Did the Pope go too far & Did Thich Nhat Hanh not go far enough?

In her introduction to Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University, cites Nhat Hanh’s response to this statement by Pope John Paul II in Crossing the Threshold of Hope:

“Christ is absolutely original and absolutely unique. If He were only a wise man like Socrates, if He were a ‘prophet’ like Mohammed, if He were ‘enlightened’ like Buddha, without any doubt He would not be what He is. He is the one mediator between God and humanity.” SOURCE

Thich Nhat Hanh in ‘reply’ (p. xxi of his book Living Buddha, Living Christ ) says:

“This statement does not seem to reflect the deep mystery of the oneness of the Trinity. It also does not reflect the fact Christ is also the Son of Man. All Christians, while praying to God, address Him as Father. Of course Christ is unique. But who is not unique? Socrates, Muhammad the Buddha, you, and I are all unique. The idea behind the statement, however, is the notion that Christianity provides the only way of salvation and all other religious traditions are of no use. This attitude excludes dialogue and fosters religious intolerance and discrimination. It does not help.”

Noted for his respect for other religious traditions, Nhat Hanh tells us in Living Buddha, Living Christ, “On the altar in my hermitage in France are images of Buddha and Jesus, and every time I light incense, I touch both of them as my spiritual ancestors.” SOURCE

Thich Nhat Hanh has striven to build the strongest possible bridges between Buddhism and Christianity – as has, of course, the Dalai Lama. Many Christians, like many mainstream religionists, suffer from the spiritual blinkers of ‘exclusivity’. Some might call it a dis-ease, a making of all otherness into the Devil – the ultimate act of ego?

There is no problem if you have a reading of the Trinity that makes sense. Christ as the Holy spirit is the only way to God. But since the same Holy Spirit was the animating force of all the Messengers of God – and that for me includes at least Krishna, the Buddha, Moses, Mohammed and Baha’u’llah they all were ‘the one and only way to God’. All those Messengers were ‘dust-free’ of ego and reflected in perfection the teachings of the Father – both the eternal verities,which we can find in the Perennial Philosophy, plus social teachings appropriate to the age over which they held ‘Lordship’.


“Love the pitcher less and the water more.” This is how the Sufi poet Rumi fashioned the key to a global spirituality – not a new religion, but a growing recognition that the religions we have are multiform containers of a single, precious planetary resource, idioms of a universal spiritual grammar. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful heeding of Rumi’s counsel than Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ, a reading of Buddhism and Christianity (and, by implication, other faiths) as vast cultural-symbolic contexts for enabling human ethical maturity. With his characteristic quiet authority, Nhat Hanh portrays the two traditions as complementary modes of moving from our natural self-centeredness to a re-centering in a higher order of existence, a process that, when genuine, bears fruits as cherished in Nairobi and Nanjing as in New York: understanding, compassion, love, kindness, generosity, honesty, patience, forgiveness, justice. These transcultural fruits belong to no one religion but are the common aim of all deserving of the name. -0- Source

There is an alternative to the dis-ease of exclusivity. It is this ‘Many paths; one summit – or to change metaphors – many gateways leading into the one Garden.’

Socrates by the way wasn’t just your average wise man! He was a lesser prophet perhaps?

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