of illusion. The 
            realization of the highest truth, for example, depends on our 
            comprehension of language and our use of linguistic conventions. 
            Nagarjuna, after all, followed the rules of logic in his day, that 
            is, he capitalized on the mundane realities of speech and logic to 
            deconstruct prevailing systems of thought. The nature of the self 
            Jackson describes the traditional Buddhist view of the self: what we 
            conventionally call a `person' is merely a constellation of five 
            everchanging aggregates, of matter, sensation, recognition, 
            dispositions and consciousness. Those aggregates are exhaustive of 
            the `person'.(46) It is at this point concerning the existence of 
            the self that Buddhism in Cowdell's view is most divergent from 
            Christianity. He adds, however, that the closest Christian parallel 
            is found in the radical theology of Don Cupitt.(47) Indeed, Cupitt's 
            view is very similar: [as persons] we are not anything that could be 
            lifted out of the flux: I just am my life, my external relations and 
            the language I hear and produce. I can no more be lifted out of 
            history than a wave can be lifted from the sea.(48) For both Cupitt 
            and Buddhism there is no substantial self. Moreover, where in 
            Buddhism the contrast between self and others has traditionally been 
            viewed as morally irrelevant (since the self is ever-changing and 
            always becoming `other'), Cupitt claims to have found in 
            postmodernism `a thoroughly wholesome loss of interest in the 
            individual subject'.(49) Despite this view of the self, a focus on 
            the individual is apparent in both Cupitt and Buddhism. Buddhism has 
            been described as `a moi theory, focussing on the psychophysical 
            individual and relating it to both a morality and a cosmic 
            order'.(50) One of Cupitt's chief concerns is the freedom and 
            autonomy of the individual. He admits that both Christianity and 
            Buddhism `traditionally and correctly insisted that one's first 
            concern must be for one's own salvation'.(51) Concern for salvation 
            Buddhist philosophy, as noted earlier, is not philosophy divorced 
            from questions of religious meaning and salvation, as much western 
            philosophy has been. Langdon Gilkey describes the Buddhism espoused 
            by Masao Abe as `a religious mode of existing reflected into 
            philosophical categories, not a philosophical mode of thinking 
            resulting in a religion'.(52) Smart observes that the Madhyamaka 
            dialectic is not merely philosophy, but a method of meditation 
            wherein the arguments are meant to be 'both valid and salvific'.(53) 
            Cupitt's work also has a constant soteriological goal, that of 
            changing our thinking: `for the sake of our salvation', he says, `we 
            need to become nonrealists'.(54) For Cupitt, salvation means coping 
            with nihilism by knowing, accepting and rejoicing in the fact that 
            we are contingent and empty and that we must create our own meaning. 
            Emphasis on the particular In Buddhism and in Cupitt's work there is 
            rejection of the notion of overarching or underlying unity, and 
            there is affirmation of a dynamic particularity. Consistent with his 
            concerns about the use and abuse of power, Cupitt advocates the 
            thoroughgoing repudiation of any unitary control or closure of 
            interpretation, and the acceptance of a genuinely open and 
            limitlessly heretical and mobile social and religious order.(55) He 
            rejects the suggestion that there may be one Ultimate Truth 
            understood in different ways, an idea supported by both eastern and 
            western thinkers such as John Hick and Swami Vivekananda. Our 
            reality -- that is, language and culture -- is always shifting: `The 
            whole is so unbounded in every way -- that there is no Whole'.(56) 
            There is only dispersal and an endless proliferation of meanings, 
            particularistic points of view which interact and change but are 
            never resolved. While Buddhism seeks to assert the identity of 
            apparent opposites such as samsara and nirvana, the result is not 
            monism: universal and particular are seen, paradoxically, to be one. 
            So in the Pi-yen chi when Joshu is challenged with `All things are 
            reduced to the one; where is this one to be reduced?', he replies, 
            `When I was in the province of Tsin I had a monk's robe made that 
            weighed seven pounds'.(57) Similarly, the rocks expressively 
            arranged in a Buddhist rock garden testify to the significance of 
            the particular. Moreover, sunyata eschews all thought content, so it 
            can be freely phenomenalized; there is no definitive or `orthodox' 
            expression of it, because all expressions are false. Thus far we 
            have noted similarity or agreement between Buddhist thought and the 
            thinking of Cupitt in many areas. Both are anti-realist and 
            epistemologically sceptical. Both deny that anything possesses 
            substance and both display a soteriological focus on the individual. 
            They have the tool of deconstruction in common, are agreed in 
            viewing the conventional world as fictional and share an emphasis on 
            the particular. Some minor points of difference have been noted, but 
            there remain several significant areas of disagreement to consider. 
            DIFFERENCES Attitude to the `conventional' world It has been 
            observed that Buddhism regards the world of conventional truth as 
            necessary for the realization of the `higher' truth (sunyata). 
            Indeed, Jackson argues that Nagarjuna affirms and actually 
            establishes this world: it is only because entities and concepts are 
            empty of svabhava that there even can be a conventional world, for a 
            world in which entities did have svabhava would be a world in which 
            change was impossible, and the world is only comprehensible on the 
            basis of its changes, its differences.(55) On balance, however, the 
            Buddhist attitude to samsara could not realistically be described as 
            anything other than negative. The conventional world, with its 
            objectified concepts and selves, is the source of suffering. Murti 
            notes that in this realm `What appears as pleasure is pain in the 
            making': that is, life is actually worse than it appears.(59) The 
            aim, therefore, is to escape this world of woe, and this is, in 
            theory, achievable: there is, O monks, an Unborn, an Unbecome, an 
            Unmade, an Unconditioned; for if there were not this Unborn, 
            Unbecome, Unmade, Unconditioned, no escape from this born, become, 
            made and conditioned would be apparent.(60) As Conze puts it, the 
            `world weariness' of Buddhists `is cheered by the hope of ultimate 
            release and lightened by multifarious meditational experiences which 
            ease the burden of life'.(61) Where Madhyamaka Buddhism sidesteps 
            nihilism by negating everything, even Nothingness, Cupitt sees and 
            accepts nihilism as the inevitable consequence of a postmodern 
            understanding of history and language. He believes we should welcome 
            and embrace it. However, in spite of viewing the `conventional' 
            world as meaningless and empty in itself, Cupitt's attitude to the 
            world is positive. He condemns the realism of previous (and current) 
            philosophy and religion as a desperate attempt to deny and fend off 
            the true, meaningless nature of things, seeing in this strategy the 
            debasing and devaluing of the present world.(62) This world, says 
            Cupitt, cannot and should not be `escaped', but rather faced with 
            courage. The world is in fact beautiful in its nihility, and 
            although it contains a good deal of woe, life in it is not 
            unreservedly awful. We must make our own meaning, but our life can 
            potentially be `a carnival of contingency'; we can attain a 
            `non-possessive delight in things that can cope with anguish and 
            disappointment'.(63) Passions can be light and healthy as well as 
            dark and threatening; it is possible to imagine a religion which `in 
            a mood of laughter added to life'.(64) The nature of salvation The 
            Buddhist solution to the problem of the human condition is to escape 
            it. Through meditation, deconstructive argument, mockery and paradox 
            the dualisms and distinctions of the conventional world are broken 
            down and realized for what they are: completely empty in every 
            possible sense. The mind is voided of conceptualization and the self 
            is recognized as devoid of svabhava and becomes `cooled down', empty 
            of attachments, projects and goals and unrelated to temporal 
            process. Yet this enlightenment is not something to be reached or 
            worked towards: The harder you strive after it the further it is 
            away from you. When you no more strive after it, lo, it is right in 
            front of you. Its wondrous voice fills your ear.(65) Somehow, the 
            Path itself turns out to be enlightenment. And true sunyata, says 
            Masao Abe, is positive, active and creative, affirming everything 
            and everyone in their particularity.(66) For Cupitt, salvation is a 
            very different matter. The contrast between his own view and the 
            Buddhist position is an issue referred to extensively in The Time 
            Being. In Cupitt's view, the conventional world of language 
            (`signs') is not escapable. The truth of the human condition is that 
            humanity is utterly immersed in a sea of language -- the `boundless, 
            glittering, heaving Sea of Meanings' -- which has no outside. For 
            Cupitt, to be completely returned into the only truth of the human 
            condition is liberation. Not release from the human condition, not 
            deliverance from the world, but the return into the human condition, 
            reconciled to it when we understand its outsidelessness.(67) 
            Cupitt's position is thus to `say a firm yes to time, conventional 
            truth and the human world'.(68) Detachment Cupitt believes that his 
            view is to be further distinguished from the Buddhist solution in 
            that it involves activity and creativity. Buddhist spirituality, he 
            asserts, with its temperance, dispassionate compassion and coolness 
            `sounds like an ethic for the retired,'(69) Cupitt believes in 
            participating in the ambiguities and vulnerabilities of life. For 
            him, life is theatrical; our culture creates roles for us which we 
            must play and creatively interpret. We should commit ourselves to 
            our parts and 'put on a good show, producing our own lives as 
            performance art'.(70) Further, the Christianity which accepts the 
            fleeting, contingent nature of the human world, according to Cupitt, 
            will need to be `lightweight' and detached.(71) In Cupitt's terms, 
            however, detachment means radical nonrealism rather than 
            non-involvement with the conventional world. We need to be free from 
            our attachment to the illusion of some enduring, extralinguistic 
            reality or meaning behind the surface phenomena of our world. We 
            will know ourselves to be insubstantial, but we will be truly free, 
            self-determined and able to create. This view of detachment is a 
            long way from the notion that we must avoid becoming tangled in 
            human passions. However, in some respects it seems not to be so 
            different from the view espoused by Zen Buddhism. Masao Abe speaks 
            of attachment in the sense of objectifying or substantializing. For 
            example, overcoming attachment to the goal of achieving the true 
            Self means reaching the point, totally and existentially, where the 
            true Self is known to be unattainable -- because empty and 
            non-existent.(72) Thus far, since Cupitt recognizes a mistake 
            inherent in objectifying or substantializing (that is, in seeing 
            anything as real and not humanly created and interpreted) there 
            seems to be agreement. However, for Zen the cure for 
            substantializing ideas and feelings is not merely to recognize them 
            as contingent and arbitrary and to hold them `lightly', but to 
            overcome any and all distinctions. Accordingly, Masao Abe 
            reinterprets the Genesis creation story: before the apple was eaten, 
            the world was perfectly without distinctions, truly ontologically 
            `good'.(73) This world was destroyed with the advent of distinctions 
            between good and bad, which Abe interprets not just morally but in 
            terms of the making of value-judgements. Such judgements are 
            uniquely an attribute of self-consciousness, which is in turn a 
            state wherein we are alienated from ourselves. Other differences 
            Cupitt laments that `Zen still obstinately follows nearly all other 
            faiths and philosophies in locating salvation outside language in an 
            ineffable Beyond'.(74) He reinterprets Zen's use of paradox and 
            apparent nonsense as a response to and an expression of the 
            understanding of why there is nothing to be understood: i.e. because 
            language is outsideless and inescapable. The practice of indulging 
            in language games with paradoxes `stirs intelligence, enhances life 
            and returns us into the world of signs refreshed and delighted'.(75) 
            Buddhist concerns about duality and distinctions are, to an extent, 
            shared by Cupitt. He acknowledges, for example, that in `carving up' 
            the world to make it intelligible, language inevitably alienates one 
            thing from another. He sees a need to re-integrate a number of the 
            dualisms that our culture has created and asserts the possibility of 
            a dialectical movement in Christianity in which these `opposites' 
            are radically contrasted and then radically conjoined and united. In 
            the Christian incarnation he finds the possibility of `conjoining 
            again everything that the platonic dualisms had disjoined -- the 
            eternal and the temporal, absolute and relative, necessary and 
            contingent and so on.'(76) However, language for Cupitt inescapably 
            involves distinctions and thereby creates the only reality that we 
            can know. Indeed, the distinctions introduced by western 
            `observational sciences' enrich our experience of life.(77) In any 
            case, an attempt to throw off completely the cultural construction 
            of the world and return to pure unstructured becoming would be a 
            futile exercise, since if it were successfully accomplished it would 
            leave us unable to say anything about it or even to apprehend what 
            it was.(78) Jackson suggests that there seems to be a `latent 
            foundationalism' even in the radically deconstructionist Madhyamaka 
            Buddhism. Nagarjuna argues: If I would make any proposition 
            whatever, then by that I would have a logical error; but I do not 
            make a proposition, therefore I am not in error.(79) Enlightenment, 
            however, ultimately depends on knowledge, which is one reason, as we 
            have noted, that conventional truth is not utterly devalued in 
            Buddhism. If enlightenment depends at least partly on knowledge of 
            the way things are, then there must be an identifiable way that 
            things are. And there must exist an epistemological basis for 
            apprehending this `way'.(80) Jackson concludes that Nagarjuna's 
            `entire critical enterprise can only finally be understood within 
            the still larger frame of a conventional Buddhist pursuit of 
            enlightenment'; Nagarjuna presupposes that some conventionalities 
            have enough of a foundation in reality that the ordinary world and 
            the deconstructive project itself can make some sense.(81) Surely, 
            if only in a weak sense, this is a `position' of a kind. If this 
            argument is valid, then Buddhism refutes itself: Nagarjuna has a 
            position (of sorts) and is thus in error. Cupitt is also engaged in 
            a deconstructive enterprise, and his claim that there is simply no 
            Truth or Way that things Are is similarly self-refuting, since he is 
            in effect proposing just another Truth (albeit radically different 
            from the prevailing realist views in the west). However, Cupitt 
            acknowledges both that he has a `position' and that it is vulnerable 
            to this contradiction. He relies, he says, upon the very Logos he 
            attacks.(82) He seems to accept this paradox as inevitable, that is, 
            as the price of living completely within language. It is impossible 
            to assert self-consistently in language that there's an objective 
            God's-eye-view of how things Are or to assert that there's anything 
            beyond language. In his view, as we have seen, Zen's strategy of 
            using riddle and paradox can be interpreted as an understanding of 
            this fact. To sum up: while there are extensive areas of agreement 
            and similarity between Cupitt's ideas and Buddhist thought, the two 
            diverge in important respects. Where Buddhism is basically negative 
            towards the conventional world and plots to escape it, Cupitt 
            accepts and affirms the world despite viewing it as nihilistic; for 
            him it is inescapable and should engage us wholeheartedly. Where 
            Buddhism recommends the transcending of dualities and distinctions, 
            Cupitt sees the world as entirely language-formed and thus 
            inevitably involving distinctions. He advocates, however, an 
            attitude of irony, of `sitting light' even to the basic distinctions 
            inherent in self-consciousness: self-consciousness is itself a trick 
            of language `bending back upon itself', something quite without 
            substance or enduring reality. And where Madhyamaka Buddhism will 
            not admit to holding a `position', Cupitt acknowledges that his 
            claims for no Reality are logically self-refuting. There are two 
            more areas of similarity worthy of note. Murti observes that the 
            Madhyamaka system has often been criticized as `a species of 
            philosophical sadism' which `savours of ill-will symptomatic of a 
            disposition that sees no good in others'.(83) Cupitt is similarly 
            regarded by some of his critics as dogmatic and wilfully 
            destructive.(84) A more positive point of convergence between Cupitt 
            and the Buddhist thought world, and a fitting one on which to 
            conclude, is that, as Masao Abe puts it from a Buddhist perspective, 
            `eternity manifests itself in the here and now, and life at this 
            moment is not a means to a future end, but is the end itself'.(85) 
            So too for Cupitt: eternal life is realized in the `winged joy, the 
            non-clinging, non-acquisitive and transient happiness of those who 
            can truly say yes to time'.(86) That Don Cupitt, a product of 
            western culture and philosophical tradition, should finally and 
            fundamentally disagree with Buddhist prescriptions for salvation is 
            hardly surprising. What is perhaps remarkable is the extent of 
            similarity and agreement that has been possible along the way. (1) 
            Leroy Rouner (`Theology of Religions in Recent Protestant Theology', 
            in Hans Kung and Jurgen Moltmann [eds], Christianity Among World 
            Religions [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986], 109) offers several 
            suggestions to account for western activism in pursuing dialogue. 
            (2) `The Sangha Comes West', Theology, LXXXIX (1986), 176. (3) 
            Taking Leave of God (London: SCM, 1980), p. xii. (4) Zen and Western 
            Thought (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1985), p. 194. This work of 
            Abe's will be treated here as a primary source of information 
            concerning Zen. (5) See Philip C. Almond, The British Discovery of 
            Buddhism (Cambridge: University Press, 1988). (6) Ibid. p. 140. (7) 
            Scott Cowdell, `Buddhism and Christianity', Asia Journal of 
            Theology, IV (1990), p. 190. Cf. Don Cupitt, Radicals and the Future 
            of the Church (London: SCM, 1989), pp. 53-4. (8) See the foreword to 
            Scott Cowdell's Atheist Priest? (London: SCM, 1988), p. x. (9) 
            `Matching Concepts: Deconstructive and Foundationalist Tendencies in 
            Buddhist Thought', JAAR, LVII (1989), 565. (10) Ibid p. 563. (11) 
            Edward Conze, `Spurious Parallels to Buddhist Philosophy', 
            Philosophy East and West, XIII (1963) p. 105. See also Peter Della 
            Santina, `The Madhyamaka and Modern Western Philosophy', Philosophy 
            East and West, XXXVI (1986), p. 41. (12) Zen, p. 100. (13) Radicals, 
            p. 143. (14) What is a Story? (London: SCM, 1991), p. 131. (15) See 
            Radicals, p. 157. (16) Ibid. p. 22. (17) Taking Leave of God, p. 8. 
            In Radicals (p. 73) Cupitt criticizes the concentration of spiritual 
            power in male clergy, `with their orthodoxy, their franchise on 
            forgiveness, their chain of command and their proper channels of 
            Grace'. (18) Taking Leave of God, p. 8. (19) `The Sangha', p. 177. 
            (20) Zen, p. 105. (21) Paul J. Griffiths in a work edited by him, 
            Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis 
            Books, 1990), p. 137. This view is expressed in the Buddhist parable 
            of the raft: a raft is useful for crossing the river, but it becomes 
            an unnecessary burden and a hindrance if you strap it to your back 
            for the rest of the journey. (22) The Long-Legged Fly (London: SCM, 
            1987), p. 151. See also Radicals, pp. 59-60. (23) See Jackson, p. 
            566, n. 6. If the `absolute' is to be understood to mean some kind 
            of `limiting principle', Jackson believes it may apply to Buddhism. 
            Cf. T. R. V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (George Allen 
            & Unwin, 2nd ed., 1960), pp. 336-7; see also Santina, p. 49. (24) 
            Quoted in Paul Williams, `Some Dimensions of the Recent Work of 
            Raimundo Panikkar: A Buddhist Perspective', Religious Studies, XXVII 
            (1991), p. 514. (25) Masao Abe, Zen, p. 102. (26) Time Being 
            (London: SCM, 1991), pp. 127-30. Interestingly, for one so opposed 
            to dogmatic assertion, Cupitt seems to be fond of `either or' 
            argument, and has been criticized by David Jenkins (review of 
            Radicals in Theology, XCIV [1991], 60) for relying too heavily and 
            simplistically on it in flights of rhetoric. (27) Cupitt warns, 
            however, against reifying the Void: see After All: Religion Without 
            Alienation (London: SCM Press, 1994), p. 103. (28) Zen, p. 159. (29) 
            In The Time Being (p. 135) he speaks, for instance, of `our ugly, 
            sinful and faithless desire for realistic metaphysics and religious 
            belief'. (30) Ibid. p. 88. (31) The Long-Legged Fly, p. 13. (32) 
            `Derrida and Bhartrhari's Vakyapadiya on the Origin of Language', 
            Philosophy East and West, XL (1990), 3. See also Santina, p. 512. 
            (33) Radicals, pp. 42 and 43 respectively. (34) David Jenkins, 
            review of Radicals, p. 60. (35) `Matching Concepts', p. 564. (36) 
            What is a Story?, pp. 131-3. See also The Long-Legged Fly, pp. 33-4. 
            This problem of self-reflexivity and paradox, ironically, affects 
            Cupitt's own reasoning and conclusions, as he acknowledges: see 
            Radicals, p. 43 and The Long-Legged Fly, p. 35. (37) Buddhism and 
            the Death of God (University of Southampton, 1970), p. 8. (38) Zen, 
            pp. 167 and 200 respectively. (39) Radicals, pp. 12 and 142 
            respectively. (40) Ibid. p. 58. In reflecting upon his own work, 
            Cupitt notes (in Scott Cowdell's Atheist Priest?, p. x) that `The 
            literary project takes on a Chinese-box quality: as I change, the 
            project changes -- and the change changes too'. (41) What is a 
            Story?, p. 81. On differentiation through language, see The 
            Long-Legged Fly, chapter 4. (42) Radicals, p. 58 (43) Ibid. p. 86. 
            In After All Cupitt discusses the scientific vision of the world in 
            some detail. (44) From the Madbyamakakarikas, quoted in Frederick J. 
            Streng, Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning (Abingdon Press, 
            1967), p. 49. (45) Phillip A. Mellor, `Self end Suffering: 
            Deconstruction and Reflexive Definition in Buddhism and 
            Christianity', Religious Studies, XXVII (1991), p. 61. (46) 
            `Matching Concepts', p. 569. See Masao Abe (pp. 195-6) for an 
            example of a classical Buddhist strategy for challenging the idea of 
            a substantial self. (47) `Buddhism and Christianity', p. ,94. (48) 
            Radicals, p. 42. See also pp. 19 and 70 and The Time Being, pp. 2 
            and 148-g. (49) Radicals, p. 39 (50) Michael Carrithers, quoted in 
            Mellor, `Self and Suffering', p. 51. (51) Taking Leave of God, p. 
            101. (52) `Abe Masao's Zen and Western Thought', The Eastern 
            Buddhist, XIX (1986), p. 113. (53) Buddhism and the Death of God, p. 
            8. (54) The Time Being, p. 163. (55) Radicals, p. 15. (56) Ibid. p. 
            41. (57) Masao Abe, p. 208. (58) `Matching Concepts, p. 575 (59) 
            Quoted in Mellor, p. 51 (60) From the Udana, quoted in Conze, p. 
            112. (61) `Spurious Parallels,' p. 113. (62) See for example, The 
            Time Being, pp. 120 4. (63) Scott Cowdell's description of the 
            attitude of Cupitt and fellow radical Christians in `Radical 
            Theology, Postmodernity and Christian Life in the Void', Heythrop 
            Journal, XXXII (1991), p. 66. (64) Cupitt, The Time Being, pp. 160 
            and 165. (65) Quoted from The Record of Lin-chi in Masao Abe, pp. 
            145-6. See also Abe, pp. 199-200 and cf. Cupitt's analysis in The 
            Time Being, p. 141. (66) Zen, p. 182. Cf. also pp. 94 and 211. (67) 
            The Time Being, p. 182. (68) Ibid, p. 164. See also Radicals, pp. 61 
            and 145. Streng (p. 50) notes that from the Madhyamaka point of 
            view, time is inescapable -- but this is because there is no such 
            reality to escape from. In Cupitt's view, (The Time Being, pp. 135 
            and 178-82) time is a reality but it cannot be parted or 
            distinguished from who we are: time is being, being just is time. 
            (69) The Time Being, p. 148. (70) Ibid. p. 149. While Cupitt's point 
            concerning an active and passionate involvement in life is taken, he 
            does perhaps misrepresent the Buddhist case. Masao Abe, for example, 
            (p. 111) declares `free creative activity' to be the result of the 
            realization of total Nothingness. (71) See The Time Being, pp. ,59 
            and 163. (72) Zen, pp. 9-10 and 202. (73) Such a state is sunyata: 
            `not a nihilistic emptiness but rather a fullness of particular 
            things and individual persons functioning in their full capacity and 
            without mutual impediment' (Zen, p. 211). (74) What is a Story?, p. 
            136. (75) Ibid. p. 138. (76) Ibid. p. 4. See also pp. 90 and 129-30. 
            (77) Ibid. See After All, pp. 80-3. (78) What is a Story?, p. 177. 
            (79) From the Vigraha-vyavartani, quoted in Streng, p. 93. (80) 
            Jackson, pp. 569-71. (81) Ibid. pp. 575 and 585. (82) See Radicals, 
            p. 43; The Time Being, pp. 115 and 121; and What is a Story?, pp. 
            131-8. (83) The Central Philosophy, p. 334. (84) See David Jenkins' 
            review of Radicals and Steven R. L. Clark's review of Creation Out 
            of Nothing (Religious Studies, XXVII (1991)). Clark (p. 561) finds 
            Cupitt's claims `simply maddening'. (85) The Time Being, p. 177. See 
            also Cupitt's discussion of `affirming the Now' in After All, pp.