Suffering: Christian Reflections on Buddhist Dukkha

by Paul H. De Neui, ed.

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 234 pages, 2011, $17.99.

Reviewed by Chandler H. Im, director, Ethnic Ministries, Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College; director, Ethnic America Network.

In life, suffering is plentiful and unavoidable. Suffering (dukkha in Pali) is Buddhism’s departure point. It is also a central and indispensable theme in Christianity. In terms of traditional Buddhist soteriology, people get saved not by “who,” but by “what.” It is not who (Buddha) that saves; it is what (i.e., the Fourfold Truths) Buddha taught. Buddhism is a self-saving religion; Christianity rejects autosoterism (i.e., self-salvation).

This collection of articles is the literary outcome of the SEANET XII Forum held in Chiang Mai in early 2010. It is the eighth volume in the SEANET Series. This volume serves two main purposes: (1) to help Christians delve into the Buddhist doctrine of suffering and (2) to introduce Christian interpretations of suffering to Buddhists. The book is divided into two parts: Conceptual Foundations of Suffering and Ministry in the Midst of Suffering. Both contain five chapters contributed by Christian scholars and researchers of Buddhism from South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Western countries.

The authors converge on dukkha and yet diverge in topics. Chapters 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 are especially noteworthy. Satanun Boonyakiat (chap. 2) does a wonderful job of explaining similarities and differences between Buddhist and Christian interpretations on suffering. Alex Smith (chap. 4) provides an excellent introductory survey on the topic of suffering from both Buddhist and Christian perspectives, which would help the general reader as de facto chapter 1. David Lim (chap. 5) delineates biblical, theological, and missiological guidelines for interfaith interface between Buddhists and Christians.

Jane Barlow (chap. 6) contributes an ethnographical work on Thai funeral rituals, with Christian contextualization ideas. Barnabas Mam (chap. 8) shares a powerful testimony of a Cambodian pastor, a survivor of the Killing Fields. Alan Johnson (chap. 9) pushes Christian scholars and practitioners to go beyond Christian-Buddhist conversations on dukkha, and emphasizes the dire need for diversifying “context-sensitive” and Majority World approaches to effectively sharing the gospel with Buddhists.

This multi-author book has two areas of deficiency. First, due to the compiling nature of the volume on the common theme (suffering), similar explanations on key Buddhist doctrines such as the Four Noble Truths and the law of karma, along with Christian counterparts, are repeated. Second, deep-level discussions on suffering from “Eastern” and “Northern” (i.e., Mahayana) Buddhist schools such as Sen (Zen) Buddhism, the most practiced Buddhist branch in Korea, Pure Land Buddhism, the most practiced Buddhist branch in Japan, and Tibetan Buddhism are lacking in the book.

Overall, this is an important and very useful resource for understanding and facilitating Christian-Buddhist interface. Christian practitioners and serious students of religion who engage in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, particularly in “southern” Buddhist contexts (Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, etc.), would greatly benefit from reading this volume.

Check these titles:
Mitchell, Donald W. 2008. Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rahula, Walpola. 1974. What the Buddha Taught. 2nd ed. New York: Grove Press.

Yandell, Keith and Harold Netland. 2009. Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.


EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 505-506. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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