One Confronts Many


By Thich Nu Minh Tam

Religion is the innermost core of human’s spiritual life; it is the central world in

which human live and die, but religion has also been the most contradictory and unsolved issue that has caused so amny problems in the worldwide human’s history.

There are some major world religions which have influenced deeply in human’s soul, but here, in this small and limited analysis, we focus on the issue of Christianity facing to other religious’ doctrine in “One Confronts Many” in the book of Paul F. Knitter.

From the old days, most Christians believed, according to the Old and New Testaments, that God is the Creator of universe, He is the Supreme Spirit, the Supreme Power, God is the one.But, as the spark of consciousnedd broadened and gave rise to the burning concern for the meaning of life, and as human’s knowledge has risen from the cloudest sky of ignorance, Christians have begun to wonder about their own faith about the “One” Christian religion and to be honest to realize the truth that no religion is the one in the world because they who know the one, know none.More and more persons today feel that they cannot avoid to face that reality and with the help of a huge best translated documents of other religions, they try to take advantage of these opportunities to learn something about religions other than their own.That wave of religious research has raised a new factor, “Religious Pluralism: A Newly Experienced Reality.”

Today, religious scriptures are not kept anymore in an ivory tower of Church and in the hands of priests, buit it has penetrated in the life of mankind, not generally, but involved in individual persons.People are not only think about religion but they breathe, they eat or drink it personally.Religion has engaged in people’s life and their daily activities. A Hindu, a Buddhist or a Christian cannot simply know about his own religion but has to learn about other faiths, what they mean for people, what are their goals of teaching, etc. in order to narrow the gap among people and people, religions and followers, religion and religion.From that opened-mind, we can see that the “One” Christian religion is feeling the impact of the “many” others.

The new perception of religious pluralism pushes us to jump into the profound insight that “there is no one and only way to salvation or Soteria.”Yes, there are many paths to reach the peak of the Himalayas, so there are many ways to attain freedom of suffering, not only one.That perception does not apply only to religion but in any aspect of living life, society, culture or economic systems, etc.Frankly speaking, Christianity is not the center of world as most the Christians have believed and misunderstood.

The nature of the fact that “there is no only one religion in this world” is based onthe philosophical processive-relational view of reality:

Nothing is permanent, nothing ever lasts long, nothing never changes.Looking at life, we notice how it changes and how it continually moves between extremes and contrats.We notice rise and fall, success and failure, loss and gain; we experience honor and contempt, praise and blame; and we feel how our hearts respond to all that happiness and sorrow, delight and despair, disappointment and satisfaction, fear and hope.These mighty waves of emotion carry us up, flings us down, and no sooner we find some rest, then we are carried by the power of a new wave again.

The Buddha described the world as an unending flux of becoming, that the world and everything in it is evolutionary or in process.The catch phrase is that we are not in a state of being but in a state, or better a process, of becoming (Knitter, p 7).All is changeable, continuous transformation, ceasesless mutation, and a moving stream.Everything exists from moment to moment.Everything is a recurring rotation of coming into being and then passing out of existence.Everything is moving from birth to death.Nothing in the world is simply given, or pre-fabricated, merely to be assembled according to a predetermined plan.This teaching of impermanent nature of everything is one of the mainpivots of Buddism.Nothing on earth partakes of the character of absolute reality. Rather, we and everything around us are caught up in a process of constant change, of movement, of exploration into newness.In accepting the law of impermanency or change, the Buddha denies the existence of eternal substances.Matter and spirit are false abstractions that, in reality, are only changing factors which are connected and which arise in functional dependence on each other.

Scientists, in old days, also accepted the law of change that was discovered by the Buddha.Tewnty-five-hundred years ago,Heraclitus observed that “everything flows” and said that “we cannot step into the same river twice.”Today, modern thinkers are restating Heraclitus’ theme more radically, and with greater clarity and persuasiveness.They postulate that there is nothing substantial, solid and tangible in the world.Everything is a vortex of energy, never remaining the same for two consecutive moments.The whole wide world is caught up in this whirl and vortex of change.Among such contemporary restatemnents are Alfred North Whitehead’s and Cahrles hartshorne’s vision of a world involved in an adventure of creativity through process; Aurobindo’s Hindu vision of a world in evolution toward divinity, Teilhard de Chardin’s universe evolving painfully but steadily from the biosphere to the noosphere to the Unity of the Omega Point, etc . . .

The world is a passing phenomenon.We all belong to the world of time.Every written word, every carved stone, every painted picture, the structure of civilisation, every generation of man, every religion, vanishes away like the leaves and flowers of forgotten summer.What exists is changeable and what is not changeable does not exist.

Thus all gods and human beings and animals and material forms – everything in this universe – is subject to the law of Impermanency.Why? Because everything depends on conditions. Let’s read these verses in Visuddhi Magga:

“No God, no Brahma can be found

No matter of this wheel of life

Just bare phenomena roll

Depend on conditions all.” 

The Law of Dependent Origination is one of the most important teachings of the Buddha and it is very profound.The basis of Dependent Origination is that world or life is built on a set of relations, in which the arising and cessation of factors depend on some others factors which condition them.This priciple can be given in a short formula of four lines:

“When this is, that is

This arising, that arises

When this is not, that is not

This ceading, that ceases.”

 On this principle of interdependence and relativity rests the arising, continuity and cessation of existence. This law emphasises an important principle taht all phenomena are relative, conditioned states and do not arise independently of supportive conditions.A phenomenon arises because of a combination of conditions which are present to support its arising.And the phenomenon will cease when the conditions and components supporting in arising change and no longer sustain it.The law of Dependent Origination is a ralistic way of understanding the universe and is equivalent of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.The fact that everything is nothing more than a set of relations is consistent with the modern scientific view of material world.Since everything is conditioned, relative, and interdependent, there is nothing in this world which could be regarded as a permanent entity, variously regarded as an ego or an eternal soul, which many people believe in. 

Just as Knitter says: “It was especially the new physisc that prompted philosophers to a further insight into the way things are: if everything is a becoming rather tahn a being, the becoming takes place through interrelating.Nothing, whether an electron or a human being, can be “an island unto itself.”“We are our relationship” has become a cliche’.We are not “becomings” but “becomings with.”Cut off the “with” and we cease to exist.This interelated quality of our existence is as real as it is beyopnd neat conceptual analysis and clear statement.We and the world are part of an “implicate order,” an infinitely complex and dynamic web of interelationships.”(David Bohm)

These philosophers and intellectuals regard the multiciply, the plurality, of creation of universe as empowered with a potential for ever greater unity, even though they cannot say where this potential will end up.The many are called to be one.But it is a one that does not devour the many.The many become one precisely by remaining the many, and the one is brought about by each of the many making its distinct contribution to the others and thsu to the whole.It is a process that aims at an ever more pervasive concentration of the many in each other and thus in a greater whole (Knitter).

In short, unitive pluralism is a unity in which each religion emphasizes its personality, each religion will concrete its own uniqueness, but this oneness will develop and get along and deeper by relating to other religions in mutual dependence.Therefore, there is no religion that can be the only one in the world, there is no doctrine that can be the only one in life; everything is interrelated, everything is inter-being, everything is depended on and absorbed into each other to survive and remain.All in One, One in All, All is One, One is All, that law of dependence and interrelation is the basis idea of the passage “One confronts Many” and also is the plot of universe and human beings.