Western Buddhist Review

Review: Jesus & Buddha DVD

On Tue, 18 September, 2012 - 13:15
Dhivan Thomas Jones's picture
Dhivan Thomas Jones
Jesus & Buddha: Practicing Across Traditions

Documentary film by John Ankele and Anne Macksoud, Old Dog Documentaries, 44 mins, 2012, $29.95 DVD from www.olddogdocumentaries.org

Review by David Sharp

‘Jesus and Buddha’ is a professionally produced documentary film featuring three scholar-practitioners of religion who are engaged in practising both Christianity and Buddhism. Prof. Paul Knitter and Fr Robert Kennedy SJ have their roots in Roman Catholicism, while Prof. Hyun Kyung Chung has a Presbyterian background; yet all of them have found depth and importance in Zen Buddhism in the USA, in a way which complements their Christianity.

The film demands of the listener quite a high level of religious literacy in both religious traditions and this may limit its use to higher education, within liberal religious communities and in some interfaith/dialogue encounters. In a society of considerable religious diversity, where religion is often worn as an exclusive identity badge, where tolerance means a passive indifference and respect doesn’t run to admiration, the message of learning from the religious other is a vital one to illustrate. Learning about, with and from another religious tradition, is a mantra not yet chanted by many. This is a valuable film that takes making sense of apparent religious differences very seriously.

There are some suggested discussion questions, which are useful, but they simply reflect the basic philosophy of the film that it is possible to practice two religions at once without compromise. It may well be that this philosophy is sound but many thinkers, past and present, have said it is not sound, and the film should address this issue. Knitter has written at length about the stances of Exclusivism, Inclusivism and indeed the Pluralism he discusses in the film, but there is a need to deal here with the arguments of the two other positions. Are Knitter, Kennedy and Chung Christian-Buddhists or Buddhist-Christians or ‘mystics’ utilising a variety of beliefs and practices? How are the charges of taking a ‘pick and mix’ approach, or of syncretism, to be addressed? It is good to see that bridges of understanding are being built, but both Buddha and Jesus did draw certain boundaries which encouraged many followers to proclaim a single vision of truth. Some comment about this would have been helpful.

The format just about avoids the ‘talking heads’ approach and there are some rich and colourful shots inside churches and meditation halls as well as carefully selected iconic figures of Jesus and the Buddha. Each of the three participants make several contributions, layer upon layer, in a rather predictable pattern but with obvious sincerity. There are no surprises or triggers to restimulate attention, and I wonder if broader camera work or the use of a narrator to underline points or ask penetrating questions might improved the film.

Here we have Christians finding spiritual riches in Buddhism. A question that arose for me in watching this film was: are we, any time soon, likely to hear of Buddhists finding spiritual riches in Christianity? In spite of my caveats, I thought this was a valuable film and one which I hope will be seen and discussed by believers of many persuasions.

David Sharp is Interfaith Officer and Tutor at Suffolk Interfaith Centre, Ipswich, UK, and is involved with Ipswich Buddhist Centre.
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rodashruti's picture
Thanks for this review (which I just discovered because the book image was promoted on thebuddhistcentre.com homepage!) I’m interested in but not at all expert in interfaith dialog, and I thought there were two ways to read your closing question about whether we’ll hear comments from Buddhists on Christianity: Either Buddhists aren’t finding riches in Christianity, or they are but we’re unlikely to hear about it. I couldn’t tell if either understanding is assumed in the question. Also, I thought I’d mention Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. His approach is honest, direct, and beautifully drawn.